Fragmented Body Politic – Symptom Of Lost Control Over Croatia’s Socio-Political Destiny

Photo: Alamy.com/ licensed/copyright (c)

Fragmentation of the so-called patriotic (domoljubne), usually dubbed as right-wing, body politic in Croatia has never been more vigorous than at the present time. All parties and political movements (and there are many) involved proclaim either in words or implications a vigorous critical loyalty to Croatia and, ultimately, to the values of the 1990’s Homeland War. However, regretfully, although all proclaim same or very similar political-social goals, burrows that separate them from each other appear insurmountable.

Fragmented body, say many an academics in the world, symbolises castration anxiety as well as loss of control; in this case over national direction. The emergence and seemingly flourishing on life-support from sections of the electorate of more than 150 political parties in Croatia vying for power, espousing a desperate need for change, may be construed as evidence that control has actually been lost in Croatia especially over the process of full democratisation as espoused in the values of the Homeland War.

In recent years, it has become obvious to all but the willfully blind that much is not well with the Croatian self-determination and ordered liberty to be had in a functional democracy where red tape and corruption are minimised (where detrimental practices inherited from the communist Yugoslavia era are thoroughly weeded out from society and public administration).

The signs that something is seriously wrong are myriad:

  • a degree of political polarisation unprecedented since the era when Croats won the bloody war of Serb aggression in 1990’s through which independence was won – through which Croatia seceded from communist Yugoslavia
  • a bitter and debilitating culture war between and within both the left-winged (mainly former communists) and right-winged (who pursue decommunisation and Croatian national identity in accordance with Homeland War values) political spectrum that appears to define and/or steer everyday life of even ordinary people;
  • the erosion of the bonds of civic amity and emergence of a civic culture animated by mutual hatred and contempt based on political ideology and directions in which Croatia should develop and assert its place in the democratic world;
  • a pervasive cynicism and a growing crisis of legitimacy of all or any party or movement body politic;
  • the seeming loss of any notion of an overarching common good to which private interests must be subordinated and resultant understanding of politics as a zero-sum game;
  • and what might be called “gridlock” wherein the fragmentation of the national body politic into a plethora of competing interests (more often personal than not) whose conflicting and ever-escalating demands induce something akin to political paralysis. (Most Croatians are acutely and keenly aware that the system is broken, that public institutions are not functioning the way they should in a democracy but seem unsure as to how to fix this.)

Indeed, Croatia (as do some Western countries) seems to be witnessing the rise of what several political scientists call “anomic democracy” in which democratic politics becomes more an arena for the assertion of conflicting interests than the building of common purposes. A common purpose for Croatia, as the values asserted via the 1990’s Homeland War tell us, is that of democratisation and decommunisation. The latter encapsulates the absolute need to rid the country of the totalitarian-like control in all aspects of state authority and expression whether it be in user-friendly legislation that promotes economic growth, an independent judiciary or balanced mainstream media etc.

In fact, so divided does Croatia appear and so dysfunctional has its politics become that it feels like being in the midst a “cold civil war”.  The vitriol that gushes out between people of differing political allegiances is often suffocating. Perhaps herein lies the reason why true national leaders, whom a significant portion of people trust, are practically non-existent or, at least, invisible, or not afforded a chance to shine in the environment of many egocentric or “I know best” players.

Croatia’s critical public consensus regarding secession from communist Yugoslavia was at its peak during 1990’s and the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ led this field of goal-focused national harmony. Then came year 2000 and increased subversive political activities from former communists which resurrected Pro-communist Yugoslavia nostalgia in at least 30% of the Croatian national body politic. This, undoubtedly, led to the collapse of the overwhelmingly widespread consensus as to how Croatia should develop and a disastrous and shameful treatment of war veterans from the Homeland War. The results of such a collapse in consensus is a society that begins to disintegrate into collection of warring tribes. The most striking example of this occurs when a society explodes into bitterly opposed camps that, disagreeing fundamentally on the moral and political principles that should govern public life, are ultimately unable to coexist in peace. It is not rare to come across people in Croatia who believe that nothing bar “gunpowder” will save Croatia, i.e. bring it back to the point of “Croatia above all else” that was in the 1990’s! On a lighter or less dramatic note, as the public philosophy that united Croatian people in the 1990’s gradually disappears, the society splinters into a multitude of hostile groups – a multitude of political tribes, as it were, which far from viewing each other as partners in a common enterprise and exhibiting an attitude of trust or civility toward one another, will instead view each other with hostility, fear and resentment.

