Croatian Flag Clenched Fist
Adaptation of photo by zazzle.com (Screenshot)
The legendary 1950’s Hollywood actor – Gary Cooper – and film crew won 4 Oscars at 1953 Academy Awards and four Golden Globe Awards for “High Noon”. The movie tells the story of a town marshal forced to face a group of killers by himself, a lone man who does the right thing at the risk of his own life.
Perhaps comparing the current attempt, i.e. the pending meeting called by Most (“Bridge”) coalition at Noon on Monday 7 December, to form a new government in Croatia to the significance of “High Noon” movie (indications are that the one who does not attend the meeting will be cast out of negotiations to form the new government) is not entirely a good match with the facts there are those in Croatia who have done so, albeit cynically as well as with a good dose of satire. The Bridge coalition of independent lists that won crucial 19 seats (currently the coalition counts 15 as 3 have fallen away due to disagreements) have been placed in the position to negotiate with both centre-right HDZ and centre-left SDP coalitions to form the new government. The only problem, it seems, is that Bridge coalition is sticking to its election campaign promises of serious and sweeping reforms for Croatia (overhaul the public sector and judiciary, and reduce taxation pressure on businesses as well as fiscal imbalances…) and seems to lack the decisive elements of consensus and compromise that are so very important in any conflict management and resolution.
The Bridge coalition wants a government of unity: a government comprising of representatives from HDZ(Croatian Democratic Union centre-right coalition), SDP (Social Democratic Party centre-left coalition) and the Bridge but working on the reforms packaged by the Bridge, without – it seems – some crucial elements from HDZ and SDP’s electoral promises! In other words, the Bridge coalition gives the strong impression that it does not trust either HDZ or SDP to lead a new government as majority in a government caucus or that it cares much about the fact that Croatian voters did actually gave more votes to HDZ and SDP promises than what they did to the Bridge promises.
The Bridge coalition is sticking to a proposal of a tripartite government – a cauldron of trouble, political disagreements and without clear lines of political responsibility and governmental accountability! Why anyone would want to impose such a troublesome formula for the makeup of the government of their country is beyond my understanding even if Croatia is in a crisis and at the brink of economic collapse, despite the lining of some wallets with Euro funds.
High Noon has also been portrayed in dictionaries as a phrase meaning “the time of a decisive confrontation or contest”. So, given that Bridge coalition has set a meeting with both HDZ and SDP at Noon on Monday 7 December to possibly achieve agreement in forming the new government of unity for Croatia, with all political sides, friends and foes alike, as members, one does wonder whether the Bridge’s sense for the dramatic or Hollywood style climax has actually stepped into the realms of delusions of grandeur or, worse, communist style of political levelling or egalitarianism as long as one political mind rules the roost. Has the Bridge coalition placed itself into the position of playing God for Croatia’s future (or kingmaker, at least) and if so what would be its avenues for justice (as in “vengeance in mine”) against those who have “sinned” against Croatian independence, democracy, economic prosperity and/or living standards? Surely it could not reward those sinners it campaigned against (e.g. SDP government as having caused much of Croatia’s woes) by placing them all around the joint government table!
Left: Tomislav Karamarko, leader of HDZ
Centre: Bozo Petrov, leader of Bridge group
Right: Zoran Milanoivic, leader of SDP
Certainly the general elections results where HDZ won 59 and SDP 56 out of 151 seats suggest strongly that Croatian voters do not want changes, not earth-shattering ones as forming a tripartite government would suggest. The Bridge coalition’s idea of such a reformist government places the Bridge coalition ambitiously as a real bridge that would unite the political left and the political right into a single task: shaping Croatia in accordance with the Bridge coalition ideas for change! The major problem with this is that in a democracy and a politically competitive climate that is an inherent right within a democracy, the Bridge coalition is attempting to cut-off these rights of political competition at the knees; do away with political pluralism! In true democracies “power should be dispersed among a variety of economic and ideological pressure groups and should not be held by a single elite or group of elites,” says Encyclopaedia Britannica. Furthermore, if a tripartite government is installed in Croatia who is going to be the Opposition in the parliament? How can a government be independent of governing powers held to account, how can new ideas (ideas the government does not come up with) and changes be brought to the parliament floor, how can there be healthy parliamentary debate – if there is no significant Parliamentary Opposition?
The Bridge coalition may have some good ideas as to how to achieve reforms they believe are needed in Croatia but just because it has won enough seats in parliament at the elections to be THE decisive entity that could form the new government, that does not give it the right to play with or ignore the fundamental rights and processes of democracy for which thousands lost their lives in the 1990’s War of Independence for Croatia. Certainly, to me, the idea of a tripartite government that includes an overwhelming majority of political parties, each differing from the other in their crucial ideas, that are supposed to work in harmony has many hallmarks of the former Communist party blanket principle where everyone had to conform to the central idea or be considered a political dissident/enemy of the State!
On Thursday 3 December Croatia moved closer to holding a new election when parliament convened for the first time after an inconclusive vote on 8 November and its SDP-nominated Speaker, Robert Podolnjak (member of the Bridge coalition), withdrew his nomination on grounds that he did not have cross-party support (HDZ did not support his nomination).
The two big parties (HDZ and SDP) have each so far failed in negations with the Bridge coalition on forming a new coalition government and Noon Monday 7 December will be the crunch to decide as to when new elections are to be held. President Kolinda Grabar-KItarovic has called for a second round of consultations in the afternoon of 7 December with all elected parties in her keenness to have a new government formed, but given that her first attempts wasn’t successful and nothing much has changed – her consultations are unlikely to succeed.
If the government is not formed soon, the Croatia’s president will have to call new elections.
Whoever wins the support of at least 76 deputies will become prime minister designate and of course both SDP and HDZ are hoping to achieve this without the offered option of being ushered into a tripartite solution for new government.
It is unclear when the parliament will convene again.
Croatia’s public debt is alarmingly close to 90 % of GDP and employment is at 17%, with 43% Youth unemployment. The European Commission and the International Monetary Fund want the next government to reduce debt and barriers to investment, notably in the private sector.
I hope the Bridge coalition does not succeed in its attempt to kill the democratic debate in the Croatian parliament by forming a tripartite government. I hope new elections are held soon and if the voters give this new Bridge coalition more votes to form a majority government – so be it. But, if the results go in favour of one of the two major coalition blocs (HDZ or SDP) – so be it, too! In politics the concept akin to levelling (known as “uravnilovka” in Croatia or Russian or …where, in this case, all political sides supposedly get the equal right and skill to decide or contribute to government) seems to be protruding from the Bridge coalition’s insistence on a unity or tripartite government. Levelling was/is an operational concept of communist regimes, trying to make everyone equal but ended up creating wider differences between the rich and the poor than thought possible – I would loathe seeing levelling being given a new lease of life in Croatia (it has a life in communist Yugoslavia) – this time within the realm of democratic debate by having the debate cut under the pretence that political friends and foes can govern together in harmony! Desperate times do call for desperate measures but this idea coming from the Bridge coalition to form a unity government and deny Croatia a strong parliamentary opposition is mad and dangerous for democracy in action. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)