By Drazen Remikovic
Just days before Sunday’s (January 22nd) referendum on EU membership, Croatian officials appear confident that a majority will vote for Croatia to join the Union.
“We expect a positive outcome of the referendum,” Dusko Kisberi, spokesman of the Istrian Democratic Assembly, a party within the ruling Kukuriku Coalition, told SETimes. “Turnout should be good, but will probably not be different from the average turnout in other countries which held an EU referendum.”
A January 4th poll by the Zagreb-based Promotion Plus agency showed that 55.1% of respondents favoured joining the EU, while 33.3% were opposed. More than 11% were still undecided. A simple majority is needed for the referendum to pass.
New Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has called the vote “millennial”, while Minister of Foreign Affairs Vesna Pusic has warned Croatia could lose 1.6 billion euros in funding if Croats reject the EU.
The Croatian diaspora will also vote in the referendum, with the estimated half million Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) who hold citizenship expected to support Croatia’s EU accession.
Ruzica Leka, a 28-year-old unemployed journalist from Sarajevo, is looking forward to possible Croatian accession. She graduated from the Faculty of Political Sciences in Sarajevo three years ago in journalism, but is still unemployed.
“I have a Croatian passport and citizenship, so I will automatically become equal with some Swede, Dane or a Frenchman [in Croatia]. Everybody should vote for EU. As far as I’m concerned, I will be the first in line at the Sarajevo Croatian embassy to vote next Sunday,” Leka said.
She said that she would use the time until the official Croatian accession to the EU to inform herself about employment opportunities in some European countries.
“I will prepare, and when it happens I’ll automatically start looking for a job. I’ll send thousands of emails to all job vacancies I find online, if it’s necessary. We’ve waited for this chance for a long time,” Leka said.
Boris Pavelic, a Zagreb-based journalist at the daily Novi list, told SETimes that supporters think the EU is the best solution for Croatia, while people opposed to the referendum cite a loss of sovereignty and national identity if Croatia joins the EU.
“Turnout and results are difficult to predict. Government officials say they expect up to 80% turnout, which would be great. If we don’t vote to enter, we remain where we are and I think that Europe will completely lose confidence in Croatia. However, I think it will not happen and that Croats will choose Europe,” Pavelic says.
Ognjen Vukanic, a Zagreb resident, told SETimes that the EU is Croatia’s only choice and that he has no doubts that Croats will vote for the Union.
“Some minor nationalist groups are the only ones who are against it, but I think that the majority is for the EU. It is a process that can hardly be stopped and I think that Croatia deserves the EU,” Vukanic said.
Drazen Kleminec, president of the Indigenous Croatian Party of Rights (AHSP) and one of the members of the movement called No to EU, says that the Croatian media only publishes articles in favour of EU entry and rarely gives voice to those against.
“Authorities are not presenting to the citizens the real truth that awaits them when we enter the EU. Nothing good awaits us there. We claim that over 90% of the Croatian people are against the EU. I assure you that no man that lives in the countryside will vote for the EU,” Kleminec told SETimes.
Dean Kustrinovic, a farmer who lives in Nova Topola in eastern Croatia, told SETimes he would not support Croatia’s accession to EU.
“All the money that we get from EU will go to the administration, to pay politicians, ministers, their helpers. Nothing will go to the villages, or industry, factories, I’m sure. Therefore, I think that every honest Croat should vote against accession because we have too much bureaucracy even without the EU,” Kustrinovic said.