Could Istria Follow Catalonia on Road to Independence?

Total Croatia News

Not really, at least according to the Constitution.

With many in Catalonia advocate for independence from Spain, some have started asking whether Croatian regions might do the same. The primary candidate being mentioned is Istria, due to its above-average incomes and a strong regional character, reports Jutarnji List on October 15, 2017.

The Constitution clearly defines Croatia as a unitary country without the possibility of any of its regions or counties gaining independence. And, unlike the Catalan parties which advocate for the secession, the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) has never advocated for Istria’s secession from Croatia. IDS has governed Istria since 1994 when it won 74 percent of the vote in the local elections and has confirmed its dominance at the most recent local elections in May this year. So, IDS is undoubtedly a political party which articulates the dominant mood of the Istrian population.

And the most well-known Istrian politician, Ivan Jakovčić, who is currently one of Croatia’s Members of the European Parliament, also does not want independence. “It is certain that there are those who would like to see Istria as an independent state. But, that was never my or IDS’s policy. What we certainly want is a high degree of regional autonomy for Istria, but not an independent Istrian state,” said Jakovčić.

His words are confirmed by three declarations which IDS has adopted as major party programme documents, and all of them demand autonomy but explicitly talk about Istria as part of Croatia. The Rovinj Declarations were approved at the 5th Extraordinary IDS Conference in Rovinj in 1994, including the Declaration on the Autonomous County of Istria, which defines the county as an autonomous region within Croatia, and it has become an integral part of IDS’ political programme. It is essential, however, that the first point of the Declaration states that “the Istria County is established as an autonomous region and is an integral part of the indivisible Republic of Croatia.” IDS has seen Istria as part of Croatia since the very beginning of its political activity.

Different issue altogether are political-financial demands, such as the need to keep two-thirds of tax revenues, while a third would go to the state budget. Also, the Istrian authorities want to manage the construction and agricultural land, forests, properties, schools, health and social policy, cultural institutions, media, roads, energy production plants and tourist facilities.

In October 2013, members of the IDS Council in Pazin adopted the Declaration on Regional Development, by which they warned the central government that Istria should remain an independent region and opposed the proposed Law on Regional Development. The Declaration contained a proposal to form six to eight regions in Croatia, which would have more resources than they have so far, which would ensure a polycentric development of Croatia, while the state would provide unity through defence policy, foreign policy, the monetary system, part of the interior affairs, and the independent judiciary.

The request for the allocation of jurisdictions between the state and the region can also be found in the IDS Declaration on Democratization of Croatia.

The question is how much of this is possible because some of it refers to federalisation, which is not allowed, explained Mato Palić, a constitutional law professor from Osijek. “The Constitution defines Croatia as an indivisible state, and this excludes any possibility of secession of one or more counties. Without changing the Constitution, and this includes a two-thirds support in the Parliament, Croatia cannot become a federation.”

In the pre-election campaign in 2015, IDS president Boris Miletić stated that their political goal was to see Istria as an autonomous region and to implement decentralization that would ensure an increase in revenues of local and regional self-government units from 10 to 25 percent, as well as transferring powers from the state to local level, especially in the field of agricultural, forest and tourist land, as well as abandoned military facilities where the state would retain the ultimate control. In short, these are legitimate political demands, which could also appear in some other regions, for example, Međimurje or Zadar County.

Still, that should not be confused with the idea of secession. The Constitution, which was passed on 22 December 1990, prevents any possibility of secession of any part of Croatia, and the writers of the Constitution had something else in their minds. Vladimir Šeks, former HDZ politician and one of the authors of the Constitution is clear.

“Croatia has been defined from the outset as a unitary state without the possibility of secession. This is how we wanted to prevent potential disintegration processes because, in the past, foreigners who ruled this region often promoted negative forms of regionalism in order to weaken the Croatian state. This tendency, but in a lesser form, was present in IDS when Ivan Pauletta led it and manifested itself with a demand for a loose confederation of Istria with Croatia. The Dalmatian Action political party, which advocated for autonomous Dalmatia, was a marginal force, and the latest such attempt came from the Croatian Democratic Assembly of Slavonia and Baranja (HDSSB), which proposed to divide Croatia into five regions, which would have presidents, parliaments, powers over the police, the judiciary and other areas falling within the scope of the state,” explained Šeks.

Interestingly, Šeks agrees that Croatia is overly centralised and that demands for regionalisation are politically legitimate. “To begin with, we should start with the decentralisation and give counties and towns authorities to manage schools, social services, roads and everything else they can. But, to be effective, it is necessary to leave them more funds than they have today because without money there is no decentralisation,” said the author of the Constitution.

Although it is not realistic to seriously discuss the secession of Istria, it would not be proper to ignore ideas on the need for decentralisation of Croatia.

Translated from Jutarnji List.


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