Croatia: To Euro Or Not To Euro

Croatian Sovereignists (L), Andrej Plenkovic, Croatian Prime Minister (R)

Since Croatia set on the path of independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1990 its citizens have held only three referendums: independence referendum in May 1991, referendum to join (or not) the European Union as member state in 2012 and the referendum for the definition of marriage (between a man and a woman) in 2013.

In 2013/2014, 650,000 signatures were collected in Croatia for the initiative introduced by the Headquarters for the Defence of Vukovar Association to hold a referendum regarding the Cyrillic (Serbian) script in Vukovar. That is, a referendum seeking the exclusion of the Cyrillic script as a second official script/language on public buildings and institutions etc in Vukovar. The referendum was abandoned due to Constitutional Court’s ruling that such a referendum question could not asked as it would severely compromise the rights of minorities under the Croatian Constitution living in Croatia.

In 2018 a referendum was planned, and signatures collected in Croatia on three questions related to changes in electoral legislation and the cancellation of the Istanbul Convention, but this pre-referendum signature collection ended in agony and scandal with claims from the government agency engaged in counting the votes, APIS, that over 40,000 signatures were invalid, including double signatures. The referendum initiating and organising group “People Decide” complained and demanded an independent recount of votes, however this process did not eventuate as claims of ballot papers’ being destroyed arose besides apparent resistance from authorities to permit a recount.  

Come 2021 and the socio-economic surrounds for another referendum of key significance for Croatia emerge, with politics hotting up just as they did in 2011 and 2012 ahead of the European Union membership referendum. This new referendum would seek to clarify whether Croatia should abandon its beloved monetary currency unit Kuna and adopt the Euro.

Since 2004 Croatia had a bumpy ride to its 2013 achieved status as EU member state. This bumpy ride particularly saw parts the international community collaborating with some ex-communist Yugoslavia Croatian operatives fabricate evidence to attempt a criminalisation of Croatia’s Homeland War in defence from brutal Serb aggression. This bumpy ride included the equating of victim with the aggressor. This bumpy ride included an increased stacking of Croatia’s public service posts and positions of power with former communists and/or their descendants. Hence, an anti-EU membership mood that became visibly prevalent in by 2010 and the government, obviously fearing that the EU Membership referendum would fail if the Constitution was not changed went on to change the Constitutional law governing referendums.

That is, the section dealing with Referendums in 1990 stated that the referendum is decided upon by the majority of votes but under the condition that a majority of the total voter numbers vote in the referendum and this was changed in 2010 whereby majority of total voters were no longer required to turn up at voting but the question asked in the referendum is decided on the basis of majority vote out of the total number of people who turned up to vote. And so, we had the situation that in 2012 the majority vote out of the dismal 28% of total voters turnout decided that Croatia should become an EU member.  

Having been through the process of public consultations/submissions since the beginning of this year the government of Croatia is currently bringing before the parliament its proposal for changes to the Constitutional law governing referendums. The government claims that its proposed changes will being an improvement in the vague legislative framework of the referendum institute. That the new legislation will be harmonised with the Constitution and ensure transparency and openness of its implementation. Citizens should have a more effective influence in the political decision-making process, the government claims.

The changes proposed include that Local self-government units are obliged to provide places for collecting signatures for referendum initiatives, depending on the number of inhabitants in that local self-government unit. Parliament also undertakes to call a referendum within 30 days (instead of the current 15) after the Electoral Commission determines that enough signatures have been collected.

Whether, if passed into law, limiting referendum polling places to government offices only (not city squares, schools, or parks also) is the most voter-friendly part of the referendum process is a moot point and its clarification is bound to appear if a referendum is held after the parliament passes the proposed changes to the legislation. Certainly, experience would suggest that limiting polling places to government-controlled venues will always deter many voters from turning up at the polls in fear of government control and corruption.   

Conspicuously missing from the proposed changes to law governing referendums is the fact that the proposal does not include any possibility of scrutinising or observing the counting of votes in the referendum voting processes despite the bitter experiences of the 2018 referendum attempts that were often described as corruption and manipulation of public votes.

Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has announced that his government will introduce Euro as Croatia’s official monetary currency during 2023. He has also reminded the public this month that the process of joining the EU in Croatia enjoyed the support of all participants in the political scene and made it clear that there would be no referendum on the Euro.

“It was seen in the process of EU accession negotiations and in the referendum,” said the Prime Minister, adding that 150 MPs voted in favour of joining the Union at the time and that he believed that the issue was resolved by referendum and vote in Parliament. “Croatia then legally and politically undertook to join the eurozone,” he said. Plenkovic also stated that those against introducing the Euro to Croatia had done nothing for the process of Croatia achieving membership in the EU.

Let’s keep it real, Prime Minister!

Plenkovic’s statement that those against the Euro had done nothing for Croatia’s membership in the EU appears scandalous and certainly not true because Croatia became a member of the EU as an independent state created and fought for in a bloody war by multitudes of those who do not want to give up the Kuna and embrace the Euro. The people who fought for and sacrificed their own lives and for an independent Croatia have an absolute right to fight to retain a potent symbol of their suffering for freedom from communism – the Kuna!

Hence, the Prime Minister Plenkovic is wrong in insisting that there would be no referendum regarding the Euro. Not all EU member countries are also members of the Eurozone and therefore, this evidences the option that membership in the EU does not oblige its members to also become members of the Eurozone.

As the date of the apparently imminent introduction of the new currency approaches, such a possibility is gaining more and more public attention, which, as with EU membership for example, is divided. Some are in favour of the introduction of the Euro because they believe that it will stabilise Croatia and help its further development and investments. At the same time, others strongly oppose the announcement because they fear an increase in the prices of everyday necessities and an additional drop in citizens’ standards.

Croatian Sovereighnists party, headed by Hrvoje Zekanovic MP, which is part of conservative opposition parties in the Croatian Parliament, has launched the organising of a referendum on the adoption of the Euro in Croatia and they are against the Euro and against Croatia being a part of the Eurozone. They state that their main reason for wanting to protect the Kuna, to keep it is in the fact that national currency and the management of its exchange rate is one of the key parameters of influencing the economic development of the country, so this parameter should remain in the hands of the Republic of Croatia and its citizens, for whom Croatian interests are a priority.

No date is in sight as to when the referendum process will commence but one may safely say it will be during 2022. Furthermore, it is anticipated that it will take several months for the new legislation regarding referendum changes to come out the other end as passed. Hence, the initiative for a referendum and the government’s insistence that there will be none, is surely to bring in a great deal more of political unrest and disagreements in Croatia, including bitter clashes between citizens who tend to see the adoption of the Euro as the hated last straw that will break the back of the pride rightly held for the glorious victory over the Serb and communist aggressor during the 1990’s.

Prime Minister Plenkovic keeps telling the Croatian public that the adoption of the Euro will increase the standard of living at a greater rate than any increases in prices. The opponents of the Euro in Croatia state that this is not the time to adopt the Euro in Croatia as that currency is good only for the wealthy countries, those in the EU with a much higher standard of living, that the rounding off of prices is bound to occur with the introduction of the Euro and thus be detrimental for Croatian citizens. Also, on the side against the Euro many say that the Eurozone is an unsafe conglomerate and if it falls apart the poor Croatia will be placed in the situation of having to contribute to the repair and bailing other countries, such as Greece and Italy, out of a debt crisis, as their losses in this event could surface after the Coronavirus pandemic as being astronomical. The greatest complaint against the Euro appears to be the widespread belief that by losing its national currency Kuna, Croatia will lose a great deal of its hard-earned sovereignty, paying for it with rivers of blood and devastation.

And at the end of the day a referendum regarding the Euro should be held in Croatia if because of nothing else then because only 28% of total Croatian voted at the EU referendum in 2012 and barely 67% of those voted Yes to Croatia’s EU membership. A referendum on the Euro could indeed be a great test for the Croatian citizens regarding their experiences and trust as members of the EU as opposed to national sovereignty and retention of values from the Homeland War. Ina Vukic

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

 

 

 

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