Friday, 3 February 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Kosovo, Energy Prices and the Uhljeb Curse

February the 3rd, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had energy price woes, ''uhljebljivanje'' through exposed messages, and questions by experts about precisely what Croatia is trying to do by allowing Zoran Milanovic to make such confusing and politically damaging statements about the Russia-Ukraine war.

The government is looking into what it can do when it comes to energy prices after the 1st of April this year

Energy costs are still causing a lot of concern among the general public and particularly among businesses who are struggling to pay their often extortionate bills. With an unusually mild winter seeing us avoid what could have been a much worse scenario, the government is now busy looking into what it can do when the measures they put in place expire (April the 1st, and it certainly is no joke). Claiming that the costs for energy would have been far higher and caused more issues had the government not capped their prices, Plenkovic has assured the public that his ministers are analysing the situation and seeing what they can do as we edge towards spring.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic stated that without government measures, energy prices for many companies and individuals would have been much higher, adding that the ministers are currently analysing what the situation will be after April the 1st, given that government measures regarding these prices will last until March the 31st.

Given that some distributors have announced price increases of their own, journalists were naturally interested in whether the policy of regulating electricity and gas prices will continue from April the 1st, to which Plenkovic replied that the ministers of finance and economy are in charge of "preparing and analysing the situation for after that date".

"We believe that the [energy] price situation will stabilise"

Yesterday, the CBS published the first estimate according to which inflation during the month of January of this year (when compared to January 2022) was on average higher by 12.7 percent, and compared to December, prices remained the same on average. Plenkovic rated that announcement as very good.

"Obviously, the trend of inflation growth that we had in the last months of 2022 is now slowly going down, which is in line with the forecasts of the government and the European Commission (EC). We believe that the situation with prices will stabilise and that at this time next year we'll be talking about an annual inflation rate of around six percent, which would be very good considering these crisis circumstances," said Plenkovic after the government session.

Government spokesman Marko Milic allegedly sent messages to Croatian Forests (Hrvatske sume) to get his friend a job in the classic ''uhljeb'' fashion - he says not all is what it seems

Government spokesman Marko Milic recently had his alleged messages exposed by Nacional, in which he was organising for his friend to be employed within Croatian Forests. This type of employing peoples' friends, cousins, former housemates and estranged aunts who are in no way qualified to do the task at hand has been clamped down on in the past (apparently), but still goes on in many sectors. While in certain circles of society, who you know being more important than what you know can be expected, but the government spokesman being allegedly engaged in it is something Plenkovic likely won't stand for.

Despite the accusations against him and the messages published by Nacional, Milic spoke about the messages in which he apparently arranged ''uhljebljivanje'' within Croatian Forests. Index asked Milic about the messages published by Nacional, and in his response, he didn't dispute the authenticity of the messages, but claimed that the correspondence he had with the head of Croatian Forests at the time didn't affect the employment of an individual named Niko Dujmovic, nor did it have any bearing on the fact that Dujmovic was given an employment contract for an indefinite period after those messages were sent.

However, he failed to explain why he even questioned the head of Croatian Forests, Krunoslav Jakupcic, about a certain man named Dujmovic at all, nor why, after Jakupcic wrote to him that Dujmovic could work there and that he'd employ him indefinitely, he replied with the words "Thank you very much".

Marko Milic's answer to Index has been translated and transmitted in its entirety below:

"Regarding what's been published by Nacional, this is yet another in a series of inaccurate and misleading articles in which information is placed in such a way as to suggest the existence of illegal actions, which don't exist. I'm aware that the aforementioned 'correspondence' has been circulating in the media space, and as far as I know, Croatian Forests has already given an answer to some media outlets clarifying the factual situation.

Regarding the employment of Niko Dujmovic, the correspondence between me and Mr. Jakupcic dates from September the 30th, 2019, and Niko Dujmovic was employed by Croatian Forests in accordance with the prescribed procedure and on the basis of a public tender from back in July 2018. Therefore, his employment took place more than one year before this correspondence, from which it follows that it had no influence on the establishment of the employment relationship of Mr. Dujmovic.

In addition, as far as I know based on the response of Croatian Forests, Mr. Dujmovic received an employment contract for an indefinite period during the second half of 2021, and that is almost two years after the published 'correspondence' took place, which clearly shows that the said messages had no influence on him getting a contract for an indefinite period.

As for the mention of the company Biomasa, I have no connection with it, I don't know what it does, nor do I know the people who are employed there. It was very likely a specific complaint that was sent to the government at the time regarding the prescribed procedure (we receive such complaints on a daily basis), and we forwarded the case to Croatian Forests. Regarding the further actions of Croatian Forests, we didn't have any instructions or influence, which is also evident from this correspondence.

Regarding the employment of Branko Filipeti, I have no influence on the content of messages sent to me by other people, to which I haven't even responded. I don't know this person," Milic wrote.

Now we've seen Milic's response, let's look at the messages published by Nacional, allegedly sent by him:

"Niko Dujmovic" - this is the very simple message that Marko Milic sent to Krunoslav Jakupcic on September the 30th, 2019, while Jakupcic was still the head of Croatian Forests (before he was arrested).

"He'll work [at Croatian Forests] for up to a year on a fixed-term basis - this is the normal way of doing things within Croatian Forests, and then we'll accept him for an indefinite period. I heard that he's good. Best wishes," responded Jakupcic.

"Thank you very much, Kruno," replied Milic.

"You're welcome," responded Jakupcic.

Milic has since gone on to further defend himself and these messages which he claims hold no weight by saying that USKOK (Office for the Suppression of Corruption and Organised Crime) hasn't been in touch with him during an appearance on RTL. Croatian Forests have had their own say, saying that everything was done according to the law. 

President Zoran Milanovic's bizarre statements regarding Russia has confused the wider public, and now a professor from King's College London has understandably asked what Croatia is trying to do and what it wants

In a longer interview for DW, security expert Peter R. Neumann (King's College London) commented on the Western policy towards Ukraine, and also referred to the statements of Croatian President Milanovic about both Russia and Ukraine, which have been increasingly odd and problematic.

Peter R. Neumann is otherwise professor of security issues at King's College London and the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), the world's leading research institute dealing with issues of radicalisation and terrorism. After studying political science in Berlin and Belfast, Peter R. Neumann earned his doctorate at London's King's College on the subject of the Northern Irish conflict.

While we won't bring you the interview translated in full, given that most of it focuses on the wider scope of the Russia-Ukraine war, we will publish what he said about Milanovic's strange statements which have caused not only Neumann, but numerous other individuals on the European ans global political stage to ask what Croatia is even trying to say or do by allowing the president to make such bold statements. Neumann has even wondered if Croatia is trying to state that it wants to leave the EU by allowing Milanovic the space to come out with such politically damaging things.

One year after the start of the war, how united is the West in terms of its policy towards Russia? Although Western leaders try to give the impression that there is unity in the response to aggression, the fact is that there is still no consensus. Even in the European Union, there is no consensus about this correct policy, as you call it,'' asked the interviewer. Here is Neumann's response:

''It's true that there is no consensus in the West about the policy towards Russia. But it is also true that Vladimir Putin, when he attacked Ukraine on February the 24th last year, thought that this consensus would be even weaker. What has happened in the West over the last year has been surprising, it's surprising how united the West really was, and that there are very, very few countries that oppose the Western line, for example Hungary.

I think that surprised Vladimir Putin as well. When he launched the action on the 24th of February last year, he believed he would march into Ukraine, and that countries like Germany were too weak to defend against it. That is, he believed that there would be no Western unity.

That was a miscalculation. And that is why it's now important to preserve that unity of the West, because only with that unity can Ukraine be sent as much aid as it needs to be able to strike back at the aggressor.

But it isn't only Hungary which has taken the stance it has. And it's not only Orban. He isn't really alone in this regard. You must have heard the latest statements of Croatian President Zoran Milanovic, who criticises the Western policy, opposes sending weapons to Ukraine, says that a military solution to the war is not possible, that is, that Crimea will never be part of Ukraine and that the West annexed Kosovo. The president of a country that is a member of the European Union and NATO is saying these things...

I find that problematic. I think it's important that such statements aren't made because they are an encouragement in this situation, especially for Vladimir Putin. Because the Russians take advantage of such statements. Because they're used for Russian propaganda, because they say: look, even Europe is not united.

And the fact is that the European Union, with the exception of Hungary, has so far been relatively united in its support for Ukraine. It's important to continue this policy. I don't know what Croatia wants to achieve with this? What does it want to do here? Does it want to be on Russia's side? Does it want to leave the European Union? Does it want to lead a completely different policy from other EU countries? What exactly is the strategic goal for Croatia here?

In my opinion, such statements have no strategic purpose, except to encourage Vladimir Putin and offer him yet more new propaganda material.''

Milanovic has been busy deflecting, turning the attention away from his comments on Ukraine and Russia to the aforementioned scandal about messages sent to employ people within Croatian Forests. Using every possible opportunity to take a swipe at HDZ (which, let's be honest, are numerous anyway), Milanovic stated that the situation with these messages and ''uhljebs'' is ''worse now than it was twenty years ago'' before turning the attention to Plenkovic once again. He has also been busy clearing up after generating a very positive response from Serbia, of all countries, for claiming that yes, Kosovo was indeed ''stolen'' from Serbia. We'll look into that below...

Milanovic gets a round of applause from Serbia after claiming that Kosovo was stolen from it. He has since admitted that he ''could have worded it differently''

''Serbia will have to recognise Kosovo eventually in some way,'' President Zoran Milanovic said this week, adding that Belgrade must understand that it will be the one to emerge from the "Serbian-Russian romance" as the scorned lover.

