Croatia: Minority Government, More Of The Same (?)

Map of Croatia With Election 2016 Results by majority seats per electorate Photo: Screenshot HRT news 12.09.2016

Map of Croatia
With Election 2016 Results
by majority seats per electorate
Photo: Screenshot HRT news 12.09.2016

 

The conservative Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, scored a relative victory in the early parliamentary vote on Sunday 11 September and now faces the task of forming a coalition government after voters again failed to produce a clear majority winner. Complete results reported Monday by Croatia’s state electoral commission showed that Andrej Plenkovic’s HDZ won 61 seats in the 151-member parliament, while Zoran Milanovic’s left-leaning Peoples’ Coalition won 54.  Bozo Petrov’s  Most party, or Bridge of Independent lists won 13 seats and it appears Most will again be a kingmaker as was the case in the last government. Zivi Zid, or Human Shield/Live Wall, a populist left alliance led by Ivan Vilibor Sincic, presented as the biggest surprise of these elections as it surged from 1 seat in last elections to 8 in these ones as it promised to be tough on banks and on the demand to seek prosecution of unnamed corrupt officials. General Zeljko Glasnovic, an independent who left HDZ just prior to elections, won a seat representing the diaspora and his strong card is that of lustration (getting rid of former communists in high positions in Yugoslavia from high position in democratic Croatia). Istrian Democratic Party and partners won 3 seats, Milan Bandic’s (current Mayor of Zagreb) Premier party won 2 seats and HDSSB (Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja) andHKS (Croatian Conservative Party) 1 seat.

Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Headquarters on election night 11 September 2016 with president Andrej Plenkovic in centre Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ
Headquarters on election night
11 September 2016 with president
Andrej Plenkovic in centre
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

Various types of mainly lingering communist ethos in Croatia have rushed to form an orchestra chanting that the new, like the last government, will not last long; that the voters are disappointed and disenchanted. One assumes they could say no different given that their like-minded exit polls agencies had failed miserably when they predicted the centre-left headed by Zoran Milanovic would win an easy victory over the centre-right HDZ. One assumes the Social Democrat led opposition will not cease creating scandals in order to destabilise the new government.

 

 

 

Wrong exit polls, dashed the hopes of many who were “certain” the “Reds” will win a comfortable victory over the conservative lot all contributed to Zoran Milanovic’s announcement he will retire from leader of Social Democrats position after such bad election results for the party. Yes, Zoran Milanovic was quite involved and loud in toppling the previous HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko and consequently the government in June of this year. Zoran Milanovic’s SDP loss at the snap elections last Sunday could well be karma at play for his leadership was instrumental and loud in framing Karamarko to a corner where there was no alternative but to resign to save HDZ from ongoing scandals, that were often unfounded and concocted.  Although Milanovic managed to get elected into the parliament this time on basis of preferences his clout is bound to be weaker although his stubborn and often stupid communist rhetoric may persist. At least he won’t be joined in parliament by the former president of Croatia, Stjepan Mesic, whom SDP resurrected from retirement and placed on its electoral list of candidates. Not even preferential votes managed to get Mesic across the parliament’s threshold. All Mesic got was some miserable 5,000 votes. This though may not deter Mesic from playing a role in helping SDP maintain political divisiveness in Croatia, which surely seems as main culprit for the election results environment still deadlocked between two large parties without producing a clear preference or majority.

 

 

The turnout at elections on Sunday was 52.6% some 8% lower than in November 2015 although in the countries abroad, in the diaspora, the turnout was significantly higher in many polling stations, suggesting the diaspora is gradually becoming more alert in making sure people register to vote as required in advance. The lower voter turnout and the relatively high number of votes cast for relatively newly-established minor parties/or coalitions has been a recurring phenomenon in recent years and these elections provided no exception. This would suggest that either many Croatian voters are looking for an alternative to the two-party option or HDZ and SDP have both failed miserably at convincing a majority to vote for them. Whatever the reason for the rather thin spread of votes across parties that precludes a majority win, the outcome does present major challenges for the formation of a homogeneous government. Forming a government in this mix of electoral wins would suggest deals and compromises will need to be made and this, in turn, may mean a weakened capacity of government to deliver on needed reforms.

