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Croatia Makes History With First Woman President, But Her Politics Worry Some Voters

Kolinda Grabar Kitarović: "Hahaha, everybody is saying that we don't get along, and in the meantime, we're treating ourselves.”  Ivo Jospović's reply: "Thank you! Here, have a cookie!” Cartoon by Nik Titanik, republished with permission.

Kolinda Grabar Kitarović: “Hahaha, everybody is saying that we don't get along, and in the meantime, we're treating ourselves.”
Ivo Jospović's reply: “Thank you! Here, have a cookie!”
Cartoon by Nik Titanik, republished with permission.

Former NATO Assistant Secretary General for Public Diplomacy Kolinda Grabar Kitarović has been elected Croatia's first woman president, defeating the incumbent president in the first presidential elections since the small southeastern European country joined the European Union last year.

Grabar Kitarović won in a tight race against incumbent President Ivo Jospović in the runoff in January 2015, netting 50.74% of the votes, according to preliminary results. She will be inaugurated on February 18, 2015.

As Croatia's first woman president, and the country's fourth elected president since independence, she will undoubtedly leave her mark on both the country and region. But despite her historic win, many citizens who would have preferred a different political representative are worried as to how their views and needs will be represented with her at the helm. 

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“Teacher, the test is over, but Bosnia is still writing!”
This meme has widely circulated following Croatia's presidential runoff. The diaspora is often called out for favoring right-wing political parties, while not living and paying taxes in Croatia.

A member of the Croatian Democratic Union, the party instrumental in Croatia gaining independence in 1992, Grabar Kitarović is eager to bring what she has called “the Croatian spirit” back, as well as re-enforce “traditional” values. The country is highly divided between the available center-left and center-right political options, and she only defeated Josipović by only a few thousand votes.

Josipović becomes the first Croatian president since the country's independence who didn't win reelection for a second term, as both Franjo Tuđman, Croatia's first president, and Stjepan Mesić were both reelected for two full terms each. In the eyes of many voters, Josipović hasn't done much for Croatians during his mandate as president.  

The road to a runoff

The race seems to have been dirty and expensive. The first round of elections was held on December 28, 2014, with four candidates for its presidency: Ivan Vilibor Sinčić, a young political activist, who was the biggest surprise and managed to take 16.42% of the vote; Milan Kujundžić, a right-wing politician, who won only 6.30% votes; Grabar Kitarović, representing the center-right Croatian Democratic Union, who took 37.88%; and incumbent President Josipović, who won 38.48% votes. The president can't be elected unless he or she secures more than 50% of the votes

Because none of the four managed to surpass the 50% threshold (only 47.14% of the total electorate voted in first round), Grabar Kitarović and Josipović went head to head on January 11.

During the campaign, the candidates offered up many plans for the country, still struggling with a troubled economy, high unemployment, low GDP and corruption. However, despite the amount of money poured into the elections, presidential power is actually very limited within the Croatian government, with the president mainly acting as a representative within the country and abroad and performing ceremonial duties such as awarding important individuals.

No matter how divided we are in these or future electoral percentages, the bad economical percentages are the same for everyone #izboriprh (#electionscroatia)

Nevertheless, candidates sought votes through television debates, which often left the average voter wanting for a concrete reason to give either candidate their vote. Debates did, however generate some humorous tweets from Croatian social media users under the hashtags #izboriprh (#electionscroatia), #izbori2014 (#elections2014), #debataRTL (#debateRTL), and #HRTizbori (#HRTelections).

Between Ivo Josipovića and Kolinda Grabar Kitarović I can only choose an invalid voting ballot. #izboriprh #izbori2014

No one expects the Spanish inquisition #izboriprh #izbori2014

Debate topics such as WWII war crimes and war profiteering during and after the Croatian War of Independence were inevitable during the televised face-off between Josipović and Grabar Kitarović, who also previously was ambassador of Croatia to the United States. History very much plays a role in Croatia today — politicians seem take any opportunity they can to focus on historical topics in public instead of more pressing, modern-day topics that directly affect the everyday citizen.

