Thursday, March 31, 2005

Butchering Justice

Jadranka Kosor, minister of veterans' affairs in Sanader's government and failed presidential candidate, is the last person whose side I would take in a debate.

But when the debate is between her and justice minister Vesna Škare-Ožbolt (Vesna Skare Ozbolt) a.k.a. "Arm of Justice" a.k.a. "Keep Them on the Streets", than it is isn't surprising that I feel more sympathies towards embattled and increasingly marginalised Sanader's associate than towards a person responsible for disgraceful state of Croatian judiciary.

Reason why two women clashed is different approach towards some sensitive and painful issues related to 1991-95 war and ICTY. Although most Croatians associate that institution with Gotovina affair and tend to think of it as nothing more than a tool of anti-Croatian and pro-Serbian Western politicians, Hague Tribunal has actually put away some nasty Serbian characters with Croatian blood of their hands. This could happen to so-called "Vukovar Three" – three high-ranking former JNA officers responsible for the massacre of some 200 Croatian Army soldiers and civilians captured after the fall of Vukovar in November 1991.

Carla del Ponte, chief ICTY prosecutor, hinted at possibility that the Tribunal, as part of its exit strategy, turn prosecution of "Vukovar Three" to the courts in ex-Yugoslav republics, so they could be tried in Croatia or Serbia.

Škare-Ožbolt was very quick to advocate that "Vukovar Three" case be turned over to Croatian courts and that this should be official Croatian policy.

Kosor, on the other hand, diseented and said that it would be more appropriate for "Vukovar Three" to be tried in Hague.

Her argument is very simple and corresponds with my own thoughts on the matter. If "Vukovar Three" – or any suspected war criminal, for that matter – gets tried in Croatia or Serbia, the worst he would get is 20 years behind bars. This was the maximum prison sentence in former Yugoslavia in 1991, used as substitute for death penalty – abolished de iure in Croatia 1990 and de facto in Serbia in early 1990s. Both countries later ammended their penal codes allowing for much harsher prison sentences, but, due to constitutional principles, they can't apply it to crimes committed in 1991-95.

Statute of ICTY, on the other hand, allows for war criminals to be sentenced for life. Kosor was, therefore, right to point that the people responsible for worst atrocities shoudl face much stiffer (and more appropriate) punishmnet in Hague than in any ex-Yugoslav court, Croatian or Serbian.

On the other hand, Vesna Škare-Ožbolt, even while trying to mask her views with cheap nationalist slogans, is again showing her true colours and favours any solution that would allow murderers, rapists, drug dealers, war criminals and similar sorry excuses for human being to spend as little time behind bars as possible.

Adriatic Returns to Past

Few years ago I couldn't fail noticing Croatian Tourist Board clips airing on CNN and the slogan "Mediterranean As It Once Was".

Today Croatian media are full of stories about people who apparently took their slogan to heart and tried very hard to make Croatia living up to that reputation.

Few days ago, Opatija, coastal resort town near Rijeka, which has been popular vacationing spot for European aristocracy in past centuries and prides itself for having oldest hotels in Croatia, witnessed brutal assault on three elderly Italian tourists. Two young men ambushed three women at the very steps of the hotel where they were about to check in. They took some 20,000 HRK and left one woman in coma.

In past few days inhabitants of Mljet, one of the most picturesque Adriatic islands (which is close to Dubrovnik), are having to come to grips with the steady stream of decomposed bodies appearing on their shores. Most of the bodies also happen to be mutilated. Many people speculate that the bodies belonged to victims of war between rival Albanian human trafficking gangs and that the currents brought them from the Straits of Otranto. At least, this is the official version. But recently bodies – slightly less decomposed, judging by media reports – have begun to appear on more northern locations. It is still too early to tell whether this represents a major trend.

With Friends Like These

In the last hours before E-Day fiasco, state media has pushing the official line about Ivo Sanader's last-ditch lobbying efforts producing some results and that the number of EU countries willing to greenlight Croatian accession negotiations was constantly increasing. There were rumours and speculations about actual number – some claimed that there were five countries, some mentioned seven, some mentioned ten.

But most observers claim that the actual number of governments willing to support Croatia openly was much smaller. EU countries identified after the fiasco were Austria, Slovenia, Hungary and Slovakia.

Many commentators were all too willing to interpret this sympathy for Croatia with the memories of another time, when all those nations together with Croatia used to enjoy prosperity under the same banner and benevolent rule of multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire.

Other commentaors, however, point that Schwarz und Gelb nostalgia can never be sufficient motive for governments to stick their neck for countries like Croatia. Needless to say, sympathies for Croatia is fueled by something much more solid – financial and political interests.

For example, most of Croatian banking industry – 45 % - is owned by Austrian banks.

MOL, Hungarian oil firm, has recently gained 25 % of stakes in INA, Croatian state-owned oil company. Novi list just reports that Sanader's government is preparing to fill hole in its annual budget by selling another 25 % and thus putting Croatian oil industry under Hungarian control.

Slovenians, apart from having Sanader more than willing to yield to any of their demands in numerous border disputes, have firms that control large supermarket chains in Croatia.

Slovakian firms also control some of the most lucrative betting shops in Croatia.

Interestingly enough, Czech Republic, despite being another member of Schwarz und Gelb Nostalgia Club, chose not to support Croatia. Some Croatian commenators found reason for that in Montenegro – former Yugoslav republic apparently considered more suitable for sugardaddying.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Short Arm of Justice

Today Split building called Palace of Justice witnessed another historic event. For the first time since Croatian independence a person was sentenced to more than 20 years of prison.

The story started on March 3rd 2002 when Andjela Bešlić (Andjela Beslic), 16-year old high school student, failed to return from a rock concert in nearby Sinj.On April 5th 2002, a neighbour found her decomposed body a hundred metres away from her house. Four days later Ivan Bulj, manager of local radio station, suddenly appeared in police station and shocked everyone by confessing rape and murder.

