2014 presidential election in Croatia: Josipović is the favourite

The International Institute for Middle-East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyses events in the Middle East and the Balkans. IFIMES has analysed the current situation in the Republic of Croatia in view of the upcoming presidential election which is to take place on 28 December 2014. The most interesting and relevant sections from the comprehensive analysis entitled “2014 presidential election in Croatia: Josipović is the favouriteare published below.



2014 presidential election in Croatia:


Josipović is the favourite


The Republic of Croatia will hold presidential election on 28 December 2014. The country has about 4,4 million inhabitants of which 3,779,281 are entitled to vote. The Diaspora will vote in 50 countries. 


Four candidates including one woman are standing for the presidential election: ● Ivo Josipović (Social Democratic Party of Croatia – SDP) ● Kolinda Grabar Kitarović (Croatian Democratic Union – HDZ) ● Milan Kujundžić (Alliance for Croatia) ● Ivan Vilibor Sinčić (Živi zid).


Croatia is facing a deep economic crisis. The country is characterised by a high degree of organised crime and corruption, poor functioning of the judicial system and strong underground intelligence. The first President of the Republic of Croatia was Franjo Tuđman (1991-1999) who undoubtedly made a significant contribution to the creation of the independent Croatian state. However, his reign has been criticised for many weaknesses, notably his autocratic rule, the consequences of which are still felt especially in the fields of organised crime, corruption and “tycoonisation” of Croatian economy.


The second President of the Republic of Croatia Stjepan Mesić (2000-2010) inherited the grave burden of Tuđman's political legacy. Nevertheless, with his vision he managed to make some important steps towards Croatia's affirmation in the region and the world and to initiate a fight against organised crime and corruption as well as against underground intelligence. He also managed to bring the country out of isolation and put it back on the path towards EU and NATO integration, as well as to affirm anti-fascism as one of the fundamental values of the modern Croatia  Unfortunately he did not manage to eliminate completely the consequences of Tuđman's rule because of the strong presence of former Tuđman's staff in the political, government and security circles, who still tend to put their personal or party-political interests above the national interests. Ever since the period when Croatia gained independence the country has been hit by the phenomenon that can be defined as politisation of crime and criminalisation of politics.


Incumbent President Ivo Josipović took office in February 2010. During his term of office he has tried to follow the non-party politics. Analysts have estimated that he has not made any strategic mistakes. Like other Croatian high officials Josipović is criticised for not having taken sufficient advantage of the country's NATO and EU membership and for not taking the necessary measures for economic recovery. Nevertheless, Josipović has significantly contributed to Croatia's regional stability and international reputation.


Croatian political sphere is marked by two extremist political parties. The first one is Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led by Tomislav Karamarko. Its ideology is based on anticommunism, national independence process and the so-called Serbian danger in Croatia. But communism is passé,the process of gaining independence ended in 1991 and the Serbs have become a factor of stability and a test for Croatian democracy. Most credit for having gained independence goes to the Croatian people who supported the independent and sovereign state at the plebiscite. HDZ has obviously tried to take all the credit for gaining national independence, forgetting that it resulted from the aspirations of Croatian people for independence as well as from the historical international circumstances, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall. HDZ must get rid of its criminal structures and stop idealising Franjo Tuđman. Although Croatia is a sovereign and independent country, HDZ is still “looking” for an enemy among the Serbs, the Yugoslavs etc. Projecting the alleged danger has become its way of political survival.


The second extremist political party is Zoran Milanović's Social Democratic Party of Croatia (SDP) – the successor of the former League of Communists of Croatia. This party is currently facing a crisis after failing to transform into a modern left-wing political party during the transition period. Instead it is still burdened by numerous past issues.What Croatia and other countries in the region need are strong social democratic parties, which the present SDP of Croatia is not. The situation is similar in other countries in the region.


HDZ and SDP are the two political parties that have reaped most benefit from the ideological conflict that has been tearing Croatia apart and preventing it from developing its full potential.




Although the process of decriminalisation of Croatia has been taking place for several years,  its results still haven't reached the necessary and expected levels. Organised crime and corruption are still the cancerous wound of Croatian society, while the media are only partly free.


