Swine flu

A 22 year old girl who returned from Chicago to Osijek, in the far East of Croatia, was suspected of having swine flu. In a special press conference, Health minister Darko Milinović told the girl was being kept in isolation and monitored. Večernji list put a picture of the girl online, with a bar over her eyes as if she is some kind of criminal.
A day later we know that the girl is not infected with swine flu. Actually, she doesn't even have "normal" flu. She recovered from swine flu in a day, but I wonder how much time she needs to recover from the stigma.
Croats are generally quickly worried about their health, except when it come to food (too much meat, salt and fat, too little vegetables). We are being told not too panic, but at the same time the head of the Epidemiology Office says that we should "immediately contact a doctor" if we have symptoms of influenza such as "pain, headache and exhaustion" and the body temperature is above 38 degrees. During the weekend we should go to the hospital.
And everybody is wondering why Croats are massively on sick leave. In Gospić, a small town in the Lika region, the average every worker is on sick leave for two weeks per year. Daily almost 60.000 people don't show up at work. That's a huge number on a total of 1,5 million employed people.
It's quite easy to spot a swines in Croatia. I saw this one in Lonsko Polje, a nature reservation area south of the highway to Belgrade.

Free tram rides in Zagreb

Did you know that it is cheaper to ride the dazzling efficient subway of Tokyo than to hop on a old tram in Zagreb? A single ticket in Croatia's capital costs more than a euro (8 kuna). Even if you are lucky to get onto one of the new trams, it still is a lot of money. As the tram often shares the lane with cars, in the main shopping street Ilica for example, it moves pretty slowly.
Responsible for Zagreb's public transportation is ZET. Until recently ZET distinguished itself by a complete lack of innovation. To give a few examples: the fancy displays in the new trams say that "this tram has been financed by the citizens of Zagreb" but don't show the next stop; tram and bus stops in suburbs often don't have a name; some stops are nothing more than a small sign hanging on overhead power lines; stops don't have timetables...
But now ZET made a smart move. To fight the number of cars in the center of Zagreb, ZET announced that citizens don't have to pay for the first two stops from and to the main square. In other words, from Trg bana Josipa Jelačića (fortunately also known as "trg") you can ride any tram in any direction for free with a maximum of two stops (the colored lines below). That basically covers the part of town that is of interest to visitors.

Tourists are, of course, no citizens of Croatia, but I doubt anyone will ask you to show your passport. Also, the free travel guide Zagreb in your pocket mentions the free tram rides, so I guess it's save for tourists. The number of tourists in the first quarter of 2009 is down with 8 percent, so you should be treated as a king anyway.

Croatian parties and European elections

Political parties in Europe are warming up for the European elections in June. Using EU Profiler you can inform yourself about parties and their stances on several issues. Croats are not eligible to vote, but they can nevertheless use EU Profiler to find out what Croatian parties think of many (European) issues.
I answered 30 questions and got to know where I stand in the Croatian political landscape. Quite interesting, as electronic tools like EU Profiler are a novelty in Croatia.
I did not know terribly much about the European profile of Croatian political parties, so the score above is an honest, non-biased reflection of my choices. As an uncompromising free market and free trade liberal I am a bit surprised by the this left-leaning outcome (IDS and SDP). I suspect my strong anti-clerical attitude is responsible for that. You can, by the way, juxtapose your answers and the opinions of the political parties.

Croatian Crescent on Twitter

My wish to reach ever more readers has led me to Twitter, an essential tool for communicating with your public it seems. I am not sure yet how Twitter will enrich your and my lives. So far my Twitter page doesn't show much more than the first 140 characters of each new post, followed by a link to the source: the Croatian Crescent blog.
I don't quite understand why that would be any better than using a feed reader, but millions of Twitter users can't wrong, can they?

