Saturday, 22 September 2018

October 8, 2017 marked 26 years since Croatia declared independence. While many people celebrated and posted happy messages on social media reminding each other of the date, nominally a happy day, I sat on a train feeing dismal and frustrated.

A few hours earlier a colleague from Zagreb, a well-known political reporter had sent me a message lamenting the potential outcome of the upcoming Horvatinčić trial. “What do you mean I asked? Surely, they are going to find him guilty on all counts? Have you seen our latest tourism numbers? The Minister of Tourism is going to protest if he gets anything short of life in prison and the Italian Ambassador will most likely resign, as rightly he should!” I shouted back. “That’s not what I’m hearing. My source at the district court is telling me the judge is going to drop the charges and let him walk,” said my friend. “Is the judge a certified lunatic?” I asked while shouting into my cell phone avoiding the glances of the other travellers. “Katarina, welcome to f******g Croatia…and by the way, happy Independence Day” said my friend. I hung up the phone and held my head down in shock. Except there was nothing be shocked about at all.

To refresh your memory and bring you up to speed on the details of the case, Mr. Tomislav (‘Tomo’) Horvatinčić, one of Croatia’s more well-known and in-your-face millionaires was soon to hear the verdict in a trial which saw him accused of driving his luxury mega yacht 50 knots (26km/hour) over the maritime speed limit while vacationing on the Dalmatian coast in 2011, thus hitting and ultimately killing a visiting Italian tourist couple. The case had captivated the entire nation as this was not the first time our bratty and gutless co-citizen had murdered innocent people.

His first claim to fame occurred in 1980 when he hit and subsequently killed an 89-year old woman while failing to stop at a traffic light in Zagreb. He not only missed the light, he holds the distinctive claim of striking the poor soul and then driving off as if nothing had happened. Jail time? Zero. But let’s blame that one on the evil machinations of the Yugoslav penal code, right? Wrong. In 1989 he killed another pour soul, this time a man while again speeding, failing to stop, and leaving the scene of a crime. Jail time? Zero. To be fair to the Yugoslavs, his drivers license was at least suspended in that unfortunate incident. For a record 90-days. Pay the right people off and voila, he was back on the streets of Zagreb, only this time in independent Croatia, that bastion of western democracy with the most enlightened judicial system in the post-socialist world. Only his track record (no pun intended) did not stop there. In 1997 Horvatinčić struck a family of four in yet another auto speeding accident, but because all of them somehow miraculously survived, all charges against him were dubiously dropped. Jail time? Zero.

In any normal country this would have been stopped much earlier, but we’re talking about Croatia here so keep calm and read on.

Horvatinčić’s name was splashed across national newspapers as recently as 2011 for killing the young Italian tourist couple, this time with a yacht. Perhaps he got tired of mowing people down with automobiles and decided to try his luck at maritime transportation. At the time of the most recent incident, public outrage was at an all-time high and it wasn’t just because of the details of the case, the brazen behaviour of a silver-spoon fed spineless oligarch and the wild-west untouchable attitude he displayed after each incident. It had more to do with the fact that ever since independence, the ‘Horvatinčić’s’ of Croatia have began piling up and have produced an ugly pattern that speaks directly to the sort of nation we’ve become.

Prior to Horvatinčić we were gripped with the sensational corruption case linked to Dr. Ivo Sanader, our former Prime Minister who guzzled millions from state coffers to enrich the likes of his family, friends, and political cronies, whose track record was only surpassed by Dr. Franjo Tudjman, our war-time President whose own family corruption scandals are so wide and numerous I am not even going to waste time or energy by listing them here. Add to this the laundry list of accusations and charges racked up against the veritable long-term Mayor of Zagreb, Milan Bandić (nickname ‘Bandit,’ a persona who can’t seem to exit the Mayor’s Office even when forced to by the Police), Nadan Vidošević, the George Clooney look-a-like who for a long-time ran (or should I say ‘used and abused’) the privilege of directing the Croatian Chamber of Commerce for his own personal gain, and the list goes on and on.

Week after week, month after month, year after year, we barely react anymore when turning the pages of Večernji List, Dnevnik, or Slobodna Dalmacija, because these stories fill more pages than advertising space. And that’s just scratching the surface of the political level.

On a sporting level – oh yes dear readers, even at the sporting level we are reminded that corruption and graft has become as common as a household staple like sugar. Our best illustration rests in the despicable behaviour and weekly shenanigans of Zdravko Mamić, the former director and national manager of the Dinamo Zagreb football club who wields so much power over the Croatian Soccer Federation that he can single-handedly make or break the career of a promising young player (this, regardless of the fact that he no longer actually holds the position he once did). Even world-class players who have left Croatia to make their fortunes in international clubs still fear the wrath of Mamić and avoid him at all costs. This was best seen in a recent incident where our most beloved footballer, Luka Modrić, changed his testimony in a Croatian court to avoid Mamić and his henchmen. To be fair to poor Luka, I’d have probably done the same. Short of probably fearing for his life and that of his wife and child, he must have known that ‘veritas’ is not worth a lot in a Croatian court and can actually cost one their limbs, err, golden foot. The prosecutor would have exonerated Mamić anyway or face a car bomb on the way home. I’m not even mincing words here.

