Croatia: what does Zoran Milanović's victory mean?

Zoran Milanović won against incumbent president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in the second round of the presidential election in Croatia. The candidate for the social democratic SDP secured almost 53 percent of the vote while his rival from the conservative HDZ gained 47 percent. Europe's journalists say the election sends a powerful message at several levels.

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Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

The Balkans can do Europe

The new Croatian president's clear European orientation sends an important signal, the Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

“'Normality' instead of nationalism - with this approach the Social Democratic ex-premier Zoran Milanović hit a nerve. ... Now the president is primarily responsible for representing Croatia - but Sunday's results show that the re-election of the right-wing conservative HDZ next autumn is anything but certain. Even more important is the signal sent to the outside world: the EU's youngest member now has a head of state who is clearly committed to a united, cooperative Europe. This should give food for thought to all those who consider the Balkans fundamentally incompatible with Europe.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

The million-dollar question

The question of how to deal with Croatian war criminals was a decisive campaign issue, Gazeta Wyborcza explains:

“The tone was set by nationalist Miroslav Škoro, who came third and almost reached the second round. One of his demands was that Croatian war criminal Tomislav Marczep should be pardoned. His paramilitary organisation murdered numerous Serbs in the 1990s. Škoro's demands were largely adopted by President Grabar-Kitarović, who was reaching out to the same voters. By contrast Milanović, the future president, argued emphatically that war criminals should be put on trial.”

Népszava (HU) /

A lesson for Eastern Europe's populists

The election results in Croatia are forcing the populist forces of Eastern Central Europe to question their strategies, Népszava writes:

“The urban population has had enough of right-wing populist clichés and wants to see concrete results. ... You can sense throughout the region that many people want change. But this requires comprehensive self-criticism on the part of the governing parties. The word self-criticism is not to be found in the vocabulary of [Hungary's ruling party] Fidesz, whereas surprisingly self-critical voices can be heard from the Croatian HDZ party since the elections. Several politicians have admitted that it was a mistake to shift their policies even further to the right between the two rounds of voting, while others have pointed out that not enough attention was paid to the needs of the population.”

Večernji list (HR) /

A demanding coexistence

A conservative government and a social democratic president will be a test of Croatia's maturity, writes Večernji list:

“Zoran Milanović is president of all Croatians since yesterday. As trite as it sounds, it's the logical and only framework that democracy offers us. Yesterday's speeches by the new president and his predecessor allow us to believe that Croatian society is developing into a politically responsible community that recognises differences and works together on strategic national goals. ... We are entering a period of intense and demanding coexistence. The EU presidency, the US-Iran crisis and Brexit are just a few of the foreign policy challenges where the prime minister and president must show political - and human - maturity.”

Azonnali (HU) /

A clear orientation towards the West

Azonnali expects there will be less controversy over Croatia's foreign policy in the future:

“In the area of foreign policy, where the previous president pursued policies contrary to those of the prime minister despite the fact that they both belong to the same party, more harmonious cooperation can be expected in the future. Both Milanović and [Prime Minister] Plenković are clearly pro-West in orientation and want to lead Croatia into the Schengen Area, the eurozone and a possible core Europe.”

Jutarnji list (HR) /

The people want change

Milanović's victory sends a clear signal at the political level, Jutarnji list comments:

“It's good for the nation's political health that not all power is in the hands of one party. The president's powers are relatively limited but they're sufficient to counterbalance the government, which must consult the head of state on foreign policy, intelligence and military issues. ... This change shows that decisions on some important questions can no longer be made in one place. What is extremely important, however, is that despite all of his shortcomings, which voters know only too well, Milanović convincingly beat the HDZ candidate first and foremost because the people want change.”

Dnevnik (SI) /

Less emotion but otherwise more of the same

For its part, Dnevnik does not expect major changes in Croatia:

“As in Slovenia, the president's powers are relatively limited. And regarding relations with Slovenia there will be no major changes because also as far as Milanović is concerned, the arbitration agreement on the Slovenian-Croatian border is dead. However, we will see a slightly different style: less emotional, with less singing and less hugging of footballers. We'll soon see whether Milanović's defeat in the parliamentary elections and his two-year absence from politics have made him more balanced, tolerant and serene or whether he's still fundamentally cynical, arrogant and unwilling to engage in dialogue.”