Friday, December 31, 2004

Happy New Year!

Judging by the increased hit counts, increased number of comments and E-mails I have received, it could be said that 2004 was a good year for this blog.

I hope that the next one will be even better, not only for this blog, but for any of its readers.

[ELECTION 2005] Election? What Election?

Today is not only the last day of 2004. In Croatia it is the last day of presidential campaign.

At midnight starts so-called "electoral silence" during which candidates are forbidden to campaign and the only ads allowed are those with technical instructions for voting. The election is going to be held on January 2nd and few hours before midnight Croatian people will probably know whether there will be second round on January 16th or not.

I really intended to blog more about this election. However, the campaign was so short, so uneventful and so predictable that I came to the conclusion that its more extensive coverage will be a waste of time.

The only event which could have been potentially interesting – debate between current President Stjepan Mesić (Stjepan Mesic) and his HDZ challenger Jadranka Kosor, which was advertised on RTL Televizija – was cancelled after Kosor's refusal to face her main rival. RTL Televizija instead aired Dumb and Dumber and many see this programming choice as some sort of comment on the candidates and the race itself.

From the very start Mesić was so favoured to win that he didn't even bother to organise proper campaign. Kosor was immediately branded as underdog and her eventual entry into second round is going to be viewed as incredible achievement. More interesting were second tier candidates which saw campaign as an opportunity for personal promotional rather than serious bid for presidential power. It seems that among them the best job was done by businessman Boris Mikšić (Boris Miksic) – combination of good advertising and Croatian public wanting to see some fresh face in politics contributed to his surge in the latest polls.

The last and, in most likelihood, the most credible poll was the grand field survey conducted by Jutarnji list and RTL Televizija. Some 5000 people were polled and the result indicate Mesić's victory in first round. He would get 50.1 %, Kosor would get 20.5 %, Mikšić will get 11.3 %.

Survey also shows disappointing results for some of "serious" politicians – Slaven Letica, once branded as biggest intellectual among Croatian politicians, is going to receive 4.8 %. Đurđa Adlešić (Djurdja Adlesic), mayor of Bjelovar, failed to extend her support outside her home base and is stuck on 3.5 %.

Small right-wing candidates – those who were supposed to be attack dogs for Kosor – fared disappointingly in this survey. Ljubo Ćesić-Rojs (Ljubo Cesic-Rojs) has 2.9 %, Miroslav "Ćiro" Blažević is at 2.3 %, Ivić Pašalić (Ivic Pasalic) is at 1.3 % and Anto Kovačević at 1.1 %.

List of third tier candidates is led by "Vedic sciences student" Miroslav Rajh who will received 1 %. He is followed by Mladen Kešer (Mladen Keser), young Eurosceptic populist who received 0.7 % . Doris Košta (Doris Kosta) had 0.4 % while Tomislav Petrak 0.2 %.

Agency that conducted survey predicts, despite relatively slim margin in the poll, that Mesić will comfortably win second round. Most of the undecided will flock to him.

The only thing that could lead to second round and any major upset – like Mikšić (who, according to survey, has second place in City of Zagreb) beating Kosor – is the turnout. Election being held immediately after New Year's Day, with people tired or affected with hangover, is not likely to bring people to polls. Low turnout traditionally favours HDZ with its disciplined voters, this time aided by Croatian guest workers that came to celebrate Christmas holidays – this group is traditionally more loyal to HDZ than voters in Croatia proper.

Torn Apart

Same forces that tore entire country apart are now doing the same to a family.

Jelena Dokić (Jelena Dokic) was born in Osijek, regional capital of Slavonia, Croatia. Her father Damir Dokić (Damir Dokic), ethnic Serb, later moved to Belgrade. Jelena came into public spotlight by becoming a great hope of Australian tennis. Then, following the widely publicised feud between Damir Dokić and Australian tennis officials, she returned to Belgrade where she became great hope of Serbian tennis, much to the delight of her father Damir Dokić (Damir Dokic). Dokićs used their fame to re-invent themselves as hard-line Serb nationalists and they were supported Vojislav Šešelj (Vojislav Seselj) and his far right SRS party on Serbian elections.

However, Jelena Dokić is now on a way to become a great hope of Croatian tennis. Just like many female tennis stars, she had major falling out with her father and now, to his utmost horror, lives and trains in Zagreb. To make things even worse for Damir Dokić, she is currently in romantic relationship with Tino Bikić (Tino Bikic), brother of her coach.

Damir Dokić has recently began to vent in his anger on the pages of Belgrade tabloid Kurir. He called Jelena back and accused "Ustashas" or "brainwashing" and "converting his daughter to Catholicism" in order to deprive "Serbian tennis of its major star". He also promised that he would "avenge this dishonour".

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Princes and Paupers of Indian Ocean

In medieval times one of the most popular images on church murals, at least in Western Europe, was made of princes, clergymen, knights, traders, serfs – all joined in one huge wheel dancing together with skeletons. This symbolic image was there to remind people that their social standing didn't matter in the end. Whether you were prince or pauper, you still had to die.

I was reminded of this image while reading reports about tsunami in Indian Ocean. The size of disaster, together with simple banality which it unfolded, has struck the rich Western tourists with the same effect as the poor natives. Just like the medieval plagues, this disaster also made all class, ethnic and other differences moot, at least temporarily. Poor Indian fishermen suffered exactly the same fate as the royalty and celebrities vacationing hundreds of miles away.

Some would like to portray this disaster as some kind of divine retribution or Mother Gaia striking back at the nations or classes that had exploited her the most. In a sense, they may be right about well-to-do being more likely to perish than those who are not. The least likely Westerners to survive were those who had spent small fortunes to build their own private pieces of tropical paradise on the most isolated beaches, and therefore, most expensive beaches. Then again, they also managed to drag many more impoverished locals with them – many small insignificant atolls would have remained uninhabited if not for rich Westerners and their great need for local labour.

While the toll is still being counted, this disaster has already created its own set of morbid trivia that shows how connected the world is. For example, based on the bodycount alone, this appears to be the worst disaster in Norwegian history despite happening on the other side of the planet.

This disaster will also, at least temporarily, shake the faith in the divine status of the world's celebrities. The events in Indian Ocean show that they are mortals after all.

Jet Li, for example, barely survived. Arthur C. Clarke has lost his diving school. And Richard Attenborrrough was probably the least lucky of them all. Whenever anyone sees Jurassic Park, he would probably remember that Attenborrough, unlike the character he had played in the movie, couldn't save his grandchildren from the tropical paradise turned into hell.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

RIP Jerry Orbach (1935 – 2004)

Jerry Orbach is best known as the star of Law and Order, but Croatian news site mistakenly referred to him as a "star of Homicide: Life on the Street". This mistake is somewhat understandable, because Orbach joined Law and Order in its third season, which never got on Croatian air. Croatian viewers did see him in the role of Lennie Brisco, but only in the crossover episode of Homicide.

In any case, he will be missed. I loved his performance in Lumet's Prince of the City.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Winners and Losers of Big Brother Croatia

Saša Jadrijević-Tomas (Sasa Jadrijevic-Tomas) in his Slobodna Dalmacija piece two months ago bashed entire concept of Big Brother and claimed that the only true winner of the show could be only Egle, because she "left that abomination first and would have the least psychological damages in the end".

Jadrijević-Tomas might be right about Egle, but he is wrong about her being the only winner.

The most obvious winner of the show is RTL Televizija. When the new TV station appeared on Croatian airwaves this Spring, it proved to be one of the biggest disappointments of the year. Their programme, which consisted of German cop shows, German soap operas, a decade old Hollywood blockbuster, 1980s and 1990s American sitcoms (many of them recently aired on other Croatian TV stations), hardly brought anyone's attention. Domestic programme – which consisted mostly of Croatian versions of German news and quiz shows wasn't popular either. RTL Televizija also made a mistake of relying mostly on young, new, energetic but not particularly experienced personnel which later resulted in series of embarrassing technical and programming glitches that continue to plague RTL Televizija to this day. Executives of Nova TV and state-run HRT had few reasons to worry about their new rival.

Until Big Brother, that is.

From September 18th 2004 onwards, thanks to Big Brother, RTL became a juggernaut that slowly but unstoppably began to sweep away its competition. It took only few weeks for Big Brother to become one of the most watched television broadcasts in the history of Croatia. After few weeks Big Brother even managed to beat any television programme other than 19:30 news on state-run HRT. Nova TV was first to yield ground, then HRT's hegemony began to collapse. Once mega-popular talk shows, Hollywood films and TV shows better than those on RTL Televizija and even the soccer games – all that was in vain. RTL Televizija managed to tailor their entire programme around Big Brother – news and talk shows, once ignored, were carefully watched only because of tiniest bit of new information around the show and its contestants. When Electronic Media Council introduced new and harsher censorship standards it was too late for HRT and Nova TV – ratings of Big Brother have slowly declined, but not enough to end new RTL Televizija's hegemony. It is estimated that the final show was watched by 1.8 million viewers – few events in recent Croatian history can match that kind of attention.

