Appraising Croatia As Nation In Transit From Communism

Referendums in Croatia

On its website, the US based “Freedom House” says about itself that it “is an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom around the world”.

Whether Freedom House is an independent organisation is an issue that is best judged by individuals at large; while its research figures and scales upon which it measures progress in freedom can be considered reliable and valid, its commentary may not be. Individuals who may or may not be politically biased usually produce commentaries.

When it comes to transitioning from totalitarian communist regime to democracy, such as the case is in Croatia, nobody who is democratically-minded would argue against having as many watchdogs as possible. Keeping a sharp eye on the progress of democratic reform in both law and daily living is a must, especially given that no one loyal to or having been a part of the communist regime will admit to having done anything wrong within the spheres to freedom and human rights. That, at the end of the day, is a failing of human nature, but human nature nevertheless. Watchdogs, therefore, need partners on the ground that will, in case the government fails, act in the interests of achieving freedom and democracy for the people.

Freedom House has just released its 2014 Report: Nations in Transit 2014—the 18th edition of Freedom House’s comprehensive report on post-communist democratic governance—highlights recent setbacks to democracy across Eurasia and the Balkans, as well as in Central Europe.

The Key Findings in this report include:
• “The Balkans registered some positive developments during the year, including Croatia’s EU accession and a historic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, but dysfunctional governments continued to drive down democracy scores in the region overall”.

Judging by this report, among the 29 countries rated Croatia rates among the bottom lot for democratic progress, with a decline in Electoral Process and Judicial Framework/Independence.

The scores pinned to Croatia in this Report suggest inadequate democratic progress in corruption fighting, in media independence, in local and state governance, in independence of judiciary and in electoral process while the category “Civil Society” has according to it just passed the mid-way point towards the positive mark.

It’s a given that Croatia needs many more “drastic” changes and positive moves in order to achieve a fuller, a meaningful democracy. There have been many barriers and obstacles in this path during the past two decades, particularly those that have seen the former communists’ reluctance to let go off the communist past and condemn its dark and freedom obstructing sides. There’s no doubt that the current Social Democrats led government as well as the communism loyal presidents since year 2000 have contributed alarmingly to a disturbing stale-mate in the democratisation of Croatia.

Civil Society is considered a positive facet of democracy; it reflects the aggregate of non-governmental organisations and institutions that manifest interests and will of citizens. Freedom House report acknowledges this as a positive progress in Croatian democracy and yet it characterises citizens’ initiatives for referendum as an effort of “a broader rise in activism by ultra-conservative groups within Croatian society, many of which are nationalist in orientation…”.

Hence, it would seem that while considering Civil Society as healthy democracy in its aforementioned Report Freedom House tends to label those elements of Civil Society that are fighting for democracy in Croatia against the communist leaning powers as “ultra-nationalistic”! It seems democracy-hungry Croats cannot win, whatever they do –  they are undeservedly often labelled with negative connotations (?).

What a shame for democracy! This appalling wind of labels blows from left-wing politics -which in this case are seen as pro-communist – given that it lacks criticism of high-handed, controlling government, when it comes to achieving progress with democracy.

No wonder, then, that Croatia has seen a strong rise in organised citizens’ groups seeking democratic changes and progress in respecting the will of the citizens. The current government and the president of Croatia seem to be “surprised” at the intensity some citizens’ organisations are attempting to have their views heard; one could hear from the Prime Minster Zoran Milanovic’s lips words such as “this referendum will never pass while I am the Prime Minister” – and that was in relation to the highly successful collection of signatures organised by the Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar for a referendum on the Cyrillic script on public buildings in Vukovar. Although all conditions for a referendum have been met by the citizens (enough verified signatures on petition etc.) the government still doesn’t know what to do with this reality – i.e., its actively denying or heavy-handedly stalling the citizens in holding a referendum, implementing a constitutional right.

