Friday, January 31, 2003

Government's national drug policy might bring some unexpected benefits to Croatia. Country's youth, which had been totally disinterested in politics for the last decade or so, seems to be awoken from its apathy. And at some occasions this newly found interest in politics goes beyond mere expression of their opinion and takes form of direct political action.

Few days ago city of Sinj in Dalmatian hinterland was visited by the group of drug experts for the purpose of public lecture. The lecture was quite interesting and not only for shocking the audience with some unpleasant truths about their town – like many of their young citizens being forced into male prostitution in order to support their drug habit. The lecture was attended by dozens of young men between 15 and 18 years of age who began heckling the lecturers any time some of them would say something bad about cannabis. This is quite significant, because small provincial city of Sinj experienced something that big and seemingly enlightened urban centres like Zagreb, Split or Rijeka did not.

Thursday, January 30, 2003


That was the experience of Danish team in tonight's World Championship game with Croatia. Croatian handballers have managed to enter semi-finals while Danes had to pack and now would have to put Herculean effort to win European Championship and thus secure the spot on the next Olympics.

Pink Issues, Holiday Resorts and Balance of Power

Luka Trconić (Luka Trconic), one of HSS leaders, announced that HSS won't obstruct the passing of new Family Act. That means the end of HSS attempts to knock out "same sex unions" from the text. Trconić, of course, used more diplomatic language, saying that HSS members of Sabor are going to vote "on their conscience".

This is an attempt to sit on two chairs. When confronted by its arch-conservative rural constituence, HSS MSes would say that they didn't vote for "unnatural unions". When confronted by their moderate right wing counterparts in Western Europe, they would say that they didn't block the reforms.

But the real story behind this change of heart probably has something to do with "Sunčani Hvar" (Suncani Hvar) affair – scandal that was supposed to be just another routine privatisation of those few state-owned companies that survived Tudjman's era. "Sunčani Hvar" was offered for sale and the best deal – or so they say – came in the form of "Terme Čatež" (Terme Catez), firm that happens to be Slovenian. There was nothing wrong with Slovenian firms buying property in Croatia and few people got alarmed by Slovenian retail stores becoming serious competition to Croatian retailers in last year or so. But the problem arose when one of "Čatež" stockholders turned out to be Ljubljanska Banka – institution that had, with the blessing of Slovenian government, swindled thousands of Croatian citizens during the break-up of former Yugoslavia. That, and the pressure from local HSS bigwigs who had their own financial interests, forced Tomčić (Tomcic) to raise the issue and stop the sale from going forward. What resulted was the biggest feud in the history of otherwise stable relationship between SDP and HSS. SDP insisted that Croatia fulfils its obligations, while HSS insisted that the deal get voided.

Same sex unions seem to be the price HSS paid for stopping the deal and taking control of HFP (Croatian Privatisation Fund) – government body that used to be run by HSLS cadre until Budiša (Budisa) got booted by Račan (Racan). Tomčić would probably see this as a good bargain – HSS gets lucrative cash cow, while SDP gets few more European taps on the shoulder and probably hundred or so votes more (from those mythical 10% of Croatian gays and lesbians who are supposed to flood the polling stations in a less than a year).

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Marginal Issues for Marginal Leaders

Few days ago Croatian President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) reminded people that he still exists with his views that Croatia should claim 15 billion euros of war reparations from Serbia. He succeeded in bringing attention to himself, but he also gave ammunition to another embattled Balkans leader.

Zoran Djindjić (Zoran Djindjic), Serbian prime minister who so far seems to have the upper hand in his struggle with "soon-to-be-renamed-Yugoslavian" president Vojislav Koštunica (Vojislav Kostunica) is facing the rapidly shrinking popularity of his governing coalition. So, Mesic's initiative came like a godsend, since it gives him opportunity to flash his credential of Serbian nationalist. Djindjić quickly answered to Mesic's claims by announcing Serbian counterclaim – some 150 billion US$ for 200,000 or so ethnically cleansed Serbs, destroyed homes, stolen property etc.

Naturally, Croatian politicians called this claim "outrageous" and "ridiculous", while Croatian public is again going to relive the traumas of the past decade. The issue is going to help Mesić and Djindjić, but it would do both of their countries very little services.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Hearts of Iron Update

I was thinking about writing some sort of AAR (After Action Report) of my German game. Then I had a change of heart. Playing as German was too easy, at least on Normal/Normal level. I decided to come back to my old flame Britain. I didn't play for long, but some changes to 1.0.2 are quite noticeable. Economy view is much better.

Monday, January 27, 2003

Hearts of Iron v. 1.0.3

The long-awaited patch (despite being the third in less than three months after the game's release) is out. I downloaded it and I must say that I'm partially impressed.

I tested it by playing Germans and I must commend the idea of newly built units being issued original names automatically.

However, patch left something to be desired – Paradox forgot to include Italian territorial aspirations towards Dalmatia in diplomatic files.

I'll have better impression after I finish German game and start playing someone else – British, Japanese, Soviets or Americans.

As I Wait for Superbowl to Start…

…I notice that Superbowl happens to be the only US sporting event available to Croatian TV audience in season 2002/03.

That is quite peculiar for the country where basketball used to be one of the most popular sports and from where many local talents like Toni Kukoč (Toni Kukoc), Dražen Petrović (Drazen Petrovic) and Dino Radja came to USA to write new pages of basketball history. But NBA apparently doesn't exist for editors of Croatian state television, while Nova TV – the only private television with national coverage and financial resources to air such events – concentrated on English football and alpine skiing.

The reason might be in last year's results of Serbian basketball. Serbo-Montenegrin team was the first in history to beat US team made of NBA professionals while Sacramento Kings with two Serbian talents (or three, if we count Turkoglu, born in Novi Pazar) gave L.A. Lakers such a good run for their money. All that in situation when Croatian basketball is deep crisis and when even Croatian NBA talents don't make some great impact on the game.

Last year, when Croatian state television aired World Basketball Championship, local audience was shocked to see one of Serbian players having pictures of Draža Mihailović (Draza Mihailovic), WW2 commander of Serb Chetniks, tattooed on his arm. Soon Croatian state television got slammed by patriotic critics for airing the spectacle of people having same insignia as those who had recently waged war on Croatia.

Whether the leadership of Croatian state television listened to the critics or simply used them as an excuse to cut costs is irrelevant. Croatian public, for the first time since the war, is denied the opportunity to watch US basketball.

But they could have some compensation in Superbowl, being aired by Nova TV as type this.

Kostelić (Kostelic) Update

Nazi controversy perhaps really had some effect on Ivica Kostelić (Ivica Kostelic) or perhaps it served as an excellent excuse for him to stop skiing as good as he was used to. Today, for the first time since the beginning of the year, he didn't get a medal on ski event. His Austrian archrival Rainer Schöenfelder managed to beat him, but the real winner was Kale Palander, Finn who had made a nasty habit of winning first slalom run only to crash in the second. Today Palander won for the first time in his life.

In the meantime, Ivica's sister Janica again beat the odds. Despite being affected by flu and visibly not feeling good she made good run in Maribor and won second place. The huge boost came in the form of some 8,000-10,000 supporters who drove from Zagreb. Since most of those people are soccer fans, organisers and Kostelićs – Janica and her father Ante – had to employ all their powers of persuasion to calm those people down and prevent them from throwing snowballs at Janica's rivals.

Because of that I was quite worried about Swedish skier Anja Paerson who was leading after the 1st run and had to make 2nd run after Janica. However, the only obstacle on her path was smoke made with celebratory pyrotechnics. Paerson was real trooper and won the event, third in the row. That victory, however, won't prevent Janica to claim Little Crystal Globe as this year's best slalom racer.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Too Late for Yale Professor?

Yesterday Dr. Ivo Banac, professor of history at Yale University, became the new chairman of LS (Liberalna Stranka/Liberal Party), small centre-left party that is the member of current government coalition in Croatia.

Thanks to his books that dealt with the history of former Yugoslavia, Banac is familiar name to all those who had some deeper interest in the background of former Yugoslav conflicts. Banac is familiar name to all those who had read opposition papers in Croatia during Tudjman years, since he used to be full-time commentator of Feral Tribune. Being opposed to the Tudjman's views, he joined HSLS in early 1990s. His membership in that party became well-known only later, in 1996, when HSLS became split over the issue of eventual coalition with Tudjman's HDZ. After the victory of pro-HDZ faction led by Dražen Budiša (Drazen Budisa), Banac joined departing HSLS chairman Vlado Gotovac in creating new and more radical party LS.

LS leaders earned a lot of praise from opposition-minded public in Croatia for their radical anti-Tudjman stance and ideas of Second Republic. However, this praise failed to manifest in any noticeable electoral support, except in city of Osijek, mostly due to the charisma of war-time mayor Zlatko Kramarić (Zlatko Kramaric), politician who would later replace Gotovac at the helm of LS. New party had around 1-2 % in opinion polls and got four seats in 2000 Sabor as a part of four-party coalition, dominated by right-centre HSS. To add insult to injury, their former party comrades from HSLS got six times more seats by allying with ex-Communist SDP.

