Party System, Voting System and Media Conspiring To Hollow Out Croatian Democracy

Zeljko Glasnovic
Photo: Screenshot

To listen in on any halfway serious discussion of politics in Croatia these days is to eavesdrop on a cacophony, on a racket of dissatisfaction, anger and disillusionment. Issues come and go several times a day in the hothouse of political crises and divisions that Croatia appears to chronically be in, but the underlying unease and anger remain no matter how much people vent or how many logical arguments they make about a given issue. Which means – the time for wielding axes of decommunisation is now.

That the electoral system (which delivers power) is a vital heart-muscle of democracy and if it doesn’t seek out true representation of the people, as it has been the case in Croatia, then it must be changed. Croatia’s electoral woes are a harsh reminder of elements contained in the communist heritage that trickled down and trickles down from the former Yugoslav communist regime where elections were a mere rubber stamping of communist party lines. Croatian electoral system also includes the election of ethnic minority representatives that is a crude replica of rubber-stamping and the stuff power-personality cults are made of, even those working against the interests of Croatia, regretfully. However, winds of change are once again in the air and seeking out a referendum on the electoral system.

At this point in time, the Croatian voting system is up for referendum if those advocating for changes get their way.

But we must be aware that as in other democracies there are three drivers in Croatian politics – the parties, the voting system and the media – that are all connected and self-supporting or rather resisting changes to true democracy away from communist Yugoslavia and fake-antifascist claws. And all are conspiring to hollow out Croatian democracy even further.

The reason the whole kabuki is so unsatisfactory, infuriating, is because most seem to be worrying about day-to-day political information and issues rather than addressing all the underlying drivers of problems. There are a number of these drivers, but three in particular need our attention if we are ever to move out of the rut Croatia is in. All three are all intimately connected.

Croatian electoral system provides almost brutally fertile ground upon which people have the least of chances in making decisions about whom they will vote into the parliament at general elections and political party chiefs have all the power on that. Party chiefs decide who will represent the voters and this creates the vicious circle where the chosen representative is loyal to the party chief rather than to the voters he/she is supposed to represent! The age of party democracy has passed as far as I am concerned and no doubt multitudes are at this juncture with me. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present weak form, let alone develop it further as originally intended. People are not just alienated from the parties, but from democracy itself. Once, the parties connected the people to their sovereignty; now they trade the sovereignty away to corporations, transnational organisations like the World Bank and ethnic minorities whose interests are not the same as those of a sovereign Croatia born in the rivers of blood spilt during 1990’s Homeland War.

Economic management is no longer aligned with the will of the people but with demands of global capital. The inherent lack of political authority that arises from all this manifests in endless leadership changes as political parties look for a messiah rather than tackle structural reform.

The people don’t so much disengage as despair.

In a democracy the mainstream media industry is the industry people ask of more than of any other industry. We expect the media to be watchdogs, to hold government power accountable, to present the truth, to point out the unacceptable trends that hold back democracy – such as communist heritage in many who hold power. The profound problems occur when political parties or government in power control such mainstream media and for Croatian democracy this spells out catastrophe given the communist undertones in the control. This is a death spiral, one into which the media and the politicians are locked, keeping Croatia locked in a deadly cocktail of communism and aspiring activists for full democracy.

The modern state is designed around competing political elites, who are insiders in the system and many of whom are remnants of the former communist power machinery. The electoral system maintains this duopoly. Around this elite contest, a media is constructed and organised, party organisations exist to manufacture majorities to serve it. This system has been replicated over the past twenty or more years. The state, the party system, the media are all tied together in an enduring status quo that cannot be tolerated nor which can sustain democracy. More and more totalitarian-like or dictatorship-like decisions hurl out of governing and other hallways of state power.

That cri de coeur on unacceptability of the enduring status quo (the death spiral) was heard in the passionate words from General Zeljko Glasnovic, Member of Croatian Parliament for the Diaspora, who, Friday 15 September, confronted a journalist in Zagreb at a rally held against the slashing of the HRT TV show “Croatia today”.

