Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Not So Comfortably Numb

Good people of Nova TV weren't as squeamish as their colleagues at CNN and BBC so Croatian audience had the opportunity to watch today's images from Fallujah in loving detail.

I watched them and I didn't feel a thing. I guess that I got numb after watching so much of the same (and some worse) stuff on Croatian television screens in early 1990s.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Denis Latin's Euro Shock

March 29th 2004 would enter history books as the day when Euroscepticism became the force to be reckoned in Croatia.

That happened in Latinica, Denis Latin's popular TV talk show. Last evening's instalment gathered panel to discuss pros and contras of Croatian entry into EU. The discussion was interesting, but not as much as the results of phone poll being conducted among viewers.

According to the poll, 82 % of Croatians (at least those to watch Latin's show) are against Croatian entry into EU.

To say that this result is shocking would be understatement. I'm quite certain that it would be ignored by political parties and media establishment, at least for a first few days. Than the convenient excuses (poor polling techniques, vote stuffing by fanatics etc.) would be found.

Yet, despite all the flaws in polling techniques and poll definitely not being accurate representation of Croatian general population's attitudes towards EU, last night's poll represents important precedent. So far not a single poll conducted in Croatia ever gave majority to Eurosceptics.

But the number of Eurosceptics have been on the rise in past few years. Two or three years ago, Croatians opposed to EU had single digit numbers. Recently this number rose between 10-20%. The most anti-EU polls gave Eurosceptics around 20-25%.

Needless to say, Croatian popular opposition towards EU was unimaginable. If there is one issue to unite all Croatian political parties, this is necessity of Croatian entry into EU, which must happen as soon as possible. Of course, various parties want Croatia in EU for various reasons. Most of Croatian right-wingers see Croatian membership of EU as validation of Tudjman's dreams – Croatia is finally going to become part of Western, civilised Europe, unlike their Asiatic barbaric neighbours from Balkans. Croatian leftwingers, on the other hand, see Croatian membership in EU as a guarantee that Croatia, as part of liberal, democratic, multi-ethnic and multi-religious Europe, would never succumb to 1990s levels of ethnic chauvinism and authoritarian rule. Those Croatians who didn't care about politics saw EU as solution of all of Croatia's economic problems – big nanny that would flood Croatia with billions of euros of economic aid and immediately transform former Yugoslav republic into "Adriatic tiger.

Relatively clear prospects of Croatian entry into EU began to change all that, at least when the general population is concerned. Just like in Poland and other soon-to-become-EU-members farmers began to grumble. HSS, trying to rediscover its populist essence after 2003 election fiasco, began to exploit their fears. HSP, being right-wing party, began to exploit Croatian chauvinism and xenophobia by expressing worries about Croatian real estate being sold to foreigners.

Despite potential dangers, the rise of Euroscepticism in Croatia isn't something to be worried of. On the contrary, it represents another sign of Croatia's political maturity. Pro-EU consensus that reigned over Croatian popular opinion was impediment to healthy debate about the issue. The mere fact of this important subject being discussed is serious improvement compared with the similar occasions in Croatia's past.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Another Femme Fatale

Domovinskog rata Street, not very far from Slobodna Dalmacija building, was the briefly turned into battleground on Thursday.

Nine pupils of "Braća Radić" (Braca Radic) Agricultural High School from Kaštel-Štafilić (Kastel-Stafilic) were facing six pupils of Split Industrial High School, all natives of Dugopolje.

Brief battle waged with wooden and metal sticks had been arranged via SMS. It didn't last long because police intervened very quickly. Five boys were arrested, while one later turned himself in, having suffered small bruise.

A day later police had set patrols around "Braća Radić" after reports of Split Industrial High School pupils organising 30-men strong penal expedition armed with knives and pistols.

The alleged cause of the feud was a girl from Kaštela. She had been apparently maltreated by couple of Split pupils few days earlier. Kaštela boys have arranged the battle in order to defend her honour.

It is comforting to know that the ancient values of honour and chivalry are being passed to the younger generations of Croatia.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Goodbye HRT3

The last three films to be aired on HRT3 are Being There, Bonnie and Clyde and Amarcord.

Before that HRT3 aired Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Robert Altman's McCabe and Mrs. Miller.

This is another sad reminder that the Croatian TV audience would probably lose an opportunity to watch classic films.

New HRTL channel and HRT Plus (new cable/satellite channel of HRT) are going to be commercially oriented. Films to be aired there are going to be new and only from Hollywood (in other words, worse than they used to be on HRT).

[ADMINISTRATIVE] Croatian Blogroll Additions

Not one, but two new Croatian blogs.

First one is All About Istra, issue-based blog in which you can find plenty of stuff about tourism, ecology and other issues important to people of Istria, Croatia's westernmost and most prosperous region.

Another one is Wicked Queen, Livejournal written by bisexual woman from Osijek and accomplished author of Britney Spears fan fiction (via Zec).

Saturday, March 27, 2004

What People Eat, What People Think and What Some People Smoke

If Godwin's Law is to be applied outside the realm of Internet discussions, than PETA suffered its own equivalent of Waterloo with the campaign equating the treatment of animals with Holocaust.

Citizens of Croatia were introduced to this campaign few days ago in Zagreb through expo held on Jelačić Square (Jelacic Square). The campaign didn't create much commotion. Outrage was expressed by prominent members of Croatian Jewish community and human rights activists, while Zagreb city authorities claimed that they hadn't got a slightest idea of what the expo would really look like.

