Eroticism on canvas

The Art Pavilion in Zagreb exhibits until 11 January 2009 some 120 works of Milivoj Uzelac. Uzelac is one of Croatia's foremost 20th century painters. Born in Mostar, he spent his early childhood in Banja Luka. After the death of his father, Milivoj and his family moved to Zagreb where he studied for a year at the Academy of Visual Arts. One of his professors was Oton Iveković, a man known for his paintings of dramatic events in Croatian history.
When the First World War broke out, Uzelac moved to Prague but returned to Zagreb after the war. In Zagreb he changed his style from expressionism to cubism and neoclassicism. Not unlike many other painters Uzalac left Croatia for France, where he lived from 1923 up to his death in 1977.
Milivoj Uzelac's works are imbued with eroticism. Nude women figure prominently in his work; they radiate sensuality and sexuality. His reputation as a womanizer and lover of the female nude grew after the discovery in 2001 of a cycle of erotic drawings in Prague. Some of these will now be presented to the Croatian public for the first time.

Renovation of a Venetian bridge

When you drive from Zadar to the island of Pag, you will see this scene: bare islands of white rock, contrasting with the brilliant blue sea.
Pag is not the most touristic Croatian island, but it is a very nice and unusual place. Looking at the surroundings, one wouldn't expect to find on Pag the one and only Venetian bridge outside Venice (that's what I read, though such statements need to be treated with caution). I actually saw the bridge when I visited Pag town, but I must admit that I didn't take a picture. The bridge didn't look anything special. On the contrary, it looked nondescript. The 15th century monument was in a deplorable state.
Work has begun to restore the bridge to its former glory. The future looks less bright for two things that come to Croatian minds when Pag is mentioned. One is paški sir, the other paški sol. Paški sir is sheep cheese, a protected brand by Croatian but not European law. Croats are afraid that others might produce cheese and call it paški sir. I am not sure that will happen. Most of the protected Croatian brands are unknown outside of Croatia. Who has, for example, heard of drniški pršut or baški baškot? And paški sol? Well, it's actually salt from Tunisia.

Culture and crime

When it comes to culture and crime, Yugoslavia never ceased to exist. Just a few weeks ago, the Serbian author Predrag Crnković won the Croatian VBZ price for his book Beograd za pokojnike (Belgrade for the deceased). The day before yesterday, the Zagreb based rock band Hladno Pivo (Cold Beer) performed in Belgrade for thousands of delirious fans. It was Hladno Pivo's biggest concert in Serbia ever, and they are around for already twenty years. Bands from Belgrade, such as Darkwood Dub and Partibrejkers, are equally popular in Croatia. Toše Proeski, a Macedonian singer, wasn't even a teenager yet when his country gained independence, but he nevertheless grew into pop star all over the Balkans. His untimely death, in a car accident on 16 October 2007 in Croatia, sent shock waves through the region.
The same story goes for the crime scene, where the inter-ethnic relations are no less than excellent. The brutal murder of Ivo Pukanić was committed by a truly Yugoslav mafia, with members in all former republics. And that is just one example.
Meanwhile the political relations between Croatia and Serbia echo war drums. The International Court of Justice in The Hague ruled that it has jurisdiction to examine Croatia's allegation that Serbia committed genocide in the period 1991 to 1995. The Serbian government in turn announced that it will countersue Croatia for genocide against Croatian Serbs from the Krajina region.


Metallica's single "The days that never comes" ranks high in the Croatian charts. In the video clip some kind of car plays a prominent role, especially in the last three minutes, which are rarely shown on TV as the clip is consider too long. The car is a Zastava, sold outside Yugoslavia under the name Yugo.
Yugo's frequently appear in movies and almost by default the leave the owner in the lurch. This week the opposite happened: Zastava gave up on its car and sold most of the equipment to Fiat. However, it's maybe not the total end for Zastava. Some African countries seem interested in buying the technology.
The band Zabranjeno Pušenje wrote a great song about the "Jugo 45", a symbol of Yugoslav unity. Though the car has almost disappeared from the streets in Croatia, the band and the song are still very popular. In the clip you see the breakup of Yugoslavia, both on the political level and in a small, mixed community. As a matter of fact, the song dates from 1999, the very year that NATO reduced much the Zastava industry (also an arms manufacturer) to rubble.
Ironically, neither Zabranjeno Pušenje made it through the war without casualties (figuratively speaking) as a Serbian member left the band.

How Sanader stole Christmas

Croatia has a budget deficit, a trade deficit and a huge foreign debt (33 billion euro's in 2007). The debts grow year by year, and Croatia's population shrinks year by year. A disaster in the making. The unsound financial situation means that Croatia is an easy victim of the international financial crisis. Therefore, prime minister Sanader announced that the government will tighten the belt. All Christmas lunches, presents and bonuses for government officials and state owned companies were cancelled.
You would expect public support for this move, but no. Instead, Sanader was portrayed in the media and on the internet as the man who stole Christmas. The government's public relations office thought this bad for Sanader's image and announced that the government "did not ban children's gifts and Christmas bonuses". It added that "internet portals and message boards depicted the government's clear and unambiguous decision falsely and tendentiously".
I am sure the public relations office is right, although the office seems to employ people steeped in communist rhetoric.

