Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Formality Under The Shadow of Spy Scandal

Ivo Sanader's cabinet has formally called the new presidential elections for January 2nd 2005. If none of the candidates wins 50 %, the run-off is going to be held on January 16th.

The run-off, however, seems unlikely, because most opinion polls - the last being conducted by Večernji list (Vecernji list) – give current President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) formidable lead over his main rival and Ivo Sanader's favourite Jadranka Kosor. Despite the semi-official support of the women's NGOs, including lesbians from Kontra, Kosor is stuck with 17 %, which doesn't look that impressive compared with Mesić's 56 %. The rest is scattered among many minor league right-wing candidates and those who see their campaigns more as a publicity stunt than path to presidential residence at Pantovčak (Pantovcak).

The only way for Sanader to prevent Kosor's debacle is a major scandal that could turn public opinion against the current President. If the idea was to discover that scandal with the help of POA, Croatia's national security agency, it backfired. Attempts to find links between Mesić and controversial Zagreb businessman Hrvoje Petrač (Hrvoje Petrac) resulted in Helena Puljiz affair - scandal that has hurt POA and Sanader more than Mesić.

Things are becoming even worse for POA and its boss and Sanader loyalist Joško Podbevšek (Josko Podbevsek). Jutarnji list reports about the group of POA agents that have revolted against their boss and sent the letter to media and opposition leader Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan). The letter accuses of Podbevšek of abusing POA resources solely in the interest of Sanader, Hebrang and other HDZ bosses. The letter, for example, claims that POA tried to determine who had sent the phone votes against Hebrang during Nedjeljom u 2 talk-show on state-run HRT. Račan says that he had taken those claims seriously and that he would insist on parliamentary investigation.

Big Brother Croatia Update: T-Com's Delight

This week's Big Brother eviction vote proves to be T-Com's delight. Neither Antonija or Ana were nominated in past 70 days, so many fans of the show who are using long-awaited opportunity to express their dislike for them.

On Friday Antonija's eviction looked like certainty. However, it quickly began to change when Ana, who had been struck with bad moods and depression before, went into self-destructive mode. That became apparent to the viewers of TV daily summaries and began to reflect on on-line polls. On some of them the race is dead heat with votes for Antonija's eviction having marginal lead.

With momentum in favour of Ana's departure growing, Antonija's fans were encouraged. For the first time after Friday they began to re-appear on Croatian Internet forums, some even suggesting that their favourite could not only survive this eviction vote ordeal, but also to get into final four and win grand prize.

Their optimism, however, might not be well-founded. The polls still suggest Antonija being in marginally worse situation than Ana. The polls that have proven to be more dependable in the past suggest much larger margin for Antonija's eviction.

Furthermore, tonight's TV daily summary also suggests that Ana isn't the only one to have nomination-related problems. Perhaps RTL Televise doesn't want to be accused of being over-manipulative or biased towards Antonia – housemate whose job history and acquaintances makes her closest to RTL Televizija. In any case, their choice of daily events concentrated on Antonija instead of Ana being the neurotic primadona of Big Brother. A good example is last night row between Antonija and Ana which led to Antonija breaking down in tears and Ana telling Antonija that "she was losing it".

At the same time, more and more observers are reaching consensus about the show's final four – Saša (Sasa), Zdravko, Alen and Marina. The foursome is spending increasing amounts of time together, especially when it comes to the weekly task. Marina, who has conquered her own childhood fears, is the only woman who appears to take the weekly task seriously. Valentina, obviously aware that the balance of power has shifted in male favour, tries to emulate Marina's tactics and become "one of the guys", but her efforts so far were in vain. At this stage the only way for Valentina to enter the final four is Alen's promise to help decorate Marina's bar in Medulin for Christmas, which seems unlikely without Alen's voluntary departure.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: A Twist In The Narrative

Show's fans who used to complain about "too much family atmosphere" and "lack of drama" now have all reasons to be content. This week in Big Brother House has everything last Friday has indicated – housemates are increasingly nervous, old alliances are broken, friendships are replaced by distrust and paranoia, laughter is replaced with tears. And, to make things even better for RTL Televizija and its ratings, unlike Friday, the outcome of the show is not as predictable as it was on Friday.

On Friday and for the most of Saturday final four looked very much like the done deal – Alen and Marina have created alliance with Good Old Boys, making eviction of Ana and Valentina mere formality. Alen tried very hard to convince other two men that Marina was the best possible female companion to the final male trio. And it seemed that at least Zdravko felt sympathetic towards his argument.

However, things somewhat changed yesterday. T-Com tried to create another of its legendary "storm in a teacup" scoops by reporting about some newfound "chemistry" between Zdravko and Ana. Zdravko suddenly began showing much more tenderness towards Ana signalling that his affections or, to be more precise, political preferences might shift. However, today's lunch, during which he expressed admiration for Valentina's and Marina's culinary skills, shows that his new-found affection for Ana might be nothing more than sadistic deception. Stunts like this are supposed to make what Zdravko believes to be Ana's final week in House as difficult as possible.

Most housemates believe that Ana would leave the House on Friday and most of audience, until recently, expected next Friday to be bring surprise to them with eviction of Antonija. Although Antonija was arguably the most disliked of all housemates, last day or so Ana did her best to keep her in House. Her mood is bad, she is nervous and even those who considered themselves to be her friends and allies express preference for her departure from House. On-line polls, which showed Antonija's eviction as overwhelming preference now show much more even race – some suggest that Ana instead of Antonija might leave on Friday (and that could throw nominations into complete disarray).

However, the most spectacular twist in the House occurred with the housemate many believed to be the most emotionally stable. It seems that two months of House did have some major effect on Marina's self-control. First symptom was her drunkenness on Valentina's birthday. Second such occurrence was yesterday during another argument with Alen. Marina, who always used to pay great deal of attention to her vocabulary used, to the utmost amusement of Valentina who witnessed the row in close proximity, four-letter words.

However, what occurred with Marina in the afternoon should make Tanja Pureta and her team of psychologists very proud. Tests, close observations and data gathered by Marina's acquaintance yielded some results and brought something that should please anyone who hates Marina or simply takes pleasure in other people's misery. Weekly task – an assault course – brought some extreme painful childhood memories to Marina. When she realised that she would have to vault over the buck, Marina suddenly remembered traumatic childhood event when she fell and saw all her schoolmates laughing over her. She began to doubt that she could ever vault over the buck. The pressure of weekly task was too much and she broke down in tears in front of every other housemate.

However, it was Marina's turn to add new twist to this narrative. After some comforting from Alen she gathered herself together and decided to face her demons once again. She managed to vault over the buck. Whatever the outcome of weekly task might be, Marina proved to be one of its heroes. At least for the short moment (which, unlike her tears, probably won't be featured in tonight's TV daily summary).

Hollywood Mediocrity vs. Middle America

November 2nd 2004 continues to serve as the convenient excuse for Hollywood. After the commercial collapse of Alfie, blamed on "new atmosphere of conservatism in America", this Autumn's (or this year's) most spectacular Hollywood flop is also blamed on evil bigoted homophobic Bush-loving Middle America.

Croatian premiere of Alexander coincided with American premiere. In light of disastrous box-office results in USA, this was very good business move by Croatian distributor. If distributor allowed for customary three or four months of delay, their PR machine could hardly describe this film as "the greatest motion picture spectacle of the year".

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Endgame Approaching

The most credible source of the information about what really goes on in Big Brother House is the live stream, although the perspective based on that can be limited due to only two cameras, questionable editorial choices, poor camera angles and frequent technical problems. Another more credible source are news updates on RTL Televizija and T-Com official sites, although the former come with 24 hours delay and the latter covers only mornings and afternoons of the same day. TV daily summaries are subject to heavy editing, partly in order to raise ratings, partly in order to comply with new media standards. The least credible source of them is Jutarnji list. At least this impression can be made by Paola Bajlo, Marina's sister, who used her appearance on Friday's daily show to deny that she had ever considered Alen as Marina's choice for nomination.

Because of that, Željko's (Zeljko's) statement published to today's edition of Jutarnji list – potentially the greatest Big Brother bombshell so far - should be taken with a large grain of salt. Željko, despite more than obvious interest for him by female section of Croatian jet-set gathered on post-eviction party in Zagreb's Piranha Bar on Friday – singer Lana Jurčević (Lana Jurcevic) has flirted with him despite the presence of her boyfriend – has largely ignored any woman other than his sister Gordana (with whom he got re-united after two and half years in the show's cheesiest Ricki Lake moment so far). Finally, Jutarnji list reporter confronted him with a question raised in many Internet forums – his sexual orientation. Željko simply refused to answer that question. While some Croatians would applaud his decision to keep at least some of the privacy, many would see his plea of no contest as an implicit admission.

In the meantime, situation in House is somewhat calmer than many have feared after Friday's nominations. Ana didn't do anything overtly dramatic except for keeping her word and refusing to cook any more. There are constant recriminations and bad blood between the Axis and their former ally Valentina who now desperately wants to make friends with the male section of House. Ana, just like the rest of the housemates, expects to be evicted on Friday and she already expressed the desire to take Biggy with her. She claims that she got too attached to the dog and she, in most likelihood, loves him more than any other housemate (and at some occasions gives impression of giving preference to Biggy over the rest of man kind in general).

Ana's suspicions might become reality only if her hissy fits manage to alienate even more viewers. But it is unlikely. Extra week for Ana in the House means more drama and more ratings, and it is quite certain that Tanja Pureta and her team of psychologists would try hard to prevent her from doing something overtly dramatic like following Antonija through the gates on Friday. Polls also suggest that 60-70 % voters favour Antonija's eviction (although some suggest more even 50-40 split).

Antonija's case isn't going to be helped by some of her post-nomination reaction. While discussing the situation on Friday she tried to put the brave face on her predicament she said that "1 million HRK" isn't exactly "great sum of money" because it could buy only "a car and, if you live in Zagreb, an apartment". This statement isn't going to sit well in the nation where pensioners who go out at night to scavenge trashcans for food isn't such a rare sight.