It is very unlikely that PETA would win many hearts and minds with that stunt. At best, they are going to be considered as spoiled rich and immature kids with too much time on their hands and little grasp of other, more important issues. Even their fellow environmentalists would try to disassociate from them, because PETA exhibitionism only distracts public attention from other, more important environmental issues.

More worrisome thing about PETA is their stunts in recent times show more and more of the same fanaticism that bred terrorism in the past. Some animal rights activists have already crossed the line that separates civilised people from cold blooded murderers. Even more worrisome is the fact that the cabal of sensationalist media and spoiled celebrities is only going to promote their cause and give it more importance that they deserve or can claim based on their popularity.

Those very stunts in the long run would, of course, only hurt PETA because they would be perceived as bunch of lunatics. They would hurt even the more sensible and moderate animal rights activists because the public would put them in the same basket with dangerous kooks.

But there is additional danger coming from Holocaust/animal cruelty campaign.

PETA started this campaign thinking that the people would stop eating meat, wearing fur coats and using other animal products because doing so would make them feel guilty and scared of being on the same moral footing with Nazis.

Consider possibility of people actually buying PETA line and seeing no difference between killing of animals and Holocaust.

And consider that killing of animals can be justified for whole variety of cultural, economic, medical and biological reasons.

And that some people as misguided as PETA could come to the frighteningly simple conclusion based on the reasoning above.

In the very city of Zagreb, which is supposed to be Croatia's most cosmopolitan, "progressive" and hip place, spoiled upper-class brats subscribed or likely to adopt vegan ideology are easily outnumbered by masses of angry youths from decaying blue collar suburbs.

Not paying much attention to PETA stunt might be good thing for Croatian media and Croatia in general.

Friday, March 26, 2004

The Counter

HRT 3, third channel of Croatian state television, is going off the air on March 28th. HRT is reminding audience of that with a counter in the upper right corner of the screen.

The frequency had been sold to RTL and the new programme, called RTL Hrvatska (or HRTL) was supposed to start on January 1st. But for various reasons the start was postponed, allowing HRT to keep its third channel and stuff it with operas, classical music concerts, art-oriented movies and any kind of programme which is not supposed to be part of commercial television.

Not that long ago, HRT 3 was the sports channel of HRT. This kind of programme was phased out and all the sports was stuffed into HRT1 and HRT2. Other content – sport, pop music, movies and TV shows – also had to be realigned. All that happened at the expense of education, politics, minority (but not religious programmes).

Increased competition from Nova TV and HRTL is going to affect HRT even further. Following enormous success of Story Supernova and Hrvatski idol, HRT is going to start with its own reality/talents show, designed to fill the cast of something which is supposed to be first Croatian movie musical.

If the standards of Hrvatski idol are to be applied to new HRT show, it would in many ways resemble policies of Roman Empire. Roman government invested large sums into mass entertainment featuring pathetic individuals being subjected to all kinds of humiliation and torture. HRT, institution financed by Croatian taxpayers, might reinstate this millennia-old tradition.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Inspecting the Inspectors

It seems that every week brings another major scandal involving Croatian high ranking officials.

Branko Jordanić (Branko Jordanic), national Inspector General and scourge of all shopkeepers who dared to work on Sundays, has apparently broken the law while renovating his wife's house in Donja Garic at island of Krk. Building inspectors have found that Jordanić and his wife, while adding two floors to their house, never bothered to seek building permit.

It is expected that the construction would be pulled down and Jordanić, after some clumsy attempts to explain his actions, is widely expected to resign on Friday.

Saved By Rain

Following couple of beautiful warm days, Split experienced real deluge yesterday.

Rain that fell probably matched the mood of Hajduk Split fans. Town's soccer team lost match with Cibalia 0-1 and thus got knocked out of Cup. Dreams of winning the double crown this year (Cup and national championship) were shattered.

Thankfully, hard rain discouraged fans from gathering at Poljud Stadium in large numbers. Only 1500 of the appeared and after the game, being soaking wet, they had little inclination of expressing their displeasure in their usual way.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

New European Age of Terror

Madrid bombings and the subsequent Spanish election upset is probably the most worrisome political development in Europe in recent memory. It not only shows the utter vulnerability of Europe to terrorism, it also shows that, under certain circumstances, terror works. With such precedent it is almost certain that the terrorists would continue to employ similar tactics hoping to scare governments and electorates into submission.

Problem is even worse that most people in Europe are willing to admit.

Because, Muslim fanatics aren't the only people willing to use terror in order to bend governments and nations to their will. And Middle East issues aren't the only issues that could be seen worthy of terror.

In other words, seeing apparent success of al-Qaeda, many non-Muslim terrorists would try to emulate their success.

The most spectacular demonstration of what lies ahead for Europe was Sunday's soccer game between SS Lazio and AS Roma, two teams from Rome known for their rivalry and current financial problems. The high risk game was abandoned after sudden and mysterious escalation of fan violence.

Now Roberto Maroni, Italian minister of interiors, claims that the violence was organised. Rival soccer hooligan groups have found some sort of understanding and started violence with a very specific aim of ending financial woes of their beloved clubs. The idea was to blackmail government into reducing clubs' huge tax debts that threaten to eject Lazio and Roma from Italian top soccer division.

Few weeks ago this might have looked like a pipe dream, but after Spanish elections any group of European thugs can expect their threats to be taken more seriously than before. And government's response is more likely to be appeasement than it was before.

