Before the elections for Zagreb's City Council, HDZ thoroughly redrew Zagreb's electoral districts to suite its planned victory (so that every district includes enough of their supporters - mainly among new rich' from Hercegovina). But they lost. HDZ delegates demonstratively walked out of the City Council when they heard the bad news. Croatian President Tudjman promptly announced that he would not accept a non-HDZ person to be a mayor of Zagreb for reasons of "national security". Opposition parties, who in coalition won majority seats in the Council, chose their mayor anyway. Tudjman then said that they did it illegitimately since they did not have a quorum. They did not have a quorum because HDZ (Tudjman's party) members walked out. The morale: democracy sucks if I don't win.
The following may sound silly, but it is a powerful force in Zagreb. Europe is crazed by soccer - much more than the U.S. is crazed by baseball. Soccer is more than a sports game: it is politics. It has a social purpose: it targets lower income groups and vent their rage against the system in the bleachers of soccer stadiums (pretty much what plebs was offered in gladiator games provided by Roman emperors). Colors, flags, shawls associated with any particular soccer club in Europe inevitably contain the underlining symbolism of a national or ethnic pride worth fighting and, in some cases, dying for. So, the real game is not played down in the field, but up among the fans. Former Yugoslavia had some of the fiercest soccer fans in the world. They were feared almost as much as English soccer fans. The division of course run along the ethnic lines. Croatia's two biggest clubs - Dinamo from Zagreb and Hajduk from Split have following called Bad Blue Boys and Torcida respectively. They would break bones to each other when their teams were playing, but they would team up against Delije (fans of Crvena Zvezda) and Grobari (fans of Partizan) when either of their teams would play against either of two biggest Serbian teams (Zvezda or Partizan). Particularly popular game among fans was "capture the flag": each team had a flag, and fans' of the other team only wish was to burn it. In those times Croatian president Franjo Tudjman was a chairman of soccer club Partizan.
In late eighties Serbian fans had to be escorted to and from Dinamo's stadium in Zagreb in police buses (otherwise they'd probably get themselves killed demolishing Zagreb's stores). The same of course stood for Croatian fans in Belgrade. Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan, whom most of you know as a war criminal, was then a leader of Delije. They just didn't have rifles then. When Yugoslav Army and insurgent Serbs in Krajina showed pretty clear that they have no intentions of letting Croatia go, Tudjman's government hung a rifle atop the shoulder of a willing soccer hooligan. Now they were given guns. It was a shrewd move. Tudjman did not have resources at that time to fight Yugoslav Army. The guns he had were mostly old American Thompson rifles. Croatia had so little ammo that its newly established "special forces" could fire only 3-4 bullets per day per man. That's why Tudjman needed careless, reckless troops, and soccer hooligans proved to be a good source of them. They scared Serbian peasants with their Mohawk haircuts enough that sometimes they did not have to fire a bullet. However, they were no match for heavily armed and well supplied Yugoslav Army. They were mostly a public relations stint buying time for Tudjman to convince the international community that Croatia should be independent and sovereign country. Tudjman also needed time to buy weapons and organize draft and establish real army. Arkan on the other hand used his followers to ethnically cleanse Serbian held territories. It is interesting that most revered "special forces" troops on both sides are named Tigers. Tigers never fought Tigers, though, but they ate plenty of sheep.
Since they usually did not give up and since they were faced with a way more powerful enemy, early Croatian "special forces" suffered great casualties. Tens of thousands of young people with severe bodily injures are tucked away in Croatian spa resorts today. Some of them lost their leg or legs or arm or hand or eye. Most of them lost their sanity. Croatia has almost as many cases of posttraumatic stress disorder as the U.S. had following the Vietnam debacle. Yet, Croatia is 50 times smaller country. Today Croatia has a modern, well equipped, American trained, lean and fit army. Obviously, street urchins are not needed any more. Tudjman is winning the war, and he has firmly established his royal rule over Croatia. Now, he can do things at whim. So, he decided that the name Dinamo reminds us of hateful communist past and he changed the name of the most popular Croatian soccer club to Gradjanski (which was the old pre-communist name). Dinamo however sounds better and it is easier to rhyme than Gradjanski (I am sure that half of you can't even pronounce Gradjanski, can you?). Realizing his mistake, but not willing to admit it (which is traditional for autocratic leaders), he changed the name once again. This time to Croatia. Very fucking creative. Almost everything in Croatia now has "Croatia" in its name: all political parties, all state owned industries, all major (state controlled) media. It has no meaning to anybody any more. People make jokes that even shit is now Croatian shit. Dinamo fans were repulsed. Particularly since so many of them gave so much so Tudjman can have his Croatia. It is a mystery why he didn't leave the club name alone. The fact that Tudjman once in that old Yugoslavia was a president of no less than a Serbian soccer club Partizan gives particularly bad aftertaste to the name change.