Unpopularity of Antonija and Ana shouldn't be explained only by their pre-nomination arrogance (they have spent most of past week calling Željko "The Nominated One") but also with their heavy Dalmatian accents. Croatians are in this particular time very frustrated with the apparent inability of public opinion to affect prime minister Ivo Sanader and force the resignation of widely unpopular foreign minister Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul). Sanader and Žužul are both Dalmatians and although Žužul speaks with the hinterland accent much closer to Valentina's, it is easy to imagine some of this frustration and anti-Dalmatian sentiment being channelled into intense dislike of Antonija and Ana.

Those who fared well on last week's nomination, on the other hand, are already planning for the future. Alen felt confident enough to express his preference for the final four to other two in men's bedroom – three men and Marina. At this stage, this, together with Saša's (Sasa's) victory, appears to be the most likely outcome of the game. Yesterday morning, Zdravko, Saša and Marina were discussing what they would like to do with 1 million HRK if they win it. Marina said that she would have liked to be in final four, but that she didn't expect to win. Than she admitted that her motives for entry into show were other than fame or excitement – some of the grand prize should help her family to pay debts.

War in the Pacific Mini-AAR: First Time For Everything

It appears that Matrix Games have launched a 1.3 patch of War in the Pacific. This is just another example of the worst (and some might say the only bad) thing about the game – you happen to play it for weeks only to discover that there is something seriously wrong with its realism, game mechanics etc. Due to the epic size of a single game, applying patches is an exercise in futility – I never managed to finish a single Uncommon Valor game for the same reason. So, I decided to stick with 1.21 and try new version only under new circumstances –PBEM or hot seat opponent or some alternative scenario/campaign.

The campaign that goes so far is going more-or-less historically or, in other words, catastrophically bad for the Allies. It is January 5th 1942.

At this stage, most of the Philippines is Japanese hands – last Allied unit surrendered on Mindanao, while the Luzon still holds, or, to be more precise, heavily fortified positions around Manila, Clark Field and Batan. After initial shock, US air forces on Philippines have got their act together. US fighters appear to be able to confront Japanese aircrafts, even "Zeros", on equal footing – first fighter aces (with 5 or more downed enemy planes) of Pacific War are 1st LT Crowley of 21st Fighter Squadron US Army, 1st LT Cullen and FO Brors of 24th Fighter Groups US Army. But Japanese onslaught continues and Manila is being bombed while Japanese already made first major assault on Clark Field.

A little bit westwards Japanese have consolidated their hold on Northern Borneo with successful landings on Brunei and Miri. After valiant defence during which at least one Japanes cargo ship was sunk, Dutch garrison on Menado, Celebes has surrendered. More spectacular was Japanese aircraft carrier squadron raid in Java Sea during which Dutch cruiser De Reyteur was hit hard, only to be sunk by Japanese submarine. That was the first occurrence of a capital ship being sunk by submarine. But there wasn't the only first thing to happen during that operation – Dutch level bombers have managed to score a hit on Zuiho and create quite a mess on her deck. That was the first occurrence of an aircraft carrier being damaged in combat during the campaign. Despite attempts to hit that task force with combination of Dutch destroyers and patrol torpedo boats, Zuiho is sailing eastwards, to the safety of Davao which is now major Japanese base.

Things are going very bad in Malaya. Yamashita's 5th, 18th and Imperial Guards Division have cleared all but Johore province. Demoralised British and Empire troops are running towards Singapore. In order to release some pressure, I organised evacuation convoy from Kuala Lumpur to Sumatra. At least two Indian brigades and plenty of support troops were brought to safety, but Japanese air force have taken a heavy toll on the shipping – anti-aircraft cruiser Cape Town and couple of cargo ships.

Japanese navy also made a run towards Malacca – Royal Navy from Singapore have intercepted them and did a number on couple of troop carriers. I wondered whether that suicidal mission was a ruse made in order to bring British capital ships out of RAF-covered Singapore harbour. I got my answer when Prince of Wales was caught on sea by Japanese bombers and received three torpedo hits. That brought me an unpleasant dilemma – whether to send the damaged capital ship to Singapore and risk losing it during the inevitable collapse of city's defences or to risk long journey southwards to relative safety of Indonesia and Australia. I took the second option and haven't regretted it so far – Prince of Wales remained undetected by Japanese and is currently being repaired in Palembang. When she becomes operational, she would join Repulse and destroyer Isis (which were damaged by Japanese planes in Singapore) and two British destroyers that had escaped from Hong Kong (and survived the Japanese air attack east of Borneo which had sunk US cruiser Houston). All those ships are to gather in Darwin from where they would try to stop Japanese from taking Timor and threatening Australia.

Westwards, situation looks bad in Burma. Rangoon is still besieged by Japanese 55th Division, but Japanese seem overstretched and apparently couldn't prevent 1st Burmese Brigade from making a brave move southwards and retaking Moulmain, former RAF base. This was the first occurrence of an Allied base being liberated from Japanese. Most troubling thing in Burma is total lack of Allied air forces. There is one torpedo bomber squadron in Ceylon and remains of a bomber squadrons in Rangoon and Akyab. Situation might improve with the arrival of couple of fighter squadrons to India next week – they are equipped with Hurricanes, model at least marginally better than antiquated Buffalos that had been mauled by Zeros in last month.

I also noticed one interesting thing about the Allied air forces. Their efficiency has dramatically improved over past month. This is due to huge experience gained among surviving pilots. But it all came with a price – most of them have flown 28 or more missions and the morale in those squadrons is bad. I'm certain that at least some of them would have to be removed from Singapore or Manila before the end of month. It would be a shame for such battle-hardened personnel to be wasted when both bases inevitably fall. I already start moving some RAAF squadrons from Australian mainland as a replacement.

As for Australia itself, it is far from being threatened. Garrison in Port Moresby has received enough supplies to last a long siege. Garrison in Rabaul is still resisting, although it couldn't have prevented Japanese from establishing base in nearby Kavieng.

Eastwards, most US military activity is concentrated in Central Pacific. Bases in Johnston Island and Palmyra are strengthened with more fortifications, supplies while engineers are expanding port facilities. One carrier task force have made successful raid on Japanese base in Tarawa Atoll, damaging harbour and airfield without casualties of its own. The most ambitious operation is establishment of US base on nearby Baker Island. One engineering and one AA unit have already been deployed – bombers, fighters, infantry support, fuel and more supplies should arrive shortly.

Australians are also in the process of establishing a base in Guadalcanal. That base should protect the sea lanes between USA and Australia.

Statistics are, at least on first impression, improving in Allied favour. During the entire campaign so far, Allies have lost 531 aircraft to Japanese 351. Allies have also lost 45 ships to Japanese 26. It should be noted that the former includes more capital ships (2 battleships, 1 heavy cruiser, 3 light cruisers, 1 anti-aircraft cruiser, 5 destroyers – Japanes lost 3 light cruisers and 2 destroyers).

Croatian Product That Can Be Exported

One of the reasons why Croatia is burdened with approximately 26 billion US$ of foreign debt is huge disparity between Croatia's exports and Croatia's imports. Croatia's economy, although in definitely better shape than the rest of Southeastern Europe, is nowadays based around services rather than manufacturing. There are few Croatian companies that try to make money by selling their product on foreign markets.

Croatian manufacturing industry has just received one major endorsement, although it is very unlikely that it would be featured in any kind of advertising. Otvoreni Radio reports that the slaying of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh was committed with HS 2000, a pistol produced in Croatia. The weapon was acquired illegally for 1000 €.

This type of assassination, however, is probably the only way Croatian weapons industry can remind the world of its existence. While Croatia had its share of ex-Yugoslav weapons industry - M-84 tanks, produced in Slavonski Brod, were successfully used by Kuwaitis during Desert Storm – most of the facilities fell victim to dissolution of the former federation and policies that favoured arms smuggling and import commissions over domestic productions. Those trends continued with downgrading of Croatian military and NATO standardisation. Ambitious plans to produce new tank models and warships were scrapped and nowadays small arms are the only thing that was left of Croatian arms industry's former glory.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: A Night To Remember

Last night's live show perhaps didn't included Daria Knez accidentally using profanities like one week ago, but it had its share of interesting moments. The most interesting of them all was the brief post-nomination statement by one of the guests in the studio - Ana Ocvirk, Antonija's friend. She tried to explain Antonija's nomination with other housemates' fear of competition – "They know she is going to get 1 million HRK on December 26th, so they want to throw her out before that happens". Željka Milanko (Zeljka Milanko) said that Antonija was nominated solely for "not being nominated before". Ana Ocvirk then confidently replied "This is the first time she was nominated, and it is going to be the last".

Ana Ocvirk's words are likely to become a reality, at least judging by the buzz on various Croatian Internet forums and Usenet newsgroups. They all had dramatic increase of Big Brother-related posts with most characteristic subjects headers being "Thank the Lord", "O Happy Day", "Fall of the Evil Empire", "We Waited 70 Days For This", "Marina, We Love You" etc.

Judging by the immediate reactions in the House, nobody doubts that Alen would be there on the next Saturday. Antonija and Ana spent the first hours after nominations between uncomfortable silences, Ana's threats that they would stop cooking, Antonija's admission that she practiced "spinster's comfort" in the House (in an apparent attempt to reduce any male's leverage over her) and Axis members' desperate attempts to find who nominated them and why. Zdravko replied to this request by saying that one of them would probably know the answer to that question next Friday when she leaves.

While both women are upset, Ana is more tense than Antonija. She had some discussion with Marina and expressed her conviction that she would leave on Friday ("Younger people vote, and I'm the oldest of them all"). Ana's pessimism is, however, unfounded. Twelve hours after the nominations opinion polls numbers have stabilised into more recognisable pattern 60 % for Antonija, 30 % for Ana and 10 % for Alen.

