Sunday, January 12, 2003

Kostelić (Kostelic) Update

Ivica Kostelić fared better on Bormio slopes than his role models in Russia 1941. Despite being third after first run, he managed to compensate deficit and win the slalom event.

His American arch-rival Bode Miller was even more impressive. He compensated even greater deficit to finish second.

All Politics Is Local… Or Is It?

City of Split hasn't been blessed with particularly nice weather in the past week. However, the biggest storm occurred in the County Headquarters of HSLS (Croatian Social-Liberal Party). After hours of extremely heated debate, HSLS County Organisation ordered their subordinates in City Organisation to step out of City of Split's governing coalition.

It isn't exactly clear whether the HSLS City councilmen would act like good troopers or whether they would ignore their superiors. Disobeying orders wouldn't represent some shocking precedent for Croatia, especially in cases like this.

The most spectacular example occurred last summer, when HSLS tried to pull the same stunt on national level, after the collapse of that party's alliance with Račan's (Racan's) ex-Communists. HSLS ordered their representatives in Sabor (Parliament) to vote against Račan as country's old/new prime minister and thus prevent him from creating new governing coalition sans HSLS. In theory, that looked like a done deal, at least in theory, since HSLS had enough MSs to deprive Račan of necessary majority. There were quite few serious political commentators who had expected Tudjman's old party HDZ to return to power, because HSLS and HDZ could have created comfortable majority of their own.

Yet, it didn't happen that way. Dražen Budiša (Drazen Budisa) and the rest of HSLS leadership forgot to look at things from the perspective of their party's subordinates at Sabor benches. In two and half years few dozen people got accustomed to huge salaries, free meals, parliamentary immunity and other benefits of their position. All those things could have been taken away from them in case of government falling and early elections, the latter almost certain to reduce HSLS seats in Sabor, if not erase HSLS from Sabor completely. So, this merry band decided to turn their party down, vote for Račan in Parliament and create new political party whose sole purpose is to give some ideological basis for their selfish act.

Same scenario might repeat itself in Split, although HSLS has much better standing in Dalmatia than in the rest of country. In case of early local elections HSLS could expect to keep its seats or, at least, suffer loses hardly comparable to Gottämnederung that is coming on national level. The local elections in this time would probably result in the repeat of situation from two years ago, when HSLS became city's king-maker – block that was able to tilt the balance towards left-wing SDP or right-wing HDZ. However, HSLS role of king-maker was somewhat difficult due to HDZ and HSLS lacking votes to form city government by themselves; in order to get necessary majority they needed votes from parties even more right-wing than HDZ. Although local HSLS leaders toyed with the idea of going to bed with extreme right, combination of greed, poor negotiating abilities and indecisiveness led to months-long impasse and factions within the party organisations. In the end, more sensible faction within city organisation of HSLS prevailed and party joined SDP and its coalition made of left-wing, centre and moderate right parties.

That decision proved to be quite benefitial for City of Split. New administration under mayor Slobodan Beroš (Slobodan Beros) couldn't do much to improve living standard of citizens except something that bordered with miracle – they balanced city budget, erasing some 220 million kunas (cca. 30 million US$) of deficit and thus lifted at least some of the burden from local taxpayers. Such accomplishment, which is hardly to be repeated by anyone in near future, especially not by central government in Zagreb (whoever controls it after next year's elections), represents sore point for HSLS faction that dominates party organisation on county levels, and whose representatives' within HDZ-controlled county administration have little to write home about. Collapse of Beroš's government and subsequent early elections could lead to HSLS becoming part of new city administration, this time with right faction being in charge.

However, the most interesting thing about this affair is HSLS leadership's justification for this move. Joško Kontić, one of their national leaders, explained the decision by claiming that the coalition between SDP and HSLS in Split "is illogical since those two parties aren't allied on national level". This is so far the most hypocritical public statement in Croatia in 2003, since HSLS, while being allied with SDP on national level, didn't mind having HDZ as its coalition partner in many local assemblies all over Croatia, including some major urban centres in Dalmatia, like Zadar or Šibenik (Sibenik). When SDP and other partners from former opposition and present-day government confronted HSLS leadership about this, the answer was simple – HSLS is democratic party, with broad internal autonomy and local organisations are free to pursue local policies based on local circumstances. Apparently, this doesn't apply anymore, in a situation when HSLS would have to fight really hard in order to remain in Croatian political mainstream.

However, having one set of allies on national and other set of allies on local levels isn't something that should be unimaginable in modern democracy. This is especially so in modern Croatia, where the ideological differences between major parties are next to negligible and where left/right or conservative/liberal labels don't mean much. Furthermore, one of the legacies of Tudjman's era is heavy centralisation – various ministries and other administrative bodies in Zagreb are doing the most of the governing in Croatia; local authorities – counties, cities, municipalities – are left with very limited jurisdiction and very little opportunity to change the living standards of their constituencies by pursuing specific policies. On local levels and especially in the small communities, tiny ideological differences between various parties play even lesser role than on national level – voters vote for people because they represent certain business interests or happen to be related to them by kinship or friendship; this is the reason why in many of such communities politics often doesn't have anything to do with parties even on formal level and why some administrations are composed of people who won as independent candidates (despite proportional system designed to favour parties instead of individuals).

However, decreased importance of local politics in Croatia doesn't mean that national politicians shouldn't or wouldn't care about those areas. Sometimes local politics can became battleground at which strategies for the real battles on national level could be tested. This very well might be the case with the latest crisis in Split.

Writing in Darkness

No rain. No snow. No heavy wind. Apart from being cooler than usual, it could be a perfect day. But all that won't prevent power grids in Split from pretending that they are under EMP attack. Some thirty minutes ago, power went off in the city.

And probably in the worst possible moment… Just when I was watching Tottenham Hotspurs taking the lead for the fourth time in their epic Premiership game with Everton.


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