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Three examples of Croatian democratic deficits

Three examples of Croatian democratic deficits represent opportunities for open society rational discussion in order to deliver better future. Overcoming democratic deficits is an integral part of satisfying the Copenhagen criteria.

Daniel Hinšt*

The article is originally published in European Atlas of Democratic Deficit.

Before going into the problem, we should note the following:

  1. We shouldn’t analyse complaints on democratic deficit made by far left and right populists.
  2. It is usually evident that many Croatians are not very motivated to discuss about domestic problems (with the democratic deficit) if other (and more developed) countries and even the EU, have at least some problems if the similar. Then there is popular saying why should we be greater than the pope.

It seems that Croatia is finally far away from democratic deficits which appeared very often during the authoritarian period (1991 – 2000). Croatian President Franjo Tuđman didn’t care much about liberal democratic values and Western standards. These are the facts on Croatian heritage regarding democratic deficit, no matter how many people disagree with it just because of emotional motivation towards the first President.

Since 2000 Croatia has started with its European integration process, which included strengthening liberal democratic institutions in politics, administration, market economy and civil society. Despite satisfying (almost) all EU accession conditions, democratic deficit is still present. We should take a look at certain examples.

  1. Problems with overcoming the totalitarian legacies

Many Croatians and political representatives still have favours towards domestic form of Communism or National Socialism. „Heroes“ should not be criticised for their massive crimes against human rights, if not against democracy. If anybody tries to revise these post-totalitarian legacies, it becomes a „betrayal“ or „revisionism“. Communist/socialist leaning people usually presented themselves as „progressive“ and „civic“ minded, while ethnic nationalists tend to see themselves as „patriotic“ and „Croatian“. A lack of liberal democratic education, together with a lack of clear policy orientation among mainstream political parties, has caused this problem. Politics seems to be perceived by many people a conflict zone between these two ideological „worldview“ trenches. This automatically ejects the serious political agenda which aims to push delayed structural liberalisation reforms and development of liberal democratic institutions.

One of possible solutions is to educate people and their politicians to be able to make differences between totalitarian legacies and liberal democratic values. Moreover, civic education many help young people to develop creative and productive mindset.

  1. Constitutional regulation of marriage

Croatia has an act which regulates traditional marriage and the other which regulated same sex civil unions. Fundamentalist Catholic civil society groups pushed for 2013 referendum in order to regulate traditional marriage. This would automatically prevent legalising same sex marriage. If we take into account different opinions on this issue (with almost nobody to advocate marriage deregulation), the majority’s referendum decision puts Croatian democracy in a problematic position. On one side, the decision is democratic. On the other side, it is not liberal democratic, since the rules allows the referendum on the issue which should sufficiently be regulated by law. From (progressive) liberal perspective, the referendum decision has been criticised as a step backwards, against human rights and civil liberties. Classical liberals were arguing that any hyper-regulation of marriage is not legitimate and represents just a new government intervention in our liberties, while the constitution should mainly regulated limited government.

One of solutions should be to educate people and their politicians that democracy and liberal democracy are not the same and that we mostly live in representative democracies, instead of trying to copy models of direct democracies. Moreover, people should not decide on civil liberties through referendums.

  1. Not so willing to respect the constitution

While there is a growing demand to regulate some things by constitution, some of its articles have not been respected and legally implemented. The Centre for Public Policy and Economic Analysis (CEA) has been focused on promoting an article 49 which clearly guarantees entrepreneurial and market freedoms.

One of possible solutions is to educate people and their politicians that democracy is not above the rule of law, but rather opposite. Moreover, people should find out that massive breaches of the article 49 are the main causes of the lack of competitiveness and growth in Croatia.

These are just three examples for discussing the democratic deficit in Croatia. They should rather serve as models for detecting concrete cases from the past and even in future. Democratic deficits in other democratic countries, and even within the EU, should not be alibies for Croatia, but rather a warning signal for all sides.

*the author is writing in personal name.