Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Blue vs. Red: Should Croatia Finally Change its Passport Colour?

January 26, 2022 - TCN intern Jacob Rukavina explores why Croatia should change its passport colour from blue to red. 

In August, I left my home in Vancouver to begin two years of graduate studies in Sweden. While the program itself was enticing, it was not the primary reason I moved to the land of IKEA and pickled herring. For those who may be unfamiliar, university studies in Sweden are free. Any citizen of the EU/EEA is entitled to fully state-funded education. Luckily for me, I had just received my first Croatian passport a few months earlier after a long and complicated application process. So, passport in hand, I packed my bags and got ready for a new life in Scandinavia. 

The day I arrived at Arlanda International (Sweden's largest airport), I was brimming with excitement. After almost two years of lockdowns, quarantines, and travel bans, words cannot describe how ready I was to be out in the world again. Except now, as a proud EU national, I was free to move around Europe at my leisure. Growing up, I was always jealous of the privileges that most EU citizens still take for granted. Faster security checks, shorter queues, and the right setup shop on a whim in some of the world's most famous cities, an EU passport carries more privilege than most other travel documents. So, as I’m sure you can imagine, after years of paperwork and red tape, I felt like I was finally living out my dreams. And for a short 16-hour flight, I was. Unfortunately, reality cleared the stars from my eyes before I even made it to baggage claim. 

After collecting my things and making my way to passport control, I was surprised to see the confusion on the officer's face as I approached her booth. "This line is for EU/EEA citizens." She explained. Equally confused, I held up my travel document so she could see the words "Europska Unija" written in silver foil letters across the cover. She quickly realized her mistake. "Ah yes, Croatian passports are blue." And after a quick glance at the picture page, she waved me through with no further hassle. It was a far cry from the glamourous entrance I had pictured in my mind, but hey, I'd made it into Sweden. No harm, no foul. 

This experience got me thinking. Despite nearly a decade of EU membership and countless opportunities to join the burgundy family, why is the Croatian passport still blue? I had never really thought about it before. Surely, it would be easier for Croatians to be quickly recognized at border crossing like our Finnish or Luxembourgish counterparts.

So, I did some research. As it turns out, this choice was intentional. As reported in a previous article, in 2015, the government chose not to change the passport colour for fear that it would be associated with the old Yugoslav travel document, opting to include only the ‘European Union’ banner on the cover. Ok, case closed, right? The history is too complicated, and Croatian passports shall forever remain lone specks of blue in a sea of red. 

Well, in my opinion, I hope not, and here’s why.

Despite the symbolic ties between communism and the colour red, all other formerly communist EU members have changed their passport booklets to fit within the Union’s standard design. Even Slovenia, a country that also suffered under Titoist Yugoslavia opted to keep with the colour scheme. Moreover, the dictators of old do not hold a monopoly over an entire palate. As one of Croatia’s national colours, red is immensely emblematic of Croatian national pride and heritage. Anyone who pays attention during the World Cup or the Euro knows just how proud Croatians are to wear red, especially when it comes in the form of the šahovnica, the infamous checkerboard that adorns every jersey in the country.

In the thirty years since independence, Croatia has undergone a significant transformation. The government has successfully rebranded the country, earning this Adriatic paradise a position amongst Europe's most desirable destinations. Even more recently, Croatia has made considerable leaps in foreign policy. In the past several months, Croatian citizens have gained total freedom of movement in Switzerland and access to the United States visa waiver program. No simple feat on either front. With eurozone and Schengen membership expected by the beginning of 2023, Croatia has completely redefined its position on the world stage. Updating the passport would serve as an appropriate way to mark a complete transition into Europe’s innermost circle.

This is not to say we should ignore history. Any new design proposals should not hark back any semblance to the documents issued by the previous regime. Instead, new booklets should incorporate features that reflect Croatia's natural beauty, culture, and rich history. A passport should embody the people who carry it. Perhaps the government could follow in Norway's footsteps, opening a design competition for locals to submit ideas and concept art. Many modern passports include artistry between the pages as an improved security measure, making fakes harder to duplicate. Plitvice, Šahovnica, Pula Arena, there is no shortage of culturally significant locations and figures to draw upon for inspiration. The creative possibilities are limitless, leaving plenty of room to ensure that any new design represents the strong and independent nation that Croatians have worked so hard for.

Switching the passport to red may seem insignificant and unnecessary to some. But in the wake of increasing political instability, this simple demonstration of pro-European leadership would be an important show of support. Despite the recent shift of many governments towards more Eurosceptic parties, Croatia has stood out as a balanced and steadfast advocate for the EU. Aligning the passport is naturally the next step as Croatia enter's Europe's inner core. There is no better form of national pride than showing solidarity with your closest allies.