In last three years LS, having only Ministry of Urbanism and Environmental Protection led by idealistic Božo Kovačević (Bozo Kovacevic), ended up with significantly less dirt on their hands compared with their coalition partners. However, perception of LS as a champion of anti-Tudjmanism within new government hardly raised their poll numbers. New opinion polls, just like those before 2000, predict LS being wiped out from Croatian political scene if its ticket runs alone.

Main reason for LS bleak prospects lies in the fact that pro-Western intelligentsia, youth and other sections of Croatian society that were supposed to form voting base for LS had already found their champion in the form of HNS. Two parties are ideological twins; the only difference is that HNS was more fortunate with their leaders. Vesna Pusić (Vesna Pusic) is only one of two HNS representatives in Sabor, but she already made quite a name for herself (and her party) by publicly accusing Tudjman's regime for waging aggressive war against Bosnia-Herzegovina – taboo that few Croatian politicians, especially those belonging to centre, dared to break. Avalanche of right-wing attacks on Pusić and her party had the side effect of attracting anti-Tudjmanist voters, at the expense of SDP and LS alike. To make things worse for LS, Kramarić began to shift LS to the right, sometimes siding with HDZ in some Sabor issues, and sometimes even arranging local coalitions with HDZ – the very same thing that had led to his break with HSLS years ago.

Banac's victory, which was quite tight (255 delegates for him, 244 for Kramarić) came just in the right moment for LS. The party would have less than a year to create new platform for upcoming elections, and this platform would have to include policies significantly different from those adopted by other parties of governing coalition. Banac in his convention speeches, before and after the election, started distancing himself from Račan's government and stated that LS couldn't take responsibility for Račan's failures any more. This is so far the strongest hint that LS would be another party to leave coalition, although the effects won't be that dramatic as in the case of HSLS – remaining LS representatives in Sabor are unlikely to vote for new government that would include HDZ. LS in leaving would just follow example of their former coalition partner, small Istrian regionalist party IDS, which had left the cabinet posts only to support present government in any Sabor votes that could have returned HDZ to power.

However, even the radical new platform and such radical moves aren't likely to represent some magic potion that would invigorate LS. The party would need to quadruple its voting base in order to gain single seat in Sabor. And it is doubtful that Banac has enough charisma to do that – his reputation of top intellectual isn't likely to bring votes in the country that prefer populist and more brutish leaders.

The most sensible thing for LS is to try to create permanent coalition with its ideological twin. However, HNS seems to see this coalition as prelude to fusion, and LS leaders used to feel squeamish about that. The new leadership under Banac might be more flexible in this issue, but it isn't clear whether Banac has enough authority for the move that could have make him the last chairman of his party.

Banac has announced that he would leave his Yale tenure. That would undoubtedly represent a huge loss for Yale University. Whether it would represent some gain for Croatia is yet to be seen.

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Serbian War Reparations – Reality Check

Croatian President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) yesterday stated that Croatia should seek some 15 billion US$ of war reparations from Serbia. The word "should" indicates how much power the office of Croatian President has these days. Last changes of Croatian Constitution – brought after valiant but hopeless struggle with Parliament and Cabinet being dominated by Prime Minister Račan (Racan) and Mesić's election rival Dražen Budiša (Drazen Budisa) – left Mesić with only ceremonial duties. The only way for Mesić to exert some form of influence on Croatian politics is through public statements, many of them being explicit or implicit criticism of Račan's policies. Some of those statements, on the other hand, represent nothing more than populism or Mesić's attempts to regain his importance in the area of foreign affairs. The latter should be easy, since Mesić is not only a head of state, but also the most recognisable Croatian politician after Tudjman, especially after his testimony on Milošević's (Milosevic's) trial at Hague. In trying to be foreign policy player, Mesić has often shot himself in the foot, the worst example being his misguided offer to work as a mediator between ethnic Albanian rebels and Macedonian government – effort that only managed to poison relations between FYROM and Croatia and bring unpleasant questions about the role of ethnic Albanian lobby in financing Mesić's election campaign.

Mesić's reparations initiative is obviously aimed at maintaining Mesić's reputation as a champion of anti-Milošević cause in the Balkans and anti-Tudjman cause in Croatia. Mesić wants to remind Croatian public that he was against any compromise with Milošević and Serbian nationalism, unlike his former party chief Tudjman. He also wants to make impression of Račan's government adopting this part of Tudjman's legacy and thus betraying Croatian national interests. Finally, those 15 billion euros would be more than a welcome boost to impoverished Croatian economy and the little guy, who is these days worse off than he was three years ago, when Račan's government came to power.

However, it is less likely that Račan's government (or any other that comes to power after next year's elections) would seriously pursue Mesić's initiative. The effort would require too much time, energy for meagre, questionable or counterproductive results.

The most obvious reason is extremely poor shape of Serbian finances. Country that had broken its Constitution and sold their former president for measly 50 million US$ of American short-term aid is not likely to pay out even the modest fraction of Mesić's sum in the foreseeable future. Historical precedent of Germany and its reparations, that had, among other things, financed post-WW2 economic boom of former Yugoslavia, is not likely to repeat itself in this particular case. If Serbia becomes obligated to pay those 15 billion euros, this could happen only in many instalments over incredibly long time. The amounts would be too little to provide compensations to the victims of Serbian aggression, yet too much for grand-grand-children of today's Serbs who would remain embittered about this sort of Carthaginian peace for decades, if not centuries, to come.

Furthermore, Croatian nationalists' Schadenfreude over Serbian financial burden would be short-lived when those reparations are applied as precedent in similar cases. Nothing would prevent Bosnia-Herzegovina from claiming billions of euros from Croatia for the devastation caused by Muslim-Croat conflict of 1992-94. And nothing should prevent ethnic Serbs from Croatia to also seek billions of euros of compensation for the stuff that went on during and after Operation Storm in summer of 1995 (or Bosnian Serbs from claiming the same for Croatian atrocities in today's Republic of Srpska few months later).

So, it is quite evident that pressing this issue would do little but open old wounds, create new Versailles-like myths and bitterness and hatred, making Balkans closer to its reputation. And even the government as incompetent and irresponsible as Račan's is would not allow itself to take this initiative seriously. The only serious thing about Mesić's statement is its effect on Croatian President's reputation of a statesman.

Sensationalist Press and Human Stupidity

Rolling Stone article about "bug chasers" subculture – young gay men who deliberately want to be infected with HIV – had American gay community up in arms. That includes Andrew Sullivan, Salon commentator and one of the best known blog-writers. He slammed the article both in Salon and in his own blog, accusing the magazine of poor journalism and stirring homophobia.

I've read that article and it looks a little bit too sensationalist. Then again, I wouldn't be surprised if the claims in the article turn out to be correct. The last thing that should be underestimated in this world is the human stupidity.

Friday, January 24, 2003

Croatian Radicals vs. US Army

Today around 2:50 in the morning, two US Army Ford Transits in Croatian port city of Rijeka were sprayed with grafitti "No NATO, No War" and "Krv nevinih" ("Blood of the Innocents"). This incident led Rijeka-Primorje Police District to issue official communiqué, claiming that the investigation is "in progress".

As far as I remember, this is the first act directed against American property after the bombing of US Embassy in Zagreb 1993 (allegedly committed by Serbian secret service in an attempt to pin the blame on extreme factions of Croatian governments).

Thursday, January 23, 2003

Pink Issues, True Colours and Radical Makeovers

Gay rights probably represent one of the least important issues in Croatia today, and this is exactly the reason why Račan's (Racan's) government made such public spectacle of them last year. Economy, public safety, living standard, taxes, unemployment etc. – the issues that are supposed to change the outcome of elections in enlightened democracies – all that is in rather bad shape in Croatia these days, and that doesn't bode well for Račan and his team one year before the next election cycle. So, any kind of distraction is welcome, including war crimes indictments of top Croatian generals or border disputes with Slovenia. Gay rights issues – adopted by government in its attempt to push radical new family legislation through Sabor – were supposed not only to serve this purpose, but also to score some PR points for "enlightened and progressive" Croatia abroad and secure 10% of votes for Račan's SDP.

SDP's idea to push for introduction of same-sex partnerships into new Family Act coincided with last year's Gay Pride Parade in Zagreb. This manifestation was held in Zagreb for the first time, and it was actually endorsed by government. The purpose behind it was to show that Croatia is closer to Western values than Serbia, where the similar manifestation in Belgrade 2001 had ended with participants being attacked and beaten up by far-right supporters and local soccer hooligans.