 

SDP president Zoran Milanovic announces resignation from leader of opposition Photo: Nova TV news 11.09.2016/Connor Vlakancic

SDP president Zoran Milanovic
announces resignation from leader of opposition
Photo: Nova TV news 11.09.2016/Connor Vlakancic

So, many types will say that the reality is that even though HDZ got 2 more seats than last November and SDP got 2 less, this won’t make much difference. Croatia is still going to get pretty much more of the same; the same bickering that led to the previous government’s downfall (?).

 

 

However, more of the same in Croatia’s circumstances may mean the economy has started moving and it will keep growing slightly but without a clear, confident and competent course for enhancing and securing that growth or meaningfully pegging back the budget deficit, foreign debts, unemployment… Perhaps I will be proven wrong and I hope I am – but it does take exceptional strength to hold the rudder straight and firm amidst such a intricate variety of political egos and gaggle of groups HDZ will need to work with in its new government.

 

 

But perhaps the new government will prove both the skeptics and its would-be gravediggers wrong! If firmness or resolve to lead is anything to go by then HDZ’s Andrej Plenkovic’s determination to be Croatia’s Prime Minister, as his party was the relative winner, may hold the key for a stable government in spite of its diverse make-up.  This was something that formerly Tomislav Karamarko did not pursue as firmly as Plenkovic is doiung right from the start; before the government is formed. Plenkovic is already setting the tone of a new government that will have a clear leadership and that is positive. It could well be that appointing a technocratic Prime Minister (Tihomir Oreskovic) who was not an elected party’s member was the element that rocked the previous government the most and contributed to its gradual instability.

Andrej Plenkovic President HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union grateful for election victory 11.09.2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Andrej Plenkovic
President HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union
grateful for election victory 11.09.2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Having said that Plenkovic’s strength could well prove to be an asset for HDZ’s stabilising influence upon the new government, without a doubt, forming the new government will prove tricky and difficult for Andrej Plenkovic/HDZ. A prime minister needs a majority of like-minded members (at least on issues tabled for voting within the parliament) to govern. In the house of representatives almost 25% (or more if we count smaller parties such as HNS/Croatian Peoples’ Party who were in coalition with SDP, won some seats, etc., and may entertain the notion of entering into government with HDZ – God forbid) filled with smaller parties and single-seat independent, this is hard to do. Forming a government, and then keeping it together, depends on the co-operation of a flock of groups, often with diverging interests as well as reluctant collaborators. If a small party falls out with its coalition partners, it can bring down the government – similar was the case last time.

 

A political “risk” factor needs to be added to these structures of a minority government with HDZ as relative majority: Croatia continues to be a divided country.  Zoran Milanovic’s SDP and coalition partners have been very active in labeling HDZ as a criminally corrupt party that’s sinking into extreme nationalism, neo-fascism and reviving the WWII Ustashe regime while HDZ supporters have denounced Zoran Milanovic and his SDP as Communists bent on seizing power through resisting prosecution of and reckoning with communist crimes committed during former Yugoslavia as well as through incompetence to govern and uplift the country’s desperate state of the economy and slow-down the brain-drain with droves of young talented people leaving the country in search of jobs abroad. On the sidelines stand Most/Bridge of Independent lists and Live Wall, each reluctant to go into coalition with anyone but each lampooning on how their political agenda will save Croatia and nothing else, as well as the several ethnic minority seats that tend to serve cackling political cocktails and rub wrongly against the perceived Croatian national interests among the general population. The coming weeks will certainly prove challenging for Plenkovic and HDZ as they go about the business of forming a new government and I, for one, do not tend to judge that future government on the performance of the last one, particularly so because there will be a mix of personalities and skills in the new one that were not a contributing factor in the last one. So: good luck HDZ! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

