Intervju s International Socialist Alternative o nadolazećim parlamentarnim izborima

By Kolektiv Libertarijanske ljevice

Nedavno nas je kontaktirala International Socialist Alternative da nas pita za naša mišljenja o nadolazećim parlamentarnim izborima pa smo im dali intervju kojeg su objavili na svojem portalu. Intervju je na engleskom jeziku a puni tekst možete pročitati u nastavku:

On July 5th elections to the Croatian Parliament are to take place. They were originally due to take place in the autumn. Why were they brought forward to July?

The official reason for them taking place in early July is due to the fear of a second wave of COVID-19. Of course, this is not the only factor, as the ruling party is likely to have less favorable ratings in autumn as the Croatian economy struggles with the consequences of the epidemic.

Since 2016 Croatia has been ruled by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) led by Andrej Plenković. The HDZ was once led by Franjo Tuđman, who established the right-wing nationalist one-party regime in Croatia after the collapse of Yugoslavia. How has HDZ ruled Croatia since 2016?

In these years the HDZ has shifted away from the traditional hard nationalism usually found in the party toward a more neoliberal European approach. It is clear that the HDZ has tried to emulate the image of the CDU in Germany, and Andrej Plenković is seen more as a European bureaucrat in his policies than a right wing politician. This has, of course, inspired the rise of more outwardly right wing populist options like the Homeland Movement (Domovinski pokret) led by Miroslav Škoro, most of which is made up of former members of HDZ, disappointed with how it has developed.

What have been the economic and social consequences of the HDZ government for workers and youth?

Decades of HDZ rule have left the country battling with a crippling “brain drain”. This is in addition to the destruction of industry. Just recently, one of the largest shipyards closed, and there is a threat to close the Sisak oil refinery. Rampant corruption and inefficient bureaucracy are still a problem nobody is willing or able to address even though people are eager for promises of change.

2019 has seen significant protests by workers involving, among others bus drivers, teachers, health workers and against reforms to the pension system. What have been the main demands of these workers and what role have the trade unions played?

These protests have played an important role in raising class consciousness, and were an example of solidarity between workers in different sectors of industry. However, sadly, these initiatives have been co-opted by nationalist currents that have misdirected the frustrations of the workers and severely hampered the potential of their demands. The demands were mostly oriented on pay raises, and have been met only partially by the government, as the strikes lost momentum and support due to poor union management. The state of workers’ unions in Croatia, as shown again by these movements, is in a grim situation. Most unions are “yellow unions” servicing the interests of the capitalist class, and the few that are inclined listening to their workers are on the defensive.

Croatia is one of those countries in the European Union with, so far, a relatively low number of those infected by the Coronavirus. The government claims credit for this. Is this justified?

Initially yes, the measures put forth by the National Civil Defense HQ were well timed, quite strict and well enforced. The population responded in a very disciplined manner at the start and during the peak of the outbreak, and the healthcare system was capable of isolating and treating cases. However, although the measures were, in a way, successful, there was a clear conflict of interest between trying to soften the measures as much as possible and pressure to establish a positive image as a capable government due to the upcoming elections. But when the Prime Minister called the election, they relaxed enforcement of many of the necessary measures. In particular, as there are many HDZ supporters living in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the borders were quickly opened, and the self-isolation period for travellers from Bosnia revoked. This, among other factors, has led, in the past week to a second wave with the number of new infections already matching the peak of the first wave at the end of March.  If anything, the government has proven itself to be irresponsible and inept at properly handling the situation at hand.

Now economic analysts are predicting the sharpest downturn in GDP in the second quarter of 2020 by between 15-25%. This compares to the 8,8% plunge it experienced in 2009. The government claims that it can recover from this dramatic drop already in 2021 – is this realistic? What role will support from the European union play in this?

If we learned anything from the 2008 economic crisis in Croatia, it’s that the government is highly inept at handling domestic economic issues. While the Croatian economy has since become more integrated into the EU internal market, its ability to solve such issues has increased, but it is now highly dependent on how Germany, France and other economically stronger EU countries deal with economic consequences of COVID-19. Most economists are sceptical at the official recovery predictions, and it is likely the oncoming crisis will hit the country much harder than the Great Recession of 2008.

Croatian airlines says it lost nearly fifteen million euros in the first quarter of 2020, a 50% increase in the total loss for 2019. But it is claiming nearly 93 million euros to cover losses and develop its future. What economic support are workers and the unemployed being given by the government to help get through the crisis?

The government is mostly focused on helping medium and large businesses with investments intended to soften the blow of the epidemic, helping them stay afloat and curb the unemployment trend. Other than that, there has been no direct focus on helping the workers and the unemployed as the second COVID-19 wave is in swing, but it is doing absolutely nothing to create new jobs, relying instead on the free hand of the market.s to do this. All in all, economic support for the workers and unemployed has been underwhelming.

Opinion polls indicate that currently the block led by HDZ and the main opposition block, the Restart coalition, centred around the Social Democratic Party are likely to gain similar numbers of votes. This could mean that the HDZ will need the support of more openly right-wing populist and eurosceptic Homeland movement led by the musician Miroslav Škoro to stay in government.

Exact predictions are difficult to make but the latest and more authoritative polls indicate that the smaller parties are being squeezed and that the most likely result at this point is for the SDP to gain the largest number of votes, but without a parliamentary majority. HDZ could gain a majority with the support of Miroslav Škoro’s Homeland Movement, but relations between the two parties are very antagonistic as many members of the far-right Homeland deserted HDZ complaining it had betrayed the homeland. An agreement would be difficult to reach and only possible if HDZ takes on board part of Homeland Movement’s far right agenda. This scenario will lead to a very unstable government unable to cope with the predicted economic crisis and the other serious problems which face Croatia.

