EU, Croatia and Brexit

Croatia and Brexit


The European Union has seen numerous crises come and go and some staying stubbornly put – e.g. last year’s rejection by many member states to take in EU-stipulated quotas of refugees/migrants, but the 23 June 2016 Brexit vote in the United Kingdom has perhaps forced upon the EU the biggest crisis yet – bigger than was possible to imagine, perhaps? Brexit vote had within days of its results count heralded far-reaching consequences not only for the UK and the EU, but also for the countries seeking EU membership from the Balkans, Turkey etc.

Never before have citizens of an EU member state voted against remaining part of the Union and after more than four decades of its existence the problems of untangling many matters and connections within the EU network of member states are emerging as almost impossible to solve without causing serious damage to one or the other side and to individual people from both sides. By June 2016 UK had grown into and fused with EU flesh and the future of separating that EU flesh appears to entail serious repercussions for all involved.

Prior to Brexit vote the EU has been THE club to join particularly because of UK being its member. UK had been a draw-card for many from Eastern and Southeast Europe to vote “Yes” to EU membership at their own referendums. Arguably, many people from all countries of Eastern Europe and Southeast, such as Croatia in 2013, had held EU membership as an ideal club to aspire to precisely because UK was there, waiting in its desired modernity to embrace them as its own and lobbying for EU expansion. Now that Brexit vote assures UK’s departure from the EU these multitudes of people in these countries are bound to be asking themselves if it was worthwhile for their country to join the EU after all. The repercussions of Brexit vote will remain unclear for many weeks and months to come, as the implications are far reaching. Much will depend on decisions taken by British and EU leaders on a number of issues that will extend beyond the Brexit itself.

The EU, without the UK, is likely to see strengthened campaigns for it to become a union of sovereign states, rather than a federation of nation states that Brussels wants at this stage. Following Eastern European countries’ (e.g. Hungary, Slovakia, Poland…) stance in rejecting the housing of refugees and illegal migrants and in protecting their borders and the ever increasing height of the “national interests” (which by the way was at its highest in Wales and England, in particular, at the time of Brexit vote) suggest that the push for union of sovereign states is about to get heartier in EU.

dr Franjo Tudjman at UN on 22 May 1992

dr Franjo Tudjman at UN on 22 May 1992

A quarter century after Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia, British voters have decided, albeit by a narrow margin, to leave the European Union. Throughout various media outlets in Croatia, Croats are currently pulling out of drawers president Franjo Tudjman’s words, even as far back as 1968 when as scientist and historian he wrote that “the European community in the shape of a union between European states could represent the most advantageous framework for a true revitalisation of the idea of co-existence in today’s world”.

European politics can only be purposeful if it brings about the creation of such a European community which will have the capacity of free itself from intolerable tutelage under both super powers (USA and USSR) and become an independent actor within the international life. Such a community in Europe can only be achieved as a union of states of independent European nations who would retain their own national quintessence, the right independent socio-political development within their own borders and to sovereignty in international life. The fundamental European politics that aim towards European community joining its European people’s material and intellectual powers into the idea of active co-existence and unity of diversity are the only politics that have real prospects of success,” wrote Franjo Tudjman way back in 1969 and retained these opinions as to the dynamics and make up of the European community/union well into the 1990’s when he championed Croatia’s independence from communist Yugoslavia.

The largest political party, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ, is currently preparing for its own leadership elections since Tomislav Karamarko resigned as leader last month; and, in the aftermath of the recent fall of government, snap general elections are due mid-September. Croatian political analysts and journalists are already asking the question: which leader of which party is likely to support an EU Federation of Nation States centrally governed from Brussels and which leader is likely to support an EU as Union of Sovereign States.

European Union is currently shaking from the rubbing of two tectonic plates against each other: the Euro-federalist one and the Euro-sovereignty one. Germany’s Angela Merkel and Brussels’ corridors of power are championing the former while the latter is strongly the agenda of Eastern Europe’s countries particularly the Visegrad Group (Czech, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia) to which Croatia has been aspiring for a while, at least since Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s presidency took power in January 2015. Traces of leanings to a union of sovereign states in EU, or leaving the EU if membership means stripping of national sovereignty of state, can also be seen in Austria’s and Greece’s recent speculations as to a possible exit from the EU; Italy’s, Netherland’s and France’s conservatives increasing anti-EU sentiments and so forth…


The likely candidate for Croatia’s HDZ leadership elections in July, EUP Andrej Plenkovic, appears to support the EU Federation option and hence, the Visegrad Group lobby for a union of sovereign states would pose a problem for Croatia and lingering divisions and dissent. One cannot sit on both stools at the same time, as it were. It’s hard to imagine that majority Croats would want the European super state of federation where government is centralised in Brussels and sovereignty of each state erased as seems to be what Plenkovic as HDZ leader might support. It’s been said that such may be the case because EU protects its smaller member states but not all agree with such a view. While attaching oneself to a bigger and wealthier body might provide certain securities it certainly risks losing ones identity or much of it.


