Croatian politics needs liberals – why don’t they unite?

‘Stronger together’ is a well-known saying, easily applicable to political life in Croatia. This is especially the case with the liberals; a number of small, centrist parties that aren’t capable of crossing the electoral threshold on their own. With few notable exceptions, such as winning the mayoral seat in Split, these parties are quite marginal on the political scene traditionally dominated by the two big parties, HDZ and SDP, as well as temporary successes by parties that are to the left and right of the two main players. This is a shame because liberals would have a lot to offer. It is moreover exceedingly important to have healthy competition, to have more than two choices, more than two rather ossified  world views. Above all, more than the appalling, worn-out ideological battle between Ustashas and partisans.

A strong liberal option, whether as one party or in coalition, would significantly improve the quality of what is on offer in Croatian politics. Unfortunately, it is no longer surprising that Croatia is described as a  “clientelistic, party-captured state”, and that it is referred to as a “statist environment”. This clearly needs to change. Strong liberal option and liberals as fighters for individual freedoms and equality could greatly improve standards of doing politics.

The basis of liberal politics should be fight against corruption, clientelism, nepotism and all kinds of privilege, as well as rational approach to problems, with a clear departure from ideological obstacles and prejudices. In other words, liberals should  “defend the values of Western civilisation in the broadest sense: a decent and sustainable relationship between the public and private sectors, freedom of speech, secular society, decent tones in public space, forcing initially unpopular but in fact prudent, long-term policies and the overall sanity of politics”.

One of the problems facing liberals in Croatia is a lack of trust in the system and the common belief that ‘everyone is the same’. Fighting such views and gaining confidence is a battle that liberals will have to win, sooner or later, if they want to be relevant.

Another issue is departure of potential voters. Those who are leaving the country, seeking not only higher wages but also a more orderly system for themselves and their families, are in fact seeking liberal politics, whether they know it or not. However, once they leave it is nowadays unlikely they will return or actively participate in elections.  

In addition, there is a lack of vision; of narratives that will move the electorate – the majority that still often votes with their heart rather than their heads. Liberal parties  often do not possess a strong identity pull or emotional catalyst (the exception in Croatia is IDS), while facts on their own still do not win majorities anywhere. These are all obstacles which aren’t small, but they are not insurmountable either. Unless you are too small and remain somewhat unconvincing even to potential voters.    

Therefore, working together should bring immediate benefits. For starters, united liberals would likely generate media coverage and focus on the policies. If it lasts, it could mean higher approval rates, better recognition and stronger coalition potential. If they worked together, liberals may well encourage potential voters to give them a chance. With hard work on the ground, their support would grow. In the long run, citizens would very much benefit from politicians who “see the country’s development in advocating for the rule of law, the free market and the development of science and education”.

Whatever the reasons for fragmentation of liberal politics in Croatia, they need to be worked on and eliminated. Any disagreement can be resolved. Precisely because they can be different and better, liberals need to suppress vanity and put aside personal ambition in favour of the common good and higher political and social interest.

Dražen Šimić

Photo: Pixabay

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