For more, check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Two Hours Apart, Or Is It? How COVID Put Distance Between London and Croatia

January 25, 2022 - During the Croatian Homeland War, there was a very poignant documentary in the UK about Croatia, titled Two Hours From London, addressing the humanitarian and cultural atrocities happening only two hours flying time from London. Without delving into the topic of human tragedy, I'm using this example to highlight that the authors of the documentary wanted to convey a message that London and Croatia were indeed so close. That happened nearly 30 years ago. 

Today, it seems to me that London and Croatia are further away than those two aforementioned hours. I am a British-born Croatian who grew up in Croatia and is now settled back in the UK. As a student, I envisioned flying back and forth between Zagreb and London a lot. Until COVID changed that. Travelling these days between the two destinations requires multiple steps in preparation pre-and post-flight. And that's only if we're lucky that our flight doesn't get cancelled or rescheduled. A passenger between the two destinations must continuously be checking complex rules written on respective governments' web pages in order to be fit-to-fly.

Moreover, travel expenses go beyond the ticket price. To enter Croatia, one is allowed to enter so long as they possess one of the following: proof of vaccination (no older than 365 days), a negative COVID antigen or PCR test result (no older than 48 or 72 hours respectively), or a doctor's certificate of recovery from COVID. Of course, all passengers have to fill in an Enter Croatia form. 

All international arrivals to the UK must adhere to a different set of rules, which also continuously change. Let's just make a point that the rules among England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are different. As of recently, fully vaccinated travellers to England do not need to take a COVID-19 test prior to arrival. One can choose to take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR test upon arrival to England. Things get a little trickier if the lateral flow test shows positive: one will then need to self-isolate and book a PCR test. Either one of the tests must be booked before the arrival to England. Mind-boggling, doesn't it?

To conclude: there is no longer quick city-hopping between London and Zagreb. Travel requires research, planning, and commitment these days. It is only for the most determined travellers who can afford the newly required travel “luxuries” - my student budget doesn’t exactly allow for those! 

I am now trying to reassure myself with the fact that if I don’t travel I am actually being a responsible citizen on many levels: I do not contribute to the spread of the pandemic internationally nor do I participate in increasing a carbon footprint! However, I do long for the times when travel is easier again so I can go to Croatia to give my grandparents a quick hug and to jump over to Zagreb or Hvar to visit my friends. 

For more updates on international travel news, check out our dedicated travel section.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Who Votes for Sanctions against Dodik is Croatian Traitor, Milanović Says

ZAGREB, 25 Jan 2022 - Milorad Dodik is Croatia's interlocutor and should not be subjected to sanctions, while Bakir Izetbegović "is buying time" so that elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina can be held under the election system which discriminates against Croats, Croatian President Zoran Milanović said on Tuesday.

"Dodik is not an ethnic nationalist, he's not a chauvinist, doesn't spread ethnic hatred," he told the press about the Serb member of the BiH Presidency. "He is an interlocutor."

Milanović said he was against the EU imposing sanctions against Dodik like the US did. "If someone from Croatia votes for those sanctions, for me they will be a traitor. Then I will represent Croatia in the European Council."

As for Izetbegović, leader of the largest Bosniak party in BiH, Milanović called him "a time thief" holding a dialogue with Croatian representatives and then not honouring what had been agreed.

"Time is passing, the election is coming and will be held under totally untenable rules," he said of a general election BiH is due to hold in October.

"The Croats will be robbed" unless the electoral system is changed to prevent the Bosniaks from electing Croat representatives in the highest state bodies again, he added.

Milanović again commented on the 9 January observance of the Bosnian Serb entity's day, reiterating that it's "a bad date" as horrible crimes were committed after it on the territory of the present-day entity called Republika Srpska.

"That will haunt them as a dark shadow," he said, calling the choice of that date "politically not smart."

"Republika Srpska was supposed to be militarily destroyed in mid-October 1995 when the Croatian army, only because it was told so, did not enter Banja Luka," Milanović said, adding that the entity was established under the Dayton peace agreement signed later that year, including by Croatia's then president Franjo Tuđman. "I accept that, that's all."

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Gunja-Brčko Bridge to be Rebuilt, 2 New Roads between BiH and Croatia

ZAGREB, 25 Jan 2022 - Croatian Transport and Infrastructure Minister Oleg Butković said in Mostar on Tuesday that Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina would this year start rebuilding the Gunja-Brčko bridge across the Sava River and start work on a new one.

