The disorder and chaos caused by political populism and a bitter struggle to stay in power is doing long-term damage to the Croatian people, regardless of the outcome of that struggle, Josip Juratovic, an SPD member of the Bundestag, told Hina in an interview during his visit to Belgrade.

"Too much energy and time is being spent on mutual recriminations between the coalition partners while the reforms and money from EU funds are at a standstill, the credit rating is falling, and investors are not even thinking of investing in a country where the government cannot even agree among themselves," said Juratovic, who is also a member of the Bundestag Foreign Affairs Committee responsible for the Balkans.

He suggested that extremists from marginal political parties "with slightly over a thousand votes who decide about the future of the entire nation" should be replaced by competent people irrespective of their party or ethnic affiliation to "lead the country according to EU standards into a secure future."

Commenting on criticisms from certain intellectual and political circles in Europe about Croatia's attitude towards the ideology of the Nazi-style Ustasha regime that ruled Croatia in World War II, Juratovic said that throughout Europe currently there was a trend of "shifting to the right" and that in the Balkans too Croatia was not an isolated case in that regard.

"The right wing feeds on fear and prejudices about others and people who are different. In Germany, it is fear of refugees, in France it is fear of Muslims, and in Croatia it is fear of people nostalgic for Yugoslavia and fear of Serbs," Juratovic said, noting that that is the result of populism in the power struggle among the political elites.

"In Croatia, an evil spirit was released when the political elites were fighting for power and in that political competition, for the sake of populism, they condoned fascistoid incidents," he said. President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic's address to the nation, in which she distanced herself from all fascist ideas and the legacy of the Ustasha-run Independent State of Croatia (NDH), "came a bit too late because Croatia's reputation in all world media had already been tarnished."

Juratovic warned of steadfast right-wing movements and ideas in all countries in the region, citing a recent gathering of Serb Chetnik paramilitary units in Bosnia and Herzegovina, rehabilitation of the ideology of WWII Serbian Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic, and Islamic radicals in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

"In the Balkans, history has repeated itself too often and that's why all the Western Balkans countries need to confront their own past so mistakes from the past would not be repeated again," he said.

Juratovic said that the Western Balkans countries needed support on their EU path and that the region should be included in as many areas of European politics and economy as possible, noting that the Bundestag had adopted his proposal to open the German labour market to the Western Balkans.

"Peace and stability in the Western Balkans is key to its further economic progress and requires the joint effort of both the EU and all the Western Balkan states," Juratovic said.

Commenting on current relations between Serbia and Croatia, Juratovic said that it was important to maintain dialogue, exchange views and look forward. He added that it was necessary "to overcome trade barriers and ensure trade privileges because any renewed tensions and lack of economic cooperation would harm everyone in the region."

"That is why the stability and prosperity of the Western Balkans depend on relations between Belgrade and Zagreb," Juratovic said.

Juratovic visited Belgrade earlier this week and met with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic. He said after the meeting that Serbia and Croatia should deal with their issues bilaterally because that was also in the interest of the EU.

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