The other biggest winner of the show was, of course, T-Com. Croatia's only fixed phone operator was the show's main sponsor and Big Brother served them very well. They used every trick imaginable to exploit Croatian public's infatuation with the show and extract as much money as possible. There were phone lines for eviction voting, phone lines for sending text messages of support for contestants, phone lines for listening contestants' biographies, phone lines for listening the events in every part of the House, phone lines for appearing in the weekly live shows. Another big source of profit was, of course, Internet. T-Com used Big Brother for their very aggressive promotional campaign for broadband Internet. Other sponsors – media and non-media – also have reasons to consider themselves as the winners of the show.

Only time will tell whether any of the contestants – those who were supposed to be the winners – is a true winner. Saša Tkalčević (Sasa Tkalcevic) has won his 1 million HRK (minus taxes and debts he has to pay), but experiences of other prize winners show that fortunes gained overnight can also be lost overnight. However, if the well-being of his family was his prime and only motive for appearing in the show – and, judging by the vote, Croatian public thinks so – than he can consider himself a winner. If he gets seduced with the idea of becoming Croatian top celebrity, he is about to receive a nasty disappointment in a year or so. Experiences of Story Supernova stars – young people who became instant deities only to be reduced to pathetic nobodies in couple of months – indicates that the fame gained in such way is worthless unless a carefully and professionally maintained. If Saša wants to remain popular, he would, sooner or later, have to sacrifice parts of his lifestyle – the very thing that defined him and helped him win in the first place.

Some of the other contestants may become winners later on. At this stage, Alen Macinić (Alen Macinic) seems to be the closest to that aim. While in studio during the final live show he improvised a comedy routine. This shows that he has a talent that could serve him well with few acting lessons, more discipline and healthier lifestyle; on the other hand, some of the things that come with instant fame – entourages, sycophants, groupies, vulture-like media and the lifestyle of excess – can arouse personal demons that artificial reality of Big Brother House never could.

Antonija Blaće (Antonija Blace) has also put the last few weeks of her presence in Big Brother to good use. She handled her last nomination very well and properly dealt with the inevitable eviction by acting more naturally and more charmingly. Without scheming, Axis and artificial reality of Big Brother House that had enhanced the negative aspects of her personality (and some of her looks) Antonija began to win fans even among those who were celebrating each of her three nominations. In past weeks she displayed some acting talent that could serve her well if she ever thinks of appearing on television.

Antonija benefited from the phenomenon first spotted after Ozren's departure. The contestant dubbed "Ozren Prezren" ("Ozren the Despised") during his last days in the House became sorely missed only after few weeks. The very public that hated his annoying and arrogant ways began to lament the lack of "fun" he had been bringing to the House. However, unlike Antonija, Ozren is unlikely to benefit from his Big Brother experience. In the end it does matter whether Big Brother contestant leaves the game early on or in the end. For example, many believed that Krešo Jengić (Kreso Jengic) – the most popular of all housemates at the very beginning – would become Croatia's greatest celebrity and popular talk show host. But, so far, it didn't happen. The only thing to arise from his instant fame is a brief cameo in a video clip by Psihomodo Pop, one of Croatia's rock bands.

Valentina Tasić (Valentina Tasic), who remained almost until the end, believes that she could become TV talk show hostess. Although a joint performance with her and Krešo shows certain degree of stage skills, rumours about her new career as credible as her "romance" with RTL Televizija's show host Neno Pavinčić (Neno Pavincic) – the most theatrical element of the show ever. Filip Voloder is more serious contender thanks to his relative erudition and eloquence and even some serious media are speculating about some kind of talk show. Before that happens, Filip, just like any other housemate, will have to spend weeks and months appearing as celebrity guest in all kinds of RTL Televizija's news and talk shows.

It could also be argued that Marina Bajlo is one of the show's winners. If her motive was to be famous and somehow, at least for a while, escape her small town monotony, she succeeded in her aim. But her greatest achievement was the entry in the show's finals. She did it despite two nominations, media vultures that had tried to paint her in the worst ways possible, snobbish intellectuals who tried to portray her as the embodiment of the worst in Croatian youth and, finally, RTL Televizija staff that painted her in unenviable light during TV daily summaries. She did it by displaying anything a decent human being should have – intelligence, discipline and big heart. She was the one to wash dishes, clean tables and does all the boring things while other housemates were more busy with partying and scheming. She was the one to bravely conquer her fears and childhood traumas. She was one to forgive and to be nice even when it was seemingly counterproductive and unnecessary to do so. And, finally, she was the one give audience what they craved for – a funny, active, cheerful personality – only at the end, when it was most natural time to do it. In the end she was most down-to-earth and she realistically assessed her chances, seeing the finals as her biggest achievement. Whether the biggest achiever could survive outside House remains to be seen. I hope that the same discipline she showed in the House can serve her well when she faces the pressures of instant celebrity.

The show that has winners also has losers. It is, however, somewhat more difficult to determine who can be a loser.

Show's detractors would probably say that the biggest loser is Croatian public. In a sense, they might be right. Croatians were manipulated into considering a trivial reality show as something grander and more important than reality. Croatian youth was also given a wrong message about what is important in life, what virtues they should appreciate and what is the best way to earn for a living. Everyone who cherishes modern democracy has many reasons to be concerned about present-day Croatia – a country where Big Brother is more important than the presidential election. On the other hand, that very Croatian public can comfort itself with one night – Big Brother gave them opportunity to strike back at the establishment. They awarded one of their own – a blue collar Joe Average – at the expense of snobbish, spoiled and arrogant children of upper class parents.

Another big loser of Big Brother is Catholic Church, as well as all other conservative and right-wing elements of Croatian society. The reality show, despite being more show and less reality, presented the picture of Croatia many of them didn't like to accept – Croatia in which youth swears, smokes, drinks, gets sexually aroused and, last but not least, appreciates rock music. However, they could always claim (and have good grounds for that) that the show's contestants weren't the representatives of Croatian youth. In the show there was very little folk music, regional tensions, support for Ante Gotovina and right-wing causes – all those things you could easily find among younger generations of Croatians.

One of the biggest losers among institutions is Drama Arts Academy in Zagreb. It produced generations of actors incapable of working anywhere other than stage and whose inability to act in front of camera wrecked Croatian cinema and television for decades. All this became all too apparent with Big Brother – contestants, even with few acting skills or training, managed to look more natural and convincing than professional actors who couldn't act their way out of paper bag. RTL Televizija viewers had plenty of opportunity to be reminded of that – first during the live shows hosted by Daria Knez, than later with the arrival of Zabranjena ljubav, show heavily promoted as "Croatia's first soap opera" and aired half an hour before Big Brother. The latter received poor ratings and turned out to be one of RTL Televizija's failures.

It is harder to determine who among the contestants should be viewed as a loser. At this stage it appears that Zdravko Lamot might fit that role. He managed to go into the final and won second place against expectations of many. However, he was the only one to admit that he went to show strictly for financial reasons and the only one to admit that he had a carefully laid-out plan to win the grand prize. This tactic was carefully planned and carefully executed, but it was very wrong. It was based solely on his looks and assumption that the voters would be teenyboppers. He managed to survive nominations and destroy the faction of housemates that had stood in his way. But he did it at the expense of being cold, detached and obviously over-manipulative. In the end, his good looks were useless against Saša's (Sasa's) wife, children and huge debts. It also seems unlikely that he would exploit his fame. Career in entertainment industry is unlikely. This is not so because of his lack of emotions or communication skills. Few of homophobic statements are going to haunt him – Croatian entertainment industry, which, like any such industry in the world, contains more gays and Limousine Liberals than the average population, is not likely to embrace him.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Tito's Monument Blown Up

In 1990s one of the most popular forms of proving Croatian patriotism was destroying any monument that reminded new generations of Croatia being on the side of winners in WW2. It is estimated that some 3000 monuments were blown up. It was usually done by night and in the morning police would give a lip service to investigation while local authorities would invent all kinds of reasons not to restore the monuments.

However, even in those times there were some lines not to be crossed. One of them was the life-sized statue of former Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito in his home town of Kumrovec. The statue was built by a famous sculptor August Augustinčić (August Augustincic), one of Croatia's greatest artists whose work is, among other things, permanently displayed in the halls of UN Building in New York. The statue was placed near the small house where Tito had been born in 1892. The house now serves both as a museum and gathering place for Yugonostalgic pilgrims that appear there every year for Tito's birthday.

