Croatia: In The Quandary Of Voting For A “Lesser of Two Evils”

Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (L) Zoran Milanovic (R)Photo: Pixsell

Voting is a matter of morality. It cannot be done without considering others as well as our own self. Voting often involves agonising moral trade-offs, agonising over the need to suppress one’s own political, ideological, economic ideals if one is to vote for one and not for the other. Decision to abstain from voting also is a moral matter that takes away the burden of complicity in the wrongdoing or wrong outcomes driven by the candidate we voted for because he/she is seen as a lesser evil than the other.

Hundreds of thousands of Croatia’s voters, who voted for Miroslav Skoro in the first round of Presidential elections, appear to be finding that if they vote in the second round they will need to vote for “a lesser of two evils”. The first round of Presidential election on 22 December has produced the result by which former and by many accounts ineffective Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic (Social Democrat, former communist, “left wing”) and Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (current “right wing”  HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union backed incumbent whose work in her first mandate has bitterly disappointed multitudes and, hence, led to an unusually swift spiral rise [but not to the heights that would get him across the line] of her “right-wing” opponent Miroslav Skoro, who in his campaign asked HDZ voters to defect from HDZ and join him but, conspicuously, failed to ask the same of the Social Democrat Party/SDP members!) are set for an electoral duel on 5 January 2020, when the second and final round of these presidential elections are on. Those who are appalled by both the former communist left-wing echelons (backing Milanovic) and those appalled by the Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ right-wing echelons in government and who are backing Grabar Kitarovic are evidently now on edge to see which way Skoro voters will go on 5 January. In fact blatant calls for their vote are seeping through the media and political campaigns. Many of the so-called Skoro voters are now describing themselves, particularly in social media, as being placed in the situation of having to vote for a lesser of two evils and find themselves venting their agony and bitterness in public.

I guess, moral philosophy can help with the answers to problems of this kind. It can be permissible to vote for the lesser evil. But, without exception, if one does so, there is moral “small print” to follow. This, especially when it comes to how one acts afterwards towards those whom one’s vote has disregarded or who was judged as a bigger evil. No doubt, opting for the lesser evil leaves a moral residue. One can’t just make a choice and move on as if all is OK. It’s not OK. Morally one feels one has compromised oneself, and one’s real choice – one feels cheated and incomplete and, to a great extent morally and politically unclean. When voting for the lesser of two evils one feels the loss of power of conviction and heartfelt dedication.

“If Hitler were to invade Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons.” — Winston Churchill. In Churchill’s estimation, Stalin was less evil than Hitler. Hence, the Allied Forces’ friendship with the Soviets: a marriage of convenience formed in Hell. Can it then be said that the Allied forces by the act of alliance with communist Stalin carry on their shoulders the heavy burden of the consequence of such alliance, which consequence saw the millions of victims of communist crimes denied the respect and acknowledgement they deserve?

A significant multitude of Croatian voters (over 400,000 voters at least, who voted for Skoro – and this in terms of the size of the Croatian electorate is a significant number) are now faced with the so-called lesser of two evils dilemma. Both Presidential candidates are evidently seen by them as lousy, in essence unacceptable and damaging to the Croatian national state and the values it fought for during the 1990’s Homeland War  and, yet, they are made to feel that they are bound to vote in the January 2020 second round of elections; they’re frequently told that if they don’t vote they can’t complain! What a quandary to be in.  On the other hand, the more politically adventurous (and perhaps brave) will say that free people get to complain whether they vote or not. After all, both the government and presidential offices are paid for largely from the taxpayer money and complaining can actually be quite cathartic, even clear the way for new political inroads, a third option as many in a two-party predominance would say.

Presidency is deeply personal, because the role is ubiquitous; the president is or is seen as he/she should be the leader, the father/the mother, the spiritual leader of a nation with a defined destiny. Hence, given the quandary Croatian voters find themselves in, while some will vote for what (who) they perceive as the lesser evil, I think that many will not turn out for voting on 5 January because the ballot paper does not include “None of the above” option (the preference they morally chose at the first round on 22 December).

As in many countries, in Croatia there is no legal duty to vote. One turns out to vote because one feels or knows that their vote does make a difference when a candidate for election actually represents that moral value, that national value and track record for which they themselves stand. But whether one is reasonable in choosing to vote for the lesser of the two evils, is not the same as being legally, duty-bound to vote.