Here in Zagreb, at a press conference with the new Slovenian president, Natasa Pirc Musar, Milanovic said that "some things must change" in Serbia in order for it to be more inclined to the West where it will apparently be "welcomed".

"The situation in Ukraine is the beginning of the end of this Serbian-Russian romance in which Serbia will realise that it is the scorned lover," said the Croatian president, adding that Serbia and the Kosovo issue "bothers Russia."

"Russia is trying something with Ukraine and the example of Kosovo sticks out like a thorn in the eye. Russia will have to recognise Kosovo at some point or pretend to recognise it in order to legalise what it is doing in Ukraine. That's the reality," Milanovic said, adding that "there is no love" between Belgrade and Moscow, but that it is merely an interest in which Serbia serves Russia.

The Croatian president also said that Serbia "will have to recognise Kosovo in some way", and Kosovo's politicians, "his friends", will have to give status to the Association of Serbian Municipalities, "which they agreed to and signed".

Regarding his recent statement that ''Kosovo was stolen from Serbia'', Milanovic said that this is a fact because Belgrade didn't agree to it. "Serbia was left without Kosovo, it did not give it up voluntarily, it lost it during the war," said Milanovic.

"I could have said differently, that Serbia was left without Kosovo or that Kosovo was excluded from Serbia, but I guess we all agree that Kosovo was part of Serbia," said Milanovic, adding that he does not have to convince anyone of his attachment to the Kosovo Albanians. He also said that he always invites statesmen from countries that have not recognised Kosovo to do so.

To the Serbian tabloids that reacted positively to his statement about the apparently ''stolen'' Kosovo, Milanovic responded with the title of Larry David's comedy series: Curb your enthusiasm. They won't like this now.''

 

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section and follow our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

 

Saturday, 28 January 2023

HDZ Claims That Russian Media is Praising President Zoran Milanovic

January the 28th, 2023 - We all know that President Zoran Milanovic (SDP) is one to make sometimes rather strange remarks, and he isn't at all shy when it comes to saying precisely what he thinks of everything and... well, everyone. Unfortunately, some of his statements have made him popular with the Russian press, and HDZ isn't having it.

As Index writes, HDZ recently took to Facebook in order to publish some of the titles and images of articles published in the Russian media space that convey the statements of President Zoran Milanovic about sending Western tanks into Ukraine.

"If America and Russia don't come to an agreement, and that currently isn't something that is in sight, this war will not stop. Somehow I hope that some kind of talks do continue, or we will slowly move towards WW3, which some people think has already started, but I'm a little more reserved on that front. As for the tanks, both Russian and American will burn," President Zoran Milanovic said recently, among other rather alarming things.

HDZ called him out in its social media publication with the taunting title "From Russia with love/Iz Rusije s ljubavlju".

"The caries (an insult comparing the president to a persistent form of tooth decay) from Pantovcak is once again being showcased as a hero by the Russian regime's media. How could they not praise and celebrate Zoran ''Lex Perkovic'' Milanovic when he, much like the Kremlin, insults Germany and condemns it for the delivery of Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine? When he fervently spreads ideas which have already been being expressed Vladimir Putin's own spokesman Peskov, claiming that these tanks will 'burn' and threaten humanity - in order to stop aid from being sent to Ukraine - with 'a new world (nuclear) war?'' wrote HDZ.

"He wants Croatia to be in the ''Russian world'' they wrote, using the word ''svet'' instead of the Croatian word ''svijet'' for ''world'', in an apparent jab by using Serbian spelling.

''At the same time, President Zoran Milanovic has been saying things about the Germans, claiming that "that they've already tried to go to war with Russia", alluding to Adolf Hitler - similar to when he accused Ukrainians of "Nazism" because they don't agree with being enslaved. He also claims that the delivery of German and American tanks will ''only prolong the conflict'' (hm, conflict, not aggression or invasion). In translation - He demands that Kyiv capitulate!

Milanovic is now quite openly working in the interest of Russian aggression and Vladimir Putin's undemocratic regime, and against Ukraine, Europe (which he once again showered with insults) and the West. He wants Croatia in the "Russian world". But don't worry: Grbin & Grmoja will continue to support him, and will continue to claim that they ''see nothing objectionable'' in his statements," HDZ's Facebook post reads.

For more, check out our news section.

Friday, 27 January 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Holocaust Remembrance and Popularity Contests

January the 27th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've had continued hunts for those who have wrongly increased their prices following Croatia's accession to the Eurozone earlier this month, the first Crobarometer survey of 2023, and a look back into a dark past as Croatia prepares to preside over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

2023's first Crobarometer reveals that majority don't believe that the government is competent when it comes to solving the issues we're facing, yet HDZ remains the most popular political party...

Quite the paradox, isn't it? Such is Croatia. The first Crobarometer of 2023 has revealed that not much has altered with the beginning of another new year when it comes to the political contradictions. Index published the results which were made public knowledge by Dnevnik Nova TV in cooperation with the well known IPSOS agency. Major changes have taken place since the last survey - Croatia entered the Eurozone and Schengen, and the government was reshuffled in which we got two new ministers. Despite that, things have stayed the same in many ways. The results reflect the period from the end of last month and the first half of this month.

How does President Zoran Milanovic stand?

The majority of respondents, more specifically 66 percent of them, are still convinced that the country is heading in the wrong direction. 23 percent of the respondents say that the course Croatia is taking is actually good, while 11 percent don't know what to think. It's interesting to note that this is the fourth month in a row now in which the number of pessimists and skeptics has decreased, while the number of optimists has increased.

Data on support for the work of the government isn't quite as clear: 63 percent of the respondents don't support its work, 28 percent support it, and nine percent either don't know or don't really care either way. But here, apart from the percentages, there is a more interesting trend to be noted: the government has still failed to achieve an increase in support for the fourth month in a row.

The curve has turned and the number of respondents dissatisfied with the government's work this month is four percentage points higher than it was back in December. The reasons should probably be sought no further than the rise in prices due to the introduction of the euro and the government's actions that it has or has not taken against all those whi have unjustifiably rainsed their prices following the currency switch.

It is similar with the expectations of the government to solve the problems of the respondents. After three relatively good months for the government, there was a reversal. Now 73 percent of the respondents don't believe that the government is capable of solving their problems, 24 percent think it is, and three percent don't know.

The perception of the ruling coalition's monolithic nature is unscathed. A still very high 83 percent of respondents believe that they will last until the end of their mandate.

Support for the work of Zoran Milanovic is greater than support for the work of the government, but he is still seen as a deeply negative figure in Croatian politics. With his often rather strange statements and his apparent lack of fear when it comes to firing off insults, that shouldn't come as much of a shock. 52 percent of those surveyed disapprove of his actions, 40 percent approve, and eight percent don't know what to think of him at all.

Support for political parties

Among the respondents, there is a high percentage of those who would probably or will certainly go to the polls, amounting to around 71 percent. 25 percent certainly or probably wouldn't, and four percent don't know what they'll do. Among safe and likely voters, HDZ is still undisputed and has the support of 30 percent of the respondents, which is still very high regardless of the drop of less than one percentage point compared to last month.

Undecided voters have come in second place for the third month in a row now. Those who would go to the elections, but don't know who to vote for, stand at 16.5 percent, which is also slightly less than it was back in December. In third place came SDP, which has also fallen slightly and now stands at 11.6 percent. They are followed by Most (Bridge) with 8.7 percent and the Mozemo! (We can!) platform with eight percent. Both have seen a slight increase. That threshold has also been crossed by the Domovinski pokret (Homeland Movement) with 6.3 percent of support.

HSS remains below the threshold with 2.3 percent of support, HSU with 2.2, IDS with two percent of support, and the Social Democrats with 1.5, which is the first time they have passed one percent at all. They're followed by HNS with 1.4, Suverenisti (Sovereigns) with 1.3, HSLS with 1.2, Stranka umirovljenika (the Pensioners' Party) and Centar (Centre with 1.1 percent.

Public impressions of politicians and the biggest problems we're currently facing

Zoran Milanovic came in the first place with 46 percent of politicians towards whom respondents have a positive impression, second is Ivan Penava with 44, third is Tomislav Tomasevic with 39, fourth is Bozo Petrov with 38 and fifth is Andrej Plenkovic with a mere 36 percent of support.

On the same poll, only with a negative sign instead of a positive one, Milorad Pupovac came in first place with 77 percent of negative impressions, and Andrej Plenkovic is second with 57 percent. Third place is shared by Gordan Jandrokovic and Hrvoje Zekanovic with 56 percent. Zlatko Hasanbegovic had closed the top five with a very unimpressive 55 percent.

If we look at the net ratio of positive and negative impressions, Ivan Penava is the best, second is Ivica Puljak, and third is Zoran Milanovic.

When it comes to the biggest problems in the country at this moment in time, it should come as no surprise that high prices and inflation are in first place, and low wages and poor living standards are in second place. In the five most important topics for respondents during January, almost all of them are related to living standards, high prices and low incomes, and only one is related to corruption.

The survey was conducted by the IPSOS agency from January the 1st to the 22nd on 996 Croatian respondents using a typical personal interview method. The maximum sample error is +/- 3.3 percent, and for party ratings +/- 3.6 percent.

We look back at the horrors of the Holocaust and set out the country's aims as Croatia prepares to preside over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) in March

Andrej Plenkovic said this week that this year's theme of commemorating the victims of the Holocaust is "Home and Belonging/Dom i pripadanje", terms which should remind us of the responsibility of ensuring a sense of home and belonging for everyone and opposing hate speech.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is being marked today, was proclaimed by a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly back in 2005, and this year the United Nations chose "Home and Belonging" as the guiding theme in Holocaust education and remembrance.

