In the rather prolonged wake of a rancorous presidential election in Croatia, late 2019, a few months of mute, largely ambivalent, anticipation as to what kind of president Zoran Milanovic will be have given rise to an ugly, tumultuous political swamp where the national interests are drowned in fear for the future as personal and political insults between the President and the Prime Minister (Andrej Plenkovic) fly like nothing I’ve seen before. It appears the two are in some kind of mud-slinging, mocking and insult competition that is difficult and sad to watch but one would not be wrong in saying: they fool no one!
Both have not cut their umbilical cords from communist Yugoslavia and its mindset no matter how hard they might try to assassinate each other’s character and authority.
The deterioration of Croatian top-end politics and lack of positive political discourse is dangerous to the health of the Croatian nation, of the independent and democratic Republic. No good arises when people in top positions of the same country identify more with a political self than as a citizen, or a leader in a country they are a part of.
I take issue with the politics of divisiveness which, by definition and function, fractures the Croatian society through disinformation, deception, hypocrisy, mockery, insult slinging and outright lies and at all times paying mere lip-service to the foundations of the 1990’s Homeland War that ushered in independence and democracy while still embracing in deed and mentality the oppressive symbols and mindset of the criminal communist Yugoslavia regime.
Croatia was a country that should have cut its umbilical cord from communist Yugoslavia way back in 1991 when it declared secession from it by a sweeping 94% vote. The umbilical cord tore away gradually during the 1990’s as tens of thousands of people lost their life in the war of Serb/communist Yugoslavia aggression; hundreds of thousands Croats and non-Serbs – ethnically cleansed. Then, in 2000, the year after President Franjo Tudjman’s death, former communists (who did not want independent Croatia, who did not fight for it) returned at the helm of Croatia with a vengeance.
When he was named Prime Minister in 2011, Zoran Milanovic was the leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and perceived by many as a promising politician, free of the corruption plaguing the rival conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party. But Milanovic’a government failed to implement much-needed reforms, perpetuating widespread patronage of corruption and poor economic trends. His SDP lost power following 2015 elections and Milanovic stepped down as party chief after he failed again in the following year’s snap vote. In his 2019 Presidential campaign, he promised to make Croatia a “normal, decent” liberal democracy, with an equal society and independent judiciary. He defeated HDZ’s candidate, former President Kolinda Granbar Kitarovic and Patriotic Movement’s Miroslav Skoro.
Andrej Plenkovic as Prime Minister did not have good relations with Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, in fact there was a great deal of animosity for a number of years of her mandate and the two were at each other’s proverbial throats much of the time. Grabar Kitarovic had said on several occasions that she had not been able to achieve a working relationship with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and used that as an excuse for not influencing needed reforms in national focus. Had she not sprung from a communist family background perhaps she would have tried harder to establish or force a working relationship so that Croatia could move along with needed reforms and national strategy that would see the crippling corruption weeded out (?).
It’s happening in Croatia again – Andrej Plenkovic has clearly demonstrated that he does not want to work with the new President Zoran Milanovic, either. One must contemplate upon possible motives for that, none of which appear to have Croatia’s national interests (attending to fixing the disastrously failing economy and paralysing corruption, for example) at heart.
The very public rows, public name-calling, mocking and public insults against each other between the two came out of nowhere, or it seems like that to most. Jaws dropped and befuddlement spread contagiously. The media was and is all over it; one does not know whether to laugh or cry. But, one does and must ask: why!?
Generally, in democracies, the public draws distinctions when it comes to the types of speech and behavior they deem acceptable from elected officials. Wide majorities in developed democracies say it is acceptable for elected officials to call their opponent uninformed on the issues and to raise their voice in a debate, but there is much lower tolerance for officials personally mocking or insulting their opponents.
And so, the Prime Minister and the President have not stopped attacking each other, mocking and insulting each other for weeks now. Both of them held press conferences on 23rd October 2020 – first Milanovic, who told Plenkovic that he avoided military service using a false medical diagnosis, and then, about an hour later Plenkovic said that ” a difficult defeat complex in the 2016 elections can be seen in Milanovic.”
