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: In The Quandary Of Voting For A “Lesser of Two Evils”

Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (L) Zoran Milanovic (R)Photo: Pixsell

Voting is a matter of morality. It cannot be done without considering others as well as our own self. Voting often involves agonising moral trade-offs, agonising over the need to suppress one’s own political, ideological, economic ideals if one is to vote for one and not for the other. Decision to abstain from voting also is a moral matter that takes away the burden of complicity in the wrongdoing or wrong outcomes driven by the candidate we voted for because he/she is seen as a lesser evil than the other.

Hundreds of thousands of Croatia’s voters, who voted for Miroslav Skoro in the first round of Presidential elections, appear to be finding that if they vote in the second round they will need to vote for “a lesser of two evils”. The first round of Presidential election on 22 December has produced the result by which former and by many accounts ineffective Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic (Social Democrat, former communist, “left wing”) and Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (current “right wing”  HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union backed incumbent whose work in her first mandate has bitterly disappointed multitudes and, hence, led to an unusually swift spiral rise [but not to the heights that would get him across the line] of her “right-wing” opponent Miroslav Skoro, who in his campaign asked HDZ voters to defect from HDZ and join him but, conspicuously, failed to ask the same of the Social Democrat Party/SDP members!) are set for an electoral duel on 5 January 2020, when the second and final round of these presidential elections are on. Those who are appalled by both the former communist left-wing echelons (backing Milanovic) and those appalled by the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ right-wing echelons in government and who are backing Grabar Kitarovic are evidently now on edge to see which way Skoro voters will go on 5 January. In fact blatant calls for their vote are seeping through the media and political campaigns. Many of the so-called Skoro voters are now describing themselves, particularly in social media, as being placed in the situation of having to vote for a lesser of two evils and find themselves venting their agony and bitterness in public.

I guess, moral philosophy can help with the answers to problems of this kind. It can be permissible to vote for the lesser evil. But, without exception, if one does so, there is moral “small print” to follow. This, especially when it comes to how one acts afterwards towards those whom one’s vote has disregarded or who was judged as a bigger evil. No doubt, opting for the lesser evil leaves a moral residue. One can’t just make a choice and move on as if all is OK. It’s not OK. Morally one feels one has compromised oneself, and one’s real choice – one feels cheated and incomplete and, to a great extent morally and politically unclean. When voting for the lesser of two evils one feels the loss of power of conviction and heartfelt dedication.

“If Hitler were to invade Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” — Winston Churchill. In Churchill’s estimation, Stalin was less evil than Hitler. Hence, the Allied Forces’ friendship with the Soviets: a marriage of convenience formed in Hell. Can it then be said that the Allied forces by the act of alliance with communist Stalin carry on their shoulders the heavy burden of the consequence of such alliance, which consequence saw the millions of victims of communist crimes denied the respect and acknowledgement they deserve?

A significant multitude of Croatian voters (over 400,000 voters at least, who voted for Skoro – and this in terms of the size of the Croatian electorate is a significant number) are now faced with the so-called lesser of two evils dilemma. Both Presidential candidates are evidently seen by them as lousy, in essence unacceptable and damaging to the Croatian national state and the values it fought for during the 1990’s Homeland War  and, yet, they are made to feel that they are bound to vote in the January 2020 second round of elections; they’re frequently told that if they don’t vote they can’t complain! What a quandary to be in.  On the other hand, the more politically adventurous (and perhaps brave) will say that free people get to complain whether they vote or not. After all, both the government and presidential offices are paid for largely from the taxpayer money and complaining can actually be quite cathartic, even clear the way for new political inroads, a third option as many in a two-party predominance would say.

Presidency is deeply personal, because the role is ubiquitous; the president is or is seen as he/she should be the leader, the father/the mother, the spiritual leader of a nation with a defined destiny. Hence, given the quandary Croatian voters find themselves in, while some will vote for what (who) they perceive as the lesser evil, I think that many will not turn out for voting on 5 January because the ballot paper does not include “None of the above” option (the preference they morally chose at the first round on 22 December).

As in many countries, in Croatia there is no legal duty to vote. One turns out to vote because one feels or knows that their vote does make a difference when a candidate for election actually represents that moral value, that national value and track record for which they themselves stand. But whether one is reasonable in choosing to vote for the lesser of the two evils, is not the same as being legally, duty-bound to vote.

