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

Croatia: First Define Serb Civilian In War Then Talk About Compensation!

In any war civilian victims are defined as casualties of war killed or injured by non-civilians. Civilians who are helping a war effort are people working to supply the troops or paramilitary forces and to provide them with weapons, shelter, cheer them on or help in other ways are not combatants in the sense of bearing arms, but they are an essential part of the war machine and constitute a threat to the other side and, therefore,

may well (must) be considered as combatants and not civilians.

Even thirty years after Serb (Croatian rebel Serbs and Serbs from Serbia) and Yugoslav Army aggression against Croatia began, Croatia has not managed to sort this out. And it was the first thing it should have done after the Homeland War had completely ended with the re-integration of its last occupied territory of Eastern Slavonia in 1998. For all the public knows Croatia has no list of Serb “civilians” in Croatia who must be listed as non-civilians and yet Croatian government has the terrible and mean audacity to try and pass its new legislation regarding the rights of civilian victims during its Homeland War including among them Croatian Serb rebels and their families and friends who were actively involved, in one way or another, in the aggression against Croatia.

Clearly distinguishing between civilians and non-civilians (civilian combatants) has never been more important for Croatia than now. This importance arises from the fact that if this is not clearly defined it will serve as yet another notch in the repulsive denial of human rights of the real victims that equating the victim with the aggressor has been doing so far in Croatia.  

During this past week the matter of proposed new legislation for civilian victims of Croatian Homeland War has been before the Croatian Parliament and the floor clearly demonstrated that even though Croatia won that bloody war of aggression against it, the war is by a long shot not over. Croatian Serbs who belonged to the rebel squads during the war, who simply cannot be considered as civilians, still have their sights on taking over Croatia for Serbia and they are in parliament as representatives who got into the parliament with a couple of hundred votes – because Croatia’s law regarding minority rights permits that. They do not represent those Croatian Serbs who are in the same minority but fought on the Croatian side in war, to defend Croatia from Serb aggression. They are in parliament with the task of equating Croatian victim with Serb aggressor.

Croatian authorities appear to have purposefully forgotten or are sweeping under the carpet the fact that Serb aggression against Croatia started with the Croatian Serb rebels, many of whom come under the definition of civilian combatants who actually drove the aggression and who caused untold damage and loss to Croatians even though they belonged at the time to no official army. Their family members and friends helped them to cause untold damage to Croatia and continued to do so. They were all an army of “civilians”, intent on ethnically cleansing Croats from their own homes so that their homes become a part of Greater Serbia. This is simple language but nevertheless most relevant. The so-called Log Revolution (Blavanska revolucija) was an insurrection by Croatian citizens of Serb extraction who in August of 1990 barricaded sections of Croatian territory near Knin in efforts to stop Croatia in its path of secession from communist Yugoslavia. These rebel Serbs were armed and dangerous and their families stood tight with them against Croats and Croatia. This tension once rebel Serbs were joined by the Yugoslav Army and Serbia’s forces escalated soon into a war, Croatian Homeland War, during which the aggressor perpetrated ethnic cleansing of Croats, genocide, murder, rapes, destruction.  

Serb aggression against Croatia serves as a clear example where civilians are not exclusively civilians but actually largely an active and essential part of that aggression. Serb “civilians” were largely involved in hostilities against independence of Croatia and against the Croatian population in Croatia. Generally, the participation of civilians in hostilities is an issue that represents a critical challenge to the protection of civilians in current conflicts, particularly when hostilities are conducted in the midst of civilian populations and assets, and when non-state armed groups and individuals are engaged as central actors. This issue is also of particular relevance when the hostilities occur under occupation. While international law recognises a basic right of self-determination for populations under occupation, it provides immunity against violence only to those not participating in hostilities. This apparent contradiction is at the core of the debate on the protection of civilians and raises a number of questions about the roles and rights of civilians in armed conflict, as well as the concept of participation in the war effort and the nature of hostilities. Is a member of a militant group necessarily a “combatant”? Of course he/she is! Was a Serb civilian individual who tortured or sent from Vukovar to a camp in Serbia his Croatian neighbour a “combatant”? Of course he was!

