Monday, 27 September 2021

Voice of Entrepreneurs Director Running for President of Croatian Chamber of Economy

September 27, 2021 - An interesting candidate has entered the race to be the new President of Croatian Chamber of Economy - Dražen Oreščanin Executive Director of the Voice of Entrepreneurs Association (Glas Poduzetnika - UGP)

The press release in full:

THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF UGP IS READY TO ASSIST THE INSTITUTION THAT HAS BEEN IN CRISIS FOR YEARS

Dražen Oreščanin is running for president of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce

After the significant role he played in founding today's leading and most massive association of entrepreneurs with almost 18,000 volunteer members, Dražen Oreščanin has decided to make his experience and knowledge available to the Croatian Chamber of Economy, an institution in a great and long-standing crisis.

The state leadership has very often made unfounded and inappropriate accusations against the Association of theVoice of Entrepreneurs that the Association wanted to destroy Croatian institutions such as the Croatian Chamber of Economy. This candidacy of one of the leading people of the Association not only denies the statements of the state leadership, but also indeed shows the opposite to be the case, that UGP wants to fix and change for the better everything that politics destroyed and spoiled in the mandates of the previous and current president, who were and are primarily the selection of political elites.

The Croatian Chamber of Economy must be led by entrepreneurs and must work in the interest of entrepreneurs. Today, the vast majority of forced members of the Croatian Chamber of Economy have no confidence in this institution and do not want to be its members. Oreščanin has the full support of UGP President Hrvoje Bujas and UGP Board of Directors for his candidacy, who believe that modern and independent chamber organizations, which are at the service of their members, are one of the fundamental goals of the Association.

"Finally, entrepreneurs have a candidate for president of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, and if they were elected, I am sure that Drazen would be, because with his knowledge and experience, and his work so far, he deserves it. Burilović was appointed by politics, it is time to leave, and for the Croatian Chamber of Economy to become an independent association based on voluntary membership " - said Hrvoje Bujas, president of UGP.

Dražen Oreščanin's program for restoring the trust of entrepreneurs in the Croatian Chamber of Economy is based on three strategic points.

The first point is the depoliticization and restoration of the reputation of the Croatian Chamber of Economy. The functioning of the Croatian Chamber of Economy must be depoliticized and the leadership of the Croatian Chamber of Economy should be independent of politics and political parties. The Croatian Chamber of Economy must no longer be a dumping ground for worn-out political personnel and a place for the employment of party youth.

The second point is voluntary membership. In this way, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce will get rid of all those who do not want to be members and will be able to focus on those who really want to be members and support them efficiently and well, instead of spending resources (which someone has to pay) on a large number of small members. pay the membership fee according to the existing bill. In the future, the Croatian Chamber of Commerce should function on a market basis.

The third point is to raise the quality of services and attract new volunteer members. The Croatian Chamber of Economy must provide top services to its members, and thus attract new members, whether they are existing or newly established companies. It is necessary to redefine the existing services, and to design and implement new services that will bring additional value to the membership.

Dražen Oreščanin's impeccable business and entrepreneurial career is a guarantee that these changes will be made. Dražen is one of the founders and partners, and a long-time President of the Management Board of Poslovna inteligencija d.o.o., a company that today has branches in seven countries and employs 140 people in Croatia, and a total of 170 people. Business Intelligence is the winner of the Golden Marten plaque of the Zagreb Chamber for 2018. He has many years of experience in running entrepreneurial associations - from 2013 to 2016 he was a member of the Board and President of the Croatian Association of Independent Software Exporters (CISEx), and since April 2020 he has been the executive director of the Voice of Entrepreneurs.

"The only right way to build civil society is to build independent institutions. In Croatia, all civic institutions, including the Croatian Chamber of Economy, have always been dependent on politics and political appointments. If I am elected to the position of President of the Croatian Chamber of Economy, it will be a precedent and the real beginning of changes and reforms. I believe that the ruling policy will show maturity this time and that it will not interfere in the process of electing the President of the Croatian Chamber of Economy by forcing a party candidate. I would like to have an opponent who, with his knowledge, experience and attitude, is really a real competitor, and not a puppet of political players, so let the President of the Croatian Chamber of Economy become the best, not the most suitable candidate. We have to return the Croatian Chamber of Economy to its original owners, which are Croatian entrepreneurs. " - said Dražen Oreščanin, executive director of the Voice of Entrepreneurs association and candidate for president of the Croatian Chamber of Economy.

***

The VOICE OF ENTREPRENEURS initiative was launched as a self-organization of citizens, mostly small entrepreneurs, after the publication of the first package of economic measures of the Government of the Republic of Croatia, which the initiators assessed as insufficient. Since in less than 15 days it gathered more than 100,000 entrepreneurs, craftsmen, self-employed and private sector employees and attracted a lot of media attention with its uncompromising demands and appearances, GLAS PODUZETNIKA positioned itself as a relevant factor in public debates on determining Croatia's new economic direction. The same was confirmed by the Government of the Republic of Croatia, which, within the second package of economic measures, adopted some of the proposals of the initiative and thus confirmed its undeniable impact. At the request of the members of the initiative, the Association GLAS PODUZETNIKA was founded, which has gathered more than 17,700 members since its establishment, and the Association is supported by over 250,000 citizens of Croatia.

