Decommunisation – Crucible For Progress In Croatia/Lobbying In The Shadows Of Communism

Decommunisation as a concept enveloped in national legislative, educational, social and cultural platforms has gained vivid focus in our daily lives after the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent fall of communism in European countries. Decommunisation is a process of dismantling the legacies of the communist state establishments, culture, and psychology in the post-communist states. Croatia is one of those countries. Decommunisation is sometimes referred to as political cleansing and in that perspective Croatia falls alarmingly behind other post-communist European countries, member states of EU, such as Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia etc.

The discourse of the essential-for-democratic-progress decommunisation in a public plane of modern Croatian informational environment has an ambivalent and an irresolute impact on the construction of public opinion. The fact that Croatia’s mainstream media and governments since year 2000 have chosen not to make decommunisation a clear priority are to be blamed for this.

The steaming up of election campaigns toward the imminent European Parliament elections that are to occur on 26 May 2019 brings into focus the stark lack of attention being given to decommunisation in Croatia, once again! Election campaigning times are always the times that take us to what should occur within the framework of national priorities in order to better people’s lives. The messages coming out so far from Croatian politicians vying for candidature for EP have not articulated decommunisation as the specific and crucial process Croatia needed and needs to go through if it at all will end up a functional democracy in its own right. In essence, decommunising Croatia was the crucial ingredient for the fight for independence from communist Yugoslavia and yet Croatian politicians ending up in EP or wanting to end up in EP have consistently failed to package their election platforms into intents to decommunise the country. From a birds eye-view it’s almost like they are walking on egg-shells so as not to disturb the communist mindset and habits that still remain as the biggest barriers to progress; from nepotism to corruption the plethora for decommunisation remains gigantic, regardless of the fact that the Croatian legislature is increasingly adapting its laws to EU standards. It is the entrenched and alien to democracy behaviour of those that implement and administer the legislation that is not changing, and that is the stumbling block to real progress and decommunisation.

While there is a lot of talk about sovereignty as a political platform to be pursued in this political public space in Croatia ahead of EP elections, the concept of sovereignty has not been defined in terms of changes that Croatia needs to become a truly practicing democracy – and it should be! The group of Croatian politicians who have given themselves the tag of sovereignists, some of who have joined forces for the purposes of these elections, have recently defined the word “sovereignists” as working in Croatian national interests! This is as nebulous as one can get! It is a strong, attractive word to many, but fails to provide clarity of direction and, hence, whether purposefully or not, in order to gain public support, everything and anything done can be declared as sovereignistic and become “attractive”.

In these sovereignist political winds and groupings or political alliances sweeping across Croatia like some undefined but attention-grabbing slogan nevertheless, I have not yet heard the word decommunisation, or finishing the job started by the declaration of independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1991. And yet, finishing the job is exactly what a large section of voters, particularly those who cherish independence want to see happen. Whether some will be fooled into thinking that currently explained sovereignist politics equal decommunisation in Croatia is yet to be seen. From what we have seen so far – the equality between the two terms remains elusive.

Lobbying for decommunisation still remans in the shadows of mainstream politics and media fraught with communist regime heritage.

Public baptism of decommnisation has not yet occurred in Croatia.

Listening to politicians in Croatia who consider themselves to be sovereignists I have heard and read only specific things they want to achieve if elected but not a national plan that would accumulate various specific things into a decommunisation process and package. They say they are sovereignists because they protect Croatian national interests. Well, guess what? Every political movement and party whether in government or not say exactly the same thing. Protecting national interests – is a nebulous affair unless, one defines it, narrows it down to its core! Sovereingnists say that they will not blindly follow international directives they say come from Brussels or Washington but will consider the interests of the Croatian people, and that is what sovereignism means to them. They say they want to bring against the wall current Croatia’s prime minister and president…they say they will operate on a “political platform of sovereignty, patriotism and Christianity in Croatia”; they say that there is no alternative to unity. They say they are anti-antifascists but fail to spell out what that means in terms where and how Croatia as whole should be going when it comes to dealing with anti-fascists and their agenda, which is to retain the communist Yugoslavia mindset!

