Croatia: Will The Newly Assembled Electoral Commission Bring Voting Rights Equality To Citizens Living In The Diaspora?

And – they’re off!

Bar it’s head or President a brand-new Croatian Electoral Commission has been sworn in on Thursday last week to meet the most challenging electoral year in Croatia’s modern history. The Electoral Commission will soon face a very rare challenge, and that is the next year, 2024, when Croatia will have triple elections: those for members of the European Parliament, those for the Parliament and those for the President of the Republic. To make the year “more interesting” the Parliamentary elections will be operating under the new Electoral law ordered recently by the Croatian Constitutional Court.

After taking the oath that reads – “I swear on my honour that in the performance of my duties as a member of the State Electoral Commission, I will respect the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Croatia and that I will perform my duties conscientiously and impartially”, the new Vice President of the Electoral Commission, Josip Salapic, an officer of the ministry of justice at the time and former Member of Croatian Parliament,  stated that the newly elected members, who were elected for eight years, shall perform their duties impartially, honourably and fairly.

Along with Salapic, on March 3, the Parliament elected Vesna Fabijancic Krizanic and new members Slaven Hojsko, Ivana Ljulj Cvitanic and Drazenka Pandeka as another vice president of the Elecotoral Commission.

The swearing-in was also attended by the President of the Supreme Court, Radovan Dobronic, who by law is the President of the Electoral Commission.

As far as the Electorate 11 is concerned, for the diaspora and Croatian citizen voters residing outside of Croatia, let’s hope that the new make-up of the Electoral Commission will follow the footsteps of the Constitutional Court and revisit the voter and representation formula as the Constitutional Court did for the Electorates in Croatia proper. The access to voting booths within the Electorate 11 has been painfully biased and downright discriminatory. That is, in the Bosnia and Herzegovina part of the Electorate 11 voting booths or polling places were many, scattered fairly across the territory, accessible to all voters. In the rest of the Electoral 11 – Canada, USA, Australia, UK, Germany, Austria etc. – polling booths were limited to Embassy or consular Headquarters! This meant that up to 80% of voters could not access the polling booths and cast their votes because of the unreasonable distance and personal cost to the individual voter. The Electoral law does provide for the Electoral Commission to allocate polling places within all Electorates and since 2010, when the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ government was under Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, not only were the seats in parliament reduced from 12 to 3 for Electorate 11 but many polling places were also cancelled for accessible community-based clubs and centres and left only to Diplomatic-Consular Headquarters!

So, not only is the representation in the Croatian Parliament severely reduced for Croatian citizens living abroad but their access to polling is grotesquely reduced also. Many would need to take a four-hour plane ride, for instance, to cast their vote at General Elections or any other elections!

The result of such deplorable electoral practices in Croatia is that, for instance, the three seats in the parliament for Croats living abroad are filled with representatives from Bosnia and Herzegovina, because their access to polling places is relatively easy, yielding a much higher number of votes than those from, say, Canada, USA, Australia, Germany… Most Croats in these countries do not even know the names of their supposed parliamentary representatives let alone their needs being represented by them.

Since it is estimated that there is the same number of Croats living in the diaspora, or more, than in Croatia proper, it is to be hoped that the newly assembled Croatian Electoral Commission will revisit its definition of polling places in the diaspora and stay away from the exclusivity of “Headquarters of the Diplomatic-Consular Missions”.  What possible excuse can Croatia have not to bring the polling places closer to where the voters are like it does within Croatia! None, except communist mindset as far as I see. Former Yugoslavia communist and their offspring nurtured a particular hatred and intolerance towards the Croatian diaspora because it is mainly made up of Croats who rejected communism and fled to the West from its oppression. That same diaspora was a large contributor to the successful creation of the independent Croatia, exit from communist Yugoslavia.  This was justly rewarded by President Franjo Tudjman by allocating 12 seats in parliament to Croats in the diaspora from the start of the Constitution of the new independent Croatia I early 1990’s. It took Tudjman’s death in late 1999 and the subsequent influx of former communists or their indoctrinated offspring into the corridors of power in Croatia to keep chipping away at the Croatian diaspora rights.

All HDZ Governments in Croatia, since 2003, have shouted that their priority is the equalisation of all Croatian citizens in terms of voting rights. But they are a far cry from being equal today and during the past decade, at least. Croatian citizens outside the Republic of Croatia form a large population which, unfortunately, today is not equal to all other Croatian citizens, although it should be. This inequality is not just about the mere three seats in parliament, but also about the polling places, because they (Croatian citizens outside the Republic of Croatia) are actually “disabled from voting”. Access to polling is the very backbone of democracy and the Croatian diaspora has been severely disadvantaged, if not banned from voting given that in so many cases casting a vote at election also means prohibitive financial burden for the voter.

