Friday, February 28, 2003

Not Much of A Choice

Panel of top Croatian critics and film scholars, assembled by Hollywood movie magazine, has selected Ritam zločina (Ritam zlocina), directed by Zoran Tadić (Zoran Tadic) in 1981, as the best Croatian film of all times. The panel results clearly show that the Croatian cinema industry, like almost everything else, declined in the first decade of Croatian independence. Only one post-1990 film managed to enter top 10 – Kako je počeo rat na mom otoku (Kako je poceo rat na mom otoku), recently reviewed by me.

On the other hand, the panel results might be somewhat misleading. Panel members hardly had something of a choice. From its humble start in 1940s till today Croatian film industry barely managed to produce more than five feature films per year. And the quality of those film steadily declined, especially after 1970s and constitutional reforms that had allowed former Yugoslav republics to create their own cultural policies.

From 1970s on, Croatian filmmakers, although paying the lip service to prevalent Communist ideologies, were encouraged to make films that would be as different from those made in Serbia. In other words, Croatian films had to promote Croatian culture and its ties to Western Europe, as opposed to Serbia and its Oriental primitivism. So, the movie projects most likely to be financed by Croatian apparatchiks within "Self-Management Interest Associations" and other para-state entities were those based on 19th Century Croatian literature. Those films usually turned out to be artistically pretentious and utterly incomprehensible dramas and were highly unlikely to bring crowds to theatres, thus forcing Croatian filmmakers to depend exclusively on state subsidies. It is needless to say that this state of affairs hardly improved with the arrival of democracy – all subsequent governments, from Tudjman to Račan (Racan), maintained heavy grip on Croatian film industry.

This represents striking contrast to Serbia, where cinema industry traditionally relied on more crowd-pleasing genres like comedies, musicals and action. Those films were usually garbage but they nevertheless produced enough money to make film companies and authors more independent. Even more useful was their role in training many talents, especially actors, in the film-making skills. Anyone who compares average 1990s Croatian and 1990s Serbian film can see that the latter have much more convincing and natural film-like acting, while the former displays acting styles more suitable to the stage.

Another thing that strangles Croatian cinema is the small size of domestic market. In 1996 aforementioned Kako je počeo rat na mom otoku has managed to beat Independence Day on Croatian box-office, yet it wasn't enough for covering production cost. Even if Croatian filmmakers turn to commercial pieces, that won't make them independent from the state subsidies. The only solution seems to be making movies designed for broader markets - in other words, other republics of former Yugoslavia.

But this is the Rubicon Croatian filmmakers, still burdened by recent past and very unclear future, aren't yet ready to cross. Until that happens, future panellists won't have much of a choice.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Sinister Similarities

Marinko Čulić (Marinko Culic), one of the better columnists of Feral Tribune, commented on the story about Danish pizzeria owner banning French and German customers. For Čulić, this story bears striking resemblance to the case of Marinko Liović (Marinko Liovic), leader of Croatian veteran organisation, whose house had a sign "Serbs and dogs not allowed" (sign obviously inspired by similar signs "Jews and dogs not allowed", which were quite popular in Europe during WW2).

Čulić short article actually raises much more important question: Whether the so-called "civilised, enlightened" Europe (or "civilised, enlightened West" in general) is that much different from its "wild, barbaric, primitive" southeastern corner?

The answer might not be very heart-warming, at least judging by the Iraq rift. To those who were there when former Yugoslavia went to pieces, the language and even some of the actions seem eerily familiar.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

About On-line Polls

I stumbled on this test had some time to take it and, lo and behold, it seems that you are reading the blog of someone who has the potential to become next Bill Gates.

I don't take those on-line quizzes and polls that seriously. They usually get things wrong. The most interesting one was BBC on-line simulation of Waterloo. I had less trouble winning in the role Napoleon than in the role of Wellington.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Nacional Shifts to Fence-Sitting?

Nacional in its latest issue continues with its strong pro-war stance. Mladen Pleše (Mladen Plese) claims that Croatian government already decided to allow the use of Croatian airspace in upcoming war and also praises Ivo Sanader, leader of right-wing HDZ, for taking strong pro-war stance even before current government.

Incidentally, HB, led by Tudjman's right-hand man Ivić Pašalić (Ivic Pasalic) has also supported war, but Nacional chose not to inform the readers about this fact. Pašalić, man who was crucified on the pages of Nacional as the source of all evil during Tudjman years, doesn't fit in this picture.

However, Nacional editors seem to be aware of majority anti-war stance among their readers so they, for balance sake, included anti-war analysis by Zlatko Rendulić (Zlatko Rendulic) in the issue.