Crime numbers

There has been a lot of talk lately about crime and corruption in Croatia. Corruption statistics are hard to get by, as the nature of corruption doesn't encourage people to talk about it. Concerning crime, I found the following data on the HRT website, under the title: "Foreigners are not only victims".
Compared to 2005 the number of criminal acts of which foreigners were victim fell from 4630 to 3481 last year. From 2773 something got stolen, 52 foreigners got severely injured, 45 were threatened, and 30 got robbed. There were two cases of rape and ten murders.
Many foreigners lose their lives in road accidents, last year 64 of them. 267 strangers got injured, which is twenty percent less than in 2007.
3025 foreigners were involved in criminal acts, mostly related to drugs (1282), eluding the customs control (582), theft (239) and falsification of documents (222). Ten were denounced to the police for murder, 29 for inflicting severe injuries and another ten for rape.
The only thing that surprises me is the number of murders (10), both committed by and inflicted upon foreigners. That is quite a lot. The number is not broken down by nationality, so it might be that most of them of Serbs and Bosnians (and they are generally not tourists), I don't know.

The British conspiracy against Croatia

Croats love conspiracy theories. Also, they are very touchy when it comes to their beautiful homeland. Therefore, if someone criticizes Croatia it must be that that person has a reason, a hidden motive for doing so. After a critical BBC report about crime and corruption in Croatia, Croatian politicians resorted to stereotype conspiracy theories.
More about that later. First the critique on Croatia. Yesterday I referred to a BBC article, which was actually based on a BBC Radio 4 report. You can listen to it online. The essence is that on the surface Croatia is a fantastic country, but underneath... Corruption, organized crime, murder.
As if that was not enough, the The Economist ran a worrying article on Croatia too. Already the title "A Balkan state in balk" is considered offensive by many Croats, as they believe that Croatia is not a Balkan country. The article mostly concerns the Slovenian blockade of Croatia's EU negotiations.
The sting, however, is in this passage: "Even without the Slovene problem, the Croats have a lot still to do to satisfy Brussels. One big difficulty will be a reform of shipbuilding, which employs as many as 17,000 people, but survives only with huge subsidies. Other profferings of public largesse designed to sweeten voters before the local elections are also causing trouble. Many economists said the government could not afford the public-sector wage rises of 6% it announced in January. Now deteriorating public finances have forced a humiliating reversal of the decision. The IMF has joined critics in arguing that Croatia must shrink its public sector."
I think The Economist is perfectly right. Croats are led to believe that the border dispute with Slovenia is the only thing that keeps Croatia out of the EU. Economic reforms, which are so necessary, are hardly being discussed. A great deal of Croatia's moribund industry and agriculture might be wiped out by European competition once the protective tariffs are eliminated. It is very difficult to find out how high the import tariff (or legalized theft, if you like) for, say, wine is, but a glance at the wine section of a Croatian supermarket tells me it is pretty high. There are not many foreign wines on the shelves, and those available are ridiculously expensive.
How did Croatian politicians respond to these harsh articles? Let me start saying that I can perfectly understand that Croatia is unhappy with these negative reports. Foreign tourists are supposed to save the Croatian economy and tourism is a very vulnerable sector. If some shit happens in Kosovo, people rule out Croatia as a holiday destination. As simple as that.
Instead of taking some criticism to heart, prime minister Sanadar said: "Some regret that we have more and more tourists", suggesting that other countries envy Croatia for its competitive edge in tourism. Other ministers used words like "malicious", "biased" and "vicious". I heard Foreign Minister Gordan Jandroković saying that is it suspicious that this report came right at the beginning of the tourist season... Or take the opening sentence of the HRT website: "It seems that the British media are united in depicting Croatia as a Third World country". Well, we are talking about the state-run national TV here. Self-reflection is not their strongest point.
It reminds me of the Croatian anger over an Australian TV show about the apathetic attitude of Dubrovnik's police when an Austrian girl went missing. Why are they doing this to us? They hate us. They want to harm Croatia. That is the typical childish response.