Existence of that statue apparently annoyed many right-wingers in Croatia. There were some threats against the statue and there was an attempt to bomb it before. However, last night unknown perpetrator has put enough explosives to blow it up. Police is investigating but, if previous cases are any indicator, the perpetrator probably would never be found.

The motive for the bombing is not only the hatred Croatian right-wingers feel towards the man who is repeatedly voted as the greatest Croatian who ever lived. It is also a message to Sanader and expression of displeasure with "gentler and kinder" HDZ that had abandoned Tudjman's hard-line nationalism for the sake of Croatian entry into EU.


Sanader's government understood the message and answered in the most sensible way possible. They condemned the incident and announced that they would send Ministry of Culture crews to repair the damage.

The amount of explosives was apparently substantial. Apart from the monument itself, Tito's old house and many nearby houses were damaged in the blast. Such damage suggests that the perpetrator had access to military explosive.

. There were some threats against the statue and there

Big Brother Croatia Update: La Comedia E Finita

With Saša (Sasa) receiving 1 million HRK cash prize the last live show of the first season of Big Brother Croatia – and undoubtedly the dullest of the season- was over.

However, the very last act of the show is happening right now in Zagreb's Piranha Bar. There RTL Televizija staged massive party in honour of contestants. Apart from thousands of "ordinary" people, party had many celebrity guests. Probably the biggest honour for housemates was appearance of Divas – one of Croatia's most popular and most respected girl bands. Divas, a band that ruled over Croatian pop charts in past eight years, is splitting and they chose Big Brother final party as one of their last gigs.

After being subjected to the parade of athletes, pop musicians and other celebrities on red carpet, RTL Televizija show hosts finally caught opportunity to get few words from the finalists. It took some time for them to deal with their emotions and be able to say something coherent.

Saša (Sasa) said that he hadn't recognise one of his boys – the elder one grew up so much and his voice changed during three months. Zdravko said that he didn't care about winning 1 million HRK.

Probably the most interesting statements came when Alen and Marina were interviewed by Paola Poljak. Shortly before those interviews Alen was subjected to the dozens of female fans chanting his names and trying to slip them their cell phone numbers. That, together other forms of friendly persuasion helped Alen to adopt the official party and say that he was "only friends" with Marina. Marina again went on record that she would never imagine any future life with Alen.

This is the last Big Brother Croatia update on this blog. There may be more blog entries related to the show in the future, but no regular updates, at least not until the next season.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Results Are In

Another mystery is resolved. Zdravko making an upset can be explained with relatively close race among non-Saša (non-Sasa) voters. Saša won 77 %, Zdravko won 10 %, Alen won 7 % and Marina won 6 %.

This, to a certain extent, corresponds with on-line polls where many of them predicted close and unpredictable race for 2nd and 3rd place.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Saša's (Sasa's) Win Confirmed

Time has come for one of the last Big Brother Croatia updates of this blog. The last hours were pure torture both for Saša (Sasa) and Zdravko.

I must say that I'm pleased with Zdravko winning the silver. Although he owes his 2nd place to the army of teenybopper voters which turned out not to be phantom at all, he deserved to be No. 2. He was one of the housemates to employ careful strategy and this strategy – the famous Plan he had mentioned after his and Filip's nomination – apparently worked because of his self-discipline.

Big Brother Croatia Live Blogging #5

22:33 UPDATE: It apparently took some time for producers to put Marina and Alen on the same sofa in studio. Alen was asked to comment on her and said that she was his "great support" and that "two of them are going to be good friends". He also said that her parents should feel proud of her daughter. When asked whether two of them would hang out later, he said that both of them must "blow off some steam".

Marina was only smiling.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Alen Wins 3rd Place

Either the teenyboppers were more active on the phone lines or either RTL Televizija wants to push the "relationship" as far as possible. The very final week was marked by one major upset.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Marina Bajlo Wins 4th Place

21:32 UPDATE: Marina left the House. She was greeted by her father. Someone from crowd yelled for her to kiss Nikola Macinić (Nikola Macinic), her "future father-in-law". She apparently didn't listen to this suggestion.

I must admit I'm little disappointed. In my humble opinion, he was the greatest achiever of all Big Brother contestants. She deserved at least a bronze.

However, considering the stakes against her, final itself is achievement she should feel really proud of.

Big Brother Croatia Final Show Live Blogging #4

21:21 UPDATE: Daria Knez has announced that the voting is officially over. The first one to go is going to be announced soon.

Based on what I have seen in the footage of the crowd outside, Zdravko might be the one to go. None of the Bajlos was out, while Alen's father Nikola Macinić (Nikola Macinic) is among crowds. Bajlos were in studio at the time. Yet they may had moved by now.

Big Brother Croatia Final Show Live Blogging #3

20:52 UPDATE: The ex-housemates are taking turns on the big sofa in studio. After Ozren, Krešo (Kreso) and Ana there is turn for Željko (Zeljko), Antonija, Vlatka and Sanja. Sanja began to grow hair.

Big Brother Croatia Final Show Live Blogging #2

20:43 UPDATE: Marina entertains other housemates by telling about differences between Croatian and Italian Big Brother.

20:44 UPDATE: Producers have noticed too much anxiety and restlessness among housemates. Big Sister (Big Brother with female voice) has told them to relax and be patient.

Big Brother Croatia Final Show Live Blogging

It is 20:22. Scoop or no scoop, RTL Televizija is still running ads with phone numbers for voting.

20:28 UPDATE: Marina is the most anxious of all housemates. She says that she feels like she could remain in House.

Saša (Sasa) tries to cheer her up and says that Marina's fans are the most silent and most "normal".

Big Brother Croatia Update: Saša (Sasa) Wins!

Big Brother Croatia Update: Saša (Sasa) Wins!

Not exactly a surprise, but Big Brother Fan Club website was the first to break the news about Saša Tkalčević (Sasa Tkalcevic) becoming first winner of Big Brother Croatia. This occurred roughly 15 minutes before the beginning of the final show.

Same site was also scooped some of the House nominations before they were reported on TV.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Some Uncertainty Left

To be honest, I still haven't made up my mind whether to blog about final show live or whether to have detailed and more orderly text afterwards. Live blogging might be pointless because some of the tonight's events are as certain as they have been written in official history books.

For example, it is certain that Saša (Sasa) will leave the House last – at 23:15. It is somewhat less certain but very likely that Alen will be on second place. There is more uncertainty about third place – older voters might favour Marina while Zdravko might suffer a backlash because of spending too much time with Saša (Sasa) and creating material for all kinds of unpleasant rumours and speculations.

There are some questions unanswered. For example, whether Marina will be greeted by her ex-boyfriend Edi Grubišić (Edi Grubisic)? Or whether Alen can survive the onslaught of hundreds of fashion models, singers and other celebrity wannabe women that await him in Piranha Bar after midnight?

It is very certain that this Big Brother Croatia isn't the last. Production team has already announced that another instalment was planned for September 2005. However, an unconfirmed story appeared in Croatian Usenet newsgroups according to what Big Brother Croatia prepares another instalment for March. If this story is true, it makes a perfect sense. Why would RTL Televizija suffer through nine months of declining ratings when it could have two cash cows in the same years instead of one?

As I write this, official site seems to be down, just as it was at the very beginning. Probably because of too much traffic.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Show Fades Away and Reality Sinks In

All those expecting something special for the last live instalment of the show on Saturday were disappointment. There weren't any celebrity guest, any major surprise and even the alcohol wasn't supplied. Instead, the housemates were told to dress up – which caused major annoyance for Saša (Sasa) and Zdravko who had to interrupt their regular Jacuzzi session. They were called to Confessions Room where they saw the ex-housemates wishing them merry Christmas on mini-plasma monitor.

Immediately afterwards, housemates began to comment on the look of the ex-housemates. They noticed the significant changes, not in their looks but in their behaviour and demeanour. They concluded that they weren't as cheerful and enthusiastic as they were expected to be. Even Antonija was quiet and subdued, far from her past self. Some tried to explain it by fatigue – all those people are invited to live shows every week when they have to answer the same question and put the same kind of smiles for the cameras. This was just another of those increasingly annoying contractual obligations.

