Croatia gets new government with a far-right party included ahead of European parliamentary vote

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ZAGREB, Croatia -- Croatian lawmakers on Friday voted into office a new government that marks a tilt to the right in another European Union nation ahead of the 27-nation bloc's parliamentary election next month.

Although it is still dominated by conservative Croatian Democratic Union, or HDZ, the new Croatian government now also includes hard-right Homeland Movement, a relatively new party that emerged as a kingmaker after an inconclusive parliamentary election in April.

The new Cabinet of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who started his third consecutive term in office, was approved in a 79-61 vote in the 151-member Sabor, or the Croatian assembly.

The HDZ won the most votes in the April 17 election but not enough to rule alone. A relatively slim majority for the new coalition government could usher in a period of political instability after HDZ's years-long domination.

In his speech, Plenkovic said that his new government will focus on further economic growth and modernization, saying that so far “the citizens have recognized our effort.”

Croatia's economy was among the weakest in the EU when it joined the bloc in 2013 but has since managed to join the single currency market last year. The country of 3.8 million people relies heavily on income from tourism along its stunning Adriatic Sea coastline.

For the first time in years, Croatia's government does not include a party representing Croatia's ethnic Serb minority after the Homeland Movement, known as DP, objected to their participation. This has sparked concerns that Croatia's hard-won ethnic balance following the 1991-95 Serb-Croatian war could be disrupted.

Plenkovic pledged that “we will take care of the rights of national minorities, respect them, protect achieved rights and make sure that everyone in Croatia, each and everyone of our citizens, feel good.”

But Anja Šimpraga, a former government minister from the Independent Democratic Serb Party, or SDSS, warned during Friday's debate that “already we are witnessing radicalization." Liberal lawmaker Sandra Bencic, from left-green Mozemo, or We Can, party ironically evoked what she described as “homeland spirit" fueling divisions in the society.

The Homeland Movement party is made up mostly of radical nationalists and social conservatives who had left HDZ. The party is led by the hard-line mayor of the eastern town of Vukovar, which was destroyed in 1991 at the start of Croatia’s war for independence after it split from the former Yugoslavia.

The party has demanded that the Croatian state abolish financing of a critical liberal news outlet Novosti, which is issued by the Serb minority and funded from the budget.

The Croatian Journalists’ Association has reported that Novosti journalists have received threats and been deemed as enemies of the state. The organization said the threats are the result of DP’s campaign against Novosti, and have demanded a response from the authorities.

The DP also has advocated a return to the traditional, stay-at-home role for women in Croatia's society, which is predominantly Catholic and conservative, and where women already face problems accessing abortion.

HDZ has largely held office since Croatia gained independence. The Balkan nation became an EU member in 2013, and joined Europe’s passport-free travel area and the eurozone last year.

With hard=right and populist parties now part of or leading a half dozen governments in the EU, they appear positioned to make gains in the June 6-9 election for the European Parliament. The vote takes place as the continent faces a war in Ukraine, climate emergencies, migration and other problems.

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