UDBA (communist Yugoslavia secret police) leads your country … I represent the silent majority, and you represent the Khmer Rouge. Who do you have in parliament up there, former UDBA staff, who leads your country? Former UDBA operatives, communists and these people who hate the Croatian state, who never wanted it. You support them…people have been murdered here in order to get into their apartments, what’s with the return of forcefully taken properties, what’s with academic lustration, people don’t know what that is … you’re not in anything, you live in Croslavia …you have totally lost spiritual intelligence and that is the problem in the Croatian state, because that is communist mental heritage …who are you defending here …do you want the UDBA code names in those from the media …the biggest problem in Croatian media is that people can’t get to the truth …do you expect the truth from these people whose dossiers are in Belgrade …who would testify against their own people… communist mental frame is your problem and the problem of journalists in Croatia …ex-UDBA whose dossiers are in Belgrade …all praise to exceptions but until the media space is cleared we will not have a Croatian state, and the former communist operatives and Croatian media are to blame…wake up, ” Glasnovic said to the journalist while onlookers listened and stared with a noticeable dose of ashamed unease on their faces about the truth Glasnovic dished out, mincing not a single word of it.

Is it any wonder that people’s frustration with the political situation in Croatia never dissipates? It is like driving your car on a road full of potholes: you can change cars as often as you like, but until you fix the road, the ride will be bumpy. This could well metaphorise the political situation in Croatia Glasnovic was referring to – the one in dire need of lustration.

Is there a solution? Can we fix something when the tools to do it are the very things causing the problems?

Under such circumstances, there is only one way forward, and it is the same one that has ever got anything done ever: agitate. Fight for your cause, protest, make life uncomfortable for the keepers of the status quo. Demand better, much better. If all else fails drive forward into a revolution.

Zeljka Markic
Photo: Screenshot

A further activity promising activism in bringing about changes is that of Zeljka Markic, who heads “In the name of the Family” organisation in Croatia, calling for a referendum on the system members of parliament for ethnic minorities in Croatia are elected. Given the constant problems and state of agitation that’s tearing the country apart and coming from one of ethnic Serb minority representatives, Milorad Pupovac, at the peril of total disaster and humiliation of the Croatian identity one actually and seriously welcomes Markic’s initiative. Representatives for ethnic minorities in Croatia have for years been elected as “special candidates list”, and hence get a seat in parliament with just a handful of votes, and Markic’s proposal is that they should be elected like every other member of Croatian Parliament. Accused by some that she is promoting an anti-Serbian referendum Markic resolutely stated: “It’s not anti-Serb but it is anti-corruptive. We want to make sure that the voters are actually the ones who will be able to influence politicians. We wanted that when we had collected more than 300,000 signatures for a referendum,” said Markic at Croatian TV HRT

Markic promotes the equality of all Croatian citizens before the law and said that her organisation considers “that all Croatian voters should have an equal opportunity of influencing the political situation in Croatia. We also consider that the voters must have the right to postal or electronic voting. When it comes to members of ethnic minorities, those of Serb nationality who are Croatian citizens, of course we care that they feel at home here, but it is also very important to us that they are exposed to the same democratic criteria that all other citizens are exposed to,” said Markic in defence and explanation of the initiative for referendum on electoral system.

Political party system, electoral system and mainstream media are an orchestrated conspiracy in Croatia that stifles the needed clean and swift cut-away from former communist Yugoslavia regime – lustration. The season of escalated wielding of political, media and social activism intent on decommunising the country is now. Ina Vukic


What Kind Of A President Does Croatia Need?

New presidential election in Croatia is fast approaching as 2014 slides into its second half. Articles published in Croatia’s leading newspaper Vecernji List on 7 June about three possible candidates (Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, Zeljka Markic and Ivo Josipovic/current incumbent) for 2015 elections can be taken as a kind of a voter crossroad, which leads the voters into serious thinking and consideration as to what kind of a presidential candidate they’ll vote for and who will lead them into the future.

I’m certain that the voters of Croatia are sick and tired of hearing about how Croatia is in a bad shape – especially economically, but also on politically still tangled questions dating to the 1990’s Homeland War as well as those that followed in the years after WWII, which polarise the Croatian people to the point of frequently visible unrests.

