Sunday, February 20, 2005

Confessions of A Dangerous Mind

Today’s instalment of Nedjeljom u 2, talk show on HRT, represented 60 minutes that should enter into future textbooks of Croatian television history. Yet those 60 minutes were incredibly entertaining and profoundly disturbing at the same time.

In past few years Aleksandar Stanković (Aleksandar Stankovic), show’s host, developed quite a reputation for his hostile but also a very effective treatment of his guests. But this reputation was slightly downgraded in past months when some of the guests, apparently after reading his act, came to the show well-prepared and gave him a good intellectual drubbing.

But not today. This time Stanković was confident that would make a short work of his guest, but what occurred today exceeded everyone’s expectations.

The guest was Professor Dr. Damir Buković (Damir Bukovic), one of Croatia’s leading gynaecologists and oncology experts. He was the most outspoken in the group of Catholic physicians warning the women of cancer risks that multiply with in vitro fertilisation.

Buković isn’t exactly the unknown name in Croatia. His finest hour was in 1997 when he was elected for Zagreb City Council on HSS ticket. That party was part of anti-Tudjman opposition coalition which had unsuccessfully tried to have its mayor in Zagreb after winning city elections in October 1995. Tudjman, using his presidential prerogatives, repeatedly refused to confirm any of opposition candidates elected for mayor. In 1997 HDZ was two council seats short of majority that would end this embarrassing situation. Buković was one two HSS councilmen who defected from opposition and voted for Tudjman’s favourite Marina Matulović-Dropulović (Marina Matulovic-Dropulic). Although he got his reward in the form of prestigious hospital administration post, Buković remained out of public spotlight until re-emerging as anti-IVF crusader.

During the show Buković, at least initially, tried to present himself as passionate defender of Catholic values in Croatian medicine. For him “the Bible is the best source of all medical knowledge”. After he continued to explain that not only IVF, but sexual promiscuity also contributes to the spread of cancer among women. He also followed the official Church line on condoms – they aren’t “100% safe” and are, consequently, worthless both as contraceptive and as a prophylactic. His views on masturbation are somewhat less radical – while it is “harmless among men”, it can create some health problems among women, although not “as severe as cancer and promiscuity”.

This sort of ultra-conservative mindset isn’t uncommon in Croatia, even among people who are viewed as intellectuals. Therefore, those views weren’t some kind of earth-shattering revelation – in Tudjman’s Croatia they were all but state-sanctioned social policy.

However, those ultra-conservative views are somewhat difficult to connect with certain details of Buković’s biography. During the show it was revealed that he had been remarried and when asked about, he said that he didn’t think of his second marriage (without previous being Church-annulled) as anything contrary to his religious beliefs. It was also revealed that he was not only a Party member during the good old days – which was, again, incompatible with Catholicism – but actually a Party secretary in charge of all Party members in one of Zagreb’s hospital. During the show he took great pride in the fact that he had personally shut down Party organisation in 1990, after the first democratic elections, apparently unaware how the viewers might interpret his last-minute conversion. He also used the show as the opportunity to boast about being well-off in the old system and owning a sports car at the very beginning of his career. The only trace of regret was in his admission that he had performed abortions.

It was very entertaining to watch those all those confessions, especially when it became apparent that Buković was blissfully unaware about ruining his reputation with each sentence coming from his mouth. But such catastrophic (self)destruction on national airwaves was accompanied with a sense of horror, at least among those who saw Buković in the broader context of modern Croatia. What looks like an entertaining aberration on television is the standard way of thinking in most of Croatian offices.


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