Mamić’s implication in mafia-like scandals, extortion, threats, perjury, and the likes, makes him the Croatian version of Al-Capone-meets-Harvey-Weinstein (minus the sexual assault claims although, hey, it’s Croatia we’re discussing here, hang around long enough and anything is possible).

Finally, on the economic level, the one man who many held in high regard and who we naively believed to be the only remnant of a positive commercial success story in a country that has experienced the pitfalls of botched-privatization in the 1990s and 2000s - Ivica Todorić, the founder of Agrokor (the largest retail, food, and business consortium in the region with headquarters in Zagreb and 60,000 employees across all states of the former-Yugoslavia) was recently exposed in a criminal investigation that involves himself, his two sons, 12 senior executives, and has now plunged the entire country into an economic spiral just when it had begun to bounce back from the global economic crisis. The shock and reverberation of Agrokor’s fall from grace, one of the most respected and sought after private enterprise employers, was the tip of the iceberg for most Croatians who have long since lost all faith in political leadership. As head of a company many viewed a rare beacon of success and run according to international business standards and practices, Todorić’s name was considered a natural one for future political office. We believed that if he could run his own economic fiefdom in the spirit of free enterprise and meritocracy, surely there was hope that the same would occur if he ever made his way to the ballot. But we were again wrong and this too did not happen.

At this point you’re probably wondering where did we go wrong? Let me walk you through it as best I can by reciting living memory. I remember the stages of my life prior to, during, and post independence being proclaimed. At first, we were jubilant, even the idea of greater freedom and democracy within a looser association of federative Yugoslav states sounded enticing. Freedom to control our own republican finances and economic course of path while still being diplomatically and federally tied to joint state institutions actually struck everyone as an interesting idea. Had Tudjman and Milosević not been the elected Presidents of Croatia and Serbia proper, this idea may have even worked in principle. Nobody actually believed that Croatia would take this notion one step further and walk away as an independent state. Past experiences taught us it wasn’t very likely to happen (as in, it ‘wouldn’t’ be tolerated) and within Croatia there didn’t seem to be the socio-political appetite for it until the Berlin Wall came down.

Then, one by one, the neighbouring countries surrounding us began to tread toward the path of full democracy and in some cases, independence from a larger federative unit. When the satellite states that made up the former Soviet Union jumped on the self-determination bandwagon, our then as-of-yet elected leadership proposed the same. To be fair however, by this point the political situation in former Yugoslavia had deteriorated to such an extent that the Croats (and the Slovenes before them) felt economic independence was one-step short of the penultimate goal, and as the war-mongering and hateful spats between Zagreb and Belgrade escalated week after week, the Croatian government took the unilateral step of proclaiming independence on October 8, 1991. Suddenly we had the opportunity to rectify decades of mutual distrust and politically perceived wrongs, by playing master in our own house and shaping the destiny of the sort of Croatia we had always dreamed of having and felt we deserved. Only that never happened either.

I could go on and on about what the Croatia we thought ‘we were going to get’ should have looked like but many will either disagree with me or agree with me (If I was a betting person, I’d venture I have more detractors and those who fall in the ‘disagree’ category). In my childish 15-year old mindset, I thought we were getting a country that would follow a secular and western European model of religious freedom and tolerance, a state which respected and protected all its citizens regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, class, and gender. But that never happened.

I thought that our new found elected government would miraculously fill St. Mark’s Square with the impassioned voices of Savka Dabčević Kučar and Ante Marković, or the harbingers of a Stjepan Radić and Vlatko Maček, thereby picking up on the socio-political-liberal echelons of the great Croatian political question dating as far back as the 1930s (in the case of Radić and Maček) and continuing into the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s under Dabčević-Kučar and Marković. It was a natural presumption to think such things given that they had ignited the very ideals that pushed the campaign for greater autonomy for the Croats in the first place, and were well familiar with the decades long complaints about the repressive and brutal political machinations that the Croats claimed to have endured under the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes (in the case of Radić and Maček) and the federative Yugoslav system (in the case of Dabčević-Kučar and Marković), which colloquially always meant living under the ‘pro-Serbian military regime might.’ In his heyday, Radić had warned that even if Croatia were ever to break free of the Kingdom, the new state would only survive for a time before the bickering began again, brother against brother, family against family. In schoolbooks he is fondly remembered for the phrase which we were all known to recite by heart, the adage that we were a nation caught like ‘geese in a fog’ (translation: “Ko guske u magli’) at the crossroads of national interests in which a few would triumph and reap the rewards of the state at the expense of the common good.

I don’t know why Radić made the statement but his background and the times in which he lived may help to explain it. He was born in Austria-Hungary and later became a citizen of the first failed Yugoslav experiment called ‘The Kingdom.’ A close friend of the King and our most senior elected representative in Belgrade, he and his brother Vladimir as founding members of the Peasant Party, made many friends and even more enemies because of their candour and honesty. One of those enemies eventually assassinated him in broad-day light during a heated parliamentary session. What is certain to me is that Radić saw the bickering of the Croats and may have even been fearful of the sort of state he would have eventually led had the assassination not occurred. The King was willing to dissolve Parliament and ensure that each of the republics was set on a better footing within a looser association of states, but before that could even happen the King himself was also assassinated while visiting Marseille in 1931. If the pieces of this peculiar puzzle are starting to make sense to you and you can guess where this is heading, then keep on reading. With the death of Radić and the genteel voice of reason which he brought to Sabor (a voice which, let me explicitly and clearly state has NEVER been replicated or repeated in our country since), we had hopes that someone else would rise to the occasion, fill the big man’s great footsteps, and lead us toward the path of freedom and democracy as he had charted it. Only that never happened either.