Monday, February 24, 2003

Ordinary Tragedy in Extraordinary Times

In normal circumstances this should have been just another tragic incident. But in the state of rapidly increasing tensions between the Old and New World, when the words like "cheese-loving surrender monkeys" or "Adolf Bush" are becoming part of mainstream political discourse, nationality of the victims might very well lead to all kinds of conspiracy theories and fuel chauvinist hatred.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

Old Europe, New Alliances

Iraq crisis is causing strange political re-alignments not only in Croatia (where one right-wing opposition party, HSLS, came out strongly against the war, while another, HDZ, came out strongly for war) but in other countries as well.

According to this story, Silvio Berlusconi's government is going to experience another crisis. RAI Due, one of the three state television networks, is going to be relocated from Rome to Milan, which represents Berlusconi's concession to Umberto Bossi, leader of secessionist Lega Nord, one of three major partners in Italy's right-wing coalition. Bossi sees that as a first step for creation of a television network of independent state of Padania.

However, another of Berlusconi's partner, Giancarlo Fini, leader of post-fascist party Alleanza Nazionale, see that differently – as giving too much power to Northern secessionist, especially since Lega Nord already controls RAI through its representatives within RAI Board of Directors. So, Fini has approached opposition ex-Communists to give him necessary votes to replace Board of Directors.

This alliance, that brings together descendants of Fascists with descendants of Communists is partially motivated with the way RAI handled anti-war marches. RAI refused to air the marches live, so ex-Communists want some heads rolled. Bossi, on the other hand, warns that this alliance could mean the end of present government.

Squabbling over television is relatively new phenomenon in Italian politics. In good old times distribution of power within RAI was stable – right-wing Christian Democrats controlled RAI Uno, their eternal co-alition partners Socialists controlled RAI Due, while opposition Communists had the leftovers in the form of RAI Tre – network based on regional and sports programmes.

But today Italian politics is much more complex and even less predictable than it used to be. Christian Democrats and Socialists vanished, and Italians used the opportunity created with new electoral system to change the government at each elections, just like they French neighbours are doing for past two decades. So, the power structures within RAI became less stable and each new government must purge the administration from the cadre left by their ideologically opposite predecessors. And Berlusconi's government is hardly as stable as those in Craxi years – instead of two major parties – Christian Democrats and Socialists – it is composed of three blocks that usually can't stand each other.

It is too early to say whether this television crisis would bring down Italian government, but it bares striking resemblances with the processes that wrecked the coalition government of its trans-Adriatic neighbour.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

No More Experimenting

At least not with the general design of blog page. I could make some changes with font sizes, though. But the fonts and colours remain as they are.

Decisive "Perhaps"

Liberal Party (LS) is the first member of Croatian governing coalition to formally come out against the war in Iraq and thus undermine Račan's (Racan's) policy. That party's Central Committee has issued a statement in which it expressed its opposition to war, as well as its deep displeasure with the lack of progress in government's judiciary and administration reforms.

Of course, this doesn't mean that LS would leave the coalition, at least not on Iraq issue. Račan (Racan) has too much of a majority in Sabor, and he could afford to lose couple of troublesome radical lefties (or to be precise, centrist people who look like radical lefties compared to Račan and his right-wing policies).

Another reason why Iraq issue isn't going to affect Croatian politics much is the fact that Račan recently began to promote fence-sitting position and refused any indication about Croatia's official answer to US request for the use of Croatian airspace and territory in upcoming war with Iraq. Under increasing pressure from the public and many of his allies, Račan has returned to his old "Decisive 'Perhaps'" ways that had brought him power in Communist days and ensured his political survival in Tudjman era.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Iraq and Croatian Politics

Globus and Nacional – two most popular weekly newspapers in Croatia – have taken diametrically opposed views on the war against Iraq.

Nacional has taken clear pro-war position and the latest issue has three major articles in that vein. First one, written by Mladen Pleše (Mladen Plese) attacks Croatian government for not being even more explicit in its support for USA and reminds the readers of the role USA had in Operation Storm and other military actions that led to (partial) liberation of occupied territories in 1995. Second article describes the future US administration of Iraq, comparing it with MacArthur's turning of Japan into industrial superpower. The third one is written by Janusz Bugajski and in it France and Germany are attacked for their anti-Americanism.

Globus, on the other hand, writes about widespread opposition to war among Croatian population, cultural elite and even political establishment. The articles even suggest the widening rift between pro-war Prime Minister Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) and (moderately) anti-war President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic). To make its anti-war stance even more clear, Globus even publishes big interview with Thierry Maysen.

Globus and Nacional having diametrically opposed views is nothing new (although both papers are pro-government in a sense). The new phenomenon is the fact that their positions on Iraq reflect the change of their favourite government factions. Until Iraq crisis Nacional was seen as somewhat more leftish, more populist and definitely more pro-Mesić; Globus was seen as somewhat more right-wing, more elitist and definitely pro-Račan.

It is too early to tell whether this shift is permanent or not, but Iraq crisis might provoke similar re-alignments all over Europe.