This is the most delightful outcome for RTL Televizija and its sponsors. Three-way eviction race means more income from phone votes. In this case one of the potential evictees is the most unpopular of all housemate, and another is one of the most popular. Both those who don't like Antonija and those who want to keep Alen in the House are going to vote in record numbers. Even disgruntled Željko (Zeljko) fans are more likely to cast their votes for eviction of Antonija rather than kick Alen out.

Another good thing for RTL Televizija is big likelihood of increased ratings due to the more drama in the House next week. The housemates have, to their utmost surprise, failed their weekly task and this is going to reflect on their budget. That would hit smokers like very hard, especially Ana who, deprived of cigarettes, might become very aggressive and unpleasant towards other housemates. Another potential for drama might be developing love triangle between Alen, Marina and Zdravko – Marina did her part by exchanging some tenderness with Zdravko in his bed while temporarily devastated Alen looked at the wall.

Another avenue of ratings raising was explored in what was the final and the most tender moment of the evening. Last to go to bed were Marina and Ana. Marina tried to help and cheer up Ana with a sensual massage. Ana was so pleased that she praised Marina's skill and said that she was "better than Željko". Just in the moment when this tender moment could have developed into something more, Antonija suddenly woke up and interrupted two girls' conversation. That was the signal for Marina to stop and go to sleep. Before calling a night she, quite aware that she is being watched by people outside House, wished "a good night for all those who stay awake in this time".

Just Another Constitutional Crisis in Croatia

There are so many things happening in my country, some of them important, some of them not so important, but I simply can't take time to blog about all of them. One of the more important things that I have missed so far is the escalating feud between two figures which, at least until this point, were the role models of political cohabitation – President Stipe Mesić (Stipe Mesic) and prime minister Ivo Sanader.

When Sanader won the elections one year ago, Mesić, a populist president elected on the waves of 2000 anti-HDZ sentiment, proved to be rather "constructive" towards the representative of his former party. Both Mesić and Sanader had the same agenda – Croatian entry into EU – and with Sanader toning down his nationalist rhetoric, the only differences between the two were based on power and interests rather than ideology and style.

Mesić is definitely more popular than Sanader, but he also had almost four more years to mess thing up than prime minister. Mesić's worst mistake was his attempt to clinch his next presidential mandate by a diplomatic coup – arranging the deal between ICTY and General Ante Gotovina, war crimes suspect and Croatia's most wanted man. Mesić's idea was apparently to kill two birds with one shot – he would take credit for securing Croatian entry into EU and thus gain votes on the left; at the same time, having Gotovina's status reduced to witness or arranging his defence at large would silence right-wingers who had Gotovina as their martyr and hero-figure.

Main problem for Mesić was the fact that this scheme could be arranged only behind the scenes. It also required assistance of certain shady characters that used to hold sway over Croatia during Tudjman's years when the lines between war, politics, business, secret services and organised crime used to be blurred. Some of those characters, at least those associated with controversial Zagreb businessman Hrvoje Petrač (Hrvoje Petrac), turned out to be liability instead of asset for Mesić. When Gotovina refused the deal and opted to continue hiding, Mesić's grand scheme turned into major fiasco – instead of winning him popularity, Gotovina plan has tainted Mesić.

Attempts of damage limitations through friendly media and security apparatus backfired. In 2004 Franjo Turek, chief of POA, one of Croatia's intelligence services, was replaced with Joško Podbevšek (Josko Podbevsek), widely believed to be Sanader loyalist. Even worst blow came when Željko Bagić (Zeljko Bagic), Mesić's national security advisor, received the EU travel ban because of his association with Gotovina. Bagić too was forced to step down.

All that left Mesić exposed for attack from security services loyal to Sanader. One such operation backfired, though. Less than a month ago, Helena Puljiz, free-lance journalist known for her closeness with President, was summoned to POA. There she was subjected to five hours of interrogation during which the agents hinted about most intimate details of her life. POA wanted Puljiz to give information about people in President's circle who give aid to Gotovina and "thus endanger Croatia's entry to EU and national security". Of course, this kind of information may also be very useful during presidential campaign.

Unfortunately, POA agents miscalculated since they hadn't taken a cue from Severina affair. Puljiz did, knowing that whatever POA had recorded would probably be of little interest to Croatian public. Instead of co-operating she informed Sabor and media about her ordeal. Public opinion quickly turned on Sanader and his security apparatus.

Mesić used this as a pretext to finally establish his authority and on Thusday he signed the decree removing Podbevšek from the helm of POA. Unfortunately for Mesić, constitutional changes adopted during the feud between him and Račan also require that the decree be co-signed by prime minister.

Sanader, who is very submissive when it comes to any request by EU or USA, is firm when it comes to protecting his people, especially those who, like his foreign minister Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul), share his Dalmatian background. Since Podbevšek is Dalmatian, Sanader refused to co-sign the decree. Instead he went on the offensive and accused Mesić of trying to remove Podbevšek because of POA criminal complaint against Turek and Bagić. Zagreb police have confirmed receiving complaint and Mesić reacted by accusing POA of not informing him about such move.

Next month or so is going to be very interesting, because the issue of Podbevšek's removal is both political and constitutional. In most likelihood, at the end of the day, both sides are going to claim victory – Mesić would get his second term in January, while Sanader would keep his men thanks to firm support from EU.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Axis About To Be Permanently Broken

Whatever the deal Ana had offered, it was rejected tonight. Ana, Antonija and Alen got 3 nomination votes. If the polls are correct Antonija is about to be evicted on Friday.


Ana's first reaction to nomination was to freak out and accuse Zdravko of trying to nominate her twice. When she calmed down, she began talking about following Krešo's (Kreso's) example and jumping over the fence.

Snap polls give slight edge to Ana over Antonija. Support for Alen's eviction is in single digit numbers.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Željko (Zeljko) Is Out

Željko (Zeljko) got evicted with 64 % votes to Alen's 36 %. The outcome was hinted by RTL Televizija's announcement that they prepared "surprise" for Željko. Internet forums were already giving information about Željko's sister being flown from Germany for this particular occasion. So, the contest – although somewhat closer than a week ago – wasn't that close. The percentage of the votes is more-or-less in line with the results of T-Com poll.

In next few minutes, after the nominations, it will be revealed whether some deal between Saša (Sasa), Zdravko, Antonija and Ana is reached or whether the failure of weekly task and unavoidable cigarette troubles would lead to the split between smokers and non-smokers.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Final Nomination Pact – Game Over?

If certain news item on RTL official site is to be believed, Axis and Good Old Boys have apparently made or at least tried to make a deal that would secure their place in final four. Last evening Ana was telling Saša (Sasa), Zdravko and Antonija about the dream in which "all four of them reached final". Of course, this dream tale is just an excuse for nomination deal proposal.

If the deal goes through, all four are likely to create unstoppable nomination bloc that would first nominate Alen/Željko(Zeljko) and Marina this evening, than Alen and Valentina, than Alen and Zdravko. Axis would gladly sacrifice Valentina, while the boys would get rid of Alen whom they see as their biggest competitor for final prize.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Dramatic Necessity

Conventional wisdom and on-line polls suggest that at least one segment of tonight's live Big Brother Show won't be much of surprise. Željko (Zeljko) apparently failed to use the one extra week of opportunity to win audience's sympathies. The only factor that could make a last-minute shift in his favour is Alen. Last night's TV daily summary had some of that effect and some polls saw the gap between Željko and Alen closing.

However, it most likely that this new development was too little too late. Furthermore, judging by the way they have manipulated their material on TV yesterday, it is very likely that RTL Televizija found the new dramatic potential in the show – something that looks very much like a love triangle between Alen, Marina and Zdravko. This new dramatic potential, together with Alen's clownish personality, definitely puts Alen in advantage over Željko (Zeljko) when it comes to the commercial considerations of RTL Televizija and its sponsors.

It is very likely that RTL Televizija acted in order to secure Alen's staying in House or at least to prevent him from going on his own accord and thus deprive show's sponsors from phone vote income. In the morning after Valentina's birthday Alen spent some time in Confessions Room talking with the show's psychologist. This was both in order to convince him to stay and to evaluate his ability to do something stupid or violent – anyone had witnessed late Wednesday's conversation with Marina is more aware that Alen can act violently (in this case, fortunately, the only victim of his rage was the bedroom wall, but that may change in the future).

Even with Željko's (Zeljko's) eviction being certain, the second phase of tonight's show – nominations – is very hard to predict. Traditional Jutarnji list panel of friends and relatives suggests four names – Alen (4), Zdravko, Marina and Ana (3). Again, what housemates might do is quite another thing. Many may nominate Marina only in order to get rid of Alen, because he gave impression of her eviction being the reason enough for his own voluntary departure. Zdravko is somewhat less likely to be nominated because housemates fear that he has the teenybopper vote in his pocket and that whoever else gets nominated is likely to be evicted; on the other hand, he also might be nominated simply in order to secure that other person's eviction. Alen also can be a wild card – in yesterday's conversation with Marina he said that he would like to stay for extra week, but not in the final four.

Serbs and Pensioners Save Žužul (Zuzul)

Last night was very eventful in Sabor. The MSes were debating the removal of foreign minister Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul). However, despite all the firebrand rhetoric, the outcome was very certain from the beginning – SDSS and HSU have announced that they would abstain from the vote and thus deprive the opposition of necessary majority. When time for actual vote came, nobody was for the removal for one very simple reason – no opposition MS was in Sabor. They had left in protest after failing to secure roll call vote instead old-fashioned Communist-style raising of hands. The latter was traditional HDZ method of keeping their own MSes in line. Some of them, like powerful East Slavonia boss Branimir Glavaš (Branimir Glavas), have announced that they would abstain instead of helping their party comrade.

However, this wasn't the end of the story. Opposition leaders are now crying foul over alleged irregularity of the vote. When they left the building, the number of remaining MSes – 75 – was two men short of required 77 for the vote to be valid. However, this didn't prevent Sabor speaker Vladimir Šeks (Vladimir Seks) from announcing that 79 MSes in building and vote being valid.

