Croatia: In The Throes Of Threat Of Illiberal Democracy

 

Dr Franjo Tudjman
Ushers Croatia Out Of Communism – 1991
Photo: http://www.franjotudjman.hr

November 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. While for Germany it meant reunification of the country, for communist countries in Europe it meant fall of communism, fall of totalitarian regime, was imminent. For Croats living abroad at the time who pined for democracy and freedom, who fled communist Yugoslavia due to political oppression that made living in Yugoslavia virtually a harsh battle for mere survival and even life-threatening the fall of the Berlin Wall echoed with real prospects for Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia. Sweeter echoes could not have reached their ears and hearts and minds.

Personally, my greatest hope was for Croats living in Croatia and those living outside it to experience freedom. The freedom experienced by people living in full democracies laced richly with opportunities for advancing own life and pursuit of individual expression without fear of reprisals that threaten one’s existence and progress in life. My greatest concern, though, was to experience the brutality of power, and in general, of human nature once harsh communist operatives and pro-Yugoslavia apparatchiks start feeling the heat of rejection.

I recall three key moments from that time. Reading Croatian press published in the diaspora with Dr Franjo Tudjman (the first president of independent modern Croatia) writing about real possibilities of seizing the moment (of the fall of Berlin Wall) and going head-on together with Croatian diaspora in the move to establish a free and independent Croatia. Formation of multiple political parties in Croatia and first multi-party election to form the new Parliament in 1990 after 45 years of communist Yugoslavia totalitarian rule. The independence or secession from Yugoslavia referendum in May 1991 and the phone calls I received from Croatia which all in sweet excitement said words to the effect: “it’s all going to be alright; Croatia will be independent.”

My response was always – I fear all is not going to be alright; the communists are a wild, brutal lot and will not relinquish their power just because 94% of voters voted “Yes” to independence at the referendum. And so, all was not alright – Serb and Yugoslav Army onslaught against Croatia unleashed a horrific war of aggression in Croatia, murderous taking of tens of thousands of lives, ethnic cleansing of Croats from one third of Croatian territory, vicious destruction of Croatian homes, religious and cultural buildings and property.

My biggest hope was that Croatia would adopt the Western democratic values. That Croatian youth will have the same opportunities to advance in life as our children living in the West had.

Thirty years on and Croatia in independent and a member state of the European Union. Democracy seems to have won, but recent political developments and revival of nostalgia for the former communist rule indicate a path towards illiberal democracy. Former communists, or their kin, sit is chairs of power; mainstream media is controlled by those who continue smothering Croatian patriotism and love for Croatian people. One of the biggest challenges to democracy today is posed by the dramatic change in the political-party landscape. Attention understandably has focused on the rise of a variety of populist candidates and movements, but what has enabled their rise is the drastic decline in support for the parties that had long dominated the political scene. Without grossly exaggerating, one can say that for decades the modal configuration of Croatia’s political systems has featured strong centre-left and centre-right parties or coalitions that support the basic principles and institutions of liberal democracy but compete with each other in regard to a variety of specific issues within this larger framework. Current public recriminations that both centre-left and centre -right major parties have not delivered on the initial promise of full democracy and are equally guilty of holding tight to the processes and mindset commensurate with former communist regime and undemocratic mindset has particularly clipped the wings of popularity for the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). While left (whether centre or not) had always been seen as an extract from former staunch communist regime, HDZ is increasingly criticised as being the same with its apparent distancing from its original aim, a democratic state of Croatian people. These days virtually every new round of elections indicates that this longstanding pattern of dominance by the centre-left and centre-right is losing its hold.

Today, much of Croatian society is sick. What is worse, a significant part of it refuses to get cured from communist mindset; lustration has not occurred and every mention or attempt to usher in an organised lustration process is quashed or ridiculed. Communist nostalgic keep churning out fairy tales about how good life was in Yugoslavia, forgetting the cruel drop in living standards once Western financial assistance turned the taps off; forgetting the fact that Yugoslavia (and hence Croatia) had some 1300% inflation by 1989, which saw supermarket shelves bare, petrol severely rationed when available, thousands of companies and employers unable to pay wages to its workers for months upon months…

The source of this state of mind, the state of mind that refuses to be cured from communist mindset, seems to be a feeling that Croatia (and other former communist Eastern European countries, indeed) is just a buffer zone between East and West. Croatia, after 30 years of the fall of the Berlin Wall still levitates within parameters where either going forward into full democracy or moving backward into a state-controlled existence are possible. The vocabulary of totalitarianism is creeping back unnoticed, which is incredibly dangerous, and Croatia needs to revitalise and maintain with strong resolve the positions it reached in defending the idea of freedom and democracy it fought for in the Homeland War of 1990’s.