Instead, in the euphoria and chaos of a state forged during war (and I refer now to the recent war of the 1990s), we got a center-right government, elected overwhelmingly by the citizens of Croatia to represent the citizens of Croatia. Croatian citizens of Serb extraction chose by and large not to participate in these elections and instead held their own, arguing that if Croats could opt for self-determination, then so could they. I choose my words here carefully because I am certainly cognizant of the fact that what Croatian citizens saw in the Croatian Democratic Union (commonly known by the acronym HDZ) in the early 1990s was a party that sought to fulfill on one over-arching campaign promise - to chart a new path that would result in outright independence from the federative state many had known for over 50 years. In this, the HDZ was explicitly clear.

Love them or hate them (and for the record I fall in the latter camp) it was an unbelievable claim and one that even the most hopeful and willing couldn’t quite believe. I recall listening to the campaign speeches with both my parents stunned and in total disbelief that independence was actually stated as an outright goal. I was a teenager and had never known an independent Croatia in my lifetime. I had however heard about a time, long before I was born and before my parents were born, when Croatia was briefly independent (1941 - 1945) in the hushed voices of my maternal grandparents who had fought on the Partisan side, while describing my paternal grandparents, whose families had fought on that ‘other’ side. It was in those early days of 1991 that I had suddenly for the first time in my life also heard about what was done in the name of ‘that’ Croatia. The HDZ party that swept the country in the elections of ‘91 however told us not to worry, as that sort of Croatia, a country that functioned on fear, injustice, perjury, corruption, slander, unspeakable crimes, and so on and so on, could never happen again. This was a new party that had nothing to do with the party that proclaimed Croatian independence during WWII (notwithstanding the fact that some of them shouted the same Nazi slogans used during WWII, wore the same memorabilia or were the grandchildren of previous Ustaša party members). Not all, some. The new government claimed that they were different and that this time around, free from the historical revanchism of Yugoslavia we would finally get the independent state we deserved. But we were wrong about that too.

During the Homeland War (the war that Croats refer to when describing the conflict that broke out between Croatia and Serbia in 1991) we banded together because war has a way of uniting even the most unlikely of people. My father despised the HDZ for a variety of reasons but the most basic was that he was a proponent of the party led by Dabčević-Kučar, then known as the Croatian People’s Party (HNS) and had even campaigned for her as she was a long-time associate and colleague of my uncle who ran on the same party ticket. Many of our family members were proponents of the HDZ though, and in the early days of the campaign struggle there were arguments and raised voices and for many years thereafter my father refused to speak to two of his brothers because of their pro-HDZ views. This made family Christmas’ and Easters’ gatherings all the more awkward.

When they came to power though, my father like many in the city I grew up in, a hot-bed of anti-HDZ sentiment, grudgingly accepted their victory as everyone did the day that independence was actually announced, October 8, 1991. I remember the day well. My mother came home from work early to take my sister to a dentist appointment and when she walked into the kitchen to wash some dishes, the telephone rang. She answered it and I could hear the excited voice of my uncle, my father’s older brother on the other end. He was screaming and shouting, asking her if she, if all of us in fact, were watching state news on television. We hadn’t been. When she turned the tv on and saw the President and the entire National Assembly standing and proclaiming independence, she dropped the plate she had been washing and it broke into tiny glass pieces all across the kitchen floor. I was attempting to help her pick up some of the larger pieces, when she sat down and began to cry. I thought she was crying tears of happiness, but I didn’t know until many years later that that was not the case. I didn’t really know what to do and the awkwardness in the room was so thick you could cut it with a knife, so my sister and I consoled her and we began to cry too. To this day I don’t know why I cried. Maybe it was to show my Mother than I cared or maybe it was because the woman singing the anthem on national tv was crying as well and looked terribly distraught and emotional, as was everyone we knew. You never want to be that sole person who doesn’t cry during a historic occasion. The old people and fluttering flags on St. Mark’s Square filled the entire length of Jelačić platz and it seemed that a sea of humanity had rushed from their apartment buildings and made their way to castle square to cheer and rejoice. Everyone but my father.

He came home from work and watched the celebrations on state tv with a grin. I don’t recall if he cried or not, although it’s possible he may have in that moment. In fact, I am sure he must have. When he turned the tv off he turned to my mother and my brothers and sisters and I, stared at the ground for a while, shuffled his feet, straightened his shoulders and then said, ‘there’s going to be a war.’ He then got up and left the room, while my Mother began to silently cry some more while clutching a family photo album. I remember that moment as if it were yesterday because to stop my Mother from crying I prompted her to help me with my English project which involved building a fold-out paper theatre for Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She didn’t cry again until two months later when my father’s draft papers had arrived and we had become toughened by sanctions and watching family members flee. My mother’s fear of war was deeply embedded in her by the stories passed down to her by her own mother, my grandmother Ana. I remember being angry and exasperated that while normal children the world over were being tucked into bed by doting parents who read them Snow White or The Snow Queen, my sister and I would go to bed hearing my mother talk about some of the most depressing and horrific war stories as told to her by my grandmother. I don’t know if re-telling it made her feel better but it made me feel sixty million times worse to know that my grandmother and her generation had to suffer such cruelties and it made me extremely fearful of war in general.