Zagreb Parade was much more peaceful, but it hardly represented triumph of Croatian tolerance. Only around hundred or so genuine Zagreb homosexuals appeared, being outnumbered by couple hundred human rights activists, members of Sabor and government representatives led by minister of interiors Šime Lučin (Sime Lucin), man who was given the task of being most vocal proponent of gay rights within SDP. The participants of parade – gay or straight – were outnumbered by thousand or so policemen – uniformed, riot-geared and plainclothes - who were protecting them. But the participants and police combined were outnumbered by thousands of skinheads and local soccer hooligans who greeted them with insults and occasional stone. Accounts vary, but there is evidence that most of passing, ordinary citizens of Zagreb actually sided with the skinheads instead of demonstrators.

This public display clearly indicated that citizens of Croatia were ready to support "pro-democratic, pro-Western" policy of Račan's government only to a certain point. But Račan could have ignored that as a "relic of the difficult national past" or "something incompatible with European values". The idea of entering political and economical structures of 21st Century Europe and maintaining 19th Century social values in the same time looked ludicrous, but only to those not accustomed to contradictions that still plague Croatian politics. Those contradictions reared its ugly head when the opposition to gay rights became legitimate position not only among HDZ and other right-wing opposition parties, but also within Račan's coalition itself.

Today's debate in Sabor probably showed how difficult the issue is going to be. The main opponent to same sex marriages (or legally sanctioned "partnerships") is HSS, which clearly wants to distance itself from ex-Communist and "too leftist" SDP, champion traditional Catholic values, thus secure its small but faithful rural voting base with 5-10 % votes that would make that party into kingmaker after upcoming elections. The most critical of their representatives was Ljubica Lalić (Ljubica Lalić), MS that opposed any kind of homosexual partnerships in Family Act and instead advocated creation of special counselling centres for homosexuals, designed them to "cure them of their unnatural ways".

This statement, most bigoted of everything that passed Sabor microphones in 2003, wasn't the only one. Idea of "unnatural unions" was slammed by MSes from HSLS. What makes this affair interesting is the fact that HSLS representatives were among politicians giving support to Gay Pride Parade – manifestation that stood for the exactly the same thing which is supposed to become part of new Family Act. This just shows how branding someone "leftist", "liberal" or "conservative" in Croatia represents exercise in futility.

However, today's debate also had an example of former right-winger adopting ultra-left views. The sole defender of same sex unions was none other than Zlatko Canjuga, independent MS who had been elected in 2000 on the HDZ parliamentary ticket. In the last years of Tudjman's life Canjuga was probably the most hated of all of his cronies, especially among supporters of Dinamo Zagreb soccer club, whom he had insulted by being at its helm and insisting on Tudjman-imposed name Croatia Zagreb. Canjuga, historian by trade and with family roots in Hrvatsko Zagorje, was considered "homey" by Tudjman and thus earned his favour. As one of Tudjman's top advisors and ideologists he often entertained the Croatian public by expressing ridiculously far right views, at one time even advocating division of Croatian society into formal "classes".

However, after Tudjman's death and 2000 election debacle, remaining HDZ brass began looking at massively unpopular Canjuga as liability rather than asset. Canjuga quickly saw the writing on the wall, abandoned HDZ, kept the Sabor seat as independent and began supporting Račan's government. This shift was more than pragmatic – Canjuga shifted ideologically, becoming one of Croatia's rare Tudjman-era historians to say few good words about Tito (and even founding a restaurant under Tito's name). He even got himself as political talk show in which he showed great communications skill, charm and intelligence – something that he lacked while being Tudjman's lap dog. His transformation from right-wing caricature to sole defender of gay rights in Croatian parliament is one of the more bizarre stories of post-Tudjman Croatia.

Gay rights and similar issues aren't that important in Croatia right now, but their presence in Croatian public discourse has served very valuable purpose – being the litmus-test for the values of Croatian political establishment.

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Drugs, Students and Croatian Politics

Croatian government's idea to conduct drug-testing of students in public dorms continues to stir discontent among student population. Today student association of Zagreb Philosophy Faculty held a press-conference, but they weren't the first. First student organisation to attack government's policy was student branch of HSS. This is interesting development, because HSS doesn't only happen to be the part of governing coalition, but also the more conservative, right-wing, traditionalist and presumably more enthusiastic about it than nominally left-wing SDP, whose representatives in Sabor often advocated legalisation of marijuana. Even more interesting is the fact that HSS happens one of the more centralised and autocratic parties on the Croatian political scene. Independent thinkers within HSS have learned not to mess witrh its chairman and Sabor speaker Zlatko Tomčić (Zlatko Tomcic), so there are grounds for speculations about HSS students doing it with the blessing of party leadership – partly in order to win some youth votes, partly to undermine Račan (Racan) and thus establish HSS as independent factor before the elections.

Tuesday, January 21, 2003

Titanic Finally Sunk in Croatia

When Croatian distributors made last-minute decision to postpone Two Towers opening for one month, their idea was to milk as much Harry Potter 2 as possible and prevent those films from competing with each other. The decision proved to be the right one. The winner of 2002 OFCS awards broke weekly box-office records in Croatia with 61,620 theatre admissions, thus beating the previous record of Titanic with its 53,741 admissions.

I have yet to watch Two Towers, but I must say that I'm glad that Titanic got dethroned. Popularity and critical success of James Cameron's manipulative tear-jerker at the expense of much better movies was one of the greatest artistic injustices of 1990s.

New Afghanistan – Taleban Lite?

Supreme Court of Afghanistan has ruled that the cable television should be banned on the entire territory of that country. Although somewhat less severe than the rulings of their Taleban predecessors who didn't tolerate television in any form, this decision looks familiar.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Globalisation of Ideologies

In Jonathan Edelstein's blog I read about Likud poll showing that the left-wing Labour Party (Avoda) is going to finish third in the next elections, thus making the centre Shinui party the second largest force in Israeli politics (after Likud).

Chances are that the same thing might happen in Croatia during the upcoming elections. Nominally left-wing Social Democratic Party (ex-Communists) of Prime Minister Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) is much stronger than any other of their coalition partners in (nominally) left-centre government, but the erosion of that party's popularity is still unmatched (except, perhaps, in the case of their former coalition partner HSLS, now belonging to right-wing opposition). The only party that seems to gain ground is HNS (Croatian Peoples' Party), small and nominally centre-oriented party that owes its Sabor seats to coalition with other small and centre-oriented parties. HNS is still a minor player, but thanks to the fact that current Croatian President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) used to be their member and its leadership's uncompromising stance on de-Tudjmanisation, that party became favourite choice of all those who are disappointed with Račan and scared of neo-Tudjmanist opposition in the same time. Those tendencies first became apparent during local elections in Zagreb when HNS got some 16 % of votes, becoming one of four parties to enter City Assembly (and nearly toppling SDP that had got some 19 %).

Some of those tendencies are even more apparent now. There are reports of couple of SDP local councilmen defecting to HNS. This is hardly surprising, since few people would like to be associated with sinking ship (same thing happened with SDP in 1990, and later with HDZ in 2000), but the most interesting thing is that defectors chose HNS. And their explanation is even more interesting. For them, SDP became "too right-wing" and HNS seems to be the party that fits their leftist sentiments.

This is probably one of the greatest ironies of Croatian politics in past decade or so. SDP, inheritor of former Communists, became right-wing party, while HNS, which had been founded by moderate nationalists in 1990 and tried to appeal to businessmen and intellectual elites, became left-wing. I believe the same thing happened with Labour and Liberal-Democrats in UK. Ideological trends in the world seem to be globalised.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

New Kids on the Slopes

One of the most important questions asked by the fans of alpine skiing was: How would the last week's brouhaha reflect on Kostelićs' (Kostelics') results on the ski slopes.

Today we got the answer: Not much.

Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) finished 2nd at giant slalom event in Cortina d'Ampezzo, managing to rise from the 14th place after 1st run. Her success was mirrored by her 16-year old compatriot Ana Jelušić (Ana Jelusic) who managed to win the spot for the 2nd run.

Her brother Ivica fared somewhat worse at Wengen, event he had probably considered won before Nazi scandal. The crowd was surprisingly well-behaved, without offensive shouts or anything worse. He was concentrated on skiing and did it well. He could have probably finished 2nd, but the silver medal was taken from him by Japanese miracle in the form of Akira Sasaki, 21-year outsider who had negligible chances to enter 2nd run. Instead, young Japanese finished 7th in the first run, and 2nd after the first run.

The real test for Kostelićs could be Maribor slalom event next week. The place is few hours of drive from Zagreb, and that means that Zagreb soccer fans could come and stir trouble, as they did couple of years ago, bringing the sport hooliganism phenomenon to alpine skiing. Janica, in her victory speech for Croatian private station Nova TV warned her fans to behave. Unlike her brother, she seems to grasp how her words could have consequences.

Numbers Game

Browsing some of the blogs, I noticed that Instapundit and other American bloggers seem obsessed with the correct numbers of people who took part in anti-war demonstrations. If I were them, I wouldn't bother. In my humble opinion, number of people who take part in political demonstrations, rallies or manifestations was never good indicator of popular mood of the general population.