For the latest news from the Voice of Entrepreneurs Association, follow the dedicated TCN section

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

A Foreign Eye at UGP Croatian Entrepreneur Protest in Zagreb

February 3, 2021 - Thousands descended on Zagreb's main square this morning for the UGP Croatian entrepreneur protest. TCN was there with a foreign eye. 

It was a feeling I have not had for 25 years. Walking to the event with a sense of anticipation, with everyone else walking in the same direction. It took me right back to 1996, the last year I had a season ticket at Villa Park to watch Aston Villa. Most of those walks of anticipation to watch Villa ended in disappointment. Would this too, my first attendance at a protest in Croatia?

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In truth, I was not sure to expect. Permission to hold a protest by the Voice of Entrepreneurs Association (UGP - Udruga Glas Poduzenika) had not been granted, and so a call to action was issued instead, inviting entrepreneurs and the public to come to the square and voice their grievances on air via a live stream by the Johann Franck cafe on the corner of Ban Jelacic square. 

After weeks of inconsistent measures and double standards, followed by the arrest and alleged fining of a gym owner for opening his gym earlier this week, frustration has been growing among the entrepreneur community in recent weeks, and UGP has become a focal point both for raising the concerns of its entrepreneurial members, as well as demanding appropriate economic measures and a lessening of the parafiscal burden. 

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As expected, there was a police presence, but it was at a distance. The entrepreneurs came in peace wanting to makes their voices heard, and I don't think there was any expectation that there would be any trouble. In any event, there was none.  

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While the police presence may have taken a back seat, there was a sizable Croatian media presence, with this man very much in demand - Andrija Klaric, the 51-year-old gym owner who was recently released after being arrested for opening his gym. More on that story in Gym Owner Released from Custody, Called on Prime Minister to Resign

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After weeks of closed cafes and restaurants and very little 'normal' social life, the gathering performed different functions for different people. For some, it was an opportunity to vent their frustrations via megaphone and chanting. Others were clearly enjoying the social aspect of it all, catching up with friends from other parts of the country with a drink or two. The frustration was ubiquitous, the methods of expressing it varied. 

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Former Minister of Culture Zlatko Hasanbegovic was among those in the crowd.  

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The messages were simple - Just let us work. Cafes, gyms and restaurants remain closed in Croatia, while it is ok to buy a takeout coffee from a bakery, but not a cafe, then sit on a park bench next to a closed cafe terrace. Read more in As Gym Owner Faces Prison, the Virus Must be Laughing at Croatia's Inconsistent Measures.

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Return VAT to 13%.  At 25%, Croatia has the second-highest VAT rate in the EU after Hungary.

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Enough Andrej. A reference to Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

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Plenkovic: F*** video surveillance, fines, repression... just kill me now. 

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Racketeering: it mixes in everything. A depiction of Plenkovic and the slogan of leading Croatian food seasoning condiment, Vegeta. Podravka, the company which makes the world-famous brand,  yesterday presented Plenkovic with his own branded Vegeta. It coincides with the appointment of Martina Dalic, Plenkovic's former Deputy Prime Minister, as the new head of Podravka. Dalic was forced to resign due to the Agrokor scandal a couple of years ago.  'It mixes in everything' is the Vegeta slogan. 

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The UGP plan of events to form a line to give statements to the live feed was somewhat hijacked by other attendees, some of them with megaphones, who came to give their own messages and to vent their frustrations. Drazen Orescanin, one of UGP's founders, encouraged people to express themselves by giving statements to the live feed, which was the original plan.  

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So how many people showed up? I haven't seen an official number yet, but it was certainly in the thousands and more than the 1-2,000 that UGP had been expecting. Half of the square ws reasonably full, and I think about 5,000 would be a good estimate.  

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Most wore masks, but by no means all.  

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A view from a taller building on the other side of the square gives a different perspective.  

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And not everyone was focused 100% on the protest, for there was ice cream to be had, even in this colder weather.  

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UGP had their volunteer marshalls helping things along. 

As I looked around, I saw a lot of angry and frustrated people, but also a lot of exceptional people who have the potential to make a great difference in Croatia. Several of Croatia's leading entrepreneurs were there - and how many more leading entrepreneurs would there be if this wealth-creating sector of society were treated less as the enemy, and instead encouraged to grow with progressive rather than regressive taxation and red tape. 

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Orescanin was a focal point for the media the entire time (and he kindly found time for a TCN interview in English, which we will be adding to the end of this article as soon as it is edited), but he was not the only one.  

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It was nice to bump into familar faces, including the two men from Sveta Nedelja who have provided a blueprint of how administration can work in Croatia, and how encouraging entrepreneurs with tax cuts and incentives, rather than burdening them with yet more obligations, can have the right results. Mayor of Sveta Nedelja Dario Zurovec and his (until recently) Deputy Mayor Davor Nadji, have succeeded in 3 short years where others have failed. 

In an age of emigration, economic downturn and rising unemployment, under their guidance, 20% more jobs have been created since 2017, the population of Sveta Nedelja has grown more than 10% since the last census, unemployment is an enviable 3.9%, and they have just introduced free buses for all - just one of many measures to improve the life of the people they serve. In addition to that, they run the most transparent and accountable administration in Croatia, slashing taxes for businesses. No wonder, perhaps, that Sveta Nedelja has been named best medium-sized town in Croatia for the economy for the last three years in a row, as well as one of the top 5 places in Croatia for quality of life. If you are interested in more on the Sveta Nedelja phenomenon, check out some of TCN's coverage.  