The latest “Civil Society” moves in Croatia include steps taken for a referendum on matters of the electoral process, which is, by the way, given a relatively low score for democratic progress by Freedom House. Also, moves by Trade Unions for a referendum against the government announced privatisation or outsourcing of government ancillary services (cleaning etc.) and one can almost feel a new issue surfacing for a referendum: against retirement age of 67…

All in all, the citizens are “on the streets” in Croatia because the democratic and consultative process on major issues affecting its citizens is at standstill, leaning backwards! And backwards is towards communist-like oppression.

And so, let the Freedom House label Croatian citizens’ initiatives for democratic change as “ultra-nationalistic” as much as it likes, I will, for one, heed the suggestion of the Croatian Cultural Council’s journalist contributor Ivan Miklenic: “In line of this, all the citizens’ initiatives should be greeted, supported and joined”.

Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Cyrillic Tampers With Our Hearts – Croats Announce Referendum On Bilingual Ethnic Minority Rights

Public Discussion on Cyrillic in Vukovar Zagreb, Croatia, 24 October 2013 Photo: Sanjin Strukin/Pixsell

Public Discussion on Cyrillic in Vukovar
Zagreb, Croatia, 24 October 2013
Photo: Sanjin Strukin/Pixsell

The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.” Article 21 (3) – Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And now if we turn the spotlight upon Croatia’s transition into democracy (from totalitarian regime of communism) that still lasts, without a doubt, those who uphold human rights know that transition must engage the design and implementation of inclusive national consultations on transitional justice mechanisms; support the establishment of truth-seeking processes, judicial accountability mechanisms, and reparations programs; and enhance institutional reform.

The issue of introducing Cyrillic script (Serbian) alongside the Latin one (Croatian) in Vukovar has attracted a plethora of reactions worldwide; praise and recriminations! The praises went and go towards expressing agreement with the human rights of victims to be afforded due respect and consideration while at the same time maintaining the focus on the need to prosecute war criminals. The recriminations went and go towards rehashing unassociated events of WWII instead of rehashing the events of Croatia’s Homeland War, that are associated. But, of course, if the latter applied then the critics of the protests against Cyrillic in Vukovar would not have a leg to stand on.

Another bilingual sign was torn down this week in Vukovar, reported 22 October Croatian TV HRT.

Problems with bilingual signs continue in the eastern town of Vukovar and although the world wouldn’t know it if it depended on mainstream media, this issue has escalated to a national issue of profound and widespread discontent that won’t go away any time soon. On Tuesday new dual-alphabet Latin and Serbian Cyrillic signs were erected on the Croatian Employment Institute in Vukovar, replacing the ones that had been torn down by protestors twice previously only to be torn down overnight.  The police are investigating as to who was behind this latest incident.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic met last week in Vukovar with those who in past months led the protests against the introduction of Serbian Cyrillic script there. At the meeting it was agreed that the heavy police presence guarding the controversial signs would be withdrawn. Another meeting is scheduled for Zagreb.

The Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar said that it had nothing to do with the latest incident and announced that they’ll be coming to the scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister next Monday with an ultimatum:

If the bilingual signs are not taken down they would cease collaborating with the government and press forth with collecting citizens’ signatures for a referendum in which people would record their views as to the following three questions:
1.    Do they agree that the threshold for the introduction of bilingualism be raised to 50% of ethnic minority population?
2.    Do they agree that Vukovar be declared as a place of special piety?
3.    Do they agree that persons who had participated in the aggression be banned from working in public service?

In its news program 24 October HRT reports that another bilingual sign had been torn down overnight, the one which was nailed three meters high on the criminal court building in Vukovar last Monday!  But this wasn’t all; another bilingual sign was torn down in the afternoon and that was the one that replaced the one torn down a couple of days ago (beginning of this article) and replaced the same day.