Hence, I am also certain that Croatian voters, besides hearing the public admissions from leading politicians, including future presidential candidates – e.g. Ivo Josipovic – that Croatia is in a bad shape, a difficult state, will also seek in their future president to show them why Croatia is in bad shape and how he/she intends to get them out of it. That is, or that should be the most important question a voter asks himself on the way to the polling booth, i.e. as he circles his preferred candidate on the ballot sheet. Voting is a deeply personal matter in a democracy; in a democracy “the recruitment” of votes along Party lines, if it occurs, should not make a decisive or significant impact if the voter turnout is significant. Croatian democracy is “an adult”, it has come “of age”, at least on paper. The possibility that the voters will this time, after more than two decades, transfer that “adult” democracy from paper into a physical deed when they turn up to vote in significant numbers warms the heart.

Regardless of limited powers of presidents they have unbelievably great powers. It’s like that in almost all democratic countries, and so too in Croatia, in which the powers of the Government are separated from those of a President. A great deal of presidential powers is informal, i.e. it is not written anywhere in the Constitution or the Laws of the country. When Theodore Roosevelt (US President 1901-1909) said that the presidential office provided him with a “bully pulpit”, a powerful platform from which he could draw attention to important issues, he was referring to the superb platform from which to advocate for agendas and, hence, the great importance of president’s informal powers.

Given that Croatia is a member state of the EU and, hence, in that it enjoys an internationally well-noticed spot from which it can be heard on economic and political issues, Croatia needs a president who will lead it successfully into the world in which trust and credibility are of the highest importance. Without those qualifications there are no foreign investments of note or affirmation of the political questions Croatia struggles with.

As we know, or as we should know, it’s not important to which political party or which citizen movements a presidential candidate belongs to or is inclined towards because the presidential function serves all equally. That which is important is the person filling the job of a president and the personal qualifications he/she brings to that job. Choosing a president for a country is no different to choosing the CEO of a large corporation or company. That if the practical and political reality of today’s fluidity in which private capital or investments do not recognise state borders but often look into who is leading a country. And so, a successful president must possess the characteristics of cooperation, compromise and negotiation, especially across the international scene.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic Photo:Pixsell

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, with her solid experience and acquired knowledge of the international scene – in which she has always been recognised as a Croatian no matter where she was or what role she led – personifies the most successful candidate among the three possible candidates for the President of Croatia put forth for our consideration in the aforementioned Vecernji List articles.

Vecernji List journalist Jadranka Juresko-Kero, in her article about possible presidential candidates, emphasises as highly essential qualification Grabar-Kitarovic’s “thorough understanding of international political relations and the causal relationship between politics and the economy, which she has gained through her roles as Croatia’s former foreign affairs minister, Croatia’s Ambassador to the US and as currently highly positioned NATO Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy.” Grabar-Kitarovic possesses, therefore, the important qualifications without which a future president of Croatia could not lead the country into realising what it, in 1990, except freedom it already has, set out to achieve: a full democracy and prosperity or an acceptable or good standard of living for all citizens.




Zeljka Markic  -  Photo: Hina

Zeljka Markic – Photo: Hina

Croatia does not need a president like Zeljka Markic, and especially not when we see that regarding her qualifications Vecernji List journalist Ivica Sola relies almost solely on her ability to attract a large numbers of voters to sign for the referendum on family (that marriage is a union between a man and a woman to be inserted into the Constitution) held in 2013. Incidentally, truthfully, gathering a large number of signatories to a referendum whose question threatens, if they do not vote, the fundamental values people in a predominantly Catholic country hold about the family or marriage structure is not a reflection of the organiser’s skills – the people will largely come off their own bat. This would also be the view of those who live in same sex relationships, who are, after all, someone’s sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, parents …






Ivo Josipovic - Photo: Pixsell

Ivo Josipovic – Photo: Pixsell

Croatia does not need a next president like Ivo Josipovic (the current incumbent). Vecernji List journalist Marko Biocina, in his article, emphasizes (as an important characteristic for a future president) that Josipovic has been a person who “during the past four years has consistently been the only relevant domestic politician who has tried to achieve peace, not quarrels, between people”! Well, does Croatia really need another presidential mandate of a person who tries but does not succeed? Surely not! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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