Vukovar Remebrance Day

On 18 November 1991 the Slavonian town of Vukovar surrendered to the Serbian forces (officially: Yugoslav National Army) that had relentlessly bombarded it for months. The town had been defended heroically by less then 2.000 Croats against a more than tenfold stronger Yugoslav army, not to mention the difference in arms. After the Yugoslav troops conquered the devastated town, they entered the overcrowded hospital complex. 261 patients were executed in Ovčara, not far from Vukovar. Many others were expelled from the town or sent to camps in Serbia.
The fall of Vukovar came as a tremendous mental blow to Croats. Many felt that the Tuđman government in Zagreb had given up on Vukovar. From a political perspective, however, the government had succeeded in two important things. First, the prolonged siege of Vukovar had given the Croats more time to build their amy and, second, more time to gather international support for Croatia's difficult position.
On the eve of every Vukovar Remembrance Day, thousands of candles were lit along Vukovar street (Vukovarska ulica) in Zagreb. In Yugoslav days, this long street went by the name Ulica proleterskih brigada (Proletarian brigades street).

Yugo, or you don't go

De single "The day that never comes" van Metallica staat in Kroatië hoog in de hitlijst. In de bijhorende videoclip is, vooral in de laatste drie minuten, een opvallende rol weggelegd voor een auto die steeds verder uit het straatbeeld verdwijnt: de Yugo.
Het is bepaald niet de eerste keer dat de Yugo zijn opwachting maakt in films. Bijna altijd laat de auto iemand in de steek en dat is in Metallica's clip niet anders. Misschien is dat nieuws nog niet doorgedrongen tot landen als Congo en Algerije, want volgens de directeur van Zastava (waar Yugo onderdeel van is) zijn die landen geïnteresseerd in de Zastava-technologie. Wie weet... Servië zelf gelooft er in elk geval niet meer in, want na 55 jaar en ruim vier miljoen auto's zijn de fabrieken in Kragujevac verkocht aan Fiat.

Descent from the cross

The sculptor Ivan Meštrović (1883-1962) is for Croatia what Auguste Rodin is for France. More than that, actually, as Croatia has only a small number of internationally famous artists. His work can be found all over former Yugoslavia. Meštrović himself was a member of the Yugoslav Committee, which prepared the framework for the Yugoslavia when the Habsburg empire falling apart in World War I.
Sotheby's sold this week Meštrović's Descent from the cross for 250.000 euro, much more than expected. This work, after having been displayed in 1915 in the Albert and Victoria Museum, went missing for almost a century and was rediscovered in 2004.
Unfortunately, Meštrović disappeared too. Not only did he leave fascist ruled Croatia in 1942, but he also seems forgotten by his people. "Meštrović on the way towards oblivion", was the title of an alarming article in 2005. The two museums in Croatia dedicated to the sculptor - the Meštrović Atelier in Zagreb and the Meštrović Gallery in Split - did not do enough to attract. visitors. The situation today is not much better, I can say from my own experience. That's a shame. Zagreb isn't exactly a top destination for art lovers, so it a pity that it neglects its greatest artist. After all, Meštrović is omnipresent in Zagreb. His work can been seen on squares, in gardens and parks, in churches and museums. How much more do you need for a Meštrović Walk? Well, perhaps a more dedicated tourist organisation...

Black chronicle

Whether it is unique to newspapers in this region or a more widespread phenomenon, I don't know, but it was new to me: the Crna kronika (black chronicle) section in newspapers where you can read all about murder, rape, corruption, accidents and other evils. An absolute low is 24Sata, a daily that doesn't deserve the name newspaper. But also a more serious - though not too serious - paper like Jutarnji list can't do without a daily portion of human misery. I wish Croatian newspapers focused a bit more on other things. You would say that since Croatia is a small country many important events happen outside its borders, but these miraculously fit on either one or two pages. Well, in der Beschränkung zeigt sich erst der Meister, let's see it that way.
The obsession of Croats with the dark side of life can also be seen on the news on television. Dead people, either shot like Ivo Pukanić or smashed in a car accident, are shown without much regard for the family. Maybe the war made the media and viewers numb but some consideration for the post-war generation wouldn't do anybody harm.

Welcome IKEA, goodbye Graz

The Swedish retail giant IKEA has decided to come to Croatia. Earlier rumours had it that IKEA would build a branch in Zadar or Split, but the company chose a location just south of Zagreb. That makes sense to me. Zagreb has at least three times more inhabitants than Split and Zadar combined. True, the coastal cities attract many more tourists, but they are not coming for IKEA but for the beaches and the Mediterranean feeling.
Croats, however, do travel abroad to go shopping. In fact, there are even special bus services to Graz and Trieste that stop at shopping malls. Graz is a town of the size of Split, but has many shops Croatia does not have: Mediamarkt, H&M and IKEA, to name the most popular.
I once took that bus to Graz. At the end of the day, we gathered at the Opera House where an intimidating number of Croatian buses were waiting to bring us back to Zagreb. When our bus left, the lady in charge - or tour guide, if you like - grabbed the microphone: "We are first! Our bus is ahead of the others!" I was surprised see someone that excited, as Croats cannot be blamed for excessive punctuality. But then it dawned on me that all buses would arrive at the same border crossing and that non-EU buses are subject to severe scrutiny. If you are in the tail of the convoy, you may have to wait for hours and hours.
Upon arriving at the border, the lady told us: "Whatever you bought, don't say to the official that you didn't buy anything at all. Who would be empty-handed after a shopping trip to Graz?" After this useful advice she entered into negotiations with the border officials. After quite some time, she came back into the bus and said with a big smile: "No inspection this time! We can proceed! I think we can applaud for that!"A thunderous applause followed. I felt awkward and moved at the same time.
I guess the bus companies are not happy with IKEA coming to Croatia. Neither are Croatian manufacturers of furniture. I can see why. They never had to worry much about the price-quality relationship. That goes for many Croatian manufacturers. EU accession might knock a lot a people out of business here. Many Croats avow love for domestic products (domaće) but the lack of alternatives doesn't leave them much choice.