The Progressive Post

🇭🇷 Voter, haven’t you forgotten something?


SDP Croatia International Secretary

Let’s not blame the voters, as politicians are prone to do. Nearly 80 per cent of Croatian voters ignored the European elections. Have they already built the cordon sanitaire for the EU?

This is a true story.

Have you forgotten something today? – a random by-passer in a shopping mall that Sunday was rather puzzled by the question from a TV reporter. Well, she started, not really…  I don’t think so…, the young woman was obviously trying hard to remember. The European elections!, the reporter almost screamed at her. Ah, ok, yes, she responded, clearly disappointed by the answer (and somehow relieved, at the same time). So, will you vote?, continued the reporter impatiently. Well, I will see, yes, if I find some time, the young woman promised, although it seemed she was not really convinced by her own words. 

Indeed, this was true for many more voters in Croatia, more precisely for around 80 per cent of them, as the turnout for the European elections on 9 June was a record-low 21.34 per cent – the lowest among the EU member states. It is as if we have a history of neglecting these elections. Even in 2014, the first year of Croatia’s EU membership, only a quarter of registered voters showed up at the polling stations. Back then, voters’ disinterest was often explained by media, academia and political actors themselves as a sign of ignorance and a consequence of a poor political culture, as if media, academia and politicians were not, at least in part, responsible for the shape of it. The more plausible answer then and now, however, might be that disinterest is nurtured by Brussels’ performance and, more importantly, by political priorities that are distant from the interests of most of the people. 

During the EU–Croatia accession negotiation process (2005–2011) it was all about strengthening the rule of law, building democratic institutions, introducing a handful of independent bodies tasked with oversight, and it was about frantically adopting EU regulation. It was about branding the EU as a union led by morally superior individuals, and it was important for Croatia to distinguish itself from the other Balkans by joining that ‘superior’ political community. On the other hand, the economic package of the EU-accession process was dominated back at that time by straightforward free-market narratives – which have now hopefully been abandoned. Basically, it was expected of a candidate country to abide by strict fiscal rules, downplay the government’s influence, and intensify and incentivise private initiatives in key sectors such as healthcare or digital infrastructure. It was about flexibilisation of the labour market and proclaiming labour standards ‘a relic of the past’. I clearly remember how the former labour minister took pride in exclaiming: “We don’t live in the world of an eight-hour workday!” (Indeed, we don’t, it should be six…) And even if the narrative has changed and today’s EU is not what it used to be, it doesn’t seem that people care for what is going on in the European Parliament. 

The promise of a purification of politics that inevitably comes with EU membership was never fulfilled. It is not a perfect union, but at least we’re in, EU-optimists shouted a couple of years after joining – and they still play the same tune today. But it’s getting noisy out there. Not sure who’s listening.  

From one electoral cycle to another, Croatian politicians seem to be more at ease with blaming their fellow citizens for not opting to vote, primarily for them, but also generally for avoiding polling stations. These European elections were no exception. A rather famous quote by one of those politicians dominated the election night just a month ago when Croatia voted for the national parliament: “You persistently vote for HDZ (EPP, ruling party in Croatia since 2016, now in government with the right-wingers), and when the night comes, you cry for your children who have left for work in Ireland”. This type of blunt accusation could not be heard this time, since mainstream parties dominated the vote. The European elections in Croatia did not see the rise of right-wing forces, as has been the case in some other EU member states. The Social Democrats are fairly satisfied with the result (HDZ 6, SDP 4, Možemo! 1, Domovinski pokret 1) but the question of who votes and why (almost) nobody votes, does not seem to have received an answer. Addressing this question might be painful, but the sooner we do it the better. For that, we need a broad consultation process that will lead to the creation of a popular front, which should include disengaged youth and working people. True, they might vote for our opponents – right-wing included – or abstain from political participation – but without them it’s going to be yet another long and dark election night.  

Photo Credits: Shutterstock/Amilat

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