Croatia’s fearful people hold onto nurse as the virus strikes

by Marijan Opačak

Despite becoming a member of the European Union and NATO, Croatia is still a country in social, political and economic transition.

Unfortunately for the younger generation, the transition from a socialist regime to a free democratic society and a market economy is not over. Some, who are more pessimistic, would say that it has not yet begun. After the Homeland War in 1995, instead of continuing the transition, Croatia remained in a kind of limbo in which the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) alternated in power.

Nominally, the two parties are opposite political options, but both are imbued with economic socialism, statism and incredible nepotism. In addition to these two major parties, there were also satellite parties, which through pre-election or post-election coalition combinations manage to retain some seats in Parliament or become part of the government.

Not even the emergence of the populist “Living Wall” (Živi Zid), which promised citizens bank debt relief, protection of property from foreclosure and other enticing offers, or even the “Bridge of Independent Lists” (Most), which was twice a member of government, could shake the political oligarchy.

I must point out that the HDZ and the SDP, although nominally parties from the right and left of centre, are in fact both successors of the Communist Party of Croatia. Of course, the ideologies have changed, but the practice that the party rules the state and that power is controlled solely by the party is unchanged. This powerful legacy of communism is most evident in the pervasive corruption, the crony capitalism, extremely strong bureaucracy and the corrupt judiciary, all of which is heavily influenced by the decisions of politics and political leaders. The best description of the perpetual state in which Croatia is trapped can be exemplified by imagining an extreme Slavic-Balkan version of the “Yes minister” series.

However, something is moving in Croatia. Miroslav Škoro and his Homeland Movement has appeared on the political scene. Despite being best known as a patriotic singer, Škoro managed to garner nearly 25 per cent of the vote in the last presidential election which was at the turn of the year. Additionally, his recently founded movement has enjoyed a stable third place in public opinion polls. It was a response to years of neglecting parts of the electorate. They are not extreme right-wingers, but embrace patriotism, and want to save Croatia from the hands of an entrenched political oligarchy. They want to move Croatia to be politically, economically and geopolitically with the rest of the countries in the middle Europe, where it should have been when it freed itself from communist dictatorship.

But nothing has succeeded in shaking up a stagnant Croatian political swamp like the current Covid-19 crisis. The Croatian government was able to respond to the Covid-19 epidemic in a timely and relatively correct manner. The civil protection headquarters are run exclusively by expert people who, through successful epidemiological measures, despite the close proximity of Italy, Slovenia and Austria, have managed to prevent the exponential spread of the disease.

It is precisely when the package of economic measures to combat the recession was passed that the Government set an incredible precedent. Instead of listening to its officials, who advocated for expanded government spending and a strong public sector, the Government listened to entrepreneurs and small businesses.

But that didn’t happen immediately it was only after extremely strong public pressure particularly from “Voice of Entrepreneurs Initiative,” and their supporters, who had been the first to be exposed to the economic consequences of the health crisis. With the initial package of measures, they managed to adequately respond with its specific proposals, thus we were able to save a good part of the business entities from complete collapse.

This success has meant that the HDZ has grown in popularity and has once again become a leading party with almost 30 per cent in the polls. They are followed by the SDP with slightly less support, and the third is the Homeland Movement, which is on 11-14 per cent. Other parties, currently 24 in the Croatian Parliament, do not cross the electoral threshold. It seems that populism in such crises does not work for everyone.

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