So, thirty years after the war of Serb aggression (from inside Croatia and outside it) in Croatia started, a law that aims to set out the rights of civilian victims of the conflict, parents of children who were killed, children of parents who were killed and families of missing persons has been drafted, and the Croatian government (part of which are family members of rebel Serb aggressors!) is pushing for it to be passed by parliament by the end of the year.

The proposed law aims to provide financial compensation for people who became disabled as a result of the war or people who lost family members, as well as funding specific items like prosthetics.

The problem is in the definition of civilians during that war – it has not surfaced yet in the way that reflects reality of the time nor is it accompanied with efforts to delineate between true civilians and civilian combatants, i.e. those who were a perilous enemy without guns! This is the point upon which strong disputes and recriminations are occurring on the parliament’s floor.

The opposition or right-wing politicians are fighting for distinctions to be made so that someone who was a civilian combatant among the Serb aggressor doesn’t “sneak in” and receives compensation that should go to true civilian victims only.

Furthermore, Stipo Mlinaric Cipe, Member of Croatian Parliament for the Patriotic Movement Party has rightly criticised the proposed legislation because it also actually excludes Croatian victims of war who were taken to Serbia during the war, kept in prison camps, tortured and often killed there.

How can we one day explain to the generations that come after us that they have to set money aside from their salary to pay compensation for the aggressors who destroyed their homeland? How to explain that the people who killed their grandparents have all the benefits of the state budget? Is it worth pushing the aggressors at the expense of the budget for 76 hands? It is unfortunate that we are losing the battle we won in 1995 in peace,” Mlinaric said in Croatian Parliament on Wednesday 17 March 2021.

…Tomorrow some Chetnik (Serb) who received amnesty (for war crimes) or someone who fell out of a tractor while fleeing Croatia during the Operation Storm (1995) will get money from the Croatian state … there are some good provisions in this law and really some people or some group who could not exercise that right before will now, on our Croatian side, I am not interested in those from the other side… this may sound rude, non-Christian, but I don’t care what happened to those who applauded the tanks and those who bombed our cities, I don’t care. I wouldn’t give them a penny from the Croatian budget, to any of them … “ said in Croatian Parliament Hrvoje Zekanovic MP for Croatian Sovereignists when talking about the draft legislation on compensation for civilian victims.

The coalition government partly made up of those who belonged to the rebel Serb side during the war, on the other hand, are fighting for all who were not members of any armed forces or groups to be considered as civilians. And they know only too well that a great majority of Serbs in Croatia bore no arms but participated in the hostilities against Croats! Their aim is to justify Serb aggression and equate victims with the aggressors. These are attempts by the depraved people Croatians encounter every day on the streets and parliament! They talk of reconciliation when they have no intention whatsoever to admit to their own guilt! On the contrary, they fabricate new lies about the Homeland War every day. They condone acts of murderous aggression and want their victim to pay them for it. Truly repulsive and utterly immoral.

Until yesterday, they (Serbs) were killing us, raped us, beat us, massacred us, set us on fire, imprisoned us, denounced us, and today we are paying them for those same crimes. Are we a normal state? The whole play about this law that you made yesterday is just ordinary folklore with which, for who knows how many times, you equate the victim and the aggressor. Be ashamed of the the land you walk on, the bloody soil that covers the buried bones of our killed and missing,” Zeljko Glasnovic, retired Croatian Army and Croatian Defence Council General and former Member of Croatian Parliament, wrote 19 March 2021 on his Facebook profile about this proposed new legislation.