But when war actually breaks out you become stronger than you can imagine and in a way you live two parallel lives, there’s your every-day life which involves school, friends, teenage drama, and then there’s that other life, the one where you hide in basements, where war sirens take over the radio, where every night you are packing clothes and necessities for those unfortunate enough to live in towns making up the front line, and all of a sudden rationing food or barred from watching tv and using electricity because it wall attract the F-16s you had previously only thought existed in Hollywood films like Top Gun.

War creates a state of psychosis which is difficult to understand. It’s difficult to write about but the one thing it does is very well is either polarize a nation, or unite it, and in the case of the Croatian homeland war it definitely united people regardless of whom you voted for. When the entire world ignores you, when your basic human rights are being trampled upon, when you are a refugee or a displaced person, when you are victimized on a daily basis, you succumb to an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality and can easily fall victim to nationalist sentiments when you see your co-citizens being murdered, shot at, raped and pillaged. At some point, the more intelligent person walks away from this fog and realizes that the state-run media propaganda machine has just done a better job of turning humans into imbecilic mice and they try to warn the others. But the others don’t listen as they’re too tired and exhausted, the individual is branded a traitor, the war continues, hundreds of thousands lose their lives, millions are displaced, and we are later told that this was the collective price, that everything we endured was for the common good. We’re told that those who ‘gave’ us an independent state (a funny claim as their sons and daughters certainly never served one day on the front lines) have delivered us to safety and freedom like Moses lead the Jews after 40 years of walking in the desert. Only this was a grandiose lie too. Another lie in the litany of lies they’ve fed us since 1991 onwards.

So, what did they give us? The answer is the sort of state we deserve. If we as a nation can continue to elect the sort of human poison we have repeatedly, consistently, and unequivocally voted in, for a record 26-years in a row, then the issue is not our elected government at all. The issue dear co-citizens are we, ourselves. Our elected officials, such as they are, and I don’t mean to take away from the record of the few decent folks who do try to cement change, are a representation of society.

Therefore, if something is rotten in Sabor, then it’s time to talk about Croatia and the sort of society we have become. Only then can we have a healthy and honest discussion about the sort of society we want to be.

While we can only point the finger at elected representation, each of them brings to office a collective psychological whole shaped by the historicism of having come to age pre-1991 in a socialist system ripe with challenges and disputes, or on the cusp of a post-1991 burgeoning-democracy that is still learning through trial and error. To those of us who fall into the post-1991 camp, it’s the errors that continue to pile up, committed as they are in a system oozing with an overabundance of red-tape-bureaucratic minutia and a penal and judicial code that probably hasn’t changed much since Austrian times (read Franz Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’ if you aren’t familiar with bureaucracy 9.0 Eastern-European style), that has us most worked up. This is primarily because we thought we were going to acquire and shape a state better than the ones our parents and grandparents complained about. This is not to say to say that our new state isin’t better – although that too is open to debate depending on who you ask - but if I was to list and examine some of the more morose social legalities and peculiarities of present-day Croatia (without verbally naming the country), you might actually conclude that I was referring to some dictatorial African state rather than a cultured and nominally civilized country smack in the middle of central Europe. In egalitarian countries like Iceland and some of the more progressive Nordic and Scandinavian states, citizens would take to the streets and force a shut-down of the government by camping out in the hundreds of thousands in front of Parliament (as they did do in Iceland when government corruption was revealed in the Panama Paper leaks in the spring of 2016). What do we do in Croatia when an elected official is prosecuted and found to have committed the worst of crimes? We usually breathe a collective sigh of relief for approximately 2-5 years and then turn around and elect them again. Why? Because we’re geese in a fog.

To give you some concrete examples of the sort of political and legal digressions which you can readily read about in Croatia and which we may at some point consider patenting as they truly border on the unimaginable (Hollywood couldn’t script this if they tried!), please consider some of the laments below as outlined by my colleague Andrea Andrassy, a well-known Croatian weekly social and political commentator and columnist (I added some more).

The list begins with ‘only’ in Croatia can:

1. Only in Croatia is abortion attempted to be categorized and equated with murder, but actual murder is usually challenged and debated at every opportunity and dismissed with a 5-year sentence (moral of the story? Come to Croatia and murder as many people as you want. You’ll only serve 40-years and if you pay the judge in cash, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll be out in five).

2. Only in Croatia will you face jail time for the 4 marijuana joints you smoked in your car, rather than for the 4 dead bodies actually discovered in your car.

3. Only in Croatia will a poor, jay-walking Grandmother be thrown to the ground, searched and arrested, while the sons and daughters of the rich and privileged who mow down a 16-year old at a traffic light are escorted out of the country, red-carpet style, to the first waiting government airplane en-route to Switzerland, bank account and full rights intact.