Davor Nadji (talking to the press, above) is no longer the deputy mayor of Sveta Nedelja. He has formed a political party, Fokus, has taken his seat in Parliament, and is standing for election to be Mayor of Zagreb. 

Seeing people like this at the protest wherever I looked was an overwhelming positive reaction to the day's events. While Croatia has its problems, it also has an abundance of very capable people who are fighting for a better Croatia. And if the current system can be changed, Croatia has a very bright future indeed, led by progressive people.

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Meanwhile, back to reality. Entrepreneur after entrepreneur gave their input to the live feed.   

This was not a protest about epidemiological measures, but rather about the injustice of the divide between the two Croatia's Orescanin described with UGP co-founder Hrvoje Bujas in an interview earlier this week - Bujas and Oreščanin: Why Should You Come to Zagreb Protest? Because There are Two Croatias.  

UGP has been campaigning for months for the removal of the numerous parafiscal taxes that exist in Croatia. One major battleground has been the obligatory monthly payment of 42 kuna a month for small companies (more for larger companies) each business must pay monthly to the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK). After paying my mandatory contributions for 17 years now, I am still trying to figure out what exactly HGK does for businesses like mine. I documented my experiences with HGK a few years ago in Welcome to Uhljebistan: the Croatian Chamber of Economy, Beyond Useless

The 42 kuna has become a symbolic battlefield, even more so after Prime Minister Plenkovic wondered why sort of entrepreneur would have a problem paying such a paltry sum each month - they are not entrepreneurs.  

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(Nik Titanik)

As legendary cartoonist Nik Titanik captured, the 42 kuna is just the tip of the iceberg of the parafiscal burden of Croatia's entrepreneurs. 

If the 42 kuna each month was contributing to the greater good, then perhaps there would be less resentment, but HGK is one of many state institutions which is impervious to recession or crisis. For these are State institutions, and pay cheques are guaranteed. 

Ask a local how HGK money gets spent, and it will not be long until you hear about the safari hunting successes of Nadan Vidosevic, who used to run HGK.  

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(Photo Instagram/Index.hr)

Salaries can't be bad in the present crisis, as Index discovered in an article a few days ago about two senior HGK employees enjoying the high life in Dubai, as many back home wonder where the next pay cheque is coming from and when they will be allowed to earn money again. HGK informed Index that the Dubai trips were not at HGK expense, which may be the case, but it still left a poor taste to many struggling on meagre incomes in a cold Croatian winter. 

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Indeed, salaries seem to be rather good at HGK, as Index found out with a little research. Current HGK boss Luka Burilovic brings home 56,000 kuna a month, which (headline above) 'I know might seem a lot to some, but I have been working 30 years.'

The focus on HGK reform has been a hot topic in recent weeks, as the opposition sense the possibility of change. A vote on obligatory contributions was pulled at the last minute by Plenkovic last week, as it seems the government did not have enough votes to protect the current status quo. Since then, it has been interesting to watch the statements of certain MPs who once railed against HGK and are now defending the need for its existence in current format. A lesson in Croatian political horse-trading, which is holding this country back for years now. 

But there is a wind of change, and promises for HGK reform have been made - as I understand it - a vague plan to implement a phased introduction of change in a few months. Conveniently after the local elections.  There is very little trust left these days, and if the government was sincere, it has the ability to introduce rapid change. Just look at the digital nomad visa, for example. Plenkovic introduced amendments to legislation in Parliament the day after he announced it, and five months later, American Melissa Paul became the first recipient of Croatia's digital nomad visa

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I was glad that I made the effort to go to not only show my support, but also get a better understanding of the issues. 

And, the eternal optimist about Croatia's future, I will sleep a little easier tonight. Yes, the mountains are huge, and the resistance is large, but so too is the determination for change. There are a lot of inspiring people pushing in the same direction. The twin viruses of technology and transparency will eventually prevail, perhaps later than sooner, but change is coming. 

I look forward to the month soon when I have 42 kuna more to spend on my business each month. 

February 3, 2021 was a good day. 

Interview with Drazen Oreascanin at the Zagreb protest. You are advised to turn on the subtitles, as the sound quality is not the best (my apologies, the interview was impromptu).

For the latest from UGP, follow the dedicated TCN Glas Poduzetnika section.   

 

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Minister Coric and UGP's Orescanin Clash on COVID-19 Measures on 'Otvoreno'

February the 2nd, 2021 - The Croatian TV show Otvoreno was the recent stage for a fierce battle of opinions regarding the current lockdown and the struggling Croatian economy as the coronavirus pandemic rages on.

As tportal writes, will prolonged closures of restaurants, cafes and other such facilities lead businesses and their workers to total ruin? While the general level of extreme dissatisfaction is only growing stronger, the government says Croatia has milder epidemiological measures than other EU member states. How effective are the existing economic measures: fixed cost compensation, money to maintain jobs, the so-called packages of COVID credit/loans? Should things be opened up?

Attempts to open a gym in Zagreb this Monday ended in a way that prevented it entirely. The show "Otvoreno" saw the issue of closed gyms and cafes etc dragged up in full force, as well as the fact that these economic entities are not covered by the latest easing of anti-epidemic measures.