Croatian voting rights are regulated by Article 45 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia. According to paragraph 1, ” Croatian citizens over the age of 18 (voters) have general and equal voting rights in elections for the Croatian Parliament, the President of the Republic of Croatia and the European Parliament, as well as in the decision-making process at the national referendum, in accordance with the law.”

Therefore, while the Constitution itself evidently aims to provide for equality of voting rights for all citizens the Electoral Commission’s allocation and definition of voting places had since 2010, particularly, severely discriminated against and removed the equality of those voting rights for Croatian citizens living in the diaspora. The latter in particular since equal voting rights would include equal (or reasonable) access to polling booths. This is the principle that every voter’s vote is equally valid.

The question is often heard whether Croatian citizens who do not live in Croatia should have the right to vote at all. In Croatia, these people say that many Croatian citizens living in diaspora do not pay taxes, do not serve in the army and do not have any other obligations, so it is not logical that they are allowed to decide on something. This is countered by the arguments that voting is the constitutional right of all citizens, that emigrants contribute to the economic progress of Croatia with their enormous remittances and investments, that their right to vote is a form of integration of the homeland and expatriate Croatia, and that because official Croatia is calling for the return of Croats from the diaspora they must be given the right and opportunity to shape that return which is also done via parliamentary representation and voting.

However, the term “Croatian citizens who do not have a residence in the Republic of Croatia” does not only refer to the diaspora, i.e., to those who previously lived in Croatia and then emigrated, but also to those who have never lived in Croatia. According to some data, Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina make up more than 70 percent of registered voters in the constituency for “diaspora” (Electorate 11).

There is no exact data on Croatian voters in the diaspora. It is clear, however, that the Croatian diaspora is growing and expanding continuously, but still shows little interest in voting at elections for the Croatian Parliament, the President, or European Parliament Member. This is understandable once one looks at the electoral rules and practices via which voters must register beforehand and they can only cast their vote in person at a Croatian consular representation, and that ultimately, they can only elect three representatives.

It seems to me that the newly assembled Electoral Commission in Croatia can much improve access to polling, and therefore equality, in the diaspora by simply redefining the polling places. Failing that, postal and electronic voting would immensely boost the voting equality of Croatian citizens living in the diaspora. The latter has been a topic of much voter pleas for at least a decade, and nothing has been done. One feels that one has been talking into a deaf telephone on this. So frustrating in this age when rights and equality are on every politician’s lips and yet steps towards achieving them are so painful and slow. Not acceptable! Ina Vukic

Croatia: Distancing From Communist Yugoslavia Still Like Having Teeth Pulled Out Without Anaesthetics

Upper left image – removed mural dedicated to victims of Serb aggression/Vukovar, with inscription “People will never forget”

If there is a living example of a miserably painful transition from communism into democracy it is Croatia. At times the moves that those in power make which degrade and offend those who fought or participated by other means in the war for Croatia’s independence during the 1990’s feels to such patriots like having one’s teeth pulled out one by one – without the anaesthetics or pain-numbers!

During the past couple of weeks, the newly elected President of the Supreme Court, Judge Radovan Dobronic, wasted no time to publicly declare that the age-old greeting for Croatian patriots “For Homeland Ready” (“Za dom spremni”) has no place anywhere, must not exist, and that people were killed under that greeting during WWII in Croatia!  Of course, he did not do the same for the communist greeting “Brotherhood and Unity”, or its red star symbol or that many more innocent people were killed under “Brotherhood and Unity” greeting during WWII and after it than under any greeting known to Croatian history!  What Dobronic said was just what the former communists and Yugoslav nostalgics wanted to hear. He omitted completely to say that in 1990’s the people that formed HOS units (Croatian Defence Forces) whose official symbol and greeting was “For Homeland Ready” are owed utter respect as they contributed significantly to today’s freedom and independence. For over a decade there have been cruel attempts to make the greeting “For Homeland Ready” illegal in Croatia in all instances of life and having a Supreme Court head judge whose one of the first public declarations that touches upon national morality undertones certainly signifies that communists and pro-Communists now have a new friend in Croatia that will continue targeting the values fought for during Croatia’s Homeland War in 1990’s.