Later it was discovered that Bulj's confession – inadmissible due to legal technicalities – had little to do with sudden outburst of guilt or conscience. Unsatisfied with the police, which didn't show much interest in locating his missing daughter, war veteran Ivan Bešlić (Ivan Beslic) has called few friends and begun a investigation of his own. They failed to locate Andjela's body but they gathered enough information to point towards Ivan Bulj as a man who had something to do with her disappearance. And Bulj apparently became aware of that the people who conduct non-regular police work could also resort to non-regular sort of justice.

Despite inadmisssibility of his confession, he was charged and indicted. However, Bešlić continued crusade for justice, claiming that the police investigation was hampered by political pressure. According to rumours, Ivan Bulj was only one of the perpetrators and, being a member of small but locally influential right-wing political party, connected with a cabal of local bigwigs who allegedly had rapes of local teenagers as their favourite pasttime. Ivan Bulj quickly gave up the name of Pavao Bulj, his distant cousin with a criminal record. Pavao Bulj was also arrested, charged and indicted.

Today, the trial ended. Ivan Bulj was convicted for murder. Although everyone had expected maximum sentence of 40 years, Split judges again showed their traditional leniency towards people who murder teenage girls. Using lack of forensic evidence for rape, they convicted Bulj only for murder and gave him 27 years. Pavao Bulj was cleared of all charges, except drug posession, which he had already served while being in detention.

27 years might look too little to Andjela Bešlić's father, Croatian public and any decent human being, but it is the harshest prison sentence ever passed in Split County Court since WW2.

And it is unlikely that such record is going to broken any time soon. Not because such crimes won't occur in future, but because it is unlikely that their victims and their loved ones will show enough perseverance to fight the establishment as Ivan Bešlić did.

Decline and Fall of PG-13 Civilisation

Sometimes I worry that the natural process of becoming conservative and right-wing with age went too far in my case.

Then I read piece like this and I realise that there aren’t any reasons for such worries. At least not yet. I’m not going to be on the same wavelength with those people, at least when Hollywood movies are the issue.

Somehow, I find hard to accept the whole idea of contemporary Hollywood promoting gratuitous sex and violence in its products when the overwhelming majority of those products happens to be rated PG-13.

But those films, despite being products of castrated industry, somehow fail to have the same “moral values” with the majority of American people, at least judging by the opinion polls. Majority of Americans find those films to have too much “unacceptable” content.

Yet, as every movie connoisseur would tell you, today’s “unacceptable” content is kindergarten material compared with what was the norm in Hollywood two or three decades ago.

Imagine, for example, major studio release revolving around lesbian relationship and featuring full male and female frontal nudity. Or an action film where protagonists routinely dispose of helpless adversaries in cold blood. Or horror films where there is blood being spilled.

All those films were made in the period which Hollywood had what from today’s perspective looks like amazingly liberal standards.

And, yet, most people who complain about contemporary Hollywood, MTV and rest of American entertainment industry “poisoning” the minds of children and wrecking future generations were exactly the people who grew up watching even more “venomous” material and were supposed to have their moral values shaped according by that “poison”.

Yet, this didn’t happen.

Just like the presidential election of 2004, power of Hollywood is way overrated.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Murter Bomb

By macabre set of coincidence, another South Asian tsunami is occurring roughly on the same day when another Croatian WW2 monument got blown up by right-wing extremists.

This time the target was in Murter, small tourist town on the Adriatic Coast. The monument, marking the memory of some 134 townspeople killed during WW2, either as Partisans or civilian victims of Nazis and their domestic cronies, was set in the centre of town. Unlike with Tito’s statue in Kumrovec, perpetrator didn’t have enough explosives to bring the monument down. One leg is missing, but the statue still stands.

However, there were enough explosives to damage few nearby cars and smash many windows.

Just like the bombing of Tito’s monument in Kumrovec, this event could be interpreted as another, much more serious, warning to Sanader’s government. If Sanader increases his efforts to apprehend General Gotovina and turn him to Hague – no matter how theatrical in nature they might be – he might be faced with something much uglier than rabid rants of fringe politicians that could be easily marginalised by Croatian overwhelmingly pro-EU media.

Murter bomb hits where Croatia – and with it, Sanader’s government – is the most sensitive. Coastal towns like Murter are the only visible source of national income and they represent the only visible sign that things in Croatia might get better. If terrorist act of this nature happens in the middle of tourist season, it could produce devastating long-term impact on Croatian economy. And if Croatian economy goes down the drain, so do political stability or hope that Croatia could, in foreseeable future, become something resembling functioning modern democracy.

Croatian security services, plagued by bureaucratic in-fighting, nepotism, corruption, lack of funding and, last but not least, large number of right-wing sympathisers within their ranks, aren’t going to present any credible response to such threat, at least not in the short term.

That leaves Sanader with continuing the present policies – aggressive lobbying for EU to lower its standards, buying foreign support by selling the most lucrative state companies at discount prices and hoping that the problem will somehow go away. In other words, exactly what Račan (Racan) used to do, only with more vigour – which is more product of Sanader’s character than political differences with his predecessor.

Of course, Sanader could risk going into all-out-war with his former allies from the Right, but this will happen only if no other option is left. Because, in the end, most Croatians aren't likely to lift a finger to protect democracy, if such democracy is represented by the likes of Sanader and Račan.


Most of Croatians aren’t likely to lift a finger for Sanader, but at least some are having enough guts to express their opposition to the bombers. Flowers appeared at the bomb site. And locals – which happen to house some 200 foreign tourists – aren’t happy about the whole affair.

Murter Municipal Council on its emergency session called this “a terrorist act” and decided to make repairs. Local 1991-95 war veterans organisation also issued statement against the bombing.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

My Thoughts On Terri Schiavo

I would very much like to have something of an opinion in Terri Schiavo, but, in all fairness, I simply can’t make my mind whose side I would prefer in that debate.