Bad Blue Boys launched a petition to return the old name to Dinamo. So far, however, Dinamo is still Croatia. And after a while it might not create a big deal if the new social differences didn't kick in. Tudjman loyalists accepted the name. Which means upper middle class accepted the name (because you can't be an upper middle class if you are not a loyalist, it is simple as that). In short HAVES accepted the name. Narrowing it even more: people from Hercegovina who came to live in Zagreb, who made a profit through the war from their loyalty to Tudjman, accepted the name. Leaving Zagreb's lower income citizens who suffered in the war, who sometimes spent a year in the fighting, but did not get an apartment or any sort of meaningful reimbursement, on the fringes of society. They hate Hercegovci. They hate "new rich". They hate Tudjman. They hate their Croatia. Therefore they love Dinamo.
The newly elected Zagreb's mayor (Zdravko Tomac) from the ranks of opposition promised in his first speech as a mayor-elect that he will give Dinamo back his name. The quorum problem however prevented him to take the office. Elections had to be repeated. HDZ once again redrew the districts, hoping to get more votes. To no avail: this time HDZ lost Zagreb in a landslide. Only one suburban borough (Samobor) voted for HDZ. Now, we will see if Tudjman will send tanks on the streets of his capital to fight the democracy he stood for four years ago (when he was winning). This time he might encounter his own "special forces" veterans on the other side.
Croatia out of necessity adopted a pretty reasonable policies for drug abuse: if you are a heroin addict you can sign up for a free methadone therapy. State will provide you with all the methadone you need in your nearest pharmacy for free. There was no other way. It would be impossible to threat all the heroin addicts in Croatia now, when Croatia has some of the cheapest heroin in the world and some of the best supplies. Not to mention some of the very good reasons to become a heroin addict. Almost all of the "special forces" troops got into it. Drug makes it easier to die.
Split, Croatian largest coastal city, is so filled with heroin, that people not only do transactions on the street in the middle of the day (which they nota bene do in Harlem, too), but they also shoot themselves in the vein right there. Last year, there was an occasional shortage of heroin. Parents were relieved. They thought that sudden sparkliness in eyes of their children and their unusual bouncyness should be attributed to the lack of heroin. They didn't know that cheap cocaine finally found its way to Split. Kids just switched to a new drug.
What does the law enforcement do? Well, they can't really bust heroin routes, because they are in hands of those new rich Hercegovci who helped arm Croatia, and who have tremendous influence over the Croatian law-enforcement structure. So, instead of busting heroin routes, police burns hemp fields. Whenever such a field is burned, Croatian state television (which is now headed by a formerly inhaling person, hehehe) send a crew to record that for prime time news: another heroic action of police in suppression of drugs in Croatia. They put a few local freaks in prison, and that's all folks.
My dad doesn't like America. He was disgusted when they asked him to pay his stay at the hotel in advance. They never do that in Europe. At least they don't do that to upper middle class gentlemen. And he disliked fire escapes that face the street. So, he repeatedly asks me what did I find here that made me want to stay here. For the same amount of money they ask here to do a half an hour of ambulatory knee surgery with local anesthesia, in Croatia, he says, I'd get a triple bypass, plus they might throw in fresh new kidneys just for a good measure. Besides, he adds: "judging by the number of idiots we have in government, you'd make a fine vice-president.". It occurred to me that he might be right, but only if I joined HDZ (Tudjman's party), which I did not. My immigration lawyer wanted my old newspaper articles, so I asked my younger brother to send them over. In Fokus (an independent and very critical short-lived Croatian youth weekly) from April, 1989 on the last page fold on the left hand page there is a story written by me and on the right hand side there is a story written by Franjo Tudjman, who was at that time a kind of wacked old retired military historian who, as we knew, was ousted from the ranks because of his nationalist beliefs. Who'd say then that in about a year he'd be elected a president of Croatia, while I'd be spending a semester at student exchange at Lock Haven University? I bet on a beer that nobody knows where that West Buttfuck is. It seems that everyone follows his own story. Mine was to come here.
