Sunday, 30 May 2021

Polling Stations Opened for Second Round of Local Elections in Croatia

ZAGREB, 30 May, 2021 - All the 5,496 polling stations were opened at 7 a.m. on Sunday throughout Croatia for the election runoffs for mayors of 57 cities and 87 municipalities as well as for the prefects of 14 counties.

The State Electoral Commission (DIP) will release the first results of today's voting on its website at 8 p.m.  The ballots from 90% of polling stations should be counted by 10 p.m.

During the second round of voting, 3,231,000 citizens are eligible to vote. The two candidates who received the highest number of votes in the 16 May elections in their constituency are vying in the 30 May runoffs. The mayoral and county head candidates who won more than 50% of the vote in the first round of the elections two weeks ago are the outright winners.

The course of today's voting is being observed by 8,334 monitors, and the lion's share of them have been proposed by political parties running in the elections, while a mere 17 monitors are being at polling stations on behalf of nongovernmental organisations.

Anti-epidemic measures are being implemented at polling stations.

Voters going to the polls on Sunday are required to wear protective masks and they are also advised to have their own pens. Although the epidemiological situation has improved since the first round of the voting, the same anti-epidemic measures will be implemented.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more news about Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

34 Candidates in Local Elections Haven't Submitted Financial Reports

ZAGREB, 23 May, 2021 - The legal obligation to submit financial reports seven days before the second round of local elections has been met by 283 out of 317 candidates, the State Electoral Commission said on Sunday.

The reports, including expenses, contributions and media advertising discounts, had to be submitted by midnight Saturday.

Reports were submitted by all 30 candidates for county prefects and the mayor of Zagreb as well as their deputies, 98 out of 110 mayoral candidates and 155 out of 177 candidates for municipal heads and their deputes.

For more about politics in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

For more about news in Croatia, CLICK HERE.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Survey Shows One in Four Young Croats Are Politically Illiterate

May 3, 2021 - One-quarter of young Croats are politically illiterate, Professor Berto Šalaj from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Zagreb said on Monday while presenting the results of a recent survey.

The survey was conducted in March this year among 1,122 final-year secondary school students in 59 schools.

Insufficient implementation of civic education

Commenting on students' poor results in three-year vocational programs, who accounted for 23% of the respondents, Profesor Šalaj said that "society has decided that they do not need to be politically literate." That, in turn, means that as future voters in elections, they don't need to know anything about political processes, institutions, or parties, which is a serious social problem, he added.

These results prove that society has done almost nothing to implement civic education, even though some aspects have been included across different subjects, but that is not enough, Šalaj said.

The survey results were presented by Jelena Matić Bojić and Nikola Baketa from the Institute for Social Research, and Ana Ljubojević from the University of Graz also commented on them.

Noting that young people often do not know basic political facts, Baketa said that, for example, they do not know which countries are members of the EU or when Croatia joined NATO. He underlined that the survey shows that young people do not understand basic political notions; they do not trust political institutions but trust the army and science.

Only 7.2% of young people trust political parties and see them as a "tool to get a job," without having any ideological opinions.

Even though most young people get their information from social networks and news websites, they trust them the least.

Young people's sociopolitical views slightly more democratic than in 2015

Noting that the survey dealt with political knowledge, prejudices and stereotypes, values, media literacy, civic culture, and habits, Bojić said that the results show that young people's sociopolitical views were slightly more democratic than in 2015.

This includes views on homosexuality, he said, adding that one-third of young people consider homosexuality an illness and that homosexuals shouldn't publicly declare their homosexuality because this has a bad influence on young people.

Attitudes towards gender equality are a little more progressive, although one-quarter of respondents are still indecisive about this aspect.

The positive point is that 90% of young people can imagine having a friend from a different race, religion, or nationality.

75% support extracurricular programs in Vukovar

Part of the survey dealt with the Homeland War and World War II. Ljubojević said that three-quarters of respondents support extracurricular activities in Vukovar and want to learn more about the Homeland War, with 45% saying they did not know enough about it.

On the other hand, few expressed any interest in visiting places like Jasenovac or Dotrščina, where they could learn more about World War II.

