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News 31 Jan 17

Croatia's Living Wall 'Profiting From Populist Surge'

The growing popularity of the anti-establishment Living Wall suggests that Croatia is following a global trend in terms of the rise in populist politics, an expert has explained.

Sven Milekic
BIRN
Zagreb
Ivan Pernar taken out of the parliament's plenary hall. Photo: Beta

Despite its recent controversies, Croatia's anti-establishment Living Wall party is growing in popularity, which many see as evidence that Croatia is following the global trend towards more populist politics.

A poll last week conducted on 967 people by the agency Ipsos puls showed that its popularity had risen lately.

With the support of 9.5 per cent of those polled, it came third behind the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, with 33.6, and the Social Democrats, SDP, with 22.4 per cent. MOST came fourth place with 8.8 per cent.

Political analyst Zarko Puhovski told BIRN on Monday that Living Wall’s success is “similar to that seen in the rest of the world”.

However, he added: “Croatia is still a step behind this global trend since, fortunately, nobody is winning the elections on this [populism],” he said.

He said much of Living Wall’s success comes from voters who formerly backed the junior party in government, the centre-right Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST.

Puhovski said MOST’s image had fallen as a result of its participation in government and its association with the senior government party, the centre-right HDZ.

MOST first appeared on the scene in the 2015 November general elections when it emerged as the third party in terms of seats, winning 19 out of 151 in total.

It then then formed a government – which fell last June – with the HDZ in January 2016 and joined another coalition government with the HDZ in October.

“The dissatisfaction or frustration on which populism always counts on has turned to Living Wall,” Puhovski explained.

Video of Pernar removed from the parliamentary plenary hall.

In the elections last September, Living Wall – a party born out of a movement formed to stop seizures of homes – won eight seats in coalition with two smaller parties. One MP joined MOST a few days after the elections.

Although Living Wall is led by Ivan Vilibor Sincic, its best known figure is the MP Ivan Pernar, aged 31. Although he recently said that he was joining another political force, Alphabet of Democracy, to express his dissatisfaction with the refusal of officials to register his new party, he is still perceived as a member of Living Wall.

Pernar fired up the region with his critiques of the US, NATO and the EU last October, and remains very present in the media and on Facebook, often streaming his events himself.

His activities in Zagreb high schools last week drew controversy when he was reported for unauthorised entry of schools – despite warnings from staff – where he held speeches and took photographs with pupils.

A number of school directors reported him to the police and other institutions, while the ombudsman for children’s rights, Ivana Milas Klaric, on Friday, condemned his activities, accusing him of using children for political purposes.

Pernar leaving the 'ZOOM' TV show.

Pernar the same day accused the ombudsman of not being interested in “hungry children in schools”, and brought a group of high school pupils to hold a debate in the parliament on Sunday.

After they were allowed to enter the parliament, Pernar held a press conference in front of the building, accusing both the HDZ and SDP of hatching a “conspiracy” with foreign banks.

Earlier, he attracted attention after being twice removed for disrupting discussions in parliament’s plenary chamber on January 18 and 20.

The second time he refused to leave the hall, claiming the speaker of parliament had no right to remove him during the intermission. He was physically taken out of the parliament – a rare case in Croatia’s parliamentary history – shouting, “Let the whole world see this”.

Pernar also attracted attention in November when he left in the middle of a popular TV show "Sunday at 2 pm" on Croatian Radio-Television, HRT, annoyed that the host, Aleksandar Stankovic, had interrupted him during his speech on Israel. Pernar did the same a few days later on an another show on local Z1 TV, after less than 30 seconds.

Referring to Living Wall’s success, Puhovski estimated that “between 20 or 25 per cent voters are keen on populism in Croatia”, concluding that the upcoming local elections in May would provide “a good test” of its appeal.

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