The Gunja-Brčko bridge was built at the time of the Habsburg Empire and due to its obsolete state, traffic across it has been restricted to cargo transport.

Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have agreed to maintain joint bridges together and this year they will start the renovation of that bridge over the River Sava.

"In 2022 (Croatian road operator) Hrvatske Ceste and Bosnia and Herzegovina will launch the reconstruction of that bridge, equally sharing the cost of reconstruction work in the amount of HRK 30 million," Butković said.

He added that the two countries had agreed to build a new bridge over the Sava, located slightly more to the south in relation to the existing bridge.

Croatia has already defined the connecting point and is now waiting for the Brčko District authorities to define project documentation, after which work will start.

Butković could not say how much the bridge would cost.

Work on the bridge at Gradiška, also on the River Sava, is continuing and it should be completed in 2023. An access road on the Croatian side of the bridge is yet to be built. The project is worth €19.5 million.

During his visit to Mostar, Butković announced also work on two roads in the south to better connect the two countries.

Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are interested in building two high-speed roads connecting Mostar with Split via Imotski and Zagvozd, and Zavala near Ravno in the south of Bosnia and Herzegovina with Slano, in Dubrovnik-Neretva County.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Justice Minister has Most's Support for New Referendum Bill

ZAGREB, 25 Jan 2022 - Justice and Public Administration Minister Ivan Malenica said on Tuesday he had the support of the Bridge opposition party for a new referendum bill, adding that its MPs welcomed certain solutions, including signature verification monitoring.

Speaking to the press, he said he received the support during the first reading in parliament and that there was no reason for representatives of referendum petitions not to monitor signature verification.

Malenica said the new referendum bill envisaged the State Electoral Commission checking if enough signatures had been collected as an independent body.

Bridge has recently collected over 400,000 signatures for a referendum against COVID certificates.

"Perhaps the new law will be passed in the meantime, but the current referendum procedure is under the currently valid law," the minister said.

Asked about the opposition's proposal for including an inter-party commission in referendum monitoring, he said those initiating referendums would be able to nominate their members to the commission.

Under the current law, he said, referendum advocates as well as those against it can participate in signature verification and referendum monitoring.

Whistleblower protection 

Asked how the position of whistleblowers Adrijana Cvrtila and Maja Đerek could be improved by law, Malenica said he would rather not comment on specific cases.

He said the new whistleblower protection bill envisaged internal reporting, external reporting to the ombudsman, and public disclosure via the media.

The bill increases protection through the courts and the three reporting channels, he said, adding that courts protect whistleblowers from revenge, including from employers.

"This quality bill should encourage individuals to report irregularities and to have all the protection envisaged by the new law."

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Milanović Says PM's Chief of Staff Committed Offence

ZAGREB, 25 Jan 2022 - President Zoran Milanović said on Tuesday that PM Andrej Plenković's chief of staff Zvonimir Frka Petešić having registered permanent residence on the island of Dugi Otok "is an offence with a very high level of awareness of the nature of the act", for which, he said, Plenković was also responsible.

"(The PM's chief of staff) resides here. Frka is a resident of Zagreb and what he has done is unbelievable. The (post-earthquake) reconstruction of the building where he lives is not the problem, the problem is the reconstruction of the apartment where he lives. The man sponges off us, off me, I am still repaying the loan for my flat. Why should I not save some money for my son who studies in the Netherlands?" Milanović told reporters during a visit to the Kraš confectioner.

Frka Petešić enjoyed "his friend and boss's support" 

Noting ironically that this was why he had considered reporting his residence in Senj, Glavice or Sinj (where his family hails from) because he has relatives who live there, Milanović said that what Frka Petešić did "is an offence with a very high level of awareness of the nature of the act."

Milanović added that neither he nor any of his associates, and until now no one from the Plenković government, had ever thought of doing such a thing.

"Find me someone who has benefitted from that clumsy formulation, find a resident of Zagreb who has used a state flat in the past 10 years... who has used that benefit and has paid for accommodation less than any of us, stupid Zagreb residents. I'm confident there is no such person, not even in the Plenković government," Milanović said, adding that what Frka Petešić did was also a responsibility of PM Plenković "because Frka Petešić has enjoyed the protection of his friend and boss."

"Plenković is defending him, saying that he will not comment, while I had to answer their questions as to how I took out a 30-year housing loan," said the president.

On combat planes: Treating parliament as a third party is outrageous

Milanović also said that the government had still not sent him agreements on the purchase of the French Rafale multipurpose fighter jets, but that more important than that was that the agreements were sent to the parliament.