 

 

Croatia: Snappish Coalitions For Snap Elections

Croatian Elections 2016

Early general elections in Croatia coming up second weekend of September 2016 have not only got behind them the brutally rushed toppling of a short-lived minority HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union–led government amidst founded and unfounded scandals, but are seeing the formation of snappish coalitions and an emergence of miniature political parties and individuals with irritating and irritable chips on their shoulders. All this spells out a possibility that the election results could well come back and bite the Croatian citizens in the back. With some unnatural coalitions between political parties that primarily point to individual candidate desperation to win seats at all costs and the stepping up the rhetoric on the stale dog’s breakfast of a guaranteed fantastic and prosperous future where there’ll be jobs for all, no thieves or corrupt in the public administration and public companies, debilitating foreign debt beat to a pulp and such, one really has difficulties is seeing much change on the political leadership scene from the previous elections of last decade or so. The only change that perhaps one might see is in seemingly more aggressive competition to secure local votes for individuals or smaller parties acting locally rather than nationally. It appears that most of the political coalitions in the elections race are counting on the draining of individual votes from bigger rival political parties to individual candidates running against those rival parties and who perhaps have local prestige or respect regardless of the fact they and their programs are hopeless for the nation as a whole. HDZ and its partners continue to emit the most sober campaign in comparison to the other parties.

 

For the parliament of 151 seats there are, according to the Croatian Electoral Commission) 2, 456 candidates (40% women; age range between 18 and 90 years) registered and are vying for a seat, including 29 candidates for ethnic minorities. 2016 polls will dish out to the voters 20 various coalitions of 60 political parties, 29 political parties going independently, 3 lists of independent candidates and 6 lists of candidates for ethnic minorities. The sheer numbers of candidates is enough to give any person desirous of a stable government and stable political climate a migraine. It’s very clear that these elections are much about securing a seat for an individual candidate and then pinning it to the victory of their coalition’s leading party. Croatia is bound to be the big loser if the coalitions formed to muster up individual local candidate wins into a win of government or significant number of seats actually win government. The disarray will no longer be in the uncompromising differences between political parties’ platforms but within the actual coalition trying to govern the country as if it’s one party.

In this turbulent sea of thousands of candidates and dozens of political parties running for government the Croatian media has so far given the impression that there are, after all, some leading political camps that have good chances of winning either majority or minority government or the chance to contribute to the forming of a future government.

Andrej Plenkovic, HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

Andrej Plenkovic,
HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union
Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

The centre-right party Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, was the relative winner in November 2015 elections when it won 59 seats. With Tihomir Oreskovic as its technocratic Prime Minister HDZ held minority government with Most/Bridge group of independents only to be toppled amidst scandals in June of this year. HDZ was at the helm of Croatia leading it into secession from communist Yugoslavia and holding government between 1990 and 2000, during the war years, as well as between 2003 and 2011. The new HDZ leader Andrej Plenkovic, a experienced diplomat and EU parliamentarian, was elected as party president in July of this year, seemingly turning the party more to the centre. HDZ decided to compete in the elections alone this time, only considering coalition with individual candidates/partners from smaller parties in certain local areas. Its election campaign trail appears to be spotted with significant victory projections across traditionally conservative electorates but not seemingly enough to project at this stage an outright majority government win on September 11. One thing that’s standing out in HDZ election campaign is its rather successful thrust to present Plenkovic to the Croatian public as a desirable leader for the country, however, the campaign appears in my view to lack adequate presentation of the other ingredient usually associated with election victory: presentation of a strong team rather than individual that will lead Croatia into a better future.