This requires a lot of efforts today.

The people of Croatia live in frustration. Victims and culprits became one. The people who have power are those who got rich during the communist Yugoslavia rule and those who got rich during the wild years of privatisation in the 1990s. The corruption and nepotism are still prevalent and the political will of the ruling castes to well and truly rid Croatia of this plague does not exist or is not visible at all. Former agents of the Yugoslav Secret Police (UDBA) are embedded at every level and avenue of society, people representing the former communist power are arrogant and their arrogance stifles progress to painful levels. The loss of Croatian identity is alarming; politicians on the path to preserving and strengthening that identity are mocked, to say the least.

The majority of politicians and people behave as if 1989 [the year marking the fall of communism) never happened. The majority of politicians and people behave as if the European Union had not recently condemned communism as a criminal regime of the past! The “comrades from the party” are attempting to build capitalism with a socialist face: it is the victory of the chosen ones, who operate outside the rules of competition and open tenders. They discard as frivolous the profound and selfless sacrifice for Croatia that Homeland War veterans made.

Judging from public mood expressed via mainstream, non-mainstream and social media, Croatian people are contemplating an essential question: do they want an open full democracy or a closed society, freedom of expression or censorship, rule of law or a new form of authoritarianism. This question cries for articulation, but who will be the brave one to ask it? Certainly, it seems that none of the Presidential candidates currently vying for the high office will ask that question publicly. With Presidential elections due on 22 December this year, it appears most candidates are playing it “safe”; casting their voter-catch net widely. Campaigns are riddled with confusing or unclear messages, with generalised catchphrases promising “something” must change in Croatia (e.g. the slogan of one of strong candidates “Now or Never”) but none are clearly saying what that “something” is and how exactly they aim to change things, even though that “something” gnaws at the bones of most. Given the real danger of illiberal democracy in Croatia and public mood of frustration or impatience for a better future that elections slogan “Now or Never” is a phrase that many Croats attach to the urgent need for lustration/decommunisation and full democratisation. But the bitter scent whiffed by apparent lack of needed “political machinery” and practical mechanisms disappoints deeply. Ina Vukic

 

Croatia: No Victim Of Communist Crimes Mourns Death Of Josip Broz Tito

Thirty-nine years ago on 4th May 1980 I sat with friends watching a matinée movie at a theatre in the centre of Zagreb, Croatia, and suddenly the movie stopped screening, lights came on and a man, his face an embodiment of doom, gloom and despondency, appeared on the stage announcing Josip Broz Tito’s death. The Yugoslav dictator, the communist criminal had died – I sighed with relief, making sure nobody noticed my relief. I joined the rest of the moviegoers exiting the theatre with their heads bowed – dazed and bewildering silence was deafening! Got out into the streets to face people walking along the footpaths silently, heads down, lost – overcast of doom and gloom as if the promise of life had just been sucked out from underneath their feet … Unsure what to expect, people went straight home, waiting for further news or, better said, how to express grief one was expected to feel even though multitudes could dance from joy if only there was freedom to express that joy. Theatres, streets and restaurants were deserted in no time. The air was uncomfortably heavy with one question: Now what? What do we do now?

The overwhelming majority of the population of Yugoslavia at that time did not know it, but the answer to “ now what?” had been prepared well in advance – Tito’s death has changed nothing for you; you continue as you were conditioned to adore Tito and what he was! Ahead of Tito’s death the communist regime had prepared special editions of newspapers that were simply sent to press, in order to reach newsstands the same evening. Communist controlled television and radio programmes had also been made in advance – ready to go on air.

The police and the army were put on the highest alert.

That media content was engineered to serve the regime’s needs is unsurprising, considering that Yugoslavia was an oppressive dictatorship and autocracy. But the quick mobilisation of the army shows just how bad an autocracy it was. The mobilisation of its army was not to fend off any would-be external enemy but to ensure its people, whom the system feared, was kept in check.