If, despite the current polls, the SDP/Restart bloc wins it promises to make, as centre of its policies, the development of an environmentally friendly economy, financed mainly by EU funds. What has been its previous record in government – from 2000-3 and 2011-16 and is it likely, given the developing global crisis to be able to progress in this direction?

The record of the SDP in government is a record of unfulfilled promises. While in government 2000-2003, Ivica Račan did nothing to address the crimes committed during the privatisation in the 1990’s. The government of SDP’s Zoran Milanović, current president of Croatia, which was in office 2011-2016, is responsible for the anti-worker labour laws. Even though a Restart/SDP government may, on paper, appear to be a more favourable outcome than that led by the HDZ, one has to be highly sceptical of all the promises the SDP is making right now given their track record. Now an SDP government is only feasible if supported by their numerous Restart Coalition partners, as well as the Left-Green Coalition.  Given the unstable nature of both possible majorities, new elections are not out of the question before the end of the new parliamentary mandate.

Unusually for any country today, the State Electoral Commission has said that men are insufficiently represented on some party’s candidate lists. But the Croatian Bishop’s Conference has called on Croatians to vote for parties (i.e. the HDZ) that advocate marriage as a union between a man and a woman, and education based on Christian morals. How are the rights of women being addressed in the election?

The Homeland Movement and Miroslav Škoro, along with Nino Raspudić from the right-wing clerical party Bridge of Independent Lists (MOST), have called for a ban on abortions, even in the case of rape. This has provoked a public backlash, and an online campaign of prominent Croatian women attacking Miroslav Škoro. The relative success of Željka Markić’s referendum which successfully redefined marriage as a union between man and woman only. The clerical lobby in Croatia has only been gaining more influence over the years.

Interest in other countries has been shown in the participation of the ‘Left-Green’ block in the election consisting of Green groups such as “We can!”, the “New Left” and the “Workers’ front”. Representatives of the block call for a green sustainable economy, social equality and dignified work conditions and international solidarity, they criticise neo-liberalism but do they call for an end to capitalism and present a socialist alternative?

The very existence of the Left-Green bloc shows that there is ground for a serious anti-capitalist position to emerge, demonstrating a rise in popularity of more radical left-wing alternatives within the general population, and this is very welcome.
While it is true that the Left-Green bloc is proposing many sound policies, and does have a sceptical stance towards neo-liberal economic practices, it does not call for the dismantling of capitalism or for the establishment of socialism in any way. The most radical partner in the coalition, namely the Workers’ Front, has a program that talks about Socialism of the 21st Century based on social ownership of the means of production, production for needs and not profit and workplace democracy. However, their public statements sometimes contradict those aspirations.
Following its experience of its participation in the recent presidential elections, it has begun to move away from its more radical policies and street action in public towards a more reformist and populist presentation, which they believe will help it gain voter support from those looking for a new social-democratic position.

At its recent press conference, the “Workers’ Front” spoke for the need for a law on property, to fight corruption. It has said that it is prepared to support a coalition government with the SDP if it was to support such a law and possibly an increase in the minimum wage. How bad is corruption in Croatia and is this the best way to fight it?

We think corruption in Croatia is a complex and widespread issue rising from flaws in the capitalist systemic itself, and therefore any attempt to deal with corruption needs to challenge the system itself. “Reforms” have been tried before but failed since they never attempted to get to the root of the problem. In short, just to paint how widespread the issue is, we would need to reform the entire government from the judiciary branch and territorial restructuring all the way down to the basics, such as how public institutions hold job applications in order to curb rampant nepotism.

The law on property which is proposed by the Workers’ Front is insufficiently prepared, doesn’t deal with the root cause of corruption and is unlikely to garner much support from the political establishment. The SDP has their own proposed version that focuses on taxing and fining these activities instead of expropriating any ill-gains from corrupt practices. It is likely the SDP’s version will gain support, pushing more radical solutions aside.          
To fight corruption, we cannot rely on either of  the current mainstream parties such as the SDP and the HDZ, which only offer snake oil reformist “solutions” without challenging the system that causes them. The only way to start this struggle is to organise to bring change via direct action.

What do you think workers and youth should do in this election? And how then do you see the fight for socialism in Croatia being developed?

Croatia, like many other countries is on the verge of a terrible economic crisis. The SDP, which presents itself as a center-left party is still fundamentally pro-capitalist, and has the support of a significant section of Croatian businesses. It will probably  implement its promise to increase the minimum wage if it wins the election, as practically all political options on the table are engaged in a bidding war to increase the minimum wage to garner voter support. However, to tackle the economic crisis it will, like its social democratic counterparts in other countries, use capitalist measures, which will support big business while making the workers pay.

As we have already said, there is the development of support for more radical left-wing alternatives within the general population. This is currently being channeled into support for the Left-Green coalition and we need to engage with those who support the block. But in calling for a vote for the Left-Green block we understand that the coalition does not stand for ending capitalism, however, the shift in rhetoric is a welcome one.

If it follows its current trajectory to the right by ‘moderating’ its language and pushing the socialist part of its programme into the background in the belief that it will gain more votes and then, in parliament entering a coalition with the pro-capitalist SDP.  Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the Left-Greens will bring about any change, and will in the end just become another SDP satellite in parliament.

There is hope that the block, in particular the Workers’ Front, can raise class consciousness, bringing its programme to the fore and struggling to build a fighting working class movement to defend jobs, wages, work conditions, the health service and the environment in order to lay the basis for a genuine socialist movement in Croatia leading to the successful overthrow of capitalism.

Currently, the lack of an option with a developed plan and the potential to fight capitalism in any meaningful way is the biggest obstacle in the struggle for socialism in Croatia. Only when there is such a movement can we see the fight for socialism progressing in any meaningful way.