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Presidential Elections in Croatia. An interview with Tomislav Orešković & Marko Milošević of the Workers’ Front.


Vladimir Unkovski-Korica: Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović narrowly defeated incumbent Ivo Josipović to become the new president of Croatia. She is the first member of the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union to become president since the death of the country’s first president after independence, Franjo Tudjman. Why did she win and what did she campaign for?

Milošević: Her victory signifies the defeat of the liberal left in Croatia. I’d say that it’s not that she got more votes, but rather that Josipović got less. A large chunk of the “progressive” vote went to the populist outsider Sinčić and they didn’t return for the second round, while another part simply stayed home. Also, we can see from this that the CDU, the anchor party of the Croatian right, has a much stronger grip on the conservative, nationalist part of society than the SDP has on the liberal and left one. From my perspective, as a member of the Workers’ Front (WF), this is a good thing, because it suggests a large opening for an authentic left political party, well to the left, both economically and socially, of the SDP, which could mobilize the disappointed progressive and radical voters on the Left (a lot of whom stayed home, like they usually do in Croatia).

V.U.-K: Many outside Croatia, especially in neighbouring countries, remember Croatian Democratic Union of the 1990s as an aggressively nationalist party. Has this changed in the 2000s and 2010s? Is there any significance to the fact that, during the electoral campaign, Grabar-Kitarović visited General Gotovina, who is considered by many Serbs in Croatia as a war criminal for his role in Operation Storm, during which most Serbs fled Croatia?

Orešković: If we’re talking about rhetoric, yes, there was a slight change in that during the late 2000’s under Ivo Sanader and Jadranka Kosor, nominally putting a greater focus on EU and NATO intergration and economic development but their real policies were always the same: guarding the interests of their veteran and party clientele, rampant privatization and fostering relations with the Catholic Church. With the election of Tomislav Karamarko to party president we saw a renewal of the nationalist and religious rhetoric that, as usual, flourishes in times of economic crisis and social instability. As for the visit to General Gotovina, I think it’s just a cheap trick to score points with the veteran population who see him as a hero.

CROATIA-VOTEV.U.-K: relating to foreign policy, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović was formerly a foreign minister, a high-level functionary of NATO and Croatian ambassador to the United States. What will he foreign policy be like? Will it change in comparison with that of previous presidents?

Milošević: We can expect more vocal support for NATO, of course, and an attempt to conflate our own interests and security with those of the military alliance. How successful that ploy will be with the broader public remains to be seen. Croatia didn’t have a referendum before our entry, it was a decision made by the political elites which never really had massive support. On the other hand there are many critics of the alliance and I expect them to increase their activities if Kitarović proves a more eager promoter of imperialist agenda than the previous presidents were.

When it comes to regional politics, we will no doubt see an increase in combative rhetoric with most of our neighbors, especially Serbia. Arousing nationalist sentiments and “uniting” the nation against threats (external as well as internal ones) is a staple of the CDU’s “politics”. They have no program to speak of, no ideas, nothing to offer other than a return to the warlike 90’s, rhetorically, ideologically, and politically. Already the president of CDU is making calls for a re-Tuđmanisation of the country once he takes power– whatever that might mean in his mind, it can’t be good.

V.U.-K: What will be the impact of the defeat of Ivo Josipović for the ruling Social Democratic Party?

Orešković: In a nutshell, not much. I get the sense that they’ve already resigned themselves to losing the (parliamentary) elections and besides Ivo Josipović himself took his rhetoric away from SDP’s policies, focusing on civil rights, such as the right of abortion, LGBTIQ rights etc. even challenging (sheepishly though) some of them. His presidential loss can only serve as an indication of the popular mistrust towards himself and the SDP. Besides the loss of morale, it doesn’t really have any effect on the SDP.

V.U.-K: Is there any difference between the Croatian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party in relation to economic policies?

Milošević: Absolutely none. The peripheral differences are of style, rhetoric and the amount of corruption visible to the public. The underlying principles are completely the same: deregulation, privatization, subservience to national big business, EU and NATO, and the multinationals. Sometimes these interests clash and collide, and then the parties fight it out over “national interests”. But nothing essential changes. No one challenges capitalism (not even neoliberalism!). No one argues for tackling the parasitic financial sector, or for challenging the criminal privatizations of the 90’s. There is no difference.

V.U.-K: An ‘anti-political’ candidate, Vilibor Sinčić, whom many have compared to Italy’s Beppe Grillo, won third place in the first round of the elections. Can you tell us more?

Orešković: Sinčić, as a candidate of the Live Wall, had for start, gained a lot of support because of their obstruction of the evictions of people who couldn’t afford to pay their mortgages (which had questionable results, considering that the people were evicted anyway, and just got a fine for the obstruction) and built upon that with a populist anti-banks rhetoric. On the surface, he seemed like an alternative to the CDU and the SDP and in a country where 38% of the people didn’t vote in the last parliamentary elections, that in itself is a big deal. When we scratch the surface however, we find that he had no coherent ideological standing what-so-ever, from an unarticulated standing on LGBTIQ rights and conspiracy theories like chemtrails and anti-vaccination, to allying himself with the pro-fascist Croatian Pure Party of Rights and catering to the right-wing veteran population.

His success in itself can, however, serve as an indication that the people want real and fundamental change.

V.U.-K: The next parliamentary elections are due in early 2016, but many are speculating the government could fall before then. There have been many comparisons between the Slovene left, which won representation to the Slovene parliament last year, and the newly-formed Workers’ Front in Croatia. Are you planning a left challenge to the main parties? What is your strategy for the future?

Milošević: We are planning, and in a way already presenting, a serious left challenge to the status quo in Croatia. The example of our Slovenian comrades is indeed an encouragement, and we have been in close contact and cooperation with them for some time now. There is already an opportunity for a radical left to establish itself in Croatia, which was hit hard by the global crisis of capitalism, for which none of the parties had any coherent explanation – let alone solution.

Our strategy will be primarily to focus on establishing trust and cooperation with the unions and other progressive groups and movements that support our struggle against capitalism, and to use any opportunity on the ground to increase that trust. Direct participation in and support of workers’ struggles, struggles against privatizations, or the fight for women’s and minority rights are our main focus. As an addition to this primary goal, we will challenge parliamentary elections to increase the potential of the WF to implement its program and reach more people. On the international level, we are actively seeking to establish close ties with similar parties throughout Europe – from Slovenia’s United Left to SYRIZA, Podemos and die Linke. Not only in order to strengthen our own organization, but because there is no conceivable way to challenge the current hegemony in the EU without a strong, left-wing political alliance against it from as many member states as possible.

Tomislav Orešković is a member of Workers’ Front Osijek.

Marko Milošević  is a member of Workers’ Front Zagreb/Sisak.

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia. He is a historian and researcher who is currently Assistant Professor at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics in Moscow. His upcoming book entitled “The Economic Struggle for Power in Tito’s Yugoslavia: From World War II to Non-Alignment” will be released soon.


By Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is an editor at LeftEast and a member of Marks21 in Serbia and Counterfire in the United Kingdom. He is Lecturer in Central and East European Studies at the University of Glasgow. His first book was entitled “The Economic Struggle for Power in Tito’s Yugoslavia: From World War II to Non-Alignment” (IB Tauris, 2016).