A few days after Judge Dobronic stated that the Croatian patriotic greeting “For Homeland Ready”, on 27 October 2021, wall murals on the walls of electric power station in the capital city of Zagreb dedicated to Croatia’s Homeland War, Vukovar and Victims of Serb Aggression during that war were painted over; disappeared. Public revolt and protest, against these acts, occurred in some media, not mainstream that is government controlled, and especially in social media. Protest by members of former HOS units occurred as did from politicians from the right side of political spectrum.  

Mural in Zagreb Erased or painted over
Erased Mural in Zagreb dedicated to General Slobodan Praljak and suffering of Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina

This depraved act of erasing the patriotic murals can also be compared to the pain of having teeth pulled out without anaesthetics. It signifies pure hatred for the glorious victory Croats had over communist Yugoslavia in 1990. These acts were done by the City of Zagreb administration (via HEP/Croatian Electricity) whose new Mayor Tomislav Tomasevic brought in a leftist administration riddled with communist Yugoslavia nostalgia. Coupled with the fact that on the state level the HDZ government is kept alive by its coalition with Serbs in Croatia who sided with the Serb aggressor against Croatia during the Homeland War there is no doubt in many minds that this act also forms an ongoing plan to keep wearing down Croatian patriotism and the values fought for during separation from communist Yugoslavia. Within a day or two Mayor Tomasevic came out saying that the painting over the murals dedicated to Vukovar, victims of aggression, war, Homeland war was a mistake that the only mural that was meant to be painted over was the one that had the late General Slobodan Praljak’s face on it (Slobodan Praljak was a General in the Croatian Defence Forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina during 1990’s who committed suicide (29 November 2017) in the Hague courtroom of the International Criminal Tribunal insisting he was innocent of war crimes charged with and convicted of.)

Of course, it was only a matter of a day or so after the murals were removed or painted over that new mural on the same walls appeared – thanks to patriotic citizens who were among those abhorred by the act of murals dedicated to Vukovar and Croatian Homeland War being removed.  

New mural dedicated to Vukovar and victims of Serb aggression in Croatia being painted again on same wall by protesting patriots

Often we hear that the sadness of attacks on Croatian patriotism will turn into defiance against current political leadership and into political assertion of values fought for during 1990’s for a free and independent Croatia. This though is proving to be a task of gigantic proportions as former communists or their offspring hold onto their family’s past during which most profited – they still reside in properties stolen from Jews or wealthy pro-Croatian citizens after WWII, they still know that nepotism and corruption is their only ticket to success in life … 

Forty-one years after the death of Josip Broz Tito. The one and only president of former communist Yugoslavia ever. All other presidents were presidents of the Presidency set-up in accordance with his wishes after his death in 1980 so that no other living person could become a lifelong president of Yugoslavia ever.  This Presidency ensured that seeds are planted after Tito’s death among people that would not tolerate, that would hate with a vengeance any expression of national pride or independence from it by any of its republics.

It has been thirty years since in 1991 Croatia severed all its ties with communist Yugoslavia, bravely forging its independence through a brutal was of Yugoslav Army and Serb aggression. The later twenty years of those thirty, i.e., from year 2000, after President of Croatia Franjo Tudjman passed away in December 1999, Croatia has proven to be a continuance of the same hunting ground that it was under communist Yugoslavia for any and every sign or display of Croatian patriotism taking hold among the public. More and more people from the communist Yugoslavia “family” breed crept into the power echelons of Croatia, not having spilled a drop of blood for her freedom, not wanting her free and independent in the first place, not having deserved to have power by merit but placed there through communist-bred corruption and nepotism.

If most offspring of former Yugoslav communists did not hold such a commitment to their families’ past, then every public debate about Tito would not still create unrest among Croats and push them into antagonistic opposing sides and conflicts as it occurs even forty years after his death. On the one hand there is an ideologically blinded and noisy group of Croats of Yugoslav orientation, who persistently claim that Tito saved the Croatian people and laid the foundations for the establishment of today’s state of Croatia, and on the other hand, there Croats who reject that and, rightfully so, claim that the 1990’s Homeland War was and is the foundations of today’s modern and independent Croatia.

The absolute truth about Josip Broz Tito and his communist Partisans is that they committed horrendous crimes and genocide against the Croatian people who fought for an independent Croatia, not Yugoslavia, not within Yugoslavia. The absolute truth is that Josip Broz Tito is today counted among top ten mass murderers of the Twentieth century as his state ordered purges ordered many hundreds of thousands of anti-communist citizens (more than 500,000). Thankfully, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia, with the appearance of new facts as more than a thousand of mass graves of victims of communist crimes were unearthed, as state archives of historical records were opened, merits and positive opinions about Tito began to decline and today, more than ever, people in Croatia and the world consider him a dictator and a criminal of suspicious ethnic or national origins. But this “more than ever” is not enough to it seems to place communism far far behind those who live in a supposedly democratic Croatia.

