Let them eat cake…or…chocolate


The background to this article is related to the unacceptable and utterly disappointing practices in the handling of complaints that arrive at the Office of the President of Croatia. It is to be noted that due process in Complaints handling by a public office is taken seriously in a developed democracy, not in Croatia it seems.

Let them eat cake…or…chocolate
The President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic’s Marie Antoinette response to Croatian Diasporan Voice (Glas hrvatske dijaspore).

“Let them eat cake” probably the most famous quote attributed to Marie-Antoinette queen of France during the French Revolution, and as the story goes, it was the queen’s response upon being told that her starving peasant subjects had no bread.

Because cake is more expensive than bread, the anecdote has been cited as an example of Marie-Antoinette’s obliviousness to the conditions and daily lives of ordinary people.

Eventually however, both Marie and husband Louis XVI of France found that the peasants had tired of the couple’s obliviousness towards them and accordingly Marie and Louis lost their heads to Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin’s new invention during a bloody revolution.

Yes, I know, I am confusing you all, bear with me it always comes out the other end proportionately shaped and monotone, even though it starts off as very colourful Galati cake, digest with me!

In December 2016 during the celebrations for the “Day of Defenders of Dubrovnik” Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic met with a group of children in Dubrovnik and gave them gift packages containing numerous goodies, however there was a problem, a sample of chocolate included in the packages was produced in Serbia and one parent took offense and forwarded a photo of the chocolate bar with attached signed photograph of the President to news outlets stating:

“I had to post this on social networks so that you could see what kind of country we live in. My child’s kindergarten went to see the President, and the children received from her hands a chocolate from Serbia. That is really sad – and it all happened on the Day of Defenders of Dubrovnik. Bravo!”

The chocolate bar named “Mony” which is produced by “Pionir” (a company based in Subotica in Serbia) became the focus of the President who decided that she should apologise for the “mistake” and accordingly announced an investigation into who was responsible for the monumental screw up.

The eventual explanation offered by the “Office of the President” was that they had purchased them from a Croatian company based in Vukovar, and luckily, they only contained “One disputed chocolate per package”. They went on to add that “The package was full of Croatian products, but as it happened, amongst three hundred products, several of them were questionable”.

I guess we should feel a lot better about that, don’t you think? Imagine visiting a Middle Eastern country and presenting a peer head of State with a gift package containing a copy of “Israel, the six-day war, and how they kicked Middle Eastern butts”?

(Ummmmmmmmmmmm, no I don’t think so, same same though)

Subsequently, the President herself also gave a statement to reporters about the case exclaiming her astonishment regarding the “mistake” and adding that she did not personally check the contents of the packages.

(Guess that puts her in the clear then.)

She went on to state “I am extremely disappointed because I personally support the Let’s Buy Croatian campaign. The packages contained products which were not produced in Croatia, but which can be bought on the Croatian market.

(Ok, good come back I guess, justify the mistake and all that.)

“The Croatian President must promote Croatian products, and this will not happen again. We will apologise to the parents who have received these chocolates and we will send them Croatian products”

(And so, you should! Well done……………… President material our Kolinda)

The owner of the Pionir company, Serbian businessman Miroljub Aleksic, advised that he did not understand what the problem was and that he himself sometimes gives away sweets made in Croatia.

(Because you don’t like made in Croatia goods and would rather give them away Miroljub?)

While Serbia’s Minister for Trade and Tourism, Mr Rasim Ljajic, stated that
“Serbian products were obviously not welcome in Croatia, the statement by the Croatian President is non-democratic and non-European”
and posing the question

“What kind of normalisation of relations in the region can we talk about if such a level of ethnic intolerance can be caused by a single chocolate just because it was produced in Serbia?”

(We didn’t like you commie Tractors either and thank God you took them with you when you left)

I could have coined this editorial “Choko-Linda” or “Kolinda Surprise” or even “That chocolate impacted my Kolinda!” but in the end “Let them eat cake, or chocolate” made more sense which I’m sure you will all appreciate as you read on.

The President was very sensitive to this error (Obviously her staff should have checked the contents that would constitute the gift packs, clearly not her) and hence the investigation and subsequent apology, all because of “1” parent complaining about “1” chocolate bar, however, it seems that when her staff stray from their responsibilities, different reactions are called for in response to different concerns conveyed to her by her constituents, and it seems depending if you are a citizen within Croatia’s borders, or one or many in the Diaspora, this also has an effect as to what level, or at what speed, concerns are addressed and dealt with, if at all.

This editorial is a follow-on from the one which was tabled regarding the letter which we as a group, and organisation (Croatian Diasporan Voice), sent to the President prior to her departure from Croatia for her State visit to Australia.