"This topic emphasises the humanity of the Holocaust victims, whose identity was taken away in the name of an ideology that left a deep wound on the soil of Europe," Plenkovic said during the government session.

"We have a moral responsibility to oppose anti-Semitism and hate speech"

He added that it reminds us that "we have a responsibility to ensure a sense of home and belonging for all people, both in Croatia and globally, to oppose hate speech, anti-Semitism, denial and distortion of the truth about the Holocaust and to do everything to make sure that similar aggressions, wars and bloodshed are never, ever repeated".

''From March the 1st, 2023, Croatia will preside over the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), a non-governmental body that consists of 35 member states and 10 observer states. This year, we'll present the topic of strengthening education, research and the culture of remembrance of the Holocaust,'' announced the Prime Minister.

He noted that this week in Osijek, recognition was given to Dr. Kamil Firinger, the 130th Croatian Righteous Among the Nations, who risked his own life to save his fellow citizens of the Jewish faith, Margita Fischer and her children, from having their lives taken from them by the Fascist regime.

"It's important to mention the Righteous, they were ordinary people who recognised the moment and decided to act and became an example of human kindness and of those who do not turn a blind eye to the suffering of their neighbours," Plenkovic pointed out. International Holocaust Remembrance Day is the day when the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau (Poland), was liberated back in 1945.

"Tomorrow we remember the systematic humiliation, deportation and extermination of six million European Jews from 1933 to 1945, one and a half million of whom were only children," said the prime minister, adding that Deputy Prime Minister Anja Simpraga and Minister of Culture Nina Obuljen Korzinek will head to Zagreb's Mirogoj.

Plenkovic appears on Euronews to discuss Croatian Eurozone accession, noting the biggest issue we've faced - unjustified price hikes

''Croatia's transition to the euro technically went very well and without many problems, and the only incidents were price increases from some economic entities,'' Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said this week in an interview with Euronews. The Prime Minister spoke to the European media in Davos, Switzerland, where he participated in the World Economic Forum.

"Our ATMs were working and there were plenty of euro coins and banknotes supplied," Plenkovic said, adding that the entire payment system worked perfectly and that the first two weeks when it was possible to pay in kuna and euros also passed without difficulty.

"The only incident is that some entities unjustifiably raised prices in the context of price rounding, which wasn't fair," the prime minister continued, saying the government was now "trying to convince them to return their prices" to the levels they were at back at the end of December 2022.

When asked about peoples' concerns about rising prices after joining the Eurozone, Plenkovic said that the end of Croatia's six-year long path to Eurozone membership coincided with the changed global context and the consequences of Russian aggression against Ukraine, which affected prices in Croatia and inflation across the continent and the world.

Last year, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (CBS), Croatia had inflation of 10.8 percent, which is only 1 percent above the Eurozone average, but lower than in other countries of Central and Eastern Europe which don't use the euro, he said.

"Therefore, we believe that this situation will calm down and that things will return to normal," the prime minister emphasised, before talking about the 3.6 billion euro package of state financial aid set to be poured into the economy from 2022.

"The European Union has never shown such unity"

Speaking about Europe's response to Russian aggression, Plenkovic said that he felt that the European Union had never shown such unity and determination, with "clear and articulated condemnation of Russia" and immense solidarity with Ukraine. This conflict, like all others, will end at the "diplomatic table", Plenkovic believes, stressing that Europe must continue to support Ukraine no matter what. He repeated that Croatia can offer its experience of the peaceful reintegration of the Danube region, emphasising the word "peaceful" especially for the Russian media.

The issue of the Western Balkans

"There was a fantastic operation 25 years ago, and I think that model can be applied to the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine as well,'' the prime minister said, also touching on the topic of the Western Balkans, dismissing concerns that tensions in that area could lead to destabilisation once again.

"There has never been more involvement of the European Union at the highest level in the Western Balkans than there was in 2022," said the Prime Minister. "However, we must remain vigilant, engaged, and all leaders should take responsibility. Because the more stable and better these countries function, the faster their path to European Union membership will be," he pointed out.

The Croatian State Inspectorate has been carrying out many inspections on the hunt for unjustified price increases, and many fines have been issued

The powers that be have been active on their continued hunt for business entities and other goods and services providers which have wrongly raised their prices following the introduction of the euro as Croatia's official currency back at the very beginning of this month. You can read more about their latest findings, including the percentage of the price hikes in different sectors and the amount of inspections carried out (not to mention the amount in fines issued) by clicking here.

 

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to check out our dedicated section and keep an eye out for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Friday, 20 January 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Davos, Bureaucracy Injections and Price Hikes

January the 20th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've still more or less been talking non stop about inflation, Schengen and Eurozone entry and of course - ongoing price increases, but that isn't all. From meetings with Azerbaijani officials and Google's top brass to new ways of injecting even more bureaucracy, let's take a glance at the last week.

The government is set to introduce a special ID card for state institution employees, a move which will cost millions

Just when you thought Croatia couldn't possibly have more forms of card that you need to carry around with you, it goes and introduces yet another one, this time for the employees of state bodies. Yes, you're right, this is precisely what the country needs to be spending time on during difficult social and economic times. Still, we may as well visit the subject - as Index reports, despite being firmly in the shadow of the heated debate regarding the military training of Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia, the final proposal of the law on the official identity cards for state body employees, has remained strong.

Here we have just another way of spreading the plague of needless, time wasting bureaucracy among the Croats, and it is going to cost a pretty penny (or two). What is an official ID card for a state employee anyway, and why bother with it? Those are valid questions, so here is what Article 4 of the Final Bill on the matter says: "An official ID card is an electronic public document by which an employee of a state body proves their official status and electronic identity."

"An official ID card is to be used as a means of electronic identification and authentication to access electronic services, to activate other authentication or signature means, and to sign acts for which the user of the official ID card is authorised," it is stated in paragraph 3 of the same article.

In addition to the above, this card "can be used for physical identification and contactless application for the purpose of registering entry into the premises of a state body and for other purposes prescribed by special regulations".

I'm sure you'll agree that this additional bureacratisation in a society already perversely obsessed with red tape is something that we all really require.

There is plenty of opposition to this, both from the world of Croatian politics and from various other experts in this field. Most people will oppose the sheer amount of cash coming from somewhere that will be poured into this. 

The opposition criticised this idea last summer, believing that this law is utterly redundant, unnecessary, that without it the state would have saved a massive 5.8 million kuna, and so on.

"This law makes no sense, it should be withdrawn, why the new cost?'' asked Zeljko Pavic, a parliamentarian for the Social Democrats, who also went on to explain that there are already ready-made services that can be used without such ID cards which enable greater flexibility.

State Secretary Josip Salapic also stated that these identity cards "are in line with the development of the information society and digitisation", which is why it is "necessary to enable state and judicial officials as well as civil servants and state employees both simple and quick access to various databases and applications that are used to perform business and electronic signature of acts".

He added that around 60,000 official state body employee ID cards now need to be changed, of which 30,000 would be financed with EU funds. The new cards would be valid for three years, and one would cost 125 kuna.

Plenkovic has been busy meeting with all and sundry, from Google's boss to the the president of Azerbaijan

PM Andrej Plenkovic has recently held numerous bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, with, among others, the Secretary General of the OECD, the President of the European Investment Bank, the head of Google and the head of Visa Europe.

He took to the social media platform Twitter to tweet that he had met with Werner Hoyer, head of the European Investment Bank (EIB), an institution which, at least according to Plenkovic, has so far directed seven billion euros through various loans to both the public and private sectors in Croatia.

"We're discussing project cooperation as well as global financial challenges," the tweet reads.

In Davos, the Prime Minister also met with representatives of the Global Citizen organisation, whose activities, as he wrote, Croatia continues to strongly support. At the meeting with the Secretary General of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Mathias Cormann, he discussed Croatia's accession to Schengen and the Eurozone as the final strategic step of the country's integration into the circle of the most developed countries in the world.

"We also exchanged opinions regarding the economic situation in Europe and efforts to overcome energy and inflationary pressures," tweeted Plenkovic.

Meetings with the head of Google, the president of Azerbaijan, the president of the European Parliament also took place during what was a very busy week for the PM. Google's president of global affairs, Kent Walker, was also on the list of Plenkovic's meetings, as was the head of Visa Europe, Charlotte Hogg, with whom he discussed potential cooperation and investments.

He discussed the further strengthening of relations between Croatia and Azerbaijan with an emphasis placed primarily on energy and economic cooperation with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, and he also met with the President of the European Parliament, Roberta Metsola.

"We're grateful to the European Parliament for supporting Croatia's accession to Schengen and the Eurozone. We've been discussing the continuation of aid to Ukraine, the European [Union] path of Southeastern Europe, and the green and digital transition," concluded the Prime Minister on Twitter.

He also met with the Serbian President, Aleksandar Vucic.

Economist Damir Novotny claims that the government is trying to turn the trade sector into ''enemy number one''

What with the recent introduction of the euro as Croatia's official currency and the scrapping of the kuna, price hikes as a result of inflation and of the introduction of the new currency have been the hottest topic since the new year began. The government has stepped in and has involved all of the relevant authorities in making sure those stores and service/goods providers who are unjustifiably raising their prices lower their prices to what they were back in December 2022, but not everyone feels their moves are correct.

Economic analyst Damir Novotny was a guest on N1 television's Novi Dan/New Day, during which he commented on price hikes and inflation trends, as well as the government's moves as a result of the above.

Commenting on the new data on inflation and whether it is a decreasing trend, Damir Novotny said: "It's possible, but not because of the movement on the Croatian market, but because of the global movement. This is happening on large markets such as those of the USA, France, etc, and that will spill over to Croatia. It's possible that the trend of slowing growth will spill over into Croatia, but prices will not return to what they were back in 2020."

