Croatia – A Case Of Crumbling Self-Determination Under Communist Pressure

Top: retired general Zeljko Glasnovic during former mandate in Croatian Parliament
Bottom from Left: Furio Radin (Italian minority), Milorad Pupovac (Serb minority), Andrej Plenkovic and Goran Jandrokovic (HDZ party),
Gordan Maras, Nenad Stazic,Arsen Bauk, Davor Bernardic (SDP)

 

It took a willing fight of only one exceptional Homeland War veteran (retired General Zeljko Glasnovic) for the main parties of Croatia to show their intolerance towards independent Croatia!

Trebala je spremna borba samo jednog izuzetnog branitelja Domovinskog rata (generala Željka Glasnovića) da glavne stranke Hrvatske pokažu svoju netrpeljivost prema neovisnoj Hrvatskoj!

Croats Abroad Seeking Correction of the Croatian Constitution

Croatian Constitutional Court Building in Zagreb

It’s General Elections time for the Croatian Parliament once again! General Elections will be held on 4th and 5th of July 2020. As in previous election campaigns the Croatian and the public in general will hear many promises people want to hear from the previously alternating HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) and SDP (Social Democratic Party) governments. Be aware and be wary! Bitter and disappointing lessons from their promises have hopefully been learned and Croatian voters, by voting them out, will have the power to reel in real positive changes for the Croatian people.

Real positive changes are needed in processes to stamp out the suffocating corruption in Croatia, which has seen the economy tumbling and hundreds of thousands of young and middle-aged people leaving Croatia in search for a fairer and better life; they have in the past decade gone to Ireland, to Germany, to the UK, to the USA, Canada, Australia… The show of false willpower to deal head-on with corruption around the times of general elections has become as predictable as clockwork when it comes to HDZ and SDP! The latest is the theatrical arrest on 30 May of some 12 people (some leading HDZ figures such as Josipa Rimac, theatrically expelled from the party a couple of days ago) associated with long-standing bribery, lucrative contract recipients favouritism and influencing, illegal dealings, etc., within Croatian Forests (Hrvatske Šume)the government funded and propped company).

Another example of HDZ and SDP former government, since 2010, malfeasance is related to official Croatia’s diaspora and its rights as citizen of the country. Not only has the number of parliamentary seats representing Croats of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Croatian diaspora been cut from 12 to only 3, but the reasonable ease of access to polling booths at times of elections has been drastically bastardised. Polling places limited to largely inaccessible diplomatic-consular missions and those within community settings such as clubs – banned! Then comes the accessibility issue related to electronic and postal voting.

“Nothing doing!” Nothing is happening!

One of SDP’s leading politicians Arsen Bauk stated recently (April 2020) that SDP is against electronic/postal voting, that it will not support electronic and postal voting for Croatian citizens abroad “because that would increase the influence of Croatians living outside Croatia on election results…”!

HDZ’s Croatia’s Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, on the other hand, said a couple of weeks ago that there isn’t enough time now to introduce electronic/postal voting. And yet, he and HDZ party, as part of their election promise for 2016 elections promised to introduce electronic/postal voting!

Do not believe in promises given at elections by HDZ and SDP because the proven fact remains that they do not keep their promises to voters!

Both HDZ and SDP during their past government mandates could have instigated a crucially relevant examination of the relevant parts of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia affecting Croatians living abroad and their voting rights. They did not! Nor will they because the less Croats living abroad vote, the more powerful are their cronies within Croatia. Regardless of difficult accessibility to polling booths abroad I do trust Croatian citizens living abroad will vote in large numbers at the coming elections.

