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Croatian report
by Euro Reporter
2015-02-06 09:28:03
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Croatia makes history with first woman president

Former NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Kolinda Grabar Kitarović has been elected Croatia's first woman president, defeating the incumbent president in the first presidential elections since the small southeastern European country joined the European Union last year. Grabar Kitarović won in a tight race against incumbent President Ivo Jospović in the runoff in January 2015, netting 50.74% of the votes, according to preliminary results. She will be inaugurated on February 18, 2015. As Croatia's first woman president, and the country's fourth elected president since independence, she will undoubtedly leave her mark on both the country and region. But despite her historic win, many citizens who would have preferred a different political representative are worried as to how their views and needs will be represented with her at the helm. A member of the Croatian Democratic Union, the party instrumental in Croatia gaining independence in 1992, Grabar Kitarović is eager to bring what she has called “the Croatian spirit” back, as well as re-enforce “traditional” values. The country is highly divided between the available centre-left and centre-right political options, and she only defeated Josipović by only a few thousand votes.

Josipović becomes the first Croatian president since the country's independence who didn't win re-election for a second term, as both Franjo Tuđman, Croatia's first president, and Stjepan Mesić were both reflected for two full terms each. In the eyes of many voters, Josipović hasn't done much for Croatians during his mandate as president. The race seems to have been dirty and expensive. The first round of elections was held on December 28, 2014, with four candidates for its presidency: Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, a young political activist, who was the biggest surprise and managed to take 16.42% of the vote; Milan Kujundžić, a right-wing politician, who won only 6.30% votes; Grabar Kitarović, representing the centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, who took 37.88%; and incumbent President Josipović, who won 38.48% votes. The president can't be elected unless he or she secures more than 50% of the votes. 

Because none of the four managed to surpass the 50% threshold (only 47.14% of the total electorate voted in first round), Grabar Kitarović and Josipović went head to head on January 11. During the campaign, the candidates offered up many plans for the country, still struggling with a troubled economy, high unemployment, low GDP and corruption. However, despite the amount of money poured into the elections, presidential power is actually very limited within the Croatian government, with the president mainly acting as a representative within the country and abroad and performing ceremonial duties such as awarding important individuals.


Croatia forgives debt of 60,000 poor citizens

Imagine if the debt that keeps you up at night suddenly went poof and disappeared. That unlikely reality is what will happen for 60,000 low-income Croatians who live on less than $233 a month.  Last month, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic announced a new program will forgive the debt of the poorest of the poor in Croatia. He said he was launching the program to prove that big government can have a heart and lend a helping hand. “People should pay their bills, but if they find themselves in deep trouble, this measure can help,” Milanovic said on Jan. 15, according to the government of the Republic of Croatia website. Social Welfare Minister Milanka Opacic chimed in to say that this will be “a new start for some 60,000 citizens” whose accounts have been frozen for more than one year and are in dire straits. She added this measure was made in agreement with the banks, telecom operators and utility companies in at least four major cities.

Opacic added that this act of forgiveness is a “one-off measure” that the government would not repeat. It is hoped the move will free up cash and help stimulate the economy with new spending. By late last year, about 322,000 Croatians had blocked bank accounts because of unpaid bills and their combined debts amounted to $5.89 billion, reported Agence France-Presse. Croatia, a country of just over four million people, has been in a recession for the last six years. Milanovic, leader of the centre-left Social Democratic party, faces an election in late 2015. Milanovic’s failure to lift Croatia out of recession led to the election of a centre-right president last month. Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, a former ambassador to the United States, is Croatia’s first female presidential leader.

Croatia joined the European Union in 2013 but it is not part of the euro zone of 19 nations sharing the same currencies. The Croatian currency is the Kuna. The 60,000 citizens chosen will have “overdue liabilities to state-owned utility providers, such as the HEP electricity company or the national broadcaster HRT, as well as debts to private creditors such as banks or telecom operators,” the government announcement said. Homes without savings and assets whose monthly income in the last three months does not exceed 2,500 Croatian Kuna, or $466, and those living alone whose monthly income was not over $233 can apply for the debt write-off. And on Jan. 29, the government extended the benefit to encompass owed taxes. The tax administration will write off taxpayers’ debts amounting to up to 25,000 Kuna or $4,663 and incurred by Sept. 20, 2014.


U.N.'s highest court absolves Croatia, Serbia of genocide

The United Nations' highest court ruled on Tuesday that neither Croatia nor Serbia had committed genocide against each other's populations during the wars that accompanied the violent breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Both sides said they hoped the ruling would mark a watershed in relations, long since improved but still sometimes frosty. Peter Tomka, president of the International Court of Justice, said the forces of both countries had committed crimes during the conflict, but that the intent to commit genocide -- by "destroying a population in whole or in part" -- had not been proven against either country. "This marks the end of one page on the past, and I'm convinced we will start a new page on the future, much brighter and better," Serbian Justice Minister Nikola Selakovic told reporters in The Hague.

Croatian Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic said she hoped the ruling would contribute to "closing this historic chapter and moving on to a better and safer period for people in this part of Europe." The cases were part of the long legal fall-out from the break-up of Yugoslavia into seven states in wars that lasted for much of the 1990s and left more than 130,000 dead in Europe's worst conflagration since World War Two. Croatia, which joined the European Union in 2013, filed its case against Belgrade in 1999 and Serbia - a candidate for EU membership - its counter-case against Zagreb only in 2010. "Croatia has not established that the only reasonable inference was the intent to destroy in whole or in part the (Croatian) group," Tomka said of Serbia's campaign to destroy towns and expel civilians in Slavonia and Dalmatia.

Rejecting Serbia's counterclaim, he said Croatia had not committed genocide when it sought to drive ethnic Serb rebels from the province of Krajina, and put hundreds of thousands of civilians to flight. "Acts of ethnic cleansing may be part of a genocidal plan, but only if there is an intention to physically destroy the target group," Tomka said. The panel of judges rejected Croatia's claim by fifteen votes to two. Serbia's counterclaim was rejected unanimously, implying that even Serbia's delegated judge had ruled against. The U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which also sits in The Hague, has long since ruled that genocide was committed in Bosnia, where more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were killed when the U.N. 'safe haven' of Srebrenica fell to Bosnian Serb forces in 1995.


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