HRT also reported that the Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar has commenced public discussions on bilingual signs and on the initiative that Vukovar be declared a place of special piety. The first public forum was held Thursday 24 October in European House Zagreb and it heard that the Committee seeks a moratorium on the constitutional law on ethnic minority rights until the next census and that a provision be introduced into the constitutional law which would require at least 50% representation of ethnic minority in a population before bilingual signs could be introduced.

Should the government not satisfy these demands, the Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar  and its supporters would do everything in their power for Vukovar to become an unwelcoming city for the government and its representatives. The public Forum also announced the possibility of a referendum (as set out above).

Dr Vesna Bosanac, who headed the Vukovar hospital during its destruction and massacres by Serb aggressor in 1991, said at the public discussion forum: “Cyrillic bothers us because they (Serbs) were celebrating Cyrillic while murdering us … we all suffer from PTS (post traumatic stress) and this Cyrillic is the trigger that’s pushing us backwards. Regardless of the fact that the Prime Minister and his followers explain that all us Croats are above all that and that in essence the Cyrillic is not important at all, to us it is important. To us – it is very important, it tampers with our hearts …”.

Dr. Vesna Bosanac, Association of Croatian doctors volunteers 1990 - 1991 Photo: Screenshot HRT TV News 24. 10. 2013

Dr. Vesna Bosanac, Association of Croatian
doctors volunteers 1990 – 1991
Photo: Screenshot HRT TV News 24. 10. 2013

Croatian veteran Tomislav Josic, president of the Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar, emphasised at the public forum that nobody has yet been made to answer for the excessive shelling and bombing of Vukovar and that the Committee is fighting against the introduction of bilingual signs because the census figures upon which the erection of the same is based, are unreliable.

He further said “war criminals walk freely through Vukovar and have not been prosecuted. 750 were murdered at Velepromet concentration camp and nobody has been made to answer for that … It’s said in our country that everything is according to law. Privatisation was also implemented according to law. I would like to see who wrote those laws. Others should have initiated public discussion, create forums and then pass laws.”

Tomislav Josic, President of Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar Photo: Screenshot HRT TV news 24.10.2013

Tomislav Josic, President of
Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar
Photo: Screenshot HRT TV news 24.10.2013

Indeed, Vukovar is a horribly wounded city. And the government is not listening or seeing.

One gets the unsettling feeling that the government holds the view that reconciliation between Croats and Serbs in the region can be achieved via force – turning a deaf ear and a blind eye to the suffering of victims and the need to have suspected war criminals processed.  Prime Minister and all the ministers keep telling us that the law must be adhered to but fail miserably at acknowledging the fact that the same law allows for discretionary powers if applying that law causes unrest and controversies, to put it plainly.

Furthermore, the Croatian government seems to act as if laws of the country are not the patch it is supposed to work in; that is, as if it has nothing to do with the government, that someone else passed that law and it must adhere to it!

What a tragic stand for a government to stick to! Governments exist to change, amend existing laws and bring in new ones if people circumstances demand or require that. That is the beauty of democracy and an absolute necessity with a transitional democracy.  Regretfully, both the full and the transitional democracy in Croatia have quite a stretch to run under such incompetent governance. But, of course, it may not be incompetence of the government we’re talking about here at all – it could well be that harsh politics are at play. And the harsh politics that come to mind are those that seek to equate the victim with the aggressor and those that still believe in totalitarianism!

Such being the case, the public discussions initiated by the Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar can only be applauded – loudly! For here, perhaps for the first time in the history of Croatian democracy (since 1991) we have people telling the government in no uncertain terms they don’t just want the laws changed but that they want to have a say in the writing/composing text of laws!

Vukovar is indeed a place of special piety and it is, as of this week, a place for which the people – not the government – have spoken firmly for democracy and it’s legislation pathway!   Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Related Recent Posts:
Croatia: Cyrillic In Vukovar Reveals Governmental Discord With Democracy

Croatia: Blood Boils In Vukovar Once Again – This Time For Human Decency

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