Lost Sleeping Beauty (?)

Kolinda Grabar KItarovic, President of Croatia
Photo: dulist.hr

When in the second half of 2014 Croatia’s president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic entered into the race for the Office of the President of Croatia the other candidates’ camp hung a “Barbie” tag upon her. One assumes that the “Barbie” tag relates to her good looks, elegant and fashionable dress but also it maliciously alluded, at the time, to the notion that she may possess a lack of needed knowhow power for that leadership position. More than three years into her mandate as President of Croatia it would seem that Grabar Kitarovic reminds one of a lost “Sleeping Beauty” rather than of “Barbie”, and I do say that without any derogatory intentions to the Brothers’ Grimm Sleeping Beauty or Mattel’s Barbie, for they represent positive values and aspirations many generations have grown up with.

It would appear that she has suddenly awakened after more than three years to a socio-economic landscape where nothing of note of the urgent crises that needed fixing she spoke vehemently about at her inauguration speech has changed.

Grabar Kitarovic’s inauguration speech in February 2015 was filled with optimism, hope and positivity about a great future Croatia will have, or start having, under her leadership. “Our economy has been hit by crises for the last six years,” she said. “Thousands of young people are leaving, many companies are going bankrupt. This requires urgent action from the government, employers, and unions… We find ourselves in a time that calls for a broad national consensus on key issues. There is no time for divisions … It is time to rise above our individual and political party interests in order to overcome the economic crisis.”

All of our differences were brought to the forefront during the campaign, but starting today we have to turn them into our strength,” she said and continued, “I call upon all of us in Croatia to abandon the history of our divisions and misconceptions. It is only though togetherness of the whole nation that we can build a better Croatia. Let’s compete with ideas, solutions and innovation, and not with the roles our parents or grandparents played. We will not realise a better life through ideological divisions nor will be become better people on account of them… Just as president Tudjman had created the preconditions for the creation of the Croatian state through the reconciliation of the divided national being, so too must we open a new page of our better future through a new Croatian togetherness. We seek a better life in the future, not in the past!

Although the country’s economy currently shows signs of humble but steady recovery and budget surplus the crises she spoke about at her inauguration are still as critical as they were in February 2015. Grave lack of investments and industrial developments as well as widespread company bankruptcies or insolvencies had led to a gravely lacking job market and unemployment, resulting in many tens of thousands of people leaving Croatia in search of employment elsewhere within the EU or abroad. Demographic crisis has been colouring Croatia’s books for a couple of years now.

While presidential powers are limited in Croatia and real reforms and legislation thereof rest upon the government, there is the presidential power to call governments to accountability, as one of president’s duties is to “watch over the orderly and fair functioning of all governmental bodies”.

At this point in time it is most appropriate to ask about the concrete protocols or measures president Grabar Kitarovic had put in place in order to “watch over the orderly and fair functioning of all government’s bodies”; and the “fair” functioning at times of crises (without the benefit of having seen the actual presidential list of specific duties or steps to be taken in that realm) surely must cover the measures undertaken to address the crises, to curtail them. Certainly, there has been a great deal of presidential generalised rhetoric what should, could, would be done for Croatia but never what has been done or where we are – or, how are the government bodies faring in attending to the crises the country has been and is enveloped in.

On 11 June 2018 Grabar Kitarovic held a long press conference, which came over as some sort of awakening from a long sleep – hence, Sleeping Beauty analogy. During the press conference she, for the nth time, spoke about the crises and the urgency of dealing with them; same things or mainly same things as stated before in public on various occasions. She said that she has prepared documents that contain concrete or specific measures that should be undertaken to get Croatia out of these crises and that she would be handing those documents to the government forthwith. Some media as well as various government bodies have stated that ideas and suggested measures to overcome the crises have been put forth before by politicians, individuals, members of government, members of community activists etc. and that the government has been working on many…

So here comes the crunch:

President Grabar Kitarovic said at the same press conference that there have been three different governments since she took over the Office of the President and that she has not been able to establish a working relationship with any of them, that would lead to the implementation of ideas to solve the crises! One wonders whether such an admission (confession?) has components of excuses for some inaction on her part, given that we are amidst the time of preparation for next presidential elections due late 2019.

(R) Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, Croatia’s President
(Second from R) Andrej Plenkovic, Croatia’s Prime Minister
Photo: Screenshot

Certainly a void, a gap, a disconnection in the relationship between the Government and the President of Croatia has been noticeable all the while. It always takes two to tango, even on the podium of leading the country in the direction everyone wants. From her statements at the press conference, from her confession regarding inability to form a positive/effective working relationship with the government, it is impossible to know who is responsible for such a sorry state of affairs in the country; or whether no one is responsible except lack of trying, lack of team-building and team-functioning skills; or what! The public was not given any details about any attempts by Grabar Kitarovic to establish a working relationship with the government.