In the Christian tradition and Western morality, it cannot really be said that “lesser of the two evils” is a moral doctrine, even if it does sound a lot like the doctrine (or principle) of double effect. The doctrine of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. According to the principle of double effect, sometimes it is permissible to cause a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. Even St Thomas Aquinas set forth the doctrine of double effect as permissible under the above “rules” so it is no wonder that Christians in Croatia may find themselves in a quandary as the one they are in at this stage of presidential elections run; some may feel that it is permissible to vote for a lesser of the two evils. Most, however, will find it an impossible task to see that any good is likely to come out from their vote for a lesser of the two evils. The candidates’ track record is their objective measuring stick, and it simply does not stack up to much.

And while I can’t speak for everyone, I know Christians are not exactly given the green light to “choose” any kind of evil. If one does choose it is entirely a burden upon their own personal morality.

Then one often comes across the worn-out argument that not voting constitutes a dereliction of one’s duty towards the common good. But experience tells us that common good is not always advanced by voting.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “catch-22” perhaps it can also be explained this way: Say the president of the country you belong to tells lies or defends both the good and the bad politics of the past. He or she says things that are demonstrably impossible to understand or believe. A lot.

Now say you’re an ethical person who does not tolerate lies or double standards well. All this lying is a problem. All the double standards are a problem. Control of the media is a problem for you – it reports the lies and the double standards and even attempts to provide some objective facts to back this up, make it look credible.

The more the media report the lies, the more the president lies. And if you didn’t report the lies, he/she would say his/her lies are true because nobody reported them as lies.

And so, observing the rhetoric, the calls for votes in the second round of voting, the calls to change one’s initial and first preference for a president when his/her candidate has not made it in the first round, the calls to switch loyalty because one or the other presidents will, if elected, be a disaster, the dilemma, the anger expressed by multitudes of Croatian voters in the past week one can conclude that the system and political undercurrents in Croatia have produced two undesirable candidates for great many, either of which will advance an ultra vires agenda in office. Can it then truly be said that anyone (who is dissatisfied with both candidates) has a moral duty to pick one of them? Ina Vukic

 

Croatia: Winning Votes Requires A “Cluster-Bomb” Approach

Croatian Presidential Candidates 2019

The imminent Presidential elections in Croatia set for 22 December 2019 are shaping up as a three-horse race, possibly a four-horse race, despite there being 11 candidates who qualified for the running. According to polls three frontrunners are Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic (the current incumbent backed by the struggling in popularity stakes ruling political party HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union whose popularity has plummeted with apocalyptic speed in the past couple of years), Miroslav Skoro (a well-known figure in Croatia as long-standing popular musician, former member of Croatian Democratic Union with a seat in 2008 Croatian Parliament,  businessman with a Doctorate in Economics who is running as an independent candidate with an expressed intention to topple the current HDZ-led government after he wins office, asking the party’s many members to defect and vote for him) and Zoran Milanovic (former Prime Minister, Social Democrat, with an atrocious record in leading the government of the country, which led to his demise as the leader of his own party in late 2016). The fourth candidate that keeps popping up as having a fairly good chance of winning is Mislav Kolakusic (a lawyer and former court judge who has become known as a politician with his platform to rid Croatia of corruption even though he provides no real or detailed solutions as to how he would free Croatia from that heavy plague).

All in all, all candidates promise big things of changes coming if they win, however, one needs to take a step back in order to see that some changes being promised are not possible under the current powers of the President of the country! But they are all trying to compete who is a bigger and better Tudjmanist!

Miroslav Skoro is the only candidate seeking to increase the president’s powers because he also thinks that the president with current constitutional powers cannot bring change to a society that is seeking change. Presidential powers that Tudjman had were cut and made almost impotent when it comes to leading the nation to the needed transformation from communism into democracy. The president of the republic is elected directly by popular vote for a period of five years and is limited to two terms.