Bozo Petrov Most/Bridge of independent parties Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

Bozo Petrov
Most/Bridge of independent lists
Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

The Most/Bridge of Independent Lists is a relatively new political party functioning as a group of individual politicians, small-town and municipal mayors formed in 2012 in the small town of Metkovic that claimed and claims to be a ‘third way’ party – the solution to get Croatia out of the rut of a two-party system or two big political parties dominating the political scene in Croatia. It secured 19 seats in November 2015 elections and, hence, became the element that shook and rattled Croatia for a few weeks to finally decide to side with HDZ rather than centre-left Social Democrats/SDP in forming Croatia’s short-lived government in January 2016. It’s president Bozo Petrov, a 37-year-old psychiatrist from Metkovic, where he has been mayor since 2013 has lost a number of his coalition members due to disputes but regardless of that Most/Bridge is still expected to come in as a “third force” and perhaps once again be the one to call the shots which of the major parties (HDZ or SDP) will form the future government even if Petrov says that Most will never go into a coalition again.

History repeats itself saying has never to my knowledge come with good or a positive thing.

 

Zoran Milanovic SDP/Social DEmocratic Party Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

Zoran Milanovic
SDP/Social Democratic Party
Photo: Screenshot hrt.hr 3 September 2016

In its new coalition the centre-left SDP/Social Democratic Party (the former League of Communists) led by Zoran Milanovic has changed its name from Croatia Grows to the People’s Coalition and added or changed the parties in its coalition to the point that spells out desperation to win even if judging by its performance in the 2011-2015 government – it should be placed on a political scrap heap for quite a number of years. This time around SDP continues to work with the centre-left Croatian People’s Party/HNS and has pulled in new coalition partners in the Croatian Party of Pensioners, HSU, and the centre-right Croatian Peasants’ Party, HSS, which was a part of the HDZ-led Patriotic Coalition last November. It seems that HSS’s leader’s Kreso Beljak’s history of vandalism and theft convictions under the crimes law makes no difference in SDP’s selection of its coalition partner’s. While the notions of rehabilitation and second chances may be an acceptable way to lead life they certainly don’t factor as acceptable for members of a government in my book, especially when there’s much noise about corruption and theft in government bodies. Social Democrats are leading a campaign of dirt slinging against HDZ especially, and yet they themselves seem to have gathered quite a bit of dirt under their wings, showing it off, even, without blinking an eye. Not a good look for a party desirous of winning government but – there it is.

Ivan Lovrinovic (L) and Ivan Vilibor Sincic (R) Only Option Coalition Photo: makarsko-primorje.com

Ivan Lovrinovic (L) and
Ivan Vilibor Sincic (R)
Only Option Coalition
Photo: makarsko-primorje.com

The so-called Only Option Coalition was formed in July and is led by the anti-establishment Living Wall. Living Wall was created in 2011 from a civic movement fighting foreclosures and evictions by occupying buildings and is led by Ivan Vilibor Sincic. Three former Most/Bridge MPs, as well as the Association Franak (an NGO set up to lobby for people with loans in Swiss francs, whose debts rose due to a steep rise in the value of the franc) join living Wall in the coalition. The Only Option Coalition is said to be gaining momentum that may, as far as seats won is concerned,  place it on equal footing to the Most/Bridge wins and, therefore, make it an another camp with which a future minority government would negotiate terms to form government especially since Most/Bridge says it will not enter into any coalition with anybody.

Milan Bandic Coalition for Prime Minister Photo: hrt.hr

Milan Bandic
Coalition for Prime Minister
Photo: hrt.hr

The veteran Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic and his party Bandic Milan 365 – Party of Labour and Solidarity, leads the current Coalition for Prime Minister. Bandic, an ex-SDP member, has joined forces with two other ex-major party members who are factoring noticeably on the Croatian political scene: Ivo Baldasar from city of Split, an ex-SDP and Radimir Cacic of Reformists, an ex- HNS member. Bandic’s coalition also claims to be Croatia’s answer for a “third way”, however current polls predictions are quite slim for this camp – up to 2 or 3 seats in total.
There are two regional parties that won seats at the November elections and are likely to win some at the upcoming polls: the Istrian Democratic Assembly, IDS, and the Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja, HDSSB. While IDS is likely to continue favouring SDP as they themselves are riddled with former communists, HDSSB if it wins seats although ideologically close to the more right than centre-right is likely to keep its final preferences in the pocket to the last minute.

