I’m writing this article amidst the COVID-19 crisis as the very concepts of the EU get shaken to the core. What does the membership to the EU mean to Croatia in 2020?
- Croatians had high expectations from EU. However, expectations tend to be unreasonable.
- Croatia has been the member of the European Union since July 1, 2013.
- Today, the dominant feeling among Croatians regarding the EU is INDIFFERENCE.
Again, keeping in mind that our whole reality may be changing right before our eyes, let me try to expand this topic a bit.
In order to understand the complexity of this topic, let me first set some groundwork. This is where you’d find the roots of Croatian feelings for the European Union.
Where Is Croatia?
- Central Europe
Croatians like to see themselves in Central Europe. They associate Central Europe with Vienna, baroque, Mozart, Strauss, gold… According to Croats, this should be your first association of Croatia.
- South-Eastern Europe
That’s ok, I guess. Second-best, but ok. Italy. Pizza. Greek statues. Blue sea, islands and all. Nice food. Olive oil.
Where Croatia Is Not?
- Eastern Europe
Croatians dislike this term. Iron Curtain, mud, dust, concrete, Ceausescu, rust, Stalin. Don’t use it.
- The Balkans
A huge NO-NO. An offensive expression. If you want to insult a Croatian, accuse him of being “Balkanac” [bahl’ka:nats], meaning: dirty, lazy, primitive, barbarian, uneducated. This restricted expression is even more hurtful to our dear neighbours, the Slovenians.
- Yugoslavia The most disgusted and hated notion. Croatians get deeply upset if you use this word. Some may swear, curse or damn you if you use it in the wrong (positive) context.
Croatian Expectations From The EU
Hence, it is easy to discern that Croatians, in general, have certain emotional issues. There is a powerful push away from the “east” and a pull towards the “west”.
I would dare to say that Croatians developed kind of a feeling of LONGING to be admitted to the “privileged society”. Croatians have longed for acceptance, acknowledgement and a tap on the back.
EU has been assigned almost a sacred aura, like a land flowing with milk and honey, a promised land… Songs were composed, poems written…
Years before Croatia actually became the EU member, many Croatians would put blue EU stickers on their licence plates.
BTW, HR stands for Hrvatska, the Croatian for Croatia (much like D standing for Deutschland, which is German for Germany).
Of course, Croatian politicians have been generously taking advantage of these feelings and even amplified them, very much like some religious leaders who make all kinds of promises of a wonderful afterlife in exchange for some insignificant “favours” today.
Consequently, Croatians were ready to pay WHAT IT TAKES to get in. And they did.
Croatia Got Accepted To The EU In July 2013. At Last.
Why “At last”? Because most Croatians expected it to happen in the early 1990’s.
Why did it take so long?
Well, officially, Croatia had to meet certain requirements. It had to deal with corruption, improve its super slow judicial system, deal with the bulky inefficient internal administration….
So, in 2013 Croatia sorted this out? Well, no. Croatia promised it would deal with it.
And has anything improved? Well, apparently not. Quite the contrary. Corruption is more wide spread than ever. The slow judicial system is not only slower, but shamelessly, even nauseatingly biased and corrupt. The bureaucracy is thriving.
Why does the EU turn the blind eye? Well, I don’t know. But here’s a thought. (possibly, I don’t know, it’s not an isolated issue).
Croatia Is Plagued By “UHLJEBI”, A Phenomenon Describing Political And Economic Parasites
Sorry, I just HAD TO put this picture. I was trying to find the example that would aptly describe the phenomenon of the “UHLJEBI”. (BTW, it you want to learn what the fish parasite actually does to the fish tongue and what happens to the fish, please refer to Wikipedia)
The word itself, UHLJEB [‘oukh‘lee’yebb], and its plural form, UHLJEBI, is challenging to translate. The root of the word is HLJEB, which means Bread (sustenance). The verb, UHLJEBITI, means to provide someone with an incessant and indefinite source of income and material security. Hence, an UHLJEB is a person who benefits from such a source of bounty to time indefinite.
