Ecology and anti-corruption, the winning cocktail in Zagreb



Tomislav Tomasevic, elected mayor of Zagreb on Sunday.


© Denis Lovrovic
Tomislav Tomasevic, elected mayor of Zagreb on Sunday.

“The battle for Zagreb begins on this hill”, declared in 2017 Tomislav Tomasevic from the Jakusevac landfill, a mountain of waste in the vicinity of the Croatian capital. At the time, it was sixteen years that were stored there between 600 and 800 tons of waste per day, to the indifference of the local authorities. Four years later, the rubbish hill still exists, posing a major environmental risk. And it is now up to environmentalist Tomislav Tomasevic, elected Sunday mayor of Zagreb, to tackle the problem.

Pinpoint clientelism

The candidate of a coalition of the left and the Greens did not stop, throughout his campaign, to promise change. He won the election on Sunday, with 62.25% of the vote, against the far-right candidate, Miroslav Skoro. This ultranationalist singer presented himself as the “candidate of the people”.

Aged 39, Tomislav Tomasevic is a novice in the political arena, but nonetheless remains a long-time activist, with concrete experience within Croatian associative networks. A Cambridge graduate in environment, he has been an activist since he was 16 at Zelena Akcija, one of the main organizations fighting for the environment. He is also one of the founding members of the Zagreb is ours movement, a citizen collective that fights against corruption and the privatization of municipal public services. In 2009, for example, he initiated the action “Muddy, water from an untouched source of fraud”, which aimed to pin down patronage, corruption and favoritism in the Croatian capital. Conducting a transparent policy and developing civic engagement appear to be its first projects.

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Awakening of the “silent majority”

With his coalition built around the citizen movement Mozemo, created in 2019 and which means in Croatian “we can” (like Podemos in Spain), Tomislav Tomasevic defends an anti-liberal, environmental and feminist program. The coalition brings together Greens as well as members of the Workers’ Front and Zagreb is ours, a movement that entered the city council in 2016, where Tomasevic was set up as the main opponent of the exuberant mayor Milan Bandic, in place for two decades.

Known for his excesses and escapades, Bandic died at the end of February. The battle for his succession marked the end of an era as the two traditional parties, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ, rather on the right) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP, on the left), were drastically ousted from the mayoral race, accumulating less than 10% of the votes in the first round. “It seems that the silent majority of the population, especially in urban centers, has started to wake up, motivated by new faces that offer different discourses, moving away from empty ideological struggles to talk about real political solutions”, analysis Igor Vidacak, professor at the Faculty of Political Science at the University of Zagreb.

The coalition also obtained, during the first round, significant scores in other major cities of the country, like Pula, in Istria or Split, in Dalmatia. The victory of Ivica Puljak, candidate of the new Center platform (Center), for mayor of Split, also appears as a shock for the traditional parties. For Igor Vidacak, these results illustrate the deep interest of a growing part of Croatian public opinion in environmental issues, as shown by studies by the European Commission Eurobarometer.

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