Accusations of bullying, the President being labelled a “clown”, and photos of politicians in their swimwear. A dispute in Croatia over the rule of law has quickly descended into online barbs.
The country is due to appoint a new President of their Supreme Court, but the decision has divided the country”s head of state and the ruling government.
Croatian President Zoran Milanović announced law professor Zlata Đurđević as his candidate for the Supreme Court presidency on Tuesday.
Parliament, however, has rejected the candidate over concerns that her appointment could lead to future political influence over Czech courts.
The friction has led to strong words across Croatian politics, with Prime Minister Andrej Plenković labelling the President “biased”.
On Thursday, the head of the Croatian Parliament Gordan Jandroković made a third public call for Supreme Court applications.
But what has this got to do with swimwear snaps?
The public announcement sparked an angry response from President Milanović, who labelled the parliament chief “an ordinary, muscleless bully”.
It was these remarks from the Croatian President that generated a direct viral response from Jandroković on social media.
On Thursday, Jandroković posted a photo of his younger self on Facebook, showing him topless, wearing only swimming trunks while seemingly on holiday.
“Since the clown Milanović accused me of being a muscleless bully, and as I advocate for an argumentative discussion, I am enclosing evidence,” Jandroković said.
“I’m not a bully, and judge the muscles yourself,” he added.
The photo was widely shared around Croatia, with many social media users commenting that the country’s politics had descended to an unexpected level.
Why are lawmakers concerned about rule of law?
Croatian MPs have expressed concerns about Đurđević’s proposals, and say that her appointment would result in more political influence in the election of Supreme Court judges.
Her proposals to elected Supreme Court judges through parliament are “not inclined to the model that exists in most EU Member States,” the government said in a statement.
Instead, Đurđević would “oppose the system of electing judges by an independent body,” they added.
The government said that such a political election system only exists in two European Union countries, Slovenia and Latvia.
“The election of all judges by political parties, regardless of which party is in power, would pose a huge risk to the politicisation of the system,” the executive said.
“And [it] would not be a guarantor of the selection of the best and most qualified candidates.”
The governing coalition has stated that it will not confirm Đurđević and have offered to discuss the candidacy issue.
But President Milanović has refused to nominate another person to head the Supreme Court and maintains that Parliament cannot change his mind.
“I am taking this opportunity to ask members of parliament to think carefully about whether they want to turn down such a competent and good candidate for the supreme court president because we have never had a better candidate,” Milanović told reporters.
The comments to the President of the Croatian parliament, however, are what have sent the story beyond the realms of ordinary political dispute
And Jandroković was soon not alone in posting a photo of himself in a bathing costume, responding to the President’s comments.
Marijana Puljak, an MP from the liberal Pametno party, also shared a photo of her younger self from 1996 on Facebook. The image showed Puljak posing, heavily pregnant, in swimwear alongside her husband.
“We don’t have muscles, but the stomach [of] someone with a child, and someone from beer,” she said.
When asked about the topless photographs on social media, Prime Minister Plenković gave a brief comment to reporters.
“Gordan simply responds to those provocations in his own style,” he said.