But I can’t fail noticing the strange absence of strong opinions on this side of Big Pond, especially in Croatia. Somehow, all those commentators who enjoy America-bashing as their favourite sport and use every aspect of American life as a proof of moral and other superiority of every thing European, have decided to sit this one out.

Perhaps this is because this whole sad affair so unique and not fitting certain ideological patterns. Many people are accustomed to simpler situations that make their alignments easy. In case of Terri Schiavo, things aren’t so simple and many who like to be on the side of the angels are afraid that might make the wrong call.

For example, many on the Left are having hard time adapting to the situation in which Evil Murdering Bush is trying to save a life for a change.

Those who advocate right to die and, by default, oppose American religious right and their pro-life stance, are unsure whether they could come to blows with feminists. If they support Mr. Schiavo and his position, that could be interpreted as giving husbands power of life and death over their wives.

Furthermore, this affair shows that there are situations when Europe seems to be more conservative than USA. For example, this situation could never happen in Croatia, at least not legally. Croatian laws are very explicit – persons in Mrs. Schiavo’s condition are just entitled to live as those in perfect health and any attempt to put them out of their misery, regardless of their eventual wishes in the matter, is treated as nothing short of murder.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

An Ordinary Historic Revisionism

Wars in this part of the world tend to defy the natural state of affairs. Logic, statistics and biology tell us that the number of veterans should decrease with the passage of years. In Croatia, however, this trend is quite opposite. As time goes by, number of veterans is steadily increasing, especially before the elections.

Jadranka Kosor, Sanader’s minister in charge of welfare and veterans’ affairs and failed presidential candidate, is going to publish new and revised figure of people who can claim various kinds of benefits based on their status of 1991-95 war veteran. It is said that the number is going to be around 450,000.

Needless to say, Kosor has all the reasons to push this number since her failed presidential bid revolved about her great compassion and care for veterans, refugees and other victims of war. Greater number of veterans, therefore, increases number of people who might vote for HDZ at upcoming local elections.

Everyone today understands the reasons for such a high number. But I don’t envy future historians who would have to make some sort of sense out of Kosor’s official records. They would undoubtedly ask a simple question: “If Croatia had such impressive manpower at its disposal, why it doesn’t border with Bulgaria and Rumania today?”

Friday, March 25, 2005

Not So Ordinary Tragedy

A day after Petrinja massacre, Croatian public was disturbed by somewhat similar sort of crime that had happened on the streets of Zagreb.

36-year old male - who is currently known only as “Dragan Č.” – has confronted 36-year old Danijela Petelinc and tried to talk her into starting romantic relationship again. When she snubbed him, he reacted by following example of Vlastimir Kihalić (Vlastimir Kihalic) in Petrinja. Fortunately, he wasn’t carrying any pistol but hammer was enough to cause severe injuries on the woman’s head. Physicians have managed to save her life, but it is still too early to tell what kind of long-term damage those injuries might cause.

At first sight, this looks just like many of all-too-familiar stories of Croatian women trying to escape clutches of abusive relationship. But in past few days some details have emerged making the story even more depressing.

It turned out that Danijela Petelinc and the suspected assailant have met over Internet. He was living in USA and apparently left what he (later, during police interrogation) claimed to be lucrative IT carreer only to return to Croatia and start new life with a woman of his dreams.

Another interesting detail is that Danijela Petelinc was Ministry of Interiors employee. Later it was revealed that she was not an ordinary employee – she was high-ranking official, who had led Juvenile Delinquency Division within Split-Dalmatia Police District. She was also a trained psychologist.

It was also revealed that her former lover had been under police investigation for alleged spousal abuse nine years ago. His record was, in most likelihood, available to Danijela Petelinc.

The more I think about this story, the more I feel sadness over the fact that the tragedy could have been avoided.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Croatia’s Police Breakdown

State of public safety of Croatia, which has been steadily improving for years after the end of war, is again deteriorating. Crime statistics, as usual, might be telling various and often contradictory stories, but these days Croatians are noticing increasing number of media reports about serial rapes, abductions, home invasions, spectacular armed robberies, heroin pandemic among country’s youth and, last but not least, unchecked murder sprees.

While those kinds of things used to happen before, Croatian police – institution which is supposed to prevent them - never had to face such levels of public scrutiny as it faces now. With rival TV stations, cell phones and omni-present Internet, every such event gets mythical proportions. Just like in Serbia during Milošević (Milosevic), government-friendly media are encouraged to put those kinds of stories on the front pages in order to make people forget about more pressing, but less spectacular issues like foreign debt, unemployment and EU fiasco.

However, there are times when those things can nevertheless hurt establishment. In past few weeks Croatia saw at least three very spectacular examples of gross police incompetence – police dispatchers trying to wash their hands from the abducted and raped woman calling for help via her cell phone; handball “fans” riots in Zagreb and the apparent inability to prevent mass murderer in Petrinja.

While first two incidents resulted in couple of officials being suspended, the last one led to something which wasn’t a common practice in Croatian police. Marijan Balošević (Marijan Balosevic), chief of Sisak-Moslavina Police District – in whose jurisdiction Petrinja massacre took place - has resigned from his post.

And it doesn’t seem that the buck stop there. There are calls for interior minister Marijan Mlinarić (Marijan Mlinaric) to resign. Sanader, just as he sacrificed his close ally Miomir Žužul (Miomir Zuzul) for the sake of his favourite’s presidential bid, might to do the same with Mlinarić few weeks before the local elections – where HDZ might get even more embarrassing defeat. Mlinarić could also serve as a scapegoat for EU fiasco – his police failed to locate Gotovina or, as government would like EU diplomats to believe, failed to find sufficient proof that Gotovina wasn’t in Croatia. In any case, the terrain for the removal is being prepared – Mlinarić has temporarily left his post, officially “for medical treatment”.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

[ADMINISTRATIVE] Another Blogroll Addition

He is the first one to mention Draxblog in dead-tree medium (Zarez magazine), and I haven't blogrolled him yet?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Disbelief Not Suspended, Again

HRT, Croatian state-run television, has instituted new practice. While the successful American TV shows are being aired weekly, those deemed less successful – in other words, those cancelled in the middle of their first season – are aired every weekday, usually in time slots reserved for Latin American, German or Italian soap operas. So, Croatian viewers had to be very quick and very careful in order to watch Miss Match and Karen Sisco in their entirety.