When asked why most products are cheaper in other countries, which is especially evident after the introduction of the euro, the economist explained the details:

"The main reason is the difference in the tax burden. In Croatia, until recently, there was one rate, 25%, and it's higher than the VAT rate. That rate is very high compared to the rates in Austria, Germany, Italy... not to mention the reduced rates. Austria has 9.5% VAT on all food products, including pet/animal food, taxed at significantly lower rates than in Croatia. Lastly, excise taxes in Slovenia are very low. Here in Croatia, there is an excise tax on plain water, while in Slovenia such an excise tax is very low or non-existent. Jana is therefore cheaper in Slovenia. Another important component of price growth in this country is the long-term closed market. While we had one monopolist, one litre of oil cost 15 kuna back in the year 2000, which is a very high price. And thirdly, in a short period of time over the summer, Croatia has a sudden increase in demand for all goods due to the tourist season. Ten million people come to the Croatian market, the demand increases and those people are ready to pay almost any price."

When asked whether or not it is really realistic to expect what the government is asking from traders in reality, which is the return of December prices, Novotny pointed out:

"For the past twenty years, every single government has chosen an enemy in the private sector. Milanovic's government turned the banking sector into enemy number one. Now this government wants to make the trade sector the enemy, they constantly talk about traders being dishonest. This isn't the discourse of market-oriented economies... Of course, the government needs to have an institutional framework to try to protect consumers and force retailers to disclose product defects, but that's impossible. Hundreds of thousands of items cannot be controlled."

When asked if it was possible to reduce the VAT and whether it would affect the movement of prices, he said: "I think it's impossible. Once the VAT is raised, which was done by Jadranka Kosor, it can't be reversed. The government relies on VAT when it comes to tax revenue, which is the most important source of tax revenue and it is indeed a generous tax. The government will probably maintain this tax burden, and this individual reduction leads to nothing. Government interference in prices is a wrong direction for government policies.

The government reacted, at least in my opinion, unnecessarily abruptly, there was hysteria, the media from Germany, Turkey, Poland, Slovenia called me, asking what was happening. Europe saw that something was happening in Croatia, but they didn't understand why it was happening. Prices have been rising across the entire EU."

Novotny pointed out that it is not true that Zagreb is unjustifiably raising its water prices: "That is not true, the price of water was terribly low here."

He also noted that he doesn't expect any further price increases, explaining that we have now passed the first energy shock and that we won't see a sharp rise in prices again. "I see that retirees are the ones who complain the most, and it's true that pensions are very low in this country, the government needs to intervene there if anywhere," concluded Novotny.

Now the Eu(ro)phoria surrounding Eurozone and Schengen accession has died down, Plenkovic and Milanovic are back to falling out with each other

Plenkovic had a recent interview for French television during which he discussed the vote in the Croatian parliament on the training of Ukrainian soldiers. He said that journalists keep asking him about it and he has to explain to them repeatedly what it's all about.

"It's not a denunciation, I heard what Zoran Milanovic said about all this. Imagine coming out with some thesis that Croats are some kind of American slaves. These are serious theses, what kind of anti-American policy, anti-NATO policy is that? These absurdities never end. These are very serious political mistakes that people in the political community are shocked by. They ask: 'Hello, what is Croatia saying here!?'' he stated, saying that those who have been observing the situation will know precisely where Croatia stands when it comes to the Russia-Ukraine war, and that is firmly by the side of Ukraine and firmly against Russia.

"I'm talking about this again because journalists keep asking me about it," he repeated, before opening fire on Milanovic again. "He's leading an absurd policy against Croatian interests..." concluded the Prime Minister when discussing his disapproval of Milanovic's recent bizarre statements about being ''America's slaves''. The two have had an ongoing issue for a long time now, and never miss an opportunity for the claws to come out.

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to check out our dedicated section and follow our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Sunday, 15 January 2023

Croatian President Milanovic: What Should We Be, American Slaves?

January 15, 2023 - Croatian President Milanovic with some forthright views on several current issues, reports Index.hr

PRESIDENT Zoran Milanović participated in the commemoration of the 31st anniversary of the international recognition of the Republic of Croatia and the 25th anniversary of the end of the peaceful reintegration of the Croatian Danube region in Vukovar. At the beginning, he commented on the refusal of SDSS representatives to come to the celebration of the anniversary of peaceful reintegration, reports N1.

"I think they should have come, even though I know it's not easy. This was a conflict between two sides, and now there is peace and things are moving forward somehow. I know they can't have an attitude like mine, but I don't expect that either," said Zoran Milanović.

"Plenković spits on Croatian citizens in foreign media"

The president then commented on Prime Minister Andrej Plenković's interview for the French media, in which he touched on his statements on the issue of training Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia. "You spit on Croatian representatives and Croatian citizens in the French media," he said and added: "Never insult the democratic representatives of your citizens and your citizens in foreign media. That is the minimum etiquette."

Plenković told the France 24 channel yesterday that the decision of parliament members that Croatia does not participate in the European Union's mission to support the Ukrainian army (EUMAM) was a "historically wrong choice".

Milanović said today that the decision on the training of Ukrainian soldiers or any involvement in the war should be the choice of Croatia, which should not do what the bigger powers impose on it. "Washington and NATO are waging a proxy war against Russia through Ukraine. And vice versa. However, if you don't have the ultimate goal, if you don't have a plan, then it ends up like Afghanistan," Milanović said.

The president, who previously opposed Croatia's participation in the mission several times, repeated that it is "legally very doubtful". "The decision is that for the first time in its history, the EU is participating in a war. And this is against the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU, because it only foresees missions outside the territory of the EU," Milanović said.

"The plan cannot be to remove Putin"

"The plan cannot be to remove Putin. The plan cannot be sanctions. This is nonsense. We will not achieve anything. They didn't even break Milosevic with sanctions. They go from war to war. What should we be? American slaves?" he added.

The president was also asked about rounding off, i.e. increasing prices after the introduction of the euro.

"They should have hired an entire army of inspectors to look around. However, the prices have been displayed in euros and kunas for months. We don't live in the Soviet Union. I would expect someone to tell the government. It is the customer who has the most power. He should say : 'You're underestimating me, you're underestimating my intelligence and I'm going to someone else,'" he said.

Friday, 13 January 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Eurozone Growing Pains & Price Increases

January the 13th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics has been dominated by many stores and service providers upping their prices and allegedly taking advantage of what's known as ''rounding'' following Croatian Eurozone accession. Plenkovic has also been busy dismissing ministers once again, and the reaction to that has been varied. 

Price rises are hitting pockets and bank accounts

Croatia officially (and finally) entered the Eurozone on the 1st of January, 2023, with the kuna still permitted to be used as legal tender until the 15th of this month, after which only euros will be allowed to be used to make payments for goods and services across Croatia. As most people expected, there were price increases which came along with the euro, and while this is something that has occurred to some extent or another in all countries which have adopted the bloc's single currency, introducing it during a period dominated by economic woes and inflationary pressures likely didn't help much either. 

Shops have increased their prices for many basic goods and in some cases, there appears to not have even been an attempt made to hide it. With individuals feeling the blow to their back pockets and bank accounts more than ever, the government was asked to step in and control the situation, with many claiming that companies are taking advantage of the introduction of the euro. 

Some politicians, such as Kreso Beljak, believe that PM Andrej Plenkovic already spends too much time meddling with things that politics shouldn't be spending much time on, and although he himself has admitted that he has been hopping over the border into Slovenia to do his shopping because it's cheaper, he has said he doesn't blame Plenkovic for the euro price hikes. He believes that the market and the level of demand determines the price of goods, and that Plenkovic's government should spend more time making sure wages match the cost of living rather than spending time trying to lower prices.

It's easy enough for someone such as Beljak who lives in Samobor, which is very close to the Slovenian border, to shop and spend less in Slovenia, especially now Croatia has joined Schengen and the border between the two nations is no more, but most of the population expects government intervention. A recently held government session saw the matter discussed at length. The differences between Slovenia and Croatia and why the same products are cheaper over the border have also been explained.

The government did decide on some measures to try to combat the issue with price hikes following euro introduction, however, and Plenkovic has made no effort to hide his sheer disappointment with those trying to take advantage of the situation.

Plenkovic promises action against ''unjustified price increases''

"This is nothing other than pure profiteering and we oppose it," Plenkovic said about unjustified price increases in his opening speech at the aforementioned recently held government session. He announced that inspections will be carried out in stores and called on them to lower their prices to the level they were at before the introduction of the euro. The government also tasked the Ministry of Economy to use all possible measures to collect complete and accurate information on price movements and monitoring.

"We found that some individuals have obviously seen fit to take advantage of the euro conversion to raise their prices for no reason. I'd like to thank the business entities that adapted in accordance with the proper regulations and those who didn't impose any unjustified price increases," said the Prime Minister.

He said that they and most other people were expecting minimal price increases, but that we're unfortunately now witnessing something else entirely, which is profiteering. He stated clearly that his desire is to protect individuals during this transition period and recalled the measures that the hovernment adopted during the COVID-19 crisis.

Then he talked about inflation, a burning topic for Croatian politics of late. "What's happening to us is happening to everyone else as well, but everyone else [in Europe] has a higher rate of inflation than we have here in Croatia and we're fighting against a phenomenon that reduces peoples' purchasing power, and that's why we'll sanction all phenomena that leads to an increase in inflation. The purpose of introducing the euro is to empower the domestic economy, not that the state gives billions and that someone gets rich at the expense of the people, so it's important that everyone understands that those who are doing this will not get away with it and that the state will act, and it will act on behalf of everyone," he said.

