Croatia's Kodak Moment

By 9 June 2016

A short overview of some of the turmoil on the Croatian political scene over the past few months, curricular reform and why Zeljka Markic would be happy if all young Croatians left the country.

There's an episode in Season One of AMC's Mad Men, where the main character Don Draper, played ably by Jon Hamm, is tasked with branding Kodak’s new ‘wheel’ shaped projector. At the risk of spoiling a 9-year-old TV show, the aforementioned wheel becomes better known as the Carousel, and ultimately this allows the company to become a dominant force in their industry. A Kodak moment. A phrase that is now part of the colloquial lexicon, indicating a moment to cherish, to take a picture of (physically, digitally, or mentally). In later years, the phrase would come to mean something more ironic, perhaps of a horribly twisted event, such that a faux pas might live on long in the collective memory past a more mundane happenstance.

The last several days, indeed the last several months, has seen Croatia experiencing more than its fair share of Kodak moments, whether you’d like to cherish them or not. From plagiarism to sheds, from creationism to relativism, and then you’ve Larry, Curly, and Moe, currently occupying as many column inches as can be written, and each demanding that the other hit the road (although only one of the three is guaranteed to be gone once the dust has settled). The tipping point, at least to my mind, was the protest against the rather gormless Minister for Education, Predrag Šustar. Ignoring his position on the creation of the universe, his tenure as Minister has been one SNAFU after another. With HDZ, during the election campaign and in the early days of negotiation, having spoken about the need for some sort of focus on reversing the demographic trends of recent years (15000 fewer Croatians in 2015, and already just over 6600 gone in 2016), it looked briefly as if we would see the creation of a new portfolio, that of MUDO. MUDO, of course, a rather humorous acronym of what any such Ministry might be called, as well as being slang for testicle… And yet, one of the main demographic drains on the country is that its young are leaving for pastures new, many seeking a simple job, and many grasping qualifications tightly, qualifications which tend not to carry as much weight as their counterparts in other EU nations.

U ime obitelji, with the hateful Željka Markić to the fore, don’t see too much wrong with the birth rate, with the emigration rates, but rather instead are more concerned with having abortion in Croatia made illegal, just a few years after they campaigned successfully, and shamefully, to have the Constitution of the country altered to reflect religious intent. “We’re not done yet,” she said at the time, and indeed they weren’t. Abortion rates are already on the decline in Croatia, from an approximate 40000 in 1991, to 13000 in 2001, and slightly over 3000 in 2014. The numbers for 2015 are a bit more accurate and are stated to be 2992. Whether this trend is indicative of growing religiosity, of more awareness of contraception, or simply because the fertile percentage of the populace is dropping drastically can be argued at length by others, but the reason doesn’t change the numbers. For the record, Croatia already has the lowest rate of abortion per head of capita in the EU. And we won’t dwell overly on the fact that Markić also recommends that the sexually active in Croatia use a certain contraceptive aid, made by her company. Heaven forbid her moral position was driven by such base motive as profit. It’s worth noting also that U ime obitelj doesn’t appear overly concerned with the 14000 per annum that die from cancer in Croatia. Like the American Republicans, cynical as it might be, it’s pretty much a case of all the protection until you’re born, then it’s fend for yourself…

Just weeks after Markić’s march, accompanied as she was by the Prime Minister’s wife, she was back in the news, trying to have books banned, because they might turn the youth of Croatia to such pastimes as pornography, and, y’know, things like having sex… Željka, the population isn’t going to recover if you’re stopping people from getting jiggy with it. Of course, it was this move which proved the final straw for a great many. The curriculum reforms had already been bogged down as HDZ talking heads demanded more input, and Markić and others demanded that the schools focus more on flag waving and chest thumping, to the detriment of any skills which might put bread on the table.

The main square in Zagreb was packed, side streets too, very few of whom were actually waiting for a tram (as suggested the case be by Kresimir Miletic in his Facebook post below). This was repeated, albeit in smaller numbers, in London, Brussels, Budapest, as well as Osijek, Split, Rijeka, etc. A camp, mirroring that of the recent veterans protest, was set up outside of Šustar’s Ministry building, and all the while the Expert Group, led by Boris Jokić, complained of increased interference in their efforts to arrive at a solution.

One lame attempt to prove people in circled areas were waiting for a tram and not protesting

In many ways, this was to be expected. Croatia can ban a whole array of things if it sees fit to do so, but those things are all readily available in neighbouring countries if needed, and there’s not a thing that the Sabor can do about it. Education is another matter. That is unless you want to ship all the children off to Ireland, Germany, or the US… which might actually solve Markić’s problem with all the sex that people are clearly having… No hormonal teenagers, no more sex. Sorted.

Now, as these words are being typed, we know that Boris Jokić and his team have quit, mere days after Šustar acquiesced to student demands - to pay the scholarship funds that were owed to them, and to bring scholarship / education system administrative rules into the 21st century - and that Karamarko appears to have finally accepted what everyone else has known for days, that he’s more politically dead than the President of the Dodos. While the removal of the latter is something that will be met with nods of approval from the vast majority of foreign business interests in Croatia, the former will not. Croatia’s stubborn position when it comes to direct foreign investment might soften in time (hopefully before it’s too late) but with every passing generation the opportunities that traditionally await 3rd level graduates are slipping further and further away. Šustar might well be a nice guy (and I’ve heard as much from people close to me), but he’s clearly out of his depth and needs to resign his position before he does irreparable damage. This is his Kodak moment. Like Gerald Ford, he is more likely to be remembered in posterity for his continued pratfalls than for any meaningful contribution to his supposed field of expertise.

In 2011 a company (which must remain nameless for now) put forward enough capital to build the Pelješac Bridge, with a pledge to have it completed by early 2013, but was ultimately rebuffed in favour of public money and a company which soon after went bankrupt. In 2016 that same company, encouraged at the time by the emergence of MOST, decided to go one better, and has put a potential one billion euros on the table, intended for infrastructure investment. Will the outcome be the same as in 2011? Political upheaval aside, surely someone will have learned from recent history and not contrive to pass up the effective cost of the entire Rijeka Gateway rejuvenation project? In 1998 Kodak had some 170000 employees and held 85% of the global photo paper market. Not even 15 years later they had filed for bankruptcy. This is Croatia’s Kodak moment. Will it be a moment to cherish?