Croatian parties and personalities who drew conclusions on their own popularity based on the number of people who gather at their rallies usually experienced some nasty surprises during election nights.

Saturday, January 18, 2003

An Interesting Experiment

Volokh Conspiracy started experimenting with blog entries being delivered by E-mail.

I wish more of bloggers could do it. Browsing Web in order to read megabytes of text could be tiresome at times.

The Real Culprit

Now we know who is responsible for this whole mess.

In an interview for Croatian women's magazine Gloria, American alpine skier Caroline Lalive says that she presented her boyfriend Ivica Kostelić (Ivica Kostelic) with a Christmas gift in the form of history book. I wonder what the book was. Probably one written by David Irving

Friday, January 17, 2003

The End of Long Silence or Boy Under Influence

Ivica Kostelić (Ivica Kostelic) finally broke silence about his alleged Nazi views. He issued statement in which he condemned the Nazism and reinstated that he respects all people regardless of race, nationality etc. – the standard disclaimer you could have expected. He then claimed that the statements were "taken out of context" and that he had been "under influence of a war movie".

The denial itself is something that was expected. What was not expected is the long silence by Kostelic. Basically, this scandal was brewing for more than a week. Anyone with the basic concept of public relations in modern world could have predicted proverbial excrement hitting the fan and start preparing damage control.
But not Kostelics. They simply ignored the whole thing, even after Nacional used it as front page story. And in the modern world, where the news travel at the speed of light, such silence could be interpreted only as old Romans did. Qui tacet consentire videtur. "He who is silent agrees".

Kostelics were silent for two reasons. First, they believed that the Croatian public would stand behind their sport heroes no matter what. Those expectations were sound and based on previous experiences. Only a couple of newspaper columnists actually bothered to comment on Kostelic's use of Wehrmacht as role models.

Second, they believed that the affair would stay local. Again, past experiences made this assumption very sound. When Goran Ivanišević (Goran Ivanisevic) returned from Wimbledon to Split in 2001, his triumphant speech in front of 200,000 people contained few homophobic lines. Nothing happened. Ivanisevic continued to play on foreign tournaments without having to worry about gay rights activists heckling him from the stands.

However, Kostelics forgot one thing. Their success created a lot of jealousy in neighbouring Slovenia – former Yugoslav republic whose alpine skiers were supposed to dominate their southern neighbours. And, naturally, anything that could have monkeywrench Kostelics was good news – Slovenian newspapers quickly broke the story and forwarded them to Austria. The can of worms was opened and when Austrian media began commenting on this story, something had to be done.

The straw that broke the camel's back was Kostelics' main sponsor – Hypo Austria Bank. This institution, rumoured to have business links with Heider, obviously didn't like idea of being associated with Nazism and their representatives threatened to end lucrative sponsorship deal. Faced with international embarrassment and financial ruin, Kostelics didn't have any choice but to engage in spin control.

However, despite his denials and apologies, and despite the fact that the Kostelics' statements (available at in MP3 format) could be interpreted in different ways, the damage has been done. One of Croatia's greatest sport heroes proved to be immature and irresponsible. His reputation is now stained and would remain as such until the end of his career.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

I Was Wrong About Kostelić (Kostelic)…

…but not about the way local HSLS councilmen would behave in the latest local government crisis in Split. Last night's meeting of HSLS City Organisation Executive Committee ended with the decision contrary to the one brought by HSLS County Organisation. So, HSLS would remain in local government coalition and there won't be any early elections. However, local HSLS was nevertheless split about this issue – 14 members of Executive Committee voted for staying in coalition and 13 against. The losing faction claims that one of the people in Executive Committee actually isn't the member of HSLS and that the vote is invalid. Like in many previous cases, this is not the end of the story, but Split's taxpayers would be spared of further unpleasantness, at least in near future.

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Ivica Kostelić (Ivica Kostelic) Comes Out…

A week after Ivica Kostelić's use of Wehrmacht soldiers as positive role model Croatian weekly Nacional published an article in which they slammed not just Ivica, but his father Ante for publicly expressing neo-Nazi views.

The most damaging of all is an interview young Kostelić gave to Nacional's entertainment supplement Extra in May 2002. According to article, Nacional editors decided not to publish interview, being convinced that young man wasn't serious, but Kostelić's public praise of Hitler's genocidal hordes made them change their minds.

According to Nacional, this is young Kostelić's explanation for his fascination with Nazi war machine:

Look, that what happened, that is something that happens once in history, this is pure science fiction. Could you imagine the sight of attack on England and 1400 German planes in the air? Do you know what it looks like? This looks like "Star Wars". If 500 planes defended London, this is 2000 planes on 200-300 square kilometres. But many more things fascinate me. Like, Third Reich being 2000 years of Roman history being condensed in 10.

Asked about his opinion on Nazism:

It was hard to implement, it was little bit extreme. But Communism also existed for hundred years and for me it is worse than the idea of National Socialism. For me Communism is worse than Nazism. Do you know what is the main difference between Nazism and Communism? Holocaust aside – this was idiotic vision, or Stalin for whom it was normal thing to wake up in the morning and kill five of his generals, for nothing, just like that. Major difference is that in Nazism there was possibility for individual to advance, while in Communism, man, you couldn't practice religion, you had to give all to the state, there were limitations. Nazism was healthy system for ambitious people. In Communism you couldn't be ambitious, and both systems were totalitarian. Then again, Hitler didn't kill his generals every day, he only executed those who had conspired to kill him. This is the big difference and this is what I would do if I were some kind of dictator. And Stalin killed a general every day, some of them were even his friends…

Then he was asked about alternatives to both systems:

Democracy is system that looks best to the people because they have illusion of power. The most cherished system of liberal democracy is nothing more than a fraud. Because it isn't liberal nor democracy, and the best example – something that everyone looks up to – is America. The real American democracy is best viewed during last presidential elections, won by Bush instead of Al Gore, despite the latter having bigger popular vote. Bush had more elector votes and thus he won. That means that citizen's votes don't mean a thing and that 1500 elector votes are more important than those 150 million Americans? This is democracy?

Comments? Do we need them?

In one of my previous blog entries I even bothered to defend Ivica Kostelić, thinking that his statements are taken out of context. But if this article is genuine, those statements are clear reflection of a worldview consistent with certain ideology. Nacional also reminded the public of Kostelić Senior – Ivica's biological and spiritual father - and some of his more questionable statements, including his belief that President of Croatia must have blue eyes. Kostelićs – one of the rare success stories of modern Croatia – might become source of national shame instead of national pride.

Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Potheads and War Criminals – Same Hypocrisy

Croatian government has recently adopted new drug policy that would, among other things, include comprehensive drug testing of various categories of citizens. The tests would be administered in high school and publicly-funded college/university dormitories, with set of financial and administrative sanctions for all those who turn positive.

Feral Tribune in its daily on-line editorial, written by Ivica Đikić (Ivica Djikic) slammed this new policy as an attack on human and civil rights. They even compared it with Bush's War on Terrorism which is in Feralspeak equal to being Nazi.

There is nothing particularly wrong with anyone questioning or criticising this new policy. Croatian governments – past and present – had very little to write home about when it came to dealing with drug use, phenomenon that exploded in 1990s, especially among young people. Many people, author of this text included, are sceptical about this policy yielding significant results.

However, instead of attacking this measure directly – by making at least the elementary cost-benefit analysis or suggesting alternative solutions – Ivica Đikić uses arguments that could be described as the worst case of demagoguery. Đikić reminds the audience that two Presidents of modern Croatia had a long record of issuing pardons and thus setting free the most notorious drug dealers. "In modern Croatia a kid who smokes a joint is about to be persecuted, while the druglords go free", suggests Đikić.

This argument reminds me of the similar argument used, among other things, against Feral Tribune on somewhat different occasion. During the dark war years, Feral was one of the first Croatian media to do the unthinkable - report about Croatian war crimes and other human rights violations against minorities, mainly Serbs. Feral was not the first one to report about those crimes but also the first one to demand that the perpetrators of those crimes be brought to justice. Croatian right-wingers reacted (and still react) to those calls by claiming that Croatian war crimes are nothing more than a reaction to Serb war crimes which, in most cases, remained unpunished. And furthermore, they claim that Croatian war crimes pale in comparison with the atrocities committed by Serbs. "Why should those who perhaps committed few mistakes in the noble mission of defending their motherland be punished while those who committed aggression and genocide went free?"

Feral applies the same principle to various sets of drug offenders. Since major drug suppliers in Croatia aren't likely to answer for their crimes (due to corruption and ineffectiveness of police and judiciary), why should "poor kids" be targeted? This is Feral's main argument against any kind of repressive policy towards drug users and by using it, Feral indirectly give ammunition to all those who defended war crimes.