"There's just no justification for what has increased, for people to raise their prices like they have, it's pure greed. The government will do everything in its power to prevent this from continuing to happen. All authorities will contribute to uncovering unfair practices and everyone will be tasked to act on this. I call on everyone to distance themselves from those who have unjustifiably raised their prices, I'm also calling on all business entities to revise their prices and adjust them back to those from the end of December," said Plenkovic.

"The state will not simply sit back and watch this happen without doing anything about it. Everyone who thinks that they can cast a dark shadow on the strategic success of the state will not succeed. The Tax Office, Customs, and the State Inspectorate all know this. They will go out into the field to correct what individuals are doing for absolutely no reason," the Prime Minister warned.

The measures, as explained by Economy Minister Davor Filipovic

"All business entities, including credit institutions and other financial service providers, and all those who have raised their prices against the law, are obliged to revise the retail prices of their goods and services and make sure that they're determined by the price levels of December the 31st, 2022," Minister Filipovic said.

"The inspectorate, tax, customs, ministries, Croatian National Bank (CNB) will implement increased levels of supervision over entities within their jurisdiction without delay," he said.

In addition, the Ministry of Economy will be put in charge of preparing and launching a digital platform for monitoring prices.

State Inspectorate boss Andrija Mikulic chimes in on increased monitoring, inspections and supervision

The head of the State Inspectorate, Andrija Mikulic, spoke about price increases and unjustified price increases and the number of inspections being carried out at this moment in time. "We've started with the inspections," Mikulic assured, adding that more than 8,000 inspections have been carried out since September. "We found 1,744 violations of the law," he added.

"Since January the 1st, 2023, we've received an increased number of reports about price increases, whether in trade, catering and hospitality or service activities. Bearing in mind that business entities freely set their own prices, inspections have begun based on the received reports. From January the 2nd to the 4th, over 200 inspections in the field of retail trade were carried out, including at bakeries and service activities, mainly hairdressing, body care and different kinds of maintenance services.

"We will determine whether price increases we uncover are unjustified or not. If it is established that they can't be justified, misdemeanor measures will definitely be taken".

In the service industries (hairdressing salons and the cosmetics/beauty field), increases ranging from 10 to a whopping 80 percent were observed. In the tourism industry, within which 151 inspections have been carried out, about 50 irregularities were observed, as well as price increases of up to 10 percent. In 306 inspections, 96 violations were determined.

Mikulic assured once again that the proper measures will be taken against those who are taking advantage of the introduction of the euro and of inflation in order to try to pull the wool over peoples' eyes and line their own pockets at the expense of individuals.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated section, and keep an eye out for our Week in Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Friday, 6 January 2023

A Week in Croatian Politics - Schengen, Euros, and Shallower Pockets

January the 6th, 2023 - This week in Croatian politics, we've once again been dominated by headlines (both good and bad) about the introduction of the euro in Croatia, the country's accession to the Schengen passport-free zone, and price hikes.

Croatia finally joins Schengen

After being a member of the European Union (EU) since July 2013, Croatia has now finally taken a step into much deeper integration by joining the passport-free Schengen zone, the largest such zone on the planet, which enables the totally free movement of over 400 million people. The move will facilitate the ease of travel into and out of Croatia though land borders, with airports set to follow in March. The scenes we've all unfortunately become familiar with of endless queues at the Slovenian border to enter the country each summer, sometimes going on for hours on end, are now a thing of the past. With the opening of the Peljesac bridge back in July 2022 also, very similar queues at Neum (neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina's only small piece of coastline) were also resigned to the history books.

Croatian Schengen accession was long awaited, and a nail-biting decision process saw the southeastern European nation readily accepted, while two other candidates, Romania and Bulgaria, still have to wait. For a nation which relies extremely heavily on tourism and for which tourism is its strongest economic branch by far, passport-free entry from the rest of the Schengen zone will be of an enormous benefit, as for a great many people, Croatia is a country one can drive to without much of an issue. The same can be said of air traffic, which will (as mentioned above) begin following the new Schengen rules in March, by which planes coming into the country from other Schengen member states will be treated as domestic flights.

Businesses and particularly Croatian exporters have made no effort to hide their elation with Schengen membership, as it is something the latter in particular have been hoping and pushing for for many years now.

Croatia joins the Eurozone and officially adopts the euro as its currency

The big news doesn't end with joining Schengen, with the country also joining the Eurozone on the very same day (the 1st of January, 2023). No country has ever successfully joined both of these EU zones on the very same date before, and Croatia has had a lot of adjusting to do despite having a long time to prepare for the changes to both border and monetary policies. The scrapping of the kuna, which has been Croatia's official currency since May 1994, and the adoption of the bloc's single currency, has been a mixed bag for most of the population. While many are thrilled about further EU integration and no longer being victims of exchange rate fluctuations, others are mouring the loss of Croatia's control over its own monetary policy (despite the fact that the kuna has been stable and also tied to the euro in many ways for years), and are worried that prices will quickly start shooting up for all kinds of goods and services.

While people scramble to use the last of their kuna and annoying little lipa coins given the fact that kuna cash can still be spent across the country until the 15th of this month, change will only be returned in euro banknotes and coins. Introducing the brand new currency during inflation which is still spiralling is far from ideal, and many price hikes which we've seen since the introduction of the euro have unfortunately been the result of not only a new currency, but the difficult economic situation we're still finding ourselves in during the post-pandemic, raging Russia-Ukraine war period.

Many forget that the reason there was no referendum on joining the Eurozone or not was because it was signed and sealed and agreed when the country joined the EU. Unlike nations which had been founding members or were very old members, such as the United Kingdom, which could freely opt out of ever adopting the euro, it was part of the deal for Croatia and as such the referendum on joining was also the referendum on adopting the bloc's currency.

Some have raised their prices, and the government is on their case

Keen eyes have been observing the prices in the first week of euro adoption, with some going up and some staying as they were. Certain goods and services are slightly more expensive than they were in the pre-euro era, while others, such as the prices for tickets issued by Croatian Railways (HZ), have remained the same as they were when they were being expressed solely in kuna.

Plenkovic has even been threatening stores and the government has thought up the idea of creating a so-called ''black list'' of companies which have increased their prices following Eurozone accession, which some have referred to as a stupid and useless idea. The government has openly stated that it will not the body to drag prices back to what they should be, but that it will do everything in its power to force the businesses trying to cheat the situation for a euro or two more to do it themselves. Measures to tackle these abuses have been outlined here.

It's more than safe to say that people are rightfully feeling betrayed after months and months of being told by the powers that be that any prices increases will be temporary and minimal. You can read more on price increases and so-called ''price rounding'' by clicking here.

 

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated politics section and keep an eye out for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Friday, 30 December 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - A Schengen and Eurozone Special

December the 30th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics, we've been dominated by memories of the earthquake which struck the Banovina (Central Croatia) area back at the very end of pandemic-dominated 2020, as well as Croatia's accession to the Eurozone and to Schengen, both of which are set to take place on the 1st of January, 2023.

Two years ago, the devastating Banovina earthquake struck the Sisak-Moslavina area of Central Croatia. How well has the state done in tackling the consequences? Horrifically poorly, according to many...

We're now just past the second anniversary of the awful earthquake, known as the Petrinja earthquake, struck the aforementioned part of the country. Not only is this region criminally overlooked by the powers that be at the best of times, its position on the list of priorities has well and truly shown itself after this natural disaster struck at the very end of an already terrible year (2020).

Not much has altered for those who had life as they knew it crumble in the space of just several minutes back on the 29th of December, 2020. Dissatisfaction reigns strong among the earthquake victims, but also among the participants in the reconstruction process, which Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic himself referred to as being "unbelievably slow". This comment among other things which have been building up over the past two years started speculations about the potential dismissal of the Minister Ivan Paladina, who has claimed that the comment made by the Prime Minister doesn't apply and wasn't in reference to him.

The residents of the houses which are still sitting in ruin, in some cases as if the earthquake happened yesterday, are dissatisfied because most of them are still waiting in containers to return to their should-have-been newly renovated homes, but the completion of the renovation process of these Banovina houses isn't yet in sight. Rather unsurprisingly for anyone who knows even the faintest thing about Croatia's masochistic love of red tape, there are still many bureaucratic windmills turning.

Local authorities in the affected areas are also dissatisfied because the desired structural renovation of the houses and the construction of replacement houses and residential buildings didn't achieve the expected momentum, despite the amendments to the Law on Reconstruction which were put into force back in October 2021, in which great hopes were placed on precisely that.

As touched on above, PM Plenkovic's recent statement that the reconstruction of the entire Banovina area "is going unbelievably slowly" fuelled speculations about the resignation of Minister Paladina, who took up his post in March, after the resignation of former Minister Darko Horvat, who ended up in jail for some time (enter your shocked Pikachu meme here).

However, Paladina claimed that Plenkovic's statement about the "unbelievably slow recovery" wasn't in reference to him at all and was misinterpreted. The statement refers, he clarified, to the fact that the structural renovation of houses and buildings and the construction of replacement houses are not progressing at a sufficiently quick pace, which he has been saying for months on end now.

"Only when we start doing 100 houses a month can we actually be satisfied. I've been saying this for more than three or four months now. The Prime Minister's statement refers to that part of the renovation that must be accelerated," he said.

Croatia's accession to the Eurozone is now just days away. Here's how that journey began five years ago

Croatia is set to become the 20th member state of the Eurozone, send the kuna to the history books and adopt the bloc's single currency as its official currency in just days. This moment has been being prepared for intensively for around a year now, but the real wheels were set in motion half a decade ago.