At the same time, insofar as decisions on public policy involve the use of means to achieve social goals, the loss of shared purposes make decision-making increasingly difficult, if not impossible. If we can’t agree about where we are trying to go, how are we ever going to agree about – or even rationally discuss – the best means to get there? In short, the groups into which the polity has fragmented will be increasingly unable to reach agreement about public policies, increasingly reluctant to make compromises, and increasingly unwilling to sacrifice their own interests for the good of the community as a whole. Thus, unified action on the part of the community will become increasingly difficult if not impossible and political paralysis increasingly possible. The machinery of democracy continues to operate, but effective governance becomes impossible. The end result is the loss by the state of its legitimacy, its moral authority.

Today in this year of General Elections due around September election platforms are already being formulated and it is not unusual to come across the slogan or rhetoric that goes something like this: ”We will return Croatia to the Croatian People”, “We will return the government to the people”, etc. These emerge from a number of political parties or movements, particularly those who have positioned themselves on the right-wing or conservative side of the political spectrum.

But, how can you have “government by the people,” without having a people?

Surely, the multitudes of political parties and movements – the many personalities vying for the top, result in the scattering of votes (people) that would form that critically needed consensus for the country. Today in Croatia, pluralism has grown to the point where, we’ve reached the stage where we are ceasing to agree even in basic respects on what man is and how he should live, where morally and intellectually we can scarcely be considered one people. This is particularly visible in the shambles and political trade-offs regarding the importance for Croatia’s sovereignty of the Homeland War. The ever-growing loudness of pro-former-communist regime via left-wing parties and political movements, aggravates the critical consensus for national direction to a painful level. Hence, the common body of cultural capital on which Croatia has historically traded is disappearing noticeably, and its political institutions have become increasingly dysfunctional in that they fail to adhere to common good and insert into the “national” the “personal” interests. As for what the future holds, insofar as the prospects for re-establishing some type of substantive consensus any time in the foreseeable future seem slim, it seems likely we’re looking at dysfunction as far as the eye can see. And, that is not, to put it gently, a happy prospect.

Our politically fragmented country, as reflected in the current heated political factions, created an embankment foreclosing the opportunity for the creation of real discourse. The impetus is on us, the citizen, to act as catapults and destroy that wall, and partake in holistic discourse with one another, to push for and stand behind a leader who has not lost sight of why Croatia fought for independence and has the skill and supporting “machinery” to avert the possible disaster of the loss of Croatian identity and will. This thought, or rather wish, leads me to the beginning of this article regarding the fragmentation of the patriotic body politic.

On Sunday March 15th the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ (current major political party holding a coalition government) is holding Party elections, characterised by the split of the party into two evidently viciously warring camps. Current President Andre Plenkovic and his team on one side and Miro Kovac and his team on the other – each asserting that they are the right people to reinvigorate this fragmented party into what it once was – a party to be looked up to by a large proportion of the nation’s population. The implications of this rest on the realisation that even the Croatia’s major political party, that ushered in Croatian independence and secession from communism, has lost the critical consensus regarding where Croatia should go or should be; one faction claiming to be “more Croatian” than the other.  Furthermore, also on the right-wing of politics, there are a number of political parties and movements and independent politicians vying for a similar outcome if elected into government at this year’s General Elections. The leading groups opposing HDZ’s control of the right-winged or patriotic electorate are the Croatian Sovereignists (led by Hrvoje Zekanovic and made up of a number of smaller political parties and individual activists) and their current coalition partners in the Parliamet (Block for Croatia/Zlatko Hasanbegovic and independent MP Zeljko Glasnovic) as well as the newly founded Domoljubni Pokret (Patriotic Movement) headed by Mirislav Skoro.

