Thursday

28th Jan 2021

Opinion

Croatia joins EU's illiberal democracy club

  • Two and a half years after accession, and Croatia is moving further away from Brussels (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

I usually enjoy reading EUobserver.

But a recent op-ed, entitled, Business-minded PM could transform Croatia, by Natko Vlahovic, a lobbyist, made me wonder if I’d eaten something bad for lunch.

Read and decide

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  • Oreskovic (r) used to work for Israeli company Teva Pharmaceuticals (Photo: Croatian PM office)

It’s subservient to the government to a degree I’ve never seen before, even in Western Balkans press. It’s also wrong at so many levels, I hardly know where to begin.

The new Croatian prime minister, Tihomir Oreskovic, might be a decent chap and a competent manager. But he’s no more than a puppet, controlled by two deputy premiers, Tomislav Karamarko and Bozo Petrov.

Prior to his elevation, Oreskovic spent just two years in Croatia (in his youth). He barely speaks the language.

He has publicly admitted that he first met most of his ministers after they were appointed, from a list put forward by Karamarko-Petrov.

So who are Oreskovic’s masters?

Pulling strings

Let’s start with Karamarko. He’s a former head of Croatia’s intelligence service, whose time in the job was marked by mass-scale surveillance of journalists and by human rights abuses.

After becoming the head of the HDZ party, the largest in Croatia, and a member of the EPP group in Brussels, he pushed it way right of centre.

Karamarko himself said he aspires to rule the country in the manner of HDZ’s founder, former president Franjo Tudjman, who would have ended up in The Hague on war crimes charges if he hadn’t died first.

During HDZ’s recent election campaign, Karamarko also promised to prosecute, on criminal charges, anybody who criticises Croatia’s conduct in the Yugoslav wars.

“Anybody can think and say whatever they want within their four walls or backyard, but in the public domain, this won’t be tolerated,” he said.

Meanwhile, Petrov’s party, Most, is a newbie on the scene.

Motley crew

It's a motley crew of, mostly, small-town politicians, some left-leaning, some right, and others who are simply opportunists.

Petrov himself is a former Roman Catholic cleric. He’s heavily influenced by cardinal Bozanic, who’s about as far right as a Catholic prelate can be.

In Petrov's first day in the HDZ-Most coalition government, holy water was sprinkled on the premises of the ministry of health and a crucifix was put in every office. Other government premises are expected to follow suit.

Moving on: The new minister for culture, Zlatko Hasanbegovic, used to be a member of the Croatian Liberation Movement (HOP), a neo-Nazi group established by Ante Pavelic, a real Nazi, who fled to Argentina after World War II. Hasanbegovic later joined the extreme-right HCSP party.

The minister of veteran affairs, Mijo Crnoja, is cut from similar cloth.

He wants to remove the term “anti-fascist” from Croatia’s constitution, on grounds that it's communism in disguise.

Register of Traitors

He also called for the creation of a “Register of Traitors” - in order to lustrate anyone who, by word or deed, “worked against Croatia's national interests since 1990.”

The project was retracted on Tuesday (26 January) after a public outcry: More than 7,000 people, including Jadranka Kosor, a former HDZ prime minister, volunteered to register as “traitors.”

The minister of health, Dario Nakic, was recently sacked from his post at a hospital after the exposure of mass-scale embezzlement.

The minister of justice, Ante Sprlje, has less than five years experience as a lawyer. He was, until 2013, an intern in a provincial court. The list goes on …

The only reason why Oreskovic, the new PM, got the job is because HDZ and Most couldn’t agree on it, so they brought in an outsider.

EU club

Oreskovic has no democratic legitimacy. He didn’t take part in the election campaign. Most people don’t know who he is.

If one thing is clear, it’s that he will have zero autonomy. My friends in Croatia are very worried.

The Karamarko-Petrov government in Croatia is, in reality, about as pro-European as the Jaroslaw Kaczynski government in Poland, or the Viktor Orban government in Hungary.

I have no doubt they’ll get on like a house on fire, because Croatia is about to become a new member of the EU’s illiberal democracy club.

Dejan Anastasijevic is an award-winning Serb journalist, who writes for the Vreme weekly

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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