Unless some European government makes a resolute gesture of defiance and rejection to threats, the Old Continent is entering the new age of terror.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Talk Is Cheap

Croatian might have different opinions on many things, but in one thing they stand united. According to opinion polls, around 80-90 % of them rejected American invasion of Iraq and equally the same number is opposed to sending Croatian troops to peacekeeping mission in Iraq.

Those views are shared by people who vote SDP and those who HDZ, by people whose ancestors in WW2 wore red star and those whose ancestor in WW2 wore letter "U" on their caps, by people who would smash any car with Hajduk Split symbols or and people who would torch cars with Dinamo Zagreb insignia.

Interestingly enough, when time comes for Croatians to express their vox dei by some concrete action, all this popular discontent is never to be seen.

Good example is yesterday's anti-war demonstration in Zagreb. Just like in any other country, local peace and leftist activists have organised public gathering, including a petition demanding that Croatian Army doesn't go to Iraq. The site of the demonstration was perfect – Jelačić (Jelacic) Square in the middle of Zagreb, site of many similar gathering in past, including famous November 1996 demonstrations when citizens of Zagreb for the first (and last) time publicly and successfully defied Tudjman's will. The weather was also wonderful, a warm March day perfect for public demonstrations.

However, just like one year ago, ridiculously small number of people has shown up – 112, according to Djermano Ćićo Senjanović (Djermano Cico Senjanovic) in today's Slobodna Dalmacija. Petition gathered some 10,000 signatures.

This might be disappointing, but, on the other hand, it also can be expression of Croatians' common sense. Why should they demonstrate, risk riots destroying their cities, have their names in secret police files or have their kidneys rearranged by police batons and water canons when the cause they are supposed to be demonstrate for is already winning?

Following flood of criticism after his controversial statement in Israel, foreign minister Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul) is fighting for his political survival. Jutarnji list reporters were emboldened enough to investigate minister's finances and lucky enough to find some irregularities with his tax returns. Žužul, widely seen as one of the most pro-American voices in Sanader's governments, had to answer to those and other accusations in today's Nedjeljom u 2 show. There he used opportunity to announce complete U-turn in some of his policies.

He said that Croatia won't sign treaty with USA that forbids extradition of American citizens to International Criminal Court. Just like his predecessors in Račan's (Racan's) government, he defends this obviously pragmatic decision (signing of the treaty would be political suicide in times when Croatian generals get shipped to Hague) with the desire to coordinate foreign policy with EU whose diplomats are violently opposed to treaty.

More interesting is Žužul's flip-flop on Croatian military deployment to Iraq. He admitted that the sending of Croatian troops would be "impossible" at this particular moment.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Pretty Churches, Pretty Mosques and Not So Pretty Flames

When the violence erupted in Kosovo, many feared that it could spill over to Bosnia and thus almost instantly erase all the results of Western peacemaking efforts in that country for the past nine years.

The violence indeed did spill over, but so far it seems to be an isolated incident. Orthodox church in town of Bugojno, which is situated in Muslim-Croat Federation part of Bosnia and populated mainly by Bosniacs (Muslims), has been set alight.

Good news is that the arsonists did their dirty work under cover of night. It seems that there weren't that many of them (unlike Kosovo and Serbia, where the torching has been committed by mobs). Furthermore, the fire was quickly extinguished by local firefighters and every politician in Bosnia, regardless of ethnicity or "entity", is appealing for calm. According to Bosnian authorities, local police has already started interrogating suspects.

At least in short term, Bosnia will remain calm. For whole variety of reasons – ethnic, cultural, economic, political, military – that country looks like Switzerland compared to Kosovo.

Much worse incidents in the past – Croat family in Central Bosnia being massacred at 2002 Christmas Eve by local Muslim fundamentalist – failed to spur the cycle of tit-for-tat violence.

Friday, March 19, 2004

[ADMINISTRATIVE] Blogroll Addition

Living in Europe added. Some links are updated.

Some Sort of Closure

Increased ICTY efforts to prosecute Croatian generals and other high-ranking officials for alleged ethnic cleansing of "Krajina" during Operation Storm in 1995 are overshadowing another, less spectacular trial. That trial is supposed to bring closure to the affair that used to be the most shameful and embarrassing episode both for Tudjman and Račan (Racan).

Vesna Levar and her son Leon are suing Croatian state for 750,000 HRK (cca. 100,000 €) of damages resulting from the death of their husband and father Milan Levar in 2000.

Milan Levar, veteran of 1991-95 war, was in the small group of Croatian officials trying to expose the truth about massacre of ethnic Serb civilians that had occurred in Croatian-controled town of Gospić (Gospic)in Autumn 1991. Their efforts, which would ultimately lead to the conviction of General Mirko Norac in 2003, brought attention of ICTY. Unlike most of his comrades that had taken shelter outside Croatian border, Levar decided to remain in his hometown of Gospić. ICTY gave status of witness to Levar and demanded that Croatian government provide security to Levar and his family. Tudjman's government did, while Račan's didn't – in 2000 Levar was killed by a bomb planted at his front yard. The perpetrators of the crime were never apprehended.

Levars are now suing the state, claiming that Croatian government failed in its obligation to protect ICTY witness. It is widely expected that the trial would end with settlement.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Foreign Ministers and Foreign Views

Croatian foreign minister Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul) risks becoming the most unpopular of all high-ranking members of Sanader's government.

At least this is the conclusion you might get from the avalanche of condemnations following Žužul's visit to Israel and views expressed during the joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart Silvan Shalom.

