One of the crucial fundamentals for a well-functioning democracy lies in tight and transparent Complaints mechanisms across the board; for government, public and private business bodies operating in the state alike. This fact is indisputable in Western democracies and is guarded by state authorities with proverbial iron-fists. Freedom from harassment, reprisals and retaliation resulting from lodging complaints has been and continues to be a closely guarded staple for a functional democracy. Alarmingly not so in Croatia, and as evidenced by the manner of dealing with complaints to do with the President of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic current official visit to Australia!
Croatia is riddled with legitimate fear of retaliation based on formal lodging of complaints, or even informal discussions in public among people. Fear of retaliation is rife today in Croatia just as it was in communist Yugoslavia, whether tied to complaints in the workplace or complaints about public administration and actions undertaken by state authorities. The culture of generating fear of reprisals in those who dare to complain is palpable on the streets of Croatia, as I have had the unwanted privilege to experience upon my recent visits to Croatia – no different to fear of reprisals that suffocated and oppressed freedom during the times of communist Yugoslavia.
The fear of reprisals culture in Croatia associated with complaints could be defined in an urban dictionary as
“suck it up, don’t report it or it could affect your career and your family”!
One of the recent of the important UN documents referring to the notion of democracy is the 2005 World Summit Outcome, adopted by the UN General Assembly on 24 October 2005, which provides that:
“… democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems and their full participation in all aspects of their lives … We stress that democracy, development and respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms are interdependent and mutually reinforcing.” UNGA Resolution 60/1 (24 October 2005) A/RES/60/1, paragraph 135. (PDF)
Evidently, practices in Croatia to do with individual participation in the development of democracy even via complaints mechanisms that should be available to citizens without the fear of reprisals are a far cry from any UN or even EU resolutions, affirmations, directions… Transparent and law-based mechanisms of accountability for limiting the inherent hazards of political subjection are set up in functional democracies to deal with the fear people justifiably have about the worst that their rulers can do. No doubt, complaints mechanisms are most important in the surrounds of preventing the dangers of political authority over a democratic nation.
The reality that directs to the fact that there is an alarming lack of complaints mechanisms free of fear of reprisals in Croatia evidences an urgent need to decommunise Croatia.
It is universally acknowledged that the right to freedom of expression (which includes complaints) is a foundational human right of the greatest importance. It is a linchpin of democracy, key to the protection of all human rights, and, fundamental to human dignity in its own right. At the same time, it is also universally recognised that it is not an absolute right but the one defined or restricted particularly by provisions of specific laws (e.g. defamation, media regulation and protection of national security) and every democracy has developed some system of limitations on freedom of expression, but not every nation monitors and “polices” effectively the associated practices on the ground, particularly installing independent resolutions of complaints made against a public body. Where the latter does not occur one can confidently conclude that political authority has the upper hand in every day lives of citizens.
My personal experience lately, regarding the apparent undermining of democratic principles to do with complaint handling by the Office of the President of Croatia has deepened my worry about the shocking state of democratic processes in Croatia. To explain and corroborate this concern with facts, I find it essential towards a hope for a better future to demonstrate here the deplorable practices in dealing with citizen complaints within the Office of the President of Croatia.
It so happens that the President of Croatia, Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, has embarked upon a visit to Australia and New Zealand with official engagements within the Australian Croatian community starting in Sydney on 13th August 2017. A couple of weeks prior to that date her closest advisor and organisers of the visit arrived in Sydney some two weeks prior. Activities of reportedly non-transparent fundraising towards the President’s activities while on her official state visit to Australia and emerging details of grossly limited and unrepresentative of the diaspora public access to welcome her among the Australian Croatians – upon whom she has called many times to return to Croatia – had rightly and with best interests for Croatia emboldened the Australian based Association Croatian Diasporan Voice (Glas hrvatske dijaspore) to write a letter of complaint to president Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic ahead of her travel to Australia.
Suffice to say, the Association Croatian Diasporan Voice never received an acknowledgement of receipt of that letter, nor an indication that matters of complaint raised in the letter would duly (and hopefully independently) be investigated, nor asked to provide evidence and other corroboration for the complaints. However, reliable sources, Mr John Davor Ovcaric from Melbourne (a co-signatory of the letter to the President of Croatia), for example, reveal that he had been told that Mr Jozo Brkic, the president’s adviser and one of the organisers of her visiting the Croatian diaspora in Australia, who was one of those implicated in the letter of complaint to the president for apparent activities causing concern, had a copy of the very same letter, which he could only have been given by the president’s office, and showed it to people in Australia. This resulted in insults being waged against the letter writers from several junctures! The culture of fear of reprisals arising from making sincere complaints is alive in the Office of the President of Croatia. It is fortunate that those who wrote the letter of complaint live in Australia and cherish the value of contributing positively to freedom and democracy and are not discouraged by the foul lack of respect towards citizens evidently coming out of the Croatian President’s Office in this instance.
I am not saying here that the person/s implicated in a letter of complaint don’t have a right to see such a letter with view to contributing to a resolution of the complaint, but to use the letter with view to discrediting and insulting those who wrote the complaint and ignoring the writers of the complaint completely, is utterly despicable; on both the democracy and human sides. This is only one example of the vast pits of democracy in Croatia and showing them up is a duty of all citizens who strive to live in and contribute to full democracy. Those who know the beauty of democracy practiced via complaints mechanisms know or should know only too well that complaints may or may not be resolved to the complainant’s favour. The results of investigating specific matters in a complaint are an individual matter but the complaint’s mechanisms are a national one and of national importance. It would seem that the Office of the President of Croatia fails to recognise that fact of democracy and one wonders why? To protect the individuals serving as advisors, perhaps, regardless of the fact that their actions may be against the national interests of installing and practicing that which is a linchpin of democracy: freedom from fear of reprisals! Ina Vukic