The point is that the most important criticism against this proposed legislation for compensating for civilian victims of Croatian Homeland War is the real danger that those “civilians” who participated in the hostilities against Croatia and Croats may end up receiving compensation and, I dare say, the danger is real because the proposed law does not employ real criteria in defining who was civilian and who was not, even though they may not have been members of armed forces or paramilitary forces! The government opposition and people in Croatia need to press on with this and “force” the lawmakers to distinguish among the so-called civilians and exclude from compensation those who participated in hostilities against Croatia and Croats without guns. Ina Vukic

Croatia 2030: No Success Without Ruthless Decommunisation Reforms

Pretending to reinvent “sliced bread” all over again would be among the characteristics of a political environment where working on national goals is set aside throughout decades for personal gains of politicians while the country descends into economic chaos, political swamp and living standards depletion for the masses.

Current minority government in Croatia has during the past weeks been boasting of its Croatia 2030 National Development Strategy (NDS) as being the first in history of modern Croatia that for its success uses or depends on participatory and bottom-up approach to finally get Croatia where it should be: prosperous and democratic. The implementation of such plan is heavily dependent on EU funds and given that the widespread corruption at all levels (local and national), particularly public administration and judiciary, in Croatia has not been systematically dealt with one does fret for the success of such a plan that involves participation of the heavily corrupt network.

One thing is certain: without significant and “cut-throat” reforms in Croatia, without decommunising Croatia, no amount of EU or other international funds injected into Croatia will help towards the achievement of this NDS. While this NDS could be seen as an opportunity for a new start the foundations upon which the Plan is hitting the ground running are rotten. Too much corruption and nepotism everywhere.

What a shame the government keeps ignoring the fact that, although in skeleton form, Croatia’s national development strategic plan was actually devised during the Homeland War, announced in Dr Franjo Tudjman’s speech at the inauguration of the Croatian Parliament on 30 May 1990, when he said: “…At the end of this inaugural address, allow me to endeavour and put forward, in the briefest of points, some of the most urgent and immediate tasks that stand before the new democratic government of Croatia…” (pdf link)

Released late January 2021 by the government for parliamentary discussions, under the banner “Croatia 2030”, the 2030 National Development Strategy should steer the development of Croatia until 2030. While broad vision documents were produced by past governments in Croatia, this is the first time that the Government has decided to employ a comprehensive and evidence-based process using a participatory and bottom-up approach. Not unlike the crumbled Communist Yugoslavia used to do in its Five or Ten-Year Plans by the way. Glossy plans through which the communist elites of Yugoslavia got richer and ordinary people poorer and hungrier. Because no changes were made to stamp out corruption and political persecution of those not towing the communist line. Similar environment exists in Croatia today, hence mass exodus of young people during the past decade and thriving corruption is “king”.

The principal role of the World Bank in the process of the preparation of the 2030 NDS has been to provide analytical support. World Bank policy notes aimed to help the authorities recognise the most binding development gaps, define the reform and investment priorities for the country based on the vision and strategic objectives that were set by the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds, and identify actions needed to bring the country closer to its 2030 targets.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said in Croatian Parliament on January 27: “We welcome all Members of Parliament to participate in the debate and hope to reach a consensus on this document today,” reiterating that ten years from now he saw Croatia as a competitive, innovative and safe country of recognisable identity and culture, with preserved resources, good living standards and equal opportunities for all.

The Prime Minister listed the goals to be achieved by 2030. Among them are raising GDP per capita to 75 percent of the EU average, and the share of exports of goods and services from 52 to 70 percent of GDP, significant acceleration of the work of the judiciary, reaching the OECD average, raising the coverage of children in kindergartens above 97 percent and employment to 75 percent, reducing the share of people at risk of poverty, extending the expected number of years of healthy living by six to eight years.

There certainly was no consensus reached in parliament on that day as the MPs in government showered the plan with accolades like ambitious but real and the opposition MPs described it as unambitious, insufficiently clear, coming too late and offering no vision.

Opposition MP Hrvoje Zekanovic (Hrvatski Suverenisti/Croatian Sovereignists), said for the Plan document that it is at the level of High School graduation work and maintains all the woes and misery of Croatian politics, hoping that it will not in the future.