As far as the pro-Nazi Independent State of Croatia (NDH) is concerned, 15% do not consider it a fascist state, which is significantly different to six years ago when 72% did not see the NDH as a fascist regime.

About 45% of students consider the chant "For the Homeland Ready" acceptable, while 25% are opposed to it and 30% are indecisive.

More than 50% consider the former Yugoslavia a communist dictatorship, while 50% consider that Croats were subordinate in that state.

For more, follow our politics section.

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

EU Presidency Reflections: a Croatian Viewpoint from Brussels

July 1, 2020 - Reflections on the Croatian Presidency from a Brussels point of view – Welcoming Uhljebi to Brussels and how COVID-19 became the best friend of the Croatian presidency.

Two weeks ago, on a business trip to Brussels, I met with several Croatians working in the heart of Europe. Talk inevitably came around to the Croatian EU Presidency, which ended yesterday. I asked how it looked from a Croatian perspective from a longterm Brussels resident. After a few minutes of discussion, I invited him to write his thoughts, as he clearly had a lot to say. This is his account, written on condition of anonymity due to his job. 

On 1 January 2020, Croatia took over the presidency of the Council of the EU, for the first time since it joined the European Union in 2013. It was a magnificent moment for the Croatian government and Prime Minister Plenkovic personally. An opportunity to shine and show the presidency as something for which he personally deserved merit. The truth and the facts are very far from this. As we all know, the presidency of the Council rotates among the EU Member States every six months. During this six- month period, the presidency chairs meetings at every level in the Council, helping to ensure the continuity of the EU's work in the Council. So it is a regular process, as night follows day.

The Croatian presidency’s programme focused on four main priorities: a Europe that is developing, a Europe that connects, a Europe that protects, and an influential Europe, united under the motto ‘A Strong Europe in a World of Challenges’. Indeed, the times could not be more challenging. Not only in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic which constitutes an unprecedented challenge, but also taking into account Brexit, the EU's long-term budget, the Green Deal and the migration crisis. No less challenging was working with Croatia during the presidency. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was a tragedy it inadvertently helped those involved in the activities of the Croatian presidency. More ironically we could say that COVID-19 was sent to save the Croatian presidency.

You might think it's a joke, some funny story, or that I am exaggerating?

To give you an overview of the first three months that reflect how the Croatian presidency would look like, we should go back to the beginning of 2019. Why a year ago? Because each country has up to two years of preparations prior to taking the helm of the Council. From the coordination with their Brussels-based people working for the EU institutions and private sector, regional offices, MEPs, for the organisation of meetings, the hiring process, to more operational and technical issues, both in Brussels and at home. But this was not the case with Croatia. I am surrounded by Croats working in diplomacy, regional representations, EU institutions and for the private sector. Most of them are public affairs professionals that were eager to temporarily join the Croatian crew in Brussels and to help their country to lead the presidency. It is a common practice applied by all states.

So, after the Christmas holidays when we were back in Brussels, in mid-January 2019, I met with them and we spoke about the process which should have started already and they were very enthusiastic about it. They were absolutely sure that the upcoming hiring process would be fully transparent so they would be able to apply and with their knowledge and experience in those six months help the presidency. Everyone who works in the EU public affairs sector is familiar with the presidency's procedures so they were sure that the job vacancies would be published soon.

Since February is mostly a busy period in Brussels, we met at the beginning of March with a completely different approach. They had some inside information that the Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs would start the hiring process in Spring, but as time passed we were aware that this was not going to happen. To be precise, some processes had already started in late 2017 within the Ministry of Regional Development and EU Funds. Suddenly the word was being spread, people started saying that these positions were ‘reserved’ for who else than Uhljebi, people who are members of the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union). To explain the familiar Croatian story they just needed to apply and this job was promised to them as well as a high position within the Permanent Representation, without any special skills and qualifications. The most relevant and important criteria was to be a member of the ruling party HDZ.

