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Friday, August 01, 2003

Eternal Loser Finally Lost It

Dražen Budiša (Drazen Budisa), leader of HSLS, claimed that the series of forest fires currently ravaging Adriatic coast of Croatia, was the work of "underground organisation". Conspiracy theories about "sinister forces" behind forest fires in this part of the world are nothing new. In 1980s, while this coast used to be part of Yugoslavia, fires were attributed to "Ustasha emigration". In 1991, during the war, fires were attributed to evil Federal military; according to conspiracy theories, Federal military had prepared for war against Croatia for years, and burning forests was part of the plan – if left intact, forests would allow Croatian militias to sneak towards Federal military installations undetected. After the departure of Federal military fires continued; this time culprit were, of course, Serbs; the ubiquitous "fifth column" which continued with its evil acts even after the formal end of hostilities. Only minority of conspiracy theorists mentioned real estate speculations or Italians wanting to bring tourists from burned-down Croatia to their polluted coast of Adriatic.

Explanation for increasing number of forest fires, however, is more prosaic and it could be found in the very thing that brought prosperity to Mediterranean – tourism. This branch of economy brings reliable source of income to local communities, but it also discourages everything else, especially agriculture. Why would some local spend enormous amounts of money and sweat all-year long in order to grow crops when renting few rooms in July and August would bring much bigger and more reliable profit? As a result, fields and orchards are left unattended and slowly consumed by weeds and shrubs. Most of the infrastructure, including water supplies, is concentrated at the coast and in tourist settlements; depopulated hinterland is ignored. All that is forgotten for most of the year, but when summer comes combination of neglect, high temperatures, drought and occasional nasty wind would result in disaster.

Of course, some of the fires have been the work of arsonists. But again, the arsonists are hardly organised and their motives rarely have anything to do with politics. Or even plain old pyromania, for that matter. Simply, too many people are conditioned by media to consider fame to be their birthright; where everything else fails, can of petrol would guarantee that their work becomes prime news of national television and thus brings some perverse satisfaction to glory-deprived arsonists.

In any case, Dražen Budiša pushing conspiracy theories is the sign that his HSLS party is in the real bad shape only few months before elections. Opinion polls predict that it is way bellow 5% limit and it could expect only one or two MSes in southern parts of Croatia (couple more if it joins ticket with other right-wing parties in certain districts). Succumbing to cheap and potentially dangerous xenophobic populism is the sign that HSLS, which had begun to adopt far right rhetoric even while being part of Račan's (Racan's) government, would shift to the loonier spheres of Croatian politics.

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