Sunday, September 07, 2003

[ELECTIONS 2003] Guide to Croatian Political Parties

Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) has met some of his party bosses yesterday and publicly announced the start of election campaign. Since this blog so far happens to be the only one to deal with Croatian politics, I feel obliged to give regular updates about campaign. However, before I start, I would have to take into considerations blog readers who don't know much about what went on in Croatia in past 13 years and what those names, title and abbreviations mean. This short guide is written in order to give the cast of most important characters in upcoming drama.

SDP – Socijaldemokratska partija (Social Democratic Party)
Short description: former communists

No matter how desperately Ivica Račan tries to make Croatians forget, SDP is the same Communist Party that used to run Croatia from 1945 till 1990. Račan claims that SDP (which changed name three times between 1990 and 1994) abandoned Communist ideology. He might be right, but SDP nevertheless kept much of its Communist-era property. The Communist-era membership, on the other hand, left the Party, with the majority embracing HDZ. What was left was the core of activists and die-hards that, together with Račan's (Racan's) sycophantic skills, managed to keep SDP afloat in dark years between 1990 and 1995. SDP had its first glimpses of comeback during parliamentary elections of 1995, then established itself as major opposition party at local/regional and presidential elections in 1997. In 1998, under the guidance of US ambassador William Montgomery, it made permanent coalition with HSLS, which would later lead to SDP-HSLS tickets winning most of the seats. Following the break-up of coalition between SDP and HSLS, Račan has to rely on HSS, HNS and minor players. Election prospects: 15-20 % of the vote; good, if its present-day partners could be counted on for post-election coalitions

HDZ – Hrvatska demokratska zajednica (Croatian Democratic Union)
Short description: Tudjman's party

Founded in 1989 by group of relatively obscure Croatian nationalists, HDZ benefited not only from newly established democracy, but also from SDP miscalculation. SDP's idea was to promote HDZ as its main adversary, then allow right-wing extremists émigrés to become its very visible elements and thus scare the voters into embracing lesser evil. SDP didn't think that the voters, sick with Communism, would consider HDZ as lesser evil. SDP also underestimated Croatian people's willingness to react to the rise of Milošević (Milosevic) by electing Slobo of their own – and former general Tudjman, with its autocratic potential, has fit the profile. Nevertheless it took few years for HDZ to develop in right-wing, and times very far right-wing party, dominated by Herzegovina Croats and extremist émigrés. After the war and with Croatian population increased dislike for Tudjman's authoritarian tendencies, HDZ popularity began to sink until it disappeared after Tudjman's death. HDZ subsequently lost 2000 elections and was (and still is) ravaged by factional struggles. New leader Ivo Sanader tries to present HDZ as "reformed" and moderate right-wing party, but hardly anyone takes him seriously, because most of his present-day allies used to be on the far right during Tudjman's days.

HSS – Hrvatska seljačka stranka (Croatian Peasants Party)
Short description: rural pseudo-conservative populists

HSS members like to think of their party as the inheritor of old HSS – populist and ideologically diverse party which used to carry torch of Croatian nationalism in pre-WW2 Yugoslavia. In 1938 elections HSS won 98 % of votes in Croatia. Modern-day HSS, founded in 1990, can hardly aspire towards numbers. 10 % is its maximum, and this is quite understandable, because of the demographic limitations of its voter base – rich and relatively well-to-do farmers. HSS, unlike most of Croatian parties, has clear program – promoting the economic interests of those farmers at the expense of everybody else. In doing so, HSS under the leadership leader Zlatko Tomčić (Zlatko Tomcic), has abandoned any moral, ethnical or ideological consideration; despite paying lip service to country's Catholicism and conservative worldview, HSS feels comfortable in coalition with former Communists who promote gay marriages. Election prospects: 5-10 %; HSS would go at the polls alone and act as the post-election "kingmaker", most likely continuing its pact with SDP.