Unfortunately, even in Brussels, Croatia could not abandon the Uhljebistan way of doing things. So they were not planning to hire experts (Croats!) living in Brussels, assistants to Croatian MEPs whose mandates have just ended, but their plan was to bring to Brussels a bunch of Uhljebs, people they didn't want in the ministries, state-owned companies and public administration in general and they wanted to get rid of them and send them to Brussels. From Osijek to Dubrovnik, some of them were already working for the representative offices in Brussels and they were waiting for other positions which would ensure that they wouldn't have to do anything, so maintaining their usual familiar practices.

One of my colleagues called me to tell me the news and she took the words out of my mouth. We all knew what that meant. From that moment on we were sure that the Croatian presidency would be nothing more than a disaster, a waste of taxpayers' money, without strategy or aim. Everything that followed only confirmed our concerns. Somehow we thought this would not happen this time, because Plenkovic cares too much about the opinion from Brussels, so he would not gamble this time. But it was the opposite, all responsible people in the ministries were familiar with the process, from Zalac who was in charge of the hiring process for their portfolio, together with Pejcinovic Buric, blessed by Plenkovic.

They even published a few vacancies, but these were hilarious and published only to justify the minimum transparency requirements. It was obvious from the job descriptions, the low requirements, the unclear location, to deadlines for interviews that they had already their own people for these positions - "jobs for the boys.” And later these people themselves were complaining in Brussels how complicated the screening and recruitment procedures were, they had to spend a few months in Zagreb, working in the ministries to go through all the necessary security vetting by SOA (Croatian Security and Intelligence Agency). The craziest thing was that theywere still hiring in January 2020, after the start of the Presidency, when they realized they were still short of people and candidates were randomly appearing with no knowledge of what their roles were or what the presidency meant. And Croatian people with a strong background in EU policies, working for the EU institutions again did not get the chance to apply. Why again? Because all of them are people who had left Croatia because of these well-known practices and the Uhljeb environment.

All that followed in the first two or three months of the Croatian presidency was only a reflection on what has already been mentioned. The preparation for the presidency started too late, in August Irena Andrassy was appointed as Croatia's new Permanent Representative to the European Union, just months prior to Croatia taking over the presidency. Later she would be remembered for 'Thanks, goodbye and good riddance’ —the EU’s parting words to the UK.

A large part of the criticism of the Croatian presidency refers to; a lack of openness and transparency, lack of structure and coordination, inefficient and slow communication, weak or missing support for prioritised joint EU events on the topics the Croatian presidency would deal with. Simple examples in daily communication with them range from full inboxes, no written correspondence, preference for telephone calls, waiting for feedback for several weeks to incompetent ministers with no relevant knowledge and language skills. Nevertheless, even official meetings were arranged in cafes as it is the custom in Croatia, to the general surprise of the people working in Brussels. Unfortunately, Croatia did not learn anything from its predecessor, Finland, who did a great job in the area of transparency. Increasing the openness and transparency of the European Union has been one of Finland’s goals, they ensured open, professional, reliable and fast communications as well as publishing the information on all meetings of the Permanent Representative and her deputy with lobbyists. Replying to a media enquiry why Croatia did not publish this information, a presidency spokesperson said that Croatia did plan to eventually publish its ambassadors’ meetings on its website, but the site was currently undergoing a redesign, but as you might imagine they were never published.

What will Croatia's EU presidency be remembered for?

In the broader EU context it will for sure be the violence and abuse of migrants and asylum-seekers by Croatian police on its external borders, Croatian silence on Hungary’s democratic backsliding, but it is also important not to forget Plenkovic's attempt to push through a government legislative initiative which would suspend labour and social rights at a time when other Member States were trying their best to mitigate the consequences of the pandemic and to support people and jobs. But how could it ever be possible to achieve anything positive when Plenkovic was constantly distracted by the crisis in his government, with the dismissal of ministers due to numerous scandals. One of the last being the dismissal of the health minister Kujundzic in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. Kujundzic as the Croatian health minister should have been in charge of organising the first emergency EU health ministers meeting in Brussels, chaired by the Croatian presidency. The EU’s health commissioner Kyriakides, had called on Zagreb on 29 January to organize the gathering but as Kujundzic had been dismissed, it took another two weeks for the new minister Beros, to organise the meeting in Brussels which finally happened on 13 February. Plenkovic has since done his best to set up the national COVID-19 crisis centre with his people, members of HDZ to fight the COVID pandemic and to help him spread the image of a perfect Croatia to the world.

