Both cynics and optimists (albeit with a heavy heart) have long indulged in the thinking that corruption (one of the predominant characteristics of doing private or government business inherited from communist Yugoslavia) in Croatia will continue to plague the country simply because the benefit of doing it outweighs its cost. After swindling millions from government projects and companies, the alarmingly large number of jailed corrupt officials and company directors can expect to walk out of prison and live the rest of their lives spending the ill-gotten riches or, others will avoid prosecution due to their connectedness to the corridors of power. Perhaps here also lies a reason why both HDZ and SDP-led governments of past two decades have committed travesty, to say the least, towards the Croatian diaspora, which is professionally experienced and knowledgeable about implementation of corruption-resistant legislation and procedures as well as developed in living in established democracies with despise for corruption in society.
Both HDZ and SDP-led governments of Croatia have particularly during the past decade made it increasingly difficult and most often impossible for Croatian citizens living in the diaspora to vote in the Croatian elections even though their right to vote is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia. And yet, if it were not for the outstanding contribution the Croatian diaspora has made in the creation of today’s independent Croatia and if it were not for the continuous outstanding influx of money from the Croatian diaspora into Croatia that significantly reduces poverty in Croatia, Croatia would today undoubtedly be in a much worse economic and political position. Voters are the ones that steer and impact on positive (or negative) development of the economy as well as all other draw-cards of standard of living. The entitlement to reasonable access to polling booths has been made unreasonable for the Croatian diaspora during the past decade. Polling booths situated in community settings such as Croatian clubs have been abolished and citizens of Croatia living abroad wishing to vote during elections are forced to vote at the Croatian diplomatic-consular missions, which are unreasonably too far for most voters to travel to. Electronic and postal voting, the ultimate tool of democracy put in place by most democracies in the world, have eluded, purposefully, the resolve and actions of all governments in Croatia during the past two decades. The process of gaining Croatian citizenship for people living abroad of Croatian ancestry has been unreasonably difficult, slow and complicated. The foreign pensions taxation has been utterly unfair once a Croatian who has earned his/her pension abroad has returned to live in Croatia, his/her first homeland. The climate for setting-up business in Croatia has been made unreasonably difficult and riddled with destructive red tape. I could go on and on about the political and legislative climate in Croatia during the past two decades that has despite the governments’ open invitations for Croats to return from the diaspora worked against and in resistance of that very goal the governments’ have evidently been putting to the forefront of matters to be achieved during past mandates.
On the matter of paying tax in Croatia and its increasing (ill-gotten) association to the right to vote I, and indeed many, cringe in disbelief. That is, for few years now the Croatian public, both in Croatia and in the diaspora, has been bombarded with misguided, destructive and downright depraved attitudes that “Croatian diaspora should not be permitted to vote in Croatian elections because it does not pay tax in Croatia.” The fact that the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia provides for the right to vote to all citizens of the country, no matter where they live, is not even heard from the mouths of politicians belonging to governing coalitions. The fact that Croatian diaspora does in one way, or another, contribute significantly to the taxation revenue of the country is not heard from their mouths, either. It’s only the politicians of the “right-wing” opposition that express the facts of the Croatian diaspora’s tax contribution to Croatian government revenue from time to time. But this usually falls on deaf ears of mainstream media.
So, let’s take a brief stock of Croatian diaspora’s contribution to the taxation revenue of the Republic of Croatia. In 2019 the National Bank of Croatia has registered 1.74 billion euro remittance via bank transfers or deposits from the diaspora. This sum can easily be doubled if one takes into account cash physically brought into the country by Croats visiting Croatia or by sending cash to family in Croatia via visitors to the diaspora. If we assume, and it is safe to do so, that these enormous amounts of cash and remittances from the diaspora are spent in Croatia on goods and services then the tax revenue for Croatia contributed by the diaspora comes in through 25% valued-added tax (PDV) and it is stunningly great. What is more important in this, though, is the fact that bank remittances and physical cash that flows from the diaspora into Croatia also means that this money goes towards reduction of poverty in Croatia. Then, there are many returnees from the diaspora who bring in their foreign pensions, which are taxed at 12.25 to 40% depending on the height of the foreign pension and most are taxed at the higher rate of tax. If they were not Croatians from the diaspora who do not love their first homeland, they would not return to Croatia to live! Then there are investments and businesses set-up in Croatia by people from the Croatian diaspora (whether the investors or business owners live in Croatia or not) and tax revenue for the state from the diaspora follows. Then there are various land and property taxes Croats from the diaspora pay in Croatia. I could go on with this stocktaking of taxes paid or contributed to Croatia by the Croatian diaspora, but I believe that what I have listed here is sufficient to prove and demonstrate the point that Croatian diaspora does contribute to tax revenue of Croatia; it contributes significantly. Furthermore, paying taxes is not nor should it be a condition for the entitlement to vote in elections – citizenship is.
The governing and opposition politicians either by their lack of guidance towards the public on this matter or by direct fuelling of such ill-gotten attitudes towards the Croatian diaspora and its right to vote are to blame. These attitudes have a direct and destructive impact on the unity of Croatian people to work on a common goal of making Croatia a better and fairer place to live in for all. Only recently, a member of Croatian Parliament, Kreso Beljak, has stated for N1 television in Croatia that he “would abolish voting from the diaspora. The person who does not pay tax in Croatia has no place voting during elections.” One does not need to think hard in order to see the depravity in Beljak’s statement and opinion. If we take the Croatian diaspora out of his equation, is he also saying that Croatian citizens living in Croatia who do not pay tax (and there are multitudes – the unemployed, the low income earners, the tax evaders…) should also not be permitted to vote!? I have not come across any reprimand of Beljak by the governing or the main opposition coalition in Croatia for making such a statement on public TV. I can only conclude that promulgation of such depraved and disparaging statement about the Croatian diaspora suits both the HDZ governing and the SDP opposition coalitions in Croatia. It seems that it suits their political agenda for them to distance and alienate the diaspora from its homeland, but in that the only losers are people (voters) in Croatia whose livelihood depends on the money and other remittances sent to them from the diaspora.
The logical solution here is for the upcoming elections in Croatia to bring about the result that would vote away (vote against) all political parties that have led governments of Croatia during the past two decades. One would hope that all Croatians living in Croatia who have had and are reaping the material benefits from their family members and friends living in the diaspora, benefits that helps them live a more decent life than what their income in Croatia allows, will cast their vote at elections in solidarity with the Croatian diaspora and reject both HDZ and SDP coalitions. Cast your vote for true change, not a change promised by those whose track record in essence shows no real change. How can anyone re-set the economy they actually managed to run down? Of course, they cannot! They lack knowledge! How can anyone rid the country of debilitating corruption that adversely affects lives of most Croatians in Croatia struggling to keep afloat, if they have not managed to do so in twenty years? Of course, they cannot! They lack will-power and knowledge!
Croatia’s parliament on Friday 15 May 2020 had on its agenda the motion put forward by the government coalition to dissolve on Monday 18 May, which will enable general elections to be held either late June or early July. By strengthening the role of other political forces besides HDZ and SDP, the long-awaited changes for Croatia have real chances, but it is necessary for every voter to take a national direction of betterment and progress. Solidarity with and respect for the diaspora is needed. Ina Vukic