A couple of days later Tito’s coffin, on its way to the burial place in Belgrade, arrived at the central railway station in Zagreb and brought out into the vast city square in front of the station. The army and the police (in either uniform or civilian attire) took up strategic positions, ensuring order. All workers from all employers (communist government owned and run, of course) in Zagreb were ordered and commanded to go to that square, stand in a designated spot and “mourn” and “wail”. Photographs of millions mourning Tito’s passing that circled the world were the result of multitudes being forced to go to the event, no one dared not to go. The staged “goodbye to Tito” event, in particular, the realisation of how shockingly successful the communist regime under Tito was in brainwashing its people, creating servants of them like no other oppressive government apparatus I had come across, had sunk into me like a heavy load impossible to bear.

This country under Tito’s regime had managed to brainwash quite a number of its people into behaving as if the brutal and genocidal communist crimes ( led by Tito himself) during and after WWII were a necessity and a “human right” within the realm of communist regime survival. Within a couple of months my bags were packed, to leave. It would take a generation or two to cleanse the nation of communist mentality, I was certain of that and certain that such cleansing would be ugly.

Josip Broz Tito manipulated the Leninist doctrine to suit his needs and boost his popularity – all in pursuit of power. He used the Communist secret police UDBa to take command of Yugoslavia in Belgrade after the Second World War, and quickly subjected the country to a one-party system under the control of one man – himself. When he realised that Moscow wanted to curb his power, Tito broke off ties with Stalin (1948) and started flirting with the West. Once his new friends started pushing for fair elections and a multi-party system, he turned his back on them, too …

From early 1960s Tito decided to open the borders to Yugoslavia’s unemployed – so that they could go and work abroad. A huge wave of people left, hoping for jobs that did not have Communist party membership as the main prerequisite. But free travel was not for everybody – many political opponents and dissidents were banned from leaving the country, just as they were banned from working in it. In fear of reprisal and brutalities against them multitudes of anti-communist Croatians fled Yugoslavia before the opening of the borders, risking their own lives in that process.

Whoever Tito saw as an obstacle to his ultimate control was removed – killed, or arrested and sent to labour camp. One of the most notorious ‘penitentiaries’ for political prisoners was Goli Otok (Naked Island), which operated in a similar way to Stalin’s death camps. During Tito’s 37 years of rule, tens of thousands were detained and punished for speaking out against the regime, or even for expressing divergent views… hundreds of thousands of innocent Croatians murdered, dumped into mass graves either while still alive or dead.

Saturday 4 May 2019 saw a number of chilling events in Croatia remembering with seeming respect and devotion Tito’s death, by displaying the symbols of communist Yugoslavia, photos of Tito – by spreading further lies and deceit about how great Tito was. The hundreds of mass graves of victims of communist crimes strewn across Croatia – remain without justice. The events that marked remembrance of communist crimes victims did not make it into the Croatian mainstream media.

Nothing much has changed there; communist sympathisers and followers still control the mainstream media. The leaders of Croatia’s antifascist movement, such as former presidents of Croatia like Stjepan Mesic and Ivo Josipovic, repeatedly identify themselves with Tito. They offer no apologies for Tito’s methods and the Communist Party’s crimes. Ivo Josipovic had the gall last week to try and convince the Croatian public that the scores innocent Croatian monks murdered in February 1945 by Tito’s communists during WWII in Siroki Brijeg, Bosnia and Herzegovina, were a legitimate military target – because they were anti-communist!

Be aware, antifascism is not a catchall category of democrats as Croatian antifascists, and many throughout the world, paint it. It is a communist construct. It is, indeed, meaningless without reference to communist ideology. Its exponents quickly manifest this even today by their willing defence of the record of Communism, their espousal of a recognisable (anti-Western) Communist world view, and their unshakeable conviction that the only threat to civilisation comes from the Right, not the Left.

Tito, in fact, behaved as Communists do, promoting revolution by the mass liquidation of potential opponents, by subverting every independent institution, and by bringing all power within the Party’s control. He authorised the killing of hundreds of thousands of people without trial, some with staged trials — soldiers, conscripted Home Guard members, unpolitical civilians, Catholic priests, monks and nuns, doctors, nurses, teachers, journalists, businessmen, women and children. The mass graves, where people were thrown in alive to be slowly suffocated by the weight of those who followed, are still gradually being excavated and the mainstream media instead of keeping this fact in public view constantly choose to pay it a lip service and bury it as quickly as the victims in those mass graves perished. For fear of annoying influential Communist cadres, who had joined anti-Communists to create the fledgling Croatian state in 1991, these horrible crimes were for many years left unmentioned. Until recently, most Party and secret police archives were similarly inaccessible. There has been no lustration of Party members and functionaries. Not a single trial within Croatia has been held of a Communist official: only in Munich, after Germany managed to secure their extradition, were two high-ranking Yugoslav secret police officials (Josip Perkovic and Zdravko Mustac) given life sentences (2018) for a politically authorised murder on German soil in 1983.