These days same thing happened with Robbery Homicide Division. I managed to watch two episodes. Before that I had great hopes for the show. One of the show's creators and executive producers was Michael Mann of Miami Vice and Heat fame. The concept looked very much like the shows and films Mann likes to make. It is also very much like L.A. Takedown, failed 1989 TV-pilot which later served as basis for Heat.

Yet, when I watched those two episodes, I felt underwhelmed. Perhaps the standards and general quality of TV drama have improved since Miami Vice days. Or, which is simpler explanation, it is hard to suspend disbelief when the main protagonist – who is supposed to be someone audience could rely on in real life – just happens to be played by someone filling tabloid pages with stories of drug and girlfriend abuse.

Men With Guns

Under normal circumstances, this story would have been all over Croatian media, giving our esteemed intellectuals and commentators another opportunity to take jabs at violent and decadent America and express pride for Croatia belonging to peace-loving European civilisation where such incidents don't happen.

But, by a macabre coincidence, yesterday city of Petrinja saw a very similar event. 37-year old Vlastimir Kihalić (Vlastimir Kihalic) killed shot and killed his 39-year old wife after brief row on the street. Fifteen minutes later he came to the apartment of his wife's friend, 40-year old Vesna Mokrović (Vesna Mokrovic), and killed her in front of her husband and children. 45 minutes later he was back on the street where he killed 39-year old Nada Kušan (Nada Kusan), another of her late wife's friends, this time in front of the victim's mother.

For an hour, police was at the state of alert, with road blocks, officers branding Kalashnikovs and helicopters in air. Citizens of Petrinja and nearby Sisak were spreading all kinds of rumours, mostly relating to Srdjan Mladjan, convicted serial killer who had killed a police inspector during a weekend prison furlough.

The drama ended when Kihalić came to police station, calmly gave his 7.62 mm TT pistol and surrendered. For duty policeman it was a familiar sight. Kihalić has joined police at the very beginning of 1991 war and remained in the force until 1998.

The motives for the murders weren't mystery, since they followed the all-too-familiar pattern of a husband who can't reconcile with his wife's filing for divorce. According to media reports, he made repeated threats towards her wife and her friends, whom he had blamed for the collapse of his marriage. And, just like in many similar cases, late wife had filled the police and social services files with all kinds of complaints.

But those details won't make Croatian public talk about the case. Another, more interesting things has surfaced after quick media investigation – Kihalić committed murders with a legally owned and registered pistol. Yet, he had been retired in 1998 because of being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The whole concept of gun control apparently failed in this case – Kihalić had the right to own a lethal weapon despite being officially certified as mentally unstable person.

Needless to say, judging by previous such occurrences, it is all but certain that the media commentators and politicians are again going to use this tragedy as an argument for even tougher gun control laws. With local elections nearby, HDZ might try to push speedy legislation putting extra layers of control or perhaps even banning guns to everyone but to those carrying them in the line of their work. It is all but certain that nobody in Sabor, especially from the pacifist pro-European and anti-violence "left centre" parties, would dare to oppose the move.

And it is all but certain that such measures, apart from increasing administrative paperwork and putting extra burden to notoriously inefficient Croatian judiciary, would have zero effect on the state of Croatian public safety.

By another macabre coincidence, on the very same day in Zagreb, two young men have robbed a luxury watch shop and netted 6 million HRK of loot – which represents a record in this century (there was one armed robbery netting 8 million HRK in 1990s). It is too early to speculate - especially considering that it is very unlikely that the robbers would ever be found – but something tells me that guns used weren't legally owned or registered.


I finally caught enough time to watch first four episodes of Lost, American drama series which is currently being aired on Nova TV.

Whole concept – air crash survivors on remote island faced with some strange phenomena – is both promising and risky. The very mystery that keeps audience intrigued for weeks and months could become a show's doom once it is resolved, usually in the most unsatisfactory matter. And the complexities of plot and characterisation might lead to all kinds of continuity errors and plain bad screenwriting.

However, there are some promising signs. This looks like an ensemble piece – no character is more important than the others and, therefore, likely to face the early demise. There is a lot of room for some fine acting and the flashback scene break what could easily become a monotonous and predictable plot. I hope that the show in future episodes doesn't succumb to clichés and unnecessary melodrama.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Dinamo Blues

Last Saturday was for citizens of Zagreb in many ways similar to the experience felt by New Yorkers on September 11th 2001. The incomprehensible thing happened and one of city’s symbols fell crashing down.

Dinamo Zagreb, which, until recently, was seen as the top Croatia’s soccer club and one of national institutions, failed to reach 6th place at the end of the first stage of this season’s Croatian Soccer Championship. Instead of competing for the championship in the rest of season, Dinamo Zagreb will have to fight for staying within First Division with six other teams in so called “Survival League”. The losers in that league are relegated into the Second Division of Croatian soccer.

While most people doubt that Dinamo will suffer such humiliation – something that didn’t occur even during Yugoslav days – the early exit from championship race is humiliation enough.

However, some sort of massive public reaction is missing for various reasons.

The most obvious reason lies in security concerns. During the long months of Dinamo agony, its players and officials were subjected to the endless threats, intimidation and assaults by increasingly violent faction of Bad Blue Boys, that club’s fan group. BBB, which until recently limited their aggressive actions only towards rival fan groups, has turned against the club. If the media push this story too far, the violence could escalate beyond any control.