In the Christian tradition and Western morality, it cannot really be said that “lesser of the two evils” is a moral doctrine, even if it does sound a lot like the doctrine (or principle) of double effect. The doctrine of double effect is often invoked to explain the permissibility of an action that causes a serious harm, such as the death of a human being, as a side effect of promoting some good end. According to the principle of double effect, sometimes it is permissible to cause a harm as a side effect (or “double effect”) of bringing about a good result even though it would not be permissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end. Even St Thomas Aquinas set forth the doctrine of double effect as permissible under the above “rules” so it is no wonder that Christians in Croatia may find themselves in a quandary as the one they are in at this stage of presidential elections run; some may feel that it is permissible to vote for a lesser of the two evils. Most, however, will find it an impossible task to see that any good is likely to come out from their vote for a lesser of the two evils. The candidates’ track record is their objective measuring stick, and it simply does not stack up to much.

And while I can’t speak for everyone, I know Christians are not exactly given the green light to “choose” any kind of evil. If one does choose it is entirely a burden upon their own personal morality.

Then one often comes across the worn-out argument that not voting constitutes a dereliction of one’s duty towards the common good. But experience tells us that common good is not always advanced by voting.

For those of you unfamiliar with the term “catch-22” perhaps it can also be explained this way: Say the president of the country you belong to tells lies or defends both the good and the bad politics of the past. He or she says things that are demonstrably impossible to understand or believe. A lot.

Now say you’re an ethical person who does not tolerate lies or double standards well. All this lying is a problem. All the double standards are a problem. Control of the media is a problem for you – it reports the lies and the double standards and even attempts to provide some objective facts to back this up, make it look credible.

The more the media report the lies, the more the president lies. And if you didn’t report the lies, he/she would say his/her lies are true because nobody reported them as lies.

And so, observing the rhetoric, the calls for votes in the second round of voting, the calls to change one’s initial and first preference for a president when his/her candidate has not made it in the first round, the calls to switch loyalty because one or the other presidents will, if elected, be a disaster, the dilemma, the anger expressed by multitudes of Croatian voters in the past week one can conclude that the system and political undercurrents in Croatia have produced two undesirable candidates for great many, either of which will advance an ultra vires agenda in office. Can it then truly be said that anyone (who is dissatisfied with both candidates) has a moral duty to pick one of them? Ina Vukic

 

Throwing A Hat Into The Ring For Croatia’s Presidency

Presidential candidates for Presidency of Croatia 2019

In a political environment Croatia is finding itself these days, where anything seems possible – where major political parties of either centre, right and left ideological persuasion (who have held governments either in their own right or as minority-governments) are seeing alarming falls in popularity as well as acceleration of infighting within the political parties; where new political parties or movements are popping out of the grassroot public ground like mushrooms after autumn rains; where independent candidates for general or presidential elections pop out of their relative political anonymity randomly like Jack-in-a-box – it seems just about everyone in the country wants to run for the president (elections due late December 2019). So far there are 11 candidates who have announced their candidature and even a fairly conservative list of potential candidates stretches beyond a dozen names as more Pantovcak (Office of the President of Croatia) hopefuls are likely to swell the already ridiculously large and politically erratic and rather politically amorphous heap of candidates.

At this stage of building-up momentum to official election campaigns that start once the official list of candidates is published it is difficult to gauge which individual that has announced his/her candidature is “the real deal” for Croatia and which candidate is just trying to raise their public profile to be utilised at 2020 general elections or is actually serious about running for president. Some perhaps don’t even know where their testing of the waters will lead; for some it is like the proverbial throwing one’s hat in the ring and come what may!

Typically, having strong credentials and success as leader (either in branches of executive government, in strong political parties or movements, having a leading role in active and successful military defence of country, or the corporate or large organisations world and the like) is, one would agree, a good steppingstone to the presidency of one’s country. Being a Mayor of a city or town, being a political activist either as part of specific causes associations or as an individual, being an office-bearer in a political party led by others would not under such standards for a good presidency be considered a key qualification for the presidency.

But there is nothing typical about Croatia 2019! Croatia has a long way to go in lining its socio-political main artery with the values and aims that drove the 1990’s Homeland War and the country’s absolute secession from communism (Yugoslavia).  To achieve this the president of the country must, besides above mentioned qualifications of a leader, possess personal virtues, morality, commensurate with the said values and aims, otherwise the state of perpetual widespread claims that Croatia is not yet free and independent despite its military victory in Homeland War against the Serb aggressor is likely to result in the typical for Croatia actually being the typical of the EU and not the Croatian people who fought for and shed their blood for independence.