Thursday, February 20, 2003

With Such Youth…

2001 census showed the drop of education levels among Croatian population. Situation isn't likely to improve in the near future, at least according to the data published by Professor Vinko Bajrović (Vinko Bajrovic), expert consultant within Split Institute for Education Improvement.

Out of 40137 pupils attending high schools in Dalmatia, 16470 (or 42%) failed the first semester of 2002/03 academic year. 218 pupils dropped out of school. Bajrović's study also notes widespread practice of cutting classes.

Some might interpret this data with the flaws in Croatian education system, which, like almost anything in this country, leaves much to be desired. But the real problem is not in the underpaid, overworked and often disinterested teachers nor it is in the high school curricula, still burdened with the legacy of Tudjman's era. The real problem is poor motivation among pupils.

Young men who attend Croatian high schools don't see education as a way to get ahead in life. And there are good reasons for them to think so. Their parents and older brothers who had taken educations seriously only saw their faculty diplomas as one-way ticket towards unemployment lines.

On the other hand, Ivica Kostelić (Ivica Kostelic), one of the rare Croatians who managed to get himself rich in past few years, never bothered to finish high school, thus giving a very clear message to youth that education represents nothing more than waste of money.

Of course, lack of Kostelić's formal education didn't prevent one of Croatian state television commentators to describe Croatian ski superstar (who barely escaped the wrath of world's public for his pro-Nazi views) as "refined intellectual". Hardly anyone in Croatia noticed or even bother to comment on this ludicrous statement. Ignorance and lack of education are becoming new Croatian standards.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Another Front Opened?

According to this article, European Parliament has passed the resolution that might put the end to most popular forms of cosmetic surgery on all minors. The most affected are going to be girls who enlarge their breast with silicon.

I'm almost convinced that this measure would add to the widening rift between Europe and USA. I already envision few rabid anti-European bloggers and other commentators attacking this act as an example of "statism", "curbing the free expression" or something like that.

Those commentators might be right, to certain point. Large breasts, or, at least, breasts that are obviously enlarged through silicon, are viewed or were until very recently viewed as a specifically American cultural phenomenon. Even when women with silicon-enhanced breasts became a common sight in Europe and other parts of the world, their popularity might be traced to Playboy, Baywatch or other symbols of American cultural imperialism. So, it is not hard to imagine at least few cultural snobs among MEPs congratulating themselves for preserving the aesthetic purity of the European continent with this move and showing those pesky Yanks that the days of their cultural domination are over.

Update of Not Yet Reviewed Movies

More than a month ago I posted the list of the film which I had recently seen and not reviewed yet. The list is slightly updated with few new additions:

The Longest Yard (1974)
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)
Behind Enemy Lines
Sweet Home Alabama
The Mexican
Baby Boy
Thirteen Ghosts
Changing Lanes
No Man's Land (2001)
Spy Game
Captain Corelli's Mandolin
Crossroads (2002)
The Curse of Jade Scorpion
K-19: Widowmaker
Two Towers
I Spy

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Bad and Poor Influence

Croatian government has ordered media influence survey from Puls polling agency. Results of the survey were published in today's newspapers. Some highlights:

Večernji list (Vecernji list) is the most influential daily newspaper, currently being read by some 25% of all adult Croatians; its Zagreb rival Jutarnji list is close second with 21 %; regional daily Slobodna Dalmacija is third with 9 %. Around 41 % of Croatians don't read daily newspapers at all.

62 % of all adult Croatians regularly watch state television; private network Nova TV is far second with only 26 %. Only 2 % of Croatian don't watch television at all.

Most popular radio stations are regional affiliates of Croatian state radio, being listened by some 26 % of all adult Croatians; national program of Croatian state radio is second with 20 %; privately owned Narodni radio network is close third with 19 %; only 2 % of people listen to foreign radio stations

Most popular weekly newspaper is Globus, which is read by 9 % of Croatians; its rival Nacional is read by 5 %; Feral Tribune is third with 2 %. However, some 64 % of Croatians actually don't bother to read weekly newspapers at all.

Croatian state television is considered to be the most reliable of all media – it is trusted by 45 % of all Croatians. Weekly newspapers, on the other hand, are trusted by only 5 % of Croatians, while daily newspapers fare only slightly better – 15 % Croatians put faith in them as a reliable source of information.

This data clearly show some of the socio-economic aftermath of Tudjman's era. Education levels and living standards have declined, affecting the sales and influence of printed media. Most people can't afford to buy daily newspapers or weeklies and must rely on television as a prime source of information. Many people lack the education and reading skills necessary to absorb the information in printed media, especially among weeklies that are forced to seek audience among the shrinking middle class and ranks of nouveaux riches.

This also explains why television, especially state television, remains so important for political parties. Showdowns over new Radiotelevision Act opened another front in the endless war between parties of Račan's (Racan's) coalition.