While kids who occasionally smoke couple of joints definitely don't belong to the same category with animals who torch 90-year old grannies, they nevertheless have something in common – they break the law. Whether the crime of young potheads is harmless or victimless is beside the point. What matters is the fact that society that tolerates illegal behaviour, even if it is most harmless, only invites illegal behaviour in more virulent form. To paraphrase one of the world's greatest civil libertarians, "first they would tolerate pot, then they would tolerate petty vandalism and in the end they would tolerate mass genocide".

Monday, January 13, 2003

Dark Shire

In last few centuries Bosnia's neighbours used very special name for that country – Tamni vilajet, which is best translated as Dark Shire. This afternoon Bosnia lived up to this name due to the total collapse of Bosnia's power grids. And, since those power grids are partially integrated with those in their western neighbour, darkness from Bosnia has spread there, namely Split and the rest of Dalmatia.

The power had been off for nearly three hours and has returned just in time for me to watch Serie A game between Inter Milan and Modena. This was poor compensation for lost TottenhamEverton thrills, since the teams were hardly equal. From start to finish it was one-sided affair, with Inter taking 2:0 lead early on and keeping it until the last whistle.

In the meantime, apart from power getting back to people's homes, situation in Split is hardly normal. Couple of ISPs and cable TV systems are still in disarray, while the street lights are out. It would take Monday morning for emergency repair crews to put things back to normal. Until then, citizens of Split are about to experience a cold, dark and very frightening night.

Sunday, January 12, 2003

Kostelić (Kostelic) Update

Ivica Kostelić fared better on Bormio slopes than his role models in Russia 1941. Despite being third after first run, he managed to compensate deficit and win the slalom event.

His American arch-rival Bode Miller was even more impressive. He compensated even greater deficit to finish second.

All Politics Is Local… Or Is It?

City of Split hasn't been blessed with particularly nice weather in the past week. However, the biggest storm occurred in the County Headquarters of HSLS (Croatian Social-Liberal Party). After hours of extremely heated debate, HSLS County Organisation ordered their subordinates in City Organisation to step out of City of Split's governing coalition.

It isn't exactly clear whether the HSLS City councilmen would act like good troopers or whether they would ignore their superiors. Disobeying orders wouldn't represent some shocking precedent for Croatia, especially in cases like this.

The most spectacular example occurred last summer, when HSLS tried to pull the same stunt on national level, after the collapse of that party's alliance with Račan's (Racan's) ex-Communists. HSLS ordered their representatives in Sabor (Parliament) to vote against Račan as country's old/new prime minister and thus prevent him from creating new governing coalition sans HSLS. In theory, that looked like a done deal, at least in theory, since HSLS had enough MSs to deprive Račan of necessary majority. There were quite few serious political commentators who had expected Tudjman's old party HDZ to return to power, because HSLS and HDZ could have created comfortable majority of their own.

Yet, it didn't happen that way. Dražen Budiša (Drazen Budisa) and the rest of HSLS leadership forgot to look at things from the perspective of their party's subordinates at Sabor benches. In two and half years few dozen people got accustomed to huge salaries, free meals, parliamentary immunity and other benefits of their position. All those things could have been taken away from them in case of government falling and early elections, the latter almost certain to reduce HSLS seats in Sabor, if not erase HSLS from Sabor completely. So, this merry band decided to turn their party down, vote for Račan in Parliament and create new political party whose sole purpose is to give some ideological basis for their selfish act.

Same scenario might repeat itself in Split, although HSLS has much better standing in Dalmatia than in the rest of country. In case of early local elections HSLS could expect to keep its seats or, at least, suffer loses hardly comparable to Gottämnederung that is coming on national level. The local elections in this time would probably result in the repeat of situation from two years ago, when HSLS became city's king-maker – block that was able to tilt the balance towards left-wing SDP or right-wing HDZ. However, HSLS role of king-maker was somewhat difficult due to HDZ and HSLS lacking votes to form city government by themselves; in order to get necessary majority they needed votes from parties even more right-wing than HDZ. Although local HSLS leaders toyed with the idea of going to bed with extreme right, combination of greed, poor negotiating abilities and indecisiveness led to months-long impasse and factions within the party organisations. In the end, more sensible faction within city organisation of HSLS prevailed and party joined SDP and its coalition made of left-wing, centre and moderate right parties.

That decision proved to be quite benefitial for City of Split. New administration under mayor Slobodan Beroš (Slobodan Beros) couldn't do much to improve living standard of citizens except something that bordered with miracle – they balanced city budget, erasing some 220 million kunas (cca. 30 million US$) of deficit and thus lifted at least some of the burden from local taxpayers. Such accomplishment, which is hardly to be repeated by anyone in near future, especially not by central government in Zagreb (whoever controls it after next year's elections), represents sore point for HSLS faction that dominates party organisation on county levels, and whose representatives' within HDZ-controlled county administration have little to write home about. Collapse of Beroš's government and subsequent early elections could lead to HSLS becoming part of new city administration, this time with right faction being in charge.

However, the most interesting thing about this affair is HSLS leadership's justification for this move. Joško Kontić, one of their national leaders, explained the decision by claiming that the coalition between SDP and HSLS in Split "is illogical since those two parties aren't allied on national level". This is so far the most hypocritical public statement in Croatia in 2003, since HSLS, while being allied with SDP on national level, didn't mind having HDZ as its coalition partner in many local assemblies all over Croatia, including some major urban centres in Dalmatia, like Zadar or Šibenik (Sibenik). When SDP and other partners from former opposition and present-day government confronted HSLS leadership about this, the answer was simple – HSLS is democratic party, with broad internal autonomy and local organisations are free to pursue local policies based on local circumstances. Apparently, this doesn't apply anymore, in a situation when HSLS would have to fight really hard in order to remain in Croatian political mainstream.

However, having one set of allies on national and other set of allies on local levels isn't something that should be unimaginable in modern democracy. This is especially so in modern Croatia, where the ideological differences between major parties are next to negligible and where left/right or conservative/liberal labels don't mean much. Furthermore, one of the legacies of Tudjman's era is heavy centralisation – various ministries and other administrative bodies in Zagreb are doing the most of the governing in Croatia; local authorities – counties, cities, municipalities – are left with very limited jurisdiction and very little opportunity to change the living standards of their constituencies by pursuing specific policies. On local levels and especially in the small communities, tiny ideological differences between various parties play even lesser role than on national level – voters vote for people because they represent certain business interests or happen to be related to them by kinship or friendship; this is the reason why in many of such communities politics often doesn't have anything to do with parties even on formal level and why some administrations are composed of people who won as independent candidates (despite proportional system designed to favour parties instead of individuals).

However, decreased importance of local politics in Croatia doesn't mean that national politicians shouldn't or wouldn't care about those areas. Sometimes local politics can became battleground at which strategies for the real battles on national level could be tested. This very well might be the case with the latest crisis in Split.

Writing in Darkness

No rain. No snow. No heavy wind. Apart from being cooler than usual, it could be a perfect day. But all that won't prevent power grids in Split from pretending that they are under EMP attack. Some thirty minutes ago, power went off in the city.

And probably in the worst possible moment… Just when I was watching Tottenham Hotspurs taking the lead for the fourth time in their epic Premiership game with Everton.

Saturday, January 11, 2003


My comments on South Korea apparently led to very interesting discussion that could be found at Randy MacDonald's Livejournal.

Bulajić (Bulajic) Apologises

As I have noted in my previous blog entries, if you mention the word "Croatia" on the Internet, there is some chance that you would see reaction containing word "Nazi". Those who like to associate Croatia with Nazism often use data collected by this man – Dr. Milan Bulajić (Bulajic), director of Museum of Genocide Victims in Belgrade. After writing his book Ustaški zločini genocida (Ustasha Crimes of Genocide) in 1989 Bulajić spent next thirteen years collecting data about things that went on the territories of "Independent State of Croatia" in 1941-45 and what Pavelić (Pavelic) and his quisling regime did to the "undesirables", mainly Serbs. Bulajić's efforts were well-publicised and used by Serbian propaganda machine during the war in early 1990s, in a campaign to associate Republic of Croatia with Pavelić's fascist state. Naturally, that led many Croatian historians to consider rebuke of Bulajić and his data as their patriotic duty. Their task was eased by Serbian propagandists' tendency to inflate WW2 casualties and use "million Serbs slaughtered by Ustashas" and "700 thousands Serbs slaughtered in Jasenovac death camp" myths.

(Aforementioned myths are considered to be facts by many. I was criticised by E-mail for trying to debunk this myth in Usenet newsgroup soc.history.what-if few months ago.)

Yet, all those Croatian patriots didn't seem to react when Bulajić himself made statement that could have jeopardised his credibility. According to Jerusalem Post article, re-published on History News Network website, Bulajić apologised for "creating wrong impression about Jewish inmates running Jasenovac" in his book. The controversial segments were "taken out of context" and Bulajić said that his book "clearly stated that the claims had been made by witnesses co-erced by Serb quisling government".