Everybody loves Croatia (less)

On the day that media speculate about the political future of Tourism minister Bajs, there is even more bad news for the man already under fire. First, the BBC has a lengthy article on its website about Croatia with the title "Croatia cursed by crime and corruption". It reads:
"Britain's Foreign Office is warning visitors to Croatia this summer to beware of a threat from organised crime, following a number of assassinations and attacks on prominent figures, reports Matt Prodger. "We heard a very loud and low noise, something like voooom!" On the evening of 23 October 2008, Irena Scuric was eating.." You can read the rest here.
I heard the "voooom" too, as I was waiting for the tram on Zagreb's main square. First I thought the cannon on the Lotrščak Tower was fired. Every day, precisely at noon, the old cannon fires, something that can be heard at great distance. As it was around 17.30 I guessed they fired it for a special reason.
When I came home, I found out that the "voooom" was a blast that blew up Ivo Pukanić, a prominent journalist, and his car.
Once more the BBC. "Car bombs are one thing, corruption another, and you do not have to go far to find it. The newspapers are full of stories of dodgy dealings and prominent figures with unexplained wealth."
All of this is true, partly also because Croatian newspapers largely ignore things that happen elsewhere in the world. But is it necessary to warn visitors for "a threat from organised crime"? I think that is a bit too much. There is the unsolved murder case in Dubrovnik, but generally Croatia is a very safe country. Just stay away from politics, war criminals, business tycoons, and you'll be pretty safe.
Anyway, the Foreign Office's warning comes at a delicate moment. Croatia is hit hard by the economic crisis and fears for a bad tourist season. Additional bad news is that less Europeans plan to spend their holidays in Croatia. According to the EU's Survey on the attitudes of Europeans towards tourism 2,3 percent all non-domestic holidays would be spend in Croatia, significantly less than the 3,4 percent of 2008.
This fact is lost on Croatian media. Novi list, for example writes under the title "Europeans love Croatia" that "one out of four Slovenes, 8 percent of the Czechs, 3 percent of the Poles and 13 percent of the Romanians and Slovaks" plan to go to Croatia in 2009.
Wonderful! But still bad news if you know that in 2008 an amazing 41 percent of Slovenian holidaymakers went to Croatia, 20 percent of the Slovaks, 18 percent of the Czechs, and so on.
So, when you do come to Croatia, you might have it all for yourself. Not so bad.

Local elections

On 17 May Croats will go to the polls in local elections. To inform myself, I checked the main newspaper websites and TV stations. Surprisingly, it is Nova TV's website (a commercial station) that offers the most extensive information on the local elections. Their news program, Dnevnik, is usually rather sensational and focuses almost exclusively on Croatian affairs, in which respect it resembles Croatian newspapers. None of the newspapers nor state run public television HRT has a site about the elections.
In Osijek, Croatia's fourth largest city, the main candidates competing for the position of mayor belong to the right or extreme right. Krešimir Bubalo is leading the polls. Bubalo is a member of the HDSSB party, led by Branimir Glavaš who is charged with war crimes. His main opponent is Anto Đapić, who belongs to the HSP, a party known for its strong anti-Serb attitude.
Another interesting city to watch is Split, Croatia's second by size. In Split entrepreneur and independent candidate Željko Kerum is leading the polls. In national elections Split was firmly controlled by the governing HDZ party of prime minister Sanader, himself a son of Split and great fan of football club Hajduk. Kerum's political independence is part of a wider trend in Croatia towards non-aligned candidates for political posts.
Then, of course, there are the usual outsiders and irregularities. In Kaštela, a small town not far from Split, former porn star Lidija Šunjerga runs for the office of mayor. Her campaign is centered around gender equality and environmental protection. More worrying are reports about manipulation of the number of registered voters. Dusina, a tiny village in the Dalmatian hinterland, counts a total of 530 voters of which 404 are registered at the same address. You would need a skyscraper of 35 stories to accommodate so many voters at one and the same address, the paper Novi list calculated. In Zadar, 19 voters are registered at the address of a two-story house.
The political blog Pollitika launched a site where you can check how many voters are registered at a certain address. By looking up addresses and seeing the number of registered voters, Pollitika wants to map (literary) irregularities. This evening a television program on Nova TV will be dedicated to electoral manipulation, so Pollitika's map should get more details.

