From ally to enemy: Slovenia (3)

Slovenia had the chance, earlier this week, to literally become Croatia's ally. Or rather, to ratify Croatia's NATO membership so that Croatia could join the club Slovenia is already in. However, instead of easing tensions NATO membership proved to be another source of discontent between the two countries.
Slovenia did ratify the protocol that extends NATO membership to its neighbor, but it hasn't send the necessary documents to Washington yet. Responsible for this delay are two Slovenian groups, The Institute of the 25th of June (a reference to the day in 1991 on which Slovenia declared independence) and the non-parliamentary Party of the Slovenian Nation. These groups were afraid that Croatia's accession to NATO (and the EU) would imply Slovenia's consent with the current, heavily contested Croatian-Slovenian border. To make clear that Slovenia does not accept the Croatian territorial claims, the two groups demanded an explicit statement on this matter from the Slovenian parliament. Without this statement, they would try to organize a referendum on Croatia's NATO membership.
They got their way: "Slovenia's Parliament on Wednesday afternoon adopted a declaration on the protection of the Slovene national interests during the procedure of Croatia's admission into NATO which reads that at the time when Slovenia declared its independence in 1991, it had access to the high seas and that it had control over some other "disputable" points along its border with Croatia."
Case closed? Not really. The Party of the Slovenian Nation insisted that Croatia should withdraw from some territory and dismantle a border crossing that it considers illegal. This demand is not included in the adopted declaration and therefore the Party of the Slovenian Nation will still try to organize a referendum. A referendum will become inevitable if the party collects 40.000 signatures. Slovenian premier Borut Pahor, meanwhile, is doing his best to convince the Party of the Slovenian Nation that a referendum will further damage Slovenian-Croatian relations.
Like with Croatia, Slovenia is largely ignored by the Western media. I don't think we will see another Balkan war, but if you want to understand why Croats and Slovenes turned into political adversaries, you better keep an eye on Slovenia these days.

Neanderthals in Croatia

When in 1899 Dragutin Gorjanović-Kramberger, a Croatian paleontologist, found remains of Neanderthals in Croatia, the so-called Homo sapiens neanderthalensis was already known for decades. What made Kramberger's discovery unique was the richness of the site. He did not find a bone or a single skull, but literary hundreds of fossils. You can admire a Croatian Neanderthal skull in the Natural History Museum in London.
Scientists of the Max Planck Institute in Germany are using these bones to unveil the Neanderthal genome, so they can compare it to human DNA. It is believed that the last Neaderthal became extinct around 30.000 years ago. The common ancestor of Neanderthals and humans lived some 660.000 years ago. The Neaderthals found in Croatia are sometimes referred to as the Krapina man, called after the small town of Krapina.
Today's men and woman of Krapina take great pride in the Neanderthal site close to their town. Search for "Krapina" in Google, and you'll see that the first hit is "The world's largest neaderthal finding site - Krapina - Cradle of the mainkind". The spelling mistake is theirs. Apart from that, it is contestable that Neanderthal belongs to mankind.
When I visited Krapina last autumn, the local Museum of Evolution was a must, I thought. Who would not want to peep into the cradle of mankind? I was not least discouraged by the fact that I had to ask two beer drinkers who sat on a bench where the entrance to the museum was, for it was far from obvious that the museum was open. It was open, but it could equally have remained closed. The exhibits take you back to the time that countries like Czechoslovakia were still among us and typewriters the latest means of producing (very little) written text.
The Path of Evolution, just outside of the museum, offered more to the eye but equally little to the mind. You get to see some bronze figures with the inscription "Neanderthal family". The addition "reconstruction" is a useful reminder of the fact that you are not looking at mummies, but at the product of a sculptor's fantasy.
The other attraction in Krapina is the house and museum of Ljudevit Gaj, the leader of Croatia's national awakening in the nineteenth century and great modernizer of Croatian language. It was closed, much to my disappointment. I can't say I was surprised, however.
What did surprise me was that I could enter the Church of the Madonna of Jerusalem, a real gem. This church is one of the finest baroque buildings in Croatia, but largely ignored in travel guides. In a later post I hope to do it justice.