4. Only in Croatia will a bicyclist without a helmet be stopped, ticketed, and penalized for pedalling 63 in a 60 zone, while known murderers are somehow ‘conspicuously’ overlooked and waved through at the border with Austria (and probably given a week- long supply of Jana water and Bajadera to satisfy their hunger…sorry Ms. Andrassy, couldn’t resist).

5. Only in Croatia will the State Commercial Inspection Office shut down a small business enterprise which has a few more Kuna’s in it’s till, while allowing the largest state employer that doctored its own books, and engaged in criminal financial activities encompassing three states and leaving all of them on the verge of financial ruin and bankruptcy, go untouched.

6. Only in Croatia do the poor go unforgiven and are often penalized for even the most minor of accrued debts, while millionaires and billionaires (our ‘golden’ class) are pardoned the most astronomical debt by comparison.

7. Only in Croatia will a hungry family be told by its elected government, to ‘slice its bread thinner and spread it further.’

8. Only in Croatia will a family be told that it isin’t a family in so far as it doesn’t have children.

9. Only in Croatia are all children a gift of God, except of course if you are a child born with Down Syndrome, because then the Pastor won’t allow for the rite of First Communion unless the bribe he receives is as large as your chromosome count.

10. Only in Croatia will people vote for a party which promises them Euros for every child born to the couple (note: by couple I am obviously referring to straight-laced, Christian and heterosexual of course, because that’s the definition of a family according to the Church, oops sorry, I mean the State! Or do I actually mean the Church? Best to ask your elected representative they may or may not know the answer).

11. Only in Croatia will you get a property tax invoice for a property tax you have already paid.

12. Only in Croatia will a person die right before the locked doors of the Emergency Clinic, begging to be admitted until their heart gives out.

13. Only in Croatia are you forced to pay telecom charges for services which were never actually rendered to you in the first place. Unless you’re the rich of course, in which case HT will answer your phone call within 20 seconds versus waiting on the line for three hours only to have someone drop the call when they realize why you’re calling.

14. Only in Croatia will a female from Zadar who works at the deli counter be fired for snacking on two grams of pršut, thus rendering her employer a loss of $2 - $3 euros, while another woman from Sisak will drain the state’s coffers by 10 million euros and walk away untouched, unscathed, unfired, and straight into a parliamentary portfolio for a 2-term mandate.

15. Only in Croatia are service staff prevented from taking a vacation and enjoying their own seaside during the summer. Because their services are essential 24-hours a day, every day, 360 days a year. But perhaps it’s actually better they don’t go to the seaside so as to avoid being killed by Mr. Horvatinčić and his yacht. Unless of course they have to work on it.

16. Only in Croatia does an invoice of 25 Kuna’s which the utility company forgot to send you, get rectified with another one in the amount of 700 Kuna’s. Exercising your right to dispute it will probably cost you another 300 Kuna’s so you don’t bother.

17. Only in Croatia will Customs Officers demand you open your packages in front of them, and will forcefully open them should you protest. They will then demand you pay them the service fee for the opening of said packages. Obviously in cash only and on the spot. Did you think otherwise?

18. Only in Croatia will Customs Officers fine old grandfathers returning from Austria for the few purchased trinkets they intend to sell during Advent on roadside stalls (usually to compensate from their diminishing pensions), while the same Custom Officers are in no hurry to arrest the group of grandfathers who sold our public road tolls to the Austrians and pocketed millions in kick-backs in the process.

19. Only in Croatia will the full name and photograph of the cleaning lady who is ‘accused’ (but nowhere close to ‘proven’) of stealing Tarik Filipović’s jewellery be published on the front pages of the dailies, but when someone has without a doubt committed a murder or killed someone in a traffic accident where they deliberately ran the red, the papers only publish the abbreviated initials of their name.

20. Only in Croatia, a country of 4 million people will you find 9,000 actively paid State Councillors (‘Viječnici’). New York City has 8 million people and only has 49.

21. Only in Croatia will you encounter legal attempts to privatize your reproductive organs and egg cells to ensure that you can give birth at any time. Even if raped.

22. Only in Croatia is rape a serious crime, especially if the rapist is a Priest or Deacon. Then the underage minor whom he raped and assaulted is moved to another county so that she can avoid the shame she brought to herself and think about her actions.

23. Only in Croatia will a well-known county court judge release a rapist who continued to rape a 13-year old girl because she didn’t scream ‘NO’ loudly enough, while charging a dog for barking too loudly and irritating his neighbour (but said Judge will probably argue upon reading this that had the young girl screamed ‘NO’ louder, he may have charged her too for disturbing the public peace).

24. Only in Croatia will a well-known Public Prosecutor and former war-time General be exonerated and acquitted for raping 23 Bosnian Muslim women during the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was defending the extended ‘Motherland’ from a 12-year old, a few 20-year old’s, a 48-year old and a 60-year old. They were trespassing terrorists who deserved what they got and had ample warning of a pending attack, even at the ripe old age of 12.

25. Only in Croatia is a mother penalized for taking care of her gravely ill child and forced to go back to work the day after the funeral so that she can pay back her employer the difference between time worked and time spent as a short-term or long-term caregiver, while the state milk-bottle continues to feed elected Parliamentarians two years after the end date of their term.