''What happened is a crime and the use of a repressive apparatus against people who are just trying to do their jobs. The claim that the gym owner violated the law isn't true, he violated the decree passed by the National Civil Protection Headquarters and in no way can it be proven that the work of fitness centres and gyms are the cause of the spread of the virus. He was taken to prison without any background checks done, all just because he wanted to work. Davor Bozinovic and Krunoslav Capak assumed without any evidence that the virus is spreading in gyms, which apparently doesn't spread elsewhere,'' said the executive director of the Voice of Entrepreneurs Association (UGP), Drazen Orescanin at the show's beginning, adding that a mere 0.5 percent of the total number of cases can be linked with gyms, and a total of two percent with catering and hospitality facilities, which are of course also closed currently.

The Minister of Economy and Sustainable Development, Tomislav Coric, often replied to the above comments, and during his responses, Orescanin laughed at his statements, also laughing at his mask with his initials (tć) on them.

''I don't believe any information that will be presented by either Bujas or Orescanin. We're talking about people who have taken advantage of this situation for their political engagement. Neither of them is responsible for what they do, neither of them is a caterer or hospitality worker, but yet they're calling for the rebellion of all responsible citizens and business owners who have abided by the law. Those who didn't do so should be sanctioned for not doing so. You can laugh as much as you want, you hide behind other people, you incite them and put everyone in a situation where Croatia as a society is wondering whether it should be responsible or listen to people like you. That won't work out very well for you,'' Coric said to Orescanin.

Mladen Vedris, a professor at the Department of Economic Policy at the Faculty of Law in Zagreb, said that Croatia reacted well in the first phase of the pandemic back at the beginning of 2020, but he was not sure that this was the case now.

''There are fixed costs, loans, company-level liabilities. It's precious that we work to preserve companies, the potential that represents the wealth of Croatia, we quite simply cannot talk about them as if they're a burden. How do we find the right measure? It's something that needs to be answered, and that needs to be discussed by the people on this show,'' he said.

The President of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce (HGK), Luka Burilovic, pointed out that it is difficult for caterers and hospitality sector workers, but there are also traffic, creative industries and tourism to think of: ''Let's remember that a lot of things were opened up back in November, when many other countries had closed facilites down. Then, we had questions going around about what we were waiting for, why were we not closing things, do we think we're just an island of our own, etc. We introduced one lockdown of sorts, we're one of the most liberal countries in Europe,''

''For entrepreneurs and business owners, whatever compensatory measures are adopted will not be good enough because the best measure for these companies is the ability to work freely, and everything else is against the very nature of entrepreneurship,'' said the director general of the Croatian Employers' Association Damir Zoric, adding that this key need has now been taken away.

Dragutin Ranogajec spoke on behalf of the Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts and said that Croatian producers are very much tied to the catering and hospitality industry and added: ''They don't say that they will die of hunger, only the caterers and hospitality workers say that they're going to die of hunger. I know it's hard, I'd also prefer to earn 15 thousand kuna than to receive 4 thousand kuna from the state. But at the moment it's the only way to keep jobs and somehow survive all this.''

Minister Tomislav Coric reiterated that any gathering of people without masks is a potential hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus, responding to the statement made by Branko Nadjvinski that, for example, on Jarun in Zagreb there are places where people are gathering to buy coffee "to go". However, Coric said that there is a difference between such a gathering and the classic gathering to drink multiple coffees in cafes.

''In all those places where coffee sales still take place today you have a situation where people stand in line and then they leave that line. The terraces of the cafes are closed or semi-closed, the moment they buy coffee, they should all go somewhere else. How will this be controlled? How are we going to get into a situation where we can have a coffee and chat a bit with some with friends and not have that same terrace turn into a new coronavirus hotbed?''

Orescanin replied in a sarcastic tone: ''People are still sitting on these terraces, they're in shopping centres for hours, they're at work for hours, they're grouped together for hours working in factories, they go to school, they ride buses and trains for hours. But oh no, they can't have coffee in a cafe,''

There's been talk circulating of a possible new concession on February the 15th and the possible opening of, for example, the terraces of cafes and the already mentioned gyms.

''Look, I'm an optimist, in all the proposals that the Croatian Chamber of Commerce communicated with the government about the opening or closing of anything, they let us know that the measures will be a refund of funds for as long as the economy is closed down. I believe that "coffee to go" will be available on February the 15th, and I'd call it "Coffee to stay" because no one goes anywhere when they get the coffee, I believe that gyms will open,'' Burilovic stated.

Coric added that the worst-case scenario for Croatia would be to relax everything now, and that in a month before Easter, when the first significant groups of tourists arrive, our numbers will explode once again and we will have to go into a new lockdown. That is simply not an option, he pointed out.

At the end of the show, Luka Burilovic confirmed that he has a salary of 23,000 kuna for his work at the Croatian Chamber of Commerce. In addition, he receives remuneration as a member of the supervisory boards of INA and Podravka and funds as a member of the management board of the Fund for Environmental Protection and Energy Efficiency. The total amount of his income is about 55,000 kuna per month, something that is unimaginable to just about everyone in Croatia, let alone those who have now lost their jobs.

The Voice of Entrepreneurs Association (UGP) has called for a protest on Ban Jelacic square in Zagreb tomorrow at 10:00.

