Croatia. Former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was sentenced in March to nine years in prison for corruption. He was found guilty of bringing the equivalent of about SEK 80 million from state companies to himself and his former party, the Conservative HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union). Both Sanader and HDZ were sentenced to repay millions. It was the first time a party had been convicted of corruption in Croatia. Sanader was already imprisoned since being convicted in 2012 in another case involving bribery.
Severe floods in the Balkan Peninsula in May led to major material damage, and around 15,000 people were evacuated from their homes. However, the devastation was much less severe than in neighboring Bosnia and Serbia. In September, major floods again occurred, affecting more than half of the country’s counties.
According to Countryaah.com, Croatia population in 2020 is estimated at 4,105,278. Parliament adopted a partnership law that gave homosexuals the same rights as married heterosexual couples, with the exception of the right to adoption. When a first partnership was registered between two men in September, it was rewritten as an important milestone in the strictly Catholic country, where same-sex marriage was explicitly banned the year before.
Zagreb’s mayor Milan Bandić was arrested in October on suspicion of abuse of power, tax fraud, illegal election financing and corruption. Bandić, a former presidential candidate and one of the country’s most influential politicians, was released from custody after a month against the $ 2 million bail, the highest bail sum so far in the country. Another 15 people were suspected of corruption corruption.
At the end of the year, the government projected a clearing in the crisis-hit economy, with diminishing budget deficits and a hope of achieving positive growth in 2015 after six crisis years, when GDP fell by 13% in total. But unemployment remained high and the threat of having to apply for emergency loans remained. Croatia had failed to reap any major benefits from its new EU membership, unlike the states that became members in 2004. Widespread distrust of the market economy was considered by many to stand in the way of reforms that would pave the way for increased entrepreneurship.
Also a “colorful” person in the HDZ-MOST government was Minister of Culture Zlatko Hasanbegovic, described by the Simon Wiesenthal Center as a fascist. He held a prominent position in the Ustaca movement in the 1990’s. (Croatia’s election is a warning about the return of nationalism to the Balkans, Guardian 12/9 2016).
The September parliamentary elections were met with great apathy. Only 52.6% of voters voted. A decline of 8.2% compared to the previous election. The result was muddy. HDZ advanced 2 mandates to 61, while its former alliance partner MOST lost 6 and gained 13. Although the two parties merged, they would no longer be able to form a majority government. The Social Democratic SDP went back 2 seats to 54. The only major victor of the election was the populist The Only Solution Coalition, which went 7 seats up to 8. HDZ’s Andrej Plenković a month later formed a coalition government consisting of the HDZ coalition, 5 other parties and 5 representatives. for national minorities. After its accession, the government announced a tax reform that implied higher VAT. It sparked protests from the trade union movement, which pointed out, that higher VAT on the basic foods like bread and milk would hit the weakest in society. The government then agreed to limit VAT on a range of basic goods such as bread, milk, books and prescription drugs to 5% by 2018. The rise in VAT also triggered protests from the tourism sector – restaurants, cafes and hotels – pointing out that higher prices would result in fewer tourists and thus less revenue for the community.
Fewer than 500 people applied for asylum in Croatia in the first 9 months of 2016. Only 34 received any form of protection during this period. Croatian police continued to reject the refugees at the border. Asylum seekers and refugees continued to have major difficulties in accessing education and work, and minors were often placed in institutions for behavioral children and adolescents without adequate care or access to education.
In April 2016, the European Council of Human Rights Commissioner Muižniek expressed his concern over the growing number of cases of discrimination, ethnic intolerance and “hate speech” directed at minorities, especially Jews, Roma and Serbs. The commissioner also warned against the state’s failure to respond to physical attacks, death threats and intimidation aimed at journalists. By March, the state had fired 70 journalists and editors. In 2016, Croatia was downgraded from a 54th place to a 63rd place on the World Press Freedom Index.