Thursday, January 09, 2003

Controversial Kostelićs (Kostelics)

Triumphs of Kostelić (Kostelic) family seem to go hand in hand with controversies. Only few days after Ivica Kostelić’s statement about Wehrmacht soldiers as personal role models, his father and coach Ante Kostelić created new sort of controversy with the interview for Croatian weekly Globus. Asked about his family taking residence in tax haven of Monte Carlo, Ante Kostelić claimed that he would rather be jailed for life than pay taxes to Republic of Croatia.

Kostelić might sound just like anti-tax loonitarians from the fringes of American politics, but his unwillingness to fill the state treasury with the fruits of his labour is perfectly understandable. Until few years ago, Kostelić was among few people in Croatia who believed that Croatian athlete can do something with alpine skiing. The government bureaucrats didn’t believe and Kostelić was forced to train his children, travel abroad and buy expensive equipment all at his own expense. There were times when Kostelić had to put his young children in sleeping bags on the snow-covered slopes of mountains because he couldn’t have afforded a single room in hotel. And now, when his children are national heroes and when they bring lucrative sponsorship deals, those very same bureaucrats are suddenly interested in Kostelić as a source of government’s revenue.

Additional reason for Kostelić’s bitterness is the fact that some sports and some athletes in Croatia are more equal than others. Soccer is the worst example. Hajduk Split and Dinamo Zagreb – two of the most popular soccer clubs – are rumoured to owe hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. But those entities, unlike citizens and corporations of Croatia, don’t have to fear for their assets to be impounded in case of not fulfilling their tax obligations; government bureaucracy in Croatia can be quite inventive when it comes for finding excuses for not doing its job, especially when this job includes touching certain sacred cows and hurting financial and political interests connected with those sacred cows.

So, Kostelić’s statement might be in poor taste, but it isn’t the one deserving most criticism. This dubious honour belongs to Croatian minister of finance Mate Crkvenac. This government official, one of the least popular and least competent members of Račan’s (Racan’s) cabinet, took the task of criticising Kostelić and reminding him of patriotic duties that are fulfilled by millions of ordinary citizens “who have low wages”. Since Crkvenac and his administration allow wealthy soccer-connected tax-evaders to get away with hundreds of millions of dollars, this statement so far represents the most cynical piece of demagoguery in Croatia in 2003.


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