HNS – Hrvatska narodna stranka (Croatian People's Party)
Short description: limousine liberals

During the first democratic elections in 1990, moderate Croatian nationalists had alternative to SDP and HDZ in the form of co-allition led by Savka Dabčević-Kučar (Savka Dabcevic-Kucar) and Ante "Miko" Tripalo, former Communist leaders in Croatia who used to be nationalists icons after their downfall in early 1970s. Failure of that coalition didn't discourage Savka and Tripalo from forming new "civic-minded" and centre-oriented party in 1990; for a brief time, it looked like HNS might indeed be the strongest opposition to Tudjman, but its spectacular fiasco in 1992 almost put that party to dustbin of history. HNS reinvented itself in late 1990s under the new and younger leadership and replaced moderate nationalism with radical opposition to Tudjman. After becoming part of governing coalition in 2000, nominally centre party became radically left-wing, mostly due to the comparsions with increasingly neo-Tudjmanist and right-wing SDP. Despite few corruption scandals and President Mesić (Mesic), their most valued member, making few bad moves, HNS can still expect good results among younger and urban voters. Election prospects: 8-10 %, most likely to form governing coalition after the elections.


HSP – Hrvatska stranka prava (Croatian Party of Rights)
Short description: post-Ustashas

Founded in 1990, HSP was named after the party led by Ante Starčević (Ante Starcevic), 19th Century politician and great-grandfather of modern Croatian nationalism. Among many parties splintered from 19th Century original, one would later serve as a basis for Ante Pavelić's (Ante Pavelic's) Ustasha movement. WW2 legacy wouldn't discourage HSP to adopt Ustasha insignia and later form its own black-clad party militia during the war; that would serve Tudjman well, because compared with HSP, HDZ even in its most virulent far right form, looked moderate. However, HSP, because of its far right radicalism increased popularity among Croatians and Tudjman's regime had to resort to some drastic measure to remove such threats, including imprisonments, high treason trials and couple of HSP leaders being gunned down in suspicious circumstances. In 1993 less direct approach was used and HSP's radical and concerted media/intelligence services effort led to HSP leader Dobroslav Paraga being replaced by Anto Đapić (Anto Djapic). Đapić's HSP turned into Tudjman's satellite party, but, unlike HDZ, wasn't stained by corruption scandals in late 1990s. That helped in turning HSP into independent player after 2000 elections (HSP even made voted with Račan on few issues); with Ustasha images and rhetoric toned-down, HSP is now relatively well-defined and almost "modern" right-wing party. Election prospects: 5 %; most likely to enter Sabor without anybody else's help.

IDS – Istarski demokratski sabor (Istrian Democratic Assembly)
Short description: regionalists

Founded in 1990, IDS wisely chose to sit out first democratic elections and allow SDP to sweep Istria. Two years later, during the war, SDP was in tatters and IDS hopped in, knowing that people of Istria had little taste for Tudjman's virulent form of Croatian nationalism. IDS, under its leader Ivan Jakovčić (Ivan Jakovcic), became one of rare Croatian party with clear platform – promoting Istrian interests at the expense of everybody else. Ideologically, IDS was aberration from Croatian mainstream in 1990 - it promoted ethnic tolerance, trans-border regionalism and didn't feel embarrassed of Croatian Partisan past. IDS supported future rulers of Croatia, but Jakovčić, once in power, saw that the ineptness of Račan's government could only hurt IDS, already being accused of HDZ style of rule within the confines of Istrian County. IDS was the first party to bolt out of coalition (in 2001), but it nevertheless continued to support Račan in fights with right-wingers. Elections prospects: excellent; despite 2-3 % of general vote, it is in coalition with SDP in Istria, thus having Sabor seats guaranteed.

