Croatia: Nationalist Or Sovereignist Vote?

Consolidation of the nation-state, not sovereign-state, is and should be at the very heart for progress in Croatia. Hence, at this time of political polarisation occurring around focus words for elections as prelude to imminent European Parliament elections in late May of this year (and general elections next year), the Independents for Croatia (Neovisni za Hrvatsku) got it right and Croatian Sovereignists (Hrvatski suverenisti) haven’t! The president of the Independents for Croatia, Bruna Esih, describes her party and its endeavours as “nationalistic”! That seems to set the mood and direction this party is taking: Croatian people!

The distinction between “Croatian sovereign-state” and “Croatian nation-state” is vast and it is hoped that voters in Croatia will recognise this.

The media hyped-up notion of “need to” unify, for the sake of unity alone, behind the political group “Croatian Sovereignists” has created a sense of disloyalty to Croatia if one doesn’t unite behind them! This group frequently mentions Croatian unity as the only socio-political value that would save Croatia! Consequently, many voters seem to be placed in an uncomfortable position when it comes to deciding whom to vote for. This is evidenced by many mainstream and independent media outputs as well as lamentations about some lack of unity one comes across in social media posts.

“Unity” is the new buzzword some politicians use to claim now is the time for all patriotic right-leaning political parties, citizens’ initiatives, individuals… to come together and heal the divides, which, according to them, even if the flesh of such divisions is not firmly defined, are to blame for everything that is going wrong and has gone wrong in Croatia in the past two decades. You know, unity sounds wonderful, especially in the midst of European Parliament, parliamentary or presidential election seasons in Croatia. If unity they talk of were to be achieved then one concludes that families would no longer be feuding about which individual politician each member will vote for, individuals do not need to choose between two, three…or more election candidates they like (equally?), and Facebook could return to being a place where we primarily share photos of our children, pets and meals.

Unity would be a welcome respite for those who are exhausted from the years of hard battles over decommunisation, engaging and including Croats living outside of Croatia in meaningful and impactful investment programs, Croatian citizenship process woes, brain drain or mass emigration, voting rights and justice issues, to name just a few of the concrete problems Croatia is grappling with.

Readers, beware!

Beware the sweet lull of that siren song calling for “unity” and for patriots to “come together”. It appears as the latest incarnation of the call for “civility,” and is just as dangerous. Unity for its own sake cannot be the goal for Croatia or anybody else. It serves well those holding power that thrive on the shrapnel that disperses itself across the community, causing mayhem and confusion. Sovereignty on its own cannot be the goal for Croatia as it has already been achieved in the strictest sense of the word and concept. The Homeland War and its defenders (veterans) had achieved the goal of a sovereign state of Croatia through blood, sweat and tears!

The goal Croatia had set itself (in its Constitution) prior to the escalation of Serb-aggression and Homeland War was to be “a state of Croatian people…” (giving acknowledgement to other national minorities). It is this goal that has not been achieved and the repetitive, ongoing devaluation and marginalisation of Croatia’s Homeland War as The foundation of the Croatian sovereign state serves as evidence of that fact.

Candidates or parties who run on their own platforms for the advancement of Croatian nation-state (as opposed to sovereignist state), who are either jointly or individually at the forefront of fighting for a vigorous justice system overhaul to reflect its independence from any former or current political baggage that breeds corruption, expanding access to Croatians living outside Croatia to the Croatian economic and political life, protecting Croatian voting rights across the globe, to just name a few, are suddenly painted as fringe or extreme in parts of the Croatian community at large.

Never mind the fact that these issues brought forward by those who have not succumbed to the latest political fad of “union of sovereignists”, such as the Independents for Croatia party (Neovisni za Hrvatsku), are not political, but moral. For, morality guides legislature! There is a moral obligation of all Croatians to ensure that in all its social and political layers Croatia develops into that which is bestowed upon it by its very Constitution: first and foremost “a state of the Croatian people…”. Once this is asserted (having in mind that the national minorities also mentioned in the Constitution as belonging to the state of Croatia) then Croatia is likely to shape up as intended: into a functional democratic state.

So, it appears obvious that the call for unity is really just a call to stop rocking the centrist boat; the boat of those whose allegiances appear to be distancing them away from the Croatian nation as a formidable factor and concept in local and world affairs.

Nation and nationalism – the former, a form of society, the latter, an ideology – are two complementary social realities that emerged from the capitalist revolution. Nationalists generally look for their national roots in bygone times, but today there is near-consensus among scholars to the effect that the nations and national revolutions that led to the formation of the nation-states are a modern phenomenon. And Croatians must not shy away from that, even when branded as ultra-nationalists!

No doubt in my mind – asserting a Croatian nation-state will reset Croatia to its intended moral values based on democracy, justice and freedom for Croatian people to carve their own destiny and role within the international community – and cement The Homeland War as the state’s foundation stone.

