Overarchingly, both of Croatia’s most pressing political challenges speak to the nation’s need to collectively embed and disseminate a construction of a modern inter-sectional identity of the state and its populous. This need stems from Croatia’s historical and political legacies and positionings: the contemporary political impact of a war for freedom still deeply inhabiting the psyches of its citizenry, as well as the remaining manifestations of Soviet dominance, must be rectified with today’s Croatia, an independent nation and EU member state. At best, the cultural immersion of both past and present in Croatia’s political discourses would contribute to the generation of a truthful and recognizable Croatian identity.
Croatia’s first identified challenge is to focus a politically populist form of national messaging and governance – one which does not necessarily align with broader current European political trends – into an agent of production for national development in both politics and governance. While much of Europe’s successful populism has been defined by right-wing ideals of late, Croatia’s populist manifestations largely set it apart from its peers in terms of its beliefs, goals, and viable parties and leaders. This challenge is a challenge precisely because it targets the current Croatian political dichotomy in which one vein of thought is to abandon the EU membership route of national development, and adopt a more leftist identity through its policy and ideological agenda, while the opposing view posits the EU as the path to rhetorical European legitimacy, and thus a bolstered and improved national identity. The problem at hand is that anti-EU populists in Croatia, while perhaps plenty valid in their articulations of opposition, must offer not only an alternative to the benefits of EU membership that do exist, but also provide a better alternative. As Croatia has assumed the EU’s rotating, nation-state inhabited role of union president just this month, and news reports praise the growing of the Croatian economy via “consumption and investments” and both “imports and exports” over the past year, according to total-croatia-news.com, the productivity of a distinctly, and potentially beneficial Croatian populism must oppose both the establishment – the EU – and the more radically conservative populist doctrines of Europe. In the names of both electoral and policy-based successes, as well as the construction of a representative national Croatian identity, opposition should be accompanied by and supplemented by deliberations on viable alternatives to avoid the conflation of political complaints with actionable opposition.
Croatia’s second socio-political challenge of the day is to successfully hone the ex-Soviet, “Eastern-European” discourses and histories – in both geographic and symbolic senses of these terms, in order to carve out an active Croatian piece of the European identity. Similarly concerned with the development of a Croatian identity or conception of a “Croatian-ness” reflective of today’s nation, the recognition and rectification of Croatia’s histories and development must not only be furthered but woven into the national narrative as well. Such mediations on the past and its relationship to Croatia’s socio-political culture today, pose a challenge to Croatia regarding the provision of sufficient and accurate political representation through public officials who have these interests in mind. According to Croatia.eu, Croatia’s cultural and national development over time has been defined by particular modes of interaction between various ethnically Slavic groups, with these groups each possessing distinct heritages, customs, and ideologies across the Croatian geo-body. Thus, Croatia’s challenge now is to both individualize the citizen, while collectivizing the nation. This must be done in order to breed not only a new national identity, but also an increased political consensus specifically through a cultural, historical reckoning of sorts.
In Croatia, it seems as though, at least for now, the center is holding. According to europarl.europa.eu, The 2019 parliamentary elections illustrated the enduring power of centrism in Croatia, as HDZ, the center-right, Christian Democratic party, and SDP, the center-left party earned the two highest percentages of votes. It is the voices from the poles, however, the voices of dissent, which often push the dominant national conversation beyond existing notions of what is politically acceptable, for better or worse. Croatian populism, particularly through Zivi Zid (the Human Shield or Living Wall party) of relatively recent left-wing, populist notoriety, has the potential to transform the existing standard for Croatian identity and politics, perpetuated precisely by a powerful center. Whether a “Cro-exit” is the correct choice for Croatia or not, proponents of national sovereignty who come from the left could make a strong political case for decentering the center and fostering progressive values and policies through a European disunion. In order to gain electoral success, however, they must rhetorically position the case for sovereignty as related to the fulfilment of a leftist national agenda. In addition, they must be taken seriously on a national stage, which could perhaps be facilitated through a coalition with the SDP, for example. The SDP and Zivi Zid align politically on numerous social issues and could perhaps formulate an interesting solution to the European problem which would simultaneously revise and expand the Croatian national identity.
In some ways, Croatia has taken measures to both economically and politically reconcile Europe’s east/west divide: first by carving out a successful tourism industry which conceptually advertises and sells its geographical positioning as a Slavic, former Soviet, Eastern-bloc nation in order to internationally present an industry which thrives on the terms of Europe’s both theoretical and geographic west; and secondly through its membership status in the European Union, an organization to which neither the Soviet Union nor Russia has been granted access or inclusion. In order to simultaneously merge Europe’s east and west, while reclaiming a violent and formerly Soviet past, and constructing an accurate, national image of Croatian-ness, Croatia should continue to advocate for the inclusion of other Eastern European states in the EU, particularly in the Balkan region. As noted by Vox, Croatia sees encouraging expanded membership status to more Balkan states as a direct path to “building economic growth in the region.” By utilizing its own placement within the EU for the benefit of other Eastern European nations and the region, regardless of whether they continue to remain or not, Croatia can both recognize its Eastern roots and regional past, while engaging its emerging positionality within the west for a potential common good, thus illustrating the potential beginnings of a reworked Croatian national identity.
To productively channel populist rhetoric from either left or right in Croatia will be quite difficult, given the very reasons that these parties exist: the strength of the center. While a systematic adherence to centrism poses problems for the generation of a more inclusive and thus broad national political identity, it does, in numerous senses, signify stability. It is for this reason that Zivi Zid will likely not gain legitimacy and/or power with the help of the SDP, despite the potential such a partnership could theorize for political evolution. To continue to promote the granting of EU membership status to more Balkan states, on the other hand, will likely continue, and, depending on Brexit trade terms and thus distributions of EU attention later this year, could even be successful. This advocacy is just one aspect of a potential project of reconciling past with present in the interest of forming and developing a Croatian national identity for today.
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