Interestingly enough, Croatian media didn't seem to notice this. One of the reasons might be found in late President Tudjman being slammed by world historians and Jewish leaders for making same claims in his controversial book Horrors of War. Probably the only people who could have field day with this are those who like to draw parallels between Croat and Serb nationalism. For them, this could be key evidence that revisionist minds think alike.

Worrisome News

Apparently, couple of E-mails containing Avril Lavigne virus have entered my mailbox. My copy of Norton Antivirus, despite being updated almost daily, failed to detect any kind of infection. I had to download removal tool from Symantec site and run it, but the tool reported that there aren't viruses on my PC. I didn't open any of such messages (only had them previewed), but this whole affair only reminde

Friday, January 10, 2003

Good News for Fans of Hearts of Iron

Another great MOD is out, courtesy of Ivan Bajlo. Hearts of Iron in its present form didn’t cover all complexities of WW2 former Yugoslavia very well (Italians forgot to occupy Dalmatia) and Ivan Bajlo took trouble to correct those mistakes. In next instalments he plans to allow the players to simulate Partisans. You can download the patch here.

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.

Depressive List

In the last four months or so I watched quite a number of films, but reviewed only a fraction. The reasons for that were many, but I still feel bad about it. Some of those films were obscure, some were well-known and some were quite remarkable.

The Triangle (2001), directed by William Lustig
Cruel and Unusual, starring Tom Berenger
Y Tu Mama Tambien
Fine mrtve djevojke (Nice Dead Girls)
Vampires 2: Los Muertos
Red Dragon
Caveman’s Valentine
Black Hawk Down
Royal Tennenbaums
Road to Perdition
Die Krüger und die Kaiserin
From Hell
China Strike Force
Slap Shot (1976)
Insomnia (2002)
Mean Machine (2001)
The Art of War
Abril Despedaçado (Behind the Sun)
The Time Machine (2002)
Queen of the Damned (2001)
Fatal Attraction (on DVD, with audio-commentary)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Behind Enemy Lines
Sweet Home Alabama

In the next days and weeks (months) I’ll try to write at least few words about each of them.

The World Has Changed

For better or worse, it is hard to tell. But only a decade ago few people could have believed that the South Koreans of all people would object to their northern Communist neighbours being portrayed as villains in the latest Bond film. First the North Korean government officially attacked the film, than various pressure groups in the South called for boycott, and the latest word (from what I’ve heard on CNN) is that the South Korean cinema owners decided to pull Die Another Day from the theatres.

This is probably the most obvious symptom of the rising anti-Americanism in the world. This phenomenon manifests even in the country that owes its very existence to U.S. military might. On the other hand, South Koreans’ newly discovered dislike of Americans and their military presence on the Peninsula has some more rational basis. After half a century of uneasy peace, South Koreans believe that they have found formula for permanent peaceful co-existence with their Communist neighbours and they also believe that this peace brought economic prosperity to their country. But nowadays, this peaceful co-existence could be jeopardised if USA and North Korea go on collision course over North Korean nuclear programme. Even in the plain vanilla conventional war Seoul could be easily turned into another Grozny, and North Korean nuclear capabilities makes the prospect of another Korean War even grimmer. So, anything that could jeopardise peace is viewed as contrary to the interests of South Korean people – both the unwise remarks about “axis of Evil” and Bond films.

Judging by Looks

Judging by few photographs I have seen in various magazines, Nataša Micić (Natasa Micic), the acting President of Serbia, is an attractive woman. When I first saw the photo in Economist I thought that it got there by mistake, since Ms. Micić looks more like an actress or a fashion model than politician. It is very possible that Ms. Micić (or “Serbian Nicole Kidman”, as Economist had called her) got her job as Parliament’s speaker (and acting President by default after last year’s presidential election fiasco) for that particular reason. Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjić (Djindjic), whose party controls Serbian Parliament, couldn’t find any presidential candidate with credible odds against Djindjić’s arch-rival Vojislav Koštunica (Kostunica), extremely popular President of vanishing Serbo-Montenegrian Federation. Koštunica is popular among Serbian voters, but he has a serious weakness – lack of charisma. Micić looks like someone who is superior to Koštnica in that department and her brief tenure as Serbian President might be good starting point for her run at the upcoming presidential elections. However, it is doubtful whether the Serbian voters – who are still very patriarchal and conservative – ready for a woman at the helm of their country. But, in any case, Micić would earn her place in Serbian history books. She wasn’t just the first female leader of Serbia in the last two centuries; for a brief moment she is probably the world’s most beautiful head of state.

BTW, the latest issue of Economist features article that describes political situation in the Balkans with surprising degree of optimism. Serbo-Montenegrin election fiascos and the unsolved issues of their (dis)union are described as “bumps in the road”, while the great electoral comeback of nationalist parties in Bosnia gets hardly mentioned. Nor does the article even bothers to mention Bobetko affair and the rise of extreme right in Croatia. If Western perception of this part of the world is so clueless after so many years, few people should be shocked by the Western ineptness in early 1990s.

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

I received some constructive criticism in the feedback for this blog. Some of the readers don’t like the colour scheme. I would do something about it very soon. In any case, such feedback is much appreciated.

I would also pay more attention to the use of Central European characters. From this day onward, every time I use those characters in writing names I would use standard characters in brackets. The purpose of such move is to make life easier for those people who use search engines.

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Wehrmacht - Positive Rose Model?!

Only few days ago I described Kostelić family as a one of the few success stories of contemporary Croatia. Today I hear about one of the Kostelićs doing something that would compromise his status of positive role model. Ivica Kostelić in Croatian sports daily Sportske novosti has just offered this recipe for sport success:

You should stand on the start line and say ‘Now I’ll beat them all’, you must be as certain as… German soldier was certain of his victory on June 22nd 1941.

Many Croatians who surf the Net can’t avoid situations in which any mention of their country is accompanied with the word “Nazi” and other reminders of dark WW2 past. Some of those Croatians are often forced to waste precious hours of their on-line time defending the reputation of their country and pointing out that more Croatians fought on the side of the Allies than on the side of Axis in 1941-45. Kostelić did those people little service and played right into the hands of Serbian propagandists who paint modern Croatia as “neo-Nazi” state.

I don’t believe that Kostelić in any way tried to associate himself with Nazism, but his statement might easily be interpreted that way. The date he mentioned is remembered in history books as the start of German invasion of USSR – event that led to the biggest carnage in human history and has been directly caused and inspired by Nazi ideology. To see inspiration in the hordes that had started war with unambiguous intention to bring genocide and mass slavery over half of continent is poor taste, and that is understatement.

On the other hand, Kostelić’s use of Wehrmacht as positive role model could be explained with the sense of awe that institution manages to create more than fifty years after its demise. German army (ground forces, to be exact) was arguably the best fighting force of WW2, and its conquests in the early period of the war are examples of military skill still unsurpassed. “Cool” uniforms, “cool” military songs and other elements of iconography, morbid curiosity and romanticising of the distant past create probably the same effect as the one seen in USA among Civil War enthusiasts who prefer Confederate side in battle re-enactements. This perverse fondness for vanished evil empires of the past usually doesn’t have anything to do with present-day politics. Just like weekend Confederates in USA hardly dream of armed uprising against US government and re-instatement of slavery, majority of present-day Rommel fans would undoubtedly oppose any attempt to resurrect Third Reich. And some of those people often have political views diametrically opposed to the ideology associated with the object of their affection. One of the examples is one of Croatian wargaming celebrities, man who publicly describes his admiration for Hitler’s war machine with equal vigour as he expresses his deep conviction that the people of former Yugoslavia used to be better-off under Tito’s Communist regime than under democratically elected nationalists.

Kostelić could have very easily been enchanted by Wehrmacht myth, but his example in this particular case was not only in poor taste, but also the wrong one. If he used dates like “September 1st 1939” (invasion of Poland), “April 9th 1940” (invasion of Denmark and Norway) or “May 10th 1940” (invasion of Low Countries and France) the comparison could have been much better. In those cases German success was far from certain and most of the outside observers didn’t believe that Germans would be able to overcome numerical superiority of their opponents and their bad geostrategic situation. Even Germans themselves were far from being convinced in their success. When German armies began to march into Poland there weren’t cheering crowds on Berlin streets. Few months later some of top German generals even contemplated coup against Hitler in order to prevent military fiasco in the upcoming offensive against France.

But few of those doubts existed when “Barbarossa” started. Almost anyone in Germany, from Hitler to the lowest infantryman, believed that this campaign would end in quick triumph. This kind of confidence might have helped Germans in their previous campaign, but this time it was their doom. Utterly convinced of their own invincibility, Germans tragically underestimated Russia – both the vastness of the country and resilience of its people – and instead of quick triumph came the long slugging match Germany could only lose at the end.

If Kostelić indeed takes the example of German soldiers in “Barbarossa”, his chances of finishing the next race are smaller rather than bigger.