Another explanation, equally credible, is based on the very simple observation. Of all ex-housemates on the screen, the most subdued were Egle and Ozren. This is simply because they have spent the least amount of time in House and, therefore, had more time to readjust the normal life and reality. Housemates may be great friends, may relate to each other in a way nobody outside could imagine, but in the end of the day all their connection comes from the very simple fact that they were stuck in the same place for a long time and didn't have any alternative other to be the best possible friends to each other. Once they leave the House, all their "family" will cease to exist. Their friendship simply won't be intense as it was. They are going to drift apart, pursue their own lives and this is the natural state of things. If they appear together again, in most likelihood it would be at the initiative of RTL Televizija rather than own nostalgia.

So, in the end, they will have to face the fact that their three-month experience, no matter how intense and memorable, was more show and less reality. Some, like Marina, are already reminding themselves of the reality. She was the only housemates to wish merry Christmas to the people employed in Croatian Tax Authority. She also has reasons to be pleased with herself – at least some of her financial aims have been achieved. According to her own confession to other housemates, she had 9000 HRK (cca 1250 €) of credit card debts before entering House. The rules of the game allow for the contestants to be awarded 1000 HRK for each week of their stay in the House. With Marina reaching finals, she would have enough to cover those debts.

Some are dealing with the reality in a different way. This morning Alen used the very last opportunity to sleep in the same bed with Marina. Housemates have packed their belongings. Mrvica, the cat, has been taken away.

Now they are in lockdown, with Big Brother Croatia team probably preparing the House for the big final show which would about to start at 20:15 CET. The show would be a four-hour marathon, followed by half an hour of live coverage from Big Brother Party in Zagreb's Piranha Bar, held in honour of the contestants. The weather has apparently conspired against the producers – heavy rain is falling on Zagreb. Housemates were displeased to see it, less because of themselves and more because of the fans outside.

The next hours are probably going to be the longest in housemates' lives. At this stage it appears that the contestant who gets the least amount of votes is going to be the most envied by other housemates. He is going to depart first and will have most time to the adjust to the new reality.

The Cruel Sea

Living by the sea always had its benefits throughout history. Sea provided relatively easy attainable sources of food, commerce routes and, if some countries and regions were lucky, additional source of income in the form of tourism. But today that very sea, instead of being the blessing, became a curse. When the largest recorded earthquake in past 50 years occurred, this planet was fortunate enough to have it on land. Today people of Southern Asia weren't that fortunate.

It goes without saying that all this would fuel religious fundamentalism, disrupt world's commerce and add to long-term political instability.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Simple Truths of Blogging

Blogosphere is interesting new phenomenon, but its shouldn't be over-mystified. Blog is a tool like any other. And, even more importantly, people who write blogs are just like any other.

While writing a blog can bring you fame, and sometimes even a small fortune, blogs can also bring dishonour, shame and public scorn, as Vibor Kalogjera, author of now-infamous "Vibby" blog might atest.

And, there is also a blog that shows that writing a blog or the need to express your feelings and opinions on Internet doesn't necessary make you into nice person.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Special Christmas Mystery

Contestants are spending their last full day in the House. They are completely disinterested about the outcome of the game and all they think about is the departure.

Their lack of interest in Big Brother is apparently shared by Croatians. Many of them took Christmas as an opportunity to take a rest from Big Brother. Even the most ardent fans became tired of seeing their favourite reality show, especially when the contestants are boring.

This explains why hardly anyone paid attention to the last night events that, only few weeks or days ago, could have created flood of Internet traffic.

Ever since Alen and Marina appeared together in the House, they were subject of the same recurring rumour – two of them have consummated their "relationship" and RTL Televizija constantly refused to air the tapes or inform the public about that event. Few people took those rumours seriously, despite Alen and Marina being caught on camera in very intimate moments. In each of those situations exact nature of their activities was always in the realm of plausible deniability.

Another such intimate moment happened last night after Jacuzzi session. Alen and Marina spent at relatively large amount of time in the same bed, covered with sheets, kissing and whispering to each other. With microphones too far away those who followed those events on livestream have only their imagination to guide them when they try to determine what has actually happened last night. Only a small piece of conversation that somehow reached microphones (Marina: "What are you doing?" Alen: "What am I doing? I'm lying in bed and talking.") might be a clue. Another clue is today's sensual massage given by Alen to Marina and Marina's refusal to show her breasts to him.

However, rumours and speculations, even those based on Web cameras, are just rumours and speculations. More resolute answer to this titillating question is going to be provided by RTL Televizija in its handling of last night's events. Those events are supposed to be covered by tonight's daily summary. However, today is Christmas and if some explicit action indeed occurred it is unlikely to be part of prime time television on this day.

Alen and Marina's statements in Confessions Room might clear the confusion, but there is very little room for RTL Televizija to air those statements due to compressed schedule of two final days. For example, there is another Big Brother Special tonight called "The Last Night". It is scheduled for 22:40. Whether this special is only a live show or whether it would have some extra footage remains to be seen.

However, more telling answer is complete lack of interest in Croatian Internet. Forums, Usenet groups and websites are empty or don't mention the last night events. This might be product of Big Brother fatigue. Or perhaps Croatian Big Brother fans realised that this even the most voyeuristic "tell all" show should have at least one unsolved mystery.

If the mystery remains unsolved, one of the reasons could be in Alen and Marina being parties to well-prepared contracts. Unlike Nova TV, which had Marin Tironi, the winner of their own reality show, abandon ship and switch to HRT few months after his victory, RTL Televizija has covered more ground and there are strict limits for contestants in their handling of post-House life.

For example, at least one year after the end of the show contestants aren't allowed to become employed by any TV house other than RTL Televizija. If any of them dreams of becoming entertainment celebrity, their fame is going to be short-lived, including job and financial opportunities that come with it. RTL Televizija holds the key of those dreams, because without its media machine is only thing that would keep them in public spotlight in the most critical period of their post-House life.

This, of course, explains why the contestants were so well-behaved, disciplined, unwilling to rock the boat and prone to all kinds of friendly persuasion in Confessions Room.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: The Last Panel

First Croatian Big Brother was scheduled to end on Boxing Day. Because of that Christmas, together with trees, Christmas songs, snow and other elements of Christmas atmosphere was always part of the show's script. However, on December 24th nature refused to cooperate with the show's scriptwriters so they used artificial snow instead.

The snow is important because Croatia's first reality show, just like many TV shows in the world, has to have its Christmas Special. It is going to be aired live this evening, immediately after the regular TV daily summary. There are speculations about some kind of surprise – celebrity guests or something else to make this Christmas special to housemates. Whatever RTL Televizija has in store for housemates, it is just being installed, at least judging by the livestreams that show nothing but empty yard.

While housemates await their big Christmas surprise, the rest of the nation doesn't seem to expect any surprise on Sunday. Anything other than Saša's (Sasa's) win is going to be seen as a vote fraud. On the other hand, RTL Televizija and show's media sponsors need some kind of uncertainty to keep as many phone voters busy as possible. One of such attempts is ex-housemates' panel in today's Jutarnji list. Each of them tried to guess the percentage of the votes. According to their results, Saša (Sasa) will win with 34.8 %, followed by Zdravko's 30.8 %, Alen's 23.2 % and Marina's 12.2 %. Of all ex-housemates only Ozren dared to give 50 % to Saša. Ana didn't feel the need to co-operate with panel and gave 25% to each candidate. Krešo (Kreso) and Valentina are the only ones expecting Zdravko to win. Antonija is the only one expecting Marina to fare better than Alen.

In most likelihood, this panel might turn out to be as inaccurate as those in the past. Saša (Sasa) will win, but with significantly higher margin – around 60-70 %. Marina will end up fourth, with having double digits as her ultimate achievement (although third place isn't beyond possibility, if the older crowd gets more interest in the vote). The struggle for second place between Alen and Zdravko is resolved with Tanja Pureta's intervention on Wednesday and Thurday – Alen, out of depression, is again funny character many see as a replacement for irreplaceable Krešo.

War in the Pacific Mini-AAR: Java Falls

I continued playing War in the Pacific. First winter of the campaign is behind me. It is April 9th 1942.

As the title says, the most spectacular event of the past month was the fall of Java. However, unlike Malaya and Philippines, Allies have enough time and resources to organise something like orderly withdrawal. Thanks to the superb rearguard action of Tjilitjap garrison (which fell on March 17th) and well-organised transfer of aircrafts from various airports, most of Dutch ground, naval and air forces have taken relative safety of Timor and absolute safety of Australia. Soerabaja fell on March 28th, and on April 1st Malang, the last Dutch base on Java, surrendered with some 5000 soldiers (which couldn't be evacuated). The casualties were high, but tolerable – 400 pound gorilla force of Japanese carrier have been slaughtering Dutch shipping all over Java Sea and in Soerabaja harbour, but enough ships have survived for evacuation to become possible. The worst setback in Java was loss of 6 damaged submarines that were scuttled in Soerabaja harbour.