Having in mind that her inaugural speech accentuated the urgent need for unity, the impression one gets from her statement on 11 June is that, really, everyone has been asleep at wheel for three years, especially her, when it comes to joint efforts for the betterment and interests of the country. I say especially her because the president is the one who must “watch over” the orderly and fair functioning of government departments. And, in a state of crises no president should tolerate unworkable relationships between the government and the president; the president must as a matter of responsibility ensure that a relationship exists at least on the cold, monitoring basis if no cordiality is possible.

In reality, the divide between the president and the government has been a sorry state to watch; recriminations and even some offensive choice of words went well beyond incivility to embrace disagreements on core principles and conceptions of how the world (the country) works or should work. Bridging this divide, if possible at all, will take much more than a change of tone in the President’s Office, or the Government’s. It requires, as well, a policy and procedure agenda that spells out traditional partisan bounds. For the interests of Croatia as a whole, the citizens are entitled to know how the president and the government will work together in overcoming the urgent crises and political point scoring can go to hell (as far as I’m concerned)!

Given she pointed out from the start the alarming situation with crises in Croatia, it is an open question whether there was any feasible course the president could have pursued in the early months of her presidency that could have diminished the fierce partisan conflict of her first three years in office, regardless of changes in governments. Systems and protocols/procedures exist (and if not they should be drawn up) to be followed regardless of circumstances. That is just the way things must operate if persisting crises are to be curtailed. It appears that Grabar Kitarovic had not locked in any such system or procedure within the realm of her duties to “watch over” the functioning of government departments. If I get to be proven wrong on this, I will be happy.

Whether the president or the government, or both, were not partisan enough in order to establish a working relationship is a question that could only be answered by having the insight of what was done, who has done what, in order to make this indispensable relationship work. The relationship is indispensable particularly given that both the president and the government admit to the existence of crises (economic, demographic…) and it seems that it is the president’s role to watch over government’s functioning in these matters. How much support and determination on each side was there to reduce the crises Croatia had found itself in? Judging by the media, government officials have been saying that they are working on plans and measures to address/reduce the crises that the president had reiterated on 11 June, thereby suggesting that the president’s statements about them are unfounded. So, I suggest, the president would be well within her duties to carry out an audit of these measures rather than leaving the public with a message that she was unable to overcome the divide between her and the governments she has been dealing with. The latter just makes her out to be a whinging and whining persona detached from professional etiquette. Presidents cannot give the appearance of living in a bubble that is about to pop at any moment, at the detriment of the nation, without outlining all the efforts undertaken as part of her duties and expect to survive it.

If people get angry enough quickly enough they may just be able to stop this steep descent in standards of living and opportunities to succeed. Ina Vukic

Croatia On Cusp Of Real Progress Despite Undermining

 From Left: Bozo Petrov, leader Most/Bridge Tihomir Oreskovic, Prime Minister designate Tomislav Karamarko, Leader HDZ Photo: Jurica Galoic/PIXSELL

From Left: Bozo Petrov, leader Most/Bridge
Tihomir Oreskovic, Prime Minister designate
Tomislav Karamarko, Leader HDZ
Photo: Jurica Galoic/PIXSELL


Timothy Less (a UK based political analyst on Eastern Europe according to LinkedIn profile in which he claims that his “primary role is running the Nova Europa political risk consultancy which helps businesses and international organisations to understand the impact of politics on their interests in Eastern Europe” ) wrote 5 January in International Policy Digest that with its new coalition government Croatia is embarking on a political experiment which, his article suggests, is destined to fail!

Croatia is embarking on a political experiment: a coalition government comprising the conservative Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) and the insurgent Most party, led by a non-partisan prime minister, Tihomir Oreskovic, a businessman who has spent much of his life in Canada,” Timothy Less writes and continues: “…If all now goes according to Most’s (Bridge coalition of independents that is forming government with conservative HDZ ) plan, a reformist leader (Tihomir Oreskovic) with a track record of success in business will start to extricate Croatia from its long-standing economic malaise, marked by slow growth, high unemployment and dangerous levels of both public and private indebtedness… However, things may not turn out in the way that Most hopes. For one thing, Oreskovic will struggle to impose his authority. Not only is he a political unknown, but the party he represents is already losing its power base. Many of Most’s supporters voted to change Croatian politics and have instead seen Most put one of the establishment parties into power. If social media is a reliable guide, these supporters are already abandoning the party…”

Timothy Less goes further and prognosticates utter doom and gloom for Croatia in 2016 seemingly because – he suggests – the larger part of the new governing coalition, HDZ, will not – he says – want to be in government with Most/Bridge coalition for too long and will “spend the next few months picking squabbles with Most, distancing itself from controversial policies and reaching out to the key constituencies whose support it must win over ahead of the next ballot.” He further claims that Tihomir Oreskovic, the Prime Minister designate, will “struggle to control a cabinet comprised mainly of HDZ ministers and a parliament in which Most has just 18 (out of 151) seats,” and says that “2016 is likely to be a dismal period in Croatian politics, characterized by ineffective government and an incoherent policy agenda as the different parts of the coalition pull in different directions.”

