Croatia is not an illiberal democracy yet, but Plenković needs to take control

By: Sanja Despot, FAKTOGRAF

During the problematic year 2016, representatives of the civil society in Hungary, Poland, Croatia and Serbia joined forces to develop a joint report on the state of democracy in the countries concerned, wishing to demonstrate that the establishment of non-liberal governments always takes place through more or less the same scenarios. The result of their work is the comparative study "Resistance to Europe's Rough Democracies: Understanding the Scenarios of Non-liberal Governments to Successful Resistance".

The purpose of the study is to identify patterns of political behavior and practices that undermine the rule of law, undermine human rights and fundamental freedoms, and marginalize minorities. The study was presented at the Human Rights Festival in Zagreb in December and this week a panel discussion was held in the European Parliament.

What is particularly interesting is that the panel "Bleeding Democracy in Europe: Resistance to Faith Democracies in Croatia, Hungary and Poland" was held under the auspices of the European Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), which they co-operate in the European Parliament was hosted by Sophie in 't Veld, Vice-President of the ALDE Parliamentary Group and Frank Engel of the EPP. Luxemburg Frank Engel and Dutch Sophia in 't Veld are also very influential members of the LIBE, the Parliamentary Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs.

With Mart Pardavi from the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and Malgorzatu Szulekova from the Polish Helsinki Human Rights Foundation, Ivan Novosel from the Human Rights House spoke at the panel.

Poland and Hungary illiberal democracies

Sophie in 't Veld underlined that although only two countries have declared themselves as an orberal democracy, Hungary and Poland, there are more "ill" democracies in Europe, and the European Union is struggling to set itself up. She reminded of the activation of Article 7 of the Polish Treaty and, in her opinion, the overwhelming response to the Hungarian government's provocations, but added that there was a worrying development of events in other countries such as Romania and Croatia. Even in countries where the democratic system is not in imminent danger, as in France, a state of emergency has been introduced under the auspices of the fight against terrorism. The Croatian part of the study refers to the period of government of Tihomir Oreskovic, where he was trying to lead the vice-president Tomislav Karamrko with his closest associates. Ivan Novosel recalled that everything was happening for only six months in a government governed by Karamarko, who still does not hide himself from honoring the policy of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. In the past six months, the previous government has been striking the freedom of the media, civil society, independent institutions and ombudsmen and turned to the newly discovered values ​​in which the Church and family occupy the first place, and citizens do not allow the freedom to enjoy the human rights achievement.

Croatia in limbo

There is a difference between the then and present Croatian government, but things have not changed systematically, Novosel said. Croatia actually lives in the limelight of the orberal democracy. We have a new government that has been in power for a year, but what has been destroyed in the area of ​​human rights has not been fixed, he said. Examples of media freedom were the case of non-profit media, which are still not "rehabilitated" in the public, and for two years there have been no funds allocated to them from gambling revenue. HRT is still under full control of power, and as a fresh example, Novosel has voiced the initiation of a dismissal for commentator of Croatian Radio Milorad Šikanjić for expressing his opinion on the radio show he was invited to comment on political events. The decision was withdrawn after public reaction and then political intervention, but it never had to come to her. (The attempt to edit HRT's film program by a widow's widow under the alleged patronage of Defense Minister Tome Medved himself came in the days following the debate). Novosel also mentioned how the curricular reform is in the midst of a struggle between those who promote the so- traditional values ​​and those who advocate for progressive attitudes. His words are also confirmed by the latest government decision appointing new members of the Governing Council of the National Center for External Evaluation of Education, among which HRAST's and critics of curricular reform are prominent.

He also mentioned the non-adoption of the Istanubul Convention for alleged "gender ideology" and that because of the attack of the ultraconservative groups two years ago, the anti-discrimination strategy was brought. And these problems go to the mind of Andrej Plenković's government.

Concerning obstetrics, we recall that the former Parliamentary Assembly refused to accept the regular reports of the Ombudsman and the Ombudsperson for Children, and this government, under the guise of alignment with the Constitutional Court's decision, made a new law on the Ombudsman for Children and, by the way, removed the Ombudsperson Ivan Milas Klarić before the end of the mandate.

