Several years ago the Department of Tourism led a big marketing campaign to attract the long dreamed about tourists which were still afraid of the instability of the region. The Department promised “a small country for a great holiday”. The only thing left of the entire advertising trick is the above title. The minister in question, also the author of the slogan, had to step down because of nepotism, that is, after hiring his wife who applied for the job under her maiden name. To make things even more tragicomic, the minister tried to justify his actions by claiming he didn’t know his wife’s maiden name.
Oh, the modern love… This is just a small example but it quite vividly shows the corrupted pattern of the former right-wing government led by the ex general TuÃ°man who hasn’t lived to see the total collapse of his followers on the elections just over a year ago. The regime that hid plundering and murder behind national interests left the Croatian population with a foreign debt four times larger and reaching 2200 US$ per head, and a one-way ticket to emigration for about 250 000 young people (including the exiled Serbs). Unfortunately, Croatia today meets the conditions to have a status of a highly indebted country since the ratio of debt in the GNP rose up to 57% and the risk limit is set to 30%. Along with additional loans with the IMF and the World Bank, both governments have been trying to settle the foreign debt by selling the state-owned companies for pittance (HT, HEP, INA, banks, hotels…), that is, by privatizing them. What they do not think about is how will they return the loans after there is nothing else left to privatize.
At the beginning of year 2000 Croatia, roughly saying, got a social- liberal coalition of six parties (yes, they did translate Giddens’s “The Third Way”) which announced a change in direction from the former dangerous policy of isolationism. Unfortunately, the changes that had been promised ended up in the embellishing of the facade while the foundations kept decaying. Croatian population was left crushed between two false alternatives with their basis in an identical violence, since none of them allow a right to choose. This way the choice is between a hundred rich families controlling the country’s entire property and assets or a complete sell-out to foreigners for pittance. If you are against the first choice, you will be accused of being a traitor of the homeland, and if you are against the latter choice, you are against the integration with the world.
With more and more debts, the country’s problem that’s been swelling quietly all these years and has momentarily reached its peak in the new millenium, is money flowing out of Croatia. Foreign banks make up to 87% of the banking market in Croatia and all the money goes out of the country, while there are very little real investments made in Croatia. With all this the number of unemployed, coming up to 400 000, which makes more than 20% of total labor force, doesn’t come as a surprise. The very top of present government expressed disapproval with the profit being drawn out of Croatian Deutche Telekom which holds 35% of shares in Croatian Telekom so that it even came to a criminal investigation conducted by the police department about “certain irregularities during the process of privatization”. The affair with the energy corporation Enron, consequences of which the people in Croatia will feel for a long time to come, just like in India, Egypt, Bolivia and other countries where this corporation has violated human rights and polluted the environment, proves that the same policy under a different name is continued in Croatia. Enron was supposed to serve as a lobbyist to the former government to ensure TuÃ°man’s visit to Clinton and Croatia’s entrance to the WTO, so they signed a contract guaranteeing that Croatia will buy electricity from Enron’s power plant by the highest price in Europe, regardless of Croatia’s demands in the next 20 years (?!). Those men that disputed the Enron contract, listing out unfavorable terms for the Croatian population, signed an even more unfavorable contract last year after being elected to office.
At first the new government tried to break the contract, but after being pressured by all kinds of blackmails about further help (with what?), primarily through protests of the US ambassador to Croatia, William Montgomery, and the unfavorable effect in the business world, it caved in and with a great ceremony signed a contract ensuring even to pay damages to the corporation because of the delay in the construction of their plant. This way Croatia is obligated to buy electricity from the sole supplier, Enron, for a price 90% higher than in the European market until Enron’s expenses so far are covered. Not long after signing the contract and ensuring the monopoly, not only in Croatia but also in the entire region for 20 years to come, Enron issued an advertisement in almost all mass media, hypocritically informing the population that in the future, through the liberalization of energy market, they will be able to choose from whom and by what price they will buy electricity. So, after protecting itself from any surprises in the market, Enron declared that energy is merchandise just like anything else, and gave us, in the most cynical way of all, a manifestation of the “free trade” politics dogma. TuÃ°man’s dream to be officially invited to visit Clinton remained an unfulfilled wish, but the new president Stipe Mesic and Prime Minister Ivica Racan had the honor last year in August.