You can follow the UGP developments in the dedicated TCN section

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

Puljak, Oreskovic Support Entrepreneurs' Protests, Calls for Citizens Support

ZAGREB, 2 February, 2021 - The co-presidents of the opposition Centre party, Marijana Puljak and Dalija Orešković, said on Tuesday they supported a protest announced for tomorrow by businesses closed due to coronavirus restrictions, calling on citizens to support them too and pressure the government.

"Entrepreneurs feel like second-class citizens and they only want equal rules for all," Puljak told the press.

She called on citizens to pressure the government into allowing bar and restaurant owners what shopping malls, petrol stations, bakeries and newsagents were allowed, saying they had a right to work.

Puljak said the government considered enterprise a sin and that it was spreading that climate in public.

She said Prime Minister Andrej Plenković had no working experience outside the HDZ party, "yet he is laughing at and belittling the entrepreneurs fighting for the abolishment of membership in the Croatian Chamber of Commerce."

Puljak and Orešković said COVID compensation should amount to 50% of last year's turnover and that VAT should be cut for all businesses that were not allowed to work.

Puljak said the government should find the money for that by cutting costs, reducing the number of counties, cities, municipalities, invented political functions and subsidies to state-owned loss-makers.

Orešković said they demanded that the government enable gym owners to live off their work.

She said legal certainty had disappeared because the COVID crisis and the state were managed without any scientific basis in the adoption of COVID measures. "We call on citizens... to join in the pressure which small and medium businesses are exerting and to demand that the government introduces clear rules that are equal for all."

Reporters asked her if yesterday's arrest of a Zagreb gym owner, who reopened his establishment despite a ban, was legal.

Orešković said the High Administrative Court yesterday delivered a ruling in the case of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić "who, contrary to the law, received HRK 24 million in donations after the presidential campaign was over."

"What kind of state do we live in? Milan Bandić is fully exculpated from any responsibility, while a man who tried to open his own gym to live off his work is a big thief," she said, adding that such a state was not law-based.

Asked if that ruling actually killed off the Conflict of Interest Commission, Orešković said the Commission was killed off when the Constitutional Court handed down a verdict in the case of former HDZ president Tomislav Karamarko.

Since then, considering the strength and role it should have in a democracy, it is as if the Commission no longer exists, she added.

For more on the activities of the Glas Poduzetnika movement, follow the dedicated TCN section.

Monday, 1 February 2021

As Gym Owner Faces Prison, the Virus Must be Laughing at Croatia's Inconsistent Measures

February 1, 2021 - As frustration and desperation take hold, Croatia's inconsistent measures to combat COVID-19 are only exacerbating such feelings. 

As the conspiracy theories continue to circulate regarding coronavirus, I am beginning to think that this pandemic is a university degree course in the study of human behaviour at the University of Aliens on Mars. 

Subject: How would humans react to battle a deadly virus spreading with ease all over their planet? A pandemic that knows no politics, emotion or mercy. 

A year into the pandemic, these alien students might be surprised to learn that humans still could not agree on some basic things regarding the battle, such as the benefits or otherwise of wearing masks.  Or that a nation's politics and a general election could completely reorient a national strategy. But alien students taking a closer look at a case study of a country like Croatia might find the nuances of the battle against the pandemic rather fascinating indeed. And completely illogical. 

Before I continue, let me say that I don't have a public position on the pandemic. Not that my opinion matters anyway as a non-expert on the subject (there are enough scientists and Facebook experts out there if you are looking for an opinion). I believe in making the information as available as possible and letting people draw their own conclusions. But as I travel a little around the country and the wider region, I do see so many inconsistent measures that completely undermine the whole point of the exercise. Inconsistent measures which are now pushing many people to boiling point. 

One of the things I have observed these last 12 months as people travel a lot less, is that people become somewhat accustomed to the measures imposed upon them and they have little appreciation of how things are elsewhere. I was fortunate enough to spend the first lockdown on sunny Hvar,  63 days of being chained to a laptop with an hour by the Adriatic each evening on a beautiful island devoid of tourists and with just two cases of the virus during my stay. 

I remember how nervous I was taking the ferry to Split when it came time to leave. Having been sheltered from the virus by my island status, how would things be on the mainland? I remember being shocked at coming to Zagreb that evening and seeing a bar packed full of people rubbing against each other without a mask in sight. 

It was the same feeling in mid-June on a business trip to Brussels and Munich. While the Germans were taking things very seriously with masks, early restaurant closures and contact details taken in every establishment, things could not have been more relaxed in Brussels. Some very different approaches to the same problem, our alien students would have noted. 

I have spent much of this past few months on my sofa in Varazdin, rarely venturing out of the house. The cafes and restaurants of Croatia are once more closed for about two months now, and the incentive to meet people has diminished due to the virus threat, cold weather, and simply that there is nowhere to meet. 

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After weeks of this new normal, I went on a business trip to Albania via Bosnia and Montenegro. I was surprised in Neum that my usual restaurant stop was open for business, and I tucked into a mixed grill with a cold one with relish. What a completely strange feeling!

It was the same in Montenegro and especially in Albania, where I spent two very pleasant days conducting my business from distance with people across cafe tables. Apart from getting the business done in civilised surroundings, I also began to relax mentally, able to destress over a pint in a relaxed atmosphere. The old normal. These neighbours of Croatia all had fully open bars and restaurants, combined with a 10pm curfew. So people could go about their business, socialise a little and then be home before things got rowdy. Rather than go to other people's houses and drink to all hours as there was nowhere else to go.