Our organisation’s president Darko Orec has gone into some detail regarding the contents, which were questioned and speculated over internationally (Appearing in Croatian portals) and which we as a group were attacked, criticised, and condemned over, so this editorial won’t be addressing the finer points of those letters.
What this editorial attempts to highlight is this:

“What level of importance do our homeland’s elected officials bestow upon their constituents in the Diaspora? and, what level of sensitivity do they apply to these concerns based on either their ongoing general commentary or actual response when one is raised?”

When we consider the first letter we sent (PDF) we were mindful of conveying a level of diplomacy and respect while also raising our concerns as concisely as we could, there was no disdain towards the President as many wrote blindly, and we wrote to her as a representative group, which we are in two respects. We are both as an internationally dispersed group of Patriots, and secondly an emerging lobby group who hold the concerns of the Diaspora and the Homeland as our immediate focus.

Those that attacked us and our rights to contact the President, should seriously review the level of success associated with having had their “Red Chips” removed, it seems they still prescribe to totalitarian ideals of the state and not the individuals rights to question or approach within a true Democratic environment.

The first letter was ignored, and concerns were raised as to the workings of the Government procedural protocols when it appeared again in Australia in the hands of our detractors as she was on route. We should keep in mind it was only ever sent to the President via a single email to her Presidential office.

Ok, so a chocolate bar on the scale of things outweighs a Croatian Diasporan Voice letter?

After the President’s departure, a second letter (PDF) was issued (this time raising our concerns regarding what I have just described above) and suggesting that because of the previous circumstances of no response, we felt it may never have reached her and she might wish to investigate as a matter of internal protocol, the reason for this (Similar to “Which one of you put the Mony chocolate bars in the show bags?)

If we received no response we would assume the worst and make both letters public for all the reasons we raised concerns over as I have mentioned throughout.
Yes, we received a response (PDF), “Ohhhhh Joy” but neither was it signed by the President, nor did it address a single issue we raised in either the first or subsequent second letter, therefore, we can only assume one of two things.

#1 She once again, didn’t receive it but someone panicked, loaned a sheet of Presidential letter head and the Presidential seal and responded on her behalf or

#2 As per the letters post-card like theme throughout of “It was a wonderful trip, met many interesting people, saw many interesting places, I love you all” would suggest, it was a case of Marie Antionette syndrome and quietly whispering between the lines in here response “Have a slice of cake……or…… chocolate”

The Presidential theme for this state visit to her constituents was one of building bridges, dialogue, welcoming us to return (either us and our bank accounts or preferably the latter I would think) and wanting to hear our concerns.

“We tried Madam President, we honestly did, and the bad news is, we are going to try a lot harder, we promise”

As I mentioned at the start, both Marie and husband Louis XVI of France found that the peasants had tired of the couple’s obliviousness towards them and accordingly Marie and Louis lost their heads to Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin’s new invention during the French Revolution.

And the coined phrase “Let them eat cake” be it true or invented nevertheless concisely described the attitude of those times and in particular Marie’s attitude towards her own people.

Be it a chocolate bar, a letter from a bunch of nobodies in the Diaspora, the term “Za Dom Spremni” (For Home Ready) a Plaque to commemorate our troops that gave their lives to make the role of President of a Democratic Croatia a reality, these are all concerns belonging to the many and all should deserve equal consideration dignity and respect.

Perhaps next time, we should send a chocolate bar, or maybe even a chocolate cake?

By John Davor Ovcaric

Croatia: Democracy (?) And Fear Of Reprisals Culture

Glas hrvatske dijaspore – Australia
Croatian Diasporan Voice – Australia
Official logo

One of the crucial fundamentals for a well-functioning democracy lies in tight and transparent Complaints mechanisms across the board; for government, public and private business bodies operating in the state alike. This fact is indisputable in Western democracies and is guarded by state authorities with proverbial iron-fists. Freedom from harassment, reprisals and retaliation resulting from lodging complaints has been and continues to be a closely guarded staple for a functional democracy. Alarmingly not so in Croatia, and as evidenced by the manner of dealing with complaints to do with the President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic current official visit to Australia!


Croatia is riddled with legitimate fear of retaliation based on formal lodging of complaints, or even informal discussions in public among people. Fear of retaliation is rife today in Croatia just as it was in communist Yugoslavia, whether tied to complaints in the workplace or complaints about public administration and actions undertaken by state authorities. The culture of generating fear of reprisals in those who dare to complain is palpable on the streets of Croatia, as I have had the unwanted privilege to experience upon my recent visits to Croatia – no different to fear of reprisals that suffocated and oppressed freedom during the times of communist Yugoslavia.