Some of my close friends who stayed in Croatia did pretty well meanwhile. None of them died in the war. Some of them lost their mostly second homes. And one of the editors of the above mentioned Fokus lost two fingers of his right hand in the war. He, however, became a colonel of Croatian Army and wrote a book relatively critical of Croatian government. A lovely lady with beautiful radio voice that anchored most of the shows that I wrote for 101 Radio, joined HDZ and became an editor-in-chief of Danas, the leading Croatian newsmagazine. Danas bankrupted under her leadership. She was, however, rotated to the position of editor-in-chief of Croatian Television.
Our mutual friend (well she doesn't like him that much, and he doesn't think very high of her) meanwhile became a deputy secretary at the Department of Information (which translates to telecommunications and media), and created some of the wittiest propaganda ploys for Tudjman's government. Oh, he joined the HDZ, too. Although he boosted for a long time that he does not belong to any political party. In spring 1989, when things were not clear yet, he took pains to publicly (on page two in the largest Croatian daily) deny ever talking to me about the interview I video-taped in March 1989 with Ivan Zvonimir Cicak. Those were really funny times. I was doing some research for college - research why student movement in Zagreb died - and Cicak was one of the student leaders in student riots of 1971, so he interested me. But Cicak also spent four years in prison as a Croatian nationalist. And Croatian nationalists did not get air time. So, I was doing something crazy and dangerous. My friend was an opportunist. He liked the idea, but when he saw the initial backlash he did not want to be a part of it. Just a month later everybody was doing interviews with anybody who claimed to be a Croatian nationalist. And my friend, to his credit, was the first to have Tudjman in prime time (hence he later became a youngest minister in thousand-year history of Croatian statehood).
How to buy a TV station with no money (and get an apartment on top of that)?
He was always very resourceful. Since our late teens he wanted to have his own TV station. So he started to pilgrimage to socialist youth and communist party meetings carefully building the web of supporters after he finally got the "green light" to start something called OTV (Youth Television), which he always liked to translate to English as Independent Television. Though, it was never independent. Being in good graces of newly established Tudjman's government (it also helps that his roots are undeniably Croatian from a little village in Hercegovina), and with a wave of privatization, he moved to the position to make OTV his own. He offered OTV for sale and he took care to buy the majority of stock, so now he is the largest shareholder of OTV. The only little problem was that he had no money to do this. So, he called a bank and asked for a "customized" loan ("customized" meaning suited to his politically well placed person: dirt low interest rates and few decades to pay it off). As a collateral he offered the OTV stock he intended to buy with that loan. In a country where speculators were just recently called criminals at random, there are almost no rules regulating securities transactions. Which means my friend did things legally. But you see I don't know many people in Croatia who can just call the bank and say hey give me the money and take what I will buy as a collateral. As I've heard quite a number of HDZ members can do that and get away with that, while the majority of population lives below poverty level (and is constantly lied to about the so-called war economy). On top of that he "earned" an apartment from the state for his services in Department of Information.
You can't import Balantines whiskey or Marlboro cigarettes to Croatia. That doesn't mean that they are not available. Not publicly. But under the table. For the right price. It is a monopoly. Those who hold that monopoly make shitloads of money. For some inexplicable reason people in former Yugoslavia were always particular to Marlboro and Balantines. I remember smuggling Marlboro and buying cases of Balantines in coastal duty-free shops at the end of summer, to create a source of income for winter. So, the mentality didn't change. Only, now, one better organized (well connected and probably armed) group took over the entire market. The rumors in Zagreb have that this group are certain people from Hercegovina.
Bosnian Muslims in Bihac area were completely surrounded by Serbian forces. There was no way for their government in Sarajevo to send them help or provide them with food or ammunition. Everything they needed they bought from Serbs. Including ammunition. Serbs had plenty of it. So, they decided they might as well share it with their sworn enemies. Of course, bullets were kind of overpriced (1-2 DM, 50 cents to a dollar per bullet). But at least some Serbs died in the afternoon from the bullets that they sold in the morning. Simple market laws prevented Bosnian Muslims from any successful previous offensive (- previous to landing of unmarked Hercules to Bihac airport, which runway was a few nights earlier extended by UNPROFOR soldiers particularly to suite Hercules airplanes.): if Bosnians would shoot a lot, that would drive up the demand for bullets, so Serbs would steep up the price, and Bosnians would buy and shoot less bullets. Then Serbs would slash the price hoping to get more bullets sold. They figured that at the end the winner would be the one with more ammunition, which meant the Serbs. Random deaths were taken with great pride as a price of doing business with them infidels.
