Conservative Split


Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, of the conservative HDZ, celebrates.

As Australia strode into its first post-ALP-win-induced hangover after 11 years, my eyes and ears opened to another election day this one some 18,000 kilometres away, in Croatia.

The election was not, in fact, as far away as it may seem. Saturday was also the day all dual citizens of Croatia living in Australia could vote to keep the incumbent conservative Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ)-led Government in power, or give the new mandate to its archrivals, the Social Democratic Party (SDP). For anyone who knows anything about Croatian politics, the previous sentence was a moment in a TV skit where audience should have been prompted to laugh.

Let me explain. The 11th electoral unit, also known as the ‘diaspora vote,’ is what in Australian political terms would be described as a ‘safe seat’ no matter where its boundaries begin (Bosnia and Herzegovina), or where they end (New Zealand). Almost as one, they vote HDZ (the current election count has the HDZ diaspora vote at 76.53 per cent), with other conservatives and a few independents picking up the rest of the vote. Put simply, the diaspora is no place to look for support for the centre-Left. And for Croatians at home, this is no laughing matter.

On Monday, both HDZ and SDP called election victories, advising Croatians that they both expect to be given the mandate to form Government. With each falling short of the 77 seats required for a majority victory, the result now hangs on the diaspora vote and the ability of either Party to form a coalition after the election.

Croatia itself is divided into 10 electoral units, where the 4 million residents of Croatia can vote to elect 140 parliamentary representatives. The 11th electoral unit belongs to the diaspora, while the 12th is reserved for national minorities.

With some 400,000 eligible voters, the diaspora is a powerful force in steering Croatia’s political course. Unlike Croatians at home, who this year voted on the issues of corruption, the economy and Croatia’s EU-ascendance, the diaspora tends to vote on ideological grounds alone.

In Croatia, SDP is seen as the option favoured by the urban population and younger voters, while HDZ is often depicted as synonymous with rural and less educated citizens and the diaspora.

The real division, though, lies deeper in the political fabric of the region. The most significant part of the diaspora vote comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where some 250,000 residents are eligible to vote in the Croatian election.

This block has little sympathy for that part of the Croatian society that would like to leave the decade of nationalist-driven policies behind. Most Croatians would like to see the diaspora’s voting privileges removed, believing that the diaspora’s loyalty to ‘the homeland’ is based mainly on the benefits of owning a Croatian passport, while their taxes are paid to foreign Governments and their political choices continue to impede Croatia’s European integration. And this doesn’t only go for the votes of their closest neighbours.

The 100,000 ethnic Croats in Australia, who have the lowest rate of return to the homeland of the entire Croatian émigré community, are also some of the staunchest supporters of HDZ policies in Croatia. (Incidentally, this group is also said to be one of the most homogenous in their support for the Liberal Party in Australia.) In Croatia, their choices are seen as completely agnostic to the ‘real state of affairs at home’ and are a subject of much resentment amongst the population.

All things being equal, it appears that the sixth democratic election in Croatia will be decided by Bosnian Croats, Australians of Croatian origin, Croatian Argentinians, Canadians and Americans and various other incarnations of the Croat ethnicity around the globe. Some of them will not even be able to read the election results in their native language. But that’s the price Croatia will have to pay for ‘ethnic politics’ this election.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on  

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Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.