Friday, May 09, 2003

Butlerian Jihad in Sabor

In late 1980s, when Slovenia began to seriously ponder alternatives to being part of Yugoslav federation, all those watching the news coverage of proceedings in Slovenian Parliament could have noticed an interesting detail. Results of every vote could have been seen on large television display. Even in those times, when Slovenia was formally under the clutches of totalitarian one-party system, their Parliament had electronic system of voting. This was something quite sophisticated for former Yugoslavia and fgor many it was the final proof that Slovenia belongs to the democratic and technologically progressive West.

Croatian decision to joined Slovenia in its drive to independence was partially justified with the claim that Croatia too belongs to the progressive cultural and political sphere of Western and Central Europe while everything east of its borders belongs to barbaric and primitive Balkans.

But when it came to such simple things like voting methods in Sabor, Sabor remained stuck in 19th Century. For the first four years, multi-party and democracitally elected Sabors used the method of voting inherited from Communist days – members of Parliament raising their hands and having Speaker and, in later years, Sabor officials counting them.

In 1994 Sabor finally passed the law that cleared way for instalment of electronic voting system. Some Croatian businessmen living abroad even volunteered to donate money for that particular purpose.

Unfortunately, in 1994 Tudjman was faced with the most serious challenge from within the ranks of his own party and with dozens of MSes defecting, maintaining tight party discipline became his obsession. Mistrusting modern technology he resorted to old ways in which everyone not seeing with his hand in the air at the right moment could be easily identified and brought to face the music. Furthermore, many MSes from Tudjman's party really loved having their right hands in the air because under right angle this gesture could resemble their favourite salute – the one associated with the 20th Century ideology they were most fond of.

After Mesić (Mesic) and Manolić (Manolic) got booted out of HDZ and situation in Sabor stabilised, whole initiative was forgotten. Instead of installation electronic voting, Sabor in next few years went through elaborate and luxurious re-decoration.

The new post-Tudjman rulers of Croatia in 2000 also publicly toyed with the idea to introduce electronic voting system. Unable or unwilling to make any radical changes of Tudjman's policies, they viewed this measure as an excellent view to signal the "serious break-up with Croatian troubled past".

But, like in many other areas, progress here was extremely slow. Coalition parties in last three years had more pressing matters at hand – haggling over appointments of their cadre in cabinet, administration, state-owned companies etc. while the public was entertained by soap operas in the form of Hague Tribunal indictments and border disputes with Slovenia.

Finally, few days ago the system was about to be introduced. By May 7th failed to become the start of information technology era in Croatian Parliament. The reason was simple – despite each of them receiving electronic key and having their seat equipped with three buttons indicating "Yes", "No" and "Abstanined", most members of Sabor said their the system is "too complicated". Some argued that the system is "impersonal" and not allowing "MSes" to be viewed as "individuals". As a result of those grievances, introduction of the system was postponed.

This represents one of the greatest fiascos in the history of modern Croatian democracy. Even more embarrassing is the fact that Croatia represents one of the few European countries with legislative body stuck in 19th Century. Even those "primitive Balkans" countries on the east have catched up with modern world, while "modern and pro-Western" Croatian politicians are still fighting Butlerian Jihad.


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