Natasha Srdocs campaign for fiscal transparency terrifies Zagrebs rulers
may be on the verge of a seismic political earthquake. A new
patriotic-populist movement is being born. If it comes to power, it will
transform the country - reverberating across the region and impacting
the European Union.
The leader of this revolution is Natasha
Srdoc, founder and chairman of the Adriatic Institute for Public Policy
(AI), Croatia's only Western-style independent think tank. She is
willing to do something no other Croatian leader is doing: stand up to
For years, Mrs. Srdoc has championed the free market,
private property rights and the rule of law - the framework necessary
for real prosperity and growth. She is a staunch critic of government
corruption. Hence, she is fiercely opposed by the ruling Croatian
Democratic Union, known by its acronym HDZ. The regime has labeled her
"an enemy of the state." She and her family have been threatened. She
has become a dissident in her own land. For Zagreb's politicians, Mrs.
Srdoc is Public Enemy No. 1.
Instead of retreating, she is
throwing her hat into the electoral ring. She has formed her own
political party, Croatia 21st Century. It is a principled center-right
alternative to the HDZ. It champions tax reform, market-driven growth,
spending restraint and Catholic social values - especially by
strengthening families and health care. The party's agenda is simple: to
kick-start the moribund economy. Mrs. Srdoc's goal is to make Croatia
the Switzerland of the region. She is a serious reformer, backed by some
of the world's top experts - from America to New Zealand to Europe.
key members on Capitol Hill are taking notice. Sen. Jeff Sessions,
Alabama Republican and ranking member on the Senate Budget Committee,
recently participated at an AI conference in Croatia at the institute's
invitation. He strongly endorsed Mrs. Srdoc's anti-corruption,
Her key pledge - the one that has Croatia's
governing class trembling - is to send every corrupt politician to
prison and to confiscate their illicit enrichment. Credible estimates
show that Zagreb's rulers have misappropriated public funds, stunting
the small country's development. There is only one place for them: the
dock. If elected, she vows to pass a law requiring financial
transparency among all politicians - past and current. Those who have
accumulated unexplained wealth will be prosecuted and all their illicit
funds forfeited. The vast sums of money - untold billions - will be used
to pay down the debt, balance the budget and slash taxes. The
legislation would serve as a model for the Balkans, where systemic
corruption is eroding living standards and fostering social apathy.
the ruling HDZ, this is a nightmare. The party has staked everything on
fast-track EU membership. Zagreb is poised to enter the coveted
European club. Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor believes that EU membership
will make voters forget her party's corruption scandals and result in
re-election early next year.
Yet opinion polls show that HDZ
support has collapsed. For years, the HDZ privileged class has enriched
itself at the expense of the Croatian people. There is no area of life -
the media, the judiciary, business, even sports - that the party does
not control or manipulate. The results have been disastrous.
Unemployment is at a staggering 20 percent. For the youth, it stands at
30 percent. Reckless spending and soaring deficits have pushed Croatia
to the brink of national bankruptcy.
Zagreb's Europhiles recently
received a boost from Pope Benedict XVI. During his visit to this
deeply Catholic country, the pope strongly endorsed Croatia's bid to
join the EU. The Vatican's strategy is clear: to balance Europe's
powerful secularism with the Continent's remaining Christian nations -
Poland, Ireland and now Croatia.
The question, however, is not
whether Zagreb should enter the EU but how and on what terms. Mrs. Srdoc
is the only Croatian leader calling for a cost-benefit analysis of the
EU accession agreement. Her conclusion: The current deal is bad and must
be completely renegotiated or rejected. She rightly opposes a
federalist Europe based on state socialism and centralized
regimentation. Instead, like most conservative patriots, she champions a
decentralized EU characterized by free trade, devolution and
competition - one that respects each member state's national sovereignty
and distinct cultural identity. In short, Mrs. Srdoc wants a good deal,
not any deal at any price.
Polls show the majority of Croatians
agree with her. They understand that HDZ negotiators have sold Croatia's
national interests down the river. The country's fishing rights,
agricultural and winegrowing regions, other land-use options and future
economic growth will be threatened by heavily protected foreign
competition. If ratified, the EU agreement could make Croatia another
Romania, Bulgaria or Greece: a vassal of Brussels. In fact, future deals
in joining the eurozone may lead to Croatia's already impoverished
citizens bailing out the Greeks and Portuguese.
Mrs. Srdoc may be
the last hope. Leftist opposition parties - led by the Social Democrats
- are no better than the HDZ. Most of their politicians are former
communists who embrace socialist policies and Croatia's mad dash into
Croatia's conundrum is that it is a Central European
nation governed by a Balkan political class - dishonest, venal and
incompetent. This may change. If it does, it will dramatically alter the
country's destiny. The HDZ is part of the past; Mrs. Srdoc represents
the future. Will Croatians seize it?
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist at The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute.
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