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A new progressive conservatism for Croatia

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dr Pero Kolenc Ercegovac

Politics without a guiding philosophy is both empty and ineffective. This is a global reality. Croatia, hence, should be no different from the rest of the world. Yet Croatia is the exemption to the rule. Here in Croatia we have a left and a right that seemingly do not understand nor work on the basic principles of Liberalism or Conservatism. Lets face it good leadership is about putting philosophy into practice in a way that advances the collective goals of the people whilst ensuring that the needs of the nation are taken care of. Philosophically I am more or less conservative though I have always politically been progressive. So before you begin to think that I am existing in a contradictory world view today I will discuss with you why I have come toward this political stance. A viewpoint that I- and like thinkers- call progressive conservatism. I will also discuss, more importantly, how as a society we can implement this viewpoint in a philosophical and practical sense.

The traditional view of conservatism in North America is based upon the premise that smaller government is better; that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed; and, a great emphasis on traditional societal values. Because of this conservatism is viewed as an extreme world view doggedly stuck in the past, placing moral values before human needs symbolized in a harsh dog eat dog environment where people needed to fend for themselves as only the strongest survived.

This is Europe however. Our view of conservatism is different. The roots of conservatism here are built around belonging. Be that to one’s birthplace- be it city or village- family, culture, language, religion and nation. It is about knowing where you come from and wanting the culture you came from to create a place for itself in an ever changing world. It is about belonging. It is about survival. It is about creating a place for yourself and your culture. It is about advancing without forgetting your roots. It is about moving in this world with an understanding that you are a link in a long chain that was started by your ancestors and will be completed by future generations.

Call it enjoying the recipes that your grandmother cooks for Easter or Sunday dinners with the whole family around the table. Call it going to Church on Sunday to be with your community whilst worshiping God. Call it Saturdays at the football stadium with your dad supporting Hajduk, Rijeka, Osijek or Dinamo. It is about ensuring that the way of life you enjoyed for generations, which has given you your moral balance and sense of being, sense of self, continues and evolves along with you the individual, along with you the human being.

Progressivism softens conservatism by promoting more social responsibility in the role of the government. In a Progressive Conservative system, based in part on Social Catholicism, the government protects society, moves into the future in a responsible manner and helps people succeed - to the extent it is fiscally viable. Progressive Conservatives are both pragmatic and compassionate.

Often we talk of Germany and Sweden as being examples of socialism. The reality is different. They are examples of progressive conservative societies that allow the social to look after the social and capital to look after the economy in order to achieve a balance between social and economic needs. The German welfare net was invented by the conservative Prussian politician Otto von Bismarck. Sweden’s democratic balance between the needs of the people and capital are balanced by the symbolism of its constitutional monarch which points to progression through respect of the roots of its people. This is Europe. A continent whereby people sometimes need to go slow and contemplate life outside of work as a release to the urban pressures of the working week. Where the past, present and future meet and live in a melting pot of ambitions be it personal or workplace. Conflict emerges when these ambitions lose their sense of place and belonging politically, socially and culturally.

Industrialisation showed us how technology clearly changes us and our lifestyles, but social change is more difficult to observe especially if you are not looking. The rat race leads us away from looking within. We do not even see who we are, where we came from nor where we are going. Lets face it evolution cannot be stifled so the nation must adapt and carve a place for itself in this new globalist environment for the simple reason that it must do so if we as individuals are to keep sane. Yet without guidance it will be difficult to achieve. We must be led in an enlightened manner. Enlightened to me is defined as being forward thinking, but in a disciplined manner that takes care to tread lightly upon this part of the earth that our ancestors so lovingly tenured and respected for centuries in order to ensure a superior common good for us a people. Our goal should be to innovate, evolve and develop a society that others will seek to emulate.

Europe is seeing a growing popularity of progressive conservatism. David Cameron softened the British Conservative Party in 2009 when he launched the Progressive Conservatism Project at the British think tank Demos. In his speech at the launch of the Project, Cameron set out four goals:

  • "First, a society that is fair, where we help people out of poverty and help them stay out of it – for life.
  • Second, a society where opportunity is equal, where everyone can, in Michael Gove’s brilliant phrase, “write their own life-story.”
  • Third, a society that is greener, where we pass on a planet that is environmentally sustainable, clean and beautiful to future generations.
  • And fourth, a safer society, where people are protected from threat and fear."

I respect the UK as I respect all peoples of our beautiful world. But I, like most Croats, am not their greatest fan. Lets face it we Croats are skeptical of anything British due to the amount of harm that British foreign policy has caused Croatia. So lets put this aside for a second and look at Cameron’s words and ask ourselves can we truly find fault with these four enlightened goals? Is a single one of these goals not good for Croatia?