White Christmas in Croatia… Sort of

After incredibly warm start of January, good old winter came to Croatia. Most of the country is covered with snow. While the children are appreciating this chance to build snowmen, have snowball fight or play Kostelićs, the rest of the country probably doesn’t share their enthusiasm. Snow on the roads usually means the collapse of traffic system. Trains and buses are so far delayed for 30 minutes or hour. Flights at Pleso airport (Zagreb) are also delayed for an hour. Traffic problems are reported even in Zagreb. Even those areas not covered with snow have their share of problem. Coastal highway that connects Rijeka with Dalmatia is closed for trucks due to strong winds, while sirocco created havoc in Dalmatian ferry traffic.

By some mean coincidence, this snowfall – another perfect excuse for Croatians not to have things done - happened on Orthodox Christmas. For obvious reasons, the date is not observed in Croatia as public holiday. Many years ago, one of my friends, who described herself as “Christian” reacted to upcoming January 7th with words: “On that day I’ll work my ass off. No holiday for me.” However, I doubt that most of Croatians, whether they are Catholics, rabid nationalists or something else, would follow her example if given a chance to enjoy Orthodox Christmas as public holiday.

On the other hand, chances of Croatian government following Egyptian example are next to negligible.

First, most of Orthodox Christians in this country used to be Serbs and their numbers were drastically reduced in the last decade, partly through war and ethnic cleansing, partly through assimilation.

Second, those Orthodox Christians who remained aren’t likely to make their presence known. One of the best examples is city of Split. 2001 census showed that there are only 9 (nine) people who consider themselves Orthodox Christians in Split, town with 250,000 or so inhabitants. Yet, only few days after the publication of census results local newspaper published report from the mass held in local Orthodox church and attended by hundred or so people.

Third, such move would be in sharp contrast with the trends of present-day Croatian government. A year before regular election right-wing and neo-Tudjmanist parties are announcing their return to power as sure thing, so Račan and his team are reacting by becoming even more nationalistic than Tudjman. Any move that would have compromised Tudjman’s legacy – including the ethnic/religious purity of Croatia – is viewed as political suicide. Yet, it is doubtful whether the continuation of Tudjman’s policy would woo right-wing and nationalist voters. In most likelihood, Račan has already lost young, left-wing and urbane vote – those people are most likely to stay at home during the next election. Thoughts of this make this winter day even bleaker than it should have been.

Monday, January 06, 2003

OFCS Awards for 2002

I’ve just received E-mail about On-line Film Critics Society Awards for 2002. The “official” announcement for media is going to be later this day, but those who bother to read this blog are going to get it first:

Picture: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Director: Peter Jackson The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Actor: Daniel-Day Lewis Gangs of New York
Actress: Julianne Moore Far from Heaven
Supporting Actor: Dennis Quaid Far from Heaven
Supporting Actress: Samantha Morton Minority Report
Ensemble: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Original Screenplay: Far from Heaven (Todd Haynes)
Adapted Screenplay: Adaptation Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman & Donald Kaufman)
Foreign Language Film: Y Tu Mama Tambien
Cinematography: Far from Heaven (Edward Lachman)
Original Score: Far from Heaven (Elmer Bernstein)
Visual Effects: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Jim Rygiel)
Art Direction: Far from Heaven
Costume Design: Far from Heaven Sandy Powell)
Editing: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (D. Michael Horton & Jabez Olssen)
Sound: The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers(Ethan Van der Ryn & Mike Hopkins)
Documentary: Bowling for Columbine
Animated Film: Spirited Away
Breakthrough Performance: Maggie Gyllenhaal Secretary
Breakthrough Filmmaker: Mark Romanek One Hour Photo

I must say that I’m not particularly surprised nor upset over none of my favourites (except Y Tu Mama Tambien) winning. I actually had great difficulty taking the part in the whole process because very few of the official nominees actually made to Croatian cinemas in 2002. That happened even with the winner. Croatian distributor made last-minute decision to postpone the national premiere for January. Apparently, they thought that they could have milked more cash from kids watching Harry Potter. And if something like Lord of the Rings receives such treatment you could only imagine what happens with obscure, “independent”, “artsy” or non-American titles…

Early January Laziness

First impediment for any Croatian who wants to fulfil his/her share of the usual New Year resolutions comes in the first days of January. In that time many unfortunate souls would realises that getting things done or merely starting to get things done is very difficult due to the public holiday legislation in this country. You see, this day – January 6th – is Twelfth Day, church holiday that was introduced as public holiday by Tudjman’s regime in early 1990s. So, the holiday season more or less lasts between December 24th and January 7th. In that time, only the most essential businesses operate and even the public sector, including postal service, works at half speed. Video stores don’t receive new shipments of VHS and DVD titles, cinema theatres don’t receive new copies of films, if your PC is broken, you aren’t likely to get anyone to fix it, if you want to pay some bills you have to wait for the mail to arrive etc. So, it takes some amount of willpower for any individual not to succumb to the general laziness and actually start doing something, instead of merely waiting for January 7th and thus finding the perfect excuse to remain the old lazy self.

In the good old Communist days it wasn’t like that. Holiday season was much shorter. Christmas wasn’t public holiday (it was more or less tolerated, depending on the ideological purity of officials who pretended that December 25th was just another day off for their co-workers and subordinates) and instead New Year served its purpose, together with all the iconography - trees, gifts and Santa Claus (called “Grandfather Frost”). Just like Boxing Day today, January 2nd was also public holiday, thus allowing “working people and citizens” of Communist country one extra day to deal with post-New Year hangover. But January 3rd was the working day and anyone wanting to start something new had theoretical time-span of 3-5 working days until the first Sunday.

Situation in with public holidays in Croatia isn’t any better in the rest of the year. This is mostly to present-day government’s half-heartedness in their attempts to separate modern Croatia from Tudjman’s legacy. One of the examples is Statehood Day – May 30th – the most controversial of all Tudjman’s holidays. It was introduced in 1991, only a year after the day Tudjman and his party had formally taken power in Croatia and long before crucial decisions about independence were made. There were at least two much better and accurate choices for the holiday marking Croatian independence – June 25th (the day when Sabo/Parliament formally declared independence in 1991) and October 8th (the day when Sabor formally ended “all constitutional connections with the rest of Yugoslavia” after the end of EU-sponsored independence moratorium in 1991). Since 2002, Croatia has new two new holidays – new Statehood Day at June 25th and Independence Day on October 8th. However, in order to placate neo-Tudjmanist crowd, both in government and in opposition, government also introduced an obscure church holiday in late May, since it was celebrated on May 30th.

Further problems with holidays in Croatia stem from the ideological issues. One holiday – June 22nd, Antifascist Struggle Day – was supposed to mark the anniversary of the first Partisan action in Croatia in 1941. The purpose of holiday was to show the rest of the world that Tudjman’s Croatia in spirit, as well as in its Constitution, has its foundation in the state created by Partisans in 1944 and can claim to be among WW2 winners. However, although Tudjman insisted on this holiday, it wasn’t much observed in his country. In many areas, especially those controlled by more extreme members of his party, the holiday was very publicly non-observed, even by local administration. For them June 22nd marked “Serbo-Communist uprising against legitimate authorities of Independent State of Croatia” and to honour it would be utter disgrace.

Traces of such sentiments could be found even today. Some business establishments, especially those run or controlled by public figures known for their right-wing views, not only stay open on June 22nd, but extend this to May 1st – International Labour Day, which is universally recognised as public holiday in the rest of Europe. When I visited one of such establishments and asked one of the employees about this, she said that they could have stayed open because the holiday was “Communist”. I replied that May 1st was somewhat more universal phenomenon and that it was celebrated even in Hitler’s Third Reich. That later led me thinking about New Year itself. Celebration of New Year in Croatia is relatively new phenomenon and it was introduced by Party’s decree only few years after the end of WW2. If Croatian right-wingers are principled they would abolish New Year. However, although prospect of right wing returning to power in Croatia seems more realistic today than it was a year ago, I don’t think that they would dare touching that. This is probably one of the more comforting thoughts for these depressive days.


I received first feedback. So, someone actually reads this blog. This thought is even more comforting. Thank you, guys, for making this day a little bit better.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

After the citizens of Split had failed to mark Kostelićs’ triumph with some noise, something else did it for them. Few hours later Split was hit by the worst storm in this year. There was very little damage, but power grids reacted in the same manner their Solomon Islands had reacted to the recent cyclone. So, for some twenty minutes or so the city was again in Dark Ages. This was the first such instance in 2003.

The weather continued to play tricks on Split. Only a hour later I went out only to encounter torrents of rain being replaced by bura - strong and cold wind that blows from the northeast and tends to lower temperature for couple of degrees. It happened just in time – with 11-15 degrees Celsius, this New Year was one of the warmest in recorded memory.