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Having had a glimpse of my former life, I found myself wanting more of it on the drive back to Croatia, and the island of Hvar. It is a long drive from Tirana, and the only place to stop on the way back for lunch once more was Neum, I reflected at the Croatian border as I showed my negative PCR test - everything was of course closed in Croatia. 

Having spent weeks on my sofa but now back to life after my Albanian escapade, I was curious how people were socialising in Croatia with all cafes closed. The answer in Jelsa was that there were now two spots to socialise. The bus station has a vending machine selling coffee, where locals go of a morning and afternoon to meet, huddling together much closer than they would in an outdoor cafe. And for a wider choice of refreshments, the petrol station just out of town is another congregation point. Both are much less pleasant than the normal cafe, both huddle people closer than they otherwise would be on the cafe terrace. 

An odd thing, the aliens might have noted - in Croatia, you can order a takeaway coffee from a bakery but not a cafe.

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Next stop Split, where I had a meeting at 07:45 in temperatures of minus 1. Where to go for the meeting, those Tirana cafe memories fresh in my head? I asked a local hotel if it would be possible to sit in the reception area, without success. In the end, we clocked up 6,000 steps walking the supermarket aisles of the local Spar for an hour.  

Meanwhile in Zagreb, as the cafes remained closed, it was perfectly ok to buy a beer at Konzum and sit on a bench in the park with a friend, just metres from a cafe terrace that had been forced to close for weeks. How would those alien students quantify the difference? 

Meanwhile, if you want to forget your current woes and indulge in a little wellness, you can visit a well-known wellness retreat in Croatia as a non-resident. 95 kuna buys you all-day access to the pool and water slides, and for 195 kuna, you can get all day in the saunas as well. Much warmer than huddling around a vending machine coffee at the bus station. 

As non-residents, access to the restaurant is restricted, but if you are staying in the hotel, then the restaurant is open. If you have a business meeting with international partners or investors, you can only have it in the hotel restaurant if you yourself are a paying guest. Otherwise, you can check out the special offers in the local Spar as you wander around. 

Perhaps the most absurd example of attempts to contain the virus concerns a recent experience with the rideshare app, Bla Bla Car. Over Christmas and before the Petrinja earthquake, travel between counties was heavily restricted, A friend was going from Varazdin to her home in Zagreb and so was allowed to cross the county border. She booked a seat on Bla Bla Car in a car with just the driver. An hour before departure, she went to check the departure point in town and was surprised that there were now five people in the car. Apart from the corona risk, would it not be a problem crossing the county border, she asked the driver?

"Ha, not at all, I do this trip 4 times a day with a full car each time."

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(Last year's Za Krizen procession on Hvar caused an outrage when it went ahead, even with its severely restricted numbers of 15 per procession.  but nobody seemed to mind the hundreds of people queueing for shopping in Zagreb the following morning. Read more in Jelsa Za Krizen, Croatia Not Wuhan & Cabin Fever Perspectives.)

Not that it is important to the non-discerning virus, but our alien students might note two other things of significance to the human decision-making. One is the economic impact that all this is having on many small (and larger) entrepreneurs, cafes, restaurants, gyms and other service industries, which are prevented from operating when similar activities are ongoing all around. Their anger is building, and so is their desperation. Various mass openings were planned for today, with most deciding against due to the threat of draconian fines and arrest by the authorities. One gym owner in Zagreb did open his doors, but not for long, and he is now in custody and facing a two-year prison sentence according to Croatian media

The other issue which is become bigger as every day goes by is the mental pressure this whole pandemic is putting on people. Lack of job security, everything closed, lack of human interaction. I honestly was shocked at what a powerful impression those days of normality in Albania made on me. And it made me crave them more and more. They are simply not available in Croatia at present.

I took my kids to school this morning. As we cleared the snow in temperatures of minus 8, I asked them how they felt after weeks of online schooling. Less than enthusiastic, came the reply. It was going to feel weird being with friends in real life. School - and friendships - are much better on Zoom these days, you can talk more to your friends that way and have more of a laugh.  

Quite what the longterm effects on this lack of interaction and school time will have on our youngest is a big unknown.

The UGP Voice of Entrepreneurs Association is gaining in strength, and it has called for people to come to protest on Wednesday on the main square in Zagreb. It will be a protest TCN will be following and reporting on. 

(Meanwhile, in Madrid, the things you can't do in France)

Meanwhile, in the University of Aliens on Mars, homework has been set:

Looking at the human behaviour and the inconsistent measures in Croatia, imagine you are a strategy consultant for COVID-19. Name 5 strategies to help the virus spread using human failings, and elaborate on each. 

I wonder if any of the students will focus on religion. Cafes may be closed, but churches are a great congregation point.

Should we be in total lockdown? Perhaps. Should everything be open? Perhaps. Should it be somewhere in the middle? Perhaps.

But whatever the strategy is, let's be consistent, transparent and not discriminate. As those students on Mars will tell you, the virus does not discriminate or get beaten by inconsistent measures. 

For the latest on coronavirus in Croatia, follow the dedicated TCN section

Thursday, 21 January 2021

Earthquake Donations in Action: Croatian Entrepreneurs (UGP) Fund Report, January 20

January 21, 2021 - Transparent donations getting to the people who need them most are essential in emergency response. TCN follows the Voice of Entrepreneurs Glas Poduzetnika (UGP) fund to report on the realities on the ground.