When we take everything into account, we can clearly see that there has been no benefit from the Croatian presidency, they spent ten, if not hundreds of millions of Euros, without any positive impact on the economy, tourism or promotion of the Country itself. Without a focus on the country's investment priorities, support of Croatian companies, without any relevant message. They did not take the opportunity to further position themselves economically and diplomatically within the EU. By the way, we should also say that the Croatian MEPs did not contribute in any way.

If we must choose at least one success of the Croatian presidency without thinking it would be the opening of accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia. The biggest disappointment for Plenkovic for sure was the Zagreb summit which had been planned as a potential milestone in the enlargement process and one of the major High-level events in Croatia. I wouldn't bet whose disappointment was greater, his or that of Commissioner Suica regarding her plan for the Future of Europe conference and the performance supposed to launch the conference in Dubrovnik on Europe Day.

We can conclude that unfortunately thanks to COVID we were able to avoid all further mistakes, omissions and embarrassments of the Croatian presidency, which would certainly have happened in large numbers. Right now we are witnessing how the Croatian government is barely able to keep the reins in its hands before the presidency ends, to manage the second Coronavirus crisis currently happening in Croatia and to survive the upcoming elections.

Finally, I would like to point out that many extremely dedicated, capable people, were working for the presidency as well. People that were covering for dozens of Uhljebi whose only goal was to have a reference on their CVs and who proudly pointed this out while walking around Brussels. Unfortunately, the Croatian way of working is the same everywhere, and all parties do the same things, corruption still rules Croatia and that is why there are so many Croats in Brussels and all over the world who are not planning to return. If Croatia had been a normal EU country, in the past six months this government would have resigned at least a dozen times, due to various scandals. But given all these negative circumstances, we must never forget the people who are still trying to be the positive change that Croatia needs so much.

On a parting note ahead of the upcoming German Presidency, it is best to just quote Politico "Given that the current Croatian presidency has arguably under performed [...] it may be just the right moment to have a powerful nation with a reputation for efficiency, in charge.”

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Out-of-Country Voting to be Organised in 42 Countries for Croatian Election

ZAGREB, June 21, 2020 - Apart from Croatia, out-of-country voting in parliamentary elections set for July 5 will be organised in 42 other countries, five fewer than at the presidential elections held in December 2019, the State Electoral Commission has said.

Elections for the tenth Croatian parliament will not be held in Algeria, Brazil, Chile, Indonesia and the South African Republic.

The number of voters in those countries who voted in the last election is small. A total of 88 voters voted in the last presidential election, and 126 in the last parliamentary election.

The elections in Croatia will be held on July 5 while abroad voting will be possible on July 4 and 5.

Candidates will be running for 151 seats in the parliament, including three that represent the expatriate community and eight representing ethnic monorities.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Big Data Shows Merging Municipalities Could Save Croatia 1.29 Billion Kuna a Year

June 21, 2020 - Croatia's bloated bureaucracy is not sustainable. Glas Poduzetnika data scientist Nikola Strahija uses big data to show how merging municipalities can save 1.29 BILLION kuna (170 million euro) a year. 

When I first moved to Hvar back in 2002, I was surprised to learn that my new hometown of Jelsa had its own mayor and tourist board director. There were only 1,750 people in the entire municipality to administer. I was even more surprised to then learn that this beautiful island of 11,000 permanent residents had no less than FOUR mayors and FIVE tourist board directors, each with its own administrative support team. 

That is a LOT of public sector workers. 

Who were not that efficient, or interested in being efficient. I will never forget one tourist many years ago at the Jelsa Tourist Board office asking what there was to do in Stari Grad, as he was considering a bus trip the next day. 

"The bus leaves at these times (points to bus schedule) and the Stari Grad Tourist Board is close to the bus station. They can tell you everything about Stari Grad."

Back then, I was naive and knew nothing of Uhljebistan, the nepotism and jobs for the cousins, their families and other voters, to perpetuate the corrupt status quo. If we merged all these administrations into one, how much more efficient would we be, and how much money could we then invest in building a better country?

