Miroslav Antić

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Pining for the partisans

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economist.com

Pining for the partisans

Europe | 2 hours 34 mins ago

KOKI the parrot is a shrewd old bird. He used to belong to Marshal Josip Tito, Yugoslavia’s longtime communist leader, who died in 1980. Koki lives on the Croatian island of Brioni, where Tito spent six months of the year, and where the villas are still reserved for Croatia’s leaders. If visitors are lucky, Koki will swear at them, or squawk “Tito! Tito! Tito!” If Koki had a bigger vocabulary, he would doubtless enjoy revealing Croatia’s darkest state secrets, which he has surely overheard. On August 16th Croatia lurched into a new election season, and it is a measure of the country’s frozen politics that some of the key campaign issues hinge on conversations Koki might have eavesdropped on decades ago.

Take the murder of Stejpan Djurekovic, who was shot and hacked to death with a meat cleaver in Germany in 1983. Mr Djurekovic was an émigré active in Croatian nationalist circles. On August 3rd a German court sentenced Josip Perkovic and Zdravko Mustac, two former Yugoslav secret-service agents, to life imprisonment for organising his death.

Croatia’s main parties, the Social Democrats and the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), disagree furiously about what this means. Zoran Milanovic, the head of the Social Democrats, who was prime minister from 2011 until this year, fought hard to prevent the extradition of the two men now convicted. So supporters of the HDZ say that the Social Democrats were protecting the men who killed a Croatian nationalist. The Social Democrats retort that the killers had close links to Franjo Tudjman, independent Croatia’s first prime minister in 1991 and the co-founder of the HDZ.

The two parties are distinguished not so much by their current platforms as by their histories. The Social Democrats claim the anti-fascist credentials of Tito’s communist partisans, who battled Nazi occupiers in the second world war. In contrast, many in the HDZ admire the wartime Ustasha, a Nazi-quisling movement. The German verdict has added an extra layer to their historical quarrels. Another recent spat concerns HDZ ministers who attended the unveiling of a monument to a Croatian nationalist whose accomplishments included murdering the Yugoslav ambassador to Sweden in 1971. Some saw this as poor form.

All this folklore distracts from more important issues. Croatian politics have been a mess for months. The previous election was in November, but the resulting HDZ-dominated coalition government collapsed in June over a corruption scandal involving the national oil company. The HDZ then jettisoned its leader, who had allowed the party’s Ustasha-admiring elements to the fore. The new leader, Andrej Plenkovic, is a moderate member of the European Parliament. He wants to wrench his party back to the centre, and says he deplores the populism that is sweeping Europe. As for historical issues, he says, Croatia needs “sober debate” about the crimes of both Ustashas and Communists.

One reason to stick to the past may be the two parties’ dreary records in the present. The Social Democrats had a disastrous economic record during their years in power, from 2011 until January 2016: the economy shrank four years out of five. In the years before that, the HDZ gained a reputation for corruption, which its most recent term did nothing to dispel. The HDZ is trailing in the polls, and neither party will gain enough votes to govern alone after the September 11th election. Some analysts predict a grand coalition between the two major parties, though Mr Plenkovic says this is “not an option”. The obsession with history makes it perhaps less odd that, in a televised campaign debate, Mr Milanovic attempted to win over HDZ voters by proudly revealing that his grandfather had been an Ustasha.

Such tactics appal many. Boris Miletic is the head of a regional party that runs Istria, the area where Koki lives (see map). Tourism is a mainstay of the economy; this season, Mr Miletic says, has been “fantastic, perhaps the best since the war” (referring to Croatia’s conflict with Serbian forces from 1991 to 1995). But then his mood darkens. Arguing about Ustashas and the past is “really embarrassing”, he says. “We need to talk about the future.” He lists reforms which the HDZ and Social Democrats have promised for years: decentralising power, rationalising territorial divisions, and so on. Unfortunately, in Croatia, the main political parties seem incapable of anything but parroting the same old lines.

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Written by Mika

26. avgusta 2016. u 18:18

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