The most telling of all is the absence of on-line media in the survey. It only shows the low level of computer literacy in Croatia and the fact that many people still can't fathom Internet as the source of information.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Bad Timing and Bad Weather

In today's Slobodna Dalmacija a local engineer proposed comprehensive system of cableways as the best method to curb constant traffic jam in city of Split. Cableways, connecting the scenic top of Marjan Hill in the west of Split peninsula with the Lovrinac cemetery on the eastern edges of town, should also bring some extra income from tourist.

This proposal had misfortune to be published on the day when citizens of Split had few consecutive days of bura – cold northern wind infamous for its effect on the traffic infrastructure on Dalmatian coast. The same wind that shuts down ferry service and closes bridges – including the most important one at Maslenica – would wreak havoc with cableway transportation system. The idea of spending millions of euros on complicated traffic system available only on certain days of year is not the best alternative for Split's traffic woes.

In my humble opinion, Ken Livingston has found much better alternative for London.


Maroje Mihovilović (Maroje Mihovilovic), BBC correspondent from Zagreb, claims that the anti-war demonstrations in Croatia were failure and that the government doesn't have any reasons to change its pro-war policy. That doesn't surprise me. Mihovilović, apart from working for BBC, writes articles for Nacional, weekly that took surprisingly blunt pro-war pro-US stand. Its main rival Globus, on the other hand, took anti-war stance, despite being often accused of too many links with Račan's (Racan's) government.

Mihovilović is correct in his estimate that the weekend demonstrations were less than spectacular. Some 10,000 participants in Zagreb and equal total in all provincial centres of Croatia is relatively low number for Croatian standards, and Croatian peace movement would have to put Herculean effort in order to reach number even remotely close to those in other European countries.

But the public pressure is not the reason why Račan's government ignores the peace movement and 70-80 % anti-war opinion among Croatian public. In normal circumstances that would be unwise, and in the election year it would be suicidal. But Croatia is hardly in normal circumstances. The government is paralysed by permanent cabinet crisis, economy is going down, right-wing opposition uses every conceivable opportunity to flex its growing muscles… The only glimmer of hope for Račan is the idea that USA or someone with such power would come to their rescue with financial aid or diplomatic action that could be presented with the public as such. So, Račan is going with the flow.

Besides, anti-war demonstrators, unlike some other Croatian discontents, don't enjoy widespread support within military and police. It is tad hard to be taken seriously if you don't have guns at your disposal.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

Victory and Its Aftermath

Ivica Kostelić (Ivica Kostelic) has won gold medal in St. Moritz. Together with his sister Janica he would return to Zagreb, probably to be greeted by tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people. One important question remains – whether this triumph would be abused by Croatian right-wingers, just like Croatian team winning Handball World Championship.

On one hand, Kostelićs are going to be careful after Nazi scandal. On the other hand, Ivica and Janica's father Ante is member of neo-Tudjmanist party HIP. Such triumphs usually draw the worst out of everyone. Yet, I don't see Kostelićs requesting Marko Perković Thompson (Marko Perkovic Thompson) and his über-Patriotic songs as a musical part of the program.

But there would be some raised right hands in the crowd, that is almost certain.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

Janica the Magnificent

Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) defied her injuries and won the gold in St. Moritz. However, luck favoured her – Anja Paerson had difficulties in her first run, and even with brilliant second run couldn't compensate the deficit.

Hard Truth

Even Croatian state television had to admit that around three quarters of Croatian oppose the war in Iraq.

Friday, February 14, 2003

Hearts of Iron Update

I've just finished my first full game of Hearts of Iron. I've played as British on Normal/Normal setting. It was fun, at least in the beginning. War with Germany started in 1940 and ended in early 1941, after Soviet intervention. Afterwards there was somewhat complicated affair with Japanese, who resisted on Okinawa until December 1947 (when the game ends). I'll try Soviets in my next game.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Reality Bites

Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) used to defy her injuries, but everyone has limits. Despitehe sore knee, she decided to ski at today's giant slalom event at World Championship in St. Moritz. She ended 13th and added arm to her long list of injuries. Common sense tells me that she probably wouldn't run at women's slalom event on Saturday. I might be proven wrong, but even if she shows up, the results are probably going to be similar to today's.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Self-Genocide Preparations

Croatian entry into war against Iraq isn't particularly popular among ordinary Croatians. Some of the government's latest moves doesn't help that cause either. As a preparation for war, the government spent 1 million US$ to get 200,000 small-pox vaccines.

This move, which is supposed to protect some 5% of population in case of Iraqi biological attack, could have little practical value or importance, but the most interesting thing about it is the manufacturer of vaccine. Baxter is American firm best known for killing few dozen kidney failure patients in Croatia and Spain with its faulty dialysis machines few years ago. But Croatian government apparently still believes that Baxter could be trusted to provide quality service to Croatian patients. The rants about Iraqi war as nothing more than a way for American corporations to get filthy rich suddenly became very credible in Croatia.