About 1.29 billion kuna a year (170 million euro) seems to be the answer. 

Some 18 years after my arrival, the Mighty State of Uhljebistan is facing a twin virus attack from the Terrible Twins - Transparency and Technology.  Corona has laid bare many of the system's failings, and now the Terrible Twins will expose the truth in minute detail. 

It was a real pleasure to have only my third Zoom chat ever yesterday, this time with Glas Poduzetnika data scientist, Nikola Strahija, who has compiled some quite phenomenal research using machine learning and other clever stuff I don't really understand. 

Meet the municipality which spends 72% of its budget on salaries, with 82% of its budget coming from government assistance (no, I had never of the place either), just one of the many gems Nikola's research unearthed. In the words of Glas Poduzetnika (UGP - Voice of Entrepreneurs):  

The analysis of UGP data scientist Nikola Strahija revealed facts that the Croatian Government has not been able to present to citizens for years.

By abolishing unsustainable local self-government units, Croatia can save at least one billion kuna a year.

A member of the UGP, data scientist Nikola Strahija, came up with astonishing data using machine learning - abolishing the financially unsustainable 430 units of local self-government would save at least one billion kuna a year.

merging-municipalities-2.jpg

Over the last ten years, the cumbersomeness of public administration and the addition of many local self-government units has been a frequent topic. It was again actualized in the coronavirus crisis, when on daily examples, all the absurdity of the division of local self-government units came to the fore. It has become apparent that some of them do not even have the basic things that residents need on a daily basis, and yet they have their own municipality and mayor. Also, there is even an example of a settlement located in two municipalities. Croatia has over 100 units that cannot function without state aid. By merging them, great savings can be made, and these funds can be redirected to many places and projects.

merging-municipalities-3.jpg

Due to all the above, a member of the association Voice of Entrepreneurs Nikola Strahija decided to make a map of the optimal territorial organization of local self-government units. He did this using machine learning, and used the geolocation and financial reports for 2018 as the basis of logic.

The result is approximately 430 fewer local units and about a billion kuna in savings per year.

Clicking on the new, proposed self-government unit displays all merged units and financial indicators, such as cost per capita before and after, expenditure before and after, total salaries, total benefits paid to citizens, etc.

The map goes into incredible detail with financials and showing which municipalities are not sustainable and should be merged. Have a wander around the map here.

A phenomenal piece of work, young man, and I look forward to working with you on the project we discussed yesterday. 

For the latest from Glas Poduzetnika, check out the dedicated TCN section

merging-municipalities-4.jpg

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Croatian Government Fires 2 Officials Arrested on Suspicion of Corruption

ZAGREB, May 29, 2020 - The government held a conference call on Friday to dismiss Josipa Rimac, who was until now a state-secretary in the Public Administration Ministry as well as Assistant Economy Minister Ana Mandac, the government announced in a press release.

The two office-holders were among several other officials and business people arrested earlier in the day as part of an investigation by the Police anti-corruption office (PNUSKOK) on suspicion of committing white-collar crimes, including corruption, in connection with a project of wind farms near Knin. 

CEO of the state-run forest management company - Hrvatske Sume - Krunoslav Jakupcic was also among those arrested today. 

The government endorsed Annex III to the Collective Agreement for state administration employees.

Wednesday, 6 May 2020

Coalition Meeting Focused on Budget Revision, HNS Leader Says

ZAGREB, May 6, 2020 - Croatian People's Party (HNS) leader Ivan Vrdoljak said that the meeting of the ruling coalition held on Tuesday focused on a budget review and an education bill as the basis for the adoption of decisions necessary to bring the school year to an end and regulate school leaving exams and enrolment.

"We primarily discussed the budget review and what the topics of our meeting next week will be. I wanted the budget review... to contain a clear message that public sector investments would continue and be stimulated," said Vrdoljak after the meeting.

"The second topic was... the formulation by the government of a bill on education, to be discussed by the parliament next week. The bill should serve as the basis for the adoption of decisions that have to be made to enable the completion of the school year and regulate school leaving exams and enrolment," said Vrdoljak.

