Croatia’s ruling Social Democrats can claim success on the two biggest issues facing the country – Europe’s migration crisis and a sluggish economy just climbing out of recession – but it faces a tough fight to retain power in an election on Sunday. A compassionate stand on migrants and signs of economic growth have helped Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic and the Social Democrats regain ground. Recent public opinion polls show it still trails the conservative HDZ party, though. Faced with tens of thousands of migrants from the Middle East traversing Croatia since mid-September, Milanovic’s government has largely tried to accommodate them, aside from short-lived bans on border crossings from Serbia. It clashed publicly with Hungary and Slovenia over the flow of people, many of them refugees from war, through the Balkan peninsula to western Europe.
Milanovic has said Croatia must take a humane stand and facilitate their flight. That seems to play well with Croats, who remember the violence and displacement after the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. “Such a stand is emotionally close to the experience of many Croats,” said political analyst Ivan Rimac. “The government showed that in something it can be rather efficient.”
The opposition HDZ disagrees. The party, which steered Croatia to independence from Yugoslavia and through the 1991-95 war that followed, has nationalist hues, playing on issues of national identity and family values in the mainly Catholic nation of 4.4 million people.
It accuses Milanovic of being soft on the migrants, who are pouring from Serbia into Croatia at a rate of 5,000, sometimes 10,000 per day, although they move swiftly on to Slovenia and beyond. Some wanted the army to be deployed.