Friday, July 18, 2003

Yale Professor Sees The Light

Few months ago I wrote about Dr. Ivo Banac, Yale history professor who had became the leader of LS, small centre party that is part of governing coalition. This change of leadership was the most positive development in Croatian politics because Banac was known as the man who takes liberalism of Liberal Party (“Liberalna stranka”) seriously and his Yale tenure also distanced him from the sleaze that engulfed each and every professional politician in Croatia.

However, in that blog entry I also expressed scepticism towards Dr. Banac’s chances of reforming Croatian politics. It seems that I was right. Banac, instead of removing “Swamp” (his name for the culture of corruption, ineptness and neo-Tudjmanism that had dominated Croatian political establishment following 2000 elections) from the face of Croatia, sank into the “Swamp”.

This is the only way to describe his decision to become new minister of environmental protection and urban planning in Račan’s (Racan’s) cabinet. The post was formerly held by Božo Kovačević (Bozo Kovacevic), one of LS leaders whose pre-election anti-Tudjman radicalism turned into utter incompetence. Kovačević, faced with huge criticism over his failure to stamp out building without permits in Croatia, recently took opportunity to evade public scrutiny and agreed to become Croatian ambassador to Russia. That left the post vacant, and, according to the coalition deals, it had to be taken by LS cadre.

Banac, whose area of expertise is history, originally wanted an expert to lead the ministry, but in last moment changed his mind and decided to take the post by himself. This strictly political appointment, designed to fill party quotas without any concern for expertise and character, represents the most telling example of the “Swamp” – the very thing Banac fought tooth and nail as Feral Tribune commentator.

So, why did Banac take this job? The reason is very simple – for the sake of his party. According to latest opinion polls, LS, despite all its noble liberal rhetoric and pandering to anti-“Swamp” sentiments, can barely expect 1-2 % of the vote. But even more disturbing news for LS election strategists comes from the same polls that discovered that only a fraction of electorate had any idea who Dr. Ivo Banac is. In other words, only a fraction of electorate has any idea what LS is. In today’s Croatia, where political platforms of all parties – from extreme left to extreme right - are identical, the only way for voter to set parties apart is by their leaders’ faces. And since Banac rarely appeared on Croatian state television until recently, few people were aware of him. Furthermore, unlike other coalition party leaders, Banac didn’t bother to take public post (ministry, chairmanship of Sabor committee etc.) that would give him extra media exposure (and some clout).

With elections to be held in matter of months this decision could be too little too late to rescue LS from sinking into oblivion. And it could also create irreparable damage to Banac’s reputation. Banac should have pushed for LS to merge with HNS instead.


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