Croatia: Joining the Union with little enthusiasm

20 January 2012 – Tportal (Zagreb)

On January 22, Croatia must ratify by referendum the Treaty of Accession to the EU. But the campaign, coming just as the country is about to enter a Europe in crisis, has been marked by second thoughts and a new nationalist rhetoric.

Following the signing of the Treaty of Accession to the EU [December 9, 2011], the best, the most touching and the most original welcome message did not come from Zagreb or from Brussels but from Poland. On YouTube, dozens of Poles, mostly youth, welcomed Croatia, without hypocrisy and without false pathos, in an atmosphere of spontaneous joy.

The Poles thus proved that today's Europe, shaken by the crisis, by doubts and divisions, can and must be the Europe of common values, of joy and of hope. Brussels held out a hand to Croatia but Poland brought cheer to Croatia's soul.

The Poles themselves joined Europe while fuelling many fears, notably that of loss of sovereignty, as well as of the demise of the peasantry. As in Croatia, the Polish Catholic Church pleaded in favour of Europe due to a barely dissimulated fear that its bigger neighbours might start to refashion both the country's past and its future.

Despite the fears, Poland showed that accession to the EU can be successful, even at a time when most of the major countries – the rich and powerful – are in the throes of a serious crisis. Poland remained Poland and became European.

It was not necessary to create a new “Euroslavia” in the Balkans in order for Croatia to obtain its EU entry ticket. The history of the accession negotiations, which were as long as they were painful, was paved with prejudice, misconceptions, fears and ignorance. They struck catastrophic, xenophobic, nationalistic and provincial chords but also plucked at cosmopolitanism and supranational strings.

Europe is not currently a land of plenty

Thus, former President [Franjo] Tudjman, who favoured joining Europe, slammed the door on talks in an excess of pride by refusing to join the Visegrad Group (composed of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Slovenia) because he considered that Croatia did not need to ally itself with former Russian satellite states.

Others, on the other hand, such as Prime Minister [Ivo] Sanader, were prepared to swallow anything to speed up accession and paid the price in false promises including that Croatia would join the EU at the same time as Bulgaria or Romania.

Europe no longer tolerates accession on the cheap, but it has not "always hated everything Croat" as some wanted to believe. This Europe has endeavoured to pacify the Balkan powder keg, but it has not hesitated to recognise the achievements of each country as it moves on the path towards meeting the conditions imposed. After Slovenia, it is Croatia that sailed the most quickly into the European port without having to wait for its neighbours.

Europe is not currently a land of plenty. In the context of the crisis, even the major countries such as France or Germany have accepted to deprive themselves of some of their sovereignty. In this Europe, no one is calling for the creation of a new Yugoslavia or even for the resurrection of Communism. In this Europe, Croatian is recognised as an official language and Zagreb has the right to ask for the protection of everything relative to its heritage, its traditions or its character.

More arrogant than the French

Once the accession treaty was signed, many nationalist myths crumbled and regional prejudices became obsolete. The referendum is being prepared bereft of the lies of the past but some new questions are being posed by the young intellectual elite, now liberated from the myths of the Tudjman era. However, the responses they propose are no less dangerous.

In its simplistic generalisations, this elite claims that Europe betrayed its principles long ago, even that it balkanised itself long before the Balkans became European, in the same way that Croatia was balkanised before becoming European.

According to this line of thought, we do not need this Europe, mired in its economic crisis, nor the Europe of values, which is no more than the shadow of itself. In short, we are demanding a perfect Europe for a Croatia which is, itself, far from this ideal.

These new "blameless" Croats are more arrogant than the French, more stubborn than the English and more irresponsible than the Greeks. They will never apologise for spreading false prophecies but they are ready to condemn Croatia as a whole to a sterile future while claiming to be more European than Europe. In days of yore, we boasted of being "the most ancient of Europeans," today we are proud to be "the most demanding".

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