Croatia: A misguided Critique Of Parliamentary Opposition

Tomislav Karamarko

Tomislav Karamarko

Unlike in most “Western” parliaments, Croatian parliament has no officially elected position/role of Leader of the Opposition; in Croatia the title Leader of the Opposition is unofficially attached to the Leader of the political party holding most seats on opposition benches. Yet, much of the Croatian public and media act towards Tomislav Karamarko (President of the largest political party in parliamentary opposition, Croatian Democratic Union/HDZ), as though he occupies an officially elected Leader of the Opposition role and treat his strengths or weaknesses through that prism, which in fact does not exist as a formal and binding role such as the one of the Prime Minister, for example. Croatian Parliament has a number of political parties sitting on opposition benches (Labour Party, HDSSB, Croatian Party of Rights dr. Ante Starcevic etc.), leaders of which are also afforded public and media regard as being in opposition.

Tomislav Karamarko, although not officially the Leader of the Opposition in the Parliament of Croatia cops criticisms left, right and centre and is expected to “save” the economic and political disaster that has peaked in Croatia during the past year   – singlehandedly!

One wonders whether these criticisms are truly for the benefit of the overall good for the country or whether they are political manipulations rooted in the Cock-a-doodle-doo coalition government, which benefits politically from criticisms of a party in opposition in that its own disastrous shortcomings and incompetence blur-up or even get to “look good” at times.

Any political party, which has suffered major electoral losses (such as HDZ did at the last general elections), has an absolute right to regroup and revitalise itself. After all, that’s what we see happening in every democratic country after general elections. Nothing wrong in that, in fact, that is how democracy works (and should work) because every regrouping and every revitalisation of a political party happens in pursuits of winning government at future elections.

The Opposition’s main role is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable. In Croatia this gets complicated by the fact that any leaders of any of the several political parties in opposition can put on a hat of “opposition leader”, on any day, on any issue and in that sea of different “opposition hats” the public is served with a fertile ground for opposing discourse and lack of firm alternative direction. Another role of parliamentary opposition is to utilise the sittings of the parliament as opportunities for scrutinising the policies and administration of the government. This happens in the Croatian parliament, however with no clear and official “government in opposition” sitting on those benches – many sessions end up as multi-edged swords where all that can be heard are rows between individuals that lead to little, if any, changes or constructive debates.

A couple of days ago I came across an article in Vecernji List, written by journalist Zvonimir Despot, which evidences the fact that there is quite significant misunderstanding in Croatia as to what Tomislav Karamarko as leader of Croatian Democratic Union – in the current political and economic circumstances – should or should not do. Apparent misunderstanding of the structure of Croatian parliament and its roles here is not the problem, for people can learn, but when such misunderstanding targets a politician to create the belief and false perception that such a politician is not doing his job (as Leader of Opposition, which does not exist) for the country, then one simply must respond – without bias, without preferences, with pure reality in mind.

Despot writes: “When the government in power is incompetent, when there is no way out of crisis, when it delivers catastrophic decisions, day in and day out, and churns out even more comical statements, then it is logical that a great deal is expected from the opposition. That it be active when it’s not in government, and that it prepares the path for its coming to power, but that it also offers a new program, new people, new freshness, new face of Croatia, an alternative to the voters, and to only distribute armchairs and the same used party machines, let alone imposers”.

While Despot’s writing about what opposition should do falls in line with what opposition does in parliamentary democracies, where lines between government and opposition are officially defined, his attack against Karamarko in the article, to my view, is completely out of order, especially if we appraise the big picture of the Croatian parliamentary structure and official roles. In criticising the opposition, Despot should have also referred to all the other leaders of all the other parliamentary parties in opposition. Karamarko does not have the official mandate to take upon his back the work opposition as a whole should be doing; he is one among several “opposition leaders”, so why single him out? Because he leads the largest number of chairs on opposition benches!? Not justified, in my book.

What Despot could have done, to further democracy in Croatia, is seek that Croatian Parliament actually elects a Leader of the Opposition – and if Constitution does not allow that, then seek legislative changes – who could then take on the role Despot is talking about with accountability and mandate.

