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: Sovereignty Should Equal Decommunisation

 

“Croatian sovereignists” press conference
9 February 2019
Photo: Screenshot

It’s been several years since Croatian politics had entered largely uncharted waters of political survival and political assertion in a democratic system, which fundamentally promotes freedom of political and other association. The struggle for political survival and assertion in Croatia among the voting population, which has until 1990 lived for five decades under a one-party (communist) system, has shown the full plethora of rewards and backlashes that Western democracies have been seeing for much longer. But, for Croatia, assertion of this democracy has meant for political parties and citizens’ political initiatives swimming or sinking in unchartered waters, particularly when the need for political coalition or union is seen by some (or many) as rather imperative for political survival.

Croatia, as most countries of democratic tenure, has particularly in the last two decades seen minority governments elected where coalition with other parties was essential in order to form a government. The thorn in the eye over recent years has, it seems, been the coalition with ethnic minority political parties to form a government, which left and leaves among the population the uncomfortable notion that ethnic minorities are dictating the direction and reality of the Croatian state that is increasingly seen as “anti-Croatian”, “anti-sovereignist”. A particular discomfort and voter-irritation is associated with the government coalition with the Independent Serb Democratic Party/Milorad Pupovac. Indeed, such a coalition had also meant that much of kudos and deserved recognition and practice of Croatian Homeland War values had slowly and unacceptably fallen to the wayside. In all the desperation and hopelessness that has ensued, dozens of new political parties, dozens of new political citizens’ initiatives – “to save Croatia from utter ruin” – have emerged.

A new political culture is emerging in Croatia.

In this new political culture, attitudes that the right-wing/conservative politicians are the true sovereignists, true saviours of Croatia, and that the others (including current government) are globalists who want to destroy the Croatian national being, are emerging daily through some public media outlets as well as through social media. Moral judgments, political myths and realities, beliefs, and ideas about what makes for a good Croatian society appear to be dished out almost incessantly these days. When there are little or no practical solutions offered or visibly worked on for a better, “an ideal”, Croatian society, a state of political culture of confusion and wandering in unchartered waters emerges.

There is an increasingly present expression from the conservative, right wing political plethora in the community that all conservative political parties and leaders should unite and form a political force that would topple the current HDZ-led (Croatian Democratic Union) government at elections as well as drown the chances for SDP (Social Democratic Party), the other historically major political party, at coming elections. Even some of the media in Croatia is addressing this issue of late. At times they appear to suggest to the public that if a party or some political figure of note, from the conservative political orientation, does not join such a union then – well – then they “don’t want” to be a part of this “union of saviours”! That these are not sovereignists, is what’s suggested!

Nothing could be further from the truth, though!

There have been and there are numerous political parties, individuals and citizens’ initiatives that are and have carefully and specifically tended to the preservation and assertion of Croatian national interests and national being. If we accept that in a democracy, and we should accept it, a political party is created in order to benefit the people, either generally or on specific issues, then the concept of uniting with others for greater election results beckons the question what or who will need to compromise their vision for a better country.

And, is that compromise worth the union?

International experience of coalition politics shows that instability is never far away. Indeed, the Croatian experience also shows this. However, that doesn’t mean that tightly and clearly founded coalition cannot work – at least for the achievement of particular and specific goals the country must achieve to move ahead.

The relatively recent shenanigans in frequent changes of Croatian government, in fallings out between government coalition partners, are testimony of what can go wrong in coalitions that are set up badly or in a rush of electoral win euphoria. What began as a rift over the Agrokor, for example, between HDZ and MOST (Bridge), spilled over, threatened and demolished the then existing coalition in government and a new one had be devised.

Like a Formula One car, if something small fails, the whole complex machine can fall apart and come off the road.

Worldwide experience shows that there is a clear danger for coalition partners surrendering the uniqueness of their identity. They are forced to compromise to accommodate the policies of others indispensable to the numerical ability of the coalition to govern.

Coalitions can result in significant electoral gains. But involvement in coalition, or union into a political force for that matter, does have electoral backlashes, particularly if siding with some traditional enemies is present. Coalitions are also inherently adversarial. It’s a necessary condition that parties work together. But empirical evidence from across the world shows that the primary rationale for coalition formation is the acquisition of political power.

There is nothing inherently objectionable to this. The best intentions for positive change are of little consequence unless coupled with the power to implement them. The acquisition of power through legal means is therefore a legitimate and fundamental objective of any political party that has the best intentions for the people that it seeks to serve.