I returned home to turn on the TV set and watch FA Cup match between Newcastle United and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The game was good, just as English football games are supposed to be. Magpies were unpleasantly surprised by Wolves and had to compensate two goals deficit in the first half. They managed to do it only to get the third one in the beginning of second half. The score remained at 3:2 until the end, but the game was nevertheless exciting to the very end.

The fun of watching this game was spoiled by one of my annoying habits. I like to channel surf and I simply couldn’t prevent myself for interrupting the game with two “Breaking News” alerts on CNN. Both had to do with the apparent terrorist outrages. First one – mysterious plane over Frankfurt – proved to be the false alarm, nothing more than desperate act of an insane mind. The other was more serious and familiar – Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, the very first such atrocity in new year.

In the evening I decided to put remote control as far away from myself as possible during the game between Real Madrid and Valencia. This one, played in heavy rain, was also very good, but also more predictable. Valencia managed to compensate one goal deficit only to collapse after their key player Aimar being sent off in the second half. The number of goals was the same as in the Newcastle – Wolves games, but the result was more one-sided (4:1).

Kostelićs Rock!

The winter fairytale came true.

Janica Kostelić has won Bormio slalom and not only won, but created a miracle. Yesterday she fell during giant slalom and spent the night suffering from headache. But that didn’t matter in the end. She is real fighter. If someone looks at her X-ray picture he would believe that he is seeing the skeleton of an American Football player. This day she won at her birthday, and even made history. Her winning margin – 2 seconds - is 5th best in the history of alpine skiing.

An hour later her brother also entered history. His second victory this season was less impressive (0.71 seconds winning margin), but mere coincidence makes this a fairytale.

The only disappointment was the lack of fireworks in my home town of Split. Last time some Croatian athlete made miracle – Goran Ivanišević winning Wimbledon – resulting gunfire was comparable with the aftermath of news about Croatian Army taking Knin in 1995. Then again, Ivanišević was home boy and Kostelićs, with their use of Kajkavština dialect, are somewhat more alien to the average sports fan in this part of Croatia.

North-South animosity, that results in soccer hooligan clashes and occasional vandalism of “wrong” automobiles in Zagreb and Split, has reflected even on Kostelićs. One of the grafitti in Split called Janica “a pig”. On the other hand, among Janica’s supporters in Bormio there were those proudly showing flags of Torcida – Split’s soccer fans. This is more positive aspect of this story.

Happy Birthday, Janica

There could be better ways for Janica Kostelić to celebrate her 21st birthday, but I can’t imagine any other than this morning’s alpine skiing events. Janica Kostelić is currently leading slalom race in Bormio by some 0.6 seconds margin, while her brother Ivica currently leads slalom race in Kranjska Gora. If those results stand after second races and both brother and sister Kostelić win that could be one of the greatest day in the history of Croatian sport.

Unfortunately, very few people in Croatia are going to notice. Until Janica began winning some three years ago, Kostelićs’ skiing was hardly on public radar. Most of Croatian sports fans thought of more traditional sports like soccer, basketball and, to a lesser degree, tennis. Alpine skiing was something too exotic and too localised – sport that only financially sound Croatians (and that means tiny minority) can afford and care about.

But Kostelićs changed all that. Due to hard work and immeasurable sacrifices Janica and Ivica slowly but inevitably began serious contenders. In 2000 and 2001 Janica finally became “Snow Queen”, probably the only Croatian sportswoman who could have drawn Zagreb soccer fans (including notorious “Bad Blue Boys” hooligan group) to the skiing events in neighbouring Slovenia. Then came the Salt Lake Olympics and medals, and her brother Ivica, as good at skis as at his electric guitar.

Kostelićs today represent probably the only palpable success story in impoverished Croatia, country still recovering from war, economic mismanagement and other ills inherited from Tudjman’s era. Both of them might fall today and not win medals, but the mention in this blog is the least they deserve on this day.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

Since Everyone Is Doing It…

After three days of waiting caused by various technical problems, my new blog is here. I was thinking what would be my first “serious” entry. Various subjects – gun control, abortion, war on Iraq – were considered, but at the end I decided to stick to the potentially most important subject in today’s world – human cloning.

This morning I was surfing the Net and found, on-line edition of Croatian weekly Feral Tribune. In its daily comment Toni Gabrić was one of the few Croatian voices that refused to condemn the cloning as “the worst thing that is supposed to happen in 2003”, as one of his colleagues had said it.

Gabrić notes that the cloning technology is so advanced and potential benefits so vast that any attempt of the ban would be doomed to failure. The only way for cloning to be stopped is for technology to be too expensive and too impractical for any immediate use, using NASA’s space programme as an example.

However, in the same article, Gabrić soon reveals his true motives for the defence of human cloning, and those motives are rather simple – human cloning is attacked by people Gabrić considers his ideological opposites, namely those associated with Catholic Church. Cloning is attacked, because it might end “motherhood, fatherhood and any sense of family”. In his defence, Gabrić not only accuses Catholic Church of being opposed to any technical invention in last 500-600 years but actually attacks family as “ancient, obsolete and feudal institution” and claims that it doesn’t have place in modern, enlightened world.

Those views aren’t going to be shocking for those familiar with editorial policy of Feral Tribune in the past few years. Satirical magazine that used to be beacon on free journalism in the darkest days of Tudjman’s regime seemed to lost its sense of purpose after Tudjman’s death and arrival of new “pro-Western and democratic” government in Croatia. Some of the most distinguished and respected journalists left for greener pastures and that reflected not only in the decreased quality of article, but also in their ideological uniformity. Nominal left-centre alignment of new government didn’t help either; criticising the government – what Feral Tribune did best – became monopoly of Croatian right-wingers and Feral reacted by beginning attacks on government from the position that became extreme left. In the good old days, readers of Feral could have expected articles and opinions written by people with moderate and even some mildly right-wing views. All that changed. Nowadays, almost all articles of Feral preach the same Loony Left gospel all over again.

All this became quite evident after the events of September 11th 2001. Only a week after the attacks, Feral issued cover page featuring US astronaut in military fatigue looking at the ruins of Banja Luka mosque, demolished by Bosnian Serbs during 1992-95 war. This image suggested that US war on terrorism is nothing more than campaign of genocide against innocent Muslims, not different from the one attempted by Karadzic and his hordes. That established pattern that was applied to Israel-Palestine conflict and once proud fighters for multi-ethnic and tolerant society fell so low to count drops of Jewish blood in the veins of their former associate Slavko Goldstein, man who refused to fall in their extremist line. The same ideological pattern was applied to domestic, and later, cultural issues. Any ideology associated with Left was praised in their most extreme form – extreme environmentalism, extreme animal rights movement, extreme feminism, extreme gay rights movement etc.

That even includes movie reviews. I doubt most of the readers of this blog remember Gus Van Saint’s film Finding Forrester as some particularly memorable piece of filmmaking, but Dragan Jurak, Feral’s critic, gave it five stars. Explanation? “Since Gus Van Saint is gay, his portrayal of relationship between young black teenager and old writer is obviously subversive attack on Hollywood’s heterosexual values” (quoting from memory). So, quality of filmmaking comes second to the sexual orientation of filmmaker, which is good example of reverse bigotry of today’s PC-leftists. Few months later, John Woo’s Windtalkers was praised simply because Nicolas Cage’s character in one scene said “Nobody will die today”, which was supposed to be “damning critique of Bush’s warmongering”. In another example – The Wedding Planner – they got it right, but for wrong reasons. The movie was panned because it celebrated marriage, “failed and oppressive institution, instead of showing alternatives used by heroines of Sex in the City”. When Candace Bushnell, author of Sex in the City, tied the knot, Feral didn’t report it. I wonder why…

In any case, although I’m still sceptical over this Raelian business, I think I’ll could be put in “Pro” camp in the cloning debate. Some of Gabrić’s arguments are valid – potential benefits of cloning seem greater than the risks and the calls for ban are nothing more than pure demagoguery. However, if cloning is defended from such positions as presented in Feral, “pro-cloning” camp would have to invest Herculean efforts in order to improve its standing.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

There are probably worse ways to start new year than to start a new blog in the same time. As the title says, this is still beta version. I had worked on the previous one only to learn the ropes of blogging – find the proper technique of editing/pasting, discover the proper template and, finally, to see whether I have time and inclination for such endeavour.

The results were mixed. On one hand, I’m thrilled with the idea that the whole world (theoretically) might share my innermost feelings or opinions about subjects I deem important. On the other hand, I know that my voice is just one of many and I probably don’t matter much in the whole scheme of things. Finally, it all takes a plenty of time and creative energy and I’m quite confident that I can’t compete with the people who gave me an inspiration for this project.

I was pondering whether to start blog with the usual intro – a little bit about myself, biography etc. But I decided to postpone revealing of such information. Besides, what is the point? The only way people may actually create impression of someone on the Internet is through his/her writing and biographical resumes can do little to improve such image. Besides, those who really want to find out personal details could slowly create the picture through my writing. Why should I spoil their fun at the very beginning?