The German chancellor Angela Merkel, otherwise one of the most powerful people in the European Union, was recently in the Croatian capital of Zagreb at HDZ’s pre-European election rally. HDZ is a party which divides opinion vastly among the public, with some loathing it more than anything and others loyal like dogs to it, its leader and its core values, regardless of whether or not the party actually sticks to them.
But, what exactly did Angela Merkel, a highly respected and intelligent political figure who has dominated both German and European politics for such a long time, think of HDZ’s performance? The real question is, what did she really take away from it at all, or did the somewhat bizarre undercurrents manage to pass her by entirely?
As Index/Davor Tomsic writes on the 19th of May, 2019, whether or not Merkel, from the vastly different (and vastly wealthier) Germany, truly grasped what was really going on at HDZ’s recent gathering at Zagreb’s Cibona is perhaps the most brutal question that could be posed right now, as it appears that HDZ decided to use their limelight in front of Europe’s most powerful woman to drop any proverbial mask and show, let’s say, a rather old face of the party.
HDZ is a topic as tired as any in Croatia, and the country and its populace have had more than enough time and equally as many chances to make up their own minds about HDZ over the past thirty years, and Plenković once again decided to reveal the true face of his party just before the European elections, and in front of no less than the German chancellor herself, who came to the party’s pre-election gathering in the capital for the first time.
Why did Merkel choose to come in the first place?
Of all the countries where the European People’s Party operates, the family of which, as HDZ love to state, both Merkel and Plenković proudly belong to, she decided to come to Croatia. It’s still not clear why. It’s true that HDZ, given the number of MPs it has in Croatia, has a very high percentage of EEP MEPs, but it’s not very likely that this is the sole reason Merkel came to show her personal support to Plenković in Zagreb.
It is possible, however, that Plenković is very well respected in the EEP, but that doesn’t quite seem to be the real reason for Merkel’s arrival, either. Her reasons should probably be sought during the campaign for Manfred Weber, who was also present at the recent HDZ rally. The fact that Croatia is set to assume the rotating EU presidency for six months may have a lot to do with it all.
The reason for Merkel’s arrival is certainly more to do with Andrej Plenković than anything else, to whom the whole European environment is a natural habitat. HDZ’s main man is a loud and proud member of the European family and is generally seen as a modern European among his peers, as a diplomat deeply attached to European values. Merkel recently announced that this is to be her last term in office in Germany, but despite that decision, she’s still probably the most powerful woman on the international political scene.
Despite being a very ”out and proud” Europhile and a member of the very progressive EEP, just what did Plenković and his party choose to present to Merkel? Rather bizarrely, the Bleiburg tragedy, Thompson and Franjo Tuđman…
Although HDZ’s European election program was entitled “Croatia for Generations”; which is supposed to suggest that the party’s main focus is the future, it seems that at HDZ’s mildly odd rally, there were more words said about the past than much else.
What might not be surprising to that party is the fact that Croatia has somehow managed to gain a massive 1687 new ex-defenders, a whole 24 years after the end of the Homeland War.
To make the matter even more absurd, a controversial topic of the past was openly discussed by HDZ’s Karlo Ressler, a 29-year-old man who is present as a promising new face in the party. Ressler was born in no less than Bleiburg, the location of the infamous Bleiburg tragedy, for which a commemoration to murdered Croatian soldiers is held annually, which unfortunately tends to attract political symbols of the past, and which, most importantly of all, Austria has sought to ban.
Austria is a nation that Germany shares very many special ties with, and discussing something that the aforementioned country appears dead set on banning in front of the German chancellor might not have been the most well thought out approach. Germany is far from the horrors of the Second World War, and discussions about it don’t seem to scream that HDZ is a party with its eyes on the prize – the future.
Ressler took to the stage and stated that the Bleiburg tragedy was one of the greatest tragedies of the Croatian people, receiving HDZ’s ovations in response. Ressler was otherwise born 44 years after Bleiburg happened.
Next on the rather strange agenda was to play a bit of Thompson to Merkel at the rally in Zagreb. The controversial singer, regardless of personal opinions, is banned in half of Europe, and his concerts are banned in Germany of all places, but HDZ still decided to go ahead and blast out Lijepa li si for the German chancellor anyway.
If HDZ’s message wasn’t quite clear enough to everyone yet, the party leader made sure to confirm it all again, by going out onto the stage and literally screaming about it for around twenty minutes. Screaming about what you might ask? The past and Dr. Franjo Tuđman, I’d answer. He described HDZ’s strength and even went as far as to discuss the party’s ”enemies”, but refrained from naming them.
Let’s not forget that among all of this, there was also a language barrier to deal with, too. Uncomfortable? Yes.
HDZ managed to glorify nationalism and Croatia’s membership of the European Union at the same time, and while there were Croatian and HDZ flags galore, there was not one single EU flag to be seen.
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