The donations are pouring in from all over the world to help the victims of the earthquakes in Petrinja, Glina and Sisak, donations which have been gratefully received and which are making a difference. 

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As I wrote previously, many people have contacted us at TCN asking for advice on the best place to send money. We published a list a few days ago, but I was really happy to see one more fund set up a couple of ago, from Udruga Glas Poduzetnika, or Voice of Entrepreneurs, which is a growing force for reform and change in Croatia. Run by people who want to see an end to corruption and needless red tape, I was sure that their efforts to help their fellow citizens in crisis would be transparent, dynamic, focused and effective, with all money donated going to the people who needed it most. And so it proved, which is why I am now directing anyone looking for a place to donate to UGP, as I explained a few days ago.

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UGP co-founder Drazen Orescanin was kind enough to give me an in-depth interview yesterday on the focus, plans and activities of the UGP fund, and it was great to hear that 100% of the money donated will go to help those who need it most.

In order to provide more transparent donation information, we agreed to publish a daily report of the fund's activities, finances and purchases. As resources and time allow, this will be a daily feature, and you can track progress here.

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Daily activities

The house of family Velić was very damaged and they are waiting for repairs. Also, the house of Nikica Krnjajić and his family was destroyed in the earthquake and is temporarily uninhabitable. Thanks to generous donations, these two families can sleep safely from today. Families thank all of the donors for help!

What's next?

This week we are planning to deliver several more housing containers. That means that we have fulfilled our promise to buy and deliver 20 housing containers. We are continuing to help people in any way we can. Also, we are hoping that soon we will start to make progress regarding UGP house.

Information in English for donations, both for donations from Croatia and abroad

For the latest news on UGP, follow the dedicated TCN section

For the latest information on the earthquake emergency, follow the dedicated TCN section

Tuesday, 19 January 2021

Earthquake Donations in Action: Croatian Entrepreneurs (UGP) Fund Report, January 18

January 19, 2021 - Transparent donations getting to the people who need them most are essential in emergency response. TCN follows the Voice of Entrepreneurs Glas Poduzetnika (UGP) fund to report on the realities on the ground.

The donations are pouring in from all over the world to help the victims of the earthquakes in Petrinja, Glina and Sisak, donations which have been gratefully received and which are making a difference. 

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As I wrote previously, many people have contacted us at TCN asking for advice on the best place to send money. We published a list a few days ago, but I was really happy to see one more fund set up a couple of ago, from Udruga Glas Poduzetnika, or Voice of Entrepreneurs, which is a growing force for reform and change in Croatia. Run by people who want to see an end to corruption and needless red tape, I was sure that their efforts to help their fellow citizens in crisis would be transparent, dynamic, focused and effective, with all money donated going to the people who needed it most. And so it proved, which is why I am now directing anyone looking for a place to donate to UGP, as I explained a few days ago.

UGP co-founder Drazen Orescanin was kind enough to give me an in-depth interview yesterday on the focus, plans and activities of the UGP fund, and it was great to hear that 100% of the money donated will go to help those who need it most.

In order to provide more transparent donation information, we agreed to publish a daily report of the fund's activities, finances and purchases. As resources and time allow, this will be a daily feature, and you can track progress here.

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Daily activities

Yesterday, we delivered two housing containers to families in Petrinja and Sisak. While they are waiting for the renovation and construction of their homes, the family of Ana Bjelanović and the family of Gordana Ivanković got a safe roof over their heads.

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What's next?

This week we are planning to deliver six more housing containers to families from Petrinja, Sisak and Glina. 

Also, today we announced UGP house - earthquake-resistant house that was developed by our Committee for Architecture and Construction. The house is adapted to the city and rural lifestyle. In addition, the house is made to be adaptable to expansion of family and life of three generations under the same roof. In addition, it is designed for a minimum of four members of the household. Although there are many elderly people in the affected area, we concluded that in the long run it is better to build a home that one day a family can move into with children. That is the demographic aspect of this project.

We will start the construction of the UGP house as soon as the weather conditions allow it.

You can read more about it in this TCN article.

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Information in English for donations, both for donations from Croatia and abroad

For the latest news on UGP, follow the dedicated TCN section

For the latest information on the earthquake emergency, follow the dedicated TCN section

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Earthquake Donations in Action: Croatian Entrepreneurs (UGP) Fund Report, January 14

January 14, 2021 - Transparent donations getting to the people who need them most are essential in emergency response. TCN follows the Voice of Entrepreneurs Glas Poduzetnika (UGP) fund to report on the realities on the ground.

The donations are pouring in from all over the world to help the victims of the earthquakes in Petrinja, Glina and Sisak, donations which have been gratefully received and which are making a difference. 

As I wrote previously, many people have contacted us at TCN asking for advice on the best place to send money. We published a list a few days ago, but I was really happy to see one more fund set up 7 days ago, from Udruga Glas Poduzetnika, or Voice of Entrepreneurs, which is a growing force for reform and change in Croatia. Run by people who want to see an end to corruption and needless red tape, I was sure that their efforts to help their fellow citizens in crisis would be transparent, dynamic, focused and effective, with all money donated going to the people who needed it most. And so it proved, which is why I am now directing anyone looking for a place to donate to UGP, as I explained a few days ago.

UGP co-founder Drazen Orescanin was kind enough to give me an in-depth interview yesterday on the focus, plans and activities of the UGP fund, and it was great to hear that 100% of the money donated will go to help those who need it most.