And so, together with possessing good qualifications for the presidency, it is widely maintained throughout the developed democracies that a president of a country must possess and must have demonstrated high personal virtue – morality – that is tightly in tune with the people and the direction a country must take in order to be a good place for all the citizens to live in. While some may disagree with the view that moral virtue is important for presidency one would find it difficult in disagreeing with the view that president whose decisions are not grounded in the right sort of ethical values may be less well-equipped to respond well – and, more importantly, might be frighteningly unpredictable in his or her responses.  Political ethicists have emphasised the ways in which democracies can fall apart in the absence of personal virtue. Conservative thinkers throughout developed democracies, in particular, have argued that political institutions can only function when all those who participate within them are capable of compromise and of self-government. Rules, to put it simply, don’t work unless people governed by those rules care about them and voluntarily choose to abide by them.

A true or dedicated leader with high moral values is likely to pay particular attention to the values and mission that have been established in the foundation of the country he/she leads. In Croatia’s case the foundation values, which were underpinned by Franjo Tudjman’s vision of reconciliation between all foes (particularly WWII communists and anti-communists), may be summarised as defending the sovereignty of and democracy in a national Croatian state (made up of Croats as vast majority) and among Croatian people wherever they lived. Tudjman died in December 1999, a mere year after the Homeland War officially ended, and had not lived long enough to complete the task set out in the beginning, when secession from communist Yugoslavia was whole-heartedly supported by 94% of democratic votes at referendum on same issue. And hence, from year 2000, the tables started turning against the very idea of a Croatian democratic and sovereign state as former communists including those who rejected independence movement in the first place or never spent a day on the battlefields for Croatia or never made any type of contribution towards it, increasingly occupied key positions of power. That is, former communist mindset and habits of corruption and nepotism continued thriving as more and more former communists held onto power or were injected into powerful positions on grounds of political suitability. This would have been the ground rather easily cultivated since the very Constitution of the Republic of Croatia lists WWII antifascists (communists) as parts of the foundation for independent Croatia! Yet WWII antifascists fought to keep Croatia within the borders of Yugoslavia, against which multitudes of Croats died and fought against for decades upon decades.

And so we come to this day and the political environment in Croatia where it is imperative for the progress of democracy and living standards to shed decisively the remnants in legislation and public administration and practice all that defined the communist Yugoslavia regime. But the leaders of Croatia in positions of power fail miserably in condemning the totalitarian communist regime of the past while condemning the WWII Ustasha regime. At times the lunacy in this is painfully transparent: it’s as though the same leaders hold the view that by condemning the communist regime (which purged hundreds of thousands innocent Croats) they would be seen as some kind of historical revisionists who are on the trail of minimising the crimes that are said to have been committed by the WWII Independent State of Croatia. And yet, if one asks the people of today one would find that majority believe both regimes should be condemned or brushed off with the same brush when it comes to victims; all victims should be recognised as such and Croatia to open a new slate for a healthy future.  But no, this is not of interest particularly to the hordes aligning themselves with the justifiers of communist crimes in particular (given that crimes pinned to the Ustashi regime have been and continue to be addressed openly if not politically twisted).

Among the current candidates who have their eyes set on future presidency there are three individuals whose platforms, opinions, reactions etc. are constantly present in the mainstream and other media like a revolving door that slaps important national issues into a ridiculous circus so that the people never really get a grip on what and how an individual candidate will fix things for a country on steep economic and demographic decline and how the values of the Homeland War will again be brought into the national focus.

The three candidates that are receiving most media attention are Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic (current president), Zoran Milanovic (former Prime Minister, former League of Communists operative and former leader of Social Democratic Party) and Miroslav Skoro (a popular musician and singer, a businessman, former member of parliament and diplomat from the HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union Party from which he has estranged himself as member in recent years). Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic continues to appear as a personality whose opinions on important matters are adjusted to the audience she is addressing at any one moment; she talks of returning Croatia to the values set by the first president of Croatia Franjo Tudjman and yet fails to spell those values out or lay out the plan of action, at least roughly. Zoran Milanovic is hotting-up the waters for continued animosities and recriminations between former communists and former anti-communists, leaning favourably to the former communist beat; nothing good for Croatia can come out of this just as nothing good came out from his Prime Ministership out of which he exited with a shattering political demise within his own party.  Miroslav Skoro for the time being reminds one of the “Lone Ranger” except for the fact that he appears as actually having no strong convictions regarding the credence of the values of Homeland War and may like the above two play for all teams (left and right and centre). None of these candidates give the impression that the crisis Croatia has been in for the past few years (economic, demographic, ideological…) has sunk in. None of them offer any concrete steps they would undertake as president to fix things. As for the other candidates so far in the race there is a mixture of the above but all, without exception, want to “save Croatia!”. It’s time Croatia stops acting as a victim, which it was, and starts decisively implementing the values of the Homeland War, which by the way, are succinctly contained in Franjo Tudjman’s 30 May 1990 speech at the Inaugural Assembly of Croatian Parliament in which he listed the crucial tasks to be done in order for a democratic and independent state of Croatia to function! Nothing else or different will save Croatia! Ina Vukic