Tito used all possible means and methods in the destruction of Croatia and the Croatian people. Unfortunately, along with the Belgrade authorities, Croatian Yugoslavs, the Serbian Orthodox Church and the Serbian national minority in Croatia helped him a great deal. The consequences of his long-term policy towards the Serbian minority and bribery of certain members of that minority, whose ancestors in the time of Ante Starcevic were considered Croats of the Orthodox faith, were well felt by the Croatian people in the 1990s in the Greater Serbia aggression.

Today’s Croatia and Croats who wish Croatia well cannot legally or morally deny civil rights to members of minorities living in Croatia, but at the same time the Croatian people rightly expect members of all national minorities to act in accordance with Croatian law, without being required and enjoying special privileges and serving foreign masters. Above all it is expected that minorities in Croatia adhere to and respect the values and significance of the Croatian Homeland War of Independence. But they do not do this, and one would be completely correct in saying that it’s because the governments have not developed the mechanisms that would police and monitor matters of that importance for the nation.

It needs to be kept in mind that with the establishment of communist Yugoslavia, Tito created the conditions for the killing and persecution of Croats and devised a system whose purpose was the biological destruction of the Croatian people. For the killing, imprisonment, and persecution of Croats in Tito’s Yugoslavia, it was enough to declare someone an enemy of the people. So too, it needs to be kept in mind that the victims of Serb aggression against Vukovar, against Croatia bother Mayor of Zagreb Tomasevic and they bother the leftist political parties, including those in power since year 2000. They do not like the fact that Croats fought for and risked their lives for Croatian patriotism and democracy while most of them hid away while the war of aggression against Croatia raged. All of them should have long ago banned the Red star symbol of communism and torn down all monuments to the criminal dicator Tito and his communist Yugoslavia regime. But they did not, they continue hounding Croatian patriots, throwing their dearest symbols into the waters of worthlessness and criminal connotation.

The removal or the painting over the patriotic murals in its capital city of Zagreb may continue to remain politically significant and encourage the right-wing patriotic parties and movements to unite into a force that may change Croatia’s political and moral future into that what it should have become after 1998 when the last occupied areas were reintegrated into Croatia. Let’s hope that the protests against this incident of trying to erase the victims of Homeland War from those city walls will not constitute a yet another short-lived protest and become just a point of street-talk for a while, until it dies out with a shrug of the patriotic shoulder. Perhaps we will see much more action that will result in a new Croatia after the next general elections; a new political landscape that cemented the Croatian resolve to defend itself from communist Yugoslavia and Greater Serbia onslaughts.

Retired General and former Member of Croatian Parliament Zeljko Glasnovic

The reactions to the erasing of the patriotic murals were many and one so well and succinctly put (that also demonstrates the political landscape in Croatia at present as related to transitioning from communism) on a Facebook profile was that by retired General and former Member of Croatian Parliament Zeljko Glasnovic on 29 October 2021 and it was as follows:

“Mausoleum of Vukašin Šoškočanin in the middle of Borovo selo – permitted, monuments to partisans all over Croatia – permitted, hundreds of pits full of Croatian bones – permitted, streets and squares named after the biggest mass murderers – permitted, five-pointed stars on buildings and flags – permitted, graffiti of the unrepentant Yugoslavia, bloody locksmiths and communism – permitted, marching through the cities to the beats of ‘White Violet’ (song about Tito) – permitted.

Murals dedicated to Vukovar, the 204th Guards Brigade, General Praljak and Dinamo – not permitted. They made criminals out of heroes and made heroes out of criminals. They made an aggressor out of a victim; they made a victim out of an aggressor. It only exists in Croslavia. To celebrate the executioners and the anniversaries of their monstrous crimes committed against their own people and to humiliate, belittle and degrade their liberators. To live in Croatia and to hate and despise everything that is Croatian. Fight for independence and freedom and sell that same freedom for a couple of silver coins. Frightening. The selective memory of the Croatian people has reached its peak. Apathy, amnesia, and indifference are just some of the characteristics of the average Croat who still sits passive in his home hiding behind his keyboard. And while he is virtually fighting for his country, with popcorn in his hands, he is waiting for the solution and the continuation of his carefree future, which he will not fight for alone. Why would he? He brought these people to power with his indifference. Good night Croatia.” Ina Vukic

Croatia: Banks Slapped For Bad Behaviour – To Fork Out Billions For Overcharging

Judge Radovan Dobronic  Photo: Pixsell

Judge Radovan Dobronic Photo: Pixsell

It’s said that it’s a first of its kind in the history of Europe! It’s certainly the first such case in the history of Croatian court litigation. And – I am so glad it happened in Croatia – the country where democracy and citizens’ rights are still being painstakingly asserted.

