Can Europe Make It?

Croatia's flammability

Marko Boko
29 April 2014

In the last round of You tell us! blogs (part one, part two), we offered some thoughts on the nature of political apathy, which seems to be recognised as a concern all around Europe. What I am happy about is that, having admitted as much, one really tough topic has surfaced in the ensuing discussion. And actually, it concerns those who routinely exploit this apathy, combining it with the socio-economic crisis – that is the far right. I'm going to offer a Croatian perspective on this.

It is well known that Croatia seriously experimented with its far right movement after Yugoslavia collapsed. So I won't go over that. But, the point is that most of the political arsenal that fits under the far right umbrella came out of the 1990s and what is even more important – World War II. It is clear that the rise of the Croatian far right is not completely in line with the west European phenomenon. The focus is not the same. But still we "contribute" to a common European far right arena.

When it comes to WWII, it is amazing just how many average everyday political debates have the potential for ending up in a heated discussion about who was on which side in WWII (Croats were both antifascists and fascists, divided mostly as a result of the Nazi puppet state, the Independent State of Croatia), and who committed more crimes etc. Questions related to such topics are still highly flammable in daily politics and they have huge weight in relations between the political parties and the citizens/voters.

These questions were even more important in the 90s. Sometimes your life could depend on being identified as antifascist, which was (and sometimes still is) equivalent to being a communist, which was equal to being anti-Croatian or pro-Serbian. However, in the Croatian constitution, it is clearly written that the modern Croatian state is based on antifascist values. This might sound rather funny or sad, or both, but on these scales were measured, and still are, how much you love Croatia, and whether you deserve to live here.

After the war ended and we got our own independent state (from other countries, but not from various interests that were favoured by extreme privatisation), the absence of a real and big external enemy meant that the (far) right began to splinter.

The political mainstream started leaning towards centrism, especially when Croatia set forth on its EU path. The biggest right wing party chose to support that goal and their ideology was adjusted accordingly. As a result, some voters were driven to support minor far right parties that had "stayed true" to their ideologies. But not on a huge scale, as this constituency was always mindful of the "bigger evil" that was the left (social democrats - successors of the Communist party) mainstream party. That is why it seemed perfectly reasonable, in order to fulfil some of the EU requirements, to support mainstream centre right parties that had actually made some pretty unpopular overtures towards the interests of the nationalist or the far right groups.

Once our mainstream political space became bereft of any strong political discourse or identifiable ideological stance and since this was overtaken by particular individual interests, which have become even more important, we cannot really speak of a classical far right in Croatian (parliamentary) political life. It is visible, hovering just outside that arena, and all the time you can feel how it breathes down your neck, ably packaged into the liberal language of right wing mainstream parties and media. Discussion about WWII and the 90s can always be depended on as a reliable tool to switch a debate from real life problems to who is 'the Other', or the enemy. And there is no need to use big words to keep this fire going. The whole of our society seems to be well-trained and indeed straining to find the moment for a pointless discussion and to join in, while the ones who start it can be sure that they will "get the job done".

Croatia joined the EU on 1 July 2013, so the time has come to finally jettison the old discourse. It is interesting to draw the parallel with the Serbian path towards the EU – where "former" radical nationalists are now pro-EU, and have signed up to most of the values that have been sent their way from Brussels. But it will be interesting to see what will happen if (or when) Serbia actually joins the EU. For now, far right movements are confined to outside the classical political arena, and out of the parliament.

In my previous blogs I have mentioned far right movements (minor political party extensions), often openly supported by the Catholic church, that gather around particular questions (gay marriage and the call for a Serb cyrillic script ban by referendum). Once they win the unqualified support of a respectable number of voters, these groups can easily be persuaded to feel that everything they say is right, regardless of the topic, which is naive.

Of course, they weren't willing to stop at that. They have gathered seven other (far) right parties into an alliance named, "Alliance for Croatia", based on conservative and Catholic values, focused on national interests only. None of the important socio-economic questions are raised by them. They want to end the domination of the strongest centre right party over the right wing scene, on the grounds that "they have showed what they can do". But it is hard to believe that they will succeed. Also, they are already running for the European Parliament in order to defend Croatian sovereignty and our independence in Brussels.

The Croatian far right is difficult to compate with other European far rights, as these right wing scenes have different enemies. Western European concerns seem to revolve around immigration, an issue that has not yet reached Croatia's right wing. Here, the far right has in its sights on the LGBT groups, Roma, and Serbian citizens. For now.

But if we do not start to mobilise a more organised and solidary movement against the fascist trends in Croatia and Europe, any other social grouping that does not exactly follow the "correct values" will easily be blacklisted. This time it will not be done covertly during the night in the streets, it will be done in broad daylight in the European parliament and the national parliaments across Europe.

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