Napolitanke, or about heroes and losers

Each nation has its peculiarities, habits and preferences that are sometimes unexplainable to foreigners. The culinary field is no exeption. As far as Croatia is concerned, I never quite understood why Croats love bananko, an artificially banana-flavored sweet, coated in chocolate. Its taste is, in one word, terrible.
Much of Croatia's chocolate and sweets are made by Kraš, a company with a indestructible positive image in the whole of former Yugoslavia. According to Kraš's website: Chocolate-coated banana, BANANKO, is a hit with the youngest consumers, though the adults cannot resist it either. Kraš's Bananko is the leading product within the category of foam candy bars on the Croatian market. According to the consumers' opinion, Bananko's key to success lies in the "magical combination of a soft banana-flavoured foam centre, covered with the traditional Kraš chocolate".
Other famous Kraš products are Ki-Ki, Bajadera and Dorina. If you want to know what's hiding behind these names, you can find the details in English on their site. That site speaks well for Kraš, as it in rather exceptional for Croatian companies to offer English information.
Kraš does export some of it products tot non-Yugoslav countries, but it has never reached the status of, say, Nestle, Lindt or Van Melle.
That might change, as somebody spotted a box of Napolitanke (cookies) in a scene from "Heroes", a SF-series. He or she put it on Facebook, and then the "news" found its way to every self-respecting newspaper. Have a look here for the crucial scene, in photo and video.
I could be very negative about this manifestation of provincialism and small-mindedness. But I won't. I am sincerely happy that a box of Croatian cookies found there way to an American series, even if only for a few seconds. Congratulations! Way to go! Next time, if someone spots a Croatian product, inform me.
If you live outside of Croatia (probably) and you know nothing about Croatian products (certainly), take a look at this website, although it's actually aimed at Croatian consumers who want to avoid buying foreign products.
Own products first!
Unless you live outside of Croatia. In that case: Croatian products first!
And please come for holidays to Croatia to spend your euros and dollars, because only strangers and Serbs can save the tourist season.


Waarde lezers,
De schaarse regelmatige bezoekers van dit weblog zullen hebben gemerkt dat ik de laatste maanden weinig heb gepost. (Wie denkt: "He, dit heb ik al eerder gelezen!" heeft gelijk. Scroll door naar het tweede plaatje voor nieuws.) Opvallend genoeg blijft het aantal bezoekers constant. Dat wil zeggen: een handjevol per dag. Enerzijds is het verheugend om te merken dat sommige berichten nog gelezen worden, anderzijds is het teleurstellend dat het nauwelijks uitmaakt of ik veel of weinig schrijf.
Daarom heb ik besloten de Engelstalige markt aan te boren, wat nog niet zo eenvoudig is. De concurrentie is moordend.
Niet dus. Blogs met nieuws over nieuwe veerdiensten, de zoveelste overwinning van de Kroatische gastronomie, de fantastische wijnen die hier gemaakt worden maar om onverklaarbare redenen buiten Kroatië volslagen onbekend zijn, zulke weblogs zijn er genoeg. Daar hoor je mij dus niet over.
Op Croatian Crescent probeer ik van tijd tot tijd goed en slecht nieuws uit Kroatië te brengen. Ik vraag begrip voor mijn onvolmaakte Engels. Ik behoor niet tot de categorie mensen die denken dat ze in Engels toch net iets puntiger en geestiger formuleren dan in het Nederlands, integendeel. Het is een noodgreep (bij wijze van spreken dan), meer niet.
Servië kan vanuit Nederland op meer belangstelling rekenen. Dat bleek onder meer uit het inmiddels ter ziele gegane Bureau Belgrado. Al geruime tijd (en zeer getrouw, gemiddeld anderhalf bericht per dag) schrijft correspondent David Jan Godfroid verrassende stukjes over Servië en, als daar reden toe is, over zijn buurlanden.
Voor die grotere belangstelling kan ik wel een paar redenen bedenken. (1) Het wagenpark is veel gevarieerder. (2) Kroatië heeft geen Kosovo. Dat is niet trouwens niet helemaal waar... (3) De Servische politiek is interessanter, om eens een eufemisme te gebruiken. (4) Belgrado is de grote broer onder de Balkansteden. (5) Zo kan ik nog wel even doorgaan.
Maar misschien zijn ze gewoon vaardiger met de pen. Hoe dan ook - samo uživajte, zoals aan deze en gene zijde van de Donau wordt gezegd.