Nationalism remains essential as economic competition between nations becomes increasingly stiff the more the markets open to it – it is therefore a nationalism expressed through a national development strategy or national competition strategy: a conjunct of institutions, policies, agreements and practices that create investment opportunities for entrepreneurs and unify the nation. It is through nationalism that a society seals its identity and sets its goals. Nationalism is just this self-reflection, or, an authentic consciousness of the national reality. Nationalism is how a nation sees itself reflected in two fundamental objectives: economic autonomy and development.

The first nation-state in history was England, and it is no accident that Henry VIII was the pioneer in the practice by founding the Anglican Church!

There is a relationship of mutual reinforcement among the nation, State and nation-state: the first being a form of society; the second, its main institution; and the third, the politico-territorial unit proper to economic development and living standards. Territorial nationalism, the cause of many conflicts throughout history, is still alive and well (Serb aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are one proof of that) but this is not the nationalism Bruna Esih is talking about. What one reads in those Esih words is the need to assert the Croatian nation-state, which is regretfully still in an arrested state of development. And politically placed siren calls for undefined “unity” being heard these days do no justice nor favour to asserting that Croatian state Croatia’s own Constitution speaks about.

The Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), headed by Karlo Starcevic, appear to have recognised this siren call of “unity” from the so-called sovereingnist camp for the buzzword it appears to stand for, and have joined forces with the Independents for Croatia European Parliament election list; where also the Croatian Parliament Independent Member for the Croatian Diaspora, general Zeljko Glasnovic, stands.

Article 9. of the Constitution of the Independents for Croatia party says that it is “a political party that represents and promotes Croatian national interests, the quintessence and identity of the Croatian people, its committal and the historical heritage, in particular the values of the Homeland War and the right of the Croatian people to a free and independent state.”

That is the nationalistic line Croatian voters should take on board and rally behind and vote for! Nationalism – also referred to as patriotism – fortifies and accentuates sovereignty. It does not happen the other way around.

So far, it’s been a tough-fought campaign, and it has only just started, with lots of strong candidates and piles of good ideas as well as self-serving rhetoric. But I think I’ve made my decision. I’m supporting the candidates who clearly stand behind a Croatian nation-state, and there are quite a few that stand out from various parties and groupings. Political parties’ “unity” has become an empty buzzword. It assumes unity for Croatia but does not define the essential tasks this union would work on for Croatia as a nation. Frankly, given the constraints for it we have been dealt lately, I’ve got “unity” fatigue. Ina Vukic

Homage To Ante Starcevic – An Unforgotten Champion Of Croatian Independence

Dr Ante Starcevic 1823 - 1896 Croatian Rights Movement

Dr Ante Starcevic
1823 – 1896
Croatian Rights Movement


Today, 28 February 2016 marks 120 years since the death of Dr. Ante Starcevic, one of the wisest ever born among the Croatian people. Starcevic is referred to as the father of the free Croatian nation; a well of energy for freedom and democracy that lasted and lasts.
Ante Starcevic (1823-1896) was one of those Croatian politicians who had the strength to strongly resist all political parties in the then Croatia (swallowed as a territory of the Austrian and then Austro-Hungarian Empires in his lifetime). His political ideals and convictions remained consistent throughout his adult life and his assertion of Croatian rights as a distinct nation entitled to freedom and democracy of its own often left him alone and lonely in public circles. However, he did enjoy the support of only a few intellectuals, writers, youth and nationally oriented youth.
In 1861, he was appointed the chief notary of the coastal Rijeka county as well as being elected to the Croatian Parliament as Rijeka Representative; with Eugen Kvaternik, in that year Starcevic founded the Croatian Party of Rights (i.e. state’s rights) and was re-elected to the parliament in 1865, 1871, and from 1878 to his death. The founder and the leader of the Croatian Rights Movement, Starcevic was a persistent and staunch advocate of democracy, uncompromising fighter against slavery, a visionary Croatian freedom and independence, an anti-cleric and a rebel; Starcevic was sharp on the tongue and the pen as no one in his day in Croatia. The program of his Party of Rights was essentially in the tradition of the nineteenth-century nationalism and it called for the formation of an independent state of Croatia. In 1862, when Rijeka was implicated in participation in protests against the Austrian Empire, he was suspended and sentenced to one month in prison as an enemy of the regime. When he was released, Starcevic returned to working at Sram’s law firm in Zagreb, where he remained until 11 October 1871, when he was arrested again, this time on the occasion of the Rakovica Revolt. Croatian armed revolt against authorities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire; the revolt was soon quashed by the Imperial Austrian troops and Starcevic’s Croatian Party of Rights – abolished. Starcevic was released after two months in prison. He retained followers and after his death in 1896 his followers split and one may say it was by no surprise – the hardline to independence ideas seemed to punch wedges of divide as they did not seem to be capable of deciding which was the greatest enemy of independent Croatia: Vienna, Budapest or Belgrade. Almost a hundred years on Croats would learn, soaked in blood, that Belgrade was and had been the greatest enemy.


