Saturday, January 29, 2005

Second "Constructive Opposition"?

One of the sadder chapters of recent Croatian history is the lack of official opposition in the first two years of its democracy.

On paper, there was a strong opposition, at least judging by the composition of first democratically elected Sabor. While Tudjman and HDZ party won nearly two thirds of seats, nearly a third was taken by Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) and his ex-Communists.

However, after few months some interesting phenomenon developed in Sabor. MSes from SDP were conspicuously silent during debates and whenever someone voted against government's proposal it was more likely to come from the ranks of HDZ. Some SDP leaders were even more passionate in defence of Tudjman and his policies than the most sycophantic members of HDZ. And, since Tudjman used to run HDZ with iron discipline it tells a lot about the way SDP acted as opposition party.

When asked about that state of affairs – which many saw as de facto coalition between HDZ and SDP - Račan described it as "constructive opposition". Later he would claim that "constructive opposition" was inevitable because SDP shared the major political aim with HDZ - Croatian independence – and didn't want to jeopardise realisation of that aim with "petty criticisms" of things like privatisation, mishandling the war, arms smuggling or human rights abuses.

More cynical observers saw "constructive opposition" as a strategy of survival for the party which many sections of Croatian society saw as embodiment of Communism and Yugoslavia.

More than a decade has passed and many things changed. But many things are also very much like they used to be in 1990. HDZ is again in power while SDP is strongest opposition party. And, Ivica Račan apparently thinks that this situation warrants another "constructive opposition".

In the last days of presidential campaigns, President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) together with leaders of HNS, HSS and other opposition parties was surprised to find Ivica Račan having some secretive negotiations with Ivo Sanader, prime minister and leader of ruling HDZ. Almost immediately media began speculating about SDP leaving its former coalition partners in favour of new, this time grand coalition with HDZ.

This new arrangement is, at least at present, more needed by Sanader than by Račan. HDZ rank-and-file might not like the coalition with the party it saw its worst enemy during past few elections. However, HDZ leadership would prefer one strong partner and clear majority in Sabor to the thin majority dependant on petty parties always blackmailing Sanader for their share of pork barrel. Coalition with SDP would also be less embarrassing than present coalition that includes Serb nationalists. At the same time, coalition with Račan could silence all those in Europe who still brand Sanader's party as hard-line nationalists.

Apart from the obvious benefit of coming to power earlier than anyone expected, Račan could use the grand coalition to increase his party's chances on the local elections, especially in Zagreb where dominant SDP is in bitter feud with HNS, its former partner on national level. At least in the short run, the coalition between SDP and HDZ could marginalise other parties, especially those on the left whose leaders have apparently allowed themselves to be taken for a ride and support Račan until this day.

If asked about it, Račan is ready to use excuse for his "constructive opposition" very much like the one used more than a decade ago. Again it is the great noble aim SDP shares with HDZ and that shouldn't be jeopardised over petty ideological and other differences. Last time it was Croatian independence, this time it is entry to EU.

Ironically, both aims are related to Croatian sovereignty. Last time Račan deprived Croatia of opposition for the sake of establishing full Croatian sovereignty. This time he is going to do it for the sake of giving Croatian sovereignty away.


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