Sovereignism has thus become a political carrot, which mutates in shape and density when handled by different politicians. And that is a reality which breeds ambivalence and detracts focus from the real sovereignity that, when it comes to Croatia, should come with a tightly drawn map for decommunisation as its essential ingredient.

The reality is that the Croatian nation had in 1991 made an irreversible, conscious choice in favour of democracy. The conscious choice was made via an overwhelming 94% vote to secede fro communist Yugoslavia. Independence was declared and the onslaught of Serb aggression ensued – leaving Croatia victorious albeit devastated. What was to be a natural progression into fully functional democracy after the Homeland War ended in 1998, with the peaceful reintegration of Serb-occupied Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium into Croatia – did not occur. Decommunisation as a packaged national process did not occur to the degree or nature that it should have. Too many former communists took over the governing power from 2000, ensuring decommunisation does not happen.

While Croatia’s first president, Franjo Tudjman, is often criticised for not implementing lustration as part of decommunisation, it is to be taken into consideration that any such move was virtually impossible. The war years for independence evidently saw both a political and a logistical need to keep former communist operatives on side. Croatia and its people had to be defended from Serb aggression and that required political bravery as well as military one – that was the priority of the times.

Nevertheless, Tudjman did commence decommunisation in that a mass renaming of streets and squares, that went on for a number of years starting in 1990, did away with the “heroes” of communist Yugoslavia and raising the names of Croatian political leaders, historical political heroes, writers, artists, intellectuals, etc. Yet, its inconsistency is a constant reminder of the Croatia’s governments’ inability to implement its own directives and laws in a timely and systematic fashion. In the cities and towns you can still walk along the streets and parks and come across streets, statues, monuments to Josip Broz Tito and his partisans; the communist regime that murdered and purged hundreds of thousands of innocent Croats; forced hundreds of thousands of others to flee, to emigrate either due to political oppression or relative poverty.

Not only have some street, park and city names that related to the former communist regime survived the name changes, but Croatia has failed miserably to outlaw symbols from the communist regime such as the red star and yet it has outlawed symbols of the WWII Croatian fight for independence! Now, it is humanly impossible to deny the criminal nature of the Yugoslav communist regime 1945-1990/91or justify it in the media, to heroize the Communist Party leaders and to create positive images of such heroes. And yet that is exactly what is happening in Croatia! Even within the parliament itself, members of parliament of former communist party allegiance promote that totalitarian and criminal Yugoslav regime from which Croatia seceded through rivers of its own blood!

Croatia never had its decommunisation movement backed by a strategic plan for it that includes a package of laws and regulations geared for multi-level decommunisation and public accountability. Regretfully, it is still incumbent upon individual politicians and other public leading figures to keep alive that ideal of nation-wide decommunisation so many lives were lost for. Decommunisation in Croatia still lives as an ideal rather than an implemented process in public administration.

A characteristic feature of a discourse of decommunisation in the post-Homeland War period was the accentuation and emphasis in Croatia’s public space of freedom, which, of course, brought its political dividends. The communists or former communists soon picked up on this and they started using the concept of freedom as something the communists brought to Croatian people during WWII as applicable to today’s Croatia. Hence, ushering into public space the idea that it was the communists who liberated Croats (in WWII) and not Croats who wanted an independent Croatia during 1990’s!

A number of Croatian politicians (including General Zeljko Glasnovic, Independent MP for the Croatian diaspora) and public intellectuals appear to believe that the crucible of the continuing conflict between former communist regime loyalists and those striving towards developing an efficient democracy lies not in the EU but in a regimented decommunisation process in Croatia. They are right!

Many of Croatia’s citizens have, however, little first-hand experience of democracy and bureaucracy that comes with it. For many Croatians, living in the traditional “Yugoslav” (or post-Yugoslav?) manner, i.e. from month to month, the ideal Europe plays a similar role as nostalgia for the Yugoslav years – reflecting a far-off dream of financial stability and decent social welfare. Many have blanked out the fact that day to day living in Yugoslavia was fraught with enormous existential hardships. Clearly packaged and regimentally implemented decommunisation is the only answer to Croatia fulfilling its sovereignty to the fullest. Ina Vukic

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