The statement about Israel apparently not having anyone to negotiate with on Palestinian side coincided with Croatian President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) touring Arab countries. It is all but certain that Mesić had to spend much time explaining the true meaning of Žužul's statement and his position within Croatian government.

Žužul has earned enmity of many within Croatian public with his relentless push for Croatian troops to go to Iraq and assist US-led coalition. This policy, was advocated by his predecessor Tonino Picula and former defence minister Željka Antunović (Zeljka Antunovic). Both of those loyal followers of SDP leader and former prime minister Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) who has lambasted Žužul statement.

Not long ago, sending Croatian troops in Iraq looked like a done deal. But following Madrid atrocity, Spain (and apparently Poland) prematurely ending their military presence in Iraq and with Croatian public overwhelmingly opposed to any policy related to Bush, those plans would have to be postponed if not totally discarded.

Not long ago, Tudjman dreamed of establishing close relations with Israel in order to gain US support and fend off all accusations of modern Croatia being associated with Nazism. Ironically, when this dream became close to reality, Tudjman's successors are going to find close relations between Croatia and Israel to be utterly counter-productive - they might harm Croatian ties with EU and Islamic world and they might make current Croatian government utterly unpopular.

Using Intelligence

One of the major political developments in Croatia past week was the change at the head of POA, Croatian intelligence agency. Its director Franjo Turek was replaced by Joško Podbevšek (Josko Podbevsek), 34-year old intelligence operative who, according to official biography, became involved in intelligence business only four years ago. If that is true, that represent something of a positive development, because Podbevšek is uncompromised with any of the abuses Croatian intelligence services during Tudjman's era.

On the other hand, Ivo Pukanić (Ivo Pukanic) of Nacional isn't that happy with Turek's departure. In the latest issue he blamed it on the cabal made of President Stjepan Mesić (Stjepan Mesic), prime minister Ivo Sanader and chief ICTY prosecutor Carla del Ponte. According to Pukanić, Turek served as a scapegoat for Croatia's failure to deliver General Ante Gotovina, one of ICTY chief war suspects. Carla del Ponte was accusing Croatian intelligence services of helping Gotovina or at least showing complete lack of effort to track him down.

I Hope They Are Right…

…with the estimates because if they aren't, I have approximately one hour before anything I write in this blog becomes totally irrelevant.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Unfinished Business

While other countries look forward to the coming of spring, that particular season in this particular part of the world brings nothing good, at least judging by the events of recent history. Wars in Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia – they all either erupted or escalated in springtime.

It fear that the latest unpleasantness in Kosovska Mitrovica fits that sad historical pattern.

Five years earlier came one of those springtime escalations – the one that chase Milosevic's thugs out of Kosovo and was supposed to start process resulting with new, democratic, pro-Western or at least "reformed nationalist" governments in all former Yugoslav states or "entities". They are all dedicated to opening new pages in their national histories, rejecting their past and re-embracing their neighbours in the spirit of tolerance, co-operation and joint future in united Europe.

Of course, when people in Bosnia use their newly discovered democratic rights to bring back to power the very people that led them to slaughter, when people in Croatia elect followers of Franjo Tudjman, when "democrats" in Serbia have to make coalition with followers of Slobodan Milošević (Slobodan Milosevic) and when the plane carrying president of Macedonia goes down in circumstances that would inspire script for at least few Oliver Stone's movies, Western media (and bloggers) don't seem to notice.

I admit that some other issues, like the Madrid atrocity or the latest bombing in Baghdad are more important. But complete lack of concern for this part of world would gradually and inevitably make things much worse before they get better.

On a related note, even Slovenians don't seem to escape the springtime curse that plagued their southern neighbours and former federal partners, at least judging by this escalation of violence.

New Batch

Only a week after Monday's flight that took Mladen Markač (Mladen Markac) and Ivan Čermak (Ivan Cermak), Croatian media is speculating about two more Croatian generals are going to face indictments at ICTY. This time, alleged indictments are related to war in Bosnia, namely the period that featured hostilities between Bosnian Croat militia HVO and forces loyal to Alija Izetbegovic's Muslim-dominated government.

Two generals used to command HVO during those times. First one, Milivoj Petković (Milivoj Petkovic) has already been in Hague as a witness during the trial against General Tihofil Blaškić (Tihofil Blaskic), later sentenced to 45 years for massacre of Muslim civilians in village of Ahmići (Ahmici).

The other general Slobodan Praljak, probably has the most interesting biography of all war crimes suspect. He started as a film director, was active in politics as founder of one Croatia's nationalist parties in 1990, but his greatest moment of fame came in 1991 when he became commander of Croatian forces in strategically important village of Sunja near Sisak. His force, which, among others, included prominent Croatian actor and WW2 Partisan Sven Lasta in the role of sniper, successfully held its position earning Praljak great deal of fame.

His role of Bosnian Croat commander was less successful and brought him lot of infamy, mostly due to his controversial decision to destroy famous 16th Century bridge in Herzegovina capital of Mostar, at those times divided between warring Croats and Muslims. Image of bridge falling down infuriated international and even some large sections of Croatian public, but Praljak remained unrepentant and used every opportunity to defend his decision.

If Praljak goes to Hague, his trial is going to be among the more entertaining.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Sanader in Jasenovac

After President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) who broke the ice few years ago and ex-Communist former prime minister Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) who grudgingly followed his example trying to win some votes, current prime minister Ivo Sanader has visited Jasenovac Memorial Complex today. His visit, in honour of successful restoration of monument by Bogdan Bogdanović (Bogdan Bogdanovic) was so far the most radical gesture of HDZ leaders distancing themselves and modern Croatia from Ustasha past. It was also opportunity for Croatian media to use different approaches towards that painful and controversial subjects.