Tito’s communist murder squads operated across Yugoslavia, across Croatia, across the world. Surely, his death cannot be mourned or remembered by anything other except disdain and contempt for Tito and what he stood for! The only thing that can be mourned in Croatia is the fact that no person, no persons who engaged in that murderous purge of anti-communist Croatian people have been brought to justice, no condemnation of the communist regime has been achieved so to stamp, once and for all, Croatia’s past under the communist regime with facts that show unreservedly that Tito’s communist Yugoslavia was a frightening bundle of crimes and genocide against humanity. Ina Vukic

Croatia: Mentality Change Equals Croatian National State

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of the Republic of Croatia

26 April 2019 (last leg of Grabar-Kitarovic Presidential mandate):

Addressing a special session of Karlovac County Assembly on County Day on Friday, Croatia’s President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic said that the most significant measure at the moment needs to be “reforming our mentality,” in order to make the Croatians think and work faster, more resolutely and in a better organised manner. She acknowledged with praise Prime Minister the Andrej Plenkovic’s cabinet for reducing taxes and administration levies, however, she claimed that the “most significant reform we need to implement is to reform our mentality,” so that at all levels, we can think and work more resolutely, faster and in a more organised manner.

1 July 2015 (first leg of Grabar-Kitarovic presidential mandate):

“The key for solutions and for coming out from this economic crisis is in increase of jobs but also in change of mentality, strengthening of accountability and political courage,” said Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic at the inaugural meeting of her presidential committee for economic affairs in Croatia, “that is what I want to see in Croatia – economic growth, opening of new jobs, increase of employment, creation of new values and new products, export, fiscal discipline and productivity in public administration. We need to change in order to come out of this situation we are in. Solutions exist, it’s just that we must have enough political courage and accountability in order to implement them.”

The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia in the last point within the Historic Foundations section says the following:

“At the historic turning-point marked by the rejection of the communist system and changes in the international order in Europe, the Croatian nation reaffirmed, in the first democratic elections (1990), by its freely expressed will, its millennial statehood and its resolution to establish the Republic of Croatia as a sovereign state.”

About the need for mentality change

Bravo President Grabar-Kitarovic for reiterating the need to change mentality in Croatia but it’s a clear as a sunny day that Croatia’s government and presidential forces have not rejected the communist system (mentality), rejection of which is fortified in the country’s Constitution. With a heavy dose of bitterness I can understand why, after the Homeland War ended and all Croatian Serb-occupied territory liberated (1998), communist presidents Stjepan Mesic and Ivo Josipovic never bothered to even accentuate to the people of Croatia that a change in mentality was needed in order for Croatia to move ahead; in order to rid it of communist mentality. I say communist mentality even if Grabar-Kitarovic did not define it as such because neither she nor anyone else needs to spell this one out.

And now we have the case of four years wasted since the President had stated the obvious – that Croatia needs a change in mentality – also! President Grabar-Kitarovic is still, after four years, telling Croatian people they need a mentality change or reform. I guess when one doesn’t really seem to care about what one says, just as long as it sounds good for political grandstanding, one is not likely to roll ones sleeves up and do something about it. Her repeated expressions of need to change mentality are evidently mechanical – a parroting exercise.

It is a fact that former communist countries have since 1989 (since the fall of Berlin Wall) been going through a painful metamorphosis on a confusing path toward acceptance of the individual responsibilities freedom brings and of acceptance of democratic values. Croatia is no different except for the fact that nothing has been officially done to drive a mentality change. Individual politicians and academics have been constantly addressing the problem of enormous barriers to progress that communist mindset or mentality represent in Croatia. So it’s not as if Grabar-Kitarovic would have been without allies were she truly mindful enough of tackling mentality change.

It is time for change – now!

The debilitating impact of the communist moral and psychological legacy on the socioeconomic transition into democracy means that even after three decades (almost) of formal independence as a sovereign state, Croatia is still struggling to find its way forward. The fact that former highly positioned communist operatives still hold the fort of key socio-economic and political structures has been and is a source of painful discontent and disappointment; a source of apathy that continues to see dismally low voter turnout at elections and a source of staggering brain drain from the country. It is a source, I believe, that drives the much present call for togetherness and unity of all Croatian patriotic political parties these days of election campaigns for the European Parliament. The sad part is that only very, very few of those calling for such unity mention the need to affirm a Croatian national state; a state of Croatian people (with minorities respected). This line of action would among other benefits, return to the forefront the intentions and plights within the massive and united movement all those years ago of late nineteen eighties and early nineties when almost 94% of voters in Croatia voted at a referendum to rid themselves of communist Yugoslavia.