A deeply divided country 

Grabar Kitarović is favored by the right-wing electorate and the Croatian diaspora, especially Croatian citizens living in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In both Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, polling stations were open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on January 11, but by 7 p.m. in Mostar, Bosnia, hundreds of people were still waiting in line to vote, so the polling station there stayed open until each vote was cast. Voters queued up in long lines and traveled from all over Bosnia-Herzegovina to vote in Mostar, and many social media users in Croatia are joking that Grabar Kitarović is in fact the new Mostar mayor.  

Croatia has always been divided politically, but it seems that the country has now hit a new peak in this divide. Regional media are quick to point out the trend of neo-nationalism in Croatia, which is, some say, a powder keg waiting to blow.

Although Grabar Kitarović said that she will be “working for a better Croatia” and would not discriminate or exclude citizens based on their political beliefs, some on the left remain skeptical. One tweet summed up the general sentiment: 

What is saddest is that this historical event, in a patriarchal state, is probably not seen as a victory by any feminist. #izboriprh

Libela.org, an independent portal on gender, sex and democracy in Croatia, asked whether Grabar Kitarović is capable of uniting the nation and working in favor of women's rights, despite the fact she did not play the “female card” during the elections.  

A nation is made of people, and the people of Croatia have chosen Kolinda Grabar Kitarović to be their next president, as is supposed to happen in a democracy. Time will tell how much good the people's choice will bring the country. 

6 comments

  • Marija Androvic

    Congratulation Kolinda !

  • If a person can conclude that Croatia has hit a new peak as politically divided, then Croatia and United States are identical countries.

    The premonition is that the coming 2016 US Presidential Election is the most wholly idealized opportunity since 1920 to tune-up America’s democracy and advance prosperity for this 22nd
    Century with new visionary modern-relevant US Constitutional amendments.

    Also considering that “regional media are quick to point out the trend of neo-nationalism in Croatia, which is, some say, a powder keg waiting to blow” is very much from news media’s validation of such storyline content sells more newspapers. In US, there are Blue States and Red States political nomenclature without ANYBODY news media reminding Americans that in McCarthyism era news media “Better Dead than Red” was the buzz. Political news media differentiating red or blue or (eko)green or black or white is focused on sell newspaper, not pragmatic introspect.

    Appreciating that President-elect Grabar Kitarović was Croatia’s Ambassador to US, she will be wise (and I will highlight this to her) to visit Croatian American communities with seek to reform typical Croatian American community’s cloistered festival focus with engaging typical Americans popular recognition of all things Croatian. All Americans assume fine food and wine at any Italian ethnic heritage festival. On St. Patrick’s Day, the WHOLE World is Irish. The $US is strong with a vacation in Croatia ideal (just ask Anthony Bourdain). Advance this as the Croatian neo-nationalism objective, because Kolinda will be WOW whereas Ivo was whoops.

    I am returning to Zagreb to enjoy Kolinda’s inauguration (identical as I was at Ivo’s inauguration).

    Overall, an introspective article, with blog excerpts to validate the thinking points, and translations of excerpts translated into American English … Congratulations Marinella!!!

    I ja Vama i Vasoj obitelji zelim sve najbolje! and Have a nice Day :-)

    • Martin Libric

      Too long didn’t read LOL

    • Marinella

      Thank you very much for your comment, Connor. Hope that you and your family will have a nice day too :) You are very kind!

      Regards,

  • […] Escrito por Marinella Matejcic · Traducido por Cristina Calderon · Ver post original [en] […]

  • […] クロアチアでは、活動家たちが歴史上重要な役割を果たした女性たちに因んで、150もの道路標識をA4もしくはA5の用紙を使って「改名」した。 クロアチア初の女性大統領が誕生 したとはいえ、女性の権利においては、やるべきことが沢山残っているのだという事を暗示するためである。 […]

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