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Arab uprisings inspire Croatian anti-government protests

Inspired by the Egyptian revolution, Croatians of different political groups unite against corruption, calling for new elections

AFP , Thursday 17 Mar 2011
Anti-government protesters march through Zagreb, Thursday, March 10, (AP).
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Views: 2806
Uprisings in the Arab world have also shaken Croatia, inspiring thousands of its dissatisfied citizens to protest nearly every night for the past three weeks to demand the government quits.

"People are desperate and angry," said Vjekoslav Skreblin, a cook who is a regular at the growing demonstrations in the streets of the capital Zagreb and other major towns, organised via Facebook.

"Croatia needs immediate elections," insisted Skreblin ahead of Thursday evening's gathering, with one on Saturday expected to the biggest yet, drawing more than 10,000 people.

Inspired by the Middle East protests that drove out Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak on 11 February, the man behind Croatia's wave of demonstrations — Ivan Pernar  called his first Facebook demonstration on 22 February.

Only 300 people showed up, but since then the numbers have kept growing.

"Our politics serve only as a smokescreen for criminal acts," said Skreblin, a 55-year-old cook who regularly shows up at the protests with his wife Zvjezdana.

"What we can see is only the top of a pyramid that is deeply plunged into crime," he charged.

"The Street Has Decided: Elections Now," read a banner he wielded at a march in downtown Zagreb last week.

An election would create a "new political scene, bring new people with healthy thinking," he told AFP.

Students, pensioners, veterans from the 1991-1995 war, unemployed workers and intellectuals, leftist liberals and rightwingers, Europhobes and Europhiles — all join ranks during the several-hour-long marches through Zagreb.

What they have in common is one demand: for the government of Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor to resign and call early elections.

Blowing whistles, the demonstrators chant: "Everyone come out on the streets!" "Jadranka go away!" and "Thieves!"

They hold banners saying: "I Love Croatia, No to EU". Other placards call for the nationalisation of banks or proclaim more moderately "Not left, nor right but straight forward".

Elections are due this year or in early 2012. Kosor has pledged to hold them by the end of this year but says calling polls now would jeopardise Croatia's bid to join the European Union, with talks in their final stages.

Recent surveys show that 70 per cent of Croatians back the anti-government protests, while the support for government has dropped to a record low of 13.7 per cent.

But while the demonstrations "stem from deep general social discontent, [they] have no common ideology," sociologist Drazen Lalic told AFP.

Croatia won independence from communist Yugoslavia in 1991-1995 war that, with fraudulent privatisation in the 1990s, deeply hurt its economy.

It was later hit hard by the global downturn, with unemployment now at an eight-year high of around 20 per cent.

Revelations of corruption reaching the top levels in politics, including Kosor's predecessor Ivo Sanader, fuel public discontent.

Kosor took over in 2009 when Sanader, detained in Austria on suspicion of corruption, stepped down. She boosted the anti-graft fight but her ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) is still seen as a den of corruption.

The protests are a "kind of spiritual awakening", said another regular, Darija Kosuta, holding a banner listing the government's alleged broken promises.

"All moral and other values have been destroyed. This is the only thing that we can offer to our youngsters," the 50-year-old unemployed professor said.

Added Lela Knezevic, a national television journalist who joined the marches: "The fact that radical rightists and students of the faculty of philosophy march side by side reflects the hideousness of this government."

"We aspired to democracy but we got wild capitalism," Knezevic told AFP.

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