However, faulty vaccines are not that likely to produce mini-genocide in Croatia. So far, Croatian physicians are doing that job without that help. The long doctors' strike has already claimed few dozens victims. There are countless rumours about government declaring emergency, issuing mobilisations or even starting criminal procedures for manslaughter against some of the doctors. In the meantime, Andrija Hebrang, former minister of health during Tudjman's years – whose tenure resulted with endless horror stories and equally impressive bodycount in Croatian hospitals - denies accusations that he is spiritual leader of the strike.

In any case, striking physicians, striking military pilots, grounded jets, potentially faulty vaccines – and government still pushes war option. This looks like a self-genocide recipe to me.

Heads Are Rolling?

Dubravko Radošević (Dubravko Radoševic), advisor to Croatian President, might be the first head to roll because of Sisak Ironworks privatisation scandal. Radošević claims that President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) didn't know what he was signing, and that it was his fault. Radošević offers resignation.

Whether the resignation gets accepted or not, the damage is already done. Mesić has won election because he represented the anti-thesis of Tudjman. In at least one segment – privatisation sleaze – he took the example of his predecessor.

But, this is not the first time Mesić's name was associated with privatisation scandals. In 1993, while he was Speaker of Sabor and still among Tudjman's inner circle, his daughter's name was associated with the attempted privatisation of Našice (Nasice) cement factory. This affair was used as a weapon by his enemies within HDZ during the escalating factional struggle between moderates and hard-liners in 1993-94. Mesić took the side of moderates, and saw himself and fellow faction members being attacked as "crooks" and "techno-managers" by hard-liner media. The affair was quickly forgotten after Mesić lost the struggle in 1994, only to be used by HDZ, and later by HSLS, during 2000 presidential elections.

The history is repeating. Just like 1993, the most tenacious accusers of Mesić happen to be his former party comrades who had belonged to hard-line faction. Ivić Pašalić (Ivic Pasalic), Tudjman's former domestic advisor, has already announced impeachment initiative by his Hrvatski Blok party. It is too early to see whether HDZ, supposedly "reformed" version led by old hard-liners, would jump on this bandwagon. In any case, HDZ would prefer to see Mesić out before the next elections; even with Presidential powers being reduced by changes in Constitution, co-habitation might be real nightmare.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Being Constructive

I've just got myself a copy of Sim City 4. It looks like fun, and playing it would be refreshing and much more constructive alternative to Hearts of Iron.

Another Privatisation Nightmare

Croatian governing coalition is likely to survive the row over privatisation of "Sunčani Hvar" (Suncani Hvar) holiday resort. But that privatisation scandal was replaced with another one – sale of state-owned Sisak ironworks to the group of Russian businessmen.

The trouble with this sale is not in allegedly shady character of Russian consortium, nor with their nationality - politically incorrect for average Croatian redneck, for whom any Orthodox Christian nation belongs to "axis of evil". The trouble is that President Mesić (Mesic), man who was emasculated with recent constitutional changes, took somewhat unhealthy interest in this affair, and even signed some official protocol.

Of course, Mesic had denied any involvement, only to be caught with the pants down when the media found the incriminating paper with his official signature. Mesic claims that he didn't know what he was signing and that the document doesn't have any validity. Viktor Ivančič (Viktor Ivancic), columnist of until this day staunchly pro-Mesic Feral Tribune, couldn't resist the temptation to compare Croatian president's denials with Clinton's during Monicagate.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Crushing the Yanks

Dom Sportova Hall in Zagreb witnessed something really strange on Saturday afternoon, during the doubles matches between Croatian and US team at the first round of Davis Cup. Croatian team, consisting of legendary Goran Ivanišević (Goran Ivanisevic) and Ivan Ljubičić (Ivan Ljubicic), compensated two set deficit and won the crucial doubles game, thus allowing Ljubičić opportunity to finish the business tomorrow.

Ivanišević celebrated victory by breaking into song which contained lyrics "Gazi, gazi Amere" ("Crush the Yanks"). What is significant about this song is not the lyrics, nor Ivanišević's newly discovered anti-Americanism. The melody used had been long adopted by various Dalmatian teams and used whenever their teams played against teams from Zagreb. The lyrics were different – "Gazi, gazi purgere" ("Crush the Zagrebians"). But Zagreb crowd, on this particular occasion, adopted this song as their own.

Snow Queen vs. Sore Knee

Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) remains the unstoppable juggernaut. Not even the sore knee, or the bad results in downhill run could have prevented her from taking gold medal in women's combined at World Ski Championship in St. Moritz.