 

 

 

 

Croatia: Minority Government, More Of The Same (?)

Map of Croatia With Election 2016 Results by majority seats per electorate Photo: Screenshot HRT news 12.09.2016

Map of Croatia
With Election 2016 Results
by majority seats per electorate
Photo: Screenshot HRT news 12.09.2016

 

The conservative Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, scored a relative victory in the early parliamentary vote on Sunday 11 September and now faces the task of forming a coalition government after voters again failed to produce a clear majority winner. Complete results reported Monday by Croatia’s state electoral commission showed that Andrej Plenkovic’s HDZ won 61 seats in the 151-member parliament, while Zoran Milanovic’s left-leaning Peoples’ Coalition won 54.  Bozo Petrov’s  Most party, or Bridge of Independent lists won 13 seats and it appears Most will again be a kingmaker as was the case in the last government. Zivi Zid, or Human Shield/Live Wall, a populist left alliance led by Ivan Vilibor Sincic, presented as the biggest surprise of these elections as it surged from 1 seat in last elections to 8 in these ones as it promised to be tough on banks and on the demand to seek prosecution of unnamed corrupt officials. General Zeljko Glasnovic, an independent who left HDZ just prior to elections, won a seat representing the diaspora and his strong card is that of lustration (getting rid of former communists in high positions in Yugoslavia from high position in democratic Croatia). Istrian Democratic Party and partners won 3 seats, Milan Bandic’s (current Mayor of Zagreb) Premier party won 2 seats and HDSSB (Croatian Democratic Alliance of Slavonia and Baranja) andHKS (Croatian Conservative Party) 1 seat.

Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ Headquarters on election night 11 September 2016 with president Andrej Plenkovic in centre Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ
Headquarters on election night
11 September 2016 with president
Andrej Plenkovic in centre
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

 

Various types of mainly lingering communist ethos in Croatia have rushed to form an orchestra chanting that the new, like the last government, will not last long; that the voters are disappointed and disenchanted. One assumes they could say no different given that their like-minded exit polls agencies had failed miserably when they predicted the centre-left headed by Zoran Milanovic would win an easy victory over the centre-right HDZ. One assumes the Social Democrat led opposition will not cease creating scandals in order to destabilise the new government.

 

 

 

Wrong exit polls, dashed the hopes of many who were “certain” the “Reds” will win a comfortable victory over the conservative lot all contributed to Zoran Milanovic’s announcement he will retire from leader of Social Democrats position after such bad election results for the party. Yes, Zoran Milanovic was quite involved and loud in toppling the previous HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko and consequently the government in June of this year. Zoran Milanovic’s SDP loss at the snap elections last Sunday could well be karma at play for his leadership was instrumental and loud in framing Karamarko to a corner where there was no alternative but to resign to save HDZ from ongoing scandals, that were often unfounded and concocted.  Although Milanovic managed to get elected into the parliament this time on basis of preferences his clout is bound to be weaker although his stubborn and often stupid communist rhetoric may persist. At least he won’t be joined in parliament by the former president of Croatia, Stjepan Mesic, whom SDP resurrected from retirement and placed on its electoral list of candidates. Not even preferential votes managed to get Mesic across the parliament’s threshold. All Mesic got was some miserable 5,000 votes. This though may not deter Mesic from playing a role in helping SDP maintain political divisiveness in Croatia, which surely seems as main culprit for the election results environment still deadlocked between two large parties without producing a clear preference or majority.