Back at the end of October 2017, a large conference was held where the Strategy proposal for the introduction of the euro as the official currency in Croatia was presented. This marked the beginning of a broad public debate on the introduction of the euro, when the government's goal was proclaimed that Croatia would take the first step towards the introduction of the euro, entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II), in 2020, when it was due to hold the rotating EU presidency.

The strategy was drawn up by experts from the Croatian National Bank (CNB) and the government, emphasising that the benefits which come from the introduction of the euro are permanent and significant, while the costs are mostly low and one-off. The strategy was finally adopted at the government session on May the 10th, 2018, when the then Economy Minister Martina Dalic, stated that a period of five to seven years would be a realistic period in which the euro could be introduced as the country's currency.

Then, back in early July 2019, Croatia sent a letter of intent to join ERM II, which was signed on behalf of the nation by Finance Minister Zdravko Maric and CNB Governor Boris Vujcic. That letter was accompanied by an Action Plan, with which Croatia committed itself to the implementation of nineteen measures and reforms spanning six areas, including further strengthening the supervision of the banking system by establishing close cooperation between the CNB and the European Central Bank (ECB), strengthening the framework for the implementation of macroprudential policy by introducing explicit mandate for measures aimed at borrowers, strengthening the framework for preventing money laundering, improving the system of collecting, processing and publishing statistical data, improving management in the public sector and reducing the administrative and financial burdens on the economy.

Croatia was deemed to have successfully fulfilled the Action Plan for joining ERM II and the banking union on time and in full, Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic announced at the government session in May 2020.

A couple of months later, in July 2020, entry into the European Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II) took place. On July the 10th, 2020, the ECB and the European Commission announced that Croatia had indeed entered ERM II, and that the CNB had established close cooperation with the ECB. Entry into ERM II followed less than a week after the victory of HDZ and its coalition partners in the then parliamentary elections. ERM II is also called the "waiting room for the euro", and candidate countries must spend at least two years in it, which meant the possibility that Croatia could introduce the euro as early as January the 1st, 2023. At the same time, the emphasis was placed on fulfilling the so-called criteria from Maastricht, that is, criteria of nominal convergence, which includes exchange rate stability, price stability, interest rate stability, along with two important indicators concerning public finances - budget deficit and public debt.

Croatia's entry into ERM II wasn't hindered by the coronavirus pandemic either, although its consequences represented a major challenge for public finances. On November the 11th, 2020, at the session of the National Council for the introduction of the euro, CNB Governor Boris Vujcic presented the National Plan for replacing the Croatian kuna with the euro, a document that described everything that needed to be done, including the activities of stakeholders from both the private and public sectors, in order to create the conditions for Croatia to introduce the euro on the first day of 2023, with consumer protection highlighted as its fundamental principle.

It meant, among other things, that the exchange of the kuna into the euro would be carried out at no cost to individuals, companies or the state, and that it would be done exclusively at a fixed conversion rate. The government adopted the plan on December the 23rd of that year, while on the last day of 2020, it appointed the management committee and the heads and heads of six coordination committees for the implementation of the plan. After a public consultation on the desired national motifs for the Croatian side of the new euro coins, which lasted from July the 1st to the 15th, 2021, the CNB's Money Commission determined the final proposal on July the 21st, and the proposed motifs were a checkerboard, a geographical map of Croatia, the kuna (a pine marten/mink type of animal), the Glagolitic script and of course - Nikola Tesla.

At the beginning of August 2021, the CNB announced a tender for the design of the national side of euro coins, and on February the 4th this year, the most successful designs were presented to the public, for which the authors received generous cash prizes.

Back in mid-January 2022, a proposal for a law on the euro was presented and submitted for public consultation, and the guidelines for adjusting the domestic economy in the process of replacing the Croatian kuna with the euro were also presented. At that time, among other things, it was announced that from September the 5th of this year, it would be mandatory for all business entities to display their sale prices in both kuna and euros, as one of the mechanisms to protect consumers from unjustified price increases. On May the 13th, the Croatian Parliament adopted the Law on the introduction of the euro as the official currency in Croatia. 117 MPs voted for the law, 13 were against it, and one abstained.

Finally, on June the 1st, 2022, the ECB and the Commission announced that Croatia had succeeded in meeting the convergence criteria, that its legislation was fully aligned with the requirements of the EU Treaty and the Statute of the European System of Central Banks/European Central Bank, and that it was ready to become the 20th member of the Eurozone from January the 1st, 2023.

Looking primarily at the Maastricht criteria, the biggest focus was placed on price stability, i.e. inflation, which began to rise across Europe and the rest of the world due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, and later owing to Russia's aggression against Ukraine.

Over the last 12 months, Croatia has had an inflation rate of 4.7 percent, which was below the reference value of 4.9 percent. In order to meet this criterion, inflation couldn't have been allowed to spiral higher than 1.5 percent of the reference value, which is based on the average inflation in the three EU member states with the lowest inflation of all. In the past year, these were Finland, France and Greece, while Malta and Portugal were excluded from the calculation, where inflation deviated considerably from the European average due to much more specific reasons.

With the green light having been obtained from the Commission and the ECB, Croatia's path to full Eurozone membership was opened up.

In mid-June, the Eurogroup and the Council of the EU recommended that Croatia introduce the euro from January the 1st, 2023, followed by support for Croatian membership from the European Council and the European Parliament, and finally, on July the 12th, the Council for Economic and Financial Affairs of the EU (Ecofin) adopted three legal acts that were necessary for Croatia to become the latest member of the Eurozone, among other things, the decision on the conversion rate of kuna to euro according to the central parity of 1 euro = 7.53450 kuna.

On July the 5th, it was announced that the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Zdravko Maric was resigning from his duties, but he still had the opportunity to attend that Ecofin session, which he apostrophised as a kind of "dot on the i" of his entire (and rather long) mandate. The three leading credit rating agencies - Standard&Poor's, Fitch and Moody's - responded to Ecofin's decision by raising their ratings, which also gave Croatia its highest investment rating in its history, provided by all three agencies.

In the entire process of introducing the euro, 19 sessions of the National Council for the introduction of the euro as the official currency in the Republic of Croatia were held, in which, in addition to representatives of the government and the CNB, the representatives of banks, employers and trade unions also sat. On Wednesday, December the 28th, the last session of the Council before Croatia joins the Eurozone was held, and all key actors, from representatives of the CNB and the government, to the heads of Fina and Croatian Post and the largest banks operating in Croatia, reported that all the necessary preliminary work had successfully been done and that all systems are ready for the transition to the new currency.

Governor Boris Vujcic reported, among other things, that so far 400 million euro coins with Croatian national motifs had been minted, a process that began back in July at the Croatian Mint in Sveta Nedelja near Zagreb. The large logistical effort of currency exchange was accompanied by the withdrawal of the current kuna from circulation, which regards about 1.1 billion coins and 500 million banknotes.

The CNB started with the first pre-supply of euro coins and banknotes three months before January the 1st, which included banks, Fina and Croatian Post, while the distribution of packages of euro coins to individuals began on December the 1st. People have so far bought 682 thousand of these packages, individually worth 100 kuna.

Boris Vujcic also reported that all the planned amount of euro banknotes had been acquired, and the supply of business entities, which is carried out by banks, is now nearing its end.

In addition to the legal obligation of double reporting of prices (in kuna and euros), which came into effect on September the 5th, business entities were invited from August the 16th onwards to join the Code of Ethics, the goal of which is to enable a reliable and transparent exchange of the Croatian kuna with the euro. By December the 28th, 1,006 business entities had joined it. In addition, in order to acquaint the general population with all aspects of the introduction of the new currency, the government and the CNB conducted informative and educational campaigns in autumn which spanned all major Croatian cities.

When it comes to the legislative activities related to the introduction of the euro, Finance Minister Marko Primorac reported at a recent session of the Euro Council that 70 national laws were amended to reflect the introduction of the euro, and the harmonisation of Croatian legislation will continue throughout 2023.

Croatia is set to join Schengen on the same day as it introduces the euro as its tender. No country has joined both the Eurozone and the passport-free Schengen zone on the same day before

Along with accession to the Eurozone, which I truly believe I've covered enough now, Croatia is also set to enter Schengen, the border-free, passport-free zone which truly encompasses one of the EU's four primary pillars of function - freedom of movement. The zone is the globe's largest visa-free zone of all, currently encompassing 27 European nations (28 when Croatia joins), which have officially abolished all forms of border controls at their national borders. Named after a town in Luxembourg where the original agreement was signed by Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands back in 1985, Schengen has attracted controversy during various political crises, especially those which involve migrant crises. 

Controversy aside, the Schengen zone allows for the completely free movement of as many as 400 million people, and Croatia joining the zone will aid the tourist sector greatly, as the long lines at the land borders we've come to know each summer will be a thing of the past, and Croatia will also be in charge of protecting the EU's longest external border. It's worth noting that while land borders with other EU countries will be abolished with immediate effect on the 1st of January next year, the new Schengen rules for Croatian airports won't come into force until March.

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to check out our dedicated section and keep an eye out for our Week in Politics articles which are published each Friday.

Friday, 16 December 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Schengen and Qatar

December the 16th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics has been dominated by upcoming Eurozone and Schengen accession, support for Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU candidate status, support for Kosovo's EU candidate status application, inflation, Ukraine, and of course - football.

Ursula von der Leyen announces her arrival in Croatia on the 1st of January, 2023

An incredible day for Croatian politics is set to occur as the clock strikes midnight on the 31st of December, 2022 - Eurozone and Schengen accession on the very same day. An impressive feat for any country indeed. European Commission (EU) President Ursula von der Leyen has announced that she intends to be present in Croatia on the maiden day of 2023 as Croatia scraps both the kuna and land border crossings.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic has referred to Ursula von der Leyen's arrival on that particular day as a special marker of Croatia's much deeper integration into the European Union (EU), of which it has been a member state since July 2013.