Stock trade presumes that there is a stock exchange there somewhere. There it is: Zagreb Stock Exchange (ZSE) with all five traded stocks. The stock exchange is listed in all major world business reports, but it is taken less seriously at home, where the most of stock transactions are done for purposes of hostile take-overs. There is actually 60-something publicly traded companies, but only a handful of them (like pharmaceutical giant Pliva which is joint-ventured with Pfizer or food industry Podravka, or the biggest Croatian bank Zagrebacka Banka..) are really traded. The average daily trading volume is also an exaggeration, because it is an average of ten slow months and one really good month when the foreign investment kicked in.
Meanwhile, others are dirt poor
The most disgusting part in stories about the 'new rich' is that there are more poor people than ever, and that they are more poor than they were ever before. Furthermore, their situation is worsening every day with the finishing of the period of first capital accumulation: they are stuck at the bottom of the food chain for good.
That's a good question. For decades there was talk about building subways in Zagreb and Belgrade, two largest cities in former Yugoslavia. However, it never moved anywhere. It was just talk. There was never enough money for that. Then suddenly Belgrade gets the subway line while all non-essential trade with Serbia was banned by International Sanctions. Now, does that make sense to anyone? Zagreb, meanwhile, while customary complaining about the ravages of war, the burden of refugees and the lack of foreign support, look rejuvenated: painted facades, swept streets, laden stores, new cafes... it looks like some boring city in the middle of Europe. Still, there are hundreds of thousands destroyed homes and hundreds of thousands of refugees and tens of thousands of wounded soldiers who are told that resources are scarce.
The fate of paramilitary formations and their heroes: welfare
What happened to "our boys" who fought for independent and sovereign Croatia? They are mostly back on the street with little or no gains. The situation is particularly said with police reservists. In the beginning of the war when Croatia did not have regular army, volunteers could be recruited as reservists of Territorial Defense force (which was later renamed to National Guard, and now it is Croatian Army) or as reservists of police force. All those reservists became "special forces" and were sent to the frontlines with little or no training and scarce supplies of food and ammunition. A lot of them are dead now, but many more are injured, a lot permanently disabled. To add an insult to the injury, while Territorial Defense reservists became eligible for early military retirement and veterans benefits (by extension, since TD became an Army), police force reservists, though they basically fought along the same war, are NOT eligible for the same. Instead, in a typical central-European Kafkaesque bureaucratic quandary (Kafka was a Czech, wasn't he?), they are required to file for welfare, as if their disability was caused by an occupational hazard (well, they were policemen fighting criminals; that criminals had tanks and air-force is kind of beyond debate, now).
Dinamo is not the only one who get the name changed. Numerous streets, public squares, institutions, factories, schools, hospitals, museums, galleries - they are all renamed. Serbisms are out. Communist names are out. In are names from thousand-year old Croatian history. Even Disney characters suffered this recent trend. Donald Duck in former Yugoslavia was translated as Pajo Patak (Patak means Duck). Pajo is a Serbian way to create a nickname for Pavle. Pavle or Pavao is otherwise neutral name which is common among both Serbs and Croats. But the nickname had to go. So, Pajo Patak is now Pasko Patak. Croats don't make nicknames from all names as ready as Serbs do. So, Pavle does not really translate to any Croat nickname equivalent. They had to create one: Pasko. Which to a lot of critics awfully sounds like Pesko (a derogatory slang term for a faggot), providing Tudjman-bashers with another fun slogan: Pesko Patak (Faggot Duck). Serbs must have been laughing all the way to Belgrade. Disney executives didn't yet come up with any million dollar law suit, but it would be interesting to hear what they thing about this. I am not sure if they trademarked Pajo Patak name as they trademarked Donald Duck name, but now they may realize that they had to.
Huh, can you imagine that Ronald Reagan decided to rename Donald Duck to Ronald Duck for the purposes of his presidential campaign? Old cartoons and comic books would now have to be reprinted (didn't Orwell described that process in 1984?) to suit the new names. The fate of Mickey Mouse is uncertain, too. Mickey Mouse is Miki Maus in Croatian and Serbian. Miki is also a common Serbian nickname, but Miki is a direct fonetic translation of Mickey, too. So, I don't know if Croatian government may get away with Misko Maus or Miso Maus (which would be a more proper Croatian name for Mickey).