But this inevitably generates conflict as coalition partners continuously manoeuvre themselves to ensure that they get the best return for their investment in political compromise. While each must work together, the end goal for each party or citizens’ initiative is its own success. And sometimes fights among friends can lead to more destructive and enduring fallouts than fights among foes.

Lessons from Germany are that successful coalitions have been founded on written agreements that create formal structures for engagement among partners (e.g. allocating responsibilities for specific tasks/matters/issues to specific individual members of the union) but also, that great coalitions stand, after all, on wobbly legs. The recent emergence of the right wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) from a marginal party to the game-changer in federal and state politics shows that great coalitions do not necessarily cater for all significant needs, emerging needs and aspirations among the people.

When a political coalition or union is assembled among several strong, and capable, political leaders the inevitable result is that only one can be seen as “The” leader and the others fall behind. This, in a strong sense, means that the country loses on active individual political leadership pool and, consequently, the diminution of that pool of needed publicly active innovation.

International experience shows a clear and direct relationship between well written coalition agreements and the stability of the coalition/union. But they’re not easily enforceable. That’s because they’re political agreements rather than legal agreements.

Therefore, the only way to ensure that coalition partners stick to a deal is to offer each partner enough benefits to ensure that it derives more political advantage by staying in the coalition, than if it were to ‘go it alone’ or offer its allegiances elsewhere.

On Saturday 9 February 2019, in Croatia’s capital Zagreb, a union of some right wing/conservative political parties, some citizens’ initiatives and associations was announced at a press conference. This political union calls itself “Croatian Sovereignists” and members say sovereignism is their platform for political engagement. Leading personalities from the small Hrast party (Ladislav Ilcic, Hrvoje Zkanovic MP, retired general Zeljko Sacic) Ruza Tomasic MEP from small Croatian Party of Rights Dr Ante Starcevic, Marijan Pavlicek of small Croatian Conservative Party, heads of a couple of critizens’ initiative including of Truth About the Istanbul Convention and Croatian Bedem (Bulwark) and associations spoke at the press conference.

President of Hrast Ladislav Ilcic said that the Croatian people seek the unity of all those who see Croatia as a sovereign state. He believes that the new political platform will achieve excellent results in the upcoming European and later Croatian parliamentary elections. “Plenkovic’s HDZ has turned sharply to the left and Croatia under that leadership has become one of the most open countries that follow globalist ideas that are very often in contradiction with Croatian national interests, Croatian pride and values that Croatian people have fundamentally determined over the centuries,” Ilcic said.

So we need people who will represent us with an open mind, who don’t hesitate saying what they think and what is best for Croatia and that we don’t go to Brussels for our opinion but with our opinion. If the voters decide to continue supporting those who are for a big Europe, when we become marginalised, no one will be to blame but ourselves,” Ruza Tomasic said.

Hrast representative at Croatian Parliament, Hrvoje Zekanovic, said that the Croatian sovereignist means to be against the Istanbul Convention imposed by the EU, against the Marrakech Agreement as it is bad for Croatia, for the blocking of Serbia on its way to the EU so that aggression against Croatia could finally be recgonised and acknowledged and war damages paid/compensated as well as for defending the rights to life and defending the Croatian people in Bosnia and Herzegovina and on question of the diaspora.

When asked by journalists whether they have approached other political parties and citizens’ initiatives to join this union Ilcic said that they were “…open for collaboration with all those who think like we do, who have similar opinions regarding Croatia as we do …they say that they are going to elections independently, the future will show if that is good…”.

One would prefer to have heard at the press announcement some more concrete, practical ways this political union intends to strengthen the sovereignty of the Republic of Croatia. To list the blocking Serbia on its path to the EU, or getting Serb aggression against Croatia finally recognised or ensuring compensation for war damages just isn’t enough, nor most important – by a long shot. This way the press conference felt more like the springboard to an election campaign than an organised body o forces that is clear on all paramount tasks for the future of Croatia.

The most important platform for real sovereignty of Croatia are decommunisation and lustration.

It goes without saying that were Croatia to rid itself from largely ineffective public administration riddled with corruption it would inject new trust, new optimism for the much needed foreign investment in the country that would stabilise if not improve the much ailing economy. Clearing of former communists and their like-minded people from public administration either physically or through new and tightened regulations and laws is the only and natural step to full sovereignty. I say this because the Homeland War was fought and won in order to establish full democracy and you cannot have a full democracy with so much of the communist Yugoslavia practices, conducive to corrupt practices, in public administration continuing practically unimpeded. Ina Vukic

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