Far-right rises to power in coalition government in Croatia

The formation of a new government in Croatia by center-right and far-right parties is sparking concerns about media freedom, the rights of ethnic minorities, and the potential sell-off of public resources

May 10, 2024 by Ana Vračar
Prime Minister Andrej Plenković with Ivan Penava, head of the Homeland Movement. Source: HDZ

Three weeks after the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) effectively won the parliamentary elections, the party has announced a coalition government with the far-right Homeland Movement. Under the agreement, the Homeland Movement will take charge of three sectors: agriculture, economy and sustainable development, and demographics and immigration.

Read more: Croatian Democratic Union secures most mandates in parliamentary elections

This allocation differs from the far-right party’s original position, where they focused on controlling the ministries of culture, internal affairs, and education. However, different does not equal surprising: associated with tycoon Pavao Vujnovac, who is allegedly financially backing the Homeland Movement’s operations, many speculated that the party will ultimately choose ministries that promote the material interests of its benefactors over promises made in their electoral program.

Before the distribution of ministries was even announced, indications that the Homeland Movement’s focus extends beyond cultural affairs was echoed by the party’s own members. Sandra Benčić from the green party Možemo! warned that Mario Radić, a leading figure within the Homeland Movement, touched upon the possibility of partially privatizing HEP, the public energy company, on more than one occasion. While this proposal would endanger public interest, it stands to benefit stakeholders in the energy sector, including Vujnovac.

Although it failed to secure the Ministry of Culture, the Homeland Movement has successfully exerted influence within other sectors key to its agenda. Notably, they insisted that the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS), elected to represent the national minority in Parliament, be excluded from the government—a goal they achieved—creating room for a possible rupture within the national minorities’ bloc. They continue to push for further gains against the same group.

Throughout the campaign and afterward, the Homeland Movement has aggressively targeted representations of the Serbian community in public and political life. They particularly focused on Novosti, a media outlet known for its investigative reporting on issues ranging from corruption to war crimes to social justice. If successful, these attacks could leave the media landscape even more susceptible to intimidation.

Read more: Journalists in Croatia fight against government’s attempts to stifle press freedom

The Homeland Movement has previously declared its intention to overhaul the media landscape, including the state television, radio, and the Croatian News Agency, aiming to “Croatianize” society and promote a nationalistic agenda. While their role as a junior partner in the coalition might limit their influence, this hasn’t stopped party members from floating quite disturbing ideas, such as establishing a Museum of Victims of Communist Terror.

The political scenery may change further after the upcoming European election in early June, where Prime Minister Andrej Plenković is a candidate. Many speculate that Plenković may seek a leadership position in the EU, leading to his relocation to Brussels. In this case, the HDZ could tilt further to the right under the likely steering of Ivan Anušić, the former Minister of Defense, who shares close ideological ties with the Homeland Movement. This potential shift could provide the far-right with greater opportunity to implement its election promises, harming the working class, women, and ethnic minorities.