Unlike their colleagues in Ukraine, Croatian opposition parties can't expect support of USA and EU in their crusade for fair and transparent vote. Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul) might be one of the most despised politicians in Croatia today, but that amounts for little when compared with his popularity among diplomats and bureaucrats in Brussels and Washington.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Brešan (Bresan) Goes To Hollywood

Svjedoci a.k.a. Witnesses is the most controversial film to be made in Croatia since independence. The main reason for the controversy is its subject, which was until not too long ago a complete taboo for any Croatian filmmaker –Croatian Army atrocities against ethnic Serb civilians during 1991-95 war. Its director Vinko Brešan (Vinko Bresan) has already crossed some lines in 1990s with his war and politically themed comedies, but this bleak drama, despite toning down the violence and brutality of real life events that had served as an inspiration, brought heavy criticism from right-wing sections of Croatian society. Critics at home and abroad had different opinions and the film received some festival prizes.

However, Večernji list (Vecernji list) reports about Brešan being in Hollywood where he not only negotiated about distribution rights, but also about the grandest prize of all – a Hollywood remake. If this deal goes through and a new, Hollywood version is indeed made, it would be the greatest day in the history of Croatian cinema – and despite the great likelihood of a remake being visibly inferior to the original.

Dragun Denies Everything

Denis Dragun, Split bar owner who recently became one of Croatia's dark celebrities due to his alleged spreading of HIV on purpose, appeared on the talk show on TV Dalmacija. I didn't catch all of the show, but Dragun, who is former schoolteacher, talked very slowly, measuring each word, in a manner more suitable to classroom than television. However, apart from looking somewhat underweight (which is basis for all HIV rumours), he left good impression. He denied ever having HIV and said that he would make the HIV test and later inform the public about the results.

Saša Ljubičić (Sasa Ljubicic), show's host and Slobodna Dalmacija columnist, probably hoped that the show would be focused on the issues of privacy and public health. Instead, Dragun has switched the course of discussion towards his years-long feud with City of Split officials and spent most of the time discussing arcane and complicated business arrangements and legal entanglements related to his Luxor bar – one of the most attractive spots in Split.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Harmony of Words and Action

Last night's festivities in Big Brother House left plenty of material for the editors of tonight's daily summary. Needless to say, they have put them to good use. Unfortunately, new programming guidelines prevented RTL Televizija from showing Alen and Marina throwing up, so this left little context for the scene of them two sleeping in same bed (with indifferent Valentina on the next bed). This night's daily show, of course, included Alen's hissy fit and ended with the shot of him crying alone in bed.

This apparently had some major effect on Big Brother fans. For the first time in almost two months, official Big Brother site is inaccessible.

Another reason for increased traffic is Zdravko's last night's faux pas, which is very much in line with something he had said in Confessions Room one day earlier. In tonight's TV summary Marina finally went on record and settled the issue for good – when asked whom he finds attractive, she said that she is attracted to Zdravko's looks; she also said that she wasn't attracted to Alen.

The viewers are probably going to make some interesting conclusions based on Zdravko's action and Marina's words. Zdravko and Marina too appear to explore this possibility, at least judging by the way they talked to each other in the backyard few minutes ago, completely oblivious to cold air and Valentina.


Before the tonight's daily summary, one of the on-line polls had Željko (Zeljko) having 58 % of eviction votes to Alen's 42 %. Less than two hours later, the situation has changed – now Željko has around 56 % to Alen's 44 %. It is too early to tell whether we could talk about balance being tilted or whether sudden increase of anti-Alen sentiment could keep this momentum. In any case, if Alen gets out on Friday, there would probably be less outrage and conspiracy theories about vote fraud than in the case of Sanja.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Dreams Like Marina

All those weeks and months of frustrating anticipation paid off, at least partially, for RTL Televizija and many of the show's fans. The House's most talked about relationship has reached another level – Alen Mačinić (Alen Macinic) and Marina Bajlo have slept together.

However, the nature of Alen and Marina's bedtime bliss doesn't seem to be of such nature to warrant anything over PG-13 rating. It all started with the celebration of Valentina's 24th birthday during which everyone, Marina included, took large amounts of alcohol. In case of Marina, who tried very hard to stay sober on previous occasions of such nature, this reflected in uncharacteristically uninhibited behaviour during which she jumped into Jacuzzi. In case of Alen it reflected in pathological jealousy when he realised that Marina in such state didn't mind being in close proximity to other male housemates, notably Zdravko.

Zdravko, who had recently dropped the bombshell in Confession Room with his description of Marina being in his dreams, seemed particularly enthusiastic about being in Jacuzzi with her. He expressed it in the most embarrassing way possible – he said to Marina that her legs was hairy, not realising that he actually touched Saša (Sasa).

This was apparently too much for Alen who went into another of his usual hissy fits, this time fuelled by alcohol. Things became ugly very soon. He literally took Marina to his room for some quiet discussion about his feelings being "betrayed". The discussion soon turned into monologue because Marina couldn't understand what was going on. Alen's voice was raised and situation instantly became very unpleasant. Even Big Brother team got concerned and they intervened by calling Marina to Confessions Room under the pretext of changing batteries. Alen was left in the room, alone and crying.

That wasn't the end of the evening for Alen. Few minutes later he got up only to throw up on the way to bathroom. In the bathroom itself he found Marina in the same predicament. Alcohol-fuelled jealousy was immediately replaced by the utmost concern for Marina. He helped her in the bathroom and later helped her on the way to bed, refusing to leave until she was "all right". Since Marina was apparently unwell due to too much alcohol, he took it as an excuse to spend the night first by her bedside, than sleeping in her bed.

Marina got up early in the morning, apparently in order to enjoy the benefits of privacy hour and possibly to discuss the new situation with other, mostly female housemates. She returned to bed and, judging by some late morning discussions with Alen, he again didn't take it very lightly. Two of them, however, are concerned how their drunkenness and its aftermath would play on national TV.

In the meantime, it seems that the decision of Electronic Media Council to censor Big Brother gave unprecedented PR boost to Croatia's first reality show. Before that decision almost all Croatian intellectuals, entertainment figures and other celebrities lambasted the show as something "stupid" and "damaging". The censorship swayed their opinion in opposite direction. Panel of politicians, opera actors, filmmakers, pop and opera singers gathered by Slobodna Dalmacija has attacked the Electronic Media Council and defended the show. This was also an opportunity for one of its members, Vjeko Kramer, cook who hosts culinary show on Nova TV, to become another Croatia's celebrity to announce his preference for one of show's candidates. He referred to Ms. Bajlo as "Sweet Marina".

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Ukraine Mess

If you want informed opinion and up-to-date information of what is currently going in Ukraine, I suggest that you read some other blogs. All I can offer on the subject are couple of observations.

Ukraine, as it is pronounced in Croatian, sounds very much like "Krajina", which is the word for "Frontier". Whatever happens with this elections, this is the fate that awaits that country – Ukrainians are either be Russian buffer zone towards NATO and West or NATO/EU buffer zone against Russia. It is understandable why so many in EU want Yuschenko to win this contest – idealists want new, big and nuclear-armed addition to future European superpower, while realists see Ukraine as some kind of European Mexico – source of cheap labour and cannon fodder which happens not to be tainted with Islamic fundamentalism. US administration, on the other hand, tries to use Ukraine in order to improve its standing with Europeans and world leftists by standing on the side of liberal democracy. Both USA and EU also want to re-establish some its great power prestige at the expense of weakened Russia.

Another thing seems very likely. Whoever won this elections had rather slim margin and whoever wins post-election stand-off would have to deal with the country bitterly divided on sectarian and ethnic lines. Unlike Serbia, Georgia and East European countries in 1989, there won't be any magical "velvet" or "rose" revolution to instantly transform authoritarian regime into liberal democracy. If some kind of meaningful compromise isn't reached very soon, all kinds of unpleasant scenarios, ranging from military dictatorship, civil war and Yugoslavia-style break-up, are likely.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Brittle Liaisons

Yesterday's TV daily summary of the event in Big Brother House, unlike the previous one, was less drama or more action-oriented. Editors paid much more attention to housemates' attempts to tackle various circus acts than to politics and pre-nomination campaigns. However, the weekly task itself is creating tensions – it is obvious that some housemates can perform worse than others and it is very likely that the task won't be fulfilled. Housemates are aware of that and some already are preparing for the limited budget that awaits them after Friday. Some are blaming other housemates for betting too much of weekly budget on task while others blame them for not speaking their mind when they had the chance. This is, however, opportunity for some politics – Zdravko, for example, used cigarettes as an attempt for reapprochement with Marina and Zdravko and potential creation of new voting bloc on non-smoking basis.

In the meantime, as the show is reaching its final month, Croatian media establishment intensifies publishing of the most interesting information about housemates that has been collected in last couple of months. What was only hinted is now delivered explicitly. Needless to say, that information is either deals with intimate sections of housemates' pre-House life or their most embarrassing moments.

According to the accounts by his friends and former girlfriend Martina Brajković (Martina Brajkovic), Alen Mačinić (Alen Macinic) was a young man accustomed to good life that included frequenting strip bars, casinos and even one exotic massage parlour. At one time he even experimented with having topless dancers in his own bar. Other passion in Alen's life is soccer and that explains why he got arrested for pitch invasion and stealing players' jerseys during one game between Dinamo Zagreb and NK Rijeka. According to the account of his friends, Alen got out of that trouble with the sob story about little sister that remained on stands with rowdiest bunch of NK Rijeka fans.

Media have also discovered the identity of Valentina's mysterious boyfriend. He was revealed to be Ranko Tvrtković (Ranko Tvrtkovic), 36-year old owner of Sarajevo car rental agency. As a man who apparently didn't have much taste for publicity he left his mobile phone in the hands of a trusted "secretary" whose job was to give as little statements as possible. According to "secretary", Tvrtković was very much against Valentina's entry into show. Tvrtković is going to publicly speak about their relationship only after Valentina's departure from House, but "secretary" hints that the relationship is "fragile".