According to Transparency International 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) Croatia is ranked 57th of all together 177 countries, sharing its place with Bahrain, the Czech Republic and Namibia. According to the Freedom House assessment of media freedom Croatia ranks 83rd among 197 countries and belongs to countries with partly free media.Among the countries in the region those with the free media status are Slovenia at 39th and Austria at 30th place. Other countries in the region ranked as partly free are Hungary (71st), Serbia (74th) and Montenegro (78),  while those ranked worse than Croatia are Kosovo (98th), Bosnia and Herzegovina (103rd) and Macedonia (122).


Ever since the country's independence no Croatian government, including the incumbent Zoran Milanović's (SDP) one, has managed to find appropriate solutions to accumulated economic problems. The government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader (HDZ), whose member was also Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, is probably the most corrupt government, with seven of its ministers including Prime Minister Sanader being charged with crimes. This is a heavy burden for Grabar Kitarović and her election campaign, especially bearing in mind that HDZ is the only political party in Croatia that is prosecuted for corruption. This party is still in the process of decriminalisation. The investigations carried out against HDZ in Croatia will probably be extended to HDZ in Bosnia and Herzegovina, since there is reasonable ground to suspect that the embezzlement of millions of Croatian kunas of taxpayers' money was carried out through HDZ BiH and some of its top officials.




The election campaign has been marked with numerous insults, cases of disinformation and personal attacks, mostly against incumbent President Ivo Josipović and partly also against Kolinda Grabar Kitarović. The campaign has been short and lacked clearly articulated political content. Presidential election is taking place during Christmas and New Year holidays when the Croatian Diaspora is expected to visit their homeland massively. This in fact better suits the political right wing and HDZ, as the relevant researches have shown that the Croatian Diaspora and the Croats from Bosnia and Herzegovina are traditional supporters of HDZ.


Political content of Josipović's campaign is clearly articulated and contains a complete package of constitutional changes that are referred to as the Second Republic. This reform project has a sufficient political potential not only for the forthcoming presidential election but also for 2015 parliamentary election, and it will probably be offered to the group of political parties that have supported Josipović's presidential candidacy. However, SDP still hasn't supported Josipović's enthusiasm regarding the constitutional reform that comprises a series of changes regarding the justice system, the prerogatives of the executive branch of power and internal territorial structure of Croatia. The aim is to create a constitutional framework that would enable a more efficient and transparent functioning of the state. Josipović believes that the constitutional changes are an essential precondition for economic recovery. The reform proposes among other the division of Croatia into four or five regions. The political right wing traditionally believes the project to be harmful and completely unfeasible as it leads to federalisation and may trigger a series of local rivalries between large cities in the potential regions. Experts agree that Croatia needs constitutional changes, but their opinions diverge when it comes to the content and extent of those changes.


Attitude towards anti-fascism has become an issue of dispute among one part of Croatian society. This is a notable topic of presidential candidate Milan Kujundžić who supports the idea that the preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia should state that Croatia was founded on the basis of the plebiscite and the 1991-1995 Homeland War, ignoring the 1941-1945 anti-fascist fight (People's Liberation Struggle – NOB). Kujundžić, who presents himself as the true right-wing candidate, promotes a kind of “state right” nationalism (the pravaštvo movement named after the Party of Rights) which is very attractive to one part of the electorate. Kujundžić would thus be a much more attractive right-wing candidate than Grabar Kitarović.


As Foreign Minister Kolinda Grabar Kitarović showed modest results and made no visible diplomatic initiatives. The country's foreign policy was at that time actually led by former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, so Grabar Kitarović left no mark in Croatia's external relations. Instead of offering content she is trying to win the votes by creating an image of a moderate and modern conservative while her attitude towards various issues is still uncertain. For example regarding the issue of abortion she stated that basically she is for life, but she also respects the rights of choice. Her opinion on Tito is also very balanced. She clearly stated that Tito is not the topic that will pull Croatia out of the economic crisis and that the debate on Tito should not be in the centre of political campaigns. She claims to understand why in certain parts of Croatia such as Istria, the Kvarner Gulf and Dalmatia there is stronger support for Tito and anti-fascism, but she explicitly denounced the totalitarianism of Tito's regime. HDZ has often shown a wrong understanding of anti-fascism; if it understood anti-fascism it would safeguard its tradition instead of making statements that can sometimes be understood as neo-fascist behaviour.


The greatest burden for Grabar Kitarović is her term of office in Sanader's government – as much as seven of its ministers including Prime Minister Sanader have been charged with crimes.  During her two previous political offices – as Foreign Minister and Ambassador to the United States – Kolinda Grabar Kitarović did not prove to be capable of performing successfully these kinds of functions, which represents a strategic weakness of her presidential candidacy and eliminates her as a statesperson. As the election campaign is coming to an end, Grabar Kitarović has created an image of a candidate that lacks any interesting political content.