The fear of reprisals culture in Croatia associated with complaints could be defined in an urban dictionary as

“suck it up, don’t report it or it could affect your career and your family”!

One of the recent of the important UN documents referring to the notion of democracy is the 2005 World Summit Outcome, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 24 October 2005, which provides that:
“… democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives … We stress that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.” UNGA Resolution 60/1 (24 October 2005) A/RES/60/1, paragraph 135. (PDF)

Evidently, practices in Croatia to do with individual participation in the development of democracy even via complaints mechanisms that should be available to citizens without the fear of reprisals are a far cry from any UN or even EU resolutions, affirmations, directions… Transparent and law-based mechanisms of accountability for limiting the inherent hazards of political subjection are set up in functional democracies to deal with the fear people justifiably have about the worst that their rulers can do. No doubt, complaints mechanisms are most important in the surrounds of preventing the dangers of political authority over a democratic nation.

The reality that directs to the fact that there is an alarming lack of complaints mechanisms free of fear of reprisals in Croatia evidences an urgent need to decommunise Croatia.

It is universally acknowledged that the right to freedom of expression (which includes complaints) is a foundational human right of the greatest importance. It is a linchpin of democracy, key to the protection of all human rights, and, fundamental to human dignity in its own right. At the same time, it is also universally recognised that it is not an absolute right but the one defined or restricted particularly by provisions of specific laws (e.g. defamation, media regulation and protection of national security) and every democracy has developed some system of limitations on freedom of expression, but not every nation monitors and “polices” effectively the associated practices on the ground, particularly installing independent resolutions of complaints made against a public body. Where the latter does not occur one can confidently conclude that political authority has the upper hand in every day lives of citizens.

My personal experience lately, regarding the apparent undermining of democratic principles to do with complaint handling by the Office of the President of Croatia has deepened my worry about the shocking state of democratic processes in Croatia. To explain and corroborate this concern with facts, I find it essential towards a hope for a better future to demonstrate here the deplorable practices in dealing with citizen complaints within the Office of the President of Croatia.

It so happens that the President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, has embarked upon a visit to Australia and New Zealand with official engagements within the Australian Croatian community starting in Sydney on 13th August 2017. A couple of weeks prior to that date her closest advisor and organisers of the visit arrived in Sydney some two weeks prior. Activities of reportedly non-transparent fundraising towards the President’s activities while on her official state visit to Australia and emerging details of grossly limited and unrepresentative of the diaspora public access to welcome her among the Australian Croatians – upon whom she has called many times to return to Croatia – had rightly and with best interests for Croatia emboldened the Australian based Association Croatian Diasporan Voice (Glas hrvatske dijaspore) to write a letter of complaint to president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic ahead of her travel to Australia.

Suffice to say, the Association Croatian Diasporan Voice never received an acknowledgement of receipt of that letter, nor an indication that matters of complaint raised in the letter would duly (and hopefully independently) be investigated, nor asked to provide evidence and other corroboration for the complaints. However, reliable sources, Mr John Davor Ovcaric from Melbourne (a co-signatory of the letter to the President of Croatia), for example, reveal that he had been told that Mr Jozo Brkic, the president’s adviser and one of the organisers of her visiting the Croatian diaspora in Australia, who was one of those implicated in the letter of complaint to the president for apparent activities causing concern, had a copy of the very same letter, which he could only have been given by the president’s office, and showed it to people in Australia. This resulted in insults being waged against the letter writers from several junctures! The culture of fear of reprisals arising from making sincere complaints is alive in the Office of the President of Croatia. It is fortunate that those who wrote the letter of complaint live in Australia and cherish the value of contributing positively to freedom and democracy and are not discouraged by the foul lack of respect towards citizens evidently coming out of the Croatian President’s Office in this instance.

I am not saying here that the person/s implicated in a letter of complaint don’t have a right to see such a letter with view to contributing to a resolution of the complaint, but to use the letter with view to discrediting and insulting those who wrote the complaint and ignoring the writers of the complaint completely, is utterly despicable; on both the democracy and human sides. This is only one example of the vast pits of democracy in Croatia and showing them up is a duty of all citizens who strive to live in and contribute to full democracy. Those who know the beauty of democracy practiced via complaints mechanisms know or should know only too well that complaints may or may not be resolved to the complainant’s favour. The results of investigating specific matters in a complaint are an individual matter but the complaint’s mechanisms are a national one and of national importance. It would seem that the Office of the President of Croatia fails to recognise that fact of democracy and one wonders why? To protect the individuals serving as advisors, perhaps, regardless of the fact that their actions may be against the national interests of installing and practicing that which is a linchpin of democracy: freedom from fear of reprisals! Ina Vukic


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