Long-term oscillations between Eurofundamentalism and Eurovilification in Croatia (1990-2020)

Croatia fits very well into the framework of Eurofundamentalism at the beginning of the 1990s. Such an attitude was expressed as a strong, cultural and political identification with Europe - imagined as the escape from the Balkans back to its own ‘civilisational cradle’ - as well as the realisation of a sublime nationstate, recognised by other European fellow nations. ‘Belongingness’ to Europe was strongly emphasised by the main political parties during the first democratic multi-party elections, while the topic of accession to the European Community (EC, later the EU) often ‘did not involve any dealing with [its] functioning and real content’ (Paukovic, 2015: 55). For example, Hrvatska socijalno-liberalna stranka (HSLS, ‘Croatian Social-Liberal Party’) was promoting human rights as a way for an organic return to Europe, as well as the fast accession to the EC as a way to resolve the Yugoslav crisis (ibid). The winning party of the first parliamentary elections (which ruled over the next decade), Hrvatska demokrat-ska zajednica (HDZ, ‘Croatian Democratic Union’), emphasised civilisational ‘belongingness’ of Croatia to Europe as one of the oldest European nations and

antemurale christianitatis, protecting Western Europe for centuries from many Eastern threats, including the Ottoman Empire and Muslims more generally, Orthodox nations, such as Serbia or Russia, as well as communism or its imagined spectres. 5

This dimension of sacrificing for Europe was very soon rearticulated with the breakup of war in 1991. However, such a perception of the exceptional position of Croatia, based on collective narcissism, was expressed by the first president of Croatia, Franjo Tudman, in a peculiar way. For example, he refused Croatian membership in the Visegrad group in 1991, as well as membership in CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Association) in 1992, with the explanation that Croatia was much more developed than other post-socialist countries and so should be the first to enter the EU (Grubisa, Besirevic & Spehar, 2012: 2).

In his inaugural speech on 30 May 1990, Tudman stressed the historical importance of the Croatian Parliament as a keeper of national sovereignty and the place of deliberation ‘at the highest level of European civilisation’, simply because it gathered nobility from earlier times and its representatives spoke in Latin until 1847.6 There are two other points of this speech which are important for understanding his idea of the European Community. First, he described it inaccurately as a confederacy of free and sovereign states, which should serve, according to his opinion, as a model for the actual Yugoslav crisis (ibid). Secondly, he stressed the need for Europeanisation and Croatian accession to the EC ‘as soon as possible’ (ibid) as one of the highest priorities of the new government. Such an attitude was strongly supported by Croatian citizens in 1990, with more than 55 per cent of them believing that Croatian accession to the EC was one of the most important political priorities (Blanusa, 2015: 71). To explain the relationship of such Eurofundamentalism to conspiracism, we should stay a little bit more focused on Tudman’s inaugural speech where we can trace elements of conspiracy theories (in italic) in his describing of various dangers on the Croatian road to Europe:

We live in an exciting and turbulent time, full of many open threats but also insidious dangers ... Not only great scenarists from opposing, especially hegemonic Unitarian and dogmatic camps, but also all those people tied to the past, who confuse democratic movements and customs to which they are not accustomed, do and will do everything to thwart the realisation of our goals, to hinder and compromise the introduction of legal state, order, labour, and morality. Fortunately for us, but also for them, they themselves will soon have to understand the general internal and international circumstances, especially the ubiquitous inevitable collapse of the real-socialist system, which make their scenarios a futile historical anachronism ... [This] must encourage us even more to do everything together, and each one individually, so that reason, freedom and progress overcome passions, obscurantism and backwardness.


Mentioning anti-democratic, Yugo-unitarian and other opposing camps (to his own rule), together with other people who do not understand this great moment of Croatian history, was a common part of the president’s conspiracism throughout the 1990s, especially during and after the war of independence (Blanusa, 2011). In his interview for Le Monde on 2 October 1990 titled ‘We need to find our own road to Europe’, Tudman was even more explicit in targeting other ethnic communities as conspiring against pro-European values of Croatian citizens:

The problem is that according to the 1981 census, 11.55% of Serbs live in Croatia. They are trying to develop a scenario with the purpose of destroying the democracy we have created. We have recognised all national and human rights here, but there are dogmatic Greater Serbs.