26. Only in Croatia will the troupe of an independent theatre performance be arrested and thrown in prison for exposing certain tycoons, oligarchs, criminal politicians and business leaders, while those same tycoons, oligarchs, criminal politicians and business leaders who SHOULD be in prison watch the same play from the front row of a London theatre and lament their good fortune at having left Croatia with full wallets and Swiss bank accounts stocked to the nine.

27. Only in Croatia will you encounter a nation still bickering over who was where in 1991 (frontline, breadline, or airport boarding-line), while the children of those born in ’91 (or shortly thereafter) are fleeing in the tens of thousands to Ireland and Iceland.

28. Only in Croatia can you raise the Nazi salute, wear Nazi memorabilia, paint Nazi slogans, and chant Nazi euphoria at public demonstrations, sporting events, concert halls and even while the Prime Minister is in attendance and walk away with the assurance of knowing that absolutely nothing will happen to you. Meanwhile that same behaviour would garner a fine, arrest, or long-term sentence in Germany.

29. Only in Croatia will you encounter a society who, upon meeting each other for the first time, will usually gravitate towards asking which side their grandfather fought on during WWII in the very first hour of conversation (actually more like 30 minutes). Your answer, depending on who you are providing it to, can decide a lot about your future as a citizen, ranging from everything to hiring options, revoked meritocracy, nepotism, and the golden spoon of privilege if your ancestor was on the perceived ‘right’ side which is actually the wrong side in every civilized western European and global state. Except for North Korea.

30. Only in Croatia is WWII so vividly discussed on a daily basis that if you visit us, you may actually believe it had only ended yesterday and not in 1945. So, what are you waiting for? Come visit us a.s.a.p! Apart from our breathtaking coastline, 1,200 islands and the most crystal-clear turquoise sea you’ve arguably ever seen, you’ll never hear so much about WWII anywhere else. It’s like we invented it.

31. Only in Croatia are plaques, signs, and monuments dedicated to the victims of WWII replaced by plaques, signs, and monuments to those who perpetrated the crimes.

32. Only in Croatia will elected officials visit and lay wreaths at Auschwitz and domestic concentration camps only to turn around and visit the memorial sites and gravestones of those who ran Auschwitz and domestic concentration camps and ensure that the perpetrators get a wreath too. Because as we all know, both the victims and the perpetrators suffered equally.

33. Only in Croatia will the Serbs be blamed for everything and anything, notwithstanding the fact that we did a stellar and efficient job at butchering close to a million of them during WWII and evicting another 250,000 of them during the recent war. Even though the majority of them are now gone, rest assured that the few who remain are responsible for every wrong in our new state including but not limited to: forest fires, high Bura winds, dead dogs and cats, a bad viticulture year, crystallization of Kiki candies, the failing orange crop in Metković, the rising rate of the Kuna, earthquakes, inflation, a bad tourism year – go ahead, name any social and economic problem and at the root of it you will surely find a Serb. Just not Nikola Tesla. He was our sole good guy and alternating-current cash cow.

34. Only in Croatia is a national minority consistently used as a scapegoat for every perceived existing past, present, and future historic wrong by both elected and non-elected government alike in order to shine the light away from their own failed policies and lack of. Because it’s much more logical to blame the underdog than those we hold accountable to actually fix our past and current economic woes, right?

This is the sort of country we got and the country we now call home. It’s a country where the Horvatinčić’s are allowed to walk the streets as free as a bird after killing multiple people, at the expense of the ailing grandfather in Serbia who isin’t allowed to return until he can prove where he was every micro-second of the war, or the war veteran from Dubrovnik who has to fight tooth and nail for his injury allowance, or the pensioner from Rijeka who was robbed of his legal earnings by the corrupt oligarch who swallowed his life savings in a pyramid scheme and fled the country with the blessing of the state, or the countless number of hard-working families who face eviction for failing to pay a month’s rent or a utility bill.

The State Prosecutor didn’t free Tomo Horvatinčić – we all did - just as we exonerated Tudjman, Sanader, Bandić, Vidošević and soon the entire Todorić family as well. Why do we continue to allow the Ivica’s, Ante’s, Tomo’s and Milan’s to get away with this? Why do we continue to elect the anatomically incompetent sapiens that roam the halls of Sabor to govern us? Because we’re geese in a fog that’s 80 years thick.

So, let’s talk about Croatia, because I think it’s about high time.

TEXT -Mirella-Marie Katarina Radman

This is a classic example of how not to drive a bus full of passengers.

A reader sent this photo to us of a coach pulling a three point turn on the main coastal road above Dubrovnik.

Dangerous is an understatement as this bus driver not only held up traffic in both directions whilst he manoeuvred but he also broke all kinds of laws. Be careful on the roads of Dubrovnik you never know what you’ll meet.

The Dubrovnik Rugby Club, Invictus, got their second division campaign off to a winning start with a crushing 79 – 14 win over Lokomotiva from Zagreb. The game, in fact the first time that a rugby club from Dubrovnik had played in a full 15 a side competitive match, kicked off at 2.00 pm in the Gospino Polje stadium in Dubrovnik.

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 Try celebrations as Invictus start on the right foot 

Invictus dominated the game from the early stages and at half time Lokomotiva still had yet to score whilst the home side had racked up 46 points. The speed of Drmać on the wings proved too much for Lokomtiva and he stacked up five tries, whilst Ante Stojan, playing at scrum half, masterfully fed the ball around the team and managed to score two tries himself. In the second half, thanks to two quick yellow cards for Invictus, the guests slowly got back into the game and scored two tries.