Another reason is political. Croatia is about to have local elections this spring, and city of Zagreb is, naturally, the main prize. Under normal circumstances, any politician and his party would like to associate themselves with Dinamo. But under these circumstances, almost anyone in Zagreb politics would pretend that Dinamo doesn’t exist.

That goes to current administration, nominally led by mayor Vlasta Pavić (Vlasta Pavic), and really by deputy mayor Milan Bandić (Milan Bandic) and one of the most powerful “bosses” of Croatia. During last few years city taxpayers had not only to subsidise Dinamo, led by Bandić’s good friend Zdravko Mamić (Zdravko Mamic), but also to finance the renovation of Maksimir Stadium – megalomaniac project begun during Tudjman’s reign and not finished to this day. Estimates tell that the project, which has already swallowed some 50 million €, is likely to cost taxpayers another 50 million €. And all that for a club which is in danger of spending next season in Second Division.

At first sight it looks like HDZ might use this situation to score some points by accusing Bandić and other “Yugocommunists” for “destroying Croatian national institution”. However, since HDZ leader Ivo Sanader happens to be a native of Split, and since he also happens to be a fan of Dinamo’s arch-rival Hajduk Split, this could be counter-productive. Furthermore, in recent five years Dinamo, which used to be unofficial rallying point for Croatian nationalists in Yugoslavia and regime’s darling during Tudjman’s days, lost this status to Hajduk whose fan base of rural, conservative and war-ravaged Dalmatia responds to the cause of Croatian hard-line nationalism better than people from rich and nominally cosmopolitan Zagreb. HDZ, therefore, won’t play that card, and HDZ-controlled and government-friendly media are going to put Dinamo stories down.

Matija Babić (Matija Babic), on the other hand, doesn’t have such scruples. Today’s issue 24 sata published an article trying to link Dinamo plight with the lifestyle of its top players. In other words, players Dario Zahora, Dino Drpić (Dino Drpic) and Igor Cvetković (Igor Cvetkovic) have, according to 24 sata, invested great deal of energy in drinking, partying and womanising – much more energy that they show at the pitch. 24 sata published few photographs and SMS transcripts showing all three players being involved with Playboy Croatia models Nives Zeljković (Nives Zeljkovic) a.k.a. Nives Celzijus and Maja Kljaković-Šantić (Maja Kljakovic-Santic). 24 sata also adds top Croatian skiers Nika Fleiss and Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) to this “first Croatian soccer soap opera” due to their SMS messages expressing love for Cvetković.

Some may disregard this as tabloid exploitation of Croatia’s soccer club plight, but things could get serious, at least according to 24 sata, which claims that Dario Zahora made death threats 24 sata reporter Romana Vukadin in order to prevent publishing of incriminating photographs. Vukadin refused to yield to threats and is now surrounded by security guards.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Old Adages

Local elections campaign has started and leaders of top Croatian parties are going to increase their public presence, especially in Zagreb which, due to having 4 times more BDP than national average, remains the top prize of that contest.

Zagreb remains the top stronghold of HNS (recently renamed into Croatian Peoples’ Party – Liberal Democrats), but its leader Vesna Pusić (Vesna Pusic) has some reasons for concern. HNS is under great threat from populist SDP strongman Milan Bandić (Milan Bandic), while HNS still suffers from some of its prominent members being involved in corruption scandals. So, Pusić has promised that she would spend each Saturday by trying to mingle with her fellow Zagrebians in the different parts of the city.

Yesterday, while she was at Dolac market place, she caught a Roma woman trying to snatch her purse. After a brief scuffle, Roma woman said that it was all a misunderstanding and left.

It remains to be seen whether Pusić, who enjoys reputation of one of Croatia’s top social and political liberals, will live to the old adage of “conservative is a liberal who has been mugged”.

Double Feature of Double Standards

We are currently enjoying one of the more interesting days in the history of Croatian television. For the very first time a TV station is being temporarily taken off the air for violating decency standards or, in other words, airing images of un-simulated sexual activities between two consenting adults during its late-night show programme. This was breech of decency standards worthy of such punishments.

So, OTV was off the air and unable to disturb Croatian people and insult human dignity, but the torch was nevertheless carried by state-run HRT. They treated their viewers with two very interesting films.

First one was Ridley Scott’s Hannibal. What was supposed to be the sequel to Silence of the Lambs is now mostly remembered for the scene during which one of participants is self-consuming in the most original way imaginable. And, needless to say, in the most graphic way possible, which surpasses even the scene featuring one person’s public disembowelling.

This interesting experience was followed Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, French film which had gained a lot of publicity by making many of the sensitive viewers walk out of theatres. Those who did walk out were divided in the two groups – those who couldn’t stand scene featuring fire extinguisher and those who couldn’t stand the more infamous scene during which Monica Belluci’s character spends 10-15 minutes being sodomised in the most brutal way imaginable. Brutality and apparent realism of the scene later led to all kinds of urban legends about Monica Belluci being subjected to “method acting” and her marriage to Vincent Cassell ending as a result of such unimaginable trauma.

While the artistic merits of those two films can be subject of the debate (although not so in the case of Hannibal, which was Hollywood at its worst), it is almost certain that its content is disturbing and inappropriate for certain sections of audience. But does it insult human dignity? Or, to be more precise, does the anti-human and disturbing activity insults human dignity when it is presented as commercial entertainment while some very human, very natural and, in the most cases, anything but disturbing activity might not be displayed in order to make a point in a talk show?

Or, which is more important question, will HRT be taken off the air for this?

To which the most natural answer is “Do pigs fly?".

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Spring of Euroscepticism

While commentators of state-run HRT television station claim that 47 % of "yes" respondents in the latest PULS poll isn't sign of "dramatic increase of Euroscepticism", Metro Ventura poll conducted for Večernji list (Vecernji list) is putting the number of pro-European Croatians to 44 % which represents the record low.