For about a year now, a group of Croatians, mainly living abroad, has been working on a project designed to bring about changes to the Constitution by the Constitutional court’s examining of the legislation (Act) relating to the election of Parliamentary Representatives for Croatians living outside Croatia. The leading organisers and instigators of this project are the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in Diaspora and Homeland (HAZUDD) with dr Josip Stjepandic as its president and Croatian World Congress (CWC) with Vinko Sabljo, president. Represented by attorney Mato Knezovic from Zagreb the signatories to the case filed in the Constitutional Court in Croatia include members of HAZUDD Board (Josip Stjepandic [president], Ina Vukic [Vice-president], Emilija Herceg [Secretary]), members of CWC Board (Vinko Sabljo [president], Igor Lackovic [Main Secretary] and Diana Vukusic [Treasurer])  and 24 other Croatians living abroad and in Croatia.

We aim to show the grotesque injustice in Article 45 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia:

Article 45: “All Croatian citizens who have reached the age of eighteen years (voters) shall be entitled to universal and equal suffrage in elections for the Croatian Parliament, the President of the Republic of Croatia and the European Parliament and in decision-making procedures by national referendum, in compliance with law.

In elections for the Croatian Parliament, voters who do not have registered domicile in the Republic of Croatia shall be entitled to elect three representatives in compliance with law.

In elections for the Croatian Parliament, the President of the Republic of Croatia and the European Parliament and in decision-making procedures by national referendum, suffrage shall be exercised in direct elections by secret ballot, wherein voters who do not have registered domicile in the Republic of Croatia shall vote at polling stations in the premises of diplomatic-consular offices of the Republic of Croatia in the foreign countries in which they reside.

In elections for the Croatian Parliament, the President of the Republic of Croatia and the European Parliament and in decision-making procedures by national referendum, the Republic of Croatia shall secure exercise of suffrage for its citizens with registered domicile in the Republic of Croatia who are outside of its borders during elections such that they may vote in diplomatic-consular offices of the Republic of Croatia in the foreign countries in which they located or in some other manner as specified by law.”

Press release 20 May 2020 issued by the attorney Mato Knezovic on behalf of the 30 Croatians before the Constitutional Court in Croatia included the following:

“Today, 30 Croatian citizens from 6 European countries, as well as Canada, the USA and Australia, submitted to the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia a Proposal for the assessment of Art. 6 and 8 of the Act on the Election of Representatives to the Croatian Parliament with the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, international treaties and EU anti-discrimination provisions.

Among them are leading members of the Croatian World Congress and the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts in the Diaspora and the homeland.

As is a well-known fact, Croatian citizens who do not reside in the Republic of Croatia have the right to 3 members of the Croatian Parliament, and their polling stations are exclusively diplomatic and consular premises of the Republic of Croatia abroad. The Ministry of Administration has 883,042 registered voters who do not reside in the Republic of Croatia. Their percentage is 19.15%, and they elect only 3 Representatives, or 1.98% of the total number of Representatives.

At the same time, the Czech and Slovak national minorities elected a member of parliament from only 1,590 voters. The proposal, which is based on an expert analysis of three professors of constitutional and public law (Marc Gjidara, Zvonimir Lauc, Mato Palic), points to several decisions of the Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights on discrimination against these Croatian citizens.

It also shows the illegality and unconstitutionality of other provisions of the said law. Since the said law and constitutional provisions, which limited the number of representatives of the said Croatian citizens to 3, have no basis in the basic constitutional principles and international legal acts, the applicants consider that they are severely discriminated against and that such a law indicates the illegitimacy of the entire electoral process, basic constitutional principles, European acquis communautaire and international treaties to which the Republic of Croatia is a signatory.

By this act, Croatian citizens who do not reside in the territory of the Republic of Croatia show that they are not willing to accept the constant harassment, insult and change of laws to their detriment, but also to the detriment of overall Croatian national interests and rights…”

We hope to succeed in this application to the Constitutional Court in Croatia since HDZ and SDP governments have not moved a finger to remove the grotesque injustices towards Croatians living abroad. Wish us luck! But in any case, we will have a reply from the Constitutional Court as to why if our application is not successful. Then, we can move onto the next platform available within the European Union and pursue justice.  It is not just a matter affecting Croatians living abroad, it is, more to the point, a matter for all Croatian people as Croatia is for years seeking to rely on Croats from abroad to return to Croatia and thus help it become a better place to live in. Ina Vukic