 

 

The turnout at elections on Sunday was 52.6% some 8% lower than in November 2015 although in the countries abroad, in the diaspora, the turnout was significantly higher in many polling stations, suggesting the diaspora is gradually becoming more alert in making sure people register to vote as required in advance. The lower voter turnout and the relatively high number of votes cast for relatively newly-established minor parties/or coalitions has been a recurring phenomenon in recent years and these elections provided no exception. This would suggest that either many Croatian voters are looking for an alternative to the two-party option or HDZ and SDP have both failed miserably at convincing a majority to vote for them. Whatever the reason for the rather thin spread of votes across parties that precludes a majority win, the outcome does present major challenges for the formation of a homogeneous government. Forming a government in this mix of electoral wins would suggest deals and compromises will need to be made and this, in turn, may mean a weakened capacity of government to deliver on needed reforms.

 

SDP president Zoran Milanovic announces resignation from leader of opposition Photo: Nova TV news 11.09.2016/Connor Vlakancic

SDP president Zoran Milanovic
announces resignation from leader of opposition
Photo: Nova TV news 11.09.2016/Connor Vlakancic

So, many types will say that the reality is that even though HDZ got 2 more seats than last November and SDP got 2 less, this won’t make much difference. Croatia is still going to get pretty much more of the same; the same bickering that led to the previous government’s downfall (?).

 

 

However, more of the same in Croatia’s circumstances may mean the economy has started moving and it will keep growing slightly but without a clear, confident and competent course for enhancing and securing that growth or meaningfully pegging back the budget deficit, foreign debts, unemployment… Perhaps I will be proven wrong and I hope I am – but it does take exceptional strength to hold the rudder straight and firm amidst such a intricate variety of political egos and gaggle of groups HDZ will need to work with in its new government.

 

 

But perhaps the new government will prove both the skeptics and its would-be gravediggers wrong! If firmness or resolve to lead is anything to go by then HDZ’s Andrej Plenkovic’s determination to be Croatia’s Prime Minister, as his party was the relative winner, may hold the key for a stable government in spite of its diverse make-up.  This was something that formerly Tomislav Karamarko did not pursue as firmly as Plenkovic is doiung right from the start; before the government is formed. Plenkovic is already setting the tone of a new government that will have a clear leadership and that is positive. It could well be that appointing a technocratic Prime Minister (Tihomir Oreskovic) who was not an elected party’s member was the element that rocked the previous government the most and contributed to its gradual instability.

Andrej Plenkovic President HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union grateful for election victory 11.09.2016 Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Andrej Plenkovic
President HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union
grateful for election victory 11.09.2016
Photo: Connor Vlakancic

Having said that Plenkovic’s strength could well prove to be an asset for HDZ’s stabilising influence upon the new government, without a doubt, forming the new government will prove tricky and difficult for Andrej Plenkovic/HDZ. A prime minister needs a majority of like-minded members (at least on issues tabled for voting within the parliament) to govern. In the house of representatives almost 25% (or more if we count smaller parties such as HNS/Croatian Peoples’ Party who were in coalition with SDP, won some seats, etc., and may entertain the notion of entering into government with HDZ – God forbid) filled with smaller parties and single-seat independent, this is hard to do. Forming a government, and then keeping it together, depends on the co-operation of a flock of groups, often with diverging interests as well as reluctant collaborators. If a small party falls out with its coalition partners, it can bring down the government – similar was the case last time.

 

A political “risk” factor needs to be added to these structures of a minority government with HDZ as relative majority: Croatia continues to be a divided country.  Zoran Milanovic’s SDP and coalition partners have been very active in labeling HDZ as a criminally corrupt party that’s sinking into extreme nationalism, neo-fascism and reviving the WWII Ustashe regime while HDZ supporters have denounced Zoran Milanovic and his SDP as Communists bent on seizing power through resisting prosecution of and reckoning with communist crimes committed during former Yugoslavia as well as through incompetence to govern and uplift the country’s desperate state of the economy and slow-down the brain-drain with droves of young talented people leaving the country in search of jobs abroad. On the sidelines stand Most/Bridge of Independent lists and Live Wall, each reluctant to go into coalition with anyone but each lampooning on how their political agenda will save Croatia and nothing else, as well as the several ethnic minority seats that tend to serve cackling political cocktails and rub wrongly against the perceived Croatian national interests among the general population. The coming weeks will certainly prove challenging for Plenkovic and HDZ as they go about the business of forming a new government and I, for one, do not tend to judge that future government on the performance of the last one, particularly so because there will be a mix of personalities and skills in the new one that were not a contributing factor in the last one. So: good luck HDZ! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

 

 

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