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 The Black and Gold Invictus front row

But in the end the power and good organisation of the Dubrovnik rugby club was too much for the visitors. Being the first ever game of this level played in Dubrovnik it also caught the attention of the public and the home team was cheered on by numerous boisterous fans. Invictus now move onto to a match in Metkovic next weekend.

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Invictus on the break in a stunning first half display 

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Great start to the season 

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Lokomotiva played their part in an enjoyable match 

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One of the favourite parts of Dubrovnik Good Food Festival is surely Dubrovnik table, that goes across entire length of Stradun. This special event was reserved for the last day of the festival and has been held this morning.
Numerous Dubrovnik hotels and restaurants, bakers, confectioners,  and caterers, as well as winemakers  from Konavle and Pelješac will present  their knowledge and skills.  

Locals and their guests got the chance to enjoy the numerous delicacies as well  as wine tasting. All the collected money from the coupons will go to charity.

The programme of Good Food Festival ends today in Hotel Libertas Rixos with gala dinner.

Don't miss our big photo gallery, but be aware - you might get really hungry!

“Do you have any small change?” What is it with shops in Dubrovnik and small change! It seems that unless you exactly the right amount of money you are left waiting whilst the shop assistant digs around in her handbag looking for her own change. Where do all these coins go? And why can’t shops seem to find any?

To be fair it isn’t only shops. Waiters in cafés and even restaurants have a heart attacks if you pull out a 200 Kuna note. IS someone collecting all these pieces of metal, like a magpie or a human magnet, and stuffing them under the bed. I had a strange situation the other day in a local bakery. I bought a French stick and a doughnut, a total of 18 Kunas. When I handed over a 20 Kuna note the young lady behind the counter said “Do you have anything smaller, any change?” – “I have a 10 Kuna,” I joked. The joke flew right over her head as she waited for my small change. I tried a more direct approach “Unless I give you 18 Kunas in coins how could I have anything smaller?” It worked and with a grump she passed my 2 Kuna change.

It would seem that this young lady isn’t that great at maths because the next day I asked her for “A jam croissant,” seeing there was only one left. She then replied “One croissant?” with a questioning voice. There was only one left! “What would you do if I said two croissants please?” I asked. “Hmmm, well we only have one so I can’t sell you what we don’t have,” she replied. I was lost for words.

Just the next day in a local supermarket the elderly lady in front of me handed over a 50 Kuna note for a loaf of bread. “I don’t have any change to give back to you,” replied the shop assistant with a tone like it was the problem of the customer. I almost jumped in with “And whose fault is that,” but held back as I released it wasn’t event her fault, but the fault of the shop owner. I did some quick sums in my head and said “I will pay for the bread as I have change.” It solved the wait.

Should the National Bank of Croatia produce more coins to make up the shortfall? Or maybe they are just waiting for the Euro to be introduced and to solve the problem. And on the flip side if you try and change your coins for notes in a bank or even the post office they frown at you as if you have trod in dog poo. The banks don’t want it and the shops don’t have it, which would suggest that all the coins are indeed being stored under mattresses. Maybe we could collect all these coins together and pay off the foreign debt, or even weld them together and make one of the columns for the Peljesac Bridge.

In fact we have a huge box and home where we throw all this small change, so we could certainly help build that first bridge column.

I have a feeling that some serious rethinking is needed. Do we really need to have 5, 10 and 20 lipa coins? Here’s a whacky idea, why not just produce 50 lipa coins and round everything up or down to the nearest Kuna. If something costs 10.20 then it would be 10.50…well you get the idea. And just think about all those tourists who fly home with pockets loaded with Croatian coins. Maybe that’s the problem. Could it be that all our small change is being exported!

I have another whacky idea. This change is completely unless to foreigners when they get home (unless they are coin collectors). So why not have a huge barrel at the airports to collect money for worthy humanitarian causes. Tourists could empty their pockets of coins and at the same time raise money for a good cause. In fact that isn’t such a dumb idea. In fact why hasn’t somebody though of this earlier? I am pretty sure that almost every tourist would be more than happy to a) help a good cause and b) get rid of those coins. The charity could be alternated on a weekly or monthly basis so the funds would be spread around…no it isn’t a bad idea at all. This is nothing new it happens all over the world so why doesn’t it happen here? “A good idea is about ten percent and implementation and hard work is 90 percent,” once said a successful American businessman – ah…that might be the reason why.

Good Food Festival continued yesterday evening in the beautiful ambience of Restaurant Kantenari at the Sunset Beach Dubrovnik. The guests were ready for something special: dinner with a famous chef – Priska Thuring.

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Priska is one of the most creative chefs of the new generation on the Croatian gastronomic scene. This Canadian with Zagreb address began her Croatian career back in 2005 and what is interesting in Dubrovnik, at the Hotel Palace.

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She grew up in Canada where still as a child she cooked with her mother and she was educated in Switzerland as an apprentice at the legendary hotel Dolder Grand. Her life’s path led her to Croatia where she fell in love because here ‘’onions and garlic still taste like onions and garlic, tomatoes taste like tomatoes and strawberries taste like strawberries ̋.