(Tudman, 1999: 115)

Contrary to such a Eurofundamentalist stance, public perception of the EU had changed profoundly with the escalation of war in Croatia, together with the lack of international help. Perceived reasons were unwillingness of the international community to recognise Croatia as an independent state, an imposed UN embargo on arms and military equipment import (which favoured Serbian rebels and Yugoslav People’s Army who were already well-armed) and the lack of expected military intervention of the EU countries. However, in August 1991, President Tudman thought there was still hope, and expressed as much in the same Eurofundamentalist form:

We hope that the European countries, the EU, and the USA, as the greatest world power, will understand that the Croatian struggle for its territorial integrity, its freedom and democracy is not only the fight of the Croatian nation, the fight against the restoration of socialist communism ... but the fight for normal conditions when Croatia can join Europe, where she historically belongs.

(quoted in Btiden, 2000: 58)

Very soon, in October 1991 he changed his mind, writing to US President George Bush: ‘Europe has forgotten us and therefore you are our last chance’ (ibid: 59). Although Croatia was internationally recognised on 15 January 1992, the sense of being betrayed never ceased. Support for the accession to the EU as a political priority decreased to less than 30 per cent from 1992 to 2000, and it never came back to previously mentioned levels in the period of accession (Blanusa, 2015: 71). In the late 1990s, another problem for Tudman became the EU policy of regional approach to the accession of the Western Balkans, which he interpreted as an attempt to resurrect Yugoslavia by joint scheming of external and internal enemies. He articulated these ideas in the theory of global conspiracy of great powers against Croatia (see previous and ibid: 73), still well-known - and used as a mantra of nationalists - in Croatia as the theory of‘Black, green and yellow devils’ (Blanusa, 2014: 202).7 After the change of government in 2000, Croatia finally started its accession to the EU. It officially applied in 2003 and passed through the long process of negotiations, before it became the member of the EU on 1 July 2013. On this rocky road, especially burdened by the issue of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and border disputes with Slovenia, national political elites adopted pragmatic or ‘beneficiary member mindset’, expressing only the soft Euroscepticism in cultural aspects among the right-wing political parties (Kocijan & Kukec, 2016: 39-40). Regarding citizens’ views, however, the picture was neither so optimistic nor instrumentally based. Through the whole process of accession, citizens were expressing fearful expectations about Croatia’s membership in the EU, mostly in the sense of endangered self-sustained existence and Croatian ‘way of life’, as well as in form of threats to national sovereignty and cultural colonisation (Blanusa, 2015: 77-78). Partially, this was the consequence of protracted economic crises since 2008, followed by unfolding Greek crises, mistrust in the elites, poor information campaign about the EU, perception that the EU is making too harsh demands, etc. All these conditions have produced growing Euroscepticism, which led the government to amend ‘the constitution for a referendum with less than 50 per cent turnout to be valid, thus preventing Eurosceptics to use abstention as a potential tool to hijack the referendum’ (Kocijan & Kukec, 2016: 39).

Furthermore, it seems that the disillusionment with Europe, formed during the turbulent and collectively traumatic historical period in the 1990s assumed a specific mythical form, which includes Eurovilification as a part of a larger anti-Western conspiratorial discourse. A prominent Croatian historian, Tvrtko Jakovina, in the interview for Radio Free Europe explained that the dominant conspiracy theory in Croatia about the dissolution of Yugoslavia is ‘that no one in the world wanted Croatia, but it was established in spite of that’ (Karabeg, 2015). We can find support for such a thesis in our survey data, which explored beliefs in local conspiracy theories in Croatia.8 One of the most popular sentiments (which was also included as a statement in the survey) was that ‘In the course of aggression against Croatia, some great powers deliberately undermined its independence in order to preserve Yugoslavia’. Although the EU as a whole is not mentioned in this statement, our previous analysis explained the context of its appearance in 1990, when some of the more influential European countries, such as France and UK, opposed early recognition of Croatia (and Slovenia), as well as military action, prevented by that common EU position (Cottey, 2013: 98). The level of support for this and several other conspiracy theories, over the period 2007 to 2020, is presented in Figure 10.1. They were a part of anti-EU and larger anti-Western discourse in Croatia and tackled the issues of the assumed role of the ICTY, the threat of the ‘remaining in the Balkans’, as well as the one which openly vilifies the EU.

