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There Is no Bosnia and Herzegovina without Croats

Published on , , Zagreb, Twitter: @AdelinaMarini

The most contested presidential elections in the history of independent Croatia has produced the first female president. This is also the first head of state of the conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) in 15 years. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic has won a thin victory of some 30 000 votes, mainly from abroad, over the incumbent President Ivo Josipovic. With a record high voter turnout of 59.06% the former NATO Assistant Secretary General and ex-minister of foreign affairs and European integration has won 50.74 per cent of the votes while for Josipovic voted 49.26%. The breakup in regions shows that Ms Grabar-Kitarovic's victory is mainly due to the votes from abroad and most of all to Bosnia and Herzegovina where she received the votes of 93.80% of all the ballots in the neighbouring country while Josipovic was supported by only 6.20 per cent.

Similar is the situation in the countries with large Croatian diasporas. In Canada, the HDZ candidate was the absolute winner with 97.70% against 2.30%. Similar is the picture in Australia where Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic suffered a complete fiasco last year during a meeting with the Croatian diaspora there. The first woman-president was supported by 97.22% and Josipovic got only 2.78%. Same thing in USA - for Grabar-Kitarovic voted 85.07% and for Ivo Josipovic 14.93%. In Serbia and Montenegro the result was as thin as in Croatia itself, however Josipovic was the winner in Serbia with 54.03%. Josipovic is the winner also in Bulgaria, according to the data about how the Croats there voted. But even without the diaspora, she would have again be a winner, although with a little over a thousand votes.

Bosnia, the Croats' second homeland

The race was unprecedentedly unpredictable and tensed up to the very last moment. The first results of the Central Electoral Commission (DIP) were announced at 2200 (CET) but by then neither of the headquarters dared to formally announce a victory. The tension was rising subsequently in both camps. The first exit polls after the end of the voting at 1900 showed a slight advantage for Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, but then the situation changed and Josipovic took the lead. With the night approaching their results evened and continued to be almost equal (less than a percentage point difference) for quite some time. Around 2100 Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic's result started slowly to outpace Josipovic's. His headquarters in the House of Journalists in Zagreb hoped to the very last moment for a twist, though with a slight difference.

The tension was additionally fuelled by problems with voting in Bosnia and Herzegovina and especially in Mostar. There, the voting continued until the early hours on the next day. The reason is, according to comments from BiH, in the few polling stations opened there. Polling stations were opened in Sarajevo, Tuzla and Banja Luka, but there were queues in Mostar only (the Croats' s stronghold). According to an agreement from Ivo Sanader's time, there is a limit to the polling stations in BiH - only five. Despite the cold and the conflicts because of which the police interfered several times and because of the long waiting ambulances were called in too, the Croats there said they would wait until they vote. According to commentators in the country, the voters in BiH voted as if they voted in their homeland.

Similarly to the weight the Bulgarian citizens in Turkey have on elections, the fact that the Croats in BiH had a big influence on the outcome caused some sporadic sharp reactions. The minister for enterprises, Gordan Maras, was hardly able to hold his emotions saying that he would never vote for the fate of someone abroad. Nevertheless, however, he said that a law is a law and should be respected. The case of BiH and Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic's views are worrying from a point of view of the future of the Dayton creation. HDZ maintains close relations with its sister party HDZ of BiH where its leader, Dragan Covic, regularly threatens that unless there is progress he would raise the Croatian question. This is the Croats' demand to have an entity of their own in BiH which is currently divided into two entities - of the Serbs and of the Croats and Muslims.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic promoted during her campaign Constitutional changes in the neighbouring country that should "balance" the rights of the Croats in BiH. And although she stopped short from openly talking about the creation of a third entity, in one of the election debates she said that she would support a new conference on BiH to "upgrade" the Dayton peace agreement signed by Franjo Tudjman, Slobodan Milosevic and Alija Izetbegovic in 1995 in Paris. In the EU is currently dominating the view that the current structure of BiH should not be touched but there are voices in the region of support for a renegotiation of Dayton. This, however, especially in the current geopolitical moment, would mean to open the Pandora's box. In the victorious night of 11 January, the president-elect addressed all Croats in Croatia and "the second homeland of the Croatian people in BiH". She addressed also the Croats in Serbia, Montenegro and the others around the world, but the focus was undoubtedly on BiH where was the biggest number of voters abroad.