Miroslav Krleža's lost notes discovered

Miroslav Krleža is a towering figure of 20th century Croatian literature. His tremendous activity and great contribution to Croatian culture don't allow for a summary in a post like this, so I gladly refer to the Wikipedia entry for more information. Surprisingly, that entry makes no mention of the fact that Miroslav Krleža (1893-1981) was the editor in chief of the Enciklopedija Jugoslavije. Precisely about his work on the encyclopedia some until know unknown documents have been discovered.
The 536 pages with Krleža's notes give an interesting insight in the daily course of events in the editorial offices, according to Jutarnji list. He not only had to accommodate the ruling socialist ideology - he and Tito got along quite well, by the way - but also to satisfy the editorial team of each and every of the six republics that made up Yugoslavia.
And that's pretty much all Jutarnji had to say, as the promised insights are nowhere to be found on its website. I was interested in knowing how Krleža kept a balance between the interests of Yugoslavia's many nations and nationalities and the unitary political and economic doctrines. So I turned to the institution that published Krleža's notes, the noteworthy Matica hrvatska, the mother of all Croatian cultural institions. The latest issue of Kolo, one of Matica's periodicals, is devoted to Krleža's outpouring, but on their website the winter issue 2007 still figures prominently. Croats did not yet fully embrace the internet, to put it mildly.
I went to the National and Scientific Library, in potential a fantastic place but in reality rather disappointing. Their latest Kolo issue was from spring 2008. I give up on Kolo, for now.
If you are a real fan of Krleža then it's good to know that the Lexigographic Institute Miroslav Krleža, formerly know as the Yugoslav Lexicographical Institute led by Krleža, has published a three volume encyclopedia about him. It treats in great detail everything that is remotely connected to Krleža.

A quarrel over cracklings

Please watch the short video below and answer the following question. Do you think this dish should receive the label Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), like Gorgonzola?
According to Wikipedia PDO aims to "protect the reputation of the regional foods and eliminate the unfair competition and misleading of consumers by non-genuine products, which may be of inferior quality or of different flavour".
You might not know what the substance in the pot is. The floating brown cubes you see are čvarci, or cracklings in English. My Longman dictionary says a crackling is "the hard skin on a piece of pig meat when it has been cooked for a long time". Please note that this is the British English definition. In American English cracklings exist in plural only: "pieces of skin, usually from a pig or chicken, that have been cooked in hot oil and are eaten cold".
In either case, it sounds disgusting. You would guess people are ashamed to admit that this dish is part of their cuisine. Not in the Balkans! On the contrary, Croats and Slovenes even argue about the origins of cracklings. Croatian entrepreneur Tomo Galević tried to get European permission to label cracklings as an authentic Croatian product, but he got the Slovenes in his way. According to Slovenian ethnologist Bogataj cracklings are being made "almost all over Europe, and especially in Central Europe. They differ only in preparation and thickness".
I don't care. Give the Croats their cracklings! Maybe you'll get the Bay of Piran in return.

Australian TV angers Dubrovnik

On 17 September 2008 the Australian girl Britt Lapthorne went missing in Dubrovnik. She was last seen in Club Fuego, a night club in Dubrovnik, a bit after midnight. Three weeks later her body was found in the sea. Since that day Croatian and Australian media have been speculating about the cause of here disappearance and death. Croatian police haven't found a murderer and a Croatian autopsy found no evidence of violence. A second post-mortem examination, performed in Australia, failed to determine the cause of death too.
The case seemed to have reached a dead end. But this week Australian Channel Seven aired a report on Britt Lapthorne's death. According to Channel Seven's investigation there is a "pattern of criminal activity in Dubrovnik". Several non-Croatian girls have fallen victim to abduction or abduction attempts, both before and after Britt's disappearance. The abductors pretended they were police and ordered the girls to step into a van.
One girl did step into the car, but managed to jump out of it when she realized the men were no police at all. About a year ago she reported the abduction to the Croatian police. Despite that, a Croatian officer initially denies to Channel Seven that there are any reports of abductions in Dubrovnik. A moment later he has to admit there are two reports of abductions. You can see the program on YouTube (part 1-7, in total about 30 minutes) or read a summary in The Australian.
An American expert made a forensic sketch of one suspect, based on what one girl, named Amber, saw that night. So, who is this guy?
A Croatian cop!
According to Croatian police, the men that approached Amber did not pretend they were police, they were police. As The Daily Telegraph wrote: Croatian police last night confirmed the men that approached Amber afterwards were officers. But they said the officers were trying to help after hearing of a disturbance. "He is a police officer but he was there on duty," police spokesman Krunoslav Borovec said of the sketch of a blond man. "He and his colleagues heard something was going on, some noise, so they ran to help her."
Why would Amber blame an honest Croatian cop who tried to help her? What's behind all this? Croatian police know the answer: "It's an attempt to trash the tourist season."
I have heard a great number of Croatian conspiracy theories, but this beats everything. However, it is not unlike the general opinion in Croatia about Britt's case. Vladimir Faber, spokesman for the police, said that the abduction story is simply made-up. On TV and in newspapers citizens of Dubrovnik air their opinions. A pensioner said to Jutarnji list: "Dubrovnik is one of the safest towns in Croatia. I don't know why they are doing this to us."
There is even a Facebook group with over 5.000 members to show the world that Dubrovnik is a safe place. Rather sad, if you ask me. I know Dubrovnik is a safe place, but that doesn't mean something like a murder can't happen.
At the end of the day, we still don't know what happened to Britt and who the men in the van are. Real of fake cops? Criminals or police that tried to assist foreign backpackers?
To be continued.