Nives Celzijus, or the internet democracy

Generally, I write about serious things. The terminal decline of Croatian literature, the beauty of Dubrovnik, the economic crisis, language issues - you name it. Sometimes, a literary prize is awarded to a celebrity known for her unconventional sex life, Nives Celzijus. "Serious" literary critics subsequently showed their anger and a scandal was born. I dedicated a post to it. It went unnoticed I thought, like most things I write here (please allow me some self-pity). Therefore it was a kind of shock to me to see what people were actually looking for when visiting Croatian Crescent. The number one search term is, believe it or not, "nives celzijus naked". This is the top 10:

1. nives celzijus naked
2. dubrovnik murder
3. Nives Celzius Naked
4. ikea graz
5. Ikea zagreb
6. slovenian partisans
7. nives celzijus nude
8. meštrović “Seljaci”
9. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you in croatian
10 ikea zadar

Apparently some people looking for nude pictures of Nives Celzijus prefer capital letters. As they left out the "j" in Celzius (required, as Slavic languages are largely phonetic) I suspect they are Germans. By coincidence, the much wanted pictures of Nives can be found in a magazine with a title in capitals.
FHM in Germany has everything you want to see of Celsius ("die schönste Spielerfrau der Bundesliga") and I am not even going to try to compete with their photo's. I close the Celzijus case by saying that her fan club (i.e. certain visitors or this weblog) is truly international: from Italy, Ireland, Germany and Belgium to Peru. Should husband and Karlsruhe footballer Dino Drpić ever play for a club in another country, a red carpet will be laid out for the couple.

Open doors to the East

We have been waiting for several months, with clamped firsts and and in full hope. Today it was finally delivered: the baby of Damir Bajs, Croatia's Minister of Tourism. Alas! The baby, with the name "Action plan for tourism", is stillborn.
Let me start mentioning a proposed measure that makes sense. Bajs wants to ease the visa regime for tourists from Russia and Ukraine. Also, some local fees will be cut. But that's pretty much it. It is still being considered whether visa requirements will be suspended for Chinese and Indian tourists too. One out of three people in the world is Chinese or Indian, but Croatia is not sure if it's smart to let them save the Croatian economy (every fifth Croatian euro is earned in tourism). Croatia's VAT rate of 22 percent might be cut next year at earliest, so the Russians and Ukrainians won't come here for a cheap cup of coffee.
I would have appreciated if, for example, Bajs had urged tourist agencies to be more customer friendly, to provide accurate information and, most important, to offer tourists access to Croatian cultural heritage. I can give countless examples of how Zagreb could become a much more interesting tourist destination than the rather dormant provincial town it is now. However, this example is from Križevci, a small town northwest of Zagreb I visited last weekend. You might say: "Who cares about that part of Croatia?" But then you don't know how much Croats expect from rural tourism and how frequently one can see reports on Croatian state TV about the "rich cultural heritage" of town like Križevci (not to mention places without any obvious touristic potential, like Sisak).
Here is a photo manual:
1) If you have no car, take a train or bus. If you are from Africa or Asia, please ignore the few idiots that make fun of you (this is not a joke, unfortunately).
2) Križevci welcomes you in Croatian. "City of history, culture and the Križevci statutes".
3) Walk to the centre. This 35-minute walk will lead you along the socialist history of Croatia. As it is unclear where the centre is, please follow the locals who have left the train with you.
In the good old days, factories provided much more than just an income. So did and do the local tileworks. (Radnik means "Worker")