There does not seem to be much movement on either the left or the right side of the political spectrum to reel into their fold voters from the opposing ideological camps. This of course suggests that nationally, ideological divisions still prevail and, hence, attachments to individual politicians rather than party programs (for all the people regardless of their political ideology). Political ideology defined life during the communist Yugoslavia era and it seems it will take some serious work in order to free the people of this burden, and encourage them to look beyond political personalities when voting. Otherwise, fragmentation of body politic will continue to flourish even though the race to secure a cushy position for the individual politician and not for true representation of voter or constituency needs is obvious, and in essence disliked by the very constituency.

As socio-political actors, it is time when people and politicians need to realise that they are not on a crusade when it comes to Croatia as a legitimate State; rather, that they are, at this time of severe fragmentation of body politic,  on an exploratory expedition to bring Croatia to how it was imagined and fought for during the Homeland War. Croatia is independent, sovereign and as such has the capacity and validity to make its own decisions for national welfare.

While the end-goal of electoral politics is winning, it should also be more about the advancement of certain programmes and policies. In a democracy it is the latter that brings in votes. And when faced with the reality of electoral or body politic fragmentation arrived at through personal ambitions of individual politicians, unless critical consensus is reached between them, leading to programme-framed and managed coalition – victory is poor, if at all existent. An interesting six-month period for Croatia and its progress into full democratisation and national identity – coming to your door! Play your part for Croatia! Ina Vukic

 

Croatia: Interview With Hrvoje Zekanovic

Hrvoje Zekanovic, MP
Photo: fah

With conservative political orientation Hrvoje Zekanovic was elected into the Croatian Parliament in 2016. Prior to that, having graduated from the University of Zagreb, he worked for some ten years as a Geography professor in the coastal town of Sibenik. His political and parliamentary career has so far marked a rather high public profile in Croatia with his strong stance against gender ideology and the Marrakech Agreement as well as being a central personality in the so-called Croatian Sovereignists, a political group whose agenda included coalition, union and togetherness of a number of small political parties in Croatia and publicly involved political activists with view to steer towards a united front within the ring-wing political landscape for a better Croatian future. With this political movement of united politicians Croatian Sovereignists had in May 2019 won a seat in the European Parliament. The movement now (November 2019) transformed into a political party “Croatian Sovereignists” with Hrvoje Zekanovic as its president. Mr Zekanovic is currently visiting Australia and I have taken this opportunity to interview him.

You are currently on a visit to Australia. What impressed you the most in being among Croats living in Australia?

I am most impressed by the fact that despite being thousands of kilometers away, almost at the other end of the world and for many decades, the Croatian community has retained and continues to live and has not forgotten its identity, heritage and culture.

Have you come across some concerns, as well as desires, of Australian Croatians with regards to the relationship between Croatia and its Diaspora? If yes, can you please briefly tell us about them?  

Regretfully, I have. Many Croats are saddened not only by the current political situation in Croatia but also by all the politics during past decades of Croatia towards Croatian emigration and emigrants. That is, when the Homeland needed its Croatian emigrants living abroad those Croatians helped their Homeland without delay. However, the negligence shown by the Croatian political establishment towards Croatian émigrés is perhaps best represented by the fact that there are only a few places where Croats living on this continent can vote during elections. I agree with the émigrés who say that they re second-grade citizens; while in Croatia there are voting places, polling booths, for just a few dozen of voters and in Australia there are cities with a million or millions of people, among them tens of thousands of Croats, have not a single polling booth for Croatian elections where citizens can vote. Also, I have come across much bitterness because of the complicated legal process or regulations during attempts from the diaspora to invest in Croatia. That is, a large number of attempts by diaspora Croats to invest in Croatia have ended with abandonment due to corruption, nepotism and, I dare say, due to criminal activities.

Recently, the „Croatian Sovereignists“ political party was founded in Zagreb and you are a member of that party. What has inspired you, personally, for the establishment of that political party?