So, guess which corporation paid for the business lunch of the representatives of Croatian government and the executives of certain American corporations in American Chamber of Commerce. At the end of August last year HEP’s CEO had announced a 25% increase in the price of electricity, which took effect in October.
Pioneer, a biotechnical corporation, admitted to illegally carrying out experiments with genetically modified corn on several locations in Croatia. This undoubtedly shows the status of Croatia in the eyes of major corporations. During the last three years environmental activists and experts concerned with the situation were being called scaremongers and obstructers of a progress they did not understand.
The next example reports on Croatia’s involvement in global affairs. Bad ones, unfortunately. Not long after the newspapers had reported on extremely poor working conditions ($0.22 per hour) and violation of human rights (child labor) in McDonald’s toy factories in China, the report on extremely disrespectful attitude of McDonald’s towards their employees in Croatia was issued. State labor inspectors came upon 13 cases of violations of work safety. The stories from the employees themselves range from the ones on unpaid overtime to not being allowed to keep the tips.
McDonald’s spokesperson for Croatia, also in charge of “human resource”, rejected all accusations by claiming that all complaints can be delivered to her personally at 7:00 AM, that all employees are allowed to engage union activities in their free time (and they themselves refused to do so) and that atmosphere in McDonald’s is ideal, everybody is on their first name basis so there is no apparent hierarchy structure (?!). Like in every other greenwash story, to show its human side, McDonald’s donated $7000 for the medical treatment of an ill boy.
Soon after the change of Government Croatia has become a member of Partnership for Peace, which resulted in closer collaboration with NATO. By the end of the last year their army drill was carried out at a military range in Slunj near the National Park Plitvice. Croatia’s Ministry of Defense refused to give information on the costs of this drill and even when Feral Tribune’s reporter requested to access the plans of collaboration of Croatian Military with NATO for the year 2001 they were characterized as open secret, but the reporter was informed by official sources from Croatia’s Ministry of Defense that there was a person who could give him detailed information if he wanted. Even more tragic fact is that the petition of the local environmental groups was signed only by 125 people, which only pointed to the amount of work ahead of environmental movement in Croatia.
Often local people themselves comment on the destruction of the environment by army drills, but “man, these soldiers order 100 pizzas in my restaurant”. These short-term advantages often dominate over long- term strategies based on environmental sustainability. An ultra right- wing group known for raising a monument to the notorious fascist 2nd World War criminal also protested against NATO’s drills, but they protested with their ever-present racism and warnings against bad imperialists from the USA and expressed the need for isolationism of Croatia from the western decadence. This is why activists from the environmental groups had to be very careful and emphasize their antimilitarism and environmental consciousness. Generally speaking, when violent and right wing groups fall from power the problem is not solved. Sometimes we get the impression that they were less violent because ex-president TuÃ°man’s government kept them on the short leash. This collaboration with the government does not exist any more so, besides verbal threats there is more and more terrorist actions . Bombs are not for the destruction of the monuments with antifascist symbols only, but also for killings of unwanted opponents, which was the case with one of the witnesses of the International Tribunal in the Hague. Not one perpetrator of these attacks has been found yet. Because of the possible extradition of one of the Croatian Military’s general for a war crime against civilians, Croatia is under real siege of the right wing groups which call for coup and spread national and other kinds of hatred. Last weekend at the rally in Split, the second biggest town in Croatia, there was 150000 people waving the pictures of this general like in some Orwellian scenario and identifying themselves with him. Once again the concept of the mass is gaining its momentum in this sad Balkans. Until recently road blocks were set up, mostly in southern parts of Croatia. Antiwar, anti militaristic and other civilian initiatives have sent out an appeal condemning all crime regardless of motive or nationality. We also refuse to be put under an uniform and unified collective umbrella, with no regard to ideology and we will therefore keep emphasizing the need for the appreciation of variety and uniqueness in this world. Regardless of some positive steps that have been taken in the new millenium, facing our own responsibilities and crimes that had been committed during the was still remains a problem that needs to be worked on in this region, no matter there is fortunately, no more real danger of war. The moment we forget how to laugh and enjoy life, the language of hate and fear which has been spread in Split will have no more obstacles.