Whistleblowers And The Unravelling Corruption In Croatia

 

Fear of reprisals for reporting wrongdoing, whistleblowing on corruption or possible corruption, breaches of legislative regulations etc. is a real concern when fighting corruption and this fear is very pronounced in Croatia. Croatia (like all former Yugoslavia member states) is a country riddled with entrenched corruption stemming from the communist public service and administration culture and it needs a stronger whistleblowing regime. To have a strong whistleblowing regime it means freedom from damaging consequences for those who report wrongdoing and it also means that the number of whistleblowers present and active needs to be high. That is, the number of people raising complaints and pointing to wrongdoing.  That means Croatia needs better protection laws for whistleblowers; better freedom of information laws; a third party to report wrongdoing to in a process of operational  “checks and balances”; cultural change at the organisational and individual levels; and compensation for those suffering retaliation for speaking out.

According to the Croatian justice ministry’s June 2017 issue of Action Plan for 2017-2018 under the Implementation of the Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2015-2020 (PDF of Action Plan), the law that would, among other, make provisions for the protection of whistleblowers should reach the parliament chambers in the third and fourth quarters of 2018. The justice ministry has already established a working group under the government’s Advisory Committee On Combating Corruption.

The above anti-corruption strategy recognises and acknowledges the fundamental role of whistleblowers in highlighting corrupt practices and in contributing to enhance transparency and political accountability. The strategy stresses the “need” to guarantee whistleblowers effective judicial protection, including measures to strengthen judicial transparency, enhance the reporting system for illegal conduct, and complete the regulatory framework to safeguard whistleblowers.

Croatia’s economy is presently overcast by thick clouds of unease and suspicions of major corruption emerging from the Agrokor affair. Related to the Agrokor and its majority owner Ivica Todoric affairs threatening to bankrupt the country once debt recovery claims, especially those from foreign banks such as Russia’s Sberbank, come knocking on the door sits, of course, Pandora’s box of corruption at the highest levels of political echelons. Should the lid of that Pandora’s box be lifted then even if all the “evils” escape into the open the mythical hope (for justice and good) that should remain inside the box is likely to be weak and flimsy, if at all existing.

To open Pandora’s box means to perform an action that may seem small or innocent, but that turns out to have severely detrimental and far-reaching negative consequences for those who open the box and for those associated with them in dealings. It was about one month ago that a former member of the Liberal Party in Croatia, Bruno Mirtl,  revealed to the public that over 10 years ago he received 50,000 kuna (about 6,500 Euros) for the party’s funding from Ivica Todoric of Agrokor, In the days before Todoric’s arrest in London, it was announced that Agrokor – which had enjoyed privileged treatment by all Croatian governments for decades – had filed false accounts, hiding a loss of several billion Euros.

As Mirtl rightly observes, if even such a small party as his own obtained unlawful funding by Todoric, then there is no doubt that the main, more influential parties (Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ and Social Democratic Party/SDP) received much more substantial sums from the same source.

Mirtl’s testimonial account could trigger a domino effect on the Croatian political scene, forcing drastic and forced exodus from the major parties of significant members and political power-brokers come wheelers and dealers. But the domino effect in a political playground can only happen if those fighting against corruption possess hope that such battles can in effect be won. If one was to judge the strength of that hope upon past experiences then cover-ups, stalling of legal processes etc. that have occurred in similar circumstances, that hope will evaporate into thin air. It would seem that major political players from the major political parties, supported by the bent mainstream media are digging their heels in and trying to suppress the Mirtl and Todoric affair under similar connotations that permitted Todoric to pull wool over everyone’s eyes when it came to the origins of his enormous personal wealth.

