Independents For Croatia – Impress

It’s often been said that if the law won’t do it, the people will! This goes particularly so with matters that dig painfully deep into national pride that comes with victory for independence and installing democracy. After a ten-year determined rallying battles organised by “Circle for City Square” (“Krug za trg”) association from Zagreb, whose main aim is to rid Croatia of all totalitarian regime symbolism in public places the ongoing focus on removing former communist Yugoslavia’s leader’s (Josip Broz Tito/Marshal Tito) name from the most beautiful Zagreb city square gained stronger than ever political impetus during the May 2017 local elections in Croatia, when an “Independents for Croatia” political party and movement (steered by Bruna Esih, Zlatko Hasanbegovic and Zeljko Glasnovic) made it their electoral promise, if the Bruna Esih list won seats for the Zagreb city assembly.

Having won seats at the local elections, Bruna Esih and Zlatko Hasanbegovic offered support to the beleaguered Zagreb mayor Milan Bandic, who needed partners in order to form a majority in Zagreb Assembly, on condition that the Josip Broz Tito square’s name be changed. The populist mayor was re-elected for a sixth term but he struggled to form a majority in the new city assembly. For several years, Bandic refused to change the square’s name and said the issue would be decided at a referendum.

At its long meeting through the night between 31st August and 1st September 2017 the Zagreb City Assembly voted to strip the name of late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito from the prominent opera-house square in the city. An historic vote that has delighted multitudes even though opinions coming from the left wing politics continue to raise protests against the vote. One wouldn’t expect anything else from the die-hard communist-loving lot. Given that 29 deputies voted for, 20 against and 1 abstained from voting it is to be expected that a wielding of red axes will last for some time in the camp of the disgruntled communist lot, hence the political unrest and polarisation within Croatia is set to continue.

But the removal of “Marshal Tito” name from that city square is a mighty lever for the pursuit of lustration in Croatia regardless of divisions and polarisation.

That city square will now be called the Republic of Croatia Square. A symbolism in that new name to the city square carries the very potent trait of freedom from oppression, from communism, that Croatian Homeland War victoriously ushered in 1990’s, having defended and liberated Croatia from the brutal Serb and communist Yugoslav army forces’ aggression.

No street or square in Croatia should bear Josip Broz Tito’s name,” said Zlatko Hasanbegovic before the Zagreb assembly vote.

It’s a small and belated satisfaction to all victims … of Yugoslav communist Titoist terror”, Hasanbegovic said after the voting was done.

Without a doubt, with several hundreds of thousands of innocent people murdered under the communist regime in WWII and post-WWII times Josip Broz Tito rates as one of the worst criminals in Croatia’s history and removing his name from the city square also serves as recognition that the era of communist Yugoslavia was a dark and oppressive age in Croatia’s history. Piles of human bones mark more than 800 communist crimes mass graves in Croatia and Tito and his communist regime organised and oversaw the murders.

To underpin Tito’s legitimacy, Croatia’s communists who wrongfully call themselves antifascists fostered and foster an image of Marshal Tito and the Partisans as humane, heroic liberators of all of Yugoslavia’s people from fascism and nationalism. But when one is confronted with the facts of communist crimes of mass murder, torture and oppression this painting of the communist regime makes the head spin with abhor. With the removal of Tito’s name from the Zagreb city square the political system that’s laden with former communist operatives will no longer be able to hide uninterrupted or justify the horrid truth behind the communist regime. Whether this will lead to a new political instability in Croatia is yet to be seen, but no objective reality-check in the circumstances of a relatively thriving communist mindset still present in Croatia would tell us that lustration will be an easy task to achieve, anyway. Cornering a dog always requires vigilant defences as the dog will attack and bite. And so it is of no wonder that the road to ridding Croatia of the communist mindset and exposing communist crimes has seen an increased labelling of it as neo-fascism or fascist moves.

The above labeling of any lustration attempts in Croatia (which still has not passed a lustration law that would have been a government obligation after Homeland War victory that ushered in democracy and rejected communism) would appear to evidence the fact that the procedural and legal-institutional issues occupy a marginal place in any “official” debate about lustration, and that main sources of discord are more ideological and political than legal. The two main strains within the lustration discourse could well be identified as:

(1) dystopian discourses that paint a frightful picture of a lustrated society and imply that the upheaval of lustration would ruin the chance for democratic evolution, and

(2) affirmative discourses that assert the need for lustration and portray the refusal to implement it as a barrier to successful transition to democracy.

The dystopian opposition to lustration is linked with the left-wing political affiliation or self-identification and the affirmative discourse with the right-wing orientation. The taking down of Josip Broz Tito from the Zagreb city square may serve as to open up a new era in Croatia where pursuits to lustration will take a formal and official shape and see all relevant communist Yugoslavia archives open and lustration law finally delivered by the parliament. Having in mind that the prevailing ideological and political resistance by the left to lustration is seeing increased pressure against the ruling centre-right HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union party as well as the centre-left SDP/Social Democratic Party opposition resulting in popularity polls plummet, as they’re both seen as resisting lustration, real progress towards actual lustration may indeed be on the horizon. It is of no wonder that with rather frequent changes of government Croatia has been in a serious and continuous political crisis for over three years in particular and this aura of political unrest yields itself to fresh political forces paving the ground for lustration. That fresh political force could well prove to be in the hands of the emerging “Independents for Croatia” party and political movement. A significant sway of voters to its side would be a prerequisite to success and as the past two decades have shown new political parties and movements are not news to Croatia. However, a new political movement that centres around completing the task Croatian people had set for themselves in 1991 referendum – to rid the country of communism – has the silver lining required to finally bring Croatia out of its dark communist age. Ina Vukic

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