Montenegrin Miscalculations

The Balkans road to democracy is going to be longer than expected. Montenegro, only few days after becoming few formalities short of independent, proved how fragile this independence is and how Montenegrins are still divided on the issue. Pro-Serb opposition, defeated on parliamentary elections in October, managed to flex its muscle in December by torpedoing presidential elections through boycott. Just like Serbia, Montenegro has laws that mandate 50% turnout for presidential mandate to be valid. Just like in Serbia, this, combined with voter apathy, proved to be powerful weapon for opposition. Only a month after last attempt, Montenegrin voters again fell short of that magical percentage. Next try is going to happen in three months.

Montenegrin government already announced the changes in electoral law. But the question remains – why did they bother in the first place? Were they thinking that they could humiliate their pro-Serbian rivals by winning that magical majority? This is just one of the many miscalculations Djukanović's (Djukanovic's) government took in last few years.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

Is Croatia on Planet Earth?

That question is going to be asked a lot in Croatia in following days, at least among basketball fans. While the billions of people all over the world are going to watch NBA All-Star game, Croatians are going to be denied that pleasure. Without any explanation, HRT - Croatian state television - has refused to sign contracts with NBA and thus their viewers (who are mandated by law to pay "subscription") must learn to live with something that was part of their lives for last decade or so – one or more NBA games every week.

Despite the time difference that forced many Croatian viewers to struggle with sleep and fatigue while watching live games in the late hours of night, NBA was
popular and it was source of advertising revenue for state television. So, why is Croatia – country with long basketball tradition and small army of NBA players and NBA wannabes – denied seeing world's best basketball on TV?

There are couple of possible explanations.

Basketball, like all sports, is aired on HRT 3 – third channel of state television. However, this channel is going to be privatised, or at least, this was the law passed in Sabor few years ago. So, when HRT had to renew the contract, its brass was unsure whether the channel is going to be in someone else's hands or not. But, this didn't happen – HRT 3 is still controlled by state, with hardly anyone showing interest – and same considerations didn't prevent HRT from purchasing broadcast rights for Italian and Spanish soccer or Goodyear League basketball. So, this explanation doesn't hold water.

Greed and incompetence is more likely and more credible explanation. Other, less credible, explanation would accuse HRT brass of deliberately sabotaging their programme in order to lower the price of HRT3 (and receive hefty pay-off by potential buyers).

The other theory would explain HRT brass' sudden dislike of NBA with their nationalist feelings. While Croatian teams won medals and Croatian players dominated NBA, basketball was Croatian sport. But these days, after Serbo-Montenegrin team had won World Basketball Championship and Western Conference is dominated by Serb players in Sacramento Kings, basketball suddenly ceased to be Croatian. So, HRT brass, still dominated by sycophants and other spineless creatures installed during Tudjman's years, tries to secure its position for the case of HDZ return after next elections.

However, I consider the greed and incompetence as the simplest and, therefore, the most credible explanation. Yet, for basketball fans in Croatia it is all the same.

Continent of Losers

Croatia is currently winning ski competitions, handball championships and is even knocking USA in the first round of Davis Cup. Yet, when it comes to economy or politics, Croatia is losing. The latest example is vote for the eighteen justices of International Criminal Court. Croatian candidate Ivo Josipović (Ivo Josipovic) was slated to win the spot reserved for East European countries. But in the fourth round of voting, when regional criteria weren't applied any more, Croatia had to persuade four other East European countries to drop their candidates. Three countries agreed, one didn't, and Josipović ended on the 19th place. None of East European countries fared any better.

This example of co-operation between East European countries clearly illustrates what awaits EU in near future. Decision making in future European confederation, made of few dozen impoverished, ultra-nationalist and selfish East European nations is going to be real nightmare for all those who dreamt about some abstract European unity.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

Lines in the Sand

It is rather interesting to see the major Croatian parties' attitudes towards the war in Iraq – conflict which Croatia became part of after government's announcements (and against the popular opinion).

Based on the Slobodna Dalmacija inquiry, the pro-war and anti-war blocks consists of:


SDP – former Communist, led by Račan (Racan); Foreign Ministry, which issued pro-Bush statements, is controlled by SDP's minister Tonino Picula;
HDZ – Tudjman's party; widely expected to return to power after next elections; its leader Ivo Sanader has came out as pro-American even before SDP;
LIBRA – party whose sole purpose was to allow former HSLS cadre to remain within Račan's government after their comrades had parted ways last summer; totally insignificant
Hrvatski Blok – right-wing party created from HDZ faction led by Tudjman's domestic policy advisor Ivić Pašalić (Ivic Pasalic); supports American position without question


DC – small (and insignificant) right-wing party, created around Tudjman's foreign minister Mate Granić (Mate Granic) and HDZ cadre who suddenly found Christian Democrat and reformer identity after losing both 2000 elections and post-election factional struggles within HDZ; claim that Croatia must join war, but only under UN sanction;
HSLS – generally support for war, but only after comprehensive debate in Sabor
HSS – no comment on the issue


HSP – far right party which used to have its own black-shirted militia in the early years of war; vehemently opposes war on the grounds that it would turn Croatia into legitimate target for Islamic terrorism while not bringing any benefit in return; they have opposed sending 50 Croatian soldiers to Afghanistan on the same grounds
IDS – Istrian regionalist party, moderately left-wing; left Račan's coalition in 2001; questions American motives

So, it is interesting to see that the support of war is greatest among the most established parties that belong to "centre" (although ideological branding doesn't make sense in Croatia – SDP, despite their Communist past, promote extremely right-wing economic policies, while HDZ remained faithful to Tudjman's extreme right-wing rhetoric). The more distant party is from "centre" or mainstream, either by ideology, size or location, the more it is anti-war.