The remaining EU 27 members have been seeking a quick resolution, asking the UK to trigger Article 50 of the EU treaty that would manage the process of leaving the EU. However, the British government has been reluctant to trigger this ‘clean’ way out. Indeed with Prime Minister David Cameron resigning, with leaders of the Brexit campaign – Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage – leaving the Brexit train, not only does there seem to be no exit plan but also Brexit supporters are left holding the baby, looking down a “what now” abyss.


This puts the union in a state of uncertainty and Germany seemingly stepping up into the lobby for enlargement role UK played before – as exemplified by Angela Merkel’s swift statement on 4 July 2016 that Serbia may open its EU membership negotiation on Chapters 23 and 24 and that Croatia had agreed to this. Croatia had been stalling Serbia’s progress in opening Chapter 23 for EU membership negotiations with view to several important legal and judicial issues and missing persons matters outstanding from the 1990’s war against Croatia. The fact that these were issues to clear before Serbia is given a green light for Chapter 23 negotiations, and that green light to Serbia has now been given without adequate explanations in public as to what happened with Croatia’s issues, leaves one asking many distressing questions, particularly regarding justice for victims of Serb crimes in Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. A logical and obvious explanation here is that the EU is working very hard to show the world that Brexit will not stop EU enlargement! However, the cost of such moves as opposed to the cost of nurturing the existing EU member states and leaving enlargement for a later time, could well prove to be too high for EU’s ambitions for the creation of a superstate of itself; member states may retaliate against such centralist decision-making as are those demonstrated this week regarding Serbia’s negotiations for EU membership. I mean, every “Tom, Dick and Harry” stood in Croatia’s way to negotiate its membership over many years and now, only three years after it achieved membership, the EU seems to have parked its criteria at an open town-market where EU membership desirous states can barter their way into membership whichever way and with whatever they want. So much for reasonable and needed criteria that guarantees at least some grassroots homogeneity in EU!

Whether Croats will fall into a position from which they’ll be happy to blindly and mutely listen to everything that comes out Brussels is the most burning question now. This week’s events that gave Serbia green light to open negotiations in Chapters 23 and 24 for EU membership have completely omitted to explain to the Croatian public why that is so and what happened with the issues of protests or requirements Croatia had put before the EU in this regard. I do not believe the Croatian public will wear this lightly and will want explanations. The wounds of the 1990’s War of Independence are still very raw, sacrifices made for freedom and sovereignty and self-determination – still felt heavily and deeply. No politician in Croatia is likely to survive for very long if he/she forgets this fact. EU or no EU. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Nigel Farage Takes on Jose Manuel Barroso

Nigel Farage barrage

At the moment Croatia is a star in the European Union circles – praise for Croatia’s achievements in its unreasonably hard route to reach the stage of signing the EU Treaty & become a member of EU echoes almost everywhere one looks.

The Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) government won praise from the EU for pursuing an anti-corruption, anti-mismanagement, campaign over the past two years that saw former party leader and prime minister Ivo Sanader and former vice-prime minister Damir Polancec (among other high ranking officials) in court.

The general elections to be held in Croatia on 4th December 2011 will tell us how much damage HDZ has suffered in the eyes of the people because of this. Whatever the electoral outcome let’s hope the pursuit against corruption and communist crimes won’t suffer.

Let’s not forget – one of the Visions of itself independent Croatia has had from it’s very start (1991) and under the leadership of the late dr Franjo Tudjman was to become a part of the European Union.

British politicians and government officials have been a major force on the trail of anti-Croatian campaigns since 1990. At one time it seemed that anything and everything was a go-zone to prevent or stifle Croatia’s progress in EU accession talks and negotiations.

Much of the British bashings revolved around accusations against Croatian government as being nationalist, stuck-in-the-past … when in fact amidst such turbulent adversity and finger-pointing Croatia stuck to her guns and proved differently.

One cannot but recount, with bitterness, some of the British input in 1991 that, in my opinion encouraged and fuelled a terrible war in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina where Serbian minorities took it upon themselves to cleanse territories of Croatian and other Non-Serb population, declaring self-proclaimed Serbian republics within the borders of those countries.

In 1991 Lord Peter Carrington had a very influential role within the Arbitration Commission of the Conference on Yugoslavia/aka Badinter Arbitration Committee (European Economic Community) (Croatia had by that time proclaimed its independence via referendum).

On 20 November 1991 (the days of Vukovar massacres) he asked, among other things: “Does the Serbian population in Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, as one of the consituent peoples of Yugoslavia, have the right to self-determination?”