Ante Starcevic grave Sestine, Zagreb, Croatia

Ante Starcevic grave
Sestine, Zagreb, Croatia

As Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist after WWI, Croatia was forced into the Serb-led Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (later/1929 renamed as Kingdom of Yugoslavia) Starcevic’s Croatian Rights Movement did not of course make any comeback; Croatia was more oppressed under the Serb dynasty than ever before and any whiff of freedom and democracy was fiercely quashed.

Starcevic’s Croatian Rights movement re-emerged during WWII within the complex of Independent State of Croatia movement under Dr Ante Pavelic who considered Starcevic as spiritual father of his Ustashe forces. Pavelic was a part of revitalising Starcevic’s Croatian Rights Movement since 1919, when Croatia was attached to the oppressive Serb-led Kingdom within the former Yugoslavia territory. The success of this attempt for Croatian freedom was doomed from the start as Ante Pavelic decided to side with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as support for achieving the goal of independence. Hence, Starcevic’s name sunk into deep mud out of which it would not rise again for decades and when it did the mud from being associated with Pavelic’s regime would stick at home and abroad. At the same time Croatian (and Yugoslav) communists led by Josip Broz Tito fought against the Nazi’s, the Fascists and Pavelic’s Ustashi forces towards the aim of keeping Croatia within Yugoslavia and thus deny it independence and freedom. Hence, it was Communist Yugoslavia that once again quashed any ideas or attempts for independent Croatia, which of course, included the outlawing of the Croatian Rights Movement.

Monument by Ivan Rendic 1903 instead of a mere tombstone for Ante Starcevic grave Sestine, Zagreb, Croatia

Monument by Ivan Rendic 1903
instead of a mere tombstone
for Ante Starcevic grave
Sestine, Zagreb, Croatia

The Movement rose again in 1990 as part of multi-party democratic system drive led by dr Franjo Tudjman for a free, independent and democratic Croatia. Starcevic was among Franjo Tudman’s favourite politicians in the history of the Croatian people. Modern Croatian Party of Rights was established in 1990 without Tudjman’s membership, though. The modern Croatian Party of Rights and it’s various alternatives did not manage to muster wide support among Croats since 1990’s and that was perhaps because of the connotation associated with it from the terrible WWII crimes committed by those whose political fodder came from Starcevic’s grand and honourable ideas. An overwhelming number of Croatians chose in late 1980’s and early 1990’s to join Franjo Tudjman’s Croatian Democratic Union and achieve the honourable and deserved dream of freedom and democracy Ante Starcevic dreamed of more than a hundred years before and before him all Croats for more than nine centuries, since the Kingdom of Croatia perished at beginning of the twelfth century.
Given that Croatia is still much influenced by the communist Yugoslavia oppressive rut, there is little done to mark Starcevic’s life and anniversaries of his death. It would seem that Starcevic suffers today still (as he did 150 years ago) – his ideas purposefully misinterpreted and misrepresented in some circles especially the pro-communist or pro-Yugoslavia ones of today. In the space of wide political and ideological divide that has plagued Croatian public discourse and served obstacles and barriers for notable progress in democratic freedom and economic well-being one cannot but think that Croatia today needs politicians of Starcevic’s caliber. In saying that such a politician in the fashion imagined by Starcevic would cut short the politicians (parliamentarians’) preoccupation with political survival and get down to the roots: worry about and act for the betterment of each individual person in the country, regardless of his/her religion or ethnic origin. Talk about Starcevic, Starcevic’s works and thoughts should take a prominent place everywhere in Croatia for, as Starcevic thought, true national independence and freedom can only be sustained with the true independence and freedom of each person.

Ante Starcevic Mature years

Ante Starcevic
Mature years

“…Therefore, survival of the government, of the State and of the Nation depends on people,” Starcevic wrote. “And I judge every system that survives, no matter what kind it is or where it is, by its fruit and that fruit shows itself most clearly in the morality and well-being of the people …States are built and ruined by people, and people are guided by freedom, well-being – fortune. Where these do not exist there can be no survival of the State, no matter how old or recognised it may be. No one has yet succeeded in forming a State or keeping it upon misfortune of its citizens…fortune is, therefore, individual people that form a nation … I do not look to see how many souls there are in a nation or a State – I look to see if all the souls in that make up the nation are happy, that they do not suffer some injustice …”

Lest we Croats forget this champion of freedom, independence and democracy. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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