"It is more important that the parliament gets them, (the jets) are 20% more expensive than planned, which is €200 million less for the army. Answering the parliament and treating it as a third party in an illiterate letter... is an unprecedented act of contempt and insolence," Milanović said.

He went on to say that the defence minister or the PM cannot write to the parliament treating it as a third party, saying that they have to ask the French corporation for permission. "That's too much, even for the HDZ."

The agreement is confidential, that is understandable and acceptable, but such conduct towards the parliament is not, said the president.

As for the procurement of the US Bradley combat vehicles, he recalled that he had exerted pressure for a month and a half to deal with the issue, after which the Defence Ministry was excluded from the process for a second time due to incompetence and the Office of the Prime Minister stepped in and did the job.

Asked if he went skiing recently, Milanović said that his spokesman explained everything in a statement, adding that he had paid for the trip and meal, and that if he was asked if he had also paid for the ticket, he would have said yes.

"A president is in a cage 24 hours a day, I want to get away from my house for three hours, ask (Minister of the Interior Davor) Božinović, ask the same about Plenković. When I go somewhere, my security goes with me. Where do they sleep? Some sleep in the house. The suggestion is that I do not leave my flat," he said.

Rotten egg attack - let the man go

Commenting on the arrest of two citizens who posted inappropriate comments about Plenković on social networks, Milanović recalled that during his term as PM and incidents in Knin, when charges were pressed against some people, he had told the police not to do it as it was wrong.

"Not knowing who those people were, I said that they should let them go. In this case a man said one should throw rotten eggs at Plenković. If the eggs were fresh, maybe they would have acted differently? Who has ever attacked anyone with eggs in Croatia," asked Milanović.

"I expect the unenlightened absolutist leader to show mercy and say that the matter is irrelevant and that the man should be let go," he added.

Asked about the opposition Bridge party's referendum initiative against the COVID certificate mandate, Milanović said that he had heard that the Constitutional Court would be asked to check the constitutionality of the referendum questions.

"What is there for the Constitutional Court to decide?.. If they have collected that many signatures, I congratulate them. It's not an easy thing to do."

The idea that a respiratory infection could be controlled is crazy, Milanović said, adding that his younger son was in the third year of high school and had practically not attended any face-to-face classes. That's not normal, he said.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Parliament Discusses Protection of Whistleblowers

ZAGREB, 25 Jan 2022 - Members of parliament were agreed on the need to protect people reporting irregularities during a debate on a bill on the protection of whistleblowers on Tuesday, with opposition MPs citing the most famous whistleblowers and their fate.

What in reality happens to whistleblowers is best evidenced by the cover of the Nacional weekly, said MP Dalija Orešković, a reference to Maja Đerek, a former employee of the State Property Agency, who spoke up about irregularities at the agency.

"That case indicates serious breaches of office... by a number of senior state officials, starting from Minister (of the Interior Davor) Božinović, (PM's chief of staff Zvonimir) Frka Petešić, and the head of the State Property Agency," Orešković said, telling Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković that he was not mentioned in a positive context in the Nacional article either.

"If Nacional's allegations are true, we are witnessing a realised conflict of interest due to which, if state bodies had the will, the entire government should fall," she said.

Bridge MP Marin Miletić said even though the relevant legislation was good, in terms of protection of whistleblowers, there was chaos on the ground.

A number of whistleblowers have reported irregularities and ended up jobless, he said, noting that Croatia loses HRK 60 billion a year to corruption.

He called on Justice and Public Administration Minister Ivan Malenica to protect whistle-blowers.

Minister: New law brings numerous improvements

Minister Malenica said that the new law on the protection of whistleblowers would bring numerous improvements.

The procedure to report an irregularity is facilitated, it can be done either verbally or in writing, including modern IT tools and applications, whistleblowers will have the right to court protection, compensation, protection of identity and confidentiality, and primarily legal aid, he said.

It will be possible to report an irregularity via a person at one's employer who is in charge of such complaints, through external bodies, that is, ombudsman, as well as by going public with an irregularity, the minister said.

Željko Pavić of the Social Democrats wanted to know how the state will help a whistleblower survive the period from reporting an irregularity, which often includes dismissal, to a court decision.

The person reporting an irregularity has court protection in such situations, the procedure before the local court is swift, and a decision on a temporary measure must be made within eight days, the minister said, admitting that compensation or some other form of payment to whistleblowers had not been considered.

Urša Raukar Gamulin (Green-Left Bloc) asked why the new law did not envisage psychosocial support to whistleblowers while her colleague Vilim Matula wondered if the new law would also protect the police officer who had warned about the unlawful conduct of his colleagues towards migrants.