The ideological battle for the Pantovcak

A little after 2200 Ivo Josipovic admitted defeat and congratulated his opponent saying: "Democracy has won". According to many analysts, the campaign, especially for the second round, was an ideological battle. "Either us or them", was the appeal of Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic, leader of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which is ruling in a coalition with the Liberals and a regional party. During the campaign for the first round, where four candidates contested, the spirit of change was dominant. Almost everyone wanted Constitutional changes that would introduce more direct democracy. Croatia's economic situation was also among the most discussed issues. The incumbent President Ivo Josipovic, supported by the Social Democrats and 16 parties, was subjected to heavy criticism then for having done nothing during his five years as a head of state to help the country exit the six-year long recession. In the race for the second round, however, the campaign entirely changed its pattern.

As expected, President Josipovic left his neutral speech and focus on his ideas for Constitutional changes behind and started attacking directly Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic for being part of a corrupt government and for being nominated by the first party sentenced (at first instance) for corruption. In the first round, he was forced to defend himself, as well as in the beginning of the second round, but then he staged an attack. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic after spending some time squeezed against the wall in self-defence, recovered and started again to attack the president for the economic situation. This has inevitably led to digging in in the past. During a debate on the Croatian Nova TV was raised the question about Tudjman and Tito.

The issue of the late first president of Croatia after the independence, Franjo Tudjman, is very hot now because HDZ has started building in the past year a cult toward his personality. Last year, a very influential figure was expelled from the party - former prime minister Jadranka Kosor - for not being sufficiently "tudjmanistic". Mr Tudjman's figure has a huge influence in Croatia as he is the man who launched the independence war and laid the foundations of the independent state. He is from the ranks of the HDZ and is considered a "father of the nation" which, in itself, sounds scary to all those who lived under dictatorship and totalitarianism.

The two candidates were asked what they thought about Tudjman's reconciliation policy. Mr Josipovic said that although it was not entirely successful it was a good policy. He added, though, that with the views Tudjman had then he would have been expelled today from the HDZ. He was obviously hinting on the expulsion of Ms Kosor. He also quoted HDZ leader Tomislav Karamarko, former chief of the counter-intelligence and ex-minister of home affairs, saying that the reconciliation policy is dead and there cannot be reconciliation. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was of the opinion that what Karamarko meant was that there were people who abused the reconciliation policy. That policy is Tudjman's best achievement, she said. "You know that, unlike other Central European and Eastern European countries, Croatia did not have lustration precisely with the aim to support the concept of reconciliation and avoid dividing people", she said. Last year, however, the leader of the party, Karamarko, started vigorously to promote lustration.

During the debate was also mentioned the late ex-leader of former Yugoslavia Tito on the occasion of the long ongoing debate whether one of the squares in Zagreb, wearing the marshal's name, should be renamed. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic answered without hesitating that Tito was a communist dictator but that the decision of renaming the square should be taken by the citizens of Zagreb. Ivo Josipovic was more evasive on this question saying that the square of Marshall Tito is a good name. "Tito is a historic person with his very good and very bad sides as were some others. But the reason why this square is named after him is the anti-fascist battle". Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic apostrophised him by calling him not to mix the anti-fascist battle with communism. These two questions are only part of the argumentation why the battle for Pantovcak was an ideological one.

Another element that defines the election as an ideological battle is corruption which was turned into Ivo Josipovic's main weapon in the second round. He never missed to remind Grabar-Kitarovic that she was a foreign minister at the time when some of the crimes for which former prime minister Sanader is now in jail and HDZ has been sentenced. He never missed to recall also that one of his achievements during the first term was to demand Constitutional amendments removing the legal prescription of crimes like corruption in the privatisation deals and war profiteering. These amendments, he said, opened the way for Ivo Sanader's sentencing. And as Ivo Josipovic is quite humble and non-aggressive as a personality, the attacks came most of all from the side of Premier Zoran Milanovic who called HDZ a "crime organisation". Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic found it hard to defend herself on this issue.

