In this interview series, we reach out to some of our liberal party leaders to hear their thoughts on liberalism, Europe and beyond. For this episode, we spoke with Dalibor Paus, leader of the Istrian Democratic Assembly in Croatia. He shared with us how the past months in his new role have been like, what the upcoming priorities for the party are and why politics and mathematics complement each other.
Dalibor Paus, you were recently elected to lead your party. How have these past months been like, and what do you hope to achieve in the coming months?
Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS) is a political party with a strong regional character that can be best described by the slogan "more than politics". Our organisation strives to embody all the characteristics and values of the Region of Istria, a geographically small region but very well known throughout the world for its beautiful landscapes, exceptional gastronomy, amazing historical monuments and unique way of life, in which tolerance and multiculturalism play a significant role.
To be the leader of such a political party, which has continuously ruled Istria since Croatia’s independence, is a true honour. I ran for president with an overwhelming support from party members and party leadership, and during a situation when the party was at a turning point.
As the new party president, I will concentrate on internal communication in particular, working together with people and our constituency. I believe that all established parties make the same mistake of becoming alienated from people. That is where we must take a big step forward and show that IDS is different from other political parties in Croatia.
You are a mathematician by training. In your view, which kinds of similarities are there between mathematics and politics?
I believe there is an obvious link between mathematical sciences and democracy, and not only because classical and modern science appeared at the same time as modern democracy. In mathematics, authority is rejected and only proof or argument is accepted. This is, or should be, the case in politics as well.
To those who wonder why a math professor like me chose politics, I say that science pushes democracy and democracy pushes science to its full realisation. And that is why these activities more than complement each other!
Indeed, in 2017 you shook Croatian politics when you became Mayor of Barban, beating the long-time incumbent mayor. How do you see the role of mayors in bringing Croatian citizens closer to Europe?
In my opinion, it all starts with a bottom-up approach, and this is also essential for bringing European values closer to our citizens. If you systematically promote values such as tolerance, multiculturalism, equality, minority rights, and so on at the local level, you have done a great deal to promote the Union itself, too.
I think young people have a key role to play in this process, despite the erroneous belief that they are apolitical. Today’s generation knows very well what they want, and they have a lot of opportunities at their disposal, so it is not easy to impress them. And this is great, because they set the pace for us too! That is why we must speak their language and show them that the EU is their project as much as it is that of the previous generations.
Speaking of Europe, your party currently has one representative in the European Parliament. What does this European dimension mean for IDS?
Yes, the former President of Region of Istria, Valter Flego, is a Member of the European Parliament. For a regional party like IDS, this of course means a lot. Once again Istria has its representative in Brussels, and once again IDS is recognised at the European level as a strong regional party. To have an MEP means to be at the heart of all European policymaking, and we know very well that in this mandate no important decision can be made without the support of Renew Europe. Flego may be our only representative, but he manages to make the voice of our Istria be heard in Brussels.
IDS was established over 20 years ago, and your first big electoral success came in 1993. How has the party developed since then, and what are your upcoming key priorities?
In politics, those survive who are ready to embrace change. IDS has always been ready for big changes while remaining true to itself. We have always maintained our values and never backed on our word. We were loud when others were silent, from resisting nationalism and the authoritarian rule in the 1990s to condemning chauvinism and the radicalisation of society, which, unfortunately, Croatia has not yet managed to solve. In many ways, IDS is a unique player in Croatian politics.
As for changes, we will soon make a series of decisions aimed at accelerating the decision-making process within the party, strengthening the independence of our local branches, refreshing our political programme and reinforcing our membership. The political environment has radically changed in the recent years, and the party must change too.
And what is your party’s plan to bounce back from these unprecedented health and economic crises caused by the pandemic?
The Region of Istria was the last green area in Europe this summer. Now with the fourth wave, we are among the most affected EU countries.
In Istria, we have very clear rules regarding the pandemic management where politics does not interfere with the work of the experts. I believe that only medicine and science can get us out of this situation, but I do understand that restrictive measures can cause discomfort and indignation for those who are afraid of or doubt the effectiveness of the vaccines.
This pandemic has created further divisions between people, and that is something we have to avoid at all costs! From solidarity and fellowship at the beginning of the pandemic, we have moved to blame games and conflicts. I see individuals and political parties trying to exploit and capitalise on this situation, which is pathetic and does no one any good. In crisis situations, we show the strength of our communities, and I am confident that Istria will demonstrate once again that unity and solidarity are stronger than division and fear!
The Conference on the Future of Europe has been one of the key initiatives for the European Union this year. What do you think liberals can do to ensure that the citizen perspective is heard at all levels of government?
We are all aware that the Conference on the Future of Europe was initiated by the liberals, so the key is to make the voice of all Europeans not only heard but also respected. What is most important for our citizens is to have them involved in the EU decision-making processes. Therefore, the outcome of the Conference must not be, as so many times before, a nicely written pamphlet or letter of intents, but instead we need to implement real changes as outcomes of the citizens' will. It is not just a matter of achieving a political agreement in Brussels – it is a matter of what citizens want and expect from politicians.
And how can liberal parties fight back those that undermine European values?
Never trade truth and freedom. Parties that are willing to do so may benefit in the short term, but they will not survive in the long run. I want to remind the readers of Milton Friedman’s statement: "One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programmes by their intentions, rather than their results!"
Croatia has soon been an EU member state for 10 years – what has this decade meant for the country from your perspective?
First, it was COVID-19 that showed very clearly the benefits of being a part of the Union and what it would look like to be alone in a pandemic and a post-pandemic crisis, without financial assistance and solidarity from the Union. From the Next Generation EU alone Croatia received over 20 billion euro.
Furthermore, in the past 10 years Croatia has been severely hit by several natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Let's not forget that in those circumstances the EU solidarity and financial assistance are irreplaceable. Of course, not all our problems have disappeared with access to the EU, nor is the Union a utopia. There are issues we need to solve independently, and the Union must reinvent itself which is why the Conference on the Future of the EU has been initiated. I sincerely believe and hope that for the 10th anniversary in 2023, Croatia will be part of the Schengen area.
With the year soon coming to an end, what is your hope for liberals in 2022?
I hope that the first post-pandemic year is ahead of us! Moreover, I hope that we, as a society, will learn something from this unfortunate situation and won’t go back doing the same mistakes as before. In fact, I want us to not forget what we have learned in all these months – caring for others, solidarity, understanding the importance of socialising with people – and keep on striving for the best! Following the pandemic, liberals also have a great opportunity to shape countries with their policies and proposals.
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