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

Croatia: Caught In European Parliament Elections Storm

Flags of the member states of the European Union

It’s been said many a time that the 23-26 May 2019 European Parliament (EUP) elections stand as the most important ones for the EU so far.

Today, Europe is in flux; in continued movement and upheaval be it from Brexit process that’s disquieting corridors of power in the UK, in the EU, and wider, be it from populism, atomising political fragmentation, and the largely confusing setting upside-down of traditional political paradigms in many countries.

It springs to mind as significant in this mass of political upheaval across Europe to remember that the last EUP elections held in May 2014 were held during the stormy months when the borders of an EU country (Ukraine) were being changed by force. Russia invaded Ukraine, annexed Crimea, and since then, has poured military capabilities into the annexed territory. So far about 13,000 lives (3,000 civilians) have been lost.

Furthermore, since last EUP elections China has continued its emergence as a formidable diplomatic, economic, military, and political power. European capitals are seemingly only beginning to formulate responses to Chinese strategic investments in Europe, as well as to the risks involved with Chinese companies providing important technological systems in the countries of EU. Croatia is one of them. Judging from public responses to recently announced China’s wishlist of investments in Croatia, a significant public outrage (and further political instability) will only follow should such investments come with or inject a boost of revival into the already troubling nostalgia for the former communist regime that still exists in some quarters, against which – for democracy and freedom – Croatian people paid more than what humanity can sustain or endure without permanent scarring.

But, perhaps the most impactful change since 2014 EUP elections has been the effects the migrant crisis (arising from North Africa and Middle East crises) that have shaped and visibly shape politics in European countries. Politics and election platforms are increasingly reflecting the need to defend Europe and the question of a deeper connection and interlocking with transatlantic community. Events and policies emerging particularly in countries at EU or Schengen borders that have seen fences (walls) being erected, presence of border police increased, the shutting-off of harbours and ports – banning boats carrying illegal migrant from docking, the enormous cash payments to Turkey to contain migrants bound for Europe in Turkey’s refugee camps … all spell out defence strategies employed, which have also become platforms for elections into EUP across Europe. Since the unprecedented wave of migration roiled Europe, a widespread sense arises, which tells us that Europeans can no longer take their union for granted. Politicians asserting national identity and national rights are talking to each other more and consolidating their mutual belonging to the politics of clear national interests for their own countries (EU members) much more than ever before. Their efforts have emerged into the mainstream of European political life; their opposition to the current drivers of EU politics is heard far and wide and this, surely, will result in a greater turnout at EUP elections across Europe than ever before. Previously the turnout had reached barely a 43% overall turnout, signaling pessimism and lack of interest in the EU as the power that delivers governance.

The roiling of the EU caused by the unprecedented migration influx seems to be at the centre of decreasing talks about leaving the EU (such as Brexit represents) and increasing efforts to move absolute governance away from Brussels through animating into practice the plan for an EU made up of a fabric of federation of (equal) states.

This time voters will have an opportunity to express their views on the future of Europe, the relation of European nation states, and the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. Currently, two main blocs control 54% majority seats in EUP. One bloc is the centre-right European People’s Party and the other is the centre-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Current polling (e.g. Politico) suggests both the European People’s Party and Socialists and Democrats blocs are set to lose a significant number of seats. Parties expected to gain seats include euroskeptic parties, including those in the conservative European Conservatives and Reformists group. Support is also expected to grow for populist parties, including France’s National Rally (formerly Front National) and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland.

So far there are 33 different lists of 2019 EUP election candidates registered in Croatia! At 2014 EUP elections about one quarter (about 600,000) turned to vote, reflecting dismal interest in EU affairs within the voting population. And yet, judging by the media contents Croatians seem preoccupied with politics and the political developments; politics appear to consume much of daily living in Croatia! Should 2014 voter turnout be replicated in 2019 then, given the large number of candidates going for election, the results will not be different this time around and pursuing issues of what Croatia as EU member state needs will continue to appear as mere “shooting the breeze” in media, social media, cafés, streets. Obviously, many more Croatian voters need to vote in order to make an impact for Croatian national interests within EUP.

If you are like me, supporting and working on supporting democracy in Croatia (or anywhere else for that matter) chances are that your peers have told you over and over again: “The political landscape in Croatia has gone crazy, out of control. Voters can’t possibly make a proper choice as there are simply too many parties, too many candidates for election, and it’s almost impossible to distinguish many from others…”

One must not permit frustrations to overwhelm him/her because of this, and then boycott elections. We need to always keep in mind that founding a political party (association) is a fundamental right in a democracy and from that perspective one can never have enough political parties; one can never have enough of good ideas and good initiatives, innovative approaches to addressing real problems a nation faces – hence, the need to permit the expression of many ideas through political platforms. In the conundrum of too many candidates and parties going for EUP elections from Croatia a “strong” party (list) will be a party that presents voters with a coherent policy agenda. That is the factor that influences a voter to stop and think, before voting; or at least that is how it should be. Then, the choice that draws ones vote becomes easier. Reported electoral fraud has undoubtedly put many Croatian voters off in the past; a feeling that there is no use of voting when the results are likely to be rigged has devastated the possible voter turnout on many an occasion in Croatia. Such attitudes only benefit those who engage or may engage in electoral fraud and that is why voting is important; the greater the voter turnout the better are the chances of election results actually reflecting the mood and the desires of the electorate.

I truly trust that Croatia will see a much larger voter turnout at these coming elections than before.

This is essential for many reasons but the one that seems most relevant is to assert Croatia’s identity and national aspirations with the EU “den” Croatia is a part of. This “den” is actually one of the world’s most extraordinary experiments in governance. It’s a union of 28 countries with wildly different cultures brought together to fight around a negotiating table rather than on the battlefield. Currently this Union is under siege from within, from Brussels. Decision-making studies show that most people find it difficult to make rational choices. Needless to say, having to establish preference/s among 33 + electoral lists for EUP options is not simple at all. But it must be done. Individuals must choose one (list) among several they may feel close to and the ones that make that personal step by voting, shall grow as rational citizens of democracy in Croatia. Ina Vukic

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