The communist Yugoslavia regime succeeded in penetrating very deeply into many people’s minds and influenced their way of working, doing business and the sphere of public administration. Corruption, bribery, political pressure, nepotism, theft of public property, reliance on borrowed money to pay wages…all were the hallmarks of the communist mindset and mentality. These echoes of the communist Yugoslavia period are still alarmingly evident in Croatia and while the task of getting rid of them, or mellowing them down to insignificance or non-intrusive level, appears difficult, it is definitely not a Sisyphean one! We have seen that in other former communist countries of Europe, where communist regime’s practices were and are taken head on.

The Croatian governments’ inability to coordinate efforts and prioritise challenges of transitioning from communism resulted in failure to implement judicial and pragmatic economic reforms had further exacerbated many social problems. This political chaos supported wild privatisation, so that the major state-owned companies passed into the hands of well-connected apparatchiks, who continued turning the gaps in institutional and legislative control to their own advantage from the start. The wave of privatisations in the 1990s turned post-Yugoslavia Croatia into a society largely run by new-tycoons, where newly emerged elite with enormous wealth and often decisive control over public policy transformed their economic power into political influence to preserve their dominance; to preserve communist mentality. The roots of nepotism and corruption that existed in communist Yugoslavia are alive and kicking in Croatia.

Promotion of Croatian national identity was considered practically a criminal act in communist Yugoslavia, and Croats living abroad who identified themselves as Croats were hunted down one way or another. All the Yugoslav republics were subject to domination by communist bureaucrats, who were sent far and wide to preserve the Josip Broz Tito’s dictatorship even to remote outskirts of the Western World where Croatian nationals who rejected communism had settled, where the communist Secret Police UDBa assassinated scores. Party control became brutal after WWII, and hundreds of thousands Croatians murdered in communist purges. The fear factor contributed vastly and intentionally to the development of unique national behaviour, which in turn influenced ideology and the operations of various organisations and social institutions. Massive corruption, deeply rooted in the public consciousness, has interfered with post-Yugoslavia economic and political systems in Croatia. Without a change in mentality, the very corruption fuelled by political elites, including those holding the judiciary, will be the bullet that will destroy the Croatian peoples’ dream (a human right) for self-determination.

The theory of behavioural economics suggests that national self-awareness is an important pre-requisite for economic decision-making. Western principles, when forcefully applied to the dominant communist (anti-capitalist) mentality, look like expensive make-up on the wrinkled face of reality. Socio-cultural factors that determine successful transformation (from communist mentality) include individualism vs. collectivism and power distance. The former is self-explanatory as to any healthy thriving of economic development; competition and individual responsibility are at the forefront of thriving economies. In societies with a large power distance, professionals are not consulted but are instructed by the power centres; Croatia still suffers much from this communist regime’s ailment because of which some “elites” think they know everything but will still pretend to seek professional advice.

Today, calling oneself a Croatian patriot (usually meaning the one who was and is against communism) or uttering the age-long greeting “For Home Ready” (Za Dom Spremni) exposes one to being branded as fascist or neo-Nazi, and criminally prosecuted or fined for that greeting! Today, wearing or displaying the communist Yugoslavia red five-pointed star, or Yugoslav flag, does not brand one as anything, nor is it punishable by law! Communism and communist mentality is alive and kicking in Croatia.

Yes, Madam President, political courage is needed and you and most of Croatia’s government cabinet members do not have it! And, courage cannot be learned!

All Croatia needs now is for those who have demonstrated political courage by loudly and continuously advocating for changes from the communist mindset to get voted into government. All Croatians need now is to assert their national right that was asserted through the bloody and brutal Homeland War of Serb aggression; to assert their Croatian national state and measure the extent and values of State sovereignty through it. After all, it was the Croatian people by vast majority who voted to secede from communist Yugoslavia, who fought and lost thousands of lives for it and they have earned the right to finish the task of decommunisation. After all, rejection of communisim is embedded in the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia.

Decommunisation is the only agent that will bring the mentality change President Grabar-Kitarovic is talking about, albeit unconvincingly as to her determination and courage to implement the processes and socio-political structures needed for it. Ina Vukic

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