Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Croatia Has Got Its Own Donald Trump

Adelina Marini, December 13, 2015

No, he does not have the same hairdo and is far from the image of a political clown, pictured by American media in their Entertainment sections. He looks stable and is a member of one of the two largest political coalitions, which has aspirations to form the next government of Croatia. He did, however, make the same type of unacceptable statement about Muslims as one of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in the USA. Donald Trump detonated the international public opinion with his comments that Muslims should not be allowed to enter the United States. Criticism against this statement led to unprecedented consequences. Some media already announced that they refuse to cover the billionaire’s campaign, mayors announced a ban on Trump entering their cities, a petition is out in Great Britain going for a ban on Trump setting foot in the country. Cartoons, mockeries, and memes on the Internet are numerous. 

The Croatian Trump is named Ladislav Ilčić. Only he is not a billionaire, but he is a mere symphony musician. He is leader of the ultra-conservative party HRAST, which is part of the right-wing pre-election Patriotic coalition, led by the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), Tomislav Karamarko. Although the party has minimal share of votes in the coalition, Mr Ilčić is placing himself as Mr Karamarko’s right hand man in the negotiations for forming a government in Croatia after the parliamentary elections of November 8th. On the regional N1 television, which is a subsidiary of CNN, Mr Ilčić made a scandalous statement in which he said that Croatia should have treated the refugees like Hungary – build a wire fence. He stated that the refugees coming from Africa and Asia are “biologically stronger” than the Europeans and have many children. Ilčić himself admitted later in another interview that he has five children and shares many of the cultural views of Muslims. He said, however, that although children are equally valuable, they are different. 

“We have to ask ourselves whether we want a million Muslims in Croatia. They have a different mentality, which will change the culture. The difference between Muslims and Croats is large. Regarding work habits, regarding life, ideals, treatment of women. We are different”, added the Croatian Trump. He feels multiculturalism is dead. The leader of the Patriotic coalition Tomislav Karamarko immediately distanced himself from his partner in saying that his positions are not the positions of the coalition, but limited his reaction to that. No actions followed. 

Ilčić’s statement caused fierce criticism in all main media throughout the ideological spectrum – left, right, liberal media. Many of the comments reminded that similar statements led to the persecution of Jews during World War Two, others point out that they are dangerous to Croatian national security, for in neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, which is a pillar of Croatian foreign and internal affairs, one of the three constituent peoples are Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks). Third criticised the HDZ for not expelling Ilčić’s party from the Patriotic coalition. HDZ, under the leadership of Karamarko, are being accused of veering towards nationalism and the far-right. Although keeping to moderate statements during the  refugee crisis, they advocate tighter control of Croatian borders. All critics, however, agree that this statement violates the Croatian Constitution and is an insult to national minorities. 

Among the critics is the mayor of one of the large seaside towns in Croatia – Rijeka – Vojko Obersnel (Social Democratic Party). He dedicated an entire blog [in Croatian] to Ilčić’s statement, named “The Joker Ilčić”, illustrated with a picture of Heath Ledger’s Joker from Christopher Nolan’s movie about Batman, The Dark Knight. The mayor satirises Ilčić’s statement, but warns that it is nothing different from hate speech, aiming to incite hate towards Muslims. His claims about numerous young male people with mobile phones and money among the refugees disagree with the photos that everyone sees of exhausted people running from war, writes the mayor of Rijeka.

Vojko Obersnel shares his outrage by the fact that Ilčić is given space to speak and reminds of his participation in the Committee of Regions in Brussels recently, where mayors from the entire EU discussed how the refugees can be integrated. He quoted the words of EU Commissioner for Home Affairs  and Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos (Greece, EPP) that all of us in Europe are descendants of migrants and refugees. The culmination of media criticism against Ilčić was the decision of the Croatian national television to cancel Ladislav Ilčić’s appearance in the popular publicist program “Sunday at two”, which claims to be the Croatian Hard Talk (famous BBC programme including interviews with very sharp questions). The conservative association “Vigilare” denounced the national television’s decision, calling it censorship. 

Croatian columnist Helena Puljiz criticises in a sharp commentary [in Croatian] for the right-wing online publication tportal all politicians for the fact they did not jump at Ilčić‘s statement to protect the Constitution. “All of them should have stood against Ladislav Ilčić and protected the Constitution, protecting human rights and civilisation values and should have, if nothing else, taken care to defend the national interests and national security of the Republic of Croatia. Muslims are a religious minority community in Croatia, Bosniaks and Albanians are a Croatian national minority (not all are Muslim, but Islam is an important part of their culture), Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot exist without the Federation, which consists of Croats and Bosniaks – Ilčić’s expressions are surely not helping for any further normalisation of the situation in the entire BiH and for protecting the existence of the ever so fragile federal union. The impoverished BiH – the soft belly of our defence – is ripe soil for the sprouting of any type of extremism, without export to BiH Croatian economy will collapse, Croatian companies dedicated decades to returning to Islamic states’ markets – how will they work tomorrow if a political force has got the power in this state, that has Ladislav Ilčić as a major figure?”, asks Helena Puljiz. 

Boris Vlašić paraphrased [in Croatian] Ilčić’s words in the liberal daily Jutarnji list in a way that sends a strong message against hate speech. “We have to ask ourselves whether we in Croatia want a million people like Ladislav Ilčić. They have a different mentality, which will change culture. There is a big difference between people who think like Ladislav Ilčić and the Croats. Regarding work habits, regarding life, ideals, treatment of women. We are different. Equally valuable, but different...”. Voices from Ilčić’s party and other conservative movements insist he just spoke his mind. However, freedom of speech is not absolute, as the First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans (The Netherlands, Socialists and Democrats)  explained in relation with some statements by Hungarian MP Viktor Orbán.

Translated by Stanimir Stoev

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