Malenica said that he would not comment on specific cases and he left open the possibility of amending the law, at some point in the future, to envisage psychosocial support for whistleblowers.

"I am not familiar with details regarding the HNB so it is difficult to answer that question," Malenica told MP Vesna Vučemilović, who asked if the person who had revealed information about insider trading by employees of the central bank had committed an offence or was just a whistleblower.

HDZ MPs welcomed the bill, with MP Damir Habijan suggesting that fines for employers who try to prevent a whistle-blower from reporting an irregularity be determined as a percentage of their revenue.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

UEFA Futsal Euro 2022: Croatia Falls to Russia in Second Group C Match

January 25, 2022 - Croatia fell to Russia in the second Group C match of the UEFA Futsal Euro 2022 held in the Netherlands. Croatia will play their final Group C match on January 29 against Slovakia to determine which team will join Russia in the quarterfinals. 

After defeating Poland at the start of the European Futsal Championship in the Netherlands, the Croatia national futsal team lost in the second round to Russia 4:0.

The match was off to a poor start for Croatia as Vedran Matošević earned a red card for a tough challenge on Robinho. Russia quickly capitalized with an extra player when Antoshkin scored for 1:0 in the third minute.

It took Croatia time to establish their rhythm, but it didn't take long for Russia to put their second goal past goalkeeper Žarko Luketin. Paulinho scored for 2:0 in the 12th minute. 

Croatia had plenty of opportunities in the first half. Marinović threatened Russia's goal twice, Jelovčić and Jurlina once, but at the very end of the first 20 minutes, Russia scored a new goal thanks to Čiškala for 3:0 at the half. 

The match was pretty even as the second half began, and only one goal was scored. Antoshkin scored his second goal of the match in the 26th minute for the final 4:0. 

Russia thus secured first place in the group and a place in the quarterfinals. Poland and Slovakia will play the other Group C match later tonight. 

In the last round of Group C, Croatia will meet Slovakia, and Russia will face Poland. Only then will it be known who will advance to the quarterfinals with Russia.

The 3rd round matches are scheduled for 14:30 on January 29. The Croatia - Slovakia match is broadcast on HTV2.

The 2022 UEFA Euro Futsal tournament is hosted for the first time in the Netherlands. 

Euro, Group C (Round 2):

Croatia - Russia 0:4 (Antoshkin 3, 26, Paulinho 12, Chiskala 20)

Poland - Slovakia (20:30)

To read more about sport in Croatia, follow TCN’s dedicated page

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Foreign Ministry Advises against Travel to Ukraine

ZAGREB, 25 Jan 2022 - The Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MVEP) has advised against travelling to areas in Ukraine that border Russia and to postpone travel to the rest of the country.

"Due to the deteriorated security situation in Ukraine and concentration of armed forces of the Russian Federation in areas bordering Ukraine, we advise Croatian citizens to avoid traveling to areas in eastern Ukraine that border the Russian Federation," MVEP said on its website.

That in particular refers to areas under Ukrainian control that border the temporarily occupied areas of the internationally unrecognised Donetsk and Luhansk entities, the ministry said.

The ministry further advises citizens not to travel to areas near the annexed Crimea peninsula or areas of northern Ukraine that border Belarus.

For other areas of the country it is advisable to avoid all unnecessary travel and postpone trips if possible. Anyone travelling to Ukraine should take care and stay informed about the situation in all local media.

The warning comes after the US State Department withdrew the families of its diplomats from Ukraine on Sunday, due to the threat of a Russian invasion.

Ukraine's foreign ministry said on Monday that it considers the US decision to be premature.

There have not been any major recent changes in the security situation: the threat of a new wave of Russian aggression has been constant since 2014 and Russian troops began to gather near the border in April last year, the ministry said in a press release.

European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell on Monday said that the EU would not follow suit with the US because it does not see any reason for the time being to withdraw its diplomats from Ukraine.

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Croatian Contingent Returns from NATO Mission in Poland

ZAGREB, 25 Jan 2022  - The 8th Croatian contingent that was part of NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence mission in Poland returned on Monday and was welcomed back at the army barracks in Bjelovar.

"Thanks to you, the Republic of Croatia has once again proved its readiness to participate in the joint defence system with its allies and partners, confirming its active contribution to peace and stability not only in this area but far beyond its borders," Defence Minister Mario Banožić said welcoming the troops, according to a press release from the ministry.

The majority of the 8th contingent comprised members of the Guards armoured-mechanised brigade. It served in the US-led Battle Group together with personnel from the United Kingdom and Romania.

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