While Sanader continues to push the optimistic line and some of his media friends try to spin every bit of news from Brussels as a sign that the negotiations will start on April 26th or some later day, some signs of damage control are evident. HDZ decided not to have the name of Ivo Sanader on its party tickets during local and administrative elections. This move is quite understandable, since HDZ, which always fared much worse on local than national level, can only lose if their candidates are associated with a man responsible for the most spectacular policy blunder in recent memory.

It is also very unlikely that the state media is going to extensively report about this development in France.

Friday, March 18, 2005

CSI: NY - First Impressions

I must say that I’m little bit disappointed with the first episode of CSI: NY. I like Gary Sinise and it is quite refreshing to see him in non-villain role for a change. But his presence alone wasn’t enough to compensate for the heavy-handed sentimentality and over-the-top villain that belonged to exploitation horror films rather than what was supposed to be reality-based drama show.

I didn’t like the cheap use of 9-11 either. It was clear indication of screenwriters running out of ideas and desperate need to give some serious issues to the protagonist. Spike Lee’s 25th Hour used 9-11 in much better, effective and humane way.

Rest of Croatian blogosphere reacted to the show with more hostility. Any use of 9-11 in American TV shows is likely to bring phrases like “Hollywood propaganda” and “justification of genocide in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

E-Day Damage Limitation

Nothing important happened today. Heaven didn’t fall. Day was beautiful.

Yet Sanader didn’t leave anything to chance. He came to Sabor today and made as speech looking as confident as 48 hours ago when he had claimed the negotiations would start on March 17th. Of course, today claimed that EU actually didn’t postpone the negotiations and that what happened yesterday shouldn’t be treated as anything other than the absolute triumph of Croatian diplomacy and his statesmanship.

The only party that showed some sort of spine while reacting to this insult of every Croatian’s intelligence was HSP. Their representatives said that EU accession negotiations must start in July, otherwise new elections should be called.

Sanader confidently replied that no elections will be held.

And he is right. Of all parties in Sabor, HSP is currently the only one that can take part in election and expect to see increase of seats as a result. HDZ is going to be hurt very bad with many of its key supporters defecting to HSP and various far right and Eurosceptic parties. But their haemorrhaging is nothing compared with what awaits SDP and other left-of-centre parties, who can only dream about the turnout they enjoyed in 2000. This explains why Ivica Račan (Ivica Racan) already prepared ground for Grand Coalition of “Pro-European forces”.

However, those “Pro-European forces” must be mobilised, just in case. The best way to do it is by reminding public how nasty “anti-European” forces might be and with whom all those sceptical towards EU associate themselves with. Last issue of Globus reports that Račan recently asked and received 24 hour police protection after a meeting with Boro Gotovina, brother of Ante Gotovina, renegade general and ICTY war crimes suspect. The encounter, which was initially very courteous, degenerated into shouting match with Boro Gotovina blaming former prime minister for allowing his brother to be indicted. According to Globus, Boro Gotovina said that he would make sure that “Račan never gets opportunity to become prime minister again”. Račan who is, according to Globus, “not a man easily scared” took those words very seriously, and his future partner apparently shared the same opinion.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

E-Day Postponed

Until the very last moment Ivo Sanader claimed that the EU accession negotiations will begin on March 17th. Today, after it became apparent that his last-ditch lobbying efforts were in vain, he came on Croatian state television and, obviously believing to be in some kind of alternative time line, declared that “negotiations weren’t postponed”.

It is hard to tell how Croatia will react to one of the worst political blunders in this nation’s history. Although I noticed some elderly gentleman mentioning word “lamppost” in brief street interview for RTL Televizija and although I believe that increasing number of Croatians start to mention that word and Sanader in the same sentence, it is unlikely that the government would fall, at least not before the local elections.

In the meantime, PULS conducted EU-related opinion poll among 600 Croatian citizens for HRT. Here are the results.

Question: What is your reaction to EU decision?

35 % - disappointed efforts were in vain, he came on Croatian state television and, obviously beliveing je poput "

31 % - indifferent

24 % - happy

8 % - undecided

Question: Who is to blame for EU decision?

27 % - Ivo Sanader and his government

24 % - European commission and other EU institutions

19 % - Carla del Ponte and ICTY

7 % - Ante Gotovina

Question: Should Ante Gotovina be handed over to Hague?

56 % - no

26 % - yes

16 % - undecided

Question: Is Croatia under unjustifiably hard pressure from EU?

60 % - yes

28 % - no

11 % - undecided

Question: Will EU decision affect living standards in Croatia?

50 % - no

31 % - yes, for the worse

9 % - yes, for the better

Question: Do you support Croatian entry to EU?

47 % - yes

43 % - no

10 % - undecided

The poll shows small increase of Eurosceptics compared to the last poll.

Socially Unacceptable Victim

Dubravko Novak, deputy chief of Zagreb Police District, is removed from his post today following the reports of the breakdown of security during Sunday’s handball festivities. However, Novak's removal is also motivated with another example how Croatian police understands its mission these days.

Few days ago in Zagreb 21-year old Tihana V. accepted invitation for a drink with her ex boyfriend, 36-year old Elvis V. and her present boyfriend, 21-year oldDanijel J. What followed was a car ride and some 14 years of relentless beating, rape and torture which included spending large amounts of time in a trunk of a car. By a miracle, Tihana V. was able to smuggle cell phone in trunk. She thought she could get help from police that way.

She thought wrong.

According to media reports, Tihana V. spent most of the next 14 hours in the trunk. During that time she managed to contact police four times and on each occasion she gave her full name, names and clear description of her abductors, description and license plate numbers of the car and her approximate location.

Each time on-duty police dispatcher reacted with some very original interpretations of Crimminal Law in order to explain why police was not authorised to intervene.

Since it became apparent that Croatian law enforcement agency won’t do anything to stop the torture, Tihana V. tried to do it by herself. Her attempts to slash her wrists were unsuccessful. The torment ended only when one of her abductors literally ditched her, naked and barely alive.

After some time, Tihana V. was brought to her hospital and two men were apprehended and charged for abduction and rape.