The ugly showdown between the two continued.
Zoran Milanovic: “Hundreds of bitterns came under my window at the time when Plenkovic was building his five-penny career. My wife and my children could not leave the apartment, but he grew on that humus and manure.”
Andrej Plenkovic: ” A difficult defeat complex from the 2016 elections is again seen in him, his tone towards me is belittling, and he told a series of lies about me and my career, as well as about our relations.”
Milanovic: “Plenković was a protégé in all regimes. Based on a false diagnosis of anemia, Plenkovic avoided military service. The children of communist leaders could not avoid it (military service), only the privileged could do so.
Plenkovic: “The claim that I am the second generation of the red bourgeoisie, and that I was exempted from military service because of that… Articles about it in the media were not accidental, someone reported it to the media, I guess it was him. It is true that I have anaemia, a lot of members of my family have anaemia. There is also my son, several relatives, all who had it were exempted from military service.”
Milanovic: “He was a protégé, a loyal servant of that regime, he mocked Tudjman with all of us, fifty people know that.”
Plenkovic: “He joined the SDP before the change of government in 2000. I did not notice that he was a brave, concerned SDP member until then. He said that 50 people knew that I was mocking Tudjman. I just called a colleague, he said that he did not remember that.”
Milanovic: “I’m trying to remember what is true of all the things that Plenkovic said, except that he can do everything, even that, is not true.”
Plenkovic: “He is certainly not the main cause of radicalism. But it is indicative that the theses he is releasing, the theses about the military doctor, Tudjman’s hater, come from him and his belly fighters. I see that in the far right. It’s mud, banana peel, the pistons he throws at my feet. He gave a fine contribution to hate speech. “
Milanovic: “There was no statement about the Covid at Plenkovic’s press conference. Who triumphantly declared victory over the Covid, did my grandmother shake hands with the infected Đokovic? He dissolved the Parliament, called elections when it suited them, they won those elections with a miserable number of votes. And it’s all according to the rules. But the rules need to be changed, as well as the rules of the Criminal Code. “
Milanovic: “He is a bully. I fought in school playground and protected other children from such people.”
Plenkovic: “I said I would answer him, because everyone else fell silent. Nervousness starts when the case of Gorica, Gradiska, a public company … As Prime Minister, I have no right to remain silent about lies.”
Milanovic also accuses Andrej Plenkovic’s Government of “skipping” him and regulating issues of national security, i.e., those from the common domain reserved for the Prime Minister and the President of the Republic of Croatia, without the President.
And the sorry saga of mudslinging, mocking and insults has no end in sight, it seems. In a country that has so many existential problems and so much to get on with if Croatia is to be a functioning democracy transitioning from the communist regime this scandalous and pathetic charade of supposedly democratic free expression is most likely not accidental. It has been staged with the former President and it is staged with the current one so that the reality and permanency of a successful independent Croatia takes the back seat and communist heritage thrives. I am quite convinced that the hypocrisy, lined with communist nostalgia for both, lies in this
In a world with fewer rules, the only truly effective one is knowing what you can get away with. The answer today in Croatia, it turns out, is quite a lot. The question is: will the people tolerate this much longer?
In their domestic policies, both Andrej Plenkovic and Zoran Milanovic appear to embrace a noxious brew of insincere nationalism and penchant for authoritarianism (the communist Yugoslavia kind); just like Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic did. So that people don’t have a stronghold. One day these leaders defend the fight for independence elevating it to national sovereignty and right to self-determination and, on another day, they act as if that bloody fight never happened nor did it need to happen (because, to their apparent view, all was fine and dandy in Yugoslavia). One day they vow to attack the widespread endemic corruption within the public sector and on another day, they keep devilishly shtum about the enormous theft of public wealth by individuals.
Former communists and those who did not want an independent and democratic Croatia are proving once again that there is no limit to what they will do in order to keep Croatia stagnating in the rut of corruption, economic disaster and perpetual divisiveness that paralyses progress. Ina Vukic