Bosnian Croats chose the government of Croatia
by Mirjana Kasapovic
When questioned in parliament on 19 January about the right to vote of those who neither reside or pay taxes in Croatia, Prime Minister Sanader replied: ‘Since when is the right to vote conditional on the payment of taxes?’ He added that, according to the constitution, a Croat from Ilica [Zagreb’s main street], a Croat from the North Pole and a Croat from Mostar have equal voting rights. This exchange took place after presidential elections in which Croats from Bosnia-Herzegovina, by voting massively for the HDZ candidate, had managed to prevent Stjepan Mesić’s victory in the first round and thus forced Croatian voters to vote a second time - an unnecessary exercise that cost tens of thousands of kune. Their mass vote for Jadranka Kosor saved the HDZ - and the prime minister’s prestige - from a humiliating debacle in the first round and softened the defeat in the second. They also shamed Croatia, however, by in places falsifying the election results.
It is clear that Ivo Sanader and his party will continue to defend the right of non-domiciled Croats to vote in national elections and referenda. We have already heard the formal excuse. Indeed, ever since the poll tax was ditched, paying taxes has no longer been the foundation of the right to vote. But what is at stake here is another matter altogether: acceptance by those with the right to vote of duties towards the state. In modern societies rights and duties of citizens are mutually conditioned. In olden times citizens used to wage a battle against monarchs under the slogan: No taxation without representation. The message was that they would not finance a state without the right to influence its behaviour. Ever since Tuđman and the HDZ introduced into the constitution the right of non-domiciled Croats to vote in Croatia, those who actually live in Croatia have been obliged to insist: No Representation without taxation. Apart from its principled nature, this slogan can be justified on the following grounds. First, in giving Croat citizens not resident in Croatia the right to vote, Tuđman and the HDZ were governed not by state interests but by their own party interests. They considered the Croats outside of Croatia as their ‘natural’ constituency - and rightly so, judging by election results. Secondly, their intention was not so much to make the Croatian diaspora feel closer to its homeland as to offer to the Bosnia-Herzegovina Croats the impression that they were part of the total ‘Croat national corpus’ - or a potential Greater Croatia. This is why Sanader has no right to quote the examples of other European states, such as Italy for example, which while enfranchising Italians living in the United States and Germany has not extended the same rights to the Italians of Switzerland, who are one of the latter’s ‘constituent nations’. It would be sensational to see Carla del Ponte, for instance, voting for the Italian senate.
All in all, while Sanader and his party may support equal voting rights for the Croats of Zagreb and Mostar, they are unable to impose equal duties on the latter. Only the symbolic Croat from Ilica is bound to respect laws made in the Croatian parliament, pay taxes and serve in the army. Finally, it is only the Croatian Croats who pay for the elections. Sanader’s symbolic Croat of Mostar will use elections only to strike a political blow at the Croat of Zagreb.
This is an edited version of a comment published in Globus (Zagreb), 28 January 2005