The first conspiracy theory (observable as a solid line in Figure 10.1) that Croatia was deliberately undermined by the great powers (such as France, UK,

—<— In the course of aggression against Croatia, some great powers deliberately undermined its independence in order to preserve Yugoslavia.

. —®—■ The IC in the Hague was founded with the intention of punishing those responsible for the disintegration of the SFRY, abolishing distinctions between the agressor and the victim and concealing the real role of great powers in this conflict.

.....•..... The EU is a conspiracy of big business the aim of which is to destroy national states.

Far from the public eye, and contrary to the desire of its citizens, Croatia is attempting to join a new Balkan federation through regional integrations

FIGURE 10.1 Beliefs in conspiracy theories (in)directly related to Eurovilification.9

USA, etc) at the beginning of 1990s - implying they were on the side of Serbian aggressor - seemed reasonable for 75 per cent of Croatian citizens back in 2007, while today 60 per cent of citizens still support it. However, belief in such an interpretation shows significant variation throughout the last thirteen years. The second most popular conspiracy theory (traceable as a square-dotted line in

Figure 10.1) was about a supposed ICTY collusion in the form of trials against Croatian generals who were considered as war heroes in Croatia. It has the very same variety of popularity in time as the previous conspiracy, since it implies a kind of continuity of Western politics in the form of revenge against Croatia for its role in the breakup of Yugoslavia which they supposedly tried to preserve, as it is expressed in the first conspiracy theory (Blanusa, 2011). The third theory (observable as a round-dotted line in Figure 10.1) vilifies the EU as a conspiracy of big business against all its member nation-states, and it has stable support of approximately 30 per cent of Croatian citizens. The least popular is a conspiracy theory (marked with the long-dashed line in Figure 10.1) about the secret EU plan, to reinstall Yugoslavia through the regional integration of the Balkans. Belief in such conspiracy in Croatia was raising despite successful accession process, especially in 2018, when the EU adopted the strategy for the Western Balkans. Faced with not so impressive benefits from the membership, such plan for EU enlargement probably reminded part of Croatian population about similar ideas which were often promoted in the late 1990s by Tudman. Back then, he strongly opposed the so-called regional approach policy of the EU toward the Western Balkans, and expressed it in the aforementioned theory of ‘Black, green and yellow devils’.10

We can further speculate why the popularity of such conspiratorial ideas varied in time among Croatian citizens by referring to the political context in respective periods. Conspiracy theory about preventing Croatia to gain independence was almost a truism in 2007, when the so-called Homeland war (1991-1995) was still a part of direct experience of all survey respondents. Furthermore, the trials of Croatian Army generals at the ICTY were then domestically criticised as the criminalisation of Croatian war victory (Glaurdic, 2017: 14). In that sense, the accession to the EU still looked then as a very distant future. Contrary to that, in 2012 Croatia has already signed the Treaty of Accession, passed the EU accession referendum, and Croatian generals were acquitted of all charges. In such a context, reasons for thinking that history will repeat itself in another European betrayal didn’t hold water anymore. Fears that Croatia’s entry will be postponed or even prevented from entering the EU, by ever-growing demands were falsified then. In 2016, EU membership was a part of everyday living and belief in such conspiracy theory was even less reasonable.

However, since 2013, a movement has begun in Croatia called the ‘conservative revolution’ (Hodges, 2017), with affinities to illiberal democracy (resembling those in Poland and Hungary, as well as to clerical nationalism). It started with the successful referendum on the constitutional definition of marriage as exclusively between man and woman, and continued in advocating abortion ban, attempts to hijack the educational curriculum reform from the position of fundamentalist Catholicism, fighting the ratification of the Istanbul convention (on prevention and combating violence against women and domestic violence) as contaminated by so-called ‘gender ideology’, as well as launching internet portals and local TV stations which promoted the right-wing conspiracy theories."

