Budi dio naše mreže

Statement by the Justice and Peace Commission of the Croatian Conference of Bishops

Zagreb (IKA )

The responsibility for achieving the general good, apart from individuals, belongs first and foremost to the state because promoting the general welfare is the reason for the existence of political authority. The objective of public life is the historically feasible general good. In order to guarantee it, the government of each state has the specific task of properly aligning the various individual interests with justice.  The proper reconciliation of the particular goods of groups and individuals is, therefore, one of the most sensitive tasks of the public authorities, who must guarantee the orderly and equitable life of the community without usurping the free activity of individuals and groups, which must be directed toward the common good, as well as respecting and protecting the independence of individual and social subjects.  Political authority is a means of coordination and orientation, according to which individuals and intermediary bodies must be governed by a set of rules whose concerns, institutions and procedures promote full human growth. In order to achieve this, the authorities must enact just laws, that is to say, laws consistent with the dignity of the human person [1].  According to the guidelines of the social doctrine of the Church, the Justice and Peace Commission of the Croatian Conference of Bishops intends through this statement to speak about the legal, employment and social (in)securities in the Croatian society, so that all of us together can commit ourselves to building a legal state in a manner that is as efficient as possible.

  1. The state in the service of the citizens. The citizens of the Republic of Croatia have chosen to live in a republic (Latin: res publica) and rightfully expect the state to act truly and not merely declaratively in the public interest. The state is bound by the mandate it received from the citizens because they have relinquished part of their sovereignty to the state through the constitutional order. This does not apply to individual governments but to the state as a continuity and framework for the exercise of human rights. Therefore, the state must strive for total efficiency and be guided solely by the general or common good. Those who lead the state must be in the service of all the citizens and their different needs, including one of the fundamental human needs, which is for security.

Unfortunately, we are witnessing the reverse process, which seems to suggest that the citizens are in the service of the state, and not vice versa. Such a system of governance is far removed from its original source. Namely, a system in which politics ceases to be the ideal of serving the general good and becomes a means for  pandering to particular interests has a number of negative consequences. Among the negative consequences of a dysfunctional state, certainly the most important is the insecurity of the citizens, which is reflected at several levels, three of which are crucial and closely related to each other: legal, employment and social.

  1. Legal security. Achieving complete labor and social security is not possible without creating and implementing the appropriate legal framework. The constitutional order guarantees the equality of all before the law and contains a number of other guarantees necessary to achieve the ideals of the rule of law (respect for property rights, personal freedom, security and dignity; the prohibition of discrimination, the rights of freedom of opinion, conscience and religion etc.). A prerequisite for achieving legal security, which is at the root of a legal state based on the rule of law, is a genuine tripartite government with legislative, executive and judicial branches. Each of these branches must act independently of the others, but at the same time must achieve an optimal system of checks and balances, so that each of the branches is also answerable to the other branches, as well as to the citizens. Independent authority can and must be achieved exclusively through responsibility toward oneself and others. This should be the ideal legal framework in a modern society that would guarantee an individual’s security and human dignity to the fullest possible extent.

Considering our reality from this perspective, a genuine tripartite government, as the sole guarantee of various forms of security for the citizens of the Republic of Croatia, is still not at the level that it should be. The legislature intervenes in the legal order, even when it is not absolutely necessary. Frequent amendments to the laws that regulate fundamental human rights also call legal security into question. Excessive confidence that change in the legislation is the beginning and end of every reform and/or quasi-reform leads to legal chaos due to lack of coordination or even direct contradictions in certain parts of the legal system.

On the other hand, not unfrequently the laws are devoid of elementary justice, and when the legislature refers to justice, it populistically neglects the fundamental legal principles on which legal certainty is built (e.g., the prohibition of retroactivity). Therefore, it is difficult to escape the impression that many laws have been adopted not for the common good but due to the particular interests of individual professional or other groups. Furthermore, the legislature frequently ignores the principle of proportionality. In a state governed by the rule of law, it is not justifiable for minor violations of the law to be penalized more heavily than serious violations. It is neither just nor in accordance with the principle of proportionality to confiscate property due to a small debt, while at the same time tolerating and providing tax and other benefits to those with heavy debts.

The judicial branch also contributes to legal insecurity through prolonged court proceedings and lack of uniformity in judicial practice. This leads to numerous proceedings against the Republic of Croatia before European courts and obligations for the payment of compensation to prosecutors from the state budget, i.e., ultimately by the taxpayers. The executive branch not infrequently directly jeopardizes legal security by interfering in court proceedings (especially when it comes to secret proceedings, for example, investigations conducted prior to the initiation of criminal proceedings), the influence of personal politics in the judiciary and on the judicial branch as a whole, particularly at the local level.

In a particular way, legal security is jeopardized by the disclosure of secret information during the investigation of criminal cases. The violation of the confidentiality of proceedings is a crime, so the issues of prevention and the prosecution of the perpetrators are raised, although the perpetrators regularly go unpunished. The finding that too many people in the system share secret information cannot be justification for its disclosure and publication. It is not enough to be satisfied with general statements about condemnation and prosecution. It is necessary to stop the “network of corruption” and all the participants should perform their parts, including politicians, police, state attorneys’ offices, courts, attorney’s offices and the media.

  1. Employment and social security. The Croatian Constitution guarantees everyone the right to work and freedom of work (Article 55). Every employee is entitled to remuneration for his/her work so that he/she can afford a free and dignified life for himself/herself and his/her family. Each employee is entitled to a weekly day of rest and paid annual vacation, and these rights cannot be rescinded (Article 56). Employment security is also supplemented by social security, in accordance with the social guarantees of the state (Articles 1, 57‒59). This also applies to a citizen’s ability to live in dignity from his/her work, the sustainability of the system of intergenerational solidarity and the provision of care to those in need.

In Croatia, there are many examples indicating the systemic extent of noncompliance with the right to work and freedom of work, which testify to the violation of the dignity of the worker. The unemployment rate is extremely high. Among those who work, in the majority of cases, their income is inadequate for a decent standard of living. Job security, especially in the private and so-called real sectors, is jeopardized by employers’ irresponsibility, the widespread mentality of predatory capitalism and inadequate protection of workers’ rights.  Owing to disagreements and fragmentation, trade unions, which should be protecting workers’ rights, have lost their much needed role as genuine defenders of the rights of workers and work. Among citizens, the perception prevails that due to certain more or less covert interests, compromises are made with the political elite to the detriment of the rights and interests of workers. These times and the Croatian society need strong union organizations that will be able to cope with the merciless and unjust forms of acquiring capital at the expense of workers and labor.
Criticism is also merited by the tax system, which provides disincentives for productive, administrative or creative work. A greater tax burden on those who work more and earn more promotes a series of negative trends, including the emigration of highly educated persons. On the other hand, the budgetary revenues collected in this manner are not primarily directed toward public services, policies or the creation of new wealth but mainly serve to maintain the large, inefficient and still unreformed apparatus of the public and state administrations. All the aforementioned prevent a person from fully realizing his/her potential as a subject who lives from his/her work, while at the same time hindering the development of the creative potentials necessary for general and sustainable social development. They also jeopardize the social security system. The concept of intergenerational solidarity, owing to the unfavorable demographic situation, emigration and non-earmarked (and even nontransparent) spending of money from pension funds, is in a serious crisis, which is not addressed by the announced pension reform.

Therefore, we should like to mention, especially within the dimension of the New Covenant between God and mankind, that work is not merely intended for the biological maintenance of the family. A worker is not merely the physical breadwinner for his/her dependents  but, like St. Joseph, brings the spiritual dimension of living according to God’s plan into the lives his/her family members. It is precisely for this reason that Pope Pius XII, when introducing the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker into the Catholic calendar, emphasized the importance of work as a category of social but also religious self-affirmation of the dignity of mankind and the indissoluble covenant with God.

  1. Appeal by the Commission. History and experience teach us that absolute security is an illusion. The world we live in is fraught with risks and challenges, and no government can be expected to eliminate risks completely. However, a priority of every reasonable government must be to reduce the level of uncertainties, even potential ones, to a minimum, especially in the areas of family, economic and public life, as it primarily affects the daily lives of the citizens. Namely, security in itself is not the objective but it is a fundamental condition for the full exercise of human freedom in work, in the society and, thus, in the family and religious areas of life. Insecurity in this sense leads to a lack of freedom because it promotes various forms of addiction, subjugation and frustration. In this context, legal, work and social insecurities contribute to the alarming phenomenon of mass emigration and lead to deficits in the personnel needed by the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, as well as a lack of confidence in the institutional system. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church clearly states: “Respect of the principle of subsidiarity must prompt public authorities to seek conditions that encourage the development of individual capacities of initiative, autonomy and personal responsibility in citizens, avoiding any interference which would unduly condition business forces” [2]. Namely, economic activity, especially in the context of a free market, cannot exist in an institutional, judicial or political vacuum and in order for the state to fulfill its task, it “must adopt suitable legislation but at the same time it must direct economic and social policies in such a way that it does not become abusively involved in the various market activities, the carrying out of which is and must remain free of authoritarian—or worse, totalitarian—superstructures and constraints” [3].

Those who govern this state, which has been built upon the Croatian nation’s centuries-long aspirations and its unity and solidarity during the Homeland War, into the foundations of the sacrifices of all the Croatian defenders have been incorporated, are called, therefore, by the power of the mandate and confidence they have received from its citizens, to take action without delay in order to halt the negative trends caused by the inconsistencies in the implementation of the Constitution and laws. This is especially felt in the implementation of selective justice, particularly in the failure to process and punish war crimes perpetrated during the Homeland War, not to mention the many years of apathy toward prosecuting those responsible for the unprecedented crimes against humanity committed during and after the Second World War. Moreover, due to public interest and the promotion of the common good, it is of particular importance to eliminate clientelism and corruption at all levels of state function, from the local level to the central state government.

Therefore, the Commission, in accordance with its mission to promote “justice and peace” on the basis of the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, urges all those responsible in the legislative, executive and judicial branches to contribute actively to the elimination of the legal, employment and security problems discussed in this statement.  It is in everyone’s interest to have an effective legal state, respect for the tripartite government and constitutional rights of the citizens because only in this way can the general or common good as well as legal, employment and social security be promoted, which will guarantee a life of dignity, justice and security to every person and family in the modern Croatian society.

In Zagreb, October 24, 2018

+ Đuro Hranić, Archbishop of Đakovo-Osijek
President of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Croatian Conference of Bishops

[1] Cf. the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Nos. 168‒169, 394, 398.
[2] Ibid., No. 354.
[3] Ibid., No. 352.