State television emphasised those parts of Sanader's speech in which he lambasted "crimes of the past" and made them "unacceptable for Europe". Nova TV, private television that sometimes panders to right-wing crowd, told only about Sanader debunking Serb myth of "700 thousands Serbs killed in Jasenovac".

Monday, March 15, 2004

Croatian Book War

Last week Jutarnji List didn't just re-wrote history of Croatian newspaper publishing with free copies of Umberto Eco's book. Their arch-rivals, Zagreb daily Večernji List (Vecernji List), quickly responded by firing its marketing chief and launching the similar actions of their own. Today their offered free copy of book by Veljko Barbieri, showing that their choice of free or bargain books is going to be limited to Croatian authors.

In the meantime, Croatian book publishers are up in arms over the stunt that could destroy book publishing business in Croatia. Idea of Croatian people getting used to free or 20-30 HRK worth of books (average Croatian book is sold for 100 HRK) is scary. Although most of those bargain books are going to be unread, while real book lovers won't mind higher prices.

In the meantime, the practice has spread to other parts of former Yugoslavia. Belgrade's Večernje Novosti (Vecernje Novosti) and Sarajevo's Dani have launched similar stunts.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Greatest Triumph of Osama Bin Laden?

As I wrote in previous post, under normal circumstances I would have been delighted with the idea of Aznar's government paying for its arrogance and for embroiling the nation into war against the wishes of the people.

Based on all normal political criteria, there is nothing wrong with PP losing elections. Even with Spanish economy and living standard being better than eight years ago, citizens have right to bring new governments. Especially if that government spectacularly failed in what is always supposed to be the primary task of any government – providing security for its citizens.

Under all criteria, the choice of Spanish people is legitimate and it must be respected.

All that doesn't mean this choice is wise. Under these particular circumstances, it represents exactly the worst thing that could have happened not only for Spain, but for Europe and the rest of civilised, democratic world.

It clearly shows that some liberal democracies in today's world lie on much weaker foundations that most people would like to believe.

Nobody in their right mind could deny that the election results weren't affected by Thursday's bombing. Few would argue against that atrocity having important if not decisive effect on the composition of future Spanish parliament. Certain events after the bombing show that the bombing itself, no matter who had carried out, was just part of the plan with the ultimate aim of affecting elections.

It is near certain that, if that aim existed, it is achieved.

It is clear that relatively small groups of dangerous fanatics is able to bring down governments of modern, prosperous and stable liberal democracies. If PSOE, Spanish ruling party-elect, applies policies promised of their election platforms, Spanish troops are going to be pulled out of Iraq and possibly even from Afghanistan, with added pressure for other European governments (including German and Croatian) to do the same.

This also shows that citizens of Europe, when faced with dilemma, would always prefer easy way. In Spanish that less unpleasant alternative was redirecting outrage and anger towards easily punishable government rather than towards dangerous but elusive group of murderous fanatics. The rationale for voting PSOE among Spaniards was idea that Spain has to distance itself from policies of George W. Bush and that this U-turn would somehow bring less risk for Spaniards' security and living standards.

Fact that multitude of usually apathetic young voters came to polls in record numbers indicates that this was the case. Those young people grew up in one of the most prosperous periods of Spanish history and enjoyed good, carefree life undreamed even by their fathers. They aren't going to risk all that by supporting the abstract war they don't understand nor support. Standing up to terrorism is hard way, succumbing to their demands is easy way.

Popularity of "easy way", the same "easy way" that once led to things like Munich Treaty of horrors in my part of the world, show that Osama Bin Laden, if he is directly or indirectly responsible for Madrid, scored a great victory, even greater than 9-11.

In 2001 he showed that USA was vulnerable notion made of mortal men who can bleed like anyone else. In 2004 he showed that once powerful nations can be bent to terrorists' will.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Spanish Dilemma

The arrests that indicate Islamist origin of the Madrid atrocity and all that happening barely 12 hours before national elections only show how complicated and dangerous world has become.

Under normal circumstances, I would have been delighted with the prospect of Aznar's PP being voted out of office. Aznar's government has embroiled Spain in Iraq war against the will of overwhelming majority of Spanish people. Nothing could be more democratic than people having opportunity to force their will by ballots.

However, after Thursday's carnage, I'm not so enthusiastic about PP being defeated at the polls.

Whether Aznar's government deserves to be booted or not isn't the issue here. The question that is going to be answered tomorrow is the issue of Spain (and Western Europe in general) having a stomach for policies that might be unpleasant, hard or detrimental to the high living standards and prosperity generations of Spaniards (and Western Europeans) were taking for granted.

In other words, if Spanish voters, as many analysts and pundits have predicted, react to the Islamist origin of assassins by linking the atrocity with Iraq War and voting against Aznar, that would be a clear sign that the collective will of an entire nation could be swayed by a small number of fanatics.

This evening's demonstrations in front of PP offices show that the terrorists have at least partially achieved that aim. Thousands of Spaniards, instead of blaming the terrorists, are taking the easy way and blame the government. And break Spanish electoral laws in the process. Spanish democracy has suffered first major wound in this struggle.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Preferable Villains

Diane admits that she would prefer ETA to be responsible for yesterday's Madrid atrocity. It would reduce all that horror to strictly internal European thing that doesn't affect anyone outside Old Continent, especially not USA, separated by oceans and spared from centuries-old tribal feuds between European tribes. On the other hand, al Qaeda's participation in the attack would only make the world uglier, showing that nobody in this world is beyond their reach.