Archbishop Zelimir Puljic

Archbishop Zelimir Puljic

While polls suggest that a week before elections every fifth voter is undecided (HRT news 3 September 2016) and, therefore, surprises are possible including a majority government elected, the fact remains that neither of the two major parties seem to have done much work in wooing new voters into their camps and the election results will demonstrate that a large number of Croatian voters leaning towards the centre-left parties have made little if any progress in leaving the lingering pro-communist Yugoslavia mentality behind. Perhaps that is why the Croatian Bishops have Thursday 25 August sent via Archbishop of Zadar Zelimir Puljic their own message to Croatian voters to “familiarise themselves with candidates’ programs, especially the ones to do with the economy and to focus their attention on how individual political parties intend to continue with the process of education reform and the democratisation of the society as well as the confrontation with the communist past.” Could not have said it better myself. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia’s Former Communists Propose Continued Darkness For Communist Crimes Truth

Left: Zoran Milanovic, Social Democrats Photo: Ivica Galovic/Pixsell

Left: Zoran Milanovic, Social Democrats
Photo: Ivica Galovic/Pixsell

 

The League of Communists that changed its name to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and had held government in Croatia a couple of times since 2000, including 2011-2015, is at this current election campaigning time ahead of September 11 poll pushing down harder on the tail of pursuits for the prosecution of communist crimes committed by Yugoslav communists and Partisans during and after WWII. It was expected, one could say, that strong pressure to stop any further prosecutions of communist crimes after the German court convicted August 2016 to 40 years imprisonment former Yugoslav communist secret police (UDBA) operatives Zdravko Mustac and Josip Perkovic for their role in murder of Croatian national Stjepan Djurekovic.

 

But what Croatia’s Social Democrats and the leftist coalition are serving to the nation at this moment is a downright filthy betrayal of human justice and painfully reminiscent of the former totalitarian regime practices.

 

On Friday 19 August 2016, only a couple of weeks after the German court’s findings against former communist secret police operatives SDP’s president Zoran Milanovic called at an election rally of his National Coalition in Slavonski Brod for the termination of division within the Croatian society, and said that “the story of 1941, the UDBA – is over“.

We must finally realise that the story of ’41, of UDBA is over, we had enough. What’s done is done. Let’s all look at ourselves in the mirror. But with that we will not move a single step, that only stops us. And our competitors, I emphasise competitors, not enemies in the business, earnings or in wealth look at each other as we ‘spit’ and gnaw at each other. They laugh at us and say ‘these people do not know what to do with themselves’. There is a coalition that knows what to do with itself, and which is not haunted by ghosts past and that does not indulge in the healing of personal and other complexes of a political opponent but wants an impact of ideas, ” Milanovic said in Slavonski Brod, Vecernji List reports.

These words come from a hard-core former communist who did not move a little finger in the fight for Croatia’s independence in 1990’s and from the man who desperately tried to avoid or delay the extradition to Germany of the two convicted in Germany UDBA operatives; he had succeeded at this briefly by rushing in a law in Croatia that would prevent extradition from Croatia for any crime committed prior to 2000. Thankfully his ugly deed was overturned.

 

These words rudely remind us of standards of thought and memory imposed by the former Yugoslav communist regime and here we are, in 2016, having to listen to Milanovic calling the shots as to whether the nation should pursue justice for communist crimes of the past pr not. Utterly deplorable!

When the conviction and the findings against Mustac and Perkovic by the German court were published Milanovic did his utmost to pin Perkovic as a person of 1990’s HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union and Croatia’s first president Franjo Tudjman and attempted to cast aspersions against them.

