"The sin of structures is at work, which was made possible by the laws and regulations whose primary goal was not the common well-being of the people and the community."
(Archbishop of Zagreb Josip Bozanić in his Christmas message in 1997)
"Until yesterday, we had the sin of structures in power. Now we have the incapability of structures."
(Boris Kunst, Chairman of the Association of the Labour Unions of Croatia, April 2000)
Although nearly four months have passed since their landslide victory in the parliamentary elections, the new Croatian ruling elite still seems to be in a state of shock. Accustomed, over the last ten years, to the state of mind in which the execution of power is something that is, to paraphrase Milan Kundera, "somewhere else," or, in other words, a matter of a nice but distant dream, it had been fairly unprepared for a sudden and harsh awakening. And in this dizzy state, it tends to engage in activities that would make for an excellent fable filled with subtle irony, were they not politically disruptive and potentially very dangerous.
Let us, however, visit just a few scenes from the Croatian dramolette, for the temptation is simply too great to resist...
Characters: Ivica Račan (Prime Minister), Slavko Linić (Vice Prime Minister), several dozen workers of Nama department stores
Prime Minister Račan, with a serious expression, is patiently listening to the representatives of the (mainly female) workers of the formerly biggest department store chain in the country, Nama, who have not received their salaries for many months. The atmosphere is very uneasy. It is difficult to deny or dismiss anything these people are saying, since their arguments are very simple: they need their salaries to buy food for their children and themselves. At one point, Račan is unable to stand the tension any longer: he stands up in determination, hits the wall with his fist and says:
Račan: "For God's sake, we have to do something! If I let these people down, I will betray all the principles I have always stood for." The workers leave, relieved; they have the impression their message has gotten across.
The following day, in the same location. The same workers meet with Račan's Deputy, Slavko Linić, who, incidentally, belongs to the same party of Social Democrats as Račan. Linić listens briefly to the workers and says resolutely:
Linić: "Why are you talking about Nama? Forget it. It does not exist any more!"
Characters: Stipe Mesić (President of the Republic), Ivica Račan (Prime Minister), Zlatko Tomčić (Speaker of Parliament), Goran Granić (Deputy Prime Minister), Milka Mesić (President's wife), concierge of the villa at 14 Grškovićeva street
Granić (proudly): The Government has selected the villa at 14 Grškovićeva street to become a private residence of the President of the Republic. Two other villas will be found soon for the prime minister and the speaker of Parliament. It is necessary that these three key state officials live in special residences, because they have special needs.
S Mesić (inspecting the villa at 14 Grškovićeva, smiling): Excellent! Splendid. I like the house very much!
M Mesić (resolutely, addressing her husband): If you want to move out, you are free to do so; the children and I are staying here, in our current flat!
S Mesić (angrily): It is out of question that I enter this villa with my family. It has served as a whorehouse! What other reason can there be that the sheets are made of red silk and the fridge is full of ice-cream?!
Concierge of the villa at 14 Grškovićeva (confusedly): This house was not a whorehouse! I bought the sheets myself, and I bought these ones in particular, because they resemble Croatian national emblems. And the ice-cream I bought so that I could properly welcome the President when he comes to inspect the house!
Ivica Račan (Prime Minister of the Government in which Granić serves as deputy prime minister, relaxed): I do not need a residence. I will continue living in my fifth-floor apartment, as I did before.
Zlatko Tomčić (en passant): Residence? What residence?! I do not need a residence!
Characters: an anonymous person in the President's Office, another anonymous person in the Government, Her Royal Majesty the Princess of Thailand Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (in the background)
A voice from the Government: The state protocol has to be completely overhauled and simplified. Red carpet and military welcomes for the President and his guests should not exist any more!
A voice from the President's office: We agree with getting rid of the military ceremony, but the red carpet must stay! We cannot host the Princess of Thailand without the red carpet!
A voice from the Government: OK, you can have the carpet this time. But it may by no means be red!Beep-beep-beep (sound of an interrupted telephone line)
Characters: Stipe Mesić (President of the Republic), Vjera Šuman (President's spokesperson), Mirko Galić (general director of Croatian Radio and Television, passively)
Mesić (seriously): Croatian Radio and Television must be public media in which journalists can independently decide what is and what is not important news. Neither do I need to be on the TV news every evening nor does news related to me have to be shown first. The TV news should not be a simple transmission of state protocol, as it was before!
