Thursday, 16 June 2022

Journalist Mate Prlić Released from Remetinec Prison One Month Later: "Right Place at Right Time"

June 16, 2022 - Croatian football fans have finally been released almost a month after they clashed with police at the Desinec rest area along the Zagreb-Split motorway. Forty-two people were in investigative custody, including Dalmatinski Portal journalist and co-founder Mate Prlić.

Mate Prlić shared his thoughts today on Dalmatinski Portal:

"'I was in the wrong place at the wrong time', is a sentence I've heard a hundred times, and I'll hear it for sure so many more, from people who are sympathetic to me and who are sorry that I was in prison for almost a month. 

Although I would like to continue living as if this month has not happened, after my experience at Remetinec, I have to write this text. First of all, to thank everyone who helped me and the families of others detained after the match against Dinamo and the riots at the Desinac rest stop. And to say that it is absolutely incorrect that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was exactly in the right place at the right time. I am convinced that nowhere else in this world would I be more useful than I was just in prison. And here's why.

Fans do stupid things, the media cover it up, politicians are appalled to make statements that parents with children should be allowed to come to stadiums in peace, and the court imposes heavy fines. The journalists are to blame for everything regarding the fans; they are equated with worms. You know? You don't know; it's boring already.

Even now, the journalist who was supposed to receive a letter of thanks from the Rotary Club Split for following their actions on Dalmatinski Portal but chose to see Hajduk off in the last round found himself in a room of about 20 square meters with a dozen detained fans, several Zagreb residents imprisoned for domestic violence, two Afghans and five or six Cubans (I do not know how they found themselves in Bosnia, from where they wanted to go illegally through Croatia to somewhere else).

Because of work, I followed all the reports from Ukraine, and the scene before my eyes in that room resembled those from the battlefield. Fans came with broken arms, split open heads, and bloody legs. As I slept through most of the riots in Desinac, at that station, I heard that police officers were shooting at fans with real bullets, which was amazing to me. I thought they were rubber, but when they connected us with other detained fans, it was only then that I got the whole picture, the one that could not reach the general public at that time. Fans avoid communication with the media, most of the information comes from the police, and journalists, like me, pass it on as it’s their job. If they had heard the testimonies of the fans on the first day, I believe this incident would have been viewed from a different angle because police terror took place in Desinac, which was probably acceptable in some past times. Fans did some nonsense (blocking the highway, attacking a small police force) for which certain penalties are prohibited by law, and there is no point in justifying or relativizing this act. Still, a normal state should be alarmed by what happened a few minutes later when police reinforcements arrived and quickly ‘established order.’

Revenge began. There was a brutal beating whenever it was reached; shots were fired without any sense, bullets bounced off the asphalt and wounded a couple of fans. We have never been closer to a fan being killed by a police bullet. They would drive the Torcida fans into buses and vans with batons and throw tear gas into their vehicles. When they opened the door, a beating followed. This was all at a time when there was no threat to police officers. Pure street revenge, so brutal that, according to the story of the fans, a Split policeman with a camera was told by his Zagreb colleagues to stop filming their intervention. Allegedly, there was a conflict with the 'blues' from Split, who disagreed with such bloodthirstiness. There were exceptions, like one Zagreb police officer stopped the repeated beating of a bound fan and later even visited him at the hospital to check if the injuries were fatal.

Fans picked up by the ambulance also ended up in Remetinec, as did the guys who were told to go to the station as witnesses to the shooting. The number of injured police officers increased during that disputed evening, reaching as many as 20. This was not the result of a Torcida attack (except for a few), but to report and probably justify firing dozens of bullets. At the first hearing, the suspects' lawyers stated that the injuries of the police officers were not described. They could inform the media from the police, and if 100 officials were injured, everyone would announce it, including my Dalmatinski Portal. 

At one of the hearings, a suspected fan cracked after hearing a police testimony that they had come to help a wounded fan and told the judge: 'While we were lying on the ground, a police officer said he vowed to kill one donkey.' The other, walking past a few of us tied up, replied: 'Choose which one you want.' By the way, the young men helping that shot fan were put in the vehicle with batons; that is, it happened totally the opposite of any assistance from the police.

Because of all this, it is good that I ended up in prison because I would hardly believe that I heard all these things in the city. It's good that I ended up in prison because I've seen a few barely grown-up kids, for whom this was their first or one of their first away visits, falling apart mentally, and I believe, at the age of 43, I helped them endure the worst days of their lives.

'When you put your hand on my shoulder, it's immediately easier for me,' I heard from a guy with three small children, with whom, as in Robert Benigni's film 'La vita e Bella,' I devised a business plan for the business we will open immediately upon release. He has 'know-how,' another will find us an attractive business space, and I will advertise a joint venture with Dalmatinski Portal.

There will be a lot of money, we laughed in the basement room with the toilet a meter and a half away from the table where the swill is eaten, and pigeons with their feces decorate the view from the barred window. I composed quizzes for the team in the cell, devised new games, and even earned the promise that I would never be a worm for them again.

I was in the right place at the right time, and I hope that after the court part of this story is over, I will be able to enjoy the new song of the Split group Dioniz 'I wouldn't change anything.'

In the coming days, months, and years, I will thank you individually, face to face, to everyone who helped my family this month; the support meant a lot to us all. But, in the end, I must publicly thank the judicial police officers in Remetinec, who did not aggravate the already difficult situation. They treated us like people, which was by far the most important thing to us at the time."

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