In Croatia the Right tries to follow the Conservative philosophy, but does so imperfectly. Having said that if you look closely at the right in Croatia their social rhetoric is more embossed in that of the traditional European left perhaps as the right itself is not a philosophy of the elite- who are the children of communism in this country- but one of and from the people. It is the right here who progressively developed free preschool, health and education. It is the right here who progressively gave monies to families for each third child born into their families whether the parents work or not. Yet the Croatian Right has yet to take the next step which will see their progressive thinking move from the private into the public realm.

The problem is that Croatian Right does not have a coherent Conservative political strategy and what little understanding of Conservative philosophy they have is damaged by too much focus on individual advancement once they reach parliament. In essence the nature of the system pushes the individual who becomes involved in politics to look after themselves first rather than the society as a whole. Careerism becomes the new sacred path toward material success. Anything in its way is forgotten. Hence speaking of the past, present and future becomes nothing more than a political tool that is a must if you are to retain power, ie, retain your career advancement. A tool that is thrown aside into a box only to be brought out the next time an election comes along. It has become rhetoric, a rhetoric without a guiding philosophy that is cheapened and hence devalued to the extent that people are now left without a purpose and more shockingly without belief in the ability of the individual to change things through democracy, faith or economic advancement.

Hence for change to occur in Croatia a shift in political awareness must arise. And this must start on what should be at the core of a new political philosophy that the nation must adopt. This new philosophy must be progressive whilst protecting the cultural and religious values we hold so dear. It should guide government toward the need to focus on the future. The task of a modernizer is to identify the needs of the masses, of his/her citizens, and to address those needs in a language that aligns with the national interest rather than the narrow concerns of political tribes and elites.

There are many in Croatia who would like to maintain the status quo in order to protect the gains they made whilst we fought for our freedom and they cleverly enmeshed their needs for power with the state’s political and economic structures. Croatia needs to evolve and advance past these anationist bureaucrats. Croatia needs a new enlightened, responsible and progressive conservative philosophy. Croatia needs a new "Napredak" which means a new progress, improvement and prosperity. Croatia needs a "Naprijedna Desnica" or "Naprijedni Pravaši".

A new mindset as well as innovative thinking will be required in Croatia. There will need to be a willingness to learn from others. To learn from Angela Merkel on how a fiscal conservative may at times reinvest government funds into national industries to save the economy of a nation-state. Others too have been successful and we need to learn from those successes. John Reinfeldt's Moderate Party in Sweden and Victor Urban’s progressive conservative coalition in Hungary all have succeeded in redrawing the boundaries of what is the responsibility of a progressive conservative political elite toward its people. We too can learn from these examples. Who will learn from these examples and create a Croatian Progressive Conservative or "Naprijedna Desnica" that will bring justice and prosperity to Croatia?

A Croatian Progressive Conservative strategy will require:

  • Focus on prioritization and competence in managing the economy. We must focus on the new economy and not just protect the old. A strong economy means good paying jobs which result in a high standard of living for those employed and a relatively high fixed level of tax revenue that can fund a strong social welfare system for those that are less fortunate. A social welfare system that guides people back into the workforce and family businesses through retraining. Government debt does not help us progress.
  • A fair society, an opportunity society. Justice and fairness are key to a society in which all citizens have an opportunity to succeed. A society which benefits all citizens should be promoted and the near feudal structure where only the elites profit should be dismantled. Success should be based on capability rather than ideology and connections.
  • Big government is bad. Big Society is good. A big blunt bureaucracy has undermined personal responsibility. We want to encourage people to take responsibility for themselves and for one another. Citizens should take a more active role in the management of society and helping those in need. The poor should depend less on the government for handouts and more on government programs for reeducating as well as Church and social charities and organizations, which will help bring them out of poverty.
  • Renewal of traditional values in a modern society. This means to promote religion, custom, belonging, morality and tradition but without alienating minorities or modernizers. Strong families based in faith will help heal a broken society. Never forget to recognize individual rights and have a philosophy of non-discrimination and equal treatment.
  • International affairs require a pragmatic posture. A nation is fundamentally an economic unit that needs to protect its interests and the wellbeing of its society. Blind internationalism benefits only the global corporations. The nation should be willing to be antagonistic to the demands of the EU and USA to protect the interests of the people.

Croatians do not fear responsibility, they welcome it. The Croatian people are an industrious and capable people who succeed wherever they are in the world. Croatians do not believe in entitlements they just request a fair opportunity, or as one Australian Croat once said to me “a fair go”. Croatia will need a cultural change in government and a new mindset of innovation. People will need to be empowered to bring new ideas to life in order to solve our social problems. They need a new covenant that will be brought forward by the embracing of a new political philosophy built around the ideas of progressive conservatism, ie, socio-economic advancement and respect of tradition.

Where will the Napredak come from?
Who will create and lead the Naprijedna Desnica?
Who is the leader that will be courageous to forge a new direction?
These are questions we must ask of ourselves and once we find the answers then it up to us to simply follow through.

Updated 25th-May-2012 at 01:45 PM by zeljkoadmin

Pero Kolenc Ercegovac