4) Pay attention to culture and nature. You'll see storks all over.
5) Visit the true treasure of Križevci: its churches. There are normally closed, so you need ask the nuns to open the doors.
The director of the local museum proved to be very kind and helpful.
6) Sit back and relax with a beer.
Finally, have a second beer to wash away your grief over the fact that you couldn't visit the beautiful Kalnik mountain range because there is only one bus per day from Križevci.

Croatia in NATO

"Following the English alphabet, Croatia's flag flies after the Canadian and before the Czech," was one of the comments that was repeated over and over again in Croatian news programs yesterday. Below is a report from Nova TV. Even if you don't understand Croatian, the flags, anthems and speeches make clear that Croatia is very proud of being a full member of NATO as of yesterday. Croatia's flag was hoisted in Brussels and, in turn, NATO's flag in Zagreb, where many gathered in front of the Ministry of Defense. Looking at the facade of the building, you'll see the EU flag waving too. I don't know if there are any rules concerning the right to fly the EU flag. I guess not, since you can see them all over the country, even though Croatia won't join the club before 2012.

Despite opposition from some Slovene nationalists, Croatia belongs now to the "world's most elite club", as prime minister Sanader once called NATO. Croatia's own elite gathered in the evening in the National Theatre to celebrate the entry with a concert.
Croatian satisfaction with NATO membership is more than understandable. Next time the Serbs, or whoever, attack "our beautiful homeland" (a very normal way of saying in Croatia) American, Turkish, Canadian and Dutch troops will kick in to kick out the enemy. So we hope...
Less understandable is the habit of Croatia's political elite to link NATO membership with EU accession. I heard people saying that "Croatia is now half way" and Sanader even thinks that EU countries will reconsider the Croatian-Slovenian border dispute, to Croatia's advantage of course.
Personally, I don't see why. First, not all EU members are NATO members. More important, not all NATO allies belong to the EU. Turkey is a great example of the latter categorie. Despite old promises about EU membership and unwavering support from the United States, Turkey is not an EU member and maybe will never be one. Although Turkey is a NATO ally since 1952!
As the Croatian-Slovenia border dispute is concerned: Marrti Ahtisaari was tipped as mediator, but he himself says he has never been formally asked to solve the crisis. Asked what his answer would be to a possible request, he said: "Highly unlikely. I am tired of the Balkans".

Meštrović's relief damaged in Zagreb

In an earlier post I wrote about the sculptor Ivan Meštrović (1883-1962), one of Croatia's most famous artists. "Zagreb isn't exactly a top destination for art lovers," I wrote then, "so it is a pity that it neglects its greatest artist. After all, Meštrović is omnipresent in Zagreb."
Maybe his omnipresence has led to neglect. Otherwise, how can you explain that a construction company, in order to provide support for the scaffolding, made holes in Meštrović relief?
The scaffolding was put up for a huge advertising banner. After it was removed, the construction company provisionally filled the holes in the relief with some substance and painted over some parts, pretending there was no damage at all. In the end the truth was revealed.
The relief was put up in 1907, some 30 meters above street level on the facade of a rather ugly building overlooking Zagreb's main square, Trg bana Jelačića. Not much is known about the work, except that is is popularly called "Seljaci" (Peasants) and made of ceramics. It was Meštrović first public work in Zagreb and as there is no model of it, restoration will be difficult.