Dutch retaliated for their losses with their small but relatively effective airforce and PT boats. They sunk few cargo ships, minelayers and a troop carrier. The first Japanese battleship to be damaged during the campaign was Hiei, struck by Martin 139 bombers in Batavia harbour – it lost one of its 25mm AA guns.

In the meantime, Japanese were consolidating their positions in the rest of Dutch East Indies. On Sumatra they have taken Beloekteoeng on April 5th, which again resulted with the loss of submarines. On Borneo they have taken Banjarmasin and Sampit, which puts in danger couple of thousand Dutch troops which, at this point, can't be evacuated. On Celebes Japanese have taken Macassar on March 20th. Dutch garrisons have retreated northwards, being pounded by Japanese air force. However, Japanese have problems using their base in Kendaru every night at least few B-17 bombers from Koepang come to visit and leave at least one of two of their planes destroyed.

On nearby Amboina, well-supplied Dutch garrison and extremely effective squadron of Australian Hudson bombers have managed to fend off at least one Japanese attempt of landing. Japanese cargo ship was sunk together with invasion force.

In Philippines, isolated garrisons at Cebu and Roxas succumbed to Japanese pressure on March 26th. Japanese have taken everything and are now busy transforming beaches into full-blown bases. When Allies come to liberate those islands, there would be plenty of work.

The most volatile battlefield is Southeast Asia. British garrison in Akyab has resisted Japanese onslaught valiantly. Japanese tried to strengthen their three-division force with a naval convoy carrying 2nd Tank Regiment. Only elements of that regiment landed because a single US PT boat managed to sink Japanese gunboat in brave naval engagement on March 14th. But Allied defence was shortlived. Reinforcements that couldn't have been delivered by sea came by goat trails – namely Japanese 56th Division. On March 27th this pressure prove to be too much and British forces have retreated.

Eastwards, British 18th Division pushed bravely southwards, in an attempt to relieve pressure on Akyab and cut Japanese supply lines west of Myitkyina. On March 21st they pushed elements of 1st and 6th Japanese Tank Regiment – which made Japanese hold on Myitkyna untenable. Two brigades were immediately sent southwards where they fought Japanese garrison. However, only the arrival of complete division turned the battle into British favour. Mandalay was liberated on March 29th and, in the process, at least 61 Japanese planes were destroyed on ground, mostly Ki-27 Nate fighters. British triumph in Mandalay was shortlived, though. On April 3rd Japanese 56th Division struck back at British and, after being reinforced with two tank regiments and mortar battalion, pushed British out on April 7th.

Much better news for Allies came from the north. Chinese 66th Division has liberated Mytkyina and thus re-opened Burmese Road. This would be a blessing for Chinese because they need fresh supplies. Inconclusive fighting rages in Hanoi – one Japanese, one Vietnamese division and two smaller Japanese units are faced against four Chinese division. Northwards, one Chinese division is about to attack 1000-men Japanese garrison in Pankhoi.

Andaman Islands are drawing more and more attention of Japanese air forces. Garrison, which consists of RAF base and 2nd Burmese Brigade, guards one squadron of Catalinas and one squadron of Australian Beauforts. The garrison is well-supplied and recently got one Australian squadron of Buffalo fighters. However, Japanese have conducted few devastating raids. Their air superiority over Bengals is such that they have launched air raid on Madras in an attempt to catch two British battleships – Ramilles and Resolution – which had bombarded Japanese positions in Akyab in early April. British have been strengthened with arrival of Formidable aircraft carrier, but its squadron of Fulmar fighters doesn't seem to be protection enough for the task force to venture too close to Japanese air bases. Allied fortunes in Southeast Asia might improve with the arrival of 48 Liberator bombers which are currently being convoyed from USA via Australia.

I'm thinking about another operation, codenamed Purple Panther. The idea is to land British naval engineering unit on the beach of Nicobar Islands. This would close Bay of Bengals for Japanese naval sorties and draw more attention from Japanese air. If Japanese are preoccupied with Nicobars, evacuation of British forces from Sumatra (which currently goes with relative success) would go more smoothly.

Eastwards, there isn't that much action. The most interesting events are around New Guinea. North coast is almost completely in Japanese control and same can be said of New Britain, except for small Australian engineering unit, which is hiding in bush, gets supplies from air and awaits some kind of evacuation.

Japanese attempts to wreck Port Moresby from air are, at this stage, proving to be the worst Japanese defeat of the campaign. RAAF has been recently equipped with two squadrons of Kittyhawk fighters and those two are put to very good use in Port Moresby. At this stage, Allied pilots have learned how to face Zeros on more equal footing (note: this is a game feature that gives Zeros additional manoeuvrability in the first months of war) and many of them are experienced. On April 3rd those pilots gave good trashing to Japanese bomber force – 33 Betty bombers were downed and at least two Australian pilots became aces. Japanese tried again and again they were struck hard, although with less casualties.

Eastwards, the major activity is around Guadalcanal. Australian engineers are trying to expand port and airfields. The former is especially important because a convoy carrying US 2nd Marine Division patiently waits to be unloaded. It is protected with US Navy carrier force made of Enterprise, Yorktown and Saratoga. On March 23rd Japanese have tried to attack Guadalcanal from air – elements of 78th FS US Army (which have been deployed before) and Wildcats of Enterprise easily repulsed that attempt.

In other areas of Pacific, logistics seems to be more important than combat. Americal Division have been deployed in Luganville, thus relieving elements of 3rd New Zealand Division. A convoy carrying 32nd USA Division to Brisbane, Australia is being planeed, while at least one US Division is going to be deployed on Baker Island and prepared for the invasion of Tarawa. I'm also contemplating move against Japanese base at Nauru.

Central Pacific saw some action when task force of two carriers – Yorktown and Saratoga – on its way to join Halsey at Guadalcanal made a minced meat out of Japanese supply convoy north of Gilbert Islands.

In North Pacific the most important news is establishment of US air force in Atka Islands. They should watch eventual Japanese moves in Aleutians.

In the grand scheme of things, Allies appear to be in slightly less desperate position than they have been one month ago. Japanese have scored major victory with the capture of Java and all those resources would be put to good use. Allied submarines have lost their bases in Philippines, Dutch East Indies and Malaya and it would take time before they are replenished and sent back to combat from Pearl Harbor, Colombo and Brisbane.

On the other hand, it looks like all bad things that could happen to Allies have already happened. In last month only one major ship was lost – Dutch destroyer Tjerk Hiddes. Numbers are definitely shifting in Allied favour. Number of ships sunk is equal, but Allies for the first time have advantage in number of planes lost – from the start of campaign they lost 1343 to Japanese 1387. Allies are also more active in the air – daily number of sorties is around 2800 to Japanese 2000.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

[ELECTION 2005] Creating Tensions

With nation more interested in reality shows than presidential elections, large sections of Croatian media establishment are in desperate need to make this presidential look either more interesting or less predictable.

The most interesting story related to the campaign is incident that again reminded Croatian public that their President is greatest jokester among politicians. It all started on Monday when Domagoj Margetić (Domagoj Margetic), editor of Novo Hrvatsko Slovo, right-wing magazine, came to police and reported himself abducted on Friday. According to Margetić, he was stopped by two men in Ford Escort who, using some kind of badges, instructed him to accompany them to a certain house in Karlovac. There he was interrogated about articles published in his paper, namely those criticising Mesić's testimony at Hague War Crimes Tribunal. Once his ordeal was over, Margetić said that the his abductors were working for Office of President.

When asked to comment on the case, Mesić said that, according to his information, Margetić had been abducted by a "group of homosexuals". "What they were doing to him during the weekend, nobody knows", he added. Later Mesić said that he was only joking. However, Iskorak, Croatian gay rights organisation, wasn't amused. They called this joke "homophobic" and asked for Mesić's apology.

Mesić probably won't apologise, because if there is a way for him to lose presidential elections, being regarded as homophobic is not one of them.

In the meantime, at least some of Croatian media are trying to artificially create some drama in this elections. Today's edition Globus weekly comments results of its poll with the title "Second Round After All". According to the poll, Mesić will win 45 %, Jadranka Kosor 17,5 %, Slaven Letica 6.4 %, Đurđa Adlešić (Djurdja Adlesic) 3.7 %, Boris Mikšić (Boris Miksic) 2.5 %, Miroslav "Ćiro" Blažević (Miroslav "Ciro" Blazevic) 2.2 %, Ljubo Ćesić-Rojs (Ljubo Cesic-Rojs) 2 %, Ivić Pašalić (Ivic Pasalic) 2 %, Anto Kovačević (Anto Kovacevic) 1.9 %, Doris Košta (Doris Kosta) 0.5 %, Tomislav Petrak 0.3 %, Mladen Kešer 0.2 %, Miroslav Rajh 0 %.