Šuman (reading aloud while writing a letter to Galić): I must protest against the fact that the visit of Her Royal Majesty the Princess of Thailand Maha Chakri Sirindhorn and her meeting with President Mesić and other high state officials was not mentioned in the TV news. On what basis did you decide that her visit to Croatia is not important enough to be reported?
The Croatian dramolette abounds with such scenes. What do they all have in common (except that all of them were duly reported in the newspapers or on TV)? They are absolutely brilliant examples of Croatia's present state of mind: Le roi est mort, vive le roi!
The late President Tuđman ruled the country by a combination of well-controlled national-chauvinism and economic transgression, manipulating with the help of violence and fear, as the key psycho-social determinants of Croatian society over the last ten years. The former opposition fell victim to such an understanding of politics. The Croation Democratic Union's (HDZ, Tuđman's party) source of power was conflict and its behaviour hypocritical; while being fairly submissive towards "external powers" (the international community, that is, the United States), it was deliberately harsh and vengeful towards (invented) "internal enemies" (opposition and civil rights groups).
But is the former opposition and current ruling coalition immune to such behaviour?
It is very difficult not to notice that the new rulers are acting very carefully, in fact too carefully, towards the remnants of the extreme right-wing forces (as evidenced, for example, by Prime Minister Račan's reactions following a rally in front of the US Embassy a couple of weeks ago in protest against the sentencing of General Blaškiać at The Hague International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia), while very strong words are used to perpetuate the dispute between the Government and President Mesić (members of the same coalition that won the elections) on the President's future, and present, competencies.
With very few exceptions (such as the Liberal Party's president, Vlado Gotovac, and Istrian Democratic Assembly's Damir Kajin), the new rulers fail to see that any resemblance to behaviour exhibited in the past by the HDZ (insensitivity towards the position of workers and underprivileged social classes, political intervention in the banking system, dismissal of a series of local authorities ruled by the opposition) is very soon going to turn against them, possibly as early as at the May elections in Zagreb. There are indications already that the popularity of those parties and politicians who do not hesitate to spell out the truth clearly and loudly (for example, Vesna Pusić and her Croatian People's Party, HNS) is growing.
It is wrong to assume that the popularity of Pusić and the HNS is increasing because that is the party from which President Mesić originated; most voters actually do not care about that fact at all. Rather, Vesna Pusić is seen as a credible and consistent politician with modern views who is not afraid to say the truth, no matter how unpleasant it may be. Voters in Croatia are volatile (at least recently), and that is something the ruling coalition has already had a chance to find out [see this author's article on the election of Mesić as President].
The recent statement by the chairman of the Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS), Dražen Budiša, that constitutional changes should be postponed until the end of Mesić's mandate so that the discussion can be de-personalised, is theoretically a very good proposal, assuming that Mesić commits himself to restraining from those powers granted him by the current Constitution that are assessed as excessive. Budiša, however, immediately acknowledged that such a proposal is a very unrealistic at the moment.
The name of the game now is "Strip the President." Mesić seems to be one step ahead of the Government in this race at the moment, and it is even possible that he will win, that is, that the proposal of the expert group he appointed will more or less be accepted. This proposal prescribes the redistribution of powers
Budiša, ab absurdo, is actually right in one respect: these issues are almost entirely irrelevant at the moment. The solution (or at least some short- and medium-term remedies) to an exceptionally severe economic crisis, rapid and substantial improvement of relations with regard to Euro-Atlantic integration and, arguably most important of all, de-ethnification and de-emotionalisation of political discourse are much more pertinent priorities.
The time has come to break the taboos. It is high time that everyone understood that the only way to become a truly democratic society and state, which is sustainable in the long term, is to accept (and implement) those rules that are presupposed in democratic societies and states. The diferentia specifica between democracy and other types of political systems and social organisation is the way in which societal cleavages are handled. Recent events, at which war veterans threatened to fight against any government that "acts against Croatian national interests" (as perceived by them) and "start a new war for Croatia" in reaction to the Government's declaration on relations with The Hague International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, are perhaps the best illustration of the cleft that threatens to jeopardise the entire project of the democratisation of Croatian society.
The Croatian dramolette is, needless to say, not finished. There is a thin (red) line between it becoming a Shakespearean drama (with the ghost of the father overshadowing events) and a Beckett-inspired theatre of the absurd (in which Vladimir and Estragon are expecting Godot who never comes).
Thin red line? No! Long red carpet...
Saša Cvijetić, 15 April 2000