- The Washington Times - Monday, January 3, 2000

There is no doubt that Croatia's future lies in an increasingly integrated Europe. Indeed, from the very first moment of its independence, Croatia's clearly articulated goal was to achieve membership in European institutions, such as the European Union, as well as Euro-Atlantic institutions such as NATO, at the earliest possible time. Such membership will, in fact, complement and reinforce Croatia's existing position as an integral part of Western culture, civilization, geography, and history.

However, as we work towards this goal, we must at the same time preserve the national independence of the Croatian people. For too long, indeed, for most of the past millennium, Croatia's destiny was determined elsewhere in Budapest, in Vienna, or Belgrade. In the future, the destiny of the Croatian people will be determined here in Croatia, by men and women chosen by, and responsible to, the citizens of Croatia.

Having only recently won our national sovereignty, Croats are understandably more sensitive than other Europeans on the subject of national sovereignty. Indeed, there are many in Europe, and some in America, who believe that national sovereignty is an outdated concept, and even a profoundly negative phenomena. Seeing only absolutes and extremes, these zealous individuals blame the 20th century's suffering on the nation-state as an institution, rather than on the individuals who have used it to their own criminal ends.

In fact, national sovereignty is the foundation of democracy. Democracy, of course, is a word more often used than understood and, as a philosophical principle, it has been given various meanings often to support the ideological inclinations, or political program, of those defining it. Over the past century, the world has seen many "democratic" republics established that were anything but democracies. In my view, the simplest, and most honest, definition of democracy is this: Any legitimate government must be chosen by the people it governs, and be ultimately responsible to them for its actions. This kind of responsibility can only be secured in the institutional context of a sovereign state a nation that is the master of its own affairs. Interestingly enough, most protesters during the recent WTO summit in Seattle, whatever their specific and often misguided substantive policy agendas might have been, appear to have one thing in common a strong aversion to the concept of having unelected technocrats, however well-intentioned, override, while operating in secret, the decisions of democratically elected, sovereign governments.

In fact, if we look behind today's myriad attacks on sovereignty, what we invariably find is a deep and abiding impatience with sometimes even a loathing for self-government. Using as a justification the undeniable political failures of the 20th century, many have abandoned politics as a model for governance, and have instead offered administration in its place. But, make no mistake, administration is government, and government by a privileged bureaucratic order that is not chosen by the people it rules, and that is not accountable to them for its actions. The word for this form of government is despotism, not democracy.

Democracy, however, has not failed merely because it has had failures. As we move into a more closely integrated Europe, we must cleave not merely to the institutional West, but to the traditional values of the West values Croatia has shared throughout its history. It must enter European and transatlantic institutions as a champion of popular sovereignty and self-government. Its watchwords should be transparency and accountability. If they are to survive and prosper, and to achieve the goals of a united, stable, and prosperous European homeland, institutions such as the European Union must become far more open and responsive, and far less bureaucratic. These institutions must constantly guard against corruption and arrogance, and must always remember the Latin maxim "optima corrupta pessima," "the best things, corrupted, become the worst." Transparency and accountability are the keys to holding these institutions to the ideals that led to their original formation.

Moreover, Croatia's intentions should clearly be understood by these institutions. We desire to become a full participant in the new Europe, but the right of Croatia's people to govern themselves will not be surrendered or compromised. There are some who believe that Croatia should be permitted into European and transatlantic institutions only as part of a broader structure of Southeastern European States. Croatia, of course, desires good and friendly relations with all of its neighbors, and welcomes cooperation among all of the states of Europe. However, there should be no mistake, Croatia will not, as the price of admission, be forced into a new south-Slav federation with the Balkan states to its south and east. Croatia will enter European and transatlantic institutions as a full and independent partner, and will be a relentless advocate for government accountable to the governed.

Ljerka Mintas-Hodak

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