Other features of this movement were historical revisionism with the neo-fascist agenda, an increase of the hate speech against ethnic and sexual minorities, protests against usage of Cyrillic script of the Serbian minority in areas severely destroyed during the Homeland war, etc. The peak of the movement was the electoral success of the right-wing ’Patriotic coalition’, led by Croatian Democratic Union, which formed the short-lived government in 2016. Such nationalist regression, partially enabled by the removal of EU demands established during the process of accession, led to the increase of ideological polarisation between left and right. After the last parliamentary elections, the same party formed the new government with the new more centre-right and pro-EU leadership. Despite moderated rhetoric, previously articulated nationalist policies were consolidated (ibid). Although the open polarisation slightly decreased in the following years, as we approach the parliamentary elections this year (2020) in June, we expect its intensification.

Why did such a hot political context not leave its marks on the increase of beliefs in respective conspiracy theories in 2016? It would be reasonable to expect this, because similar movements around the Central and Eastern Europe (and beyond) strove to establish authoritarian, anti-liberal, conspiracy-minded majoritarian regimes and ‘claim that they are defending the nation against ‘foreign-hearted’ enemies’ (Krastev & Holmes, 2019)? First of all, the analysed conspiracy theories - with explicit or implicit Eurovilifying content - are mostly related to the old, striving-for-Europe international political context. On the other hand, the conservative movement was framed as the fight for the new Europe of sovereign states, and focused its agenda to the national level. It promoted nativism, constrained its own demonising to the ‘corrupted West’, including Euro (bureau) cracy and local targets, and used the language of human rights to speak about the endangerment of the Catholic majority. However, when we compare bivariate inter-correlations among these conspiracy theories through years, the results from 2016 show a significantly higher relationship between them (see Table 10.1).

It seems that the specific political context in 2016 left its mark in terms of ‘gluing’ together Eurovilifying conspiracy theories from different political contexts, as probably the constitutive ideas of the siege mentality of supporters of the conservative revolution in Croatia. As our data from 2018 suggest, they were partially unglued during the mandates of the last centre-right government (2016—2020). However, it seems that these intercorrelations rise as the new parliamentary elections (of2020) approach. Political proponents of the conservative revolution in Croatia already formed the Domovinskipokret (‘Homeland movement’), led by former presidential candidate and popular singer Miroslav Skoro, who won more than 24 per cent (24.45 per cent) of popular votes in the first round of the last presidential elections in 2019. Their coalition is comprised of former members of the radical right-wing parties, including the Croatian sovereigntists, well-known conservative journalists, actors and members of civic organisations involved in the ‘conservative revolution’, According to the

TABLE 10.1 Inter-correlations between Eurovilifying conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories






The ICTY against Croatia

The EU to destroy national states

CT about creating a new Balkan federation

The ICTY against Croatia

The EU to destroy national states

CT about creating a nen> Balkan federation

The ICTY against Croatia

The EU to destroy national states

CT about creating a nen> Balkan federation




The EU to destroy national states

CT about creating a new Balkan federation





The EU to destroy national states

CT about creating a new Balkan federation

The “Great

.349* *















powers” against Croatia, in order to preserve Yugoslavia

The ICTY against












The EU to






destroy national states.

  • *p<0.05; ** p«),0l
  • 96 Nebojsa Blanusa et al.

last public opinion pools, around 13 per cent (13.5 per cent) of Croatian voters would like to vote for this option.12 Some internet portals already proclaimed the leader of this ‘Homeland movement’ as ‘Russian player’ and speculated about connections of his financial supporters with Viktor Orban.13 In addition, the leader himself openly claimed his ideological kinship with Orban.14 With such electoral support, the ‘Homeland movement’ can become a powerful pivot player in forming the next Croatian Government. Considering the fragility of Croatian political institutions, we hope this will not lead to another example of the ‘Frankenstate’, where democratically elected rulers abuse their office to install illiberalism (Scheppele, 2013).15

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