Answering a reporter's question, he said that the meeting did not discuss the issue of elections.

"The HNS and I think that elections should be held as soon as possible because serious decisions need to be made. The business sector cannot wait until December because someone in politics might want or not want elections to be held. Put forward your platforms, present them to voters and let them decide what the next two, three or four years should look like," said Vrdoljak.

He said that he did not ask Prime Minister Andrej Plenković when the parliament would be dissolved. "The matter will soon be put on the agenda," he said.

More politics news can be found in the dedicated section.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

New Political Party Launched in Croatia

ZAGREB, March 11, 2020 - The initiators of a new political party in Croatia, called "Stranka s imenom i prezimenom" (Party with a First and Last Name) held a press conference in Zagreb on Wednesday to present their platform, saying that they would insist on unpopular but necessary reforms and the fight against corruption.

"The result of this team's work is a political project which I believe will cause a political shock of final change after decades of stagnation in Croatia. We will insist on reforms because everyone's had enough of PR moves and cosmetics. We want to make radical changes," said one of the initiators of the party, MP and mayor of the southern town of Vrgorac Ante Pranić.

The party brings together people who have distinguished themselves in their professions and who have the knowledge, energy and will to change Croatia for the sake of future generations, he said.

Dalija Orešković, the former head of the Conflict of Interest Commission and the party's adviser on public administration and justice, said that they were seeking to attract other parties and individuals willing to work towards common objectives and interests.

She said that the parties that have ruled Croatia in the last 30 years have turned it into a country of injustice, a country of angry people, unemployed people and people with blocked accounts.

"We need to dismantle the present system and build a new one, but one person or one party is not enough to do that. That requires an alliance," Orešković said, adding that the dominant parties belonged to history because they were preoccupied only with history or with themselves.

The coordinator for economic affairs, Josip Budimir, said that the party would focus on combating corruption through the public and private sector, adding that other parties could not do this because it would destabilise them.

The party will seek to reduce the number of public sector employees, eliminate clientelism and create a public sector that meets the needs of the state. It plans to change the model of management of state-owned companies through selection of managers who have distinguished themselves in the public sector.

The mayor of Knin, Marko Jelić, said that among the main problems were management of state property, resources and the environment, as well as poor transport connectivity which makes life for people in small communities difficult.

The party initiators said they were ready to carry out their programme even at the cost of "disappearing" from political life after that.

More politics news can be found in the dedicated section.

Sunday, 8 March 2020

Defeated Presidential Candidate Škoro Vows to End HDZ-SDP Duopoly

ZAGREB, March 8, 2020 - Miroslav Škoro, said on Saturday he had been subjected to a media smear campaign in recent days over a parking lot in Zagreb, adding that he was prepared to withdraw from all his business projects but that he would stay in politics to end the current duopoly.

"It's not an attack on me, but an attack on a project that will definitely end the duopoly between the HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union) and the SDP (Social Democratic Party) which has captured and held Croatia in its grip for the last 20 years," Škoro told reporters after a presentation of the electoral platform of the Croatian Sovereignists party in Zagreb.

In recent days media questioned the moral fortitude of the former presidential candidate over his co-ownership of a company that charges HRK 15 (€2) an hour for parking near the Merkur hospital in Zagreb.

"I can understand that for some 15 kuna is too much for an hour of parking, but it's not a hospital parking lot, I'm not the majority owner, and I'm being accused by the media of making profit from other people's hardship. That's insolent, to say the least. I will pull out of everything if necessary, but not out of politics. I will be an eternal pebble in their shoe that will cost them elections," Škoro said.

Citing "interest groups" trying to discredit him morally, he said that they wanted to remove him from political life so that the SDP and the HDZ could continue to govern the way they had so far.

Škoro said that attacks on him came after he launched a new political party last weekend. Although they are still waiting for the relevant ministry to formally register the party, they received 11,000 queries for membership in the first two or three days, he said.

Škoro shares a lot of common goals with the Croatian Sovereignists and is considering cooperation with them ahead of the parliamentary elections. They support referendum initiatives and advocate a better judiciary, security at the borders and monetary sovereignty.

More news about Miroslav Škoro can be found in the Politics section.

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