This goes without saying that if the whistleblower protection is inserted into the legislation draft, one really never knows how even the tightest of plans for such legislation to go ahead can be hacked out of existence, the HDZ government and SDP opposition (as both have governed the country over periods in the last two decades, after Homeland War and may have had their fingers deeply immersed in the corruption pie) would no doubt try their damnedest to  find solutions that ensure wolves (guild owners, managers, senior political officials) remain fully satisfied and the sheep, though perhaps reduced in number, remain anaesthetised.

And the fact that the recently established Parliamentary Inquiry Committee (which is in no way independent of political parties as it should be) on Agrokor is about to be extinguished lends itself to more unrest and recriminations across parliamentary benches. The governing HDZ insists that the applicable legislation requires for the Committee to stop operations once legal proceedings directly related to the reason why the Committee is set up commence, the Committee has no further jurisdiction. The SDP opposition, on the other hand, think differently and says the Committee can continue its operations regardless of separate legal proceedings held in court. Given SDP’s history as well as HDZ’s one doubts that when it comes to unearthing details of corruption in this case the dispute between the two major political parties about whether the Committee can or cannot continue appears blatantly contrived.  It does leave room for speculation as to the genuineness within the motives to set up such an inquiry in the first place and how much of its rushed start has to do with throwing dust in public’s eyes, giving the outlook of real search for corruption was afoot when, in fact, it was all an exercise to win on time.  The real crunching of corrupt culprits and their ill-gotten wealth may never even reach the door that leads into the room where justice and consequences for corruption are dished out as a matter of normal governance of Croatia.

Not all the sluggishness and lack of action from Croatia’s leadership when it comes to affirmative matters and getting things done for whistleblowers, upon whose existence fighting corruption largely depends, can be attributed to the governments of present and past. Croatia’s presidents since year 2000 have not stepped up to the action mark either. And this goes for the present president Kolinda Grabar-KItarovic as well. Shortly after taking office as president of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic appointed Vesna Balenovic as her commissioner/adviser for whistleblowing issues. Vesna Balenovic is a well-known whistleblower, who few years ago denounced some of the executives of the INA oil company (of national importance) where she was employed. She was immediately dismissed, ending up with defamation charges by then Chairman of INA’s Board of Directors Tomislav Dragicevic and former Minister of Finance Slavko Linic. Later on, Chairman of INA’s Supervisory Board Davor Stern advanced the idea that Vesna Balenovic could be re-admitted into the company as commissioner for the fight against corruption. This never happened, but Balenovic has remained present in public life as founder and president of the Zviždač association (Whistleblower Association). INA has stopped being a public company for some time, as the administrative rights were transferred to Hungarian MOL (this matter is the subject in criminal proceedings for corruption waged now for years against former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader). This deal was accompanied by extensive corruption (refer for example to former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader case) that still weighs not only on the bilateral relations between Croatia and Hungary, but also on domestic politics and the work of the Croatian judiciary, which is definitely not equipped to face these kinds of challenges on a fair-and-square basis as it itself is said to be corrupted and filled with former communist operatives that should be lustrated out of the judicial corridors and benches.

Four months after being appointed as commissioner/adviser for corruption by president Grabar-Kitarovic, Balenovic left that office in protest, arguing that she had not even seen a glimpse of the president in the entire time she worked in her cabinet. One could (should) be a cynic here and say that Balenovic had obviously not realised that her only task was to be a trophy in Grabar-Kitarovic cabinet, who obviously has close ties with many persons responsible for or who have contributed to the sluggishness and alarming inaction when it comes to real fighting with corruption that would see deposition, lustration and even imprisonment of quite a number of political elitists.

Taking into account the constant quest to create a climate conducive to entrepreneurship, that would save the ailing economy, both HDZ and SDP political echelons, as well as president Grabar-Kitarovic, it is truly – in the climate where institutions and big business pander to the will of the governing elite and where public administration is heavily politcised – unrealistic to expect any increases to workers rights that include the protection of whistleblowers. Not increasing protection of whistleblowers in law and practice would, without a doubt, devastate further the very core of any economic or business culture recovery or hope for it. Ina Vukic

 

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