So, who gets these benefits? Well, someone’s spouses, siblings, cousins (as in nepotism), friends, godsons, neighbours and so on and on. However, there is a catch: You preferably need to be an adherent of a particular political party. Why? So you would VOTE for that party at the coming elections.
Actually, UHLJEBI neither need to be instructed for whom to vote nor motivated to do so. They would WANT to vote in order to KEEP BENEFITING from their fountain of youth.
In turn, the politicians who GET ELECTED by the UHLJEBI, make sure NO REFORMS ever happen, so that the UHLJEBI would keep supporting them. Additionally, laws are written or not written in a way to support and legalise this behaviour. This may well be one of the reasons why there are no property taxes in Croatia.
The judicial system is also affected by this vicious circle. Time and again notorious criminals are being subjected to never-ending trials and usually get away with it all. And “ALL” usually means millions of euros.
Interestingly, it seems that the number of those who vote at Croatian elections is just slightly higher than the number of the members of political parties. And the number is IMPRESSIVE. More than 11% of Croatians are full-fledged members of a political party. (BTW, The United Kingdom has less than 2%, Germany 3%, Poland only 0,8%). And there are more than 166 political parties in Croatia!
Why? Because without the party card, you apparently cannot even get a menial job in a state-controlled company.
Needless to say that the UHLJEBI, very much as parasites, don’t provide their hosts with many benefits. They are usually under-educated or they’re given custom made jobs that don’t serve any purpose other than feeding the UHLJEB.
Very much like an organism affected by a parasitic infection, this vicious circle should, technically, eventually should come to an end, either with the death of the host or the death of the parasite.
However, the organism is still alive and kicking.
So What Changed?
One begins to wonder what was the purpose of Croatia joining the EU? Evidently, the EU knew what it was doing. So they knew they would profit after all. What do the European countries gain from having Croatia around?
This is a topic for another post.
Nevertheless, Croatia has felt some benefits from the EU.
What were some tangible consequences of Croatian membership to the EU?
One of the greatest achievements of the EU and the victory of Croatian deputies in the EU Parliament was the requirement that Nutella has the same formula in the eastern countries of the EU as the western countries.
Namely, Nutella in eastern EU countries was of inferior quality. Not anymore.
The European Union is putting tremendous pressure on Croatians to start recycling.
Many Croatians are making a fortune by getting 0.50 kunas (0.15€) refund per plastic bottle or a can.
Some ever cherish a hope to be privileged to collect plastic bottles from rubbish bins throughout the EU.
Many Croatian doctors and nurses are intentionally underpaid so to encourage them to move abroad and serve as ambassadors of Croatia.
After Croatia joined the EU, thousands happily moved to Ireland, Germany or Sweden.
Some Croatian “uhljebi” were offered to serve as medical staff. They all declined.
What Do Croatians Feel About The EU?
Euroscepticism, also known as EU-scepticism, means criticism of the European Union (EU) and European integration. It ranges from those who oppose some EU institutions and policies and seek reform (soft Euroscepticism), to those who oppose EU membership outright and see the EU as unreformable (hard Euroscepticism or anti-European Unionism/anti-EUism). The opposite of Euroscepticism is known as pro-Europeanism, or European Unionism.Wikipedia
Are Croatians Eurosceptics? NO! …No?
Unlike Euroscepticism, which is widespread in the EU (actually, more than 50% of the residents of the EU are said to be sceptical about the EU), Croatian are actually EUROINDIFFERENT.
Croatians are predominately indifferent about the EU because it’s a reflection of their general indifference about most aspects of their reality.
The apathy is the result of the impotence to change anything and the disappointment with their treacherous politicians, corrupt judicial system and outright injustice that is not sanctioned.
With the acute COVID-19 crisis, the only reported benefit of being in the EU – travelling freely – is gone.
No wonder that many Croatians behave like my friend at the picture: