Jelsa Elections, May 2017

Published in Highlights

The forthcoming local elections on Hvar promise to be interesting, by contrast with the General Election two years ago, when Jelsa's Dobri duh ('Good Ghost') whispered wistfully from the sidelines of Facebook: "Haven't the elections finished yet?".

Dr. Željka Barbić-Peronja and Anita Drinković launching their Mayoral campaign. Dr. Željka Barbić-Peronja and Anita Drinković launching their Mayoral campaign. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Sadly, our Dobri duh is no longer bringing his or her light touch to Jelsa's goings-on, just at a time when humour is sorely needed. (Dobri duh's identity is a strictly guarded secret, known to very few - an amazing achievement in a small community where everyone seems to know all about everyone and everything.) At national level, Croatia's political scene has descended into chaos. How this will affect local voting patterns, if at all, is difficult to predict.

Pre-election fun at the Carnival, 'Nikša' getting it together with 'Anita' (and her dog). Photo: Vivian Grisogono

My connexion with Jelsa began in 1988. The political scene was very different. It was the tail-end of Communist (or Socialist if you prefer) Yugoslavia. Certain restrictions had been relaxed, making it possible for people who had been stripped of their nationality to regain it and return to live in their homeland. It was a time of hope and change. Tourism was thriving, and the main road from Jelsa to Stari Grad was about to be extended via a new tunnel to Hvar Town. A mass meeting of citizens was called in the Gradska Kavana - then a delightful old-Austrian-style cafe under the Town Hall, now a run-down nondescript space. People had their say. Democracy was in full flow. I was impressed and charmed.

Kruno Peronja, former President of Hvar Island, his brother Fabijan, Jelsa's friendliest bank manager and cultural organizer, and their cousin Jakov, owner of the much-prized restaurant 'Liberat', at Anita Drinković's campaign launch, May 6th 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

With independence in 1990, Croatia took on new political structures, a multi-party system and democratic elections. At that time, Hvar had an island President, lawyer Kruno Peronja, who was largely responsible for instigating and promoting projects for improving island life, such as a much-needed modern sewage system. The outbreak of the war against Croatia in 1991 curtailed development projects, and the island became a refuge for displaced people from occupied parts of Croatia and refugees from Bosnia-Hercegovina - in August 1992 the displaced numbered 624, refugees 3,727, and the war was far from over.

Jelsa's young Mayor Nikša Peronja ready to greet the first seaplane, 27th August 2014. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Hvar no longer has a President to act as a unifying force. Its four local Council administrations and five Tourist Boards mostly act autonomously. The Island of Krk has demonstrated the value of unity. Its seven local authorities found consensus, together with the support of the Catholic Church at local and national level. They have been able to produce enviable plans for creating environmentally friendly energy resources and rubbish management, alongside sustainable tourism, covering the whole island. Much has already been achieved in just a few years.

Vjeran Piršić, a key figure in Krk's sustaionability programme, gave talks on Krk's successes in Hvar and Jelsa in April 2017, as the guest of Lista za ponos mista (Hvar) and Eco Hvar. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

On Hvar the concept of cooperation across the island does not feature large in the pre-election promises. The focus is mainly on very localized issues. Voting preferences are quirky. There are those who vote along Party lines; some according to the recommendations (or dictates) of the Catholic Church; many follow the example of their social companions. Jelsa's Bench, which has its own celebrity status thanks to Jelsa's famed British blogger Paul Bradbury, is often a source of block voting, as are Jelsa's many fine cafes. Candidates who can influence key people within these circles have a flying start.

Ace blogger Paul Bradbury standing behind Mayor Nikša Peronja and young musicians from the US on The Bench which Paul made famous. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It is said that blandishments are used: individual votes may be worth a year's Council taxes; a block vote might guarantee someone a secure job for the foreseeable future. True or false? If true, these are bad habits which need to be eradicated. One thing's for sure, in a tiny community like Pitve voting privacy is not guaranteed when so many votes are predictable. Years ago I was lambasted by a neighbour who had worked out, by a process of elimination, that I must be the rogue voter who had put my 'x' against the Wrong Party. Local sleuths/mathematicians 1, secret ballot 0. How did Dobri duh Jelsa maintain watertight privacy? I wish I knew the secret!

Mayoral hopeful Anita Drinković presenting her programme for the environment, 6th May 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Quirkiness continues even after the elections are over. Places on Council committees are allocated according to the demands of party or individual influence. In 2014 I was taken aback to find that Jelsa's Environment Committee, of which I had previously been a member, had been pared down to just a handful of people. Jelsa's two environmental registered charities, Održivi otok and Eco Hvar, were not included. In one meeting which I was invited to attend, Mario Skelin, a young agronomist, surprisingly averred that mankind's progress depended on chemical pesticides, or 'plant protectors' as he called them, using the agrochemical companies' euphemism. He was on the committee as representative of the Hrvatska Narodna Stranka (HNS - Croatian Peoples' Party).

Mankind's future depends on this? I think not. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Seven groups have registered to seek seats on the Jelsa Council at the local elections on May 21st 2017. Five represent national political parties, while two are independent. There are four candidates for the mayorship, one being the aforementioned Mario Skelin (HNS). The two main contenders are the current Mayor, Nikša Peronja, and Anita Drinković. Nikša now belongs to the Socijaldemokratska partija (SDP - Social Democratic Party), although he stood as an independent when he was elected in 2013. The SDP was in power in Croatia at the time. Anita represents the Hrvatska demokratska zajednica (HDZ, Croatian Democratic Union), which currently governs Croatia. In the February Carnival (Karnevol) the forthcoming duel between the two rivals was hilariously depicted in a mock romance balcony scene ending in a Punch-and-Judy style fight, with 'Anita's' (stuffed toy) dog mercilessly laying into 'Nikša'. (Anita is known to love dogs.)

Campaigning starts, 9th May 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

It is telling that the two independent lists include people who previously supported Mayor Nikša and worked closely with him during the earlier part of his mandate. Ivo Duboković, who heads the Jelsa Tourist Board, and has done much to make it fully functional and effective, leads List 1 and is also challenging for the mayorship. Most people appreciate that Mayor Nikša has had some worthwhile achievements, especially in reducing the debt which was burdening the Council when he took over, and in being the first Croatian Mayor to accept the historic seaplane service in 2014.

Works on Jelsa's harbour, pictured here on 9th May 2017, have spanned over three years. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Nikša has been charming and approachable, and has brought a youthful dynamism to the Town Hall. He has also been ambitious. Sadly, some of his major building projects in Jelsa have been delayed or have even foundered because of insufficient funds. This will probably influence his chances of re-election.

Minister Žalac with Anita Drinković, 25th March 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

The HDZ campaign for Anita Drinković has been the first to make an impact. On March 25th she hosted a well-attended meeting in which Gabrijela Žalac, HDZ Minister for Regional Development and EU Funding, described the work of her Ministry and its relevance to island communities like Hvar's.

Anita Drinković introducing her programme, 6th May 2017. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

Anita's election campaign started in earnest on Saturday 6th May. Having spent the morning spreading charm, goodwill and homemade sweet treats around Jelsa's cafes, she and her deputy Dr. Željka Barbić-Peronja presented their detailed programme that evening to a full house in the Town Hall's Festive Meeting-Room.

Ivo Duboković hosting his group's inaugural meeting. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

By contrast, later that evening, Ivo Duboković hosted the first meeting of his select independent group (of which I am a member) in his atmospheric wine-cellar. The exchange of ideas was friendly, fulsome, free-ranging and fruitful. The basis of the group's campaign was established. Realistically, the small independent groups are on the fringes of the main action. Their primary aim is to gain representation on the Council, where they can play an important role in creating political balance, introducing objectivity in situations where party interests might threaten the best interests of the community as a whole.

Slogan for Ivo Duboković's independent group

The slogan for Ivo's group is 'Da skužoš, MORE BOJE' (island dialect for 'Excuse us, IT CAN BE BETTER'). Eco Hvar agrees. From Eco Hvar's point of view, there are many aspects of local life which could be improved, most of which were hopes highlighted after the elections four years ago. No-one listened then, perhaps attention will be paid this time?

1. Public toilets. There should be 24-hour public toilets in both Jelsa and Vrboska. Temporary toilets should be provided on or near all public beaches, as happens on Brač.

Toilet near a public beach on Brač. Photo: Vivian Grisogono

2. Recycling facilities are urgently needed.

3. Toxic rubbish. Facilities for disposing of used engine oil should be widely publicized. People should be encouraged to dispose of used batteries in those supermarkets which accept them. There should be a collection point for cans and canisters used for toxic chemicals such as paint and pesticides, and a system for transferring them to the authorized disposal facilities on the mainland.

4. Poisons:

(i) The practice of distributing rat poison to all households in polythene bags should stop, as it is a health hazard, also counter-productive as the vermin become resistant.

(ii) Street spraying with chemical insecticide should be banned - it is a) hazardous to health and b) at best ineffective, at worst counter-productive.

(iii) Herbicides and insecticides should be banned from public places. The Council should adopt the natural alternatives to chemical poisons.

5. Rubbish. There should be more rubbish bins in public places, and more measures to persuade people to dispose of rubbish responsibly. Volunteer clean-ups should be organized on a regular basis, especially with a view to educating children about minimizing rubbish and not spoiling the environment.

6. Graffiti. Graffiti should be cleaned up as soon as they appear – that discourages the graffiti perpetrators.

7. The Council should encourage organic farming methods in every way possible, to improve public health and the environment.

8. Green household practices. The Council should encourage the use of environmentally friendly cleaning and washing materials, to reduce chemical pollution in the sea and on land.

9. Road plans. There should be better provision for cyclists and walkers, both for locals and guests.

Cycle tracks and footpaths urgently needed! Photo: Vivian Grisogono

10. Urban improvements. Future planning for public spaces should include more trees and plants. Succulents would provide hardy year-round greenery and colour in planters around paved areas. Road islands should be left to flourish with wild flowers, which would need strimming just once or twice a year - prettier, easier and cheaper!

Jelsa needs more skilled horticultural practices. Photo: Vivian Grisogono (9th May 2017)

11. Animal welfare. The Council should provide the fullest support to Eco Hvar's initiatives for looking after abandoned animals and preventing animal cruelty.

12. Co-operation. The Council should co-operate with local volunteer groups and charities, also with the other local authorities across the island, especially in relation to projects important to all, such as energy provision.

The other local groups contesting the Jelsa elections have yet to present their programmes. Eco Hvar hopes that there will be much common ground, paving the way for consensus in the Council, regardless of party politics. We hope there will be a good turnout of voters, so that whoever is elected to the Mayorship or Council can feel confident that they have the true support of the majority of citizens. Co-operation is key, and voters are vital to the democratic process. It's not important which party or group wins. What is important is that the individuals given responsibility for Jelsa Council's management over the next four years should be capable, honest and hard-working. Above all, they should not be ruled or guided by party politics or personal ambitions. If they work for the best interests of the whole community, peace, harmony, order and prosperity will result, to the benefit of all.

© Vivian Grisogono, 9th May 2017

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