So, Mesić will have to go to second round… unless you do remember some math from grammar school. All aforementioned percentages leave 15.8 % that didn't go anywhere. Those 15.8 % are reserved for the potential voters unsure for whom they would vote. If somewhere around third of those voters switch to Mesić, he rises above 50 % and comfortably wins in the first round. But if Globus took this into account, there wouldn't be any spectacular headline.

On the other hand, spectacular headlines has been just provided by Kosor. In order to stir some interest in her well-paid but mostly passive and ineffective campaign, she suddenly accused Mesić of insulting her and said that she wouldn't have any debate with him unless he apologises. That was good move for Kosor. Mesić won't apologise and there won't be any debates. Therefore, there won't be any opportunity for TV viewers to watch Kosor fare just like Christians did when faced with lions in Roman arenas.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Marina Bajlo Beats Jadranka Kosor

Saša Ljubičić (Sasa Ljubicic) ih his daily column for Slobodna Dalmacija comments on Big Brother and seems amazed with the fact that the nation pays more attention to a reality show than presidential elections. In this state of affairs any Big Brother candidate is more interesting than any presidential candidate and, therefore, more popular. According to the conversations overheard by Ljubičić, it seems that the pensioners seem to favour Marina Bajlo who is "a strong enough to remain as a the only woman among three men". Since pensioners happen to be the most decisive part of Croatian electorate it is very likely that Marina Bajlo would fare much better than Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) in the contest with Jadranka Kosor.

It is very likely that Marina would easily win the game if the rules were similar to presidential contest. Unfortunately, pensioners are the least decisive factor in Big Brother. Reality show is the exact opposite of political elections – the younger the people are, more important their vote is. Marina, who could easily cruise to victory among crowd over 30 years of age, doesn't stand a chance in the electorate dominated by teenagers. Teenyboppers, of course, didn't like her from the day one while the teenage boys found their new idol in Saša (Sasa) and Alen. Even those who can't stand Zdravko and Alen prefere Saša and take Marina as a second choice. Among Alen's fans there are many of those who openly advocate Alen taking by force what is "rightfully his" or, at least, beat Marina and thus prove her who is the real man of the House.

Alen, however, has different things on his agenda. In past few days his depression became so severe that RTL Televizija staff began to worry about his voluntary departure. Few days before the end of the show it could be interpreted as nothing more than a PR disaster, accompanied by a drop in ratings and large financial losses for T-Com. This was something that had to be prevented at all cost.

Last night, in a very dramatic move, RTL Televizija employed its ultimate asset – chief psychologist Tanja Pureta. She spent at least an hour grilling Alen and using all kinds of professional tricks to help him stay. She apparently managed to help Alen, at least temporarily, to change his mood. Marina also used this as an opportunity to patch up relationship with him and last night they exchanged good night kisses.

This morning Pureta was again at work. After receiving video-greetings from his family and being shocked to see his father without hair, Alen was again summoned to a hour-long talk with psychologist. Marina was also brought for an hour-long session. After that two of them are acting just as they were acting before Tuesday night melodrama. The only exception was Alen's brief hissy fit after he caught Marina and Zdravko exchanging few words.

Pureta will be very active in last few days. According to Alen, she was sick while tending his needs last night. This is small sacrifice for her. If Alen departs, she, as a chief psychologist, is most likely to be the sacrificial lamb of RTL Televizija's office politics. And it is very likely that this failure will affect her professional career and relationship with colleagues, many of whom didn't think highly of her job in Big Brother and instant fame that came with it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

100000th Hit

Just as I had anticipated, this blog has received 100000th hit before Christmas. Actually, there were more hits because I had installed counter in July 2003, few months after starting a blog. The number of visits before that was much smaller than today and it wouldn't increase the actual tally.

On the other hand, Draxblog 2, established in May, haven't moved above 3000 hits. Nobody is prophet in his own village, I guess.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Orwellian Mission

Today's TV daily summary was another opportunity for some of the show's fans to remind themselves of its origin – George Orwell's novel 1984. Judging by the way they handled last night's events, it is very likely that the novel's protagonist Winston Smith would feel at home in Big Brother Croatia production offices. He would have seen very few differences between the team that delivers TV daily summary and Ministry of Truth. Slogans like "War Is Peace", "Freedom Is Slavery" and "Ignorance Is Power" might have been replaced with "Alen and Marina are match made in heaven", but the principles upon those two institutions operate are the same.

Of course, only those who follow Big Brother events on Internet livestream can come to this conclusion. Those use TV daily summary as the only source of information are probably going to receive a nasty shock after the end of the show and when it becomes obvious that at least two of the housemates aren't as close as RTL Televizija portrayed them to be.

Last night's drama was, for example, reduced to merely 10 minutes. Careful and manipulative editing showed Alen getting in bad mood, Marina raising her voice and later Marina trying to make up with him, with the last images suggesting that the crisis is only temporary and that two of them are going back to their lovey-dovey routine any minute. Of course, there weren't any mention of Alen and Marina spending at least an hour and half in Confessions Room, other housemates expressing concern over possibility of Alen leaving the House voluntarily, Marina complaining to Saša (Sasa) and Zdravko that she had told Alen twice that he won't be anything more than a friend to her, Saša and Zdravko praising her patience and good will. Of course, there wasn't any room for the image that was supposed to symbolise the present state of their "relationship" – Marina, alone in the House, literally singing from joy while Alen standing outside in backyard and watching the walls with tearful eyes.

RTL Televizija simply refuses to air those sounds and images for one simple reason. With number of housemates reduced to four and with the events lacking and drama and unpredictability, there is very little RTL Televizija can show what hasn't been shown before in one way or the other. The only way to keep ratings and interest in the show is to titillate audience with something that can't be aired or, to be more precisely, can be witnessed only via Internet or by special "Big Ear" phone line. That something, of course, is an explicit sexual activity between two contestants. And this is most likely to occur if there is something like full-blown romance in the House. Most of those who take their information about "relationship" in TV daily summary are likely to believe that Alen and Marina will ultimately "do something" in House and, in an effort to witness that glorious event, spend hours in front of computer monitors or listening to Big Ear. Of course, T-Com, show's main sponsor is likely to profit from such curiosity, perhaps even more than from the show's final phone vote. By the time it becomes apparent that there isn't any romance and there won't be any sex, the aim of the Orwellian mission will be accomplished.

[ELECTION 2005] Kosor Betrays Feminists

One of the rare surprises in this, otherwise dull presidential campaign was the endorsement Jadranka Kosor, a candidate of right-wing HDZ party, gained from the leaders of few Croatian feminists NGOs – the people who were supposed to root for left-wing and centre-parties. It turns out that gender solidarity and having a powerful ally was more important than strictly political and ideological considerations.

This endorsement was short-lived. After being denounced as traitors by the militant B.a.b.e. group, other feminists leaders tried to explain their support for Kosor as some kind of misunderstanding. It embarrassed them, but it served Kosor very well – it helped her shape an image of a "normal", "European", "hip", 21st Century candidate that doesn't have anything to do with patriarchal and troglodyte macho candidates of the far right. At times, even Mesić (Mesic) looked like an embodiment of Balkans macho past compared with "modern" Kosor.

But that was then, and now Kosor needs different sort of allies. Some polls suggest that she has around 30 % of support, while support for Mesić could slip below 50 % and thus allow her to go in the second round. But for that to happen she needs army of HDZ voters – rank-and-file who don't have much understanding for Sanader, Kosor and their born-again Europeanism. Since Sanader and Kosor are unlikely to fire up this base, Kosor needs a long time ally of HDZ – Catholic Church – to push HDZ voters to the polls after Sunday sermons.

In today's Jutarnji list Kosor uses this trump by expressing her opposition to abortion. If elected, Kosor would advocate that abortion be banned following a referendum.

This idea is interesting and referendum would be good opportunity to finally establish what Croatian people think about the whole issue. Regular parliamentary and presidential elections, after which elected candidates tend not to follow ideological principles or honour election promises, aren't the best way to do it. Referendum, which narrows everything on single issue and a simple choice, is much better and the verdict will be ultimately more legitimate.

Other candidates, however, aren't that enthusiastic about Kosor's inititative. Idea of referendum (or a ban) was immediately dismissed by Mesić, Đurđa Adlešić (Djurdja Adlesic), Slaven Letica and Boris Mikšić (Boris Miksic) – candidates who might have different ideologies but who share same pro-choice stance for whole variety of reasons.