Bosnia and Herzegovina has finally been given European Union (EU) candidate status, and Croatia will support it every step of the way forward

Significant disparities between the Republic of Croatia and neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina appeared when Croatia became the newest EU member state back in the summer of 2013. These two countries which share a complex history suddenly ended up on very different political playing fields after enjoying an extremely ''free'' relationship, especially in terms of soft border crossings and freedom of movement. Bosnia and Herzegovina now finally has EU candidate status after many years grappling with its deeply complicated internal political situation.

The heads of state or government of the current EU member states confirmed the recommendation agreed upon several days previously by the EU's ministers for European affairs that Bosnia and Herzegovina be granted the official status of a candidate country for membership of the European Union.

Ahead of the meeting of ministers for European affairs which took place on Tuesday in Brussels, Croatian and Greek Prime Ministers Andrej Plenkovic and Kirijakos Mitotakis sent a letter to European Council President Charles Michel and Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in which they emphasised their unwavering and strong support for the integration of Bosnia and Herzegovina into the bloc.

The EU flag was placed in the very heart of Sarajevo, a city with an extremely traumatic and tumultuous past, and among the first to react to the decision of the European Council was the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt. Schmidt pointed out that EU candidate status offers a unique opportunity that should be taken advantage of.

He described this status as a key step in the further harmonisation of Bosnia and Herzegovina with EU standards and regulations and another confirmation of the commitment of both parties to the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was somewhat left behind following Croatia's accession, as a member of the European Union.

"Bosnia and Herzegovina must become a safe and prosperous multi-ethnic nation and prove that it is able to overcome its political and economic dysfunctionality and implement a reform agenda. This requires determined politicians and functional institutions, ready to work in the interest of the country," said Schmidt, announcing that everyone will continue to work to ensure the full implementation of the Dayton Agreement, which has been of vital importance to the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina's post-war stability.

Plenkovic reacted on Twitter shortly after the decision. "We're proud and happy, the European Council has confirmed the candidate status for Bosnia and Herzegovina, for which it strongly advocated! Our neighbour and friend deserves our support, which is also an incentive for further reforms and an agreement on changes to the electoral legislation. Congratulations from the bottom of my heart!" Plenkovic wrote on the social media platform. The tweet is a reminder of the enmeshment of Croatian politics and that of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and that the two nations with (on many levels) a shared past have remained close.

Plenkovic subsequently made a statement to the media after the meeting of the leaders of the member states in Brussels, in which he said that "Croatia, as a friendly country, will help Bosnia and Herzegovina on its European Union path.''

Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava says his party will vote against training Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia, citing the Homeland War

Homeland Movement (Domovinski pokret) president and Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava has openly said that he isn't a fan of the idea of training Ukrainian soldiers in Croatia and will vote against such a move. The topic has been a burning one of late, with Plenkovic being absolutely for it, claiming those who are against it will have to carry that on their consciences for a long time to come, and President Zoran Milanovic initially being against it, once stating that Croatia doesn't need to taunt Russia or have another war dragged to its doorstep.

Tensions surrounding the idea have been high in the world of Croatian politics for several weeks now, and Penava is yet another politician to come out of the woodwork against the idea. Penava has openly stated that ''Croatia has been through a war'' and that his party is ''going to be voting against it.''

"Our parliamentarians came to this decision respecting their consciences, our electorate, our patriotic spirit and the programme declaration that we just adopted at the Homeland Movement's closing ceremony, and respecting above all the interests of the Croatian people, which have been neglected due to unreasonable moves, primarily made by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who sought to privatise this topic.

There's also the President of the State, Zoran Milanovic, because of whom this topic was inflated and brought into frameworks that far exceed the importance for our people, especially in the context of people in Banovina still living and freezing in containers, in the context of the demographic devastation across the country, in the context of a huge increase in prices and a drop in the social standard and people's personal standards,'' said Penava.

Penava also said that "with a view to the Croatian people and the well-being of the Croatian state", the unanimous opinion of all the representatives of the Homeland Movement is that they will vote against the training of Ukrainian soldiers in this country, for the reason that "we have been through the war and know perhaps better than anyone what it means have a war" and "we don't want to bring any more war to our people and our country".

"And for us, there's a point and a limit below which we refuse to go. I'd like to thank all our parliamentarians for their quality critical reflection on this situation, for the maturity, experience and love they demonstrated, for not putting their ego in the foreground, but for voting in the interest of this country,'' Penava added.

PM Plenkovic gives a thumbs up to Kosovo seeking EU candidate status

Bosnia and Herzegovina now has EU candidate status, and it seems that Plenkovic's support far from stops there, with other countries in the wider region also lodging their own requests. Kosovo, which has also suffered a horrific time thanks to Serbian aggression, much like Croatia, has applied for candidate status. 

"We welcome Kosovo's request for membership in the European Union and wish them much success on their EU journey. We're going to continue to provide support and share Croatian experiences," Plenkovic said on Twitter.

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti submitted an application for Kosovo's membership in the European Union in the Czech capital city of Prague on Thursday this past week, setting in motion a process that could take many years, if not entire decades, and which depends on the normalisation of relations with Serbia. Kurti submitted that request to the Czech Republic for a reason, as it is holding the presidency of the EU this semester.

"Any European country that respects the values referred to in Article 2 and undertakes to promote them may apply for membership of the European Union," says Article 49 of the Treaty of Lisbon.

In all previous cases, when deciding on the candidate status of a country, the discussion surrounded whether the applicant country fulfills the conditions for membership, that is, the candidate status for membership. Here, however, another matter must be resolved first - whether Kosovo is even a country in its own right. For the 22 EU members, the answer is unquestionable, they have long since recognised Kosovo and established diplomatic relations with it. But the decision requires the consensus of all 27 member states, and Cyprus, Greece, Romania, Slovakia and Spain do not recognise Kosovo's independence for their own internal reasons. Therefore, we should not expect a clear answer from the EU until the situation regarding the status of Kosovo becomes clearer.

Zoran Milanovic and Andrej Plenkovic send a message of support and pride to the Croatian national team in Qatar following Argentina's 3-0 victory

The President of the Republic of Croatia, Zoran Milanovic, and the Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, both stopped butting heads for thirty seconds and sent their support to the Croatian football team on social media after the crushing semi-final defeat by Argentina (0-3) this week.

"Keep your heads up, Vatreni! Getting into the semi-finals of the World Cup is a magnificent success. We're with you in the fight for third place!" Plenkovic wrote on Twitter.

"Congratulations to the Croatian national football team! The Vatreni have entered the semi-finals and will play for third place - that's a big deal," Milanovic wrote on his Facebook. Milanovic is otherwise on an official trip to Chile and watched the match with the Croatian community in Punta Arenas, and he was in Qatar for the match between Croatia and Belgium.

Croatia's hopes were crushed following defeat in the semi-finals against Argentina, where we were beaten 3-0, and on Saturday the team will play for bronze against France or Morocco. Minister of Foreign Affairs Goran Grlic-Radman, who came at the invitation of the Qatari Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandrokovic were also in Qatar this past week.

Plenkovic claims that the government has reacted so well to ongoing inflationary pressures that "people don't even know what kind of crisis they're living in"

I think quite a few people may just beg to differ to that statement, but once again Plenkovic has showcased his enormous confidence in both himself and the capabilities of his HDZ government with this rather bold claim. 

The National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP/NPOO) offers "unbelievable investment opportunities", Plenkovic pointed out at a conference dedicated to the plan, where it was also said that Croatia was set to receive a second tranche of 700 million euros today (that is, the 16th of December, 2023).

The first annual conference on the Croatian Plan for Recovery and Resilience - Ready for Tomorrow was organised by the European Commission's representative office in Croatia in cooperation with the government.

The Vice-President of the European Commission for Demography and Democracy, Dubravka Suica, announced on that occasion that on December the 16th, the second tranche of 700 million euros will be paid out to Croatia under the NPOO, and assessed that the implementation of the plan in Croatia is going well so far. With the payment of the second tranche, Croatia will have received a total of more than 2.2 billion euros, i.e. 40 percent of the allocated grant funds, by the end of this year within the framework of the NPOO.

The government's National Recovery and Resilience Plan 2021-2026 was adopted back at the end of April last year, the European Commission approved it in July, and through it Croatia received an advance payment of 818 euros million last September, while the first installment in the amount of 700 million euros was paid out in June this year.

At the same time, through the Recovery and Resilience Mechanism, a key component of the European Commission's "Next Generation EU" instrument, and based on the accepted NPOO, Croatia has at its disposal 5.51 billion euros in non-refundable loans, as well as 3.6 billion euros in soft loans. Suica reported that the implementation of that mechanism is progressing according to the initial plan at the EU level as well, with a total of 136 billion euros having been paid out so far.

The "Next Generation EU" instrument is a reaction to the "unprecedented crisis", Plenkovic stated, noting that this is the European Union's reaction to the "unprecedented crisis" caused by the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time, there was an "extremely strong" political will among EU leaders to provide a proper answer to a real problem together.

In less than 20 days, Croatia will enter the Eurozone and the Schengen area, which is one of the "most tangible transformative moments" in the context of the tenth anniversary of Croatian membership of the European Union. "Nobody has yet managed to enter both the Eurozone and Schengen on the same day," said Plenkovic. It is indeed an enormous move for Croatian politics and in this country's turbulent history.

