Politics in Zagreb: Of Referenda and Naming of Squares

Total Croatia News

TCN welcomes a new correspondent on November 14, 2016, the Good Spirit of Zagreb, taking a closer look at the workings of the political world of the capital, Zagreb. 

Imagine a city where the mayor has held office for over fifteen years because he listened to the people. Well, that’s not my city.

In my city our mayor has held office for 15 over years during which he was indicted of charges of corruption, money laundering, witness tampering and sent to prison in order for the investigation around him to be concluded.

At first, we thought – it’s over, he’s caught. Change is now possible!

We were wrong. He came back.

In May of next year, the citizens of Zagreb will once again have the power to decide their own future at the local elections for city mayor and council.  So far, three candidates have confirmed their nominations. The current mayor Milan Bandić is hoping this election will extend his reign and grant him a fifth consecutive term in office.

His plans might, for the first time in over fifteen years, be thwarted by two potential successors. Local HNS party leader Anka Mrak Taritaš and his former deputy and interim-mayor Sandra Švaljek who has also put her chips on the table. While her name meant little to nothing to most of us over eighteen months ago, she came to be known as the beacon of hope during the current mayor’s short stint in prison which ended in April of last year.  Her service to the city was rewarded by a demotion and subsequent removal from public office. She continues to serve as an independent councilwoman in the City assembly.

Naturally, the mayor listened to the people when he removed her from office.

After all it’s confusing when someone else and not just him can get the job done – especially when they weren’t elected to office.

Similarly, he is choosing to do so once again by giving the people a voice.

This time he is faced with one of the trickiest questions Zagreb has had to face in months. No, it’s not the number of preschools or kindergartens.  It’s also not the growing problem of waste disposal and the rise in illegal trash piles across town.
It’s not the crippled traffic infrastructure of the city, the high cost of public transportation or the general disarray when it comes to the zoning commissions and planning of the city streets.

The question is existential to us as a people, as a nation!

We are once again divided on the renaming of one of the most popular squares in town. Marshal Tito Square which houses the National theater building is to be renamed “Theater square” or how it was formally called for one year between 1945 – 46. In fact, to point out the importance of this decision – a referendum could be held.

While there have been three successful referendums in the history of Croatia, we really do not shy away from arranging pointless and expensive referendums when the opportunity arises.  The Referendum on independence in ‘91 determined our fate within the former SFRY. Important! We waited 21 years for the next one, then in February of 2012, we voted on our entry into the EU. Also important!

Things moved a little faster and downhill since then. In fact one year later, we solved the tricky question of homosexuality and marriage in our now infamous “Referendum on the constitutional definition of marriage in Croatia”. No further comment!
Of course, this is not to say that in the interim, other attempts at referendums have not been made. Some of the highlights that made it into into the annals of Croatian history are: Referendum on the cessation of cooperation with the ICTY in 2007, Referendum on the limitation of rights of minorities in 2013, Referendum on the question of offshore drilling in the Adriatic sea and comically the Referendum on the question of having more referendums in 2015. The question remains, why would someone call for a snap referendum on the same day when we should be choosing who should lead our city. It’s hard to see this as anything more than a crafty sleight of hand.

While everyone is looking left, someone will attempt to steal our election and replace it with a rotten vote on a forgotten street name.

Our current mayor claims we need to rationalize expenses. Therefore, he proposes that a fifth ballot box be placed at voting booths across the city this coming May election. After all, why vote more often than we should, it costs money.


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