Of course, Kosor can afford to be a good Catholic and push for this because she isn't likely to be elected and even if she does, the referendum is in the hands of Sanader and Sabor – institutions unlikely to take the path even Tudjman was reluctant to take.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Melodrama At Last?

Yesterday's events in Big Brother House – reconstructed in tonight's TV daily summary – again showed how some prosaic and seemingly simple details of life could, under specific circumstances and with some clever editing, become earth-shattering events. It also shows how desperate Big Brother Croatia team is for some real drama and some materials to improve their fledgling ratings.

Yesterday morning the livestream was down, leading to all kinds of speculations about what went on in the House. Later it turned out that the housemates received a gift that should help them adapt to real life – a special phone with which they would receive Big Brother instructions via SMS messages.

In the afternoon Marina was called to Confessions Room where she was faced with another marvel of technology – videophone used by her family to wish her a merry Christmas. That was probably the most emotional moment for Marina during her entire stay in House. She broke in tears and joy and spent minutes in manic mood. When asked by other housemates what happened, she refused to tell, thinking that it would spoil their own surprise when time comes for other Christmas greetings.

Last night, when Saša (Sasa) and Zdravko went into Jacuzzi for some private time together, Marina stayed alone with Alen and decorated the House. Discussion developed and the afternoon's surprise became a topic. After some time, Marina finally confessed what was in Confessions Room. This confession was, of course, part of her strategy to stir her "relationship" with Alen in direction most beneficial for her. She said that she sensed some criticism in her mother's words and expressed her concern about the way her family would react to some of the events in the House, namely her using of Alen as a pet.

Alen, on the other hand, is under intense emotional pressure. He isn't sure whether he would get the grand prize and, apart from being in final, the only victory he could get from his stay in House is kind of victory that would help him establish his manhood. And the only way he could do is either to "score" with Marina while staying in House or continuing the "relationship" outside the House. In last night's discussion Marina expressed her concern about the quantity of work in her family's bar she would have to make up for her stay in House. Alen pulled out his greatest trump card and offered to take care of Marina because he was "rich and had his own bar".

Whether this argument worked or not is hard to determine. If his idea was to prove himself as a man of Marina's dreams, only few minutes later he did most
idiotic thing imaginable. He rushed to Jacuzzi to tell Saša and Zdravko about afternoon's surprise and thus prove his manhood – if Marina confided to him, she must have some feelings for him.

It is very likely that Saša and Zdravko told Marina of Alen's indiscretion or Marina perhaps used her own perceptive abilities to come to that conclusion by herself. Alen spent most of today in state of depression while Marina hanged out with Saša and Zdravko.

Tonight, while they were making pancakes, Marina's remark finally led Alen to another of his hissy fits. He wished her a merry Christmas and went straight into Confessions Room. He spent half an hour there, with psychologists, in most likelihood, doing everything in their power to prevent his voluntary departure and another commercial and PR disaster for Big Brother Croatia. In the meantime, Marina was explaining situation to Saša and Zdravko – she again levelled with Alen and told him that their "relationship" won't go to any further level, in or outside House. Saša said to Marina that it was better to say it now than to cause another major heart-break later.

At this moment, Marina, who has expressed fear that Alen might leave, is in Confessions Room. This made Saša and Zdravko very anxious because now they must skip their Jacuzzi ritual and wait for their own turn in Confessions Room.

WW2 Revision In Serbia

In October 2000, immediately after the fall of Slobodan Milošević (Slobodan Milosevic) the world media was concentrated on images of Serbian people celebrating. One tiny detail of those celebrations, totally insignificant to anyone outside former Yugoslavia, made many people in countries neighbouring Serbia somewhat less enthusiastic about those events. A group of mostly young people was celebrating the end of Milošević by singing songs celebrating Dragoljub "Draža" Mihailović (Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic).

As regular readers of this blog probably know, "Draža" Mihailović used to be controversial (to say the least) leader of Serbian WW2 paramilitaries. While most history books in former Yugoslavia describe his Chetnik movement as bunch of Nazi collaborators and thugs responsible for all kinds of atrocities against Muslims and Croats, in Serbia itself he is hailed as a brave resistance fighter, "first guerrilla leader of occupied Europe" and anti-Communist martyr.

Today Serbian parliament decided to grant surviving members of Chetnik movement pensions, thus making them equal to veterans of Tito's Partisan army.

To say that this decision won't sit well in Croatia is an understatement. It would only continue to poison relations between two countries and fuel the flames sparked by Milan Gurović (Milan Gurovic) and his controversial choice of body decoration.

On the other hand, this decision is only a logical conclusion of the process that has been happening in the last two decades and accelerated after the fall of Milošević. Although Milošević came to power on the wings of resurrected Serb nationalism and although he used Serb nationalism, he, as a nominal leftist and successor of ideology that executed "Draža", was never seen as a genuine Serb nationalist. In Milošević's years rehabilitation of "Draža" was tolerated, but not state-sanctioned. Serb nationalists who replaced Milošević in 2000 used his fall as an opportunity to reinvent Serb nationalism in new, "pure" anti-Communist form. Revision of WW2 history was part of that process.

In many ways, what happens in Serbia now is very reminiscent of what used to happen in Croatia in the first years of Tudjman's regime. Less burdened by continuity with Tito's past, Croatian nationalists also tried very hard to reverse the historical verdict and present WW2 losers as morally equal, if not superior, to WW2 winners.

[ADMINISTRATIVE] New Blogroll Addition

Science And Politics added to blogroll.

The Hardest Time of the Year

Until very recently you should look very hard to find anyone speak openly against Christmas. One of those lone dissenting voices was Phoebe Cates' character in Gremlins. Her diatribe against Christmas was one of the most subversive things to appear in the embodiment of Hollywood family entertainment.

However, these days more and more people not only share her sentiments, but even come out of Christmas-haters closet and express it. According to the recently published, more than half of people in Holland would prefer Christmas to be celebrated any second or fourth year rather than every year. In Austria and Germany there is interesting phenomenon of so-called "Santa-free zones" – shops and bars where people may gather in this time of year without anything to remind them of Christmas.

The reason for the appearance of such sentiments has little to do with the spread of atheism or militant secularism in modern Europe. Most people who don't like Christmas aren't opposed to Christmas per se – they are simply getting fed up with Chritsmas as it is celebrated in today's world.

In the past, Christmas was part of local family tradition. In today's globalised world Christmas can't serve this function, because thanks to popular culture and modern media, there is only one way in which people are supposed to celebrate Christmas – presents under the tree, Christmas turkeys, old bearded man, snow and reindeers etc. People are supposed to celebrate Christmas that way regardless of living in Alaska, Sahara or New Guinea. This vision of Christmas being popularised by American movies also contributed to anti-Christmas backclash in today's atmosphere of growing anti-Americanism.

Another, even more important and more obvious reason for people not to celebrate Christmas is in its utter commercialisation. Somehow the whole idea behind the Christmas is being buried under Christmas shopping. With the Christmas shopping world comes to a halt, streets and roads are clogged with increased traffic and, last but not least, a holiday which was supposed to be a time of joy turns into sometimes unbearable financial burden. And the joy people used to get from the family-oriented Christmases is lost in today's world of individuals who often see Christmas as a reminder of their own age, solitude and alienation. Many who cherish their personal freedom often begin to see Christmas as one of rare, and therefore, extremely annoying occasions when they don't spend their money and time in a way they would like.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Weakest Link

In the final week of the show housemates are struggling with the boredom each in his or her own way. Marina, for example, reads notes with past daily and weekly tasks over and over again. When other housemates ask her why she do it, she says that she doesn't want to "lose ability to read".

Alen, on the other hand, doesn't handle the last week very well. If the nominations were to be on Friday, he could be the most likely candidate. Yesterday he was depressed for most of the day and the apparent trigger was realisation that Saša (Sasa) and Zdravko, using Marina as an excuse, shut him off from their little exclusive male club. Alen's state was such that Big Brother psychologists intervened by calling every housemate in Confessions Room much earlier than usual. After that Saša, Zdravko and Marina has invested a lot of effort in cheering Alen up.

In situation when RTL Televizija begins to lose ratings war, not only with state-run HRT, but also with Nova TV, it isn't surprising that the more interest Big Brother events are those happening outside House. Today Croatian blogosphere has discovered that Marina's next door neighbour is running a blog. The latest entry is detailed first-hand account of Saturday's party in Kukuriku Bar in Pula, establishment owned by Bajlo family and Marina's workplace. The aforementioned blog entry, accompanied by some images (blogwriter's family has housed RTL Televizija crew in their apartments) also revealed that Pavle Bajlo banned ex-housemate Ozren from attending the party. Some of Ozren's statements, critical of Marina, were too much even for Bajlos, family that tried very hard to act diplomatic towards other contestants.

