Friday, February 25, 2005

Brave Old World

As time goes by, I, just like so many people, tend to replace youthful radicalism with pragmatic conservatism that comes with age. So, I have less and less sympathies to all those who think that the revolution represents a recipe for some or all of the social problems and that the world could be a better place with certain set of characters being introduced to the nearest wall or a lamppost.

However, there comes a time when you can feel certain sympathy towards those who have such views. For me such time came yesterday, when I heard about one court ruling. It coincided with the big media story unfolding in City of Rijeka few days ago.

On Monday, 36-year old war veteran Josip Šarić (Josip Saric) has stormed Rijeka City building armed with AK-47 assault rifle and two hand grenades. He managed to reach mayor Veljko Obersenel and members of his City Directorate, just when they were holding conference in a presence of TV cameraman. Šarić used this golden opportunity to take everyone hostage and express his grievances – originating in his disastrous bid at real estate speculation and City’s re-zoning – in front of the world. He called Obersnel (who, to his ultimate credit, was incredibly calm) and his staff all kinds of names, accusing them for corruption and ruining Little Guy. Šarić has surrendered to the police after an hour and half, saying that he was aware that he would spend some time in jail but he also promised that he would “finish the job with RPGs” when he gets released.

At first, some people in Croatia applauded Šarić for his action, calling him brave, expressing sympathy for his plight and expressing wide-spread opinion that the judiciary and administration in Croatia was so incompetent and corrupt that people like Šarić had no option other than fighting for their rights in such brutal and spectacular fashion. But the initial sympathies were quickly extinguished with the barrage of media commentators abhorring violence and making convincing case that Šarić’s action couldn’t be tolerated in civilised society. Court in Rijeka, unlike some other Croatian courts that looked the other way in some similar but less spectacular cases, accepted that argument and Šarić is going to spend at least a month behind bars before the end of judicial investigation.

The argument that the judicial system – no matter how incompetent or corrupt – is better alternative to vigilantism has been seriously undermined with news reported in today’s Jutarnji list.

It all started on October 29th 2002 when two 16-year old girls – Kata Andrijašević (Kata Andrijasevic) and Ana Erceg –were hit by speeding BMW Z 3 in the very centre of Makarska and were instantly killed as a result. The driver, 17-year old Ivan Primorac, was quickly apprehended, because his BMW Z 3 – bought by a father for 16th birthday – was very familiar to traffic police, which had him cited for at least five traffic violations. Since the boy’s father happened to be Marijan Primorac, one of 10 richest men in Herzegovina and, therefore, one of the richest men in Croatia proper, few people were surprised to find subsequent trial dragging for years. By October 2004, when the boy received 2 years minor prison sentence at Makarska Municipal Court, he had spent much of the time in a private board school in Switzerland. The verdict caused minor outrage among Croatian public.

However, the real outrage occurred yesterday, when Split County Court ruled on appeal. Just as it had been predicted, the sentence was reduced to two years. However, the official explanation for the reduction of sentence, signed by Vinko Cuzzi, one of Split County Court justices, is the most interesting, to say the least.

Court, instead of using conventional arguments for reduction of guilt – poverty, broken home, parental abuse, mental illness or substance abuse – went in completely different direction. Ivan Primorac’s sentence should be reduced because he came from “socially acceptable family”.

In other words, having rich and influential father isn’t the reason enough for a youth to be treated leniently; it should also be confirmed by a state-sanctioned legal opinion as such.

Therefore, if this opinion becomes part of Croatian law through precedent – and, judging by the way Croatian judiciary operates, there aren’t reasons to believe it won’t – certain sections of Croatian society will enjoy preferential treatment at the courts solely because they belong to “socially acceptable families”. This law will, consequently, be applied to other areas of Croatian public life, broadening the state-sanctioned divisions on Croatian citizens to those who belong to “socially acceptable families” and those who don’t.

And, needless to say, what used to be merely an informal class system is going to be state-sanctioned caste system in which feudal lords – nouveau riche who had created their wealth in Tudjman’s era – and their progeny have power of life and death over serfs and commoners.

And it wouldn’t the first time citizens’ equality – one of the tenets of Croatian Constitution – is undermined in such way. Croatian courts and administration have systematically denied human and civil rights to large segment of Croatian population – ethnic Serb minority. While such treatment could be understood and, to a certain degree, even justified in the context of 1991-95 war, now it appears that it had established a precedent that would be applied on ethnic Croatians, in other words – majority that doesn’t belong to “socially acceptable families”.

And majority, which is now in the process of losing what it had thought to be its inalienable rights, could respond in a way Josip Šarić responded.

(On a related note, Slobodna Dalmacija, unlike other Croatian daily newspapers, didn’t print the name of Ivan Primorac in its article. Some may conclude that Marijan Primorac has a quite a lot of clout in Dalmatia, including its allegedly free media.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's Ana ANDRIJASEVIC and Kate ERCEG.. you mixed up surnames..

4:53 PM  

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