By Will Firth
ZAGREB — A lot of problems in Croatia today are caused directly by war. But they are aggravated by the aggressive nationalist policies of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) government under Franjo Tudjman.
The war in Croatia has taken a heavy toll of Croatia's resources, and the war raging in Bosnia-Hercegovina is a continuing source of instability and refugees.
A third of Croatia's territory is occupied by Serbian-ethnic forces. Industrial and agricultural production have fallen almost by half, many businesses are functionally insolvent, and there is little hope of recovery: owners of capital prefer lucrative import deals to investments in an uncertain domestic economy. Inflation is now more than 30% per month and unemployment is high and rising (officially 260,000 in April).
There are 400 refugee camps in Croatia where more than 700,000 people are being supported by international aid agencies and the overstretched Croatian welfare system. A much larger country would be hard pressed to cope with the immense task of meeting the social, psychological and medical needs of so many refugees. In fact, without resettlement programs and long-term mediation work in hundreds of destroyed communities, welfare activities can be little more than treating the symptoms.
Croatia, with its population of just over 4 million, has its productive capacity further reduced by perhaps 200,000 men and women under arms (exact figures are a military secret). All these problems are essentially dictated by the war.
However, the regime's hardline policies go beyond the requirements of defence. There are numerous forms of internal repression which make the
regime's claims to be democratic and a defender of cultured European values look anything but credible.
Earlier this year the editors of critical Split daily Slobodna Dalmacija were sacked, as also happened to the editors of the weekly Danas in 1992. This brought these once independent papers into line with the rest of the Croatian media: either nationalised papers or gutter tabloids, in either case loyal to the regime. After the last PEN congress in Rio de Janeiro, a witch-hunt was conducted against five critical women journalists, four of whom later lost their jobs.
The HDZ is a centre-right party; there are several parties further to the right, such as Dobroslav Paraga's HSP. Several of these parties have their own militias and have been involved in killings and other violent incidents. Although they have been urged to disband and join the regular Croatian army, the heavily armed members of the HSP's militia, the HOS, can still occasionally be seen swaggering through the streets of Zagreb.
Their newspapers call for a "greater Croatia". There has been a general militarisation of Croatian society, with a proliferation of militaristic images and also a general increase in violent crime, including rape, child abuse and common violent crimes, even in areas untouched by the war.
When the Yugoslav army left Croatia, the Croatian army "inherited" its property. Since then there have been more than 170 cases of so-called "delozacija" — people being evicted from their (army) apartments to make way for members of the armed forces. These evictions sometimes involve considerable cruelty as families, including those with ill members, have been evicted. This is a major problem for the evictees because of the great housing shortage.
In addition to the personal ID card which is common throughout European countries, Croatia has also introduced a kind of citizenship certificate, the so-called "domovnica". Obtaining
this document is notoriously difficult and involves presenting documents and references to prove your Croatian descent and/or loyalty to the Croatian state.
This certificate is needed to apply for social welfare benefits, for getting many jobs etc. Discrimination against people of non-Croatian nationality is common, and ethnic Serbs often have their applications rejected even if they have lived in Croatia all their lives. If these people lose their jobs, they are left in total limbo without any means of support.
The media and public institutions have also come under pressure to introduce a new dictated style of language. Supposedly "Serbian" words and "Balkanisms" are being culled and replaced by allegedly genuine Croatian equivalents. Time-honoured internationalisms like "faktor" and "protest" are to be replaced by "cimbenik" and "prosvjed".
It is also now a part of being a "good Croatian" to be seen as a Catholic. Previously non-religious people have taken to wearing crosses, as the media pay more and more attention to the activities of the church.
The increase in the status of the church is strengthening patriarchal values. Abortion, for example, for over 40 years a woman's right, is now a political football. In 1992 the church attempted to have abortion banned but was blocked on procedural grounds in the parliament. Another attempt by the Croatian Right-to-Lifers is bound to follow.
As wages rapidly decline (from around $400 per month in the late '80s to less than $100 today) the union movement is emerging from its comatose and disoriented state of the early 1990s. The Federation of Independent Croatian Trade Unions (SSSH) is the largest grouping and had its origins in the pro-regime trade union federation of Communist Yugoslavia. It is now the most progressive union amongst mostly employer-friendly unions.
However, there have been several successful protest actions and strikes. For example, railway workers held a one-day strike in April for higher pay and for the payment of their wages on time.
The social movements are small but active. The Zagreb Anti-War Campaign and affiliated groups conduct a wide range of campaigns on peace and social justice issues, such as, for example, campaigns against the evictions from army apartments. They also coordinate deliveries of humanitarian aid and visits by humanitarian helpers from abroad.
The Zagreb Women's Lobby has an anti-nationalist, feminist position and its Independent Women's House provides a range of support services for women who have been raped or have otherwise suffered in the war.
The humanitarian, peace and anti-authoritarian organisations are doing enormously valuable grassroots work under very difficult conditions — encouragement and financial support are urgently required. The Anti-War Campaign and many other groups can be contacted at the address: ARK, Tkalciceva 38, 41000 Zagreb, Croatia. Ph 3841 422495, fax 3841 271143. Foreign currency account: 30101-620-16-2421726885 at Zagrebacka banka.