[ELECTION 2005] Police (In)Action

Partly because to Christmas, and partly because of the predictability of the contest, few Croatians take much interest in presidential elections. Even the media seem to ignore it. First sign that some kind of presidential contest is happening might be found in TV ads paid by two major candidates. Those who miss those ads won't miss much. Both candidates appear to be bland – while this isn't suprising for Kosor, Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic), one of greatest jokesters among Croatian politicians, is disappointing while he tries to look presidential.

More interesting events, as usual, are happening thanks to candidates who don't have a slightest chance of winning. One of them is Ljubo Ćesić-Rojs (Ljubo Cesic-Rojs), former general of Croatian Army, controversial businessman and icon of Croatian far right.

During his rally in Vukovar he addressed the crowds and said that he had heard with General Ante Gotovina and extended his greetings. It took some time for Croatian authorities to act on those words. Gotovina, a war crimes suspect, is not only Croatia's most wanted man, but also one of the reasons for Croatia to be denied entry to EU. Sanader's government has said that it would do anything in order to bring Gotovina in and hand him over to Hague. Not only government, but also every Croatian citizen, presidential candidates included, is obliged to cooperate with Hague and help bringing war crimes suspects to custody.

If Rojs is to be taken by his word, than he can help establishing Gotovina's whereabouts.

When asked whether Croatian police would interrogate Rojs, Zlatko Mehun, Croatia's Ministry of Interiors spokesman, said that police was "trying to reach Rojs".

On the other hand, Marko Marinić (Marko Marinic), spokesman of Rojs' campaign, said that Croatian police didn't need to "reach Rojs" because Rojs, just as any other presidential candidate, enjoyed police escort.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Big Boredom

The final outcome of the Big Brother Croatia now looks more like a coronation than the result of some kind of competition. Saša (Sasa) is such a formidable contestant that it is very likely that the final vote is going to be one of the least profitable for T-Com. Many fans who in the past used to spend money on evictions are going to abstain from the final vote.

T-Com is not going to be helped in this matter by housemates. In the past 36 hours they showed that they don't think much about competition or grand prize. They are more concentrated on enduring last nine days and they see the outside world as the prize more important than money. Housemates are simply bored and that boredom is going to reflect on the audience. Even the best editing skills can't hide this fact. Tonight RTL Televizija prepares another late night special, this time dedicated to the finalists and best moments in past thirteen weeks.

Last night RTL Televizija again tried to use alcohol as a catalyst for something interesting. Daily task also included dressing up as waiters and then having to impersonate each other. However, the party soon took familiar and predictable pattern. Despite Marina's attempt to mingle with the boys, Saša (Sasa) and Zdravko decided to appreciate each other's company the best and later spent large part of night in Jacuzzi. That left Marina and Alen alone and, predictably, two of them had different ideas what to do when they were finally alone. When Saša and Zdravko returned they were greeted by hours-long quarrel which, predictably, ended with inevitable reconciliation.

The morning after was slightly different. Alen was depressed, while Marina was caught talking to herself. Saša and Zdravko also desperately tried to find something to do other than spending hours on sofas.

At the end, they found something to do. In the absence of anything else, they started deliberating what to do with the money if they win it and what awaits them in the outside world. Saša for the first time admitted to the housemates that he had some debts to pay. Marina, on the other hand, said that she thought of 1 million HRK as "too much for her". Zdravko kept quiet about the money, but Alen didn't. He remembered the informal pact made by housemates at the very beginning. According to the pact, made on Ozren's suggestion, the winner should bring all housemates to vacation in Bali. Alen made some calculations and concluded that the amount of money needed to pay for the expenses would take significant portion of the prize. Alen thinks that the winner should either bring housemates somewhere closer and cheaper – a ski resort – or that the Bali trip should be reserved only for the best friends among housemates. Another issue that worries housemates is the taxes they would have to pay, thus making the grand prize less grand that it had looked three months ago.

Marina doesn't appear to expect the grand prize. She seems more worried about her public perception and expects nobody except her closest family to greet her on the way out. She could probably be very surprised to find out about the dramatic events in Pula last night. According to Večernji list (Vecernji list), Kukuriku Bar, place where Bajlos held a party in honour of their daughter, was trashed when the number of Marina's fans turned out to be larger than expected. City of Pula, including people of all ages, genders and walks of life, came there to seek autographs and express support for their city's favourite daughter.


Another interesting development related to Big Brother Croatia is an offer Antonija received almost immediately after eviction. In Friday's live show, Denis Kuljiš (Denis Kuljis), editor-in-chief of Playboy Croatia, said that she of all housemates should appear on the pages of his magazine. True to his word, he offered a photo shoot to Antonija. She refused, saying that she had appeared naked enough in Big Brother and that she simply can't reveal anything new to the Croatian public.


It appears that tonight's late night special on RTL Televizija is going to be dedicated to last night's party. RTL Televizija calls it "The Night of the Finalists".

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Done Deal

Unless something really unpredictable happens in next few days, the outcome of Big Brother show is going to be as predictable as the actual final four of contestants. Judging by nearly all polls, Saša (Sasa), who was absolute favourite from the start, enjoys comfortable support of 60 % of potential voters. Having wife and two children proved to be decisive factor, and even the potential damaging media discovery of huge debts proved to be a blessing for Saša. Many of his fans are additionally motivated to vote for him in order to save him from debt collectors. Show ending on Boxing Day, in the atmosphere of Christmas holidays, also works nicely in Saša's favour.

Chances of Zdravko, who was supposed to give Saša a run for his money, look much slimmer than anyone could have imagined only few weeks ago. Last night his worried face told everything when he had listened to the cheering of Saša's fans. Teenybopper voters, which were supposed to bring him easy victory – and were prime reason why he hasn't been nominated for weeks – might not have any impact.

At the same time, chances for Alen improved and he now, according to some polls, has second position – although it is only a third of Saša's support. Many see Alen as the show's only remaining clown – a replacement for Krešo (Kreso) who was seen as the major favourite at the start. Others are impressed with the way he doesn't hide emotions. On the other hand, Alen didn't make himself a lot of favours by confessing certain things in his recent discussions with Marina. He claims that he didn't applied to Big Brother for money; he was more interested in fame and opportunity to "pick hot girls". His father Nikola Macinić (Nikola Macinic) also didn't help his son's chances when he claimed that Alen, if he wins, will spend the grand prize in less than a month.

That leaves Marina who could prove to be the real dark horse of the final stage. Although Marina gained certain antipathy as "cold and calculated manipulator of poor ignorant Alen", many others are impressed with the strength of her character, discipline and lack of annoying habits that had brought public antipathy to other female housemates. Another thing that plays in Marina's favour is the fact she, to a certain degree, shares some of Saša's financial problems while, at the same time, represents anti-thesis of his lifestyle. In other words, potential voters who can't stand Saša are most likely to express their displeasure by voting for Marina. Fans of the evicted housemates may also chose Marina as a protest vote. Marina doesn't seem to have any hopes of winning the grand prize and that reflects in a way she stopped worrying about the way public saw her. In her more recent conversations with housemates, she said that she was worried about lectures she might get from her sister Paola.

Marina's status of dark horse was partially validated by T-Com's poll which gives her around 25 % and puts her in second place. Those numbers, however, should be taken with a grain of salt – for the most of the night Marina was leading that poll. There is good reason to believe that such numbers were result of vote stuffing.

In the meantime, RTL Televizija must find some way to struggle with boredom that arose from the situation. Viewers may see some familiar and repetitive pattern emerging – Saša (Sasa) and Zdravko isolating themselves from Alen and Marina, Marina trying to re-define "relationship" into friendship, Alen verbally agreeing with her and then acting like there is something more. Only the regular supply alcohol with the consequent reappearance of love triangle might spark things up. RTL Televizija might also bring another guest, but it is unlikely that it would create ratings as spectacular as those one week ago.

While the "relationship" between Alen and Marina is approaching its inevitable end, RTL Televizija tries to compensate that with the heavy coverage of another, this one outside House. Valentina Tasić (Valentina Tasic), ex-housemate known for her ambition to host a television talk show, is recently been seen in "romantic" company of the show's host Neno Pavinčić (Neno Pavincic). Two of them shared the passionate kiss minutes after Valentina's eviction and nowadays whenevrr Valentina appears before RTL Televizija cameras, Pavinčić is nearby. Many think that this "romance" is as real as the one within the House.