Undemocratic tendencies will not just disappear 

Still, and in addition, Croatia has not gone as far as Hungary and Poland have gone. This was the panel participants opinion, including Engela's. "We have elections in order to change policies, not to change the character of the state. The elections do not serve to bring us to the mythical days of national exaltation. The elections are conducted every four years, after which the policy can be re-considered, but the character of the state remains the same, Engel emphasized, adding that in the eastern and central part of the continent, Hungary in 2010 and later in Poland, this is no longer the case .

"I do not think this is the agenda of Andrej Plenković. When he won the elections and was appointed prime minister I was relatively sure because I knew him as a very reasonable man and friend from the EPP and I believed that it was not at all  his agenda and agenda of the party he leads. I am aware, however, that such tendencies in HDZ exist and have been very strong in the past. I hope so and I want Andrej to keep them under control because I do not think they can just disappear. I believe he will be able to keep it under control,", Engel said. His views of the present moment of Europe are rather bleak. He thinks the ultimate moment is to establish a relationship between those who are viewed as the problematic part and those who are viewed as guardians. Unless a common European culture is established and a common understanding will not prevent us from returning to the thirties of the last century when, they point out, the countries slipped first towards authoritarianism that eventually led to the war.

"And if Francoise Mitterrand is still quoted saying" nationalism is a war, "it's not because we do not think of better quotes, but because he was damn right," he emphasized. Reflecting on the situation in Poland, Engel said that the leader of the Polish Justice and Justice Party Jaroslaw Kaczynski did not have a European agenda, "unless it would fit into his worldview of Catholicism, the cult of the family and everything that goes with authoritarian structures and more money for children" . He will make Poland what he thinks Poland should be and is not worried about whether to remain in the European Union or not. "He could refer to a referendum on whether Poland will take over fate in his hands - that is, the hands of Kaczynski and his friends - or they will continue to fend off these manijans from the West and their values," Engel is ironic. The only thing that might be able to stop them from their path would be some dramatic economic decline.

Hungary depends on European funds and everyone knows it

This will not be the case in Hungary as the Hungarian system is not sustainable without European funds and everyone knows it, he says. "Hungary will continue to adjust when it is wound on its own. The question is how far we have to go before Viktor Orban exhausts his topics, "he says. He is convinced that "a great boss of the Hungarian regime frustrates two-thirds of its citizens".

"Hungary's strategy was, and I wonder if the Poles will come there, mortally tapping people with completely irrelevant issues. You can not lead the country on migration, it is overwhelming. It is as if the education system or infrastructure in Hungary is perfect and there is nothing to worry about. Everything is rotten and he talks about migrations. And what's going on? In the last decade, half a million well-educated Hungarians have left the country. What is the result of that? It shows it as success because unemployment is falling. Unemployment falls because the unemployed fled from the country, and it exploits it. Because of the electoral system and the overthrow of the electoral units, he can remain in power forever, "he claims, although he is a member of the same" political family "in which the Hungarian Fidesz is. He concluded that it is high time that those who want to stay in the Union begin a dialogue on common values, so that there is no conflict with unforeseeable consequences.

Mechanism for controlling the rule of law

Sophie in 't Veld emphasized that this is not about the Hungarians or members of any nation, but about their leadership. "It is a well-organized and funded political agenda. Look at Vladimir Putin and Steve Bannon. They are all part of the same agenda and the same value system, "she pointed out. It is not, too, a division into the East and the West. "Here is the only division between people who are for liberal values ​​and those who are for authoritarian rule," she adds, adding: "There is another side of that story, they are talking about national identity, but at the same time they serve well their own financial interests, which is the ultimate betrayal of the people: theft, corruption, nepotism ". Sophie in 't Veld is committed to establishing a mechanism to oversee the rule of law in all countries. Last year, the European Parliament had proposed the same thing, but the Commission refused it, considering it had all the instruments it needed. In the meantime, a "reality check" has taken place, and now the Commission in its 2018 work program announces that it will propose such a mechanism. "How will we look we do not know. I am concerned that what has happened with the report on corruption does not happen, "said the Dutch liberal, referring to the annual report on corruption in member states that came out only once, 2014, and then the European Commission under pressure from member states to consider corruption as a part of the European semester, which is a much weaker mechanism.