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She is currently living in Zagreb and working at the Dubravkin put restaurant, which, with her arrival, once again took its place among the best Croatian restaurants.

Priska’s menus follow the seasons and she chooses the ingredients herself at local markets, something that she enjoys doing.

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This modest, top professional, master of pairing tastes and colours, created her own refined menu and prepared really special dishes for the fourth Good Food Festival – dried marinated sea bass, veal sweetbread, dry curd cottage cheese and pumpkin gnudi, farm raised lamb in white wine and terrine -55% chocolate. It was all combined with tasty, quality wine.

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The musical part of the evening was perfectly covered by famous Croatian singer Zorica Kondza, while the host was famous TV presenter Mirko Fodor.

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Good Food Festival ends today with famous Dubrovnik Table across the Stradun right at noon and will finish with Gala Dinner in Hotel Rixos Libertas.

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Condé Nast Traveler readers ranked the 30 best islands in the world outside the United States in the 2017 Readers' Choice Awards survey.

Among the best islands around the globe, from the Far East to the West, an island from Croatia has also found its place on this prestigious list.

According to Condé Nast Traveler readers, the world’s best island is Boracay in the Philippines, whilst the Croatian island of Hvar placed as the 28th on the list.

''Lush vineyards, secluded coves, and winding medieval streets attract visitors to this 42-mile-long island off the coast of Croatia. The Adriatic island is as popular with backpackers as it is with luxury yachts, and this summer brought the debut of UberBOAT, connecting Hvar to towns along the Dalmatian coast'', wrote Condé Nast Traveler about Hvar.

Condé Nast Traveler also added some useful tips for travellers to the island, ''Hvar is a popular base for exploring additional islandsfarther afield, including other Pakleni Islands that are home to caves, coves, and nude beaches, which can be reached by rental boat. Although Hvar has no airport, there are frequent, fast ferries from Split on the mainland to Hvar’s two main centres, the town of Hvar and Stari Grad''.

Here is the list of the world's 30 best islands chosen by Condé Nast Traveler readers:

1. Boracay, Philippines
2. Cebu and Visayan Islands, Philippines
3. Palawan, Philippines
4. Mallorca, Spain
5. Mykonos, Greece
6. Bermuda
7. St. Barts
8. Turks and Caicos
9. Bali, Indonesia
10. Cayman Islands
11. St. Lucia
12. St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands
13. Crete, Greece
14. Sardinia, Italy
15. Ibiza, Spain
16. Antigua
17. Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada
18. Isla Mujeres, Mexico
19. Barbados
20. Capri, Italy
21. Fiji
22. Moorea, French Polynesia
23. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
24. British Virgin Islands
25. Santorini, Greece
26. Mauritius
27. Anguilla
28. Hvar, Croatia
29. Madeira, Portugal
30. St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.

Yes, the swimming season is still alive in Dubrovnik. The warmer and calmer weather has held until the end of October and the tourists in the city and locals are making the most of it by dipping in the Adriatic Sea.

The current sea temperature in Dubrovnik is around 21 degrees and with the roasting sunshine the Adriatic is a magnet for swimmers. The forecast is for more warm weather, at least until the end of the month, so why not take a dip.

Yesterday the Sunset Beach in the bay of Lapad was full of sunbathers, swimmers and people enjoying al fresco coffee in the golden sunshine.

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‘’Recover, reshape, recharge’’ is a slogan of the first health hotel in Croatia recently presented to the public.

Nowadays health services are the most sought for among modern leisure and business travellers looking to maintain their healthy lifestyle while on vacation.

As from this year, Croatia has enriched its tourist offer with the first health hotel. After the ‘’soft opening’’ in June, Marvie Hotel & Health was officially presented to the public a few days ago.

The hotel is located by the sea in the part of Split called Zenta hence its name ‘’Marvie’’ which is derived from the Latin word ‘’mare’’ meaning ‘’ sea’’ and the French word ‘’vie’’ meaning ‘’life’’.

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The Marvie hotel gives its guests an insight into the Mediterranean kind of life, providing tranquillity, relaxation and health. It spreads over 9,400 square metres with three floor underground garage, 76 rooms, 2 luxury suites and a large outdoor pool on the roof terrace with a spectacular view.

At guest’s disposal there is a whole array of specialized health care services with well-equipped spa and fitness facilities space. In addition to rest and relax facilities, there are physics and rehabilitation clinics as well as dermatological ambulance for aesthetic medicine. Gastronomic offer is based on a modern cuisine with Mediterranean ingredients along with a wide selection of gluten-free dishes.

The Marvie Hotel employs 30 people, whilst the Tromont construction company with the support of the Croatian Bank for Reconstruction and Development (HBOR) realized this investment worth 105 million Kunas.

orest fires are raging in Konavle, south of Dubrovnik, and two special firefighting planes have been called in to help. Around 60 firefighters are believed to be on the ground controlling the blaze that started at 11.00 o’clock this morning between the villages of Gabriel and Uskople.

The fire spread to the east and as the terrain is difficult to navigate it managed to spread up the hills and has proved difficult to bring under control. No residences are at threat at the moment, however a thick pine forest has been burning throwing a huge acrid column of smoke in the air.

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Humidity: 81%
Wind: N at 11.27 km/h
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Partly cloudy
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The Voice of Dubrovnik


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