HSLS – Hrvatska socijalno-liberalna stranka (Croatian Social Liberal Party)
Short description: losers

Foundations of HSLS are the most embarrassing of all Croatian parties, except SDP, because it was founded in 1989, as "civic" experiment within Communist-dominated Front. However, HSLS quickly adopted Croatian nationalism and in 1990 became the strongest of all moderate nationalist parties. In 1992, combining populism and anti-authoritarian rhetoric, HSLS became the strongest opposition party, gathering many civic-minded individuals. Four years later, however, HSLS boss Dražen Budiša (Drazen Budisa) got strange idea of coming to power by creating grand coalition with Tudjman. It led to his party's drop in polls, break-ups, but in the end Budiša came to power, albeit in coalition with Račan. After losing 2000 presidential elections, Budiša directed his displeasure towards his partner Račan, and by 2002 coalition was over, with HSLS shifting towards far right. Election prospects: bad, around 5 %, they might get a MS or two.

LS – Liberalna stranka (Liberal Party)

Following the row over whether HSLS should try reach understanding with Tudjman or stay in opposition, defeated faction (opposition-minded), led by HSLS chief and famous poet Vladimir Gotovac formed its own party, which took liberal and civic ideas of human rights, tolerance etc. more seriously than Budiša's nationalists. LS nevertheless failed to reach HSLS's former voting base, because the space had been already occupied by made-over HNS. LS is, therefore, party without the future; the only sensible thing for LS is to unite with HNS, but efforts in that direction failed, mostly due to both parties' leaders vanity. Dr. Ivo Banac, former Yale professor, became LS leader this year but his efforts to reinvigorate LS came too late. Election prospects: 1-2 %; unless they stick to someone's else ticket they could kiss Sabor goodbye


In Summer of 2002 Budiša decided to break partnership with SDP; many of his followers with seats in cabinet and Sabor, including deputy prime minister Goran Granić (Goran Granic) and defence minister Jozo Radoš (Jozo Radoš) didn't follow his enthusiasm and decided to stay in power by forming "liberal" party of their own. Election prospects: 1-2 %, same as LS, unless they can stick to someone else's ticket, they have no fzure

HB – Hrvatski blok (Croatian Bloc)

In late 1990s free press used to associate Tudjman's all-powerful domestic policy advisor Ivić Pašalić (Ivic Pasalic) with all the corruption scandals of the regime. After the 2000 elections this came handy to Ivo Sanader in his attempts to create new image of HDZ or "modern" and "clean" party and establish his authority; with the more than tacit support of media, Sanader defeated Pašalić's faction and forced him to create new party. HB nowadays accuses Sanader of "selling out" Tudjmanist ideas, while in return being accused of "dangerous far right extremism". Elections prospects: 3-4%, they might slip a one or two MSes of their own in Eastern Slavonia

DC – Demokratski Centar (Democratic Centre)

For most of 1990s Mate Granić (Mate Granic), brother of current deputy minister Goran Granić, used to be Tudjman's foreign minister. As such, he had to pay more attention to stuff like human rights, tolerance etc. in his speeches, and that was enough for media to pronounce him as the leader of "moderate" faction within Tudjman's regime. Granić tried to exploit this image, acting as HDZ presidential candidate in 2000. After his disgraceful defeat he was quickly discarded by his own party and had to form new party of his own. Nominally in the centre, DC gradually shifted to the right. Election prospects: 1-2 %, bad; unless they stick to someone, they are history

HIP – Hrvatski istinski preporod (Croatian True Rebirth)

Closest thing to single-issue party in Croatian politics, it was formed by Tudjman's son and former secret service chief Miroslav. Tudjman Jr. and few people around him are alarmed over Hague Tribunal investigations trying to put stain on his father's legacy and want to mobilise Croatian people to defend "nation's honour" and refuse co-operation with Hague. Most of its founders aren't particularly liked among Croatian people, and few give them much chances during elections, but they nevertheless made surprise gains during Zagreb local elections in 2000. Elections prospects: 1-2 %, not very good, but they are probably going to stick to some right-wing party ticket.

Of course, these aren't all political parties in Croatia. There are many more, but only a fraction have in constant media spotlight or have national organisations. Some parties are well-established, but they don't function outside certain counties or local communities. Real importance of minor league parties would be easier to access in days and weeks to come, after they become part of joint tickets in certain electoral districts. I would give more attention to them in future posts.


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