Marina Bajlo and her stormy (non)relationship with Alen have recently rekindled interest into her real-life pre-House relationship. Christmas song as the housemates' weekly task has sparked some memories in Marina and she began talking about her boyfriend, 28-year old aluminium furniture entrepreneur. Marina said that they ended their relationship before the show in order to make her stay easier but she also said that she wasn't sure whether she wanted to get back to him because he was "man worth fighting for".

When approached by media for comment, 28-year old Edi Grubišić (Edi Grubisic) didn't say much except that the relationship was "history". According to Marina's mother Mirjana and sister Paola, the reasons for break-up hadn't got much to do with Big Brother. Grubišić and Marina used to be long time friends before becoming romantically involved last Christmas. This explains why any mention of Christmas made Marina so sentimental. Mirjana Bajlo thinks that the relationship was "too serious" for her daughter.

In the meantime, it is becoming apparent that at least one romantic relationship fell victim to Big Brother. Sanja Kvastek's boyfriend Marko Presečki (Marko Presecki) inexplicably didn't show up on the eviction night. Any subsequent attempt by Sanja's sister Kristina and media to contact him failed. It seems that the negative publicity created by poetry was too much for Presečki. That didn't seem to put Sanja in the bad mood, at least on the first post-House night. According to Sanja, she spent that night with Filip Voloder, ex-housemate with whom she shared one of show's two passionate kisses.

In this situation even the housemates' friends and relatives are becoming celebrities worthy of extra seduction effort. Neno Pavinčić (Neno Pavincic), show's co-host who had put incredible effort to present himself as Croatia's Don Juan, has been seen in "romantic" company Paola Bajlo. When asked about relationship with Pavinčić, Paola declined any comment.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Drama Intensifies

Big Brother housemates were given a set of circus acts as their weekly task. In earlier stages of the game, those acts or, to be more precise, preparations for those acts, could have been the most attractive part of the show. But, judging by the way things are going, this spectacle is going to be nothing more than annoying distraction from what appears to be the most attractive and, in this stage, the more obvious element of the game – final re-alignments between housemates and increased hostility between clearly formed characters, factions and clans.

RTL Televizija, aware of that, yesterday dedicated almost entire daily summary to the various, sometimes very unpleasant, discussions between various housemates in which they either marked their territory, formed new battle lines or tried to secure their reserve position. For example, a single discussion between Alen and Marina has taken 10 interrupted minutes – almost one fifth of the show's running time.

The conflicts which have been only suggested are now taken as a fact – Ana vs. Zdravko, Zdravko vs. Marina, Saša (Sasa) vs. Antonija, Ana vs. Alen. There are two clans which have clear priorities and clear preferences – Good Old Boys (Saša and Zdravko) want to have Valentina as part of their final four; Axis, together with Valentina prefers either three women and a man or four women; Alen, Marina and, to a lesser degree, Željko (Zeljko), are trying to survive between the two.

Outside House RTL Televizija tried to defuse the issue of Zdravko's homophobia with official communiqué. In it they denounced any intolerance and denied any links with Zdravko's views. They said that Zdravko's alleged homophobic statement was taken "out of context" and "quickly countered by other statements", which, according to RTL Televizija, "shows what values Big Brother stands for".

RTL Televizija refusal to publicly censure or evict Zdravko is quite understandable. If they did so, they could have opened the floodgates and allowed each and every interest lobby in Croatia to meddle into show over some alleged verbal transgression. Furthermore, any explicit move against Zdravko could affect public sympathies towards him, but not in a way Iskorak and Kontra believe –Zdravko, whose standing among general Big Brother fan population is definitely much worse than he currently thinks it is, could become a martyr figure for conservative, macho, right-wing and partriarchal Croatians.

War in the Pacific Mini-AAR: Dark Christmas

I continued playing War in the Pacific and I reached December 27th 1941.

The course of the events wasn't very different from the history. Japanese AI is obviously taking its cue from Yamamoto and uses Allied weakness to crush all opposition. Allied forces are fighting very hard and sometimes manage to score minor tactical victory, but they simply can't stop the Japanese onslaught.

By this point, almost entire Northern Malaya is in Japanese hands – Georgetown, Alor Star, Victoria Point and Moulmain in Burma are captured while Japanese 55th Division is at the gates of Rangoon. I'm trying to set up some kind of evacuation from besieged Kuala Lumpur but all I can expect to see is massacre of Allied ships and troop carries at the hands of Japanese air force. Japanese are feeling so comfortable that they sent the troop convoy west of Singapore – RAF and Empire air forces have mauled them, but so far failed to stop them.

Japanese have also captured Kuching on Borneo and are currently fighting Dutch garrison at Menado, Celebes.

In Philippines Japanese have cleared most of Mindanao, parts of Central and Northern Luzon. Japanese artillery has began bombardment of Manila. Half a dozen of cargo ships were sunk by Japanese air force in Manila harbour, making the evacuation of US and Philippino forces very hard. Some US air units have managed to score occasional hit against Japanese ships and some pilots can brag about downing "Zeros", but the general outlook in Philippines is grim. Another small, but insignificant comfort to Allies came in the form of one Dutch naval squadron which have managed to sink couple of Japanese patrol gunboats.

Japanese have also captured all of Gilbert Islands and are stuck in a very hard fight with determined Australian garrison at Rabaul.

US submarines are concentrated mostly in South China Sea and they are hitting Japanese troop carriers and cargo ships very hard. However, for some strange reason those Japanese ships – whether they are hit by Allied shells, bombs or torpedoes – refuse to sink. They seem to be somewhat too resilient – one of them sank almost 20 days after being hit by US coast artillery at Wake Island. I think that the 1.22 patch might address this issue.

During the entire campaign so far, Allies have lost 425 aircraft to Japanese 208. Allies lost 26 ships to Japanese 14.

Price Rising in Sabor

When Mate Granić (Mate Granic) used to dream about being elected to Sabor more than a year ago, price of Sabor seat was apparently 100,000 €. In the meantime, the price of a Sabor seat has dramatically increased, as current prime minister Ivo Sanader can atest.

Few days ago SDSS has finally jumped from the fence and announced that its three Sabor representatives are going to "listen to the will of the public" and vote for the removal of Croatian foreign minister Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul). This is 2 votes short of necessary 77 vote majority.

So, the decision lies in 3-men delegation of HSU, Croatia's pensioners' party. Leader of that party, created with traditionally left-wing social agenda, have surprised many with their decision to help right-wing HDZ to create governing coalition one year ago. That decision seems to be wise right now when they are able to extract all kinds of concessions from embattled Sanader. So far they refused to tell whether they would support Žužul's removal or not. Yet, there are some speculations about vote depending on whether Sanader can find extra 1 billion HRK (131 million €) for pensions in next year's budget. Sanader is, therefore, between the proverbial rock and the hard place – if he doesn't pay, he risks political crisis and parliamentary elections he could easily lose; if he pays, he would anger IMF and World Bank.

In any case, a single Sabor seat is now worth cca. 44 million € - 440 times more than one year ago.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Gays vs. Zdravko Lamot

Iskorak and Kontra – Croatia's gay and lesbian NGOs – have sent an open letter to RTL Televizija demanding that something be done about Zdravko Lamot's statement in which he enticed "violence, enmity and intolerance towards sexual minorities".

Reason for Iskorak and Kontra to take interest in Croatia's most popular TV show was recent discussion about homosexuality during which many housemates expressed their dislike for that particular phenomenon. Zdravko Lamot, however, was the most explicit calling homosexuals "sick people" and adding that he would "kill his friend if he ever discovers his homosexuality".

Iskorak and Kontra demand that Zdravko Lamot must be warned about his "homophobic statements" and forcefully evicted from the House if he refuses to do so. In order to put extra pressure on RTL Televizija they sent the same letter to Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities committees of Sabor, Office of Children's Rights Ombudsman and Electronic Media Council.

Reference to the latter two bodies – those who had forced them to censor the show - was apparently enough to scare RTL Televizija officials. According to Večernji list (Vecernji list) they immediately went into damage limitation mode and issued statement trying to distance themselves from Lamot's statement and said that they would issue official communiqué tomorrow.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Dead Heat

Sanja Kvastek in her first post interviews given after her departure from House was quite unrepentant about the biographic details that might had lead to her eviction – poetry and inter-racial romances. She was "shocked" with the media interest created by her poetry and said that the people who saw something negative with her having relationship with black and Asian men had "problems". Sanja said that she wasn't surprised by Friday's nomination. She also refused to name her favourite among those two because she was unsure "what public thought".

In the meantime, at least some of the housemates tried to give their own explanations for Sanja's eviction in Confessions Room. Valentina said that she had preferred Sanja to stay and that the voters probably received only "superficial" portrait of Sanja on TV screens making them too aware about her lifestyle and vocabulary. Antonija also mentioned possible intolerance of alternative lifestyles as the reason for eviction and wondered whether the only people who vote are "14 year old girls".

Obviously aware that "privacy hour" might make nominations, based on strict gender lines, a formality and later evictions quite predictable, Big Brother intervened by giving the housemates a new daily task – to sleep in different bedrooms at random. Last night Valentina slept in men's and Zdravko slept in women's bedroom, which made any early morning nomination talk somewhat more difficult than before.

This week's eviction race promises to be even more exciting and even less predictable than last week's. Alen appears to be recovered from shock and his mood was slightly improved after the discussion with Marina during which she tried her best to convince him that she hadn't nominated him. So, it seems unlikely that he would crack and request voluntary departure, at least not in next few days.