Presidential candidate Ivan Vilibor Sinčić represents a refreshment in the election campaign, being the youngest candidate and relying on the values of the “Živi zid” (human shield) activist organisation that he belongs to. He has announced that he would fight against the terror of banks and large international corporations. In his opinion Croatian Prime Minister and other Ministers of the Government lack independence, as they are merely the hirelings of tycoons and bankers. Sinčić will reach a significant result at the forthcoming election, having presented himself throughout the campaign as the spokesman of the deprived citizens of the Republic of Croatia.



At previous 2010 presidential election HDZ did not benefit from the support of the Roman Catholic Church and its role in Croatian society. Religious education in schools, crucifixes in state offices, blessings of public investments etc. have raised doubts regarding the separation of the state and the church in Croatia.The secularism of modern Croatia has been jeopardised by the dominant position of the Roman Catholic Church over other religious communities.Until 1945 a lot of property was confiscated from the Jews in Zagreb and from other private owners. However, unlike the Jews and other groups, the Roman Catholic Church has had almost all of its property returned. In their sermons representatives of the Roman Catholic Church advise the citizens on how to vote or who not to vote at the forthcoming election, calling them not to vote for the left oriented parties.

After the presidential election Croatia will have to initiate the procedure for changing its agreement with Vatican due to significant changes in circumstances since the agreement has been signed. Facing the economic collapse Croatia will undoubtedly no longer be able to fulfil enormous financial obligations arising from the agreement with the Holy See.

Eventual support from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other reputable European right-oriented politicians can no longer help HDZ since elections are primarily Croatia's internal political issue.


During the campaign none of the candidates have tackled the issue of national minorities, thus creating an impression that Croatia is only inhabited by ethnic Croats. Nevertheless, the votes from minority national communities may tip the scales for election of the new President of the Republic of Croatia.



Judging from the general situation Croatia's public debts will by the end of 2014 exceed the permitted ceiling of 80% of GDP. Croatia is facing a deep crisis. It relies on three main sources for covering the deficit: tourism, transfers from Croats living abroad and the sale of its immovable property. However, economists recall that tourism is a very vulnerable sector which can be negatively affected by the economic crisis, climatic or political circumstances as well as instability and the presence of terrorism in the region.




Analysts have noted that Croatia needs a President who is not burdened with any extremist left or right ideology but instead aims to unite the nation and regain citizens' trust in politics and state institutions. It is of great importance that the new President strives to reach national reconciliation regarding the issues from World War II and the previous Homeland War. It is too late now for any lustration – 25 years after the implementation of a multiparty system this kind of purge would be harmful and probably misused for narrow political goals.


Unification and cooperation between different political actors with the aim to bring Croatia out of the economic crisis, achieve economic prosperity and reduce unemployment especially among the young generation are the fields in which the President can play the key role.


During the campaign some presidential candidates have tried to manipulate patriotism for their own gain. This points to the question of redefining the role of patriotism in the Croatian society, because it has often been used as a veil for organised crime and for plundering the national (state) property.


The time has come to stop with the period of romantic nationalism –  the Croats have created their own country, but now they have to ensure its future for the next generations. The new President will have to deal with many problems. The politics that stress historical divisions among the Croats will bring the country back into the past,  but what Croatia needs now is the future. Many other nations also have their historical divisions, but they rarely stress the past at the expense of their future, as has been the case in Croatia.  This kind of politics leads the country to a dangerous ideological division and permanent debt slavery due to irresponsible borrowing and uncontrolled spending decisions taken by the previous governments. The primary goal should be to improve the competitiveness of Croatian economy, as this will resolve many other problems.


Analysts have noted that Croatia needs a President with a vision for the future, with rich experience and the necessary knowledge on foreign policy and Croatia's role in the EU and the modern world. He or she should strive to develop good relations with the neighbouring countries, encourage and help them to gain EU and NATO membership (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro), and strengthen Croatia's reputation and position in the region and the world. One of the important issues to be dealt with is the relationship with the Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and their equality in the process of Bosnian-Herzegovinian integration in the EU. The incumbent President Ivo Josipović is undoubtedly the favourite to win the presidential election.


Ljubljana, December 26, 2014