The last election in Croatia can bring a refreshing change with new President Ivo Josipovic – a university law professor and a composer of classical music – but he will find a much tougher struggle ahead of him. This struggle not only due economical problems (national debt and unemployment) but also problems related to Croatia’s past. These problems are highlighted when Croatia is on final round to come next EU member state.
President elected Mr Josipovic took already new direction towards Croatia’s neighbour Serbia. Croatia and Serbia have filled genocide lawsuits against each other in international court about events during the war of the 1990s. Mr Josipovic told that he is ready to find common solution by direct negotiations with Serbs without trial. “I will negotiate with Belgrade about the missing persons, war crimes trials and the return of cultural treasures. If they accept these conditions there is no reason to proceed with the genocide suit,“ said new Croatian president. (More in my article “Croatia’s and Serbia’s ‘Genocide’ Case to Proceed”)
However, in Croatia’s accession process, one trial still is left related to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). ICTY wants access to important documents on the use of artillery by Croatian forces during the Balkan war in the 1990s. These are needed in relation with the trial of general Ante Gotovina, indicted by ICTY for war crimes while expelling Krajna Serbs from Croatia in 1995 under the “Operation Storm”. This ethnic cleansing caused innocent victims, and caused around 200,000 Serbs to flee the former Yugoslav republic at the end of the 1991-1995 war. (More about topic in my article “Operation Storm – Forgotten Pogrom”)
Between 1991 and 1995, 220,000 ethnic Croats and subsequently up to 300,000 ethnic Serbs were displaced by armed conflict in Croatia. Since then almost all the Croat IDPs have returned to their homes, while most of the Serbs displaced have resettled in Serbia or in the majority-Serb Danube region of Croatia. Since the end of the conflict, only one third of Croatian Serb IDPs and refugees have been able to return. (More e.g. in article “Forgotten refugees – West-Balkans”)
Croatia & EU-membership
The fact Greece exists in the EU means that we do not have to do anything else in terms of judicial reform, and the fact that certain Baltic states are members means that we have nothing to do in the realm of minority policies. (President of the Croatian Helsinki Committee Žarko Puhovski)
Croatia is suffering due the massive political corruption. During early years of independency Croatia has been transforming itself into a mafia state; ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) have presided over a creeping authoritarian kleptocracy, bribery, kickbacks and cronyism are ubiquitous. Last European Commission progress report of Croatia highlighted the need need to pursue its reform efforts, in particular on the judiciary and public administration, the fight against and organised crime, and minority rights. (EC Croatia 2009 progress report can be found from my Document library)
Government has been also cracking down on the independent media. The regime controls state television and radio, suppressing dissent – especially, any investigations into high-level HDZ corruption – and also recently some journalists have been killed and physically assaulted.
Ironically the Croatian population is not any more so interested about EU, according Gallups mentioned earlier among the Western Balkan countries, Croatia shows the lowest percentage of people convinced that EU accession would be good for their country (29%) — the largest group of people in the country (38%) felt that EU membership would neither be good nor bad. The amount of EU Scepticism in Croatia is big despite or because Croatians feel most sufficiently informed about EU in Western Balkans. (Source: “Gallup Balkan Monitor-Focus on EU Perceptions”)
Only 39% thought that a majority supports EU accession, while 45% thought that most Croats are opposed to entering the EU. Opinions about this issue are unevenly distributed: support for the EU is higher among the urban population (35%) and people with a university education (51%).
Differences can also be observed between the different regions of Croatia: support for the EU is highest in the urban region around Zagreb (Zagrebacka Regija, 36%), while rather rural areas such as Istocna Regija and Središnja Hrvatska have rather low support with, respectively, 21% and 22%.
One concern related to Croatia’s joining to the EU could be Croats’ strong identification with their own country: 65% of interviewees (Gallup mentioned earlier) identified very or extremely strongly with Croatia; this was one of the highest percentages in the region. This might indicate that, 17 years after independence, residents in Croatia are still more interested in establishing their national identity than in looking towards Europe.
One very alarming trend is (over)emphasizing Croatia’s Nazi past. During WWII Croatia was created and supported by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. It thus adopted their racial and political doctrines as well practices. Jasenovac was Croatia’s largest concentration and extermination camp. From total 600,000 murdered ones some 25,000 were Gypsies, some 25,000 Jews and over half a million Serbs. From time to time some symptoms of this past are occurring also today ad even with support of government (More e.g. in my article “Nazi’s funeral shadows Croatians past” )
One aspect influencing Croatian patriotic feelings is the situation of Croats in neighbouring Bosnia-Herzegovina. Some time ago a Croatian NGO Libertas made public statement in which it says that Croatians in Bosnia are victims of Bosnian Muslim terror and are asking Bosnian Croat political leadership to initiate a plan that will break up the Bosnian Federation entity and form a Croatian one. Do possible three entities (each of them with Bosniak, Croat or Serb majority) of have any reason to hang together in same state or are more alluring prospects other side of the borders?
I believe that Croatia’s road to EU came with elections easier than before e.g. because
- Josipovic declared that the struggle for justice and against corruption would be his absolute priority;
- As clean person Josipovic has good credibility with his anti-corruption struggle unlike his opponent had;
- With landslide victory the voters made a clear choice so appreciating the values and program of new president;
- New president has already showed his readiness to ease (ethnic) tensions with neighboring Serbia and the same will probably happen also with Bosnia-Herzegovina (his opponent hinted support to create and possible separate Croat dominated region from BiH); the border dispute with Slovenia is already solved;
- Economical cooperation with Serbia will probably develop e.g. when Croatia is taking more active role with implementation of South Stream gas pipeline project.
The country is expected to complete its accession negotiations in 2010 and join in 2012. With new president this is very realistic.