However, conventional wisdom that points to Alen as clear favourite is being challenged by Željko who reacted to the nomination in a completely different nominationmen's ite predictable it of Sanjans Room. Antonija said thaway than one week before. What used to be source of frustration and anxiety is now the source of confidence – his survival in the contest with House veteran has boosted his ego. He spends increasing amounts of time with Marina and both discovered their mutual fondness for French literature – in Marina's case it is The Stranger by Albert Camus (which explains why she handles some of the more traumatic aspects of House life so well).

Željko's new confidence is beginning to reflect on at least some polls which show him in virtual dead heat with Alen. Another factor that works in his favour is his poor blue-collar background which allows most of the potential voters to identify with him rather than with rich and spoiled Alen. Same considerations that made Saša (Sasa) into undisputable favourite are turning Željko into his most formidable rival.

Another Work of Art

Some see tattoos as the work of art, some see it as a testament to certain people's stupidity, while others see it as an excellent way to re-enflame old conflicts and score political points. Serbian basketball player Milan Gurović (Milan Gurovic) and his decision to express admiration to WW2 Chetnik leader on his skin has given excellent ammunition to all those who don't like apparent improvement of relations between Croatia and Serbia.

Croatian decision to ban Gurović from entering Croatia has created outrage in Serbia where large sections of public view Dragoljub "Draža" Mihailović (Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic) as some sort of hero and anti-Communist martyr. Some of them decided to express their outrage through very direct action. Three young Serbo-Montenegrin citizens have come to Jelačić (Jelacic) Square in the middle of Zagreb and photographed themselves carrying Mihailović pictures under the Jelačić monument.

Three of them were arrested and brought to Croatian magistrate. One of them, 25-year old architecture student Svetozar Vranešević (Svetozar Vranesevic) explained that his action was "the work of art", that he didn't know "anything about Mihailović" and that the purpose of his stunt was to shoot some material for "short documentary film about Gurović affair". Unlike Commerce Court in Severina case, such artistic arguments weren't accepted and magistrate, despite apologies, decided to give 25 days of prison to Vranešević and 5 days of prison to his partner 24-year old Mirjana Đerković (Mirjana Djerkovic). Third member of the group, 24-year old Danja Božanić (Danja Bozanic) was acquitted.

Despite the rapid and drastic action of Croatian authorities, this incident already managed to push local nationalist vandals into action. A van with Serb-Montenegrin licence plates was torched in Zagreb, apparently as retaliation for Jelačić Square stunt.

I don't think that prison sentences are going to help, though. Belgrade students showed utter disrespect for the country in which they were hosted and the political views they tried to express through this actions are questionable, to say the least. However, they should be admired for their willingness to express those views in the most dangerous way possible. Prison sentence is only going to turn them into martyrs and give more undeserved attention to this whole sad affair.

And, after all, they apologised. Even if their apology wasn't sincere, at least it shows some common sense that evaded those who tried to make some political point on their skin.


Vranešević got 15, not 25 days.

Sports Becoming Global In A Different Way

USA is often perceived as society comparatively more violent than Europe, but American stadiums and arenas are conspicuously safe and quiet places compared with their European counterparts. Unlike the Old Continent, where the games are often seen as an excuse for gang and tribal warfare, most of the violence is limited to the players. But lately, things began to change and this incident is just of many that shows that there is at least one thing where Europe and USA are beginning to resemble each other. as an excuse for gang and tribal warfare. But the latest NBA incident shows t

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Security Guards vs. Conventional Wisdom

Željko (Zeljko) and Alen are nominated and most people expect Željko to be evicted next Friday. First on-line polls showed Alen having a clear advantage – between 55 – 75 % people prefer Željko out. This isn't hard to explain – Alen is the biggest clown in the House and, as such, he is the most popular among the audience who see show as "too boring".

So, the conventional wisdom says that Željko is on the way out.

Yet, despite all that conventional wisdom, Željko remaining in House after Friday wouldn't be much of surprise.

The easiest way for the reality to defy conventional wisdom is Alen himself. Just like Krešo (Kreso) a month ago, his manic clownishness was matched with periods of deep depression. The most serious row with Marina, nomination itself and his realisation that his own actions could have led to it could push Alen over the edge. Last night he appeared to be devastated. It would take at least few days for him to really deal with the situation and it is quite possible that he would simply crack under pressure and ask for voluntary departure.

Alen doesn't even need to ask for departure to leave. He might channel his frustration in the most unpleasant or even violent way and thus get an express eviction. Or he might even succumb to the catatonia that could erase all sympathies that he had prior to Friday.

Another avenue for Željko to win this contest might have something in common with one of many conspiracy theories that have appeared among disgruntled Sanja's fans after last night. While some blamed everything on RTL Televizija, T-Com and vote tampering, others offered more rational explanation very much like the one used after November 2nd in USA – "conservative", "bigot", "patriarchal", "homophobic", "racist" Croatia that couldn't stand someone as open-minded and progressive as Sanja.

The most interesting (and, in a way, most convincing) of all conspiracy theories concentrated on Željko's professional background of security guard. It is speculated that Željko's enjoyed support among some of his friends and colleagues who later used their access to company phones to send as many votes as possible and thus help one of their own.

This theory might look far-fetched to some, but it does make some sort of sense. Most of Croatia's security guards are men in their 20s or 30s who come from lower-income blue-collar background. Most of those who call in late night radio talk-shows also happen to be security guards or on-duty policemen, firemen etc. And most of those people happen to have rather rigid right-wing views and it is unlikely that they would greet someone like Sanja with much of the enthusiasm. Željko might be more open-minded and tolerant towards gays and other minorities than them, but in a way they see him as their brother-in-arms – impoverished blue-collar young man who got shafted by "posh" and "decadent" spoiled children of Croatia's nouveau riche which happen to represent majority in Big Brother House. Voting for Željko at someone else's expense and spoiling someone else's party might be the easiest and the most entertaining form of striking back at the establishment.

War in the Pacific Mini-AAR: A Week That Will Live in Infamy

I played eight days of Pacific War so far. Some experienced ultra-grognards are probably going to cringe at these words, because real players spend at least hours before thinking any significant move or strategy. I still had some things to learn, mostly about production, setting convoys and, last but not least, replacing commanders.

I replaced Kimmel with Nimitz at the helm of Central Pacific. This had beneficial effect on Pearl Harbor base. Airport and other facilities have been rebuilt after week and engineers and other crews are busy repairing airplanes and ships. I expect to have at least one of those damaged battleships in action by the end of January 1942.

Halsey returned to Pearl Harbor with something to brag about. He came too late to rescue Wake but at least his carrier-based planes have struck Japanese squadron there really hard and sank three light cruisers.

In other theatres things were far from being good. To say that Japanese are on the roll is understatement. They took Guam, Wake, Makin and Tarawa Atoll. Japanese also took Hong Kong after three days of fighting. Thankfully, three British destroyers managed to slip from the harbour and are now joining combined Allied squadron in Indonesia.

In Malaya Japanese have taken Victoria Point and took Khota Baru after one week of fighting. I wasn't as dumb as historical British leaders to try stopping them with surface naval action. Prince of Wales and Repulse are kept in Singapore harbour and if the excrement get the fan they would join the squadron in Indonesia.

In Philippines Japanese have taken northern parts of Luzon, Davao and Legaspi. 34th Fighter Group USA Army is the only Allied unit that does some meaningful job there. Torpedo boats had some nasty night skirmish with Japanese convoy, losing two of their own for one Japanese minesweeper.

Japanese have also landed on Rabaul. Australian air force is pulled out from there.

The only comforting thing is the relative effectiveness of US submarines. Unlike Japanese submarines and unlike Allied bombers, they tend to hit their targets. So far, most of them are under computer control (just like Soviets).

Friday, November 19, 2004

When Seat Becomes Hot

One Sabor seat is going to become very hot for DC, small Croatian right-wing party and member of governing coalition. It is not that party's only seat – the one won by current justice minister and party chief Vesna Škare-Ožbolt (Vesna Skare-Ozbolt). This is one that party was supposed to win but failed.

Ante Mrdeža (Ante Mrdeza), hotel owner from Dusseldorf, is suing DC because he had donated some 100,000 € to the party in an exchange for a Sabor seat. Mrdeža claims that the contract was signed on September 18th 2003, two months before the elections. He paid the sum and got No. 4 slot on DC candidates' list in First Electoral District (Zagreb). It was expected that the seat would be won by former foreign minister Mate Granić (Mate Granic) who was leading DC at the time. Mrdeža was supposed to replace Granić in Sabor following the election victory and Granić's return to Foreign Ministry.

However, as the regular readers of this blog know, DC has seriously overestimated their electoral chances. That party was left with a single seat and Granić, himself losing a seat, resigned from party chairmanship. New leader Škare-Ožbolt apparently had little inclination to pay Mrdeža back and Jutarnji list reports that this whole affair might end up in court.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Girl Power Strikes Back

Antonija's vote has just clinched the nominations, making Zdravko's vote mere formality. The next one to leave the House is going to be a male – Željko and Alen.

First Alen's reaction was his request to show hostess Daria Knez to address him as a woman. This is the first case of Big Brother nomination instantly creating someone's identity crisis.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Sanja Is Out

Official tally says 73 % to 27 %. So, the on-line polls weren't that far off, after all.

It seems that the new era dawned after all.

When it comes to predictions, it is Draxblog 2, Večernji list (Vecernji list) 0.

Big Brother Croatia Update: A New Era Could Dawn Tonight

Tonight's eviction vote in many ways resembles 1960 US Presidential election.

First, tonight's vote, just like the election, appears to be very close and it is most likely to be decided with smallest margin ever.

Second, just like in USA 1960, there are allegations and suspicions about fraud and vote tampering. Some conspiracy theories about RTL Televizija convincing Željko (Zeljko) to stay few more days in exchange for "regular" but certain eviction have already been hatched.

Third, just like USA 1960, the outcome of the election might easily be influenced by the power of a new medium. In 1960 most people who listened to Kennedy-Nixon debates on radio gave their votes to Nixon; those who watched the debates on TV gave votes to Kennedy.