Friday, February 07, 2003

The Insider

The latest edition of Croatian weekly Globus has introduced a new columnist – Aleksandra Kolarić (Aleksandra Kolaric), former official spokeswoman of Račan's (Racan's) government. In her first column, Kolarić attacks her former boss and his apparent failure to comprehend the role of media as tools of government's policies. She took the latest "Sunčani Hvar" ("Suncani Hvar") affair as an example and made a good and convincing case.

Kolarić is no stranger to criticising the government. Her name is well-known to subscribers to Croatian political Usenet groups. Before 2000 she was one of the critics of Tudjman's government, but she also took pot-shots at some opposition figures, like HSLS chief Dražen Budiša (Drazen Budisa), whom he compared with "a stuffed turkey". Afterwards, when she took job within the cabinet led by Budiša's main partner, she disappeared from Internet and, for obvious reasons, never said any critical word about new Croatian government. Some time ago, she left the office of spokeswoman.

So, seeing Kolarić back in the business of commenting politics is one of the more pleasant novelties in Croatia these days.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Croatia Goes to War

Croatian President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) has addressed the nation through state television tonight in order to prepare them for upcoming war with Iraq. Only a week after expressing some doubts about war on state television, his latest address represents clear support for the position of US administration. Powell's UN expose is called "evidence", inspections shouldn't continue "indefinitely" and Croatia "has moral obligation to take part in war against terrorism".

Mesić probably took pragmatic approach. Many European leaders, especially those in impoverished ex-Communist countries like Croatia, couldn't care less about Iraq and many would probably oppose the war in private. But since Americans seem so determined to go to war, opposing USA would have little effect and supporting USA, on the other hand, could bring some political benefits.

Defence minister Antunović (Antunovic) has already announced Croatian logistical support for American invasion, while Foreign Ministry formally supported American position. The only doubters are in Sabor, and they are soon going to be silenced.

Of course, all that has little to do with Croatian public opinion. According to majority of polls, those supporting American invasion are in single digit numbers. But lack of popularity for such move doesn't concern current Croatian government. The issue is not of any practical value for Croatian citizens, at least for now.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

When Stupidity Becomes Contagious

If USA goes to war against Iraq, relying on support from countries like Croatia would be one of few reasons for Saddam to have some slim chance. In the eve of this conflict, Croatia practically lost its air force. The pilots started so-called "white strike", citing a huge list of grievances – some related to low wages, and many related to abysmal conditions of their flying machines. News about major discontent among pilots reached the media.

Yet, military pilots on strike are not the most scandalous thing in today's Croatia. Even more scandalous is the way Ministry of Defence reacted to this crisis. Croatia in its short history as an independent state didn't have much luck with their defence ministers, but hardly anyone is so utterly incompetent as Željka Antunović (Zeljka Antunovic). When confronted about crisis, she denied everything and instead threatened the potential whistleblowers with criminal proceedings for "spreading of false information" – the felony which was inherited into Croatian criminal law from Communist era and never used even in the darkest days of Tudjman's reign.

But Antunović didn't stop there. Few days later she admitted that Croatian Air Force indeed has problems with putting its planes in the air, and that they might be even situations when none of its jets is operational. Yet, in the same time, and with straight face, she said that "Croatian national security is not compromised". So, Croatia doesn't have an air force, but the national security is not compromised? Tell that to the next terrorist or lunatic who hijacks the plane and start circling over Zagreb.

On the other hand, Antunović's statements are hardly surprising, because she had plenty of opportunity to show her level of intelligence as somewhat lower-ranking member of Račan's (Racan's) SDP Nomenklatura. Some of her statements (like her telling people to read government-controlled (and virtually unread) Zagreb daily Vjesnik if they want to see real journalism) made her the godsend for HDZ propaganda. With her demeanour, image and lack of finesse and other
political skills, Antunović is almost indistinguishable from Communist-era aparatchicks, which is quite damaging for the party frequently being accused for each and every atrocity in Croatia from 1945 till 1990. Ironically, Antunović was never Communist; she got into SDP in 1994, when SDSH, her old and very anti-Communist party in early 1990s, merged with their Račan's people.