Needless to say, Croatian public was outraged. Especially considering that one year ago that very same Zagreb police acted with surprising level of swiftness, efficiency and professionalism during other, much more publicised abduction of General Zagorac’s son.

Police dispatcher, who today got suspended together with his shift commander, is most certainly going to lose his job and serve as a sacrificial lamb.

His lack of action, regardless how reprehensible it is in its essence, is completely understandable in the context of the way Croatian criminal justice system handles such cases. If the dispatcher acted like he was supposed to be acted, two men would have been apprehended resulting with long, complicated and expensive legal proceedings. And during that proceedings every policeman involved would have to testify and thus expose his face and, ultimately, his families’ identities to the accused who, since Croatia happens to be small country, might very well have some connections in the military, police or organised crime. And even if this long trial results with convictions, two men aren’trganised crime. And even if this long trial results with convictions, two men aren'some connections in the military, police or likely to get more than a year of prison. And even if convicted, it is very unlikely that two men would serve a single day of those sentences.

So, it isn’t that surprising that police dispatcher and his superiors tried very hard to interpret woman’s call for help as crank call, over-dramatic interpretation of innocent lovers’ quarrel or product of deranged mind. And they had ample time to check whether victim belongs to “socially acceptable family”. She apparently did not meet such criteria for intervention. Waiting for this sad affair to end in a “normal” way - without police involvement – was, therefore more acceptable alternative.

Fame, Shame and Heritage

I noticed that I don’t blog about city of Split as much I would like to. Perhaps this is due to some of local issues being too petty or - which is more likely – too depressing to think about.

Recently, a lot of controversy was created by Split city authorities decision to start ambitious project of urban renewal that would include Riva, one of Split’s most recognisable landmarks. The project, given to Zagreb architectural studio LHD, had many Split citizens up in arms because of two things.

First, LHD is Zagreb studio, which looks like a mortal insult to those claiming that Split has enough talented architects of its own.

Second, and more interesting, reason is in the details of the proposed project. LHD envisioned boardwalk being transformed into Split version of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Each Split celebrity – legendary athlete, entertainer, writer etc. – is going to have the piece of boardwalk. Another detail is fountain, which is about to have state-of-the-art visual effects. Finally, traffic problems in nearby harbour are going to be solved with the construction of big two-floor garage where bus and train stations are located now.

All those solutions were decried as the rape of Split’s cultural legacy and “unnatural” introduction of Los Angeles, Las Vegas and futuristic architecture in what used to be predominantly Mediterranean ambient.

Yet, this proposed “rape”, when it happens, is going to be just one of the many similar events in Split’s long history. Riva today looks very different to the Riva fifty or hundred years ago. There are buildings that date from 1920s and 1930s, with definitely non-Mediterranean architectural style, and yet nobody proposes that they should be brought down in order to preserve some sort of cultural purity. And hardly anyone wants to see present-day asphalt from Riva being replaced by stone cobbles of the previous eras.

Much better argument against proposed project is more prosaic one. The money designated for this Riva renewal should be better spent on other projects – those that actually have something to do with the improving life of Split citizens.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

[ADMINISTRATIVE] Current Events-Related Blogroll Addition

Today I learned that Željko Peratović (Zeljko Peratovic), Croatian journalist whose involved in Gotovina Affair, has his own blog. This should be required reading for all those needing some sort of inside information about EU accession negotiations, Gotovina, Croatian intelligence services, journalist being under illegal surveillance etc. Peratović also has a Croatian blog called 45 Lines.

Big Brother Croatia Redux: Happy and Predictably Endings

Cast and crew of Zabranjena ljubav, RTL Televizija show heavily promoted as the “first Croatian soap opera has recently celebrated the making of 100th episode. The mere fact that the show managed to survive that long is a reason enough to celebrate. Its ratings are abysmally poor, which led RTL Televizija to take some desperate measures.

Following the heavily promoted photo shoot of Zabranjena ljubav top actresses “in provocative outfits” and those pictures appearing on the cover of Klik magazine, RTL Televizija apparently decided to use Big Brother Croatia cadre as its last reserve in the losing ratings battle. With Ana Gotovac, one of Big Brother Croatia contestants, already hired to do few bit parts on the show, Croatian tabloids were discreetly informed about two other contestants dating Zabranjena ljubav actors. Zdravko Lamot, the finalist, was dating Anita Berisha while Antonija Blaće (Antonija Blace), contestant evicted before the finals, was dating Marin Knežević (Marin Knezevic). Many speculated that about such coincidence being too convenient and that all those liaisons were nothing more than publicity stunts. Such speculations were fuelled by the fact that both Lamot and Blaće were later scheduled to appear in various RTL Televizija shows – Lamot in the small role of scheming bartender in Zabranjena ljubav and Blaće as the subject of reality show dedicated to weight loss.

Today, Jutarnji list reports that another soap opera had a predictable plot twist, although not predictable to those who had followed it on the pages of the very same Jutarnji list. Few days ago Lamot announced that he was only “a friend to Berisha”. Not much time has passed before the official end of his status of single. Jutarnji list today reported that Marina Bajlo, Big Brother Croatia finalist – and the only woman among the last four contestants – had left her family home in Pula and moved to Zagreb one month ago. In Zagreb she saw her former housemate Lamot as “the only one to whom she could rely on” and two of them now announce that they are couple.

This must be a shocking news to all those who had relied to RTL Televizija and Jutarnji list as the only source of information about Big Brother Croatia. For months, both mediums worked very hard to convince the public that Marina Bajlo and Alen Macinić (Alen Macinic) were match made in heaven and that their relationship was nothing less than the passionate romance. This line was followed until the very end of the show when Macinić finally admitted that his feelings towards Bajlo were “nothing more than friendship”. Those who followed Big Brother Croatia via Internet live streams, on the other hand, are hardly going to be surprised. In the scenes not included in daily TV instalments or not reported by Jutarnji list, Bajlo not only used plenty of opportunity to explain to Macinić and other housemates that the relationship was “only friendship”, but also showed clear signs of attraction to Lamot, especially when under the influence of alcohol.