In the situation as is – with several political parties claiming and practicing the opposition stake – it is indeed most prudent of the Croatian Democratic Union not to offer its program to the public just yet. Parties in opposition simply do not divulge their secrets, their whole programs too far in advance of parliamentary elections and, hence, protect their right to present their programs to the public when the time for that is right. Otherwise, divulging their programs and plans too far ahead of elections runs the risk of the incompetent government attempting to benefit by plucking out parts of opposition’s programs and developing them as their own.

People in Croatia, it seems, are most disappointed in current government’s performance but it is not the job of the Croatian Democratic Union to stop the government from drowning in its own incompetency.  The job of any political party in opposition is to let the incompetent party in government drown – lose at next elections.

The job of the Croatian Democratic Union, and the job of any political party in opposition is to demonstrate, during the campaigns leading to election day that they can be a better government than the incumbent. It’s too early for HDZ or any political party in Croatia, in opposition, to start their election campaign so far away from election date.

Furthermore, Despot seems to interpret unity, or attempts to achieve unity within HDZ as fostering a “personality cult”, spreading negative connotations against the party. He says: “ … in that party, nurturing of personality cult continues. Whether Karamarko sees that, or not, whether he knows that, or not, whether he likes or dislikes it, whatever, the personality cult is once again in action. How? Well, because HDZ is still steered by practicing all for one, one for all, which is really the usual interparty democratic method”.

I have yet to see a successful political party operate in disunity and without a strong, distinct leader.  To my experience of democratic elections there has never been a party elected into government, which presented itself as disunited and without strong leadership figures presented to the public. While Despot attempts to compare such a scenario of rule by “personality cult” with the cult of Josip Broz Tito, of communist Yugoslavia, one cannot but disagree with this parallel. There were no multiparty democratic elections under Tito and no different personalities among which the public could choose its future leader of government. Furthermore, Despot offers the public a kind of a “sob story” for the embattled ex-Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, whose membership in HDZ apparently hangs in the balance after she had spoken against her own political party (HDZ) in public recently. Reacting to Karamarko’s reprimanding reactions to this, Despot holds that Kosor should be afforded respect regardless of what or how she is!

Politics and governments are all about leadership. If there is no leadership, there is no guidance and, eventually, no real progress. Why someone would compare the building of today’s HDZ leadership to Tito’s way of governing through his personality cult is beyond me! It is unfair because the modern workings of competing political parties within the milieu of democracy actually require personal and party competitiveness that leads to competition as to who can better deliver for the good of the people, of the nation – if elected into government.  Karamarko has inherited a political party in shambles (HDZ) and it stands to reason that much work needs to be done to revitalise it and to regroup it, if it wants to run for government at the next elections. However, to label any regrouping or revitalisation measures in HDZ from spectators’ stand (by journalists or member of public…) as following “personality cult” practices is just plain unfair and, most likely far from the truth. It would be much more productive for Croatia if the media were to worry about educating the public about how its hard won democracy should work in their daily lives, rather than misguiding it by allowing it to think that it has only one party in parliamentary opposition role and that one party may not have the right and the freedom to organise itself as it sees fit. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia’s likely new foreign minister Vesna Pusic – feeble foundations for honesty

Vesna Pusic is likely to be appointed as Croatia’s new Foreign Affairs Minister this week. She is the president of the Croatian People’s Party (HNS) (a part of the Kukuriku/Cock-a-doodle-doo centre-left alliance that won majority votes in December 4 general elections). She has also served as chairperson for Croatia’s National Committee for Tracking Croatia’s negotiations in the accession to EU.

She entered politics in 1997 when she wanted to use “all possible means” to oust from government the late dr Franjo Tudjman and his ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) ( She didn’t succeed.

At general elections in 2000 Vesna barely made it to parliament, but she was still elected HNS president. She was the only candidate and was elected unanimously.

The support she receives from the former communists, anti-fascists who will stop at nothing to protect from prosecution or questioning the communist regime’s crimes, has been her ticket to success it seems.

She worked closely with Stjepan Mesic, ousted as Speaker of Croatian Parliament and member of HDZ in 1994 due to attempted coup against Tudjman. In 1997 Mesic’s Croatian Independent Democrats (HND) party merged into HNS.