The commission concluded on 11 January 1992 that “the Serbian population in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia is entitled to all the rights concerned to minorities and ethnic[…]” and “that the Republics must afford the members of those minorities and ethnic groups all the human rights and fundamental freedoms recognised in international law, including, where appropriate, the right to choose their nationality”.

Badinter Arbitration Committee 1991

Certainly, everyone has the right to choose their nationality but that does not mean the right to create a separate state within an existing larger one. I guess Lord Carrington did well for a while in confusing the world into thinking that Yugoslavia was not really composed of six different states, but rather different nationalities, ethnic groupings scattered equally throughout (without nationality majorities anywhere).

No wonder the world called the Balkan crisis as civil war in the beginning.

So even when 94% of Croatian citizens voted to secede from communist Yugoslavia and pursue independence and self-determination, Lord Carrington fuelled the Serbian push to create a Serbian state within Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. One wonders what he would have done were certain minorities in United Kingdom pushing to create their own state within UK borders?

Of course, we mustn’t forget Lord David Owen. In August 1992, Owen succeeded Lord Carrington as the EU co-chairman of the Conference for the Former Yugoslavia, along with Cyrus Vance, the former U.S. Secretary of State as the UN co-chairman.

Owen like Carrington relentlessly pursued the notion that, regardless of the will of the majority of people to secede from Yugoslavia, ethnic minorities (i.e. Serbs) should have a piece of Croatian & Bosnia-Herzegovina lands.

After Vance-Owen plan (which by the way rewarded Serbian ethnic cleansing) , was effectively dead by May 1993 because the Clinton administration thought that it gave too much to the Serbs and the Serbs that it gave too little. Owen worked for many months on a plan for a Muslim mini-state on about a third of the territory of Bosnia.

He tried hard to secure an accord on self-government for the Krajina Serbs in Croatia.

It’s interesting to note that all this time The Serbian Royal Family Karadjordjevic (distant but still blood relations to the British Royal family) lived in London, in exile since days of WWII when Kingdom of Yugoslavia fell apart, more likely than not still keeping a sight on restoring the rule of the Serbian crown in Yugoslavia. Prince Alexander II Karadjordjevic moved back to live in Serbia in 2000’s

And now, about a week before Croatia is to sign the EU Treaty another British politician has come out, in EU parliament, with sweeping statements why Croatia should not join the EU.

This time it’s Nigel Farage, a British nationalist, eurosceptic, leader of the UK Independence party (Libertarian, non-racist party seeking Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union).

When the turn came to Farage on 30 November 2011 in the European Parliament to deliver a report on Croatia at this final stage when EU members were to vote Yes/No for Croatia to sign the EU Treaty this is what he said:

Last September I went to Croatia. I wanted to find out whether a proper national debate is going on; whether there was a fair campaign.

What did I find? I found that the EU is doing everything it can to bribe the political class in Croatia — doing it quite well, really, too. Already the EU has given 320 million euros to Croatia in what is called pre-accession aid. The EU has just spent a million euros on a blatant propaganda advertising campaign, telling Croatia that the EU is their only hope.

Cleverly, you’ve even given jobs to Croatians — highly paid jobs to Croatians in the European Parliament and in the European Commission just to show them how well off they’ll be — the ruling class will be — if they join, and you’ve got EU flags flying on official buildings all over the country to give the impression that it’s a done deal.

You’ve got some willing helpers, because the old Communists are still there in Croatia, they still hold all the positions of power and they will all become personally enormously wealthy if Croatia joins the European Union.

And there is an even more sinister side to this, because there is not a free press in Croatia. There is no national debate going on at all. Indeed a prize has been offered — 10,000 kunas have been offered if anybody can find an article in any Croatian newspaper suggesting that joining isn’t the right thing to do.

The whole campaign is bent, corrupt and distorted. We’ve seen this before from the European Union, but I think it’s happening on a scale in Croatia that is worse than I’ve seen before.

This country has for nearly a thousand years sought independence. And for 20 years they’ve had independence – they got out of the failed political experiment that was Yugoslavia – and if they vote to join the European Union, they’re voting to rejoin a new Yugoslavia — a failing political experiment that will implode.

I hope there is, in the last month or two a debate in Croatia. Sadly, I doubt it.

Had Croatia listened to what British politicians have to say, it would most likely still be stuck in communist (or Serbian royalist?) Yugoslavia, with Serbia running the show.

Does Farage truly care about Croatia’s independence, about Croatia or is his barrage against the EU yet another British politicians’ tantrum in a bid to try and exclude Croatia from the European Union? Or is he just plain sore because Britain doesn’t rule the show in EU parliament?

As to Farage’s assertion that there has been no public, media debate in Croatia that joining the EU isn’t the right thing I beg to differ. There are countless newspaper articles and internet sites from Croatia addressing the “pros & cons” of joining the EU.

Even if the media may be biased, the Croatian people are no fools and they will decide for themselves at the imminent Referendum about joining the EU or not. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb), B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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