The 1990 constitution originally granted the president very broad powers; the president could dismiss the prime minister, who was nominally responsible to both the parliament and the president but was actually directly dependent on the president. Constitutional amendments in 2000, under the leadership of former communists Stjepan Mesic (then president) and Ivica Racan (the prime minister) reduced the importance of the president of the country, who thenceforth served solely as head of state, and increased the power of the parliament and of the prime minister, who assumed the role of head of government. The president continues to nominate the prime minister, but the parliament must confirm the appointment. With a majority in today’s parliament being former communists, still refusing to denounce the criminal former communist regime, one needs to wonder whether Skoro’s plans to bring about such significant change will end up nothing more than electoral rhetoric. Certainly, it’s difficult to see at this stage that he has the necessary political and practical knowhow support to be able to achieve the turnaround. While Skoro enjoys support of a number of sovereignist political parties and individual politicians of note, the seeking of voter defection should have been directed at all the culprits (both HDZ and SDP) for the critical economic and democratic state Croatia is currently in. Any other approach, singling out one and not the other, would seem to validate an idea that double standards in national politics are acceptable; and they are not. Both HDZ and SDP are almost equally responsible for the current state that cries for change so that mass emigration of valuable workforce, prevalence of corruption and nepotism in public administration and public companies could be stopped or slowed down.

In other words, nothing short of lustration and decommunisation will do! To achieve this voter defection from HDZ and SDP is needed in great numbers.

On Sunday 8 December, at his campaign launch in the large concert hall Lisinski in Zagreb, Miroslav Skoro, whose election slogan is “Now or Never”, declared that he would be the next president of Croatia, and would resume and inherit Franjo Tudjman’s policy, claiming that “today’s HDZ has nothing to do with the HDZ from the time of that first Croatian president”.

That claim angered the incumbent President of HDZ, current Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, and other relatively highly positioned HDZ members, who claim they are the only heirs to Tudjman. “Today’s HDZ is firmly on the path outlined by Tudjman,” President Grabar-Kitarovic said, also, on Tuesday 11 December while visiting Veliko Trgovisce, Tudjman’s birthplace.

Franjo Tudjman led Croatia into independence and that task was a national effort that took enormous sacrifice, dedication and collaboration with Tudjman’s leadership in creating an independent state from multitudes – individuals who were and those who were not members of Tudjman’s HDZ political party as well as other political parties. Hence, it is nothing short of stupidity, disrespect, repulsion and arrogance for Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic and HDZ to claim that “HDZ is the only heir to Tudjman”! The fact is that the entire independence fighting movement and its strong participators are the only heirs to Tudjman and that movement was widespread during the Homeland War of the 1990’s and continues to be widespread today. It was not only members of HDZ that fought for an independent Croatia but, indeed, many others outside HDZ “walls”.

The Social Democratic candidate, former prime minister Zoran Milanovic, has also showed respect and consideration for Tudjman in his campaign. “He was ready to spend time in prison for Croatia… He was not often right, but, in important things at the time, he was right – and many Croatian citizens recognised that,” Milanovic told N1 television on Tuesday 10 December.

This competition as to which one is a better Tudjmanist while in many respects may not be taken seriously by various groups and individuals, may indeed be seen by many others as a strong turning point when the period of de-Tudjmanisation of Croatia (commenced a couple of decades ago under the ormer communists’ pursuits to falsely criminalise Croatian Homeland War and, hence, the legitimacy of its independence struggle) is experiencing an end. And real values, those of full democracy and freedom, are elevated to the point of real progress.

Psychology of voters is basically aligned with psychology of individual and personal choices either on basis of political ideology or personal welfare interests or both. To get enough voters to defect their usual voting preferences is an exercise that is deep, personal and must provide visible benefits for all who may decide to defect from being loyal to one political party for decades. Indeed, if the major changes needed for Croatia are to be successful then defection is needed not only from HDZ echelons but also from SDP (Social Democrats) ones.

Winning someone’s vote in modern democratic societies requires a kind of cluster-bomb approach on the part of political parties. With communication these days (and mainstream media being controlled by major parties) being such a multi-faceted thing, and the opinion polls so either tight or non-dependable, every method — from leaflet dropping, social media to the old-fashioned landline phone — must be harnessed by any candidate serious about breaking the stale mould of voter behaviour that has seen Croatia floating in perpetual bickering and recriminations. The message for the need for change has been put out there but skills for managing that change require much more than any of the candidates have left the impression of possessing or being able to organise. And voters need both the message and the how, otherwise voter behaviour is unlikely to change to an impactful degree for the nation. If anything, these presidential election campaigns have made it clear that Croatia desperately needs changes – changes away from old communist mindset and that is in my view a great thing. The voters should, therefore, give their vote to the one who has the biggest determination for changes and, hence, the biggest likelihood in at least commencing with the changes if not achieving them during the next presidential mandate. Ina Vukic

 

 

 

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