A similarly biased analysis on governance value and immediate political flop that appointing of Tihomir Oreskovic as Prime Minister of Croatia will supposedly mean for the country was recently written by Tomislav Jakic, a journalist based in Zagreb Croatia, whose article “The Victory of Norval” not only assumes (like Timothy Less) that lack of political party alliance or belonging in a government head spells doom and gloom and inability to control the politicians in parliament, but it maliciously and wrongfully asserts that Croats living abroad and those living in Croatia are not equally Croatian. The latter platform is the hateful stand promoted by communists of former Yugoslavia and many subscribing to the left or centre-left political mood in Croatia today and it aspires to undermine the unity of all Croats – those in Croatia and those in diaspora.

“…Norval has defeated Zagreb,” writes Jakic, “The diaspora has overpowered the so-called homeland Croatia. All the citizens of the Republic of Croatia who were born in it, worked in it and earned their daily bread in it honestly are offended and humiliated because a man, although born in Croatia, but had lived abroad for such a long time (mostly in Canada) that he even does not speak well his mother language, is being brought to them as their Prime Minister. And that the immediate message to all from Croatia, to all who have earned their professional knowledge in Croatian schools and universities and applied them here and in the world, is that they are incapable, that there is not a single person living in Croatia capable of being a Prime Minister…” wrote Jakic.

This article by Jakic is not to be taken lightly – it is a serious attack on democracy and equal opportunity for all citizens of Croatia (no matter where they live in the world) to advance their life and professional and political circumstances as best their merit permits. It represents a loud element of a cancer that works at deteriorating the unifying fabric of all Croats in the world and as a suffocating force whose primary role is to disable and render ineffective all attempts to bring the essential reforms into Croatian economy, public administration, justice…so that it finally moves further away from the communism from which it stems. Tomislav Jakic’s said article represents the discrimination that anti-discrimination laws exist for – it is an appalling behaviour coming out of a pen of a journalist.

Timothy Less and Tomislav Jakic, and all others who use “old” measures to predict the future under “new” measures, appear to disregard the important fact that since it broke away from communist Yugoslavia in pursuit of democracy 25 years ago Croatia has had elected politicians only at the helm of its governments and these politicians failed to bring about the necessary changes and reforms essential to a well-functioning, just democracy that offers equal-opportunity to all of its citizens in contributing to its prosperity. Political suitability, protectionism, political and economic and public administration and judicial corruption had lost ground somewhat during those 25 years but not enough to mark real progress. Strong reforms are required in Croatia on all fronts of public administration especially, much stronger than those that had occurred. The idea of such reforms is not popular but it is the agenda that is seeing the formation of a new government.

I for one will always barrack for an opposition to a government because a parliamentary opposition has a very important role to play in the progress of public and citizen’s life but opposition based on ideological or discriminatory outbursts that are utterly unfair to a human being, not only a citizen of a country, is something that is abhorrent to me.

The government formed in Croatia is likely to be the one with the main goal of achieving the needed, albeit unpopular, major reforms and as such it is not likely to be popular with everyone but one can safely say that most Croats recognise the need for major reforms. Some people may not like it but they do recognise the need for major reforms and, therefore, there is a politically impacting chance that many who do not like the major reforms announced would ultimately be convinced of the benefits of those reforms. Most/Bridge coalition says that it is adamant it wants to govern in coalition with HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union and in this to have an important input into the key government departments/ ministries, such as justice and internal affairs that are essential in achieving the needed reforms. Sweeping reforms to public administration that will likely see a rather notable reduction of government administration and departments and red tape in order to further ease economic and investment growth as well as administrative processes involved in daily living are being flagged.

There is an underlying truth unfolding in the current political resolve of forming the new government in Croatia and that resolve has a great deal to do with the firm intent to effectuate the unpopular reforms that are needed, to bring home the reality of the well-worn although not always warming idiom: “No pain, no gain!”. Good luck, I say – about time!  So many habits and stifling administrative processes and attitudinal elements from communist Yugoslavia still exist in Croatia and they must be rooted out. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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