Would Things Be Better If Croatian Politicians Weren’t Treated Like Celebs?

Paul Bradbury

Late Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandic & current President Zoran Milanovic
Zeljko Hladika/Vecernji list

April the 26th, 2024 – Croatian politicians are often treated as if they’re the local Kardashians. People are hung up on their every move. But why? And would things alter if it were not so?

One of my favourite people in Croatia is a friend in Dalmatia who works in the adventure tourism business. 

Apart from being a little jealous of the healthy lifestyle I can only aspire to, she also gave me one of the keys to being happy in Croatia over a beer several years ago. 

“I don’t follow politics here at all. It consumes you if you get sucked into it. All that negativity. Instead, I just tune out, do my thing and enjoy my friends and the beautiful nature in Croatia. Maybe after 6 months, I will check what is happening, but you know what? Despite all the noise and negativity, nothing ever changes, so why surround yourself with the negativity every day when you can enjoy life instead?”

It is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given in Croatia, and I find that when I follow this advice, my happiness factor in Croatia increases immeasurably. 

Of course, running TCN makes it impossible not to get totally immersed in the country’s politics on a regular basis, and I really do believe that there is a direct link between the default negative mindset of the majority of people in Croatia today, and the rather bizarre culture here (at least to this foreigner) of treating Croatian politicians like celebs. 

A few years ago, I wrote an article called Kindergarten Political Football: HDZ United v SDP City, in which I wrote:

Ours is one of the very few non-political households in Croatia, a country where politics seems to be discussed more than any of the 95 countries I have visited. The political theme starts early in life, something I was reminded of this week when my youngest daughter, aged just 7, came home from school and mentioned a friend ‘who was HDZ’ and another ‘who was SDP’ (things I also heard at kindergarten). She had no idea what SDP or HDZ actually were, but it seems that many of her peers had adopted their political football team for life, in addition to Hajduk on the pitch. 

My older daughter, 9, saw the ridiculous video from the Josipovic campaign, declaring the former president to be very silly in the video. I asked her to name any politicians she could recognise, knowing that the average adult British worker could probably name and recognise no more than half a dozen, and a 9 year-old hardly any.

Starting with the mayors, we had Milan Bandic (Zagreb), Ivo Baldasar (Split) and Niksa Peronja (Jelsa), former president Josipovic, former prime ministers Sanader and Kosor, current players Milanovic, Karamarko, Petrov and Kolinda. “Oh and that new guy from Canada, who calls us citizens buildings” – a reference to a linguistic slip by new Prime Minister Tim Oreskovic.

This is a child growing up in a household with no political affiliation, no political discussions at the dinner table, and no interest in politics whatsoever. Imagine what the kids in more partisan households are going through. 

In the UK, it’s somewhat common to see the Prime Minister in the media on an almost daily basis, other ministers too on occasion when their department was in focus. But unless a minister was caught texting little boys or a Tory MP found with an orange up his bottom, the media presence was minuscule compared to what happens here in Croatia. 

Here, political stories and scandals are the top stories of the day more often than not. Croatian politicians are elevated to the level of rock stars personalities (even though several seem devoid of a personality at all). Great drama is attached to the most minor of incidents, which are then quickly forgotten in search of the next non-story to grip the nation. 

The office of the Croatian President is a case in point. In terms of PR, the last five years have consumed a huge amount of media space, as the Kolinda PR machine was rolled out, with photo opportunities at every point (with the notable exception of the opening of Rijeka as the European Capital City of Culture in her home town last weekend). So many speeches, so many promises, so much hot air. And at the end, what did Kolinda actually achieve in those five years? As far as I can see, not much more than one thing.

She became the first Croatian to touch the World Cup. 

I, like many people, have followed the dramas of the Kolinda Presidency over the last five years. My healthy adventure tourism friend has done the opposite. And what actually changed?

Absolutely nothing. But while I was sucked into the spiral of negativity, she was hiking on Biokovo. 

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out which of us is the smarter one. 

So too with the recent presidential elections. Two candidates that many could not bear to vote for, but there was no other choice. The lesser of two evils was a phrase which was associated with the second round. And even though the post of President is largely ceremonial, with two unattractive choices, it consumed the nation for weeks. 

But not my friend, as she kayaked from Split to Hvar on a perfect winter day. 

The obsession with politics might actually have a point if something were to actually change, but with mindsets so entrenched, have you ever come across a political opinion that was changed by Croatia’s vast army of keyboard warriors? 

Croatian politicians are treated, on average, like rock stars. They are anything but. 

So why not choose life? Why not choose happiness? Disengage and ignore and focus on friends and nature instead. 

It makes for a much better way of life in Croatia. 

And who knows, if enough people do, then perhaps the media moguls will take note and we can focus on some real news, perhaps even with a hint of positivity on occasion. 

Now, where are my hiking boots?


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