Same thing appears to be happening with the contest between Željko (Zeljko) and Sanja. Traditional media – newspaper and magazines – follow the simple, predictable reasoning of a newbie Željko following Vlatka's footsteps. Impression of two nominees based on daily TV summaries is impression of quiet, depressed and anxious young man who awaits the inevitable and confident cheerful "hip" young woman. This is reflected in the results of Jutarnji list panel of housemates' friends and relatives – 6 think that Željko would leave, while 3 expect Sanja to go.

Those who follow Big Brother on Internet – whether directly or through semi-official summaries on RTL Televizija and – gained completely different picture. Sanja is quiet or nowhere to be seen while Željko appears to be creative, manic and in a such good mood that something only recently unthinkable – close relationship between him and Marina – looks like a probable course of events. Furthermore, unlike those who follow Big Brother in traditional ways, Croatian Internet community has discovered Sanja's controversial poetry and reacted to it by outrage and instant desire to see Sanja out of House. This has reflected in on-line polls, most of them showing clear majority in favour of Sanja's eviction.

How would this all turn out is anyone's guess. The most telling sign comes from T-Com, news site of the very firm that handles phone votes. They acknowledge on-line polls in which, according to them, Sanja fares worse than Željko.

Furthermore, most of those who watch the show and most of those vote are young people – section of population more likely to follow Big Brother on Internet.

So, when all is said and done, the race is close but the smart money is on Sanja leaving.

Historical Issues

Some unpleasant events that have occured a decade ago in this part of the world showed us that no past was distant enough for some people not to make issues out of it. However, in this particular case they went a little bit too far.

I don't remember that anyone was that incensed over Troy – much more severe case of Hollywood butchering history and offending anyone who had enjoyed the benefits of classical education.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Filip and Marina Vindicated

Few weeks ago all the intellectual snobs of Croatia gained new ammunition in their crusade against Big Brother Croatia or at least some of their least favourite contestants. Filip and Marina, deemed by many to be the most "square" and most "boring" of all, were caught in the discussion that showed their lack of knowledge about Paganini. This immediately validated all the prejudice against Marina as "brainless bimbo" and prejudice against Filip as "intellectual fraud".

But this little slippage pales in comparison towards the horror that awaited all the connoisseurs of fine literature when they were listening to the discussion between Ana, Antonija and Valentina yesterday morning. Those three women, often seen as "liberated", "hip", "educated", "outspoken", somehow failed to come to grips whether Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, Charles Dickens or Mark Twain are literary characters or authors or whether Charles Dickens (or "Charles Dickinson" as one of the women has named him) is an English or American author.

Whether all three are at university or not (Valentina and Antonija are, Ana isn't) is not the issue here. Twain and Dickens are supposed to be names familiar to all those who finished high school.

City Under Shadow

November 18th is the day when Croatia marks the anniversary of the fall of Vukovar. For Croatia this day is equivalent of Veterans Day in other countries –anniversary of the most tragic single event for Croatia in 1991-95 is opportunity for people to remember the fallen soldiers and civilians.

Once bombed-out city, which used to be the symbol of bloody dissolution of former Yugoslavia, has recovered on the surface. The debris has been cleared, exiled Croats have returned and the multi-ethnic political institutions, established by peace treaties, operate without significant problems. But deep down among the regular people, the wounds are far from being healed and the city is state of virtual apartheid which affects any aspect of social life.

But the longest shadow of the bloody past is created by river Danube, which separates Vukovar from neighbouring Serbia. It reminds everyone of its bloody past and unenviable border town present.

And yesterday another reminder came in the form of Serbo-Montenegrin patrol boat which appeared on the river during memorial services. Croatian authorities protested, claiming that the boat entered Croatian waters. Serbo-Montenegrin defence minister quickly reacted in order to defuse the situation – he denied that the demarcation line was breached, but he also admitted that yesterday was "less than fortunate day for Serbo-Montenegrin military forces to conduct such sort of activities".

Perhaps some lessons have been learned, after all.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Farewell To Political Correctness

As Friday – first one in which eviction is going to be immediately followed by nomination – approaches, "family atmosphere" is slowly being replaced with implicit but palpable hostility. New alliances are forged, new policies and new official lines are adopted, old friends are becoming bitter rivals and old rivals are becoming allies out of necessity.

In the process, some of the housemates are dropping their guard and saying things that might haunt them once they leave the House. Some of those things might even haunt RTL Televizija which has put considerable effort to portray their chosen candidates as "liberal", "cool" and "hip" people. Tonight's daily summary showed one such outburst of political incorrectness which had occurred yesterday morning during breakfast. Housemates were discussing homosexuality and Zdravko said that he considered homosexuals to be "sick people". Valentina matched this by saying that she "would never like to have a gay son". During the same conversation Željko (Zeljko) and Sanja were discussing the topic by themselves. Željko admitted having gay friend and more tolerant attitudes towards homosexuality than his faculty. Breakfast discussion, which also dealt with drug addiction, served as an excuse for another row between Alen and Marina. Marina apparently didn't like Alen's "immature" attitude towards such things. The details of that row were denied to TV viewers, just as RTL Televizija, unlike T-Com, didn't deem necessary to put emphasis on long late night discussions between Željko and Marina.

Tonight's daily summary, however, showed first instance of Confessions Room being used as propaganda tool. In her statement Antonija clearly expressed what many expected – her preference for Sanja over Željko – and even implicitly asked viewers to keep her favourite in the House.

Latest developments seem to point to next nominations being strictly on gender lines. Internet buzz is about all five women, including Marina, gathering in order to criticise Alen. Marina's turn against Alen, if it is true, is quite understandable move since the game came to stage when political calculation plays much more important role than personal likes and dislikes. Marina might indeed like Alen most of all other housemates, but recently he began to look like liability rather than asset – she has all reasons to fear being nominated solely in order to push emotionally devastated Alen into voluntary departure.

Her actions are matched by Zdravko using each and every opportunity to pick verbal and other skirmishes with Marina because of long-term calculation. Zdravko hopes to be nominated because he expects teenyboppers to keep him in the House and thus guarantee eviction of another, preferably, female person.

In the meantime, Večernji list (Vecernji list), although the article author admits that this eviction round is "most unpredictable ever", expects Željko to be evicted. Their record in predicting Big Brother Croatia nominations and evictions, however, isn't one someone should brag about, though.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Standards and Standard Operational Procedure

In the end, decision of Electronic Media Council probably won't have any clearly visible effects on Big Brother Croatia apart from silencing most of the show's critics. Left-wing and liberal intellectuals who used to lambaste the show because of its "inhuman corporate commercialism" and "insulting human dignity" are now up in arms over "hypocrisy" and "bigotry" of "government bureaucrats who want to bring Croatian media into medieval times".

Those reactions had encouraging effect on some of RTL Televizija executives. Instead of shielding themselves through official spokespeople, they are giving interviews and expressing their opinions on the decision. Saša Runjić (Sasa Runjic), editor of RTL Televizija Entertainment Programme, apparently took the decision personally. In the interview for Slobodna Dalmacija he described the decision as the "attack on his own constitutional rights".

In other interviews and statements, RTL Televizija officials claim that they would follow the instructions, but that they would also "interpret them liberally" and make the content of the show "as indistinguishable as possible from the standards they are applied in movies and other TV shows being aired in that particular time slot".

Other intellectuals and media critics in Croatia warn about the decision being a dangerous precedent that could, in an essence, destroy all Croatian television. For example, if the standards applied to Big Brother are applied to all movies and television shows, Croatian viewers can forget about ever seeing classic John Ford's westerns or Casablanca on the small screen since the protagonist of those films happen to smoke, drink and engage in other activities that could be potentially harmful for children's minds.

While RTL Televizija brass is trying (and, for the most part, succeeding) to spin the latest controversy in its favour, the rank and file - those entrusted with the prosaic daily task of maintaining the show – are bothered with more earthly concerns and affected by their all-consuming and often very frustrating job. Ana Baletović (Ana Baletovic), one of the daily editors and member of 150-men team that monitors activities in House, has confessed that she had recurring dream of having a morning coffee with housemates.

Jan Štedul (Jan Stedul), daily summaries' producer, has denied that his team has ever "manipulated" with the housemates. He admitted that they used the music to "help with housemates' mood". He didn't say a word about steady supply of alcohol, though.

Mario Kovač (Mario Kovac), daily editor and the most famous of all members of Big Brother team, again used the opportunity to respond to all the critics. He stated that the housemates enjoyed living standards "which at least 50 % of Croatian population can only dream about". He also admitted that he, just like any other member of team, had favourites among housemates. He said that he tried not to be emotionally attached to the housemates and always tried to imagine the show as "a social experiment".

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Some Thoughts About War in the Pacific (And Mini-AAR)

Few days ago I got myself a copy of War in the Pacific. I spent some time familiarising myself with the scenarios, campaigns and game mechanism, but in the end it didn't matter much because I had previous experiences with Uncommon Valor. After a while I decided to start Grand Campaign (1941-1946) with historical AI, Japanese strategic surprise, submarine doctrines and all options that made the game as close to historic reality as possible.

I chose to play Allies because I don't consider myself to be such a great gamer to prove Isoroku Yamamoto wrong. This way, the game is very challenging at the start when the Allies get clobbered and very rewarding later when the American industrial might comes into play.

So far, I managed to go only through the first day – the one that that would live in infamy. Things didn't turn very differently than real history. Again, Japanese wrecked Pearl Harbor with two battleships being sunk (California still floats but is in really bad shape and might not survive the next day) and almost entire US air force in the island either destroyed (some 200 aircraft) or damaged. They paid for that triumph with some 28 planes. Clark Field on Philippines was also wrecked. Japanese managed to capture Batan Island and Wake Island, the latter much faster than historically. British fared slightly better during their defence of Singapore and one of their pilots, despite having an obsolete Buffalo, even managed to down a Zero in air-to-air combat.

