Thursday, August 19, 2004

Sanader's Prohibition

If you drove on Croatian roads last night, risk that you may end that journey in hospital was greater than usual. People all over Croatia used last night as the last opportunity to drink and drive.

Thanks to new draconian road safety legislation brought by Sanader's government few months ago, every Croatian driver caught even with the single drop of alcohol in his or her blood is going to pay between 500 and 1500 HRK fines (68 – 204 €). This measure is going to hit not only those who get habitaualy drunk, but also those people who tend to use vinegar and other alcohol-based ingredients in their otherwise harmless nutrition. "Not a single drop" rule also bothered Catholic Church, but Sanader didn't relent, obviously seeing this tough new law as the perfect opportunity to re-establish his crumbling authority.

Just like almost any other controversial legislation in modern Croatian history, this one caused major debate only after its quiet and uneventful passage in Sabor. All those who were silent during dull parliamentary debates are now screaming bloody murder and, what is even more depressing, have very good arguments on their side.

The legislation followed months-long media campaign in which everyone, including Church, expressed outrage over unacceptably high death tolls on Croatian roads, especially among young drivers. Sanader tried to exploit public perception that Something Must Be Done to curb this everyday massacre and, as usual, chose seemingly the easiest way to do it – new and tougher legislation.

Problem with this legislation is its incompatibility with Croatian tradition and way of life. For centuries, Croatians tend to mark each and every occasion – births, weddings, anniversaries, funerals, sending their boys into military – with alcohol consumption. Bars and restaurants have most of their clientele among the people who drive and tend to have a drink or two. And many fear that the effects on Croatian tourist industry (which yielded bigger profits than expected this summer) are going to be devastating.

The best argument against new law is its unenforceability. Just like the infamous Prohibition in 1920s USA, this legislation is not going to change people's lifestyles. People would still drink and drive and only unfortunate minority is going to get caught doing so. Attempts to enforce this law are going to lead to the even larger number of traffic accidents – many drivers, especially young, are going to speed or try all kinds of dangerous stunts in order to evade traffic police.

Of course, despite the massive media blitz putting the all blame on drunk (and, to a lesser degree, drugged-out) drivers, statistics show that only 7 % of all road fatalities in Croatia could be attributed to road fatalities. Abysmal state of roads, lack of proper traffic signalisation and obvious inability of European-manufactured vehicles to properly handle Croatian road conditions create much more problems. The real way to reduce death toll on Croatian roads is tackling those issues. Some progress have already been made – 50 % less people have died on July compared with last year, mostly thanks to the construction of modern, non-congested motorways.

It is too early to speculate whether the inevitable backlash against this measure is going to hurt Sanader or not. But it is all but certain that some parties and candidates on upcoming presidential and local elections are going to campaign proudly declaring themselves "Wet".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am an American reader from California who enjoys reading your take on Croatian culture and politics. You are SO RIGHT about the driving restriction law. And putting it into force at the height of tourist season seems particularly crazy--or a really obvious way to try assert authority on Sanader's part. I can't imagine a restriction like this is going to help him. It hits people too close to home. Keep up your great commentary.

2:03 AM  

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