The newspaper article on Pusic’s father Eugen Pusic (died 2010) in Croatia’s Vecernji List ( article in Croatian) reveals that Eugen Pusic was a Lieutenant Major Judge in the Ustashi run Independent State of Croatia World War II, worked in high ranks of headquarters of the army etc.

Vesna’s father had completely omitted and suppressed  the years 1939- 1945 from his biography on the Croatian Academy of Sciences (HAZU) website ( in Croatian/accessed 11.12.2011) and since Vesna is well on her way to becoming Croatia’s next foreign minister it’s deemed in public interest to look at all aspects of her life.

Given her political rise within Croatia’s anti-fascist echelon since 1997 it stands to reason that her father’s  hiding of the “darker” side of his biography from public knowledge may have served as a significant advantage to her own political career.

After all, even though Ustashi individuals who had committed war crimes during WWII have been convicted and sentenced in the post WWII Croatia, and wider, the Croatian anti-fascists haven’t stopped persecuting the pro-Nazi part of Croatia’s World War II, if anything, they’ve increased it. So why wouldn’t Vesna Pusic, who counts herself among the anti-fascists, want to hide her father’s suspicious and uncomfortable past?

The above newspaper article reveals facts uncovered about Pusic’s father from Croatian state archives. It includes the wording of oath sworn and signed by Eugen Pusic in 1942: “…that I will in my working capacity and outside it keep sacred every official secret I know …that I will not join any secret organisation and that I will evade every gathering/organisation that’s banned by the laws of the Independent State of Croatia …”.

Vesna Pusic has attacked the journalist Zvonimir Despot who wrote the article and accessed archives that show her father’s past in the pro-Nazi Croatian regime of World War II was not of anti-fascist nature, but opposite. She said that Despot has “attacked her father posthumously and that this is an embarrassment of monumental proportions” for Despot.

Evading the ugly truth by attacking the person who’s telling the truth is and has been the way anti-fascists have worked; Pusic is no different it seems.

Her beckoning of some kind of public’s sympathy – accusing the journalist of offending her father posthumously – doesn’t wash, especially not since she herself has on numerous occasions attacked dr Franjo Tudjman posthumously. ;

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, Vesna!

In her reply to Despot’s article Vesna Pusic stated that her father worked as an “illegal” within the Ustashi movement. This is the same as saying that he was a secret collaborator for the anti-fascist movement (Partisans) from within high ranks of Pavelic’s men.

The blatantly odd and suspicion-arousing thing about Vesna Pusic’s defence of her father’s past is: why would he (and she) hide the assertion in anti-fascist run former Yugoslavia, and in modern Croatia, that he was a secret collaborator for the anti-fascists from within high Ustashi ranks during his life?

As the newspaper article points out: anyone who had worked for the anti-fascist cause during World War II took enormous pride and public accolades for it after anti-fascists won the war; why not Eugen Pusic, or his daughter Vesna?

Certainly nobody can be blamed for what their parent did, nor should that cast aspersions against the offspring, but if that offspring hides or is insincere about the deeds of that parent then that’s an another matter entirely.

In her biography, on her party’s website ( accessed 11 December 2011) Vesna Pusic says:

I have learned the most important things of life from my parents – about love, honesty, dignity and how every person is valuable and special…

Well, given the purposeful suppression from the public (dishonesty) of important parts of her father’s biography and, if her own biography is anything to go by when assessing the character of her honesty, then Croatia itself is in for an embarrassing ride.

As a sociologist Pusic would be aware of the “nature versus nurture” dilemma world scientists have been grappling with when it comes to attributing the effects of both/either on personality and character of adult human beings.

In the case of Vesna Pusic the dilemma seems to disappear: it seems both the “nature and nurture” from her family have contributed to a stark dishonesty equally.

Who is Vesna Pusic and what nature of “honesty” has she learned from her family?

What honesty will she employ as a minister in Croatia’s new government?

Will she join the ranks among Croatian population for prosecutions against Communist crimes, or will she ignite yet another candle to keep Tito’s ghost warm in Croatia and send the new democracy back to dark ages of communist lies and false economies? Ina Vukic, Prof.(Zgb), B.A., M.A.Ps.(Syd)

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