Despite the difficulties, she turned the issue into a major one in the second round. If in the first round this issue was almost entirely absent from her public statements, although it is in her programme, in the second round it was among the main issues. In her victory speech on 11 January she said that in the past two years, under the leadership of Tomislav Karamarko, HDZ has cleaned itself from corruption. She promised that she would promote rule of law and zero tolerance for corruption.

Nationalism or patriotism?

What impressed very much throughout the campaign and in the election night was the huge focus on the love for the homeland on behalf of HDZ. While the results were awaited, in the HDZ headquarters was played tens of times the song "Are You Beautiful" by the nationalist Thomson. This song is considered a nationalistic and is always played or sung at a unifying the nation event. Such an event was the acquittal of generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac by the tribunal for the war crimes in former Yugoslavia. Then, on the cram-full central square Ban Jelacic at the centre of Zagreb everyone sung in one voice that song. After the announcement of the first results, the jubilant supporters were addressed first by the HDZ leader Karamarko who said that "the biggest Croatian party which, under the leadership of Doctor Franjo Tudjman, the biggest Croat of the 20th century who has established the Croatian state, today we have a president of our own".

With chants "Franjo, Franjo" in the background he assured that Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic will be a president of all citizens. He congratulated the war veterans and especially those who have been protesting for several months on Savska street in Zagreb demanding the resignation of the war veterans minister Predrag Matic because of statements of his deputy Bojan Glavasevic, a war veteran himself and a victim of Serbian camps, that not all veterans deserve the expensive benefits. The issue of the pensions of the war veterans has been put forward by the European Commission as well in the context of the excessive deficit procedure which the Commission launched against Croatia in the end of 2013. During the protests of the veterans, however, there has been speculation that they are supported by HDZ. Something the party does not hide.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic concentrated a large part of her campaign in both rounds on them as she even spent the New Year's Eve with the protesters on Savska street. They were also the first whom she visited after winning the election on Monday morning. Also in the context of the love for the homeland Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic promised to make the Croatian army strong and powerful to be able to defend the country. It was not very clear, however, what risks she saw to defend the country from, especially bearing in mind that the country is a NATO member. During her victory speech, the love for the homeland was among the most frequently mentioned words. She promised that she will put Croatia among the most developed and prosperous countries in the EU and the world. The president-elect thanked everyone for the support, including her opponents and called for unification. "Enough with mine and his, ours and yours. You all are mine, my dear Croatian citizens. Let us unite, let us unite our love for the homeland, love and belief in our dear homeland Croatia. Let us get out of the crisis, to finish the path we started under the first Croatian president Franjo Tudjman. Let us take Croatia to prosperity", she said positioning herself as a mother of all Croats.

This, too, passed against the backdrop of shouts "Franjo, Franjo". "Thank you for the words of love for the homeland, for the belief in yourselves, because a people that does not believe in themselves, that does not respect themselves will not respect the others as well. And let no one understand this as any threat. The fact that we love ours means that we value the others but we will fight for the Croatian national interests because this is Croatia, not the region". The latter is a fundamental remark which is yet to be filled with meaning. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic outlined as a major priority the solution of the open bilateral issues with the neighbouring countries. She called on them "let us stop sweeping the open issues under the carpet". Croatia has unresolved issues with Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro. They are related to finalisation of the post-war borders, the legacy of former Yugoslavia, the missing persons from the war.

In the beginning of the election race, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic was much more radical and she even tolerated the unresolved bilateral issues with the neighbours to become a precondition for these countries' accession in the EU. With time she softened her stances but generally she did not change much her views. To her, in the regional context nothing else matters than the Croatian national interests. She said she would defend the minorities in Croatia but that she would ask nothing less for the Croatian minorities in Serbia, especially Vojvodina, in BiH and in Montenegro. Unlike her, President Josipovic promoted more integrationist views. Serbia should become a member of the EU after it fulfils all the conditions, was his position toward one of the most troublesome neighbours.

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic's views, and those of the party that stands behind her and is getting ready to take over the power after the parliamentary election later this year, are capable of further complicating the already too complicated situation in the region of the Western Balkans. As there is no doubt that the presidential election was just a warming up for the parliamentary election later this year, the Croatian citizens have to decide whether they see a difference between nationalism and patriotism and all this through the perspective of the current developments in Europe.

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