Some months ago Croatian association “Franc”, together with “Consumer” society filed a collective lawsuit against nine banks in Croatia – claiming unfairness in the bank loan contracts’ currency clause and one-sided variable interest rate clause.

Judge Radovan Dobronic of Commercial court in Zagreb ruled last Thursday, 4 July, that nine banks situated in Croatia (mostly foreign owned:  Zagrebacka bank, Privredna bank, Erste bank, Raiffeisenbank, Hypo Alpe-Adria-Bank, OTP, Splitska, Volksbank and Sberbanke) are to compensate the borrowers who took out bank loans in Swiss Francs for the banks’ overcharging. Some 100,000 Croatians took out the loans in Swiss Francs between 2005 and 2008 as they attracted lower interest rates at the time. However, when the global financial crisis hit in 2008, the exchange rate between Swiss Franc and Croatian Kuna spun out the scenario where – compared to the loan value in Kunas – the bank debtors were now owing much more than they borrowed and their repayment rates increased manifold.

Judge Dobronic ruled that the banks, as professional bodies, were wrong to offer their clients loan services tied to the Swiss Franc, with variable interest rates and variable loan principal. Such combination, ruled judge Dobronic, with unlimited variable interest rates and loan principal at times of exchange rates fluctuations and over a long period of time is completely unacceptable. He further stipulated that the banks in question had breached consumer rights because they did not fully inform them about all parameters necessary for making decisions.

So this court case in effect ruled about the proper bank behaviour in and around loan contracts, but individuals holding such loans will need to mount private and individual lawsuits against their banks in order to attempt receiving any compensation due to them from the banks.

It’s estimated that if all 100,000 people who took out the loans in Swiss Franc are successful in their court bids, the banks would jointly need to fork out some 15 billion Kunas in compensation (some 15% of the country’s current annual budget revenue!).

The plaintiffs in the above court case sought determination by the court that the banks entered into loan contracts dishonestly, when it came to currency clause in Swiss Francs with variable interest rates and claimed that the amounts payable on interest rates that changed over time should have been guided by the exchange rate of the Swiss Franc that was valid at the time when loan contracts were signed.

Croatian finance minister Slavko Linic is “keeping mum” about the whole affair, barely commenting that it’s the banks’ problem and that they will need to solve it.

Judge Dobronic’s ruling is yet to pass through an appeal process and if the banks appeal, and their  appeal is overturned, then one may speculate as to whether such a large compensation payout will, in fact destabilise the banking sector in Croatia. It is certainly a large amount of funds that would gush out from the banks’ reserves/profits etc.  And, what of many loans that were taken out in Euros, in Croatia, do they also hide similar contractual flaws!?

People who took those loans should be compensated for their losses if the facts are as stated by Judge  Dobronic’s findings. I agree with that. But I find it incredulous that the banks could have been so stupid by assuming that “no one will notice” when the exchange rates change and loan repayment rates soar to borrowers’ financial suicide levels as a consequence.

It almost smells like a foreign owned banking conspiracy to destabilise Croatia.

Be it as it may, but it certainly looks as though consumer education and protection still needs a great deal of work in Croatia. This whole case also appears to me as if the banks issuing those loans in Swiss Franks attracted a clientele so needy that they didn’t even have enough courage to question the terms of the loans at the time even though much of the public may indeed have been savvy about the meaning and implication of changing currency exchange values. The whole scenario reminds me of bank loans issued in U.S.A. where repayments built to levels far above a person’s repayment capability and, in the end, bank foreclosures on homes spread like wildfire. The issue with Swiss Franc loans in Croatia is, I believe, much more serious than the media lets out and sadly, if those loan contracts are not fixed quick smart, many will find themselves without a home. So, while the finance minister may not want to say much about the problem, the justice minister must; he must push for speedy resolutions and ensure that the banks in question, because of such court ruling, don’t create a banking sector crisis and a housing crisis where foreign investment would be the only “salvation”. This would not be salvation – it would be slavery. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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