But Antunović is not alone in claiming that two and two equals five. On today's session of Sabor's Internal Policy & National Security Committee, its chairman Ante Markov (HSS) claimed that, despite all problems within the air force, Croatian national security is not compromised. So, stupidity in Croatia indeed can be contagious.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Formalities and S/M Union

The formal end of Yugoslavia – in the form of renaming/restructuring of the union between Serbia and Montenegro – caught very little attention in Croatian media. This might be surprising, because "Yugoslavia" was something of a cuss word in Tudjman years – synonym with everything evil and anti-Croatian. The formal end of the entity with such name, if it had happened some twelve or so years, could have caused fanfares in Croatia.

But today Croatians are silent. Twelve years after independence, eight years after the end of war and three years after the end of Tudjman's regime, anything east of Croatian borders is of little importance to an average Croatian. Things like sports triumphs or the doctors' strike are much more on average Croatian's mind. Even the most rabid Croatian nationalists seem to direct their hatred towards those Croats viewed as "not Croatian enough", like President Mesić (Mesic), rather than Serbs.

Besides, even if the end of "Yugoslavia" is really something Croatia should be happy about, Croatians themselves had very little or nothing to do with it.

Good News for Croatian Drug-Abusing Students?

Croatian government is most likely to drop the plans of obligatory drug testing of university students in public dormitories. Science and Technology minister Gvozden Flego said that there are "better ways to combat drug addiction" and that the "testing would be too expensive".

More likely explanation for Flego's change of heart could be found in avalanche of criticism from various student organisation and first traces of political activism among traditionally apathetic Croatian youth – all triggered by the proposed testing. Račan's (Racan's) government saw that the measure turned very unpopular among potential young voters, while the old and conservative weren't likely to be swayed by it. So, the matter was unceremoniously dropped. Flego, of course, follows good Croatian tradition and doesn't even think about resignation after such fiasco.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Croatian Handball and Right Wing

Croatian handballers share right-wing views with the rest of Croatian professional athletes. Today, during the public celebration of their World Championship win on Jelačić (Jelacic) Square in Zagreb, handballers insisted that Marko Perković Thompson (Marko Perkovic Thompson), singer known for his far right views, becomes a part of programme. Thompson sang few of his songs, including the one dedicated to Ante Gotovina, Croatian Army general who is currently hiding from ICTY war crimes indictment. Since many of some 50-80,000 people in the Zagreb main square supported this choice of music, Croatian right wing is definitely going to use this opportunity to show how popular it is among ordinary people less than a year before election.

However, President Mesić (Mesic), Croatian right-wingers' arch-nemesis, managed to score some PR points and win national heroes' hearts during the official audience in Presidential mansion. Some of his methods were a little bit drastic, as you might see on this photograph, but at least nobody could accuse Mesić of being distanced or alienated from his people.

Death of an Illusion

So far, I was angry only at Croatian DVD distributors for their mishandling of foreign titles – poor translation, chopping up original DVD content, dropping audio-commentaries, deleted scenes etc. But tonight I saw that even those that handle only cinema titles can also mess things up.

I came to watch Intimacy, the film best known for the scene in which Kerry Fox, otherwise "legitimate" actress, does on screen something that was until now only in the domain of X-rated cinema. But the most shocking thing happened long before – when I realised that Ms. Fox, Timothy Spall and everyone else in this London-based film is going to speak French. Nothing wrong with that, but the illusion began to shatter. Due to American cultural imperialism, the audience is accustomed to hear non-American (and non-English) characters speak English between themselves, but the opposite seems unnatural. But the real crime was the translation – obviously done by someone who had only English text and never bothered to check whether the characters' lines have anything to do with the events on screen. This is so far the most unpleasant cinema surprise I had in 2003.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

Croatia has won the World Handball Championship. Streets of Split were unsafe few hours ago, due to hundreds of people expressing their joy with guns. Croatian state television has even interrupted its regular news program in order to air last couple of minutes of the final game between Croatian and German national team.

This victory is going to be great news, but only for couple of months. Few Croatians now remember any triumph that doesn't include soccer. They ignore Iva Majoli and her Roland Garros win, and even Ivanišević (Ivanisevic) and his Wimbledon miracle is slowly fading from national memory.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Victory Tradition

Croatian handball team has just snatched the win in their epic battle with Spaniards and thus secured the spot in the World Championship finals. Unlike Kostelićs (Kostelics), handballers are considered all-Croatian and good citizens of Split followed tradition by firing shots in the air.

Macabre Coincidence

Only few days ago I wrote a review of Apollo 13 – movie that portrays the incident in many ways similar to today's tragedy.

Space Shuttle Going Down?

I intended to write about stuff like World Handball Championship, notoriously inaccurate predictions about Croatian parliamentary elections, IMDb forgetting to put some of my movie reviews in their database… But all I can think about right now is space shuttle Columbia. Whatever happened with that spacecraft, it suddenly put all those petty Earth issues into cosmic perspective.