He also recalled the government's "appropriate, comprehensive and generous interventions in crises". "I think we even reacted so well that most people aren't even aware of the extent of the crisis they're living in," said Plenkovic, adding that people can rest assured of a peaceful autumn and winter, with electricity and gas prices being stable.

For more on Croatian politics on both the domestic and the EU stage, make sure to follow our dedicated section and keep an eye out for our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

Friday, 9 December 2022

A Week in Croatian Politics - Schengen, Bomb Scares and ATM Shortages

December the 9th, 2022 - This week in Croatian politics, we've finally had a bit of good news - Croatia has successfully filled all of the requirements to finally join Schengen and will officially do so on the 1st of January, 2023, on the very same day of Eurozone accession. That isn't all, though...

After a lot of nail biting and waiting, Croatian Schengen accession has been officially approved

After much deliberation, a lot of back and forth and eyebrow-raising from Austria apparently not being quite understood, Croatia got the green light to become a Schengen member state on the first day of 2023. Austria's initial issues with proposed Schengen expansion (which would have also included Romania and Bulgaria, but that won't be the case for now) weren't with Croatia as a country but with Schengen expansion as a whole. One Austrian minister was quoted as saying that Schengen is all well and good until there's a political issue, when it suddenly ''ceases to exist''. I dare say that for as excellent as Schengen is, he's far from alone in those opinions.

Despite all of that, and despite reports from the likes of the Financial Times (FT) that neighbouring Hungary and Viktor Orban could be the ones to throw a spanner in Croatia's Schengen plans, both Austria and Hungary (and even Slovenia, which was expected to cause many more issues than it actually did) gave the green light alongside the other deciding nations.

Croatia is now set to become a fully-fledged member of the Schengen area and in less than one month, border controls will be abolished at land, as well sea border crossings, and then on March the 26th, 2023, the same will be done at the country's airports.

Bulgaria and Romania apparently did not receive support because there was a lack of consensus on them joining. 

"Croatia received the unanimous support of the Council for Internal Affairs and Justice - on January the 1st, 2023, we will become a member of Schengen! During this, a year of delivery, we achieved the government's strategic goals, from which both people and the economy will benefit the most!" Plenkovic tweeted after the official announcement.

ATMs cause trouble as we approach Eurozone accession

Moving the Schengen celebrations and the promise of totally free movement aside for a moment, the same unfortunately can't be said for the freedom of cash withdrawals as we approach the day on which we introduce the euro as our official currency. Thousands of ATMs were put out of function this past week as we prepare to enter the Eurozone, leaving many people scratching their heads about where to get cash. Some ATMs have already had the kuna drained from them and been filled up with euros, and around 40 percent of them across the nation will eventually become unavailable as we get closer to D-Day, or should I say E-Day. 

Throughout this final month in which the kuna remains the country's official currency, around 2700 ATMs will be put out of function. Only those which have the ability to allow both kuna and euro withdrawals will continue to work, with the rest gradually being adapted to the euro.

The mass shutdown of ATMs will begin in about ten days, with a small number being shut down by December the 15th, and from that date, the Croatian Association of Banks (HUB) will publish an interactive map of all ATMs in Croatia that remain active in real-time so that people know where they can withdraw banknotes.

It's worth noting that this is also the time to get that old sock with rolled up notes in it out, lift up the mattress, and check your old coat pockets for 10 and 20 kuna notes. The traditional Croatian practice of keeping banknotes in odd items of clothing hidden somewhere in the house could come back to bite those who fail to bank their extra cash lying around so that it can be automatically converted to euros free of charge when we make the official switch over from the kuna to the euro on 2023's maiden day.

PM Andrej Plenkovic says that those who are against Ukrainian soliders being trained here will have to carry that on their conscience for a long time to come

There has been a lot of talk about the idea and then the plan to train Ukrainian soldiers here in Croatia. President Zoran Milanovic (SDP) quite openly said that he was very much against the idea and that Croatia's unwavering support for Ukraine and warm welcome to Ukrainian refugees said enough. He believed that training soldiers to fight against the Russian invaders here could end up bringing unwanted problems to Croatia's doorstep, a mere 30 years after a bloody war of its own.

Others are totally for the idea, and this includes other EU countries who have agreed to also train Ukrainian soldiers in their fight against continued Russian onslaught. 

Plenkovic claimed that he hasn't yet heard any valid, logical or reasonable argument for possibly not making a decision on Croatia's participation in the EUMAM military aid mission to Ukraine and said that the burden of political responsibility isn't on those who are in favour, but on those who aren't. He said he'd be voting for it and that he didn't understand the political logic of those who have reservations about that decision and mission.

How parliament members will vote on Croatia's participation in the EU military aid mission to Ukraine "will be a mark they'll carry with them in the long term," he added.

It's important that Croatia supports Bosnia and Herzegovina on its EU candidate path, according to its senior international representative

During a recent meeting with the State Secretary for Europe at the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Andreja Metelko Zgombic, the senior international representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christian Schmidt, assessed that it is important for that country that Zagreb fully supports its acquisition of EU candidate status.

"Croatian support for Bosnia and Herzegovina's candidate status for EU membership is very important," wrote Schmidt on his Twitter profile. Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic also expressed his expectation that the Council of Europe would be able to approve the candidate status of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the end of the year. Earlier on, the European Commission had indeed recommended that the Council make such a decision.

The German politician at the head of the international administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina assessed having EU candidate status as important for the entire country. "Obtaining EU candidate status would be a much-needed boost for the country and an important sign for people that the enlargement process is working for Bosnia and Herzegovina," he said.

During that same day, State Secretary Metelko Zgombic headed the delegation that held working consultations with colleagues from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnia and Herzegovina's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josip Brkic, also stated on his Twitter that the interlocutors expressed satisfaction with the "extremely good bilateral relations between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina".

"Croatia remains the most important supporter and friend of Bosnia and Herzegovina on its path to both the EU and to NATO," said Brkic.

President Zoran Milanovic visited Chile, the home of a huge number of Croats and their descendents

President Zoran Milanovic went to Chile for the first time recently, on his first trip to South America since taking office in February 2020. It is a vast continent of many opportunities where around 600,000 Croats and their descendents live today. Approximately 160 years ago, the very first wave of Croatian migrants, forced into making difficult decisions by poverty along the coast, set out for Chile. Two more emigrant waves to South American countries followed later, motivated by both economic and political reasons. I won't go into the political ones here.

Historian Ljuba Boric, who works at the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Santiago de Chile, says that the first Croats arrived there from all over the Dalmatian coast between 1860 and 1870 because of a disease of the grapevines and olive trees which sank their (typically) only means of making a living. They often took up mining careers in Chile.

Milanovic will spend a week in Chile and among other things he;ll meet with Chilean President Gabriel Boric who has been in power since March. Ljuba Boric, who is also related to Gabriel Boric, says that the president's great-grandfather Ivo Boric and his brother Sime came from the island of Ugljan (close to Zadar) to Punta Arenas in about 1885.

Institutions from Croatia, a country with 3.8 million inhabitants according to the 2021 census, have been trying to determine the number of Croats in all of South America for some time now, claiming that approximately 600,000 ''members of the Croatian nation and their descendants live in various countries in South America.''

Milanovic says that the recent reports about bombs being in various large shopping centres have nothing to do with the situation in Ukraine

If you've been following the news over the last few months, every now and then there are very strange reports about shopping centres (usually in Zagreb) being evacuated because there have been reports of a bomb being planted there. Odd indeed. They have all been false alarms and for some extremely bizarre reason, it has become somewhat of a trend to claim bombs are being hidden in shopping centres. Odd indeed, yet again. One of the people who made such a claim was a security guard who simply didn't want to come to work. He has since been dealt with by the authorities, and probably regrets not just calling in sick. Hopefully anyway.

This week, the bomb scare/shopping centre stories got a bit more of a spring in their step and more such scares were announced in multiple shopping centres in multiple areas. In sixteen counties, to be exact! Milanovic has been quick to squash the rumours that it has anything at all to do with the Russia-Ukraine war. On Tuesday he said that he thinks that these weird false reports about bombs have nothing to do with the horrific ongoing situation in Ukraine and said that those making these false claims should be located and arrested because creating panic among people like this for no reason is an act punishable by law.

"Find and aprehend these individuals - these are obviously people who don't have these means (bombs) at their disposal, nor do they have anything to do with them, but they have the capacity to sow fear and panic among people, and that's a punishable offence,'' Milanovic told reporters in Dubrovnik. He added that he believes that it has absolutely nothing to do with the war between Russia and Ukraine, as some have been quick to try to claim. He also said that no normal person would show any sort of support to Russia.

Dubrovnik honoured its defenders and marked the 31st anniversary of the darkest day in its history - the siege

The 6th of December 1991 will remain etched deeply into the memories of all those who were there when the JNA attacked the city, and will forever be an unhealed wound for the Pearl of the Adriatic. 

On the aforementioned date back in 1991, the City of Dubrovnik was viciously attacked by the JNA (Yugoslav Peoples Army), it was the culmination of a siege which sought to raze the globally adored UNESCO World Heritage Site to the ground. A similar and unfortunately successful action was seen much more recently in Palmyra at the hands of ISIS. The horrific bombardment of Dubrovnik resulted in international condemnation of the JNA and rightly became a public relations disaster for Serbia and Montenegro, contributing to and furthering their diplomatic and economic isolation and winning them powerful enemies across Europe and the rest of the world. It was a shot in the foot from which the still-estranged Serbia has hardly ever recovered in the eyes of the international community, and rightly so.

You can read much more about that day, the lives that were lost and the tremendous damage that was done by clicking here.

For more on Croatian politics, make sure to keep up with our dedicated section and follow our Week in Croatian Politics articles which are published every Friday.

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