Democracy in Croatia: Views from the Opposition

By Markovich, Stephen C. | East European Quarterly, Spring 1998 | Go to article overview

Democracy in Croatia: Views from the Opposition


Markovich, Stephen C., East European Quarterly


When a new country, such as Croatia, embarks on democracy, laying out the democratic system in a constitution is the easy task. Implementing and developing the system is much more difficult. Just how difficult is becoming increasingly evident to the Croatian leaders and people. Not to all of the leaders, however, and especially not to President Franjo Tudjman. According to Tudjman and his majority party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), democracy in Croatia is well founded and progressively developing; the system is presently democratic and will continue to be so. Such an assessment from the ruling party is to be expected. But what about the opposition parties in Croatia. Do they agree with this assessment?

In order to get the opposition's views of democracy in Croatia, I interviewed leading members of eight opposition parties, parties which presently have representation in the lower legislative house. Sometimes more than one party member participated in the interview but I have quoted only one from each party. The members interviewed and their respective parties were:

Ivo Skrabalo                 Croatian Social-Liberal Party (HSLS)
Zlatko, Tomcic               Croatian Peasant Party (HSS)
Snjezana Biga Friganovic     Social Democratic Party (SDP)
Dragutin Hlad                Croatian Independent Democrats (HND)
Stjepo Martinovic            Croatian People's Party (HNS)
Vlado Jukic                  Croatian Party of Rights ((HSP)
Milorad Vojvodic             Serbian National Party (SNS)
Nenad Klapcic                Istrian Democratic Parliament(IDS)

The interviews were conducted in 1996 and each interview lasted from one to three hours in length. In all of the interviews, the opposition members were candid in expressing their opinions and forthright in answering all questions; at no time did I get the impression that they felt uneasy in answering questions or sought to slide around them rather than answer them directly. The key questions that I posed were as follows: Is Croatia a democracy? Is there freedom of the press? Are elections free and fair? Is the opposition too fragmented to be effective? While these were the key questions, supplementary questions were frequently posed in the course of each interview in order to gain clarification and/or amplification of thoughts and opinions. Here is a compilation and summation of the opposition's views of democracy in Croatia.

Is Croatia a democracy?

In answer to the question, "Is Croatia a democracy?" all eight opposition members responded by saying that constitutionally Croatia is a democracy but in practice this democracy is qualified. It is qualified, they claimed, because Tudjman is too strong, the government controls the media, and the elections are not fair.

All but one of the respondents thought Tudjman was too strong. The only exception was Vlado Jukic of the HSP who stated that it was not a question of Tudjman being too strong but a problem of the opposition being too weak, an opposition, Jukic added, that was comprised primarily of "pseudo-liberals and former communists" who spend far too much time ripping the HDZ and flaying Tudjman. Since the HSP is an ultra-nationalist party that frequently supports the HDZ, so much so that its status as an opposition party can be questioned, Jukic's favorable view of Tudjman is not surprising.

The views of the other respondents, whose minority parties more actively oppose the majority HDZ, are less favorable. Generally they tend to see Tudjman as a political strongman whose method of governing has qualified democracy in Croatia and retarded its progressive development. Some go as far as to call him a dictator. According to Dragutin Hlad of the HND, Tudjman is in practice a "benevolent dictator who has co-opted the opposition"; he may let them talk and criticize but ultimately Tudjman reminds them that he is in control. Stjepo Martinovic of the HNS concurs with this assessment and goes on to present an even harsher judgment: "The opposition that is permitted is decorative. …

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