Opposition MP Miroslav Skoro (Domovinski Pokret/Homeland Movement) said that the economy is not in focus in this Plan, because the country is run by people from diplomacy who have never worked in the real sector and do not really know how the economy works. We must create conditions for growth and development, said Skoro, adding that the strategy must give hope for a better future, a vision and help in its realisation.

On Friday 5th February, the Croatian Parliament finally voted on the National Development Strategy of Croatia until 2030. 77 deputies voted for the Croatian National Strategy, 59 were against, 2 abstained. Not a landscape that inspires faith and optimism that this NDS will actually achieve its goals. One must wonder whether that is because the Strategy itself does not enter into the essential pre-requisites for any strategy to succeed? For Croatia that would be decommunisation of public administration aiming at fierce and intense stamping out of corruption and nepotism.

National Development Strategies worldwide exist to set a clear long-term vision for the country providing a strategic guidance to all development policies and lower-ranking strategic planning documents. Additionally, the analytical underpinning prepared for the NDS and the extensive consultation process to prepare the NDS for Croatia chiefly by a team of consultants under the World Bank umbrella has cost Croatian taxpayers 32 million kunas or 4.2 million euro!

In its introductory part of its National Development Strategy 2030 Croatian government mentions absolutely nothing of the strategy or plan laid out at the start of secession from communist Yugoslavia and during the Homeland War that actually made possible today’s Croatia. This may well mean that the government aims to further degrade the foundation upon which today’s democracy was won in rivers of blood, amidst Serb aggression, devastation and despair for freedom from communism. Here is what the introduction to the NDS says (PDF):

In an increasingly globalised world, marked by challenges like the fourth industrial revolution and green transitions, but also numerous threats, such as climate changes, pandemics, geopolitical disturbances or migrations, planning for the future today is perhaps more important than ever before. In this regard, timely recognition of trends, their own strengths and weaknesses are key to turning challenges and new opportunities into development opportunities, but also to strengthen society’s resilience and its greater readiness to deal with the unpredictable circumstances.

To adapt to all these challenges and to exploit all its potentials, to be able to coordinate the efforts of all public policies, Croatia should already today have a clear vision of its future development and define the goals it wants to achieve by 2030. In addition, as a member of the European Union, Croatia has generous European funds at its disposal, which will be an important lever in achieving those goals. This requires a clear framework and quality multi-year planning, so that the benefits of EU membership can be better exploited…

Croatia suffers from a number of constraints for its development as set out in the NDS framework and these are:

  • Corruption in many different sectors of economy. Corruption comes in many forms, including the theft of public funds by politicians and government employees, and the theft and misuse of overseas aid, nepotism within the employment sector. Bribery is also a persistent threat and tends to involve the issuing of government contracts. In former communist Yugoslavia, bribery was the norm, and Croatia had inherited this, had not even seriously attempted to stamp it out and this seriously weakens the operation of strategies towards betterment of the nation.
  • Population is a considerable constraint on economic growth and Croatia’s declining population either due to mass exodus/emigration, relatively low birth rate and inefficiently stimulating climate for the return of Croats living in the diaspora means Croatia is in serious trouble achieving its planned goals or strategies unless significant reforms are undertaken in this field.  
  • Absence of a developed, independent and corruption-fee legal and judiciary system in Croatia has been an eyesore for many over the decades, yet nothing much changes and justice for ordinary citizens depends on the political agenda of courts and judges, even many practicing lawyers.

Given the past and the existing practices in Croatia which at high levels of authority still celebrate the failed communist Yugoslavia laws and public administration immorality there is a real danger that funds coughed up by the EU for this NDS will significantly dissipate into corrupt practices (pockets) and the NDS will, therefore, not be worth the paper it’s written on. I may be proven wrong; however, my assessment and sentiment are shared by many, including parliamentary votes regarding the NDS. To ensure success of such an NDS a political force is needed that would preserve the values of Croatian national identity away from communist past. Positive identity generates pride and pride generates positive energy capable of achieving just about anything put in front of it. Ina Vukic

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