Culture Minister Hasanbegović Gets Most Votes for HDZ Party Presidency

By 29 May 2016

At Saturday's HDZ party congress, controversial Culture Minister was one of the main stars.

Renowned international intellectuals are writing letters demanding his dismissal, major international media are criticizing the government due to his worldview, NGOs and national minorities protest against his Ministry’s decision to cut funding for their programmes, Croatia get worse and worse scores on media freedom rankings, he issues ambiguous statements after attacks on journalists, but it seems that only makes Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegović more popular among members of Croatia’s currently ruling HDZ party.

At Saturday’s party congress, held in an atmosphere of a major crisis in the ruling coalition which could bring down the government in the next several weeks, Hasanbegović was the main star. Although he only recently became involved in party politics, he received the largest number of votes when voting took place on new members of the party Presidency. About two thirds of delegates present voted for him to become a member of perhaps the most influential party body. His opponents in the elections were long-time HDZ heavyweights, but they had no chance against the new star of Croatia’s right-wing politics.

Many of the delegates not only voted for Hasanbegović, but also expressed their personal support to him and even took selfies to proudly publish them on social networks. And the Minister was quite pleased with the reactions. “The members have demonstrated what kind of policies they want HDZ to follow”, said Hasanbegović after the votes have been counted. Responding to a reporter’s remark that HDZ obviously did not consider him to be a burden for the party and the government, Hasanbegović replied: “Obviously not, exactly the opposite.”

Some other prominent HDZ members did not get such a warm reception. For example, Andrej Plenković, HDZ’s member of European Parliament and one of potential leaders of a more moderate faction, warned that “the party cannot be held hostage to a political destiny of any one member”. Plenković was clearly referring to the recent affair involving party president and First Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Karamarko. However, reactions to his speech were not nearly as warm as to the Culture Minister. One delegate, Frenki Bilaver, even compared him to MOST leader Božo Petrov, HDZ’s still coalition partner but who is currently one of the most reviled people for HDZ members. “I thought that was Petrov speaking here instead of Plenković. You should apologize to Karamarko, this is a direct attack on him”, said Bilaver, receiving a warm applause from other delegates.