Our slogan was that there is no alternative to togetherness. Of course, I refer to togetherness of all sovereignists and all patriots. Croatian sovereignists gathered together on exactly those principles. We are talking here about the joining together of a number of political parties such as Hrast, Croatian Conservative party, the Initiative or the Istanbul Convention, Croatian Bedem and about many distinguished individuals including General Zeljko Sacic, Kristina Pavlovic, Pero Kovacevic and Timislav Sunic. The togetherness has had the outcome of the third-best results in last European Parliament elections and, hence, due to public survey inclusions and ballot papers the logical step was to form the „Croatian Sovereignists“ political party. Of course, the platform continues to exist and many individuals, organisations and parties are coming on board.

What goals has your party set itself in relation to the Croatian diaspora?

The key goal is to enable the Croatian diaspora to vote equally as Croatians living in Croatia vote. The best way to achieve that is postalo or electronic voting.  Also, what we plan to propose is an Electoral law where Croatia would be one single electorate because we consider that the over three million Croats who live outside of Croatia across the world can only vote for three representatives in the parliament while Croats who live in Croatia have the right to vote for 148 representatives. Only in this way can the treatment of Croatian diaspora as second-class citizens be prevented.  Also, it is necessary to facilitate investment in the Homeland by emigrants. That is, corruption needs to be stopped and investments made easier.

Who are the carriers of leadership in „Croatian Sovereignists“?

The most important body of the party is the party’s Advisory Council , which for now has some twenty people who are prominent in the public political life. We do not want to brand any single person and with that reduce the togtherness which we have shown. I was elected as president at the party’s assembly meeting but we do not want to accentuate that because we consider that all the members of the Advisory Council and the Presidency contribute to the growth and strength of the Sovereingists.

So, how do you explain the fact that Ruza Tomasic has often been shown as a key or central personality for the Sovereignists both during the European Parliament elections and even these days?

Owing to the togetherness and, of course, to Ruza Tomasic as an excellent candidate, the Sovereignists won a mandate in the European Parliament. Many who who are afraid of us and who oppose us have attempted to belittle our strength want to ascribe our strength to only one person. Nevertheless, the Sovereignists’ brand is stronger than any one person and our opposition is well aware of that and, hence, will continue attempting to bring us down through personalisation of the story.

The concept of sovereignty is defined in dictionaries, what does sovereignism mean in the frame of you party? What stands behind the word and the concept of „Sovereignists“ as far as your party is concerned and why exactly did you choose that name?

There was a time when politics were categorised as either right or left wing and today it is divided into globalism or sovereignism. To clarify myself, it is divided between those who want a global amorphous society  without an identity and us who want our heritage, our tradition and our culture to be valorised in appropriate ways.  Croatia is a sovereign country on paper but in today’s globalised world Croatia has renounced much of its sovereignty to its own detriment. I think that the interest and the political goal of every Croatian politician must primarily be the interest of the Croatian state, the Croatian people, and not some super-imposed creation regardless of what it is called. Brussels, Washington … are not the capital cities for the Croatian people – Zagreb is.

What are the main goals or program points on which your party intends to work?

It’s difficult to lay out the whole political and economic program in only a few lines but that in which we are different from other political options is that we advocated without a compromise for for a society with justice and a society with values.

Are there any differences in the Croatian Sovereignists’ program to the programs which Hrast and Croatian Conservatives parties had before they joined forces to make up your party?

No, there are no differences and with that we accentuate sovereignism as a political commitment.

If you were in a situation where you would need to extract one single most important goal in achieving full and optimal democracy in Croatia what would that goal be?

I would prefer to choose two things and they are: demographic revival and fight against corruption and nepotism. It’s difficult for me to say which one is more important because without one or the other there is no prosperity.

Thank you for the interview. Do you have a message you would like to give for the Croats living outside of Croatia?

I must admit that I admire all those who have, in this case of Australia, at the other side of the world, managed to create for themselves and their families a solid existence and prosperity. I do not consider that it is essential, particularly for the older emigration group, to return to Croatia but we must set ourselves the priority of strong bonding of the entire Croatian corpus wherever it happens to live. In that way we can have a strong nation and a strong state in these seemingly, at first glance, peaceful but exceptionally turbulent times.

Interview by: Ina Vukic

 

 

 

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

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