For us who live on this side of Big Pond, it is the other way around. At least I would prefer al Qaeda to be behind this, and for a very simple reason. This tragedy, if it is result of al Qaeda's actions, makes some perverse sense. If al Qaeda did this, they did it for what seems to be specific political reason and with rational aim – to punish Spanish government for its participation in Iraq occupation. This atrocity being part of some cold calculated master plan makes world a little bit simpler and less uncertain and because of that us Europeans can have at least broad idea how to deal with it.

But I don't think we are that lucky. Idea of ETA being responsible (and most of that organisation's history and forensic evidence still points towards that direction) is deeply disturbing to most Europeans. It shows not only that "centuries-old feuds" are still there to undermine the "enlightened, kind and gentle" Western Europe; it shows that politics can still be led by pure irrationality and that within the Europe itself there are murderous lunatics with abilities to match their evil desires. Murderous lunatics who aren't easily identifiable by their clothes, strange names or certain anatomical details – murderous lunatics who look exactly like "normal" Europeans and are supposed to belong to European mainstream.

Accepting that some seemingly rational, "organised" people act based on purely irrational basis is hard, sometimes even impossible. The path that led to WW2 and many events during it is covered with wrong presumptions of other man's rationality and common sense. Even in more recent times and in this part of world we had actions that went beyond any, even the most sinister "master plan" or common sense. For example, what Bosnian Serbs had to gain by butchering few thousand people in the very moment every Western government was seeking convenient excuse to bomb them?

Listening to "experts" pointing fingers towards al Qaeda based on some flimsy evidence (van, detonators and Koran audio-tape purchased in store) or based on the mere scale of the attack or casualties is depressing. Those "experts", just like most ordinary Europeans, want to reduce this chaotic horror to some sort of order.

And forget some lessons from the past. Just because the attack was so deadly, it doesn't mean it was "well-planned" or "sophisticated". Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka don't have anything to do with Islam and they were doing same stuff for decades. And pair of "white trash" losers didn't need much organisation and sophistication for Oklahoma City bombing. I also don't remember that there were many al Qaeda operatives in Bologna 1980.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Those Lovable Bomb Planters

Mind works in interesting ways. When I heard about today's carnage in Madrid, I remembered another sort of atrocity.

Jackal, Hollywood's 1997 remake of 1973 thriller classic The Day of the Jackal, apart from being awfully bad film, had some, at times, interesting approach to world's problems. The only major Hollywood production ever to mention ETA presents this organisation in the form of lovable freedom fighter and Good Guys' ally, played by charming Mathilda May.

Yes, the movie was made long time before 9-11 and Hollywood screenwriters and producers still had romantic notions about European terrorism, utterly convinced that things like terrorism happen only to those who deserve it and that such things could never become reality in good old USA.

I just hope that someone would remember this film and that people responsible for it would get at least a tiniest bit of reaction Mel Gibson got for Passion.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Voting Age in California

Couple of Californian Democratic legislators want to lower that state's voting age to 14. Interesting idea, although their proposal of 14-15 year-olds having quarter and 16-17 year-olds half a vote is flawed, unprincipled and would only lead to Florida-like complications.

Needless to say, the motive for this proposal looks strictly political. It would have effect only in those voting groups with large numbers of teen children, and in California those happen to be Hispanics. Furthermore, teenagers who are politically active tend to be radical and often very far to the left.

I don't think anything would come out of this. If it does, it may fuel another reform I had blogged about before - giving parents proxy votes for their children.

Book Lovers

Instances when Croatian daily newspapers make news by themselves are quite rare. Jutarnji list did just that yesterday by offering free copy of Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose together with its last issue.

The results of this promotional actions were spectacular. Newspaper, which is normally available until evening hours, has vanished from newsstands in the earliest hours of morning. There were even reports of fistfights between those who wanted to buy the last copy on the newsstand.

Of course, all that doesn't mean that hundreds of thousands of Croatians suddenly became intellectuals nor are they fans of Umberto Eco's literary work. The mere fact of rather expensive and luxury item being offered for free was enough to arouse primal instincts of greed.

One year from now you would be able to ask wide majority of Jutarnji list readers any question about of Umberto Eco's book and receive blank stares as the only response.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Prison Cells and Radical Moves

According to Dnevnik, Novi Sad daily, Slobodan Milošević (Slobodan Milosevic), former president of Serbia, now on war crimes trial in Hague, is seriously considering one of the most important moves of his political career. That career didn't end with his arrest and spectacular handover to Hague three years ago. From his prison cell he maintained clout over his supporters in SPS party.

That clout, however, seemed to diminish with years, especially after he had to share Hague prison with another Serbian political leader – Vojislav Šešelj (Vojislav Seselj) of the extreme nationalist SRS party. Šešelj's decision to voluntarily surrender to Tribunal didn't diminish his popularity or popularity of his party, which had nearly won last parliamentary elections in Serbia.

SPS, once the ruling party, is now reduced to relatively minor status with 22 out of 250 seats in Serbian parliament. To make things worse, the only way for SPS to get out of the shadow of SRS and re-establish some clout in Serbia was through helping Koštunica (Kostunica) and other parties of his "pro-Western" bloc form minority government. Koštunica later defended this, previously unimaginable, deal by claiming that SPS was "reformed and had nothing to do with the old party that had had power in Serbia in 1990s".

