Democratic Empowerment and Transnational Threats

Let the Games Begin – How Will Euro 2020 Impact Croatian Politics?

European Football Championship (Euro 2020) is being held this summer in England, and regardless whether one is a football fan or not, no one can deny the importance of it and the attention Euro 2020 will get. However, it is hard to single out another country devoting to it as much attention as Croatia. Not only is Croatian football team full of amazing footballers who play for top football clubs, but also Croatia took a silver medal at the World Cup 2018 in Russia. So the hopes for doing more than great are really high.

Yet, besides the potential success Croatian football national team might achieve and make history, it is crucial to understand how Croatian politicians will take advantage of the situation, and whether Croatians will let themselves by distracted by it. In the wake of the elections, a huge question hangs over the country: when it come to politics, are Croatians as united as they are in football?

First of all, this will be a chance for newly-elected Croatian President Zoran Milanović to set the tone of his approach and who he is. During the World Cup 2018, former President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović acted quite emotionally. Accordingly, she took the World Cup as an opportunity to strengthen a certain image of herself: that of a leader who actually cares about the people and is able to relate to them. Besides that, Grabar-Kitarović flew to matches in economy class and paid ticket personally. Frankly, that strategy did not work out well for Grabar-Kitarović, but certainly it was a good attempt.

Now it is time for Z. Milanović. What he will be able to do also depends on the success of the Croatian national team. Nevertheless, whatever he does can be very significant. He can set the tone that might make him more approachable and desirable to the opposing side that did not vote for him. Also, he can be more assertive, set limits to national rhetoric and indicate what his politics support, and what he does not want to associate himself, but also Croatia with.

But is not only top leaders who might take advantage of the ferment for Euro 2020: the same happens at all levels of the political game. Leaders on the lower level such as the mayor of Zagreb City Milan Bandić could also use football as means to mass distraction. Capital’s mayor M. Bandić has started serving his sixth term and rules over Zagreb for almost two decades. M.Bandić has had his fair share of controversies. However, after the Presidential elections campaign of 2019, things have been going south for Bandić, as one of the contendants, Dario Juričan, based his whole campaign on dismissing M. Bandić and mafia behaviour. Also in January 2020, there was a protest against the Mayor where people chanted: ”Prison”, ”Mafia go home”, and many other things that should not be connected to any politician who is supposed to be a leader and respectable person.

Once summer comes, and Croatians come together, they will watch an opportunity slip away in front of them without even realising it. Instead of coming together to actually overthrow some politicians who are conducting dishonest activities, and instead of creating an obstacle for Z. Milanović, who might easily manipulate the people, the Croatians will only come together to support the national team and waste a chance for true core changes.

Football euphoria and events demonstrate how united and powerful Croatians truly are, even though they might not notice it. Unfortunately, they seem unable to gather in that one strong body when it comes to demanding and achieving political changes. The loud cheering and one united voice will become so silent after those 90 minutes are over, and the Croatians will again go completely mute once the Euro 2020 is finished.

Croatians illustrate that history repeats and confirm what Juvenal, a Roman poet, wrote: ”panem et circenses” meaning that food and entertainment are often a bare minimum the people need to be satisfied with their leadership. Croatians will continue receiving minimum from their government and minimum progress whilst corruption continues to thrive, and all that is possible because occasional event entertains them, distracts them from reality, and convinces them ”It is not that bad”.  

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