Round-trip to Europe and back

Today, I couldn’t help but remember the days when French President Nicolas Sarkozy was campaigning to become President in 2007, his speeches then and on the day he was elected. You could disagree with him politically, but no one can deny that he had charisma, and when listening to him, I had but one reaction: I felt like getting up from my chair to tell him “let’s go, let’s do all this, let’s transform France!” Two and a half years later, many of those who supported his ideas and programs are disappointed because the energy he was able to infuse to voters has dwindled, reforms have been made but fail to produce palpable results, and many promises about transforming, modernising the French mentality – and through that, French society – have not been kept.

Ivo Josipović, Croatia’s newly elected President, was sworn into office today and will officially take up his duties at midnight. His inaugural speech was good, as one political analyst said today on Croatian television, “maybe better for Croatian circumstances than Barack Obama’s inaugural speech for US circumstances at the time.” Yet there was no charisma here, no true dialogue with the citizens, no truly inspirational formulas like those that were characteristic in Sarkozy’s and Obama’s speeches. As I was watching the inaugural ceremony on TV, I had no urge to get up and join “an incredible adventure”, the way I did in 2007 in France, or the way Americans (and myself) did in 2009. But as I already wrote here, maybe charisma is not what Croatia needs most. Maybe substance is paramount at this moment in our brief history. A serious, hard-working, realistic and level-headed leader may be the one to force the rest of the political “elites” in Croatia to start behaving more responsibly and inspire Croatian society as a whole to finally refuse corruption as a way of life.

In his five pages long speech, Ivo Josipović said all the right things. There was nothing in it that any Croatian citizen could disagree with. Although the tone was slightly monotonous, the words inspired hope in a new beginning.

The President said that he “would like to be the president of all of Croatia’s citizens and also uncompromisingly affirm the values of a democratic society, rule of law and social solidarity. We have achieved a state, but justice and fairness are values that have yet to be fully fulfilled,” The new President emphasised that efforts would be made to create a better and more just Croatian society in which “every citizen has equal rights and equal opportunities to be educated, get a job and earn enough for his family to live decently.” He urged citizens to live honestly and in accordance with the law, because “the foundation of justice is always the people as each of us creates or denies justice by his own behavior.”

“It is a time when Croatia needs to re-examine itself, a time when each of us should re-examine himself. Courage is necessary to fight injustice and create a better society. I promise you I will be first in that fight and never get tired of it,” citing criminal privatisations, corruption and organized crime as the main reasons for the economic crisis in Croatia. “We should not be afraid, we must not be silent, we must not turn our heads! Courage is the one who conquers injustice, which allows us to achieve a better, more just society,” President Josipović said.

But along timid hopes, scepticism is already present among Croatian commentators and the media, in particular concerning his choice (to be officially announced tomorrow) of Cabinet members and advisors. Ivo Josipović will probably have a much shorter grace period than the usual 100 days. Croatian society and its economy are one the very brink of disintegration, and even the prospect of joining the EU within the next two years cannot hide the depth and complexity of the problems that at this moment make real and concrete European integration impossible.

Political columnist Tomislav Klauški writes tonight on “ It was an important speech. For two reasons. First, because it could mark a turning point int he development of Croatian society. Second, because it could mark a turning point in Josipović’s political career. Maybe he will suddenly begin doing what he is saying. And as to Croatia in the next five years…

We’ve had enough important speeches and false promises, just as we’ve had enough spectacular visions. Time has come for important moves and the fulfilment of promises , as it has for policies that has real foundations. Enough of believing words only. Now we trust only actions. Put your money where your mouth is.”

Nicolas Sarkozy used to say: “I say what I think, and I do what I say”. Let’s hope Ivo Josipović will embody those words.

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