I think that the game is great (apart from somewhat unfortunate choices of music), but I'm not sure whether I would have patience and time to play the game or write regular AARs on this blog.

Big Brother Croatia Update: PG-13 Reality

After few days of serious deliberation, RTL Televizija has finally made a decision how to respond to Electronic Media Council. Of two possible alternatives – moving the show after 22:00 CET or censorship – they took the one that favoured their financial interests. Big Brother is arguably the most popular television show in Croatia, but it is also the only thing with which RTL Televizija can compete with two other networks – state-run HRT and Nova TV. The most advertising money comes from 20:15 slot and the most devoted fans of the show are children and teenagers – the very crowd that is supposed to be protected from "smoking, alcohol, nudity, sex and other forms of attacks on human dignity". Under such conditions, having censored show in the evening allows for daytime re-runs.

In the meantime, the housemates were informed about new one hour of privacy rule. RTL Televizija have established that hour between 7:00 and 8:00 CET. The measure is, more or less, moot because housemates tend to be asleep at that very time and they also lack watches and other methods of finding whether they are enjoying "magic hour" or not.

However, this led to some interesting discussion, namely among male housemates. Some of them are exploring this "privacy hour" as an opportunity to fulfil certain needs.

In the meantime, people outside House are bothered with other concerns. Vlado Mađarić (Vlado Madjaric), Željko's (Zeljko's) father wonders how would his son react to intense Internet speculations his sexual orientation. If Željko can't handle the pressure, his father offers to help him move to USA.

Sanja's friends and relatives are also having to deal with the way public could react to some of Sanja's recent admissions and some discoveries about her pre-House life (which don't include recently revealed struggle with anorexia during high school years). Kristina Kvastek, Sanja's sister, comments on Sanja's confessions about inter-racial romances – she says that her sister shouldn't have said it and confirms that Sanja was indeed with one black man three or four years ago, but that such affair was "nothing more than flirt". Marko Presečki (Marko Presecki), Sanja's boyfriend, doesn't have any comment except his "feeling" that Sanja might be the one to leave the House and promise that he would be waiting for her outside. If the on-line polls are to be believed (the number of those favouring Sanja's eviction has risen to 75 %), his feeling might be prophetic.

Those Who Don't Make It and Those Who Do

Future might be bring many things to Vibor "Vibby" Kalogjera but diplomatic career isn't among them. Croatia's best-known blogger has just been sacked from his post at Croatian Embassy in Washington.

In the meantime, his embattled boss Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul) is somewhat less embattled than he was only few days ago. State Attorney's office, after reviewing the whole "Imostroj" business, announced that there weren't any wrongdoings. That was enough for Sanader to finally stand behind his foreign minister and issue such statement a week before the formal start of parliamentary debate about Žužul's eventual removal.

What ultimately saved Žužul was, however, the very same thing that had led IDS to break opposition ranks and support foreign minister – his downfall would be seen as the defeat of pro-European faction of HDZ and would ultimately strengthen the hand of hard-line nationalists and Eurosceptics. Some of government-friendly and some not so government-friendly but staunchly pro-European media are pushing the similar line allegedly coming from Brussels. Žužul's close ties with Bush's administration and American business community, which were often used as an argument against him, became less insulting after Bush's victory. With Bush being four more years in USA, men like Žužul are seen as Croatian diplomatic asset rather than liability.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Željko (Zeljko) Reborn

Yesterday's daily summary on RTL Televizija confirmed what many had speculated about. Although he had wavered before, Željko (Zeljko) decision to stay was finally made only after the long discussion with two women who had nominated him – Marina and Sanja. The former, of course, had more interests and more ability to make him change his mind.

Whatever Marina said to Željko, it apparently not only changed his mind but also significantly lifted his spirit. All housemates seem to indicate that Željko was in definitely better mood than in past few days. He appears to be more active than ever during his stay in House. This was reflected in the weekly task of making Christmas hip hop song, during which he made significant contribution to the lyrics while most other housemates struggled with the lack of inspiration.

This, together with revelations about Sanja's poetry, seems to be pushing the public sentiment in Željko's favour. One on-line poll which showed dead heat between Željko and Sanja in past few days now shows significant majority – almost 70 % - of potential voters favouring Sanja's eviction.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Exploitation of Olena Popik Continues

Olena Popik might be dead, but she is still being exploited. This time not by pimps but by media that use her tragedy as a way to create hysteria and profit from HIV-panicked public. But some other characters seem to exploit this tragedy – those who use epidemic as a convenient weapon of character assassination.

After the death of Olena Popik city of Split was struck by panic and local medical authorities reported increased number of people coming to test for HIV. News came about 5 new cases of HIV, although none of them was related to Olena Popik. Then some media reported about some of those HIV-positive people deliberately spreading the disease.

The last to contribute to this media hysteria was Nacional weekly. They published an article about D.D., 40-year bar owner who allegedly infected three people with HIV, including his wife. According to the article, one of the infected was his 21-year mistress who later died.

Almost immediately D.D. came forward with the interview to Večernji list (Vecernji list) and revealed himself as Denis Dragun, owner of Luxor Caffe in Split. He denied having HIV and blamed the whole brouhaha on City of Split authorities with whom he had years-long financial disputes.

Vlatka Pokos Stands Up To Thugs

Ten years ago Croatian pop singer, model and TV show hostess Vlatka Pokos was one of Croatia's greatest stars. Her moment of glory was, however, short-lived. Her brand of music was too urban or her clothing tastes too refined for the nation that would turn to Severina Vučković (Severina Vuckovic) as one of its icons. Pokos remained part of Croatia's jet-set, but the media never showed as much interest in her as before.

All that changed few days ago because some of Pokos' fashion choices. Her decision to wear fur coats caught the attention of certain small band of people who share some of Adolf Hitler's worldview – animal rights activists.

After few weeks of intense media campaign, they staged demonstrations in front of Vlatka Pokos' home.

Pokos reacted by appearing on Sunday afternoon HRT talk show and said something no people had dared to do in Croatia – using Brigitte Bardot as an example, she proved that being devoted to animal rights doesn't prevent people from being racists and homophobes.

Pokos' argument could have been much better if she used example of British animal rights activists who torched labs and killed people or the individual who shot Pym Fortuyn in Holland.

However, finally someone dared to reveal emperor's new clothes and show that kindness towards animals doesn't exclude cruelty towards people and that the most noble and seemingly harmless idea can bring evil to world once it gets embraced by fanatics.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Big Brother Croatia Update: Swine Love To Decide Vote?

Yesterday's drama in Big Brother House showed how traditional media are losing the race with the modern means of communications. Novi list, daily newspaper from Rijeka, has published an article about Željko (Zeljko) leaving the House, thus creating confusion among those fans who still saw phone vote ads on RTL Televizija. Večernji list (Vecernji list), on the other hand, was much quicker in delivering the news about Željko staying – its reporters described the whole affair as "moment of weakness".

This moment of weakness apparently had an effect on public sentiment. In a very tight and unpredictable contest between Željko and Sanja, the former had the slight advantage in on-line polls before his announcement. After the announcement and after Željko's change of heart, the polls showed Sanja errmer had the slight edge before npredictable race between ljko staying. thus creating confusion among tin inin the slight advantage.

However, one interesting development might have swayed the public sentiment back in Željko's favour. Dop, Croatian pop culture magazine, has published few of Sanja Kvastek's poems. Most of them sound just like they were written by Sanja the public has seen in the House. One of them - "Junk Women" - might explain why Sanja nominated Marina. Other poems, those that tend to deal with various sexual activities and certain bodily fluids, apart from using various four-letter words, also show Sanja's obsession with animal kingdom, embodied in phrases like "ostrich's friend" and "swine love".
It is hard to predict whether the public would show some understanding or sympathy for the author. On-line poll results, which again show Željko having slight advantage, suggest that the public didn't take Sanja's poetry favourably.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Two Aleksandars

Nedjeljom u 2, HRT political talk show hosted by now legendary Aleksandar Stanković (Aleksandar Stankovic) had one very interesting guest. Aleksandar Tijanić (Aleksandar Tijanic), Serbian journalist once called "The Giant of Croatian Journalism", former minister of informations in Milošević's (Milosevic's) government and present-day director of Serbia's state-owned RTS television, have appeared in the show. Stanković (Stankovic), is known as a very tough and sometimes very unpleasant host and he had earned a lot of enmity among Croatian right-wingers both for his liberal views and for being ethnic Serb. However, today, while hosting the colleague with whom he shared first name and ethnicity, he transformed himself into born-again Croatian nationalist and savagely attacked Tijanić for collaboration with Milošević. Tijanić, who had been through much worse things (including alleged price on his head after falling out with former Serbian president) than being guest in hostile talk show, handled himself relatively well, although his refusal to brand Dragoljub "Draža" Mihailović (Dragoljub "Draza" Mihailovic) as fascist probably won't sit very well among Croatian audience.

Big Brother Croatia Update: Željko (Zeljko) Sticks Around

Željko (Zeljko) might have made a decision to leave, but its implementation is going to wait. Or some major last-ditch effort to change his mind has taken place in the Confessions Room this afternoon. At least this is the impression you might get from today's daily summary on RTL Televizija.

Commercial breaks still contain phone numbers that voters might use to evict Željko or Sanja. Show's official site also contains the numbers, so the voting is still taking place.

Apparently, idea of having one of the most unpredictable and emotionally charged contest thrown down the drain together with millions of HRK of income was too much for T-Com, Croatia's phone company and show's main sponsor. Their site reports that Željko had spent some time in Confessions Room and when asked by other housemates about his final decision, only "smiled".

The official site also reported that Željko decided to change his mind and remain in the House "until further notice".

How this could affect vote is anyone's guess. It could be argued that Željko's weakness and indecisiveness might, at least on the short term, help Sanja. If Željko manages to survive this crisis and improve his mood in next couple of days, he might still have a chance of surviving next Friday.