It seems that Milošević tends to agree with Koštunica. According to Dnevnik, former Serbian strongman disapproved of the candidates picked for Parliament seats. None of them belonged to the most loyal of Milošević's supporters or those who had helped him organise his spirited defence in Hague. He is contemplating expressing his displeasure in most spectacular way possible – by formally leaving SPS and joining Šešelj's SRS.

This move, if it happens, would undoubtedly strip away last vestiges of power Milošević had over his former supporters in Serbia. It is difficult to see how this would affect SRS. The only force to profit from this move would be Koštunica. SPS, now formally without Milošević, is going to be more digestible for foreign diplomats and aid donors.

In the short term, the biggest winner would be Šešelj. With his former patron, ally and rival now humbled to the status of his supporter, he would become the most powerful of all ICTY detainees. And between the walls of Scheveningen prison this amounts to something.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Happy Women's Day!

To all female readers of this blog.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

[ADMINISTRATIVE] New Blogroll Addition

Another blog addition to come from Croatia's neighbourhood (sort of) is @rgumente, Romania-based blog.

Brave New Times

Sanader's government obviously didn't waste much time developing scandals of its own. Less than three months after taking office, four of its top officials were involved in major controversy.

The last is Mladen Kovačić (Mladen Kovacic), member of Croatian Healthcare Fund's board. One week ago he called couple of journalists to dinner and, according to reporters' testimonies, tried to offer them large sums of money in exchange for positive coverage of his institution.

Officials being involved in illegal and unethical practices are hardly new to Croatia, but this time there is one major difference. Unlike the old times, media – more due to intense competition than due to sudden burst of moralistic notions – is willing not only to report about those things but actually go to the jugular. This time they felt personally offended and they did not only declined Kovačić's offer, but actually reported about it.

Of course, Andrija Hebrang, Croatian health minister, tried to defend his man by accusing reporters of hypocrisy and threatening to publish documents detailing Račan's (Racan's) government having same kind of fruitful relationship with media. Quality of Hebrang's evidence was, apparently, insufficient to sway public opinion and only created even more outrage towards new government. In such circumstances, Hebrang was left with no other option but to ask Kovačić to resign, which he did.

This affair shows how Croatia actually progressed in recent years. A decade, idea of bribing reporters was inconceivable to Tudjman's government. In those days reporters were supposed to write only what they were ordered to.

News, Speed and Integrity

One day in Spring 1996 Večernji list (Vecernji list), daily newspaper from Zagreb, published an article about US Commerce secretary Ron Brown flying to Zagreb from Dubrovnik and meeting with top Croatian officials.

The article wasn't different from many boring displays of protocols having a royal treatment in Croatian media during Tudjman's years. The difference was, however, in article contradicting the issue's front page. Ron Brown and his entourage didn't make it to Zagreb. Their plane crashed into mountain shortly after take-off resulting in the most spectacular such incident in history of modern Croatia.

The article in question was later used as one of the more telling examples of media losing its standards under authoritarian governments.

However, such things can happen even in seemingly more enlightened countries of liberal democracy. I was reminded of 1996 anecdote after reading about the way some US networks tried to break news of Martha Stewart's acquittal.

Friday, March 05, 2004

New Hopes

I watched the first instalment of Story Supernova Multi Talents. The basic idea is similar to Story Supernova Music Talents, but the difference is in the show trying to discover new talents in areas different than music. Only two areas I have noticed are modelling and acting. The jury is composed of professional actors Zihah Sokolović (Zijah Sokolovic) and Željko Koenigsknecht (Zeljko Koenigsknecht) together with young and popular TV show host Anja Alavanja.

During the episode I didn't pay much attention to modelling candidate. I was more interested in aspiring actors, hoping that this show might in some weird way result in better on-screen acting than the one provided by hacks coming out of Zagreb Drama Academy. At the end, my hopes were dashed. Most of the candidates were young, inexperienced and unable to improvise. Ironically, the best impression was given by a girl who had her entire act in English.

Even more telling were little acting sketches made by Alavanja and her colleague Dorijan Elezović (Dorijan Elezovic). They were designed to be badly acted, but, not so surprisingly, compared with most of the candidates Alavanja and Elezović look like Meryl Streep and Marlon Brando.

New Generations

One week ago the hottest media story in Croatia was spectacular kidnapping of 17-year old Tomislav Zagorec in Zagreb. The public was informed about it only after the youth's release and allegedly some 750.000 € being paid to kidnapers. The media, which had followed police recommendations and kept the lid on the case, was awarded by series of press conferences detailing the arrests of the kidnappers' gang which included 21-year old Novica Petrač (Novica Petrac). Some of the gang members are at large, some are silent, while some turned informers. According to information gathered by Croatian media, the gang had planned to conduct other spectacular kidnappings, directed at the children of Ivica Todorić (Ivica Todoric) and other members of Croatian business elite.

The most interesting detail about this case is in the names of the victim and alleged kidnapper. Tomislav Zagorec is son of Vladimir Zagorac, retired Croatian Army general and Zagreb businessman who has recently been assaulted by unknown attackers at his home. Novica Petrač is son of Hrvoje Petrač (Hrvoje Petrac), controversial Zagreb businessman burdened with media speculations about his association with one of Zagreb's organised crime factions.