As the successor of the Communist Party, SDP keeps the remaining UDBA archives, and Milanovic finds himself in an awkward position if the murderous and oppressive UDBA past becomes a loud trend in current general elections campaigns. He was associated with the criminal and totalitarian communist regime and its UDBA archives undoubtedly contain much much more about individuals who had committed, or participated in communist crimes and ruthlessly cruel communist purges. Furthermore. Today’s Croatian society is made up of numerous immediate family members of the former UDBA operatives and this very fact would surely be a potent factor for Milanovic and his echelons to try and stop any further steps in the prosecution or unearthing of communist crimes. Further prosecutions and “pokings” into the archives is likely to unearth that not only did individual communists commit crimes of murder or participation in murder, false imprisonment and forced people of different political persuasion to flee abroad but it may well unearth the fact that these communists were also the ones who robbed Croatia and its assets blind.

Front (R) Stjepan Mesic with rest of leftist coalition ready to deny the truth of communist crimes Photo: Hina/ Dario GRZELJ/ dag

Front (R) Stjepan Mesic with rest of
leftist coalition ready to
deny the truth of communist crimes
Photo: Hina/ Dario GRZELJ/ dag

This is surely the reason why Zoran Milanovic had decided to resurrect from political retirement the biggest and the most oppressive communist crimes apologist Croatia had ever had the misfortune of having to deal with – the retired former President of Croatia Stjepan Mesic. Stjepan Mesic has been placed as candidate for Croatian Parliament on SDP’s National coalition list. Resurrecting Stejepan Mesic from political retirement is a statement that strongly suggests that these communists will employ every weapon and tool possible in making sure there is no further court findings like those from the German court against Mustac and Perkovic.

 

These communists must be stopped in their tracks to prevent justice for the victims of communist crimes just as anyone must be stopped in trying to prevent justice for victims of crimes committed under other totalitarian regimes during and after WWII.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Centre) Photo: Benny Gool/ onyx media

Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Centre)
Photo: Benny Gool/ onyx media

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the former chairman of the South African TRC/Truth and Reconciliation Commission, successfully argued that in reckoning with the crimes and injustices of the past regimes, truth telling and the reformations of the people’s moral and political values are indispensable to national reconciliation. He particularly argued that forgiveness can play an important role in the moral and political reconstruction of society characterised by division, distrust and enmity… “the process of forgiveness also requires acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrator that they have committed an offence,” Archbishop Tutu said.

Sadly, Croatia’s Zoran Milanovic at the helm of the renewed push to forget about past communist crimes also indicates that there is absolutely no will from the former communists to seek forgiveness for communist crimes; such a brave move would inevitably mean that former communists were indeed, and as historical facts hold, accountable and responsible for perhaps worse crimes than those they’re happy accusing the WWII Ustashe regime in Croatia under Ante Pavelic for.

 

HDZ - Croatian Democratic Union with leader Andrej Plenkovic (Centre) Have a great slogan in 2016 elections: "With Veracity" Photo: Kristina Stedul/Pixsell

HDZ – Croatian Democratic Union
with leader Andrej Plenkovic (Centre)
Have a great slogan in
2016 elections: “With Veracity”
Photo: Kristina Stedul/Pixsell

So, the psychology behind Zoran Milanovic’s and People’s Coalition election campaigning when it comes to communist crimes and communist totalitarian regime of former Yugoslavia is blatantly primitive, most difficult to metabolise but rather very transparent. But as such it must not be accepted as “OK”. This psychology may indeed be a useful sign for positive progress with truth only if picked up on by other major political parties such as HDZ or other coalitions currently in the play for a win of government. What Milanovic proposes is continued darkness for Croatia, which follows the lack of light directed at the truth and justice. The darkness affects not only political life but also economic prospects because, contrary to what Milanovic promotes, continued lack of reckoning with the truth of the past feeds continued political and moral divisions in the society and, hence, discourages investments and economic developments. One cannot simply shut the door on the terrible past and move on as Milanovic and former communists insist – the pain of victims will remain loud as long as the truth of the crimes remains covered up. The whole world except Croatia’s former communists seems to know that. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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