Whether this new development is just another publicity stunt or not, remains to be seen. But it won’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. Big Brother Croatia was always more show and less reality.

Monday, March 14, 2005

New Season Starts

Yesterday Anja Paerson nearly allowed herself to lose World Ski Cup to Janica Kostelić (Janica Kostelic) in the final event.

Today good citizens of Split were, for the first time this year, able to watch some of the ladies walking in miny-skirts.

All this means that the winter is coming to an end and that spring is coming.

While poets like spring, people in this part of the world learned to await spring with great apprehension and anxiety. Historical experience shows that whenever something very bad is about to happen, it usually starts in spring.

This year a little taste of things to come were provided by the fans of Zagreb and Partizan Belgrade – Croatian and Serbian handball team who were competing for Champions League semin-final. Needless to say, the fan base of both clubs is identical to the fan base of soccer clubs Dinamo Zagreb and Partizan Belgrade, which means that the two games are opportunity for Bad Blue Boys and Grobari to engage in their own sort of contest, for which there had been little opportunity since 1991.

Needless to say, yesterday Zagreb fans rose to the occasion, resulting with injuries, smashed vehicles and almost certain and even more spectacular retaliation whenever Croatian team appears in Belgrade. The game itself, of course, won’t be remembered, despite Zagreb victory. What is going to be remembered that the hall admitted at least few thousands people over their official capacity and that all of them used the opportunity to carry pictures of Ante Gotovina few days before what once had been branded Croatian E-Day.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Rare Moment of Honesty

The reasons for the dramatic rise of Euroscepticism among Croatians can be found, among other things, is the lack of proper arguments among the most enthusiastic representatives of pro-EU camp. In other words, Europhiles for years claimed that no amount of blood, sweat and tears is price too high for Croatia to enter European Union, but they simply forgot to tell why European Union represents such a wonderful thing.

Now, when they are put on defensive, they actually try to find some justification for their policies.

Yesterday we heard Zlatko Tomčić (Zlatko Tomcic) saying what many Europhiles say these days. He claims that Croatia must enter EU because it is apparent that Croatia can’t improve its living and “civilisation” standards – good economy, proper social services, living standards – on its own.

Interestingly enough, person who said it just happens to be former minister in Tudjman’s government, former speaker of Sabor and leader of one of major Croatian opposition parties – HSS. He said those words on his party’s convention, held few months before the start of local elections.

It is hard not to appreciate Tomčić’s honesty. As a professional politician – a man to whom Croatians entrust their votes and, ultimately, their heard earned taxpayers’s money – he admitted that he was unable to do what all those Croatians expected him to do – improve their lives and secure this country’s future.

However, in the same time Tomčić contradicted himself by agreeing to run for office despite this admission. In “normal” countries his words should have been enough to stop any realistic chance of being elected as dog catcher.

Then again, Croatia had some even less suitable characters elected to offices, but they didn’t bother to admit their incompetence.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

[ADMINISTRATIVE] New Blogroll Addition

Phil Edwards has joined the ranks of SHWI bloggers with his Actually Existing blog.

Friday, March 11, 2005

RIP Dave Allen (1936 – 2005)

I don’t think I could add anything to this. Except that he was immensely popular in this part of the world. I loved his jokes and sketches, even those that used to mock some things I still had to hear of, like Bionic Woman, show never aired in former Yugoslavia.

Eyes Officially Shut

Today 24 sata published an article about the results of a poll conducted among 100 female high school students in 10 largest Croatian cities. They asked a simple question – "Would you, for a decent fee, agree to star in pornographic film". According to the poll, some 43 % answered positively which led article author, Sanja Petrović (Sanja Petrovic), to lament over moral decline of Croatia. Especially worrisome is higher percentage of positive answers among the youngest of students.

(Then again, you should take this poll results with huge rock of salt. The article says that 35 polled girls were pupils of an "elite Zagreb private school". This gives you some idea how representative the sample was.)

In any case, those young ladies who do start that kind of adventure won't have to worry about their parents, friends, teachers, boyfriends etc. watching their act on public airwaves. Croatian Electronic Media Council took care of that by penalising OTV over its airing of Kozjak, one of the most famous pieces of modern Croatian filmmaking. The station is going to have its broadcasting license suspended for 24 hours – between March 19th 20:00 CET and March 20th 20:00 CET. Denis Peričić (Denis Pericic), Council chairman, said that the Council took this drastic and unprecedented measure in order to "send a message to other television stations that breeches of law would not be tolerated".

Old and Still Unknown Faces

Globus decided to make some sort of tradition with its choice of 100 Sexiest Croatian Women. This time, however, instead of “Sexiest” they used more “politically correct” phrase “Most Beautiful”.

And, slightly less so than in the last year, I'm amazed by the criteria used.

Compared with 2004 list, there are 17 new names. I must admit that those who dropped from the list are, in my humble opinion, less attractive than new entries.

However, the list follows last year’s pattern – women who are unknown are more likely to have higher positions than those with familiar faces.

The winner of the “contest”, Martina Maras, 24-year old model is the following the footsteps of her predecessor Renata Sopek (this year on No. 5 spot). She apparently earned her spot by being host of Bingo Show on HRT, state-run television.

No. 2 spot is reserved for Aleksandra Grdić (Aleksandra Grdic), Miss Croatia 2003 who is currently filling tabloid headlines with drug scandal.

Big Brother Croatia contributed to the list with three faces – Ana Gotovac is #26, Marina Bajlo is #49 and Vlatka Kraljić (Vlatka Kraljic) is #56.

Josipa Perin, Croatian representative in To sum jas reality show (ex-Yugoslav variation of Big Brother) was nowhere to be seen on the list, despite being the most popular woman of all contestants.