In the meantime, Zagreb Police District has issued January 2004 crime data that show 50% rise of violent crimes (murders, armed robberies, assaults etc.) compared to January 2003. Today's Feral Tribune in its article tries to interpret that alarming news with post-election chaos within Croatian law enforcement services – old officials were sacked, while the new still have to learn the ropes.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

New Indictments

According to Jutarnji list, new ICTY indictments were delivered to Croatian government one week ago. Two Croatian generals – Mladen Markač (Mladen Markac), former commander of Croatian police Special Forces and Ivan Čermak (Ivan Cermak), former commandant of Knin area after liberation – are allegedly indicted for atrocities against ethnic Serb civilians during and after 1995 offensive that drove Serb rebel forces out of areas known as "Krajina".

It is widely expected that the whole process would go much more smoothly than in the case of General Gotovina. While Čermak had co-operated with ICTY investigators before, Markač is expected to turn himself in to ICTY authorities, thus allowing Sanader's government to lobby for his and Čermak's conditional release during the course of trial.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

[ADMINISTRATIVE] Blogroll Addition

Slovenia-based blog The Glory of Carniola is added to blogroll. Plenty of interesting information about Slovenia and places down south.

Single Purpose Candidate

So, at least one thing stopped being an issue in this year's US presidential election. With John Edwards giving up, John Kerry has practically secured Democratic nomination.

This process is one of more spectacular success stories of US politics which shows its volatility. It took less than two months for Kerry to transform from hopeless loser to formidable unstoppable vote-winning machine.

The reasons for that are simple and incredibly prosaic. Kerry didn't win because voters paid much attention to his record in Senate. He didn't win because of his principled stance on some important issues. He didn't win because of his Vietnam War past. He didn't resemble JFK nor he had particularly charming or charismatic image.

The key to Kerry's nomination is simple word – "electability".

In other words, Democratic primary and caucus voters paid very little attention to anything except the answer to a very simple question – "Can a Democratic candidate beat President Bush in November". Because of establishment-friendly media and other candidates making few more mistakes than he did, Kerry was the most likely to get "yes" answer to this question.

So, those voters who are going to cast their ballots for Kerry in November are not going to care much about body bags from Iraq, Bin Laden receiving death penalty, gays marrying each other, jobless rate, economic growth, education reform and budget deficits. Instead their only motivations would be image of President Bush leaving White House in January 2005 or unthinkable horror of such infernal abomination staying there for another four years.

There is nothing wrong with politics being simplified if that simplicity reflects in quality of politics. Having American system of two parties and individual candidates makes simple and clear choices for the voters, at least compared with European system of multitude of twin-like parties and faceless coalition politics. But this simplicity often can backfire when personality takes precedence over the issues or when saying "no" becomes more important than saying "yes".

Croatia in recent history, for example, had two elections in which voters went to polls motivated with the idea of saying "no" to certain political options without bothering what would come instead. In 1990 they said "no" to Communism and Yugoslavia by adopting Franjo Tudjman. In 2000 they said "no" to Tudjmanism by adopting Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan). Regular readers of this blog are probably aware that long-term consequences for Croatia in both cases weren't particularly fortunate.

If Kerry wins this election, one thing is going to become very clear in January 2005 when his takes office. With Bush out, his mission would be accomplished and Kerry's presidency would immediately become pointless.

Or not. Perhaps some of the people who voted for Kerry would learn the same sad truths Croatians did. If you think that nothing could be worse than incumbent in office, there are always some alternatives to prove you wrong.

Monday, March 01, 2004

New Croatian Daily

It takes some courage to launch new daily newspaper in Croatia. The last such attempt, Republika was launched by Ivo Pukanić (Ivo Pukanic) in late 2000 and quickly extinguished running out of stories in the same league as its first issue bombshell.

Ninoslav Pavić of Europapress Holding, Pukanić's arch-rival (whose brief police detention was the Republika's bombshell) perhaps didn't have courage, but he had vision instead. Dnevnik, new daily newspaper to hit kiosks in Croatia, is devised as "business-oriented" and directed to small but important readership.

I read the first issue today and I must say that I'm not particularly impressed nor particularly disappointed. The newspaper is significantly different than its sister publication Jutarnji list – there isn't any crime nor showbusiness news, very few politics and even less culture. On the other hand, there are plenty of interesting stories about Croatian economy and economies of Croatia's neighbours.

I'll try few more issues of Dnevnik before some kind of pattern, whether positive or negative, emerges.


Thanks to Zec, I also found link for on-line edition.

In the Dark

Not completely. Bad weather has struck Croatia lately, and that included Split. Today the city experienced hailstorm, sleet and even some snow. The surrounding mountains are all white, which is rather rare occurrence for Mediterranean climate.

As usual, weather woes reflected on the state of Split power grid. Half of town has power, while other doesn't. The former includes your truly, the latter includes street lamps and cable operator.


According to HEP, Croatian power company, the outage was caused by "serious malfunction" in Dobri power station, which supplies entire western part of the city.

Cable TV is back, but the streets are still dark.

Bored of the Rings?

Bored? Not really. I think that Lord of the Rings trilogy represents remarkable achievement of moviemaking and one of the most important chapters in future movie textbooks. The movie deserved most of the praise and accolades.

I simply don't think that its Oscar sweep would do much to its reputation. It would only create backlash due to snobbery and Hollywood politics. Instead of being hailed as important work of art, it would be seen as "just another undeserving Oscar winner".

Perhaps the movie (and trilogy as a whole) deserved Oscar, but 11 categories was a little bit too much. Especially in the music department. I noticed at least two charming little songs – Belleville Rendevous and that loving rendition of Kiss at the End of Rainbow – that deserved Oscar more than Annie Lennox's boring elegy.