In order to provide more transparent donation information, we agreed to publish a daily report of the fund's activities, finances and purchases. This was due to be published yesterday, but the crazy events of January 6, 2021 meant a slight delay. As resources and time allow, this will be a daily feature, and you can track progress here.

 

 

Daily activities

Today, two housing containers have been delivered to families in Glina. Stanislav Nužda's building and apartment were damaged in the earthquake, and as of today, he can finally sleep safely. Milorad Liter's family of six slept in the woodshed since the earthquake, and thanks to the good people, now they will have a safe roof over their heads during the renovation of their home.

What's next?

On Sunday we plan to deliver two more housing containers to families in need. In the next week, we plan to deliver all of the remaining housing containers and then we will make plans for helping families rebuild their homes. We have gathered experts who will work with us to find the best and quickest solutions.

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Information in English for donations, both for donations from Croatia and abroad

For the latest news on UGP, follow the dedicated TCN section

For the latest information on the earthquake emergency, follow the dedicated TCN section

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Earthquake Donations in Action: Croatian Entrepreneurs (UGP) Fund Report, January 12

January 12, 2021 - Transparent donations getting to the people who need them most are essential in emergency response. TCN follows the Voice of Entrepreneurs Glas Poduzetnika (UGP) fund to report on the realities on the ground.

The donations are pouring in from all over the world to help the victims of the earthquakes in Petrinja, Glina and Sisak, donations which have been gratefully received and which are making a difference. 

As I wrote previously, many people have contacted us at TCN asking for advice on the best place to send money. We published a list a few days ago, but I was really happy to see one more fund set up 7 days ago, from Udruga Glas Poduzetnika, or Voice of Entrepreneurs, which is a growing force for reform and change in Croatia. Run by people who want to see an end to corruption and needless red tape, I was sure that their efforts to help their fellow citizens in crisis would be transparent, dynamic, focused and effective, with all money donated going to the people who needed it most. And so it proved, which is why I am now directing anyone looking for a place to donate to UGP, as I explained a few days ago.

UGP co-founder Drazen Orescanin was kind enough to give me an in-depth interview yesterday on the focus, plans and activities of the UGP fund, and it was great to hear that 100% of the money donated will go to help those who need it most.

In order to provide more transparent donation information, we agreed to publish a daily report of the fund's activities, finances and purchases. This was due to be published yesterday, but the crazy events of January 6, 2021 meant a slight delay. As resources and time allow, this will be a daily feature, and you can track progress here.

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Daily activities

Today, we have managed to deliver 2 housing containers to families in Sisak. Cold weather and snow have caused delays in deliveries in all of Croatia. For us, it was very important to deliver these containers as soon as possible. There are still a lot of people who don’t have a roof over their heads and the weather is making the situation worse. 

The difficult situation in which the families of Tajana Kondres and Slobodan Caljuga found themselves is now somewhat easier and thanks to donations of our members, these two families can safely wait for the renovation of their homes. Families are indescribably grateful to all of the people who made this possible.

What's next?

This week we will continue to work with our volunteers and we will try to deliver more housing containers. We are planning to deliver 2 containers on Thursday and 2 more containers on Saturday or Sunday. Moreover, we are now making plans to help people with building materials so that they can rebuild their homes as soon as possible.

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Information in English for donations, both for donations from Croatia and abroad

For the latest news on UGP, follow the dedicated TCN section

For the latest information on the earthquake emergency, follow the dedicated TCN section

Saturday, 9 January 2021

Earthquake Donations in Action: Croatian Entrepreneurs (UGP) Fund Report, January 8

January 7, 2021 - Transparent donations getting to the people who need them most are essential in emergency response. TCN follows the Voice of Entrepreneurs Glas Poduzetnika (UGP) fund to report on the realities on the ground.

The donations are pouring in from all over the world to help the victims of the earthquakes in Petrinja, Glina and Sisak, donations which have been gratefully received and which are making a difference. 

As I wrote previously, many people have contacted us at TCN asking for advice on the best place to send money. We published a list a few days ago, but I was really happy to see one more fund set up 7 days ago, from Udruga Glas Poduzetnika, or Voice of Entrepreneurs, which is a growing force for reform and change in Croatia. Run by people who want to see an end to corruption and needless red tape, I was sure that their efforts to help their fellow citizens in crisis would be transparent, dynamic, focused and effective, with all money donated going to the people who needed it most. And so it proved, which is why I am now directing anyone looking for a place to donate to UGP, as I explained a couple of days ago.

UGP co-founder Drazen Orescanin was kind enough to give me an in-depth interview yesterday on the focus, plans and activities of the UGP fund, and it was great to hear that 100% of the money donated will go to help those who need it most.

In order to provide more transparent donation information, we agreed to publish a daily report of the fund's activities, finances and purchases. This was due to be published yesterday, but the crazy events of January 6, 2021 meant a slight delay. As resources and time allow, this will be a daily feature, and you can track progress here.

Report from January 8

Daily activities

Today, we have managed to deliver 6 housing containers to the families in need. Many of them had children who still slept in houses that were dangerous and in cars. 

The four-member family Đelalija will unfortunately lose their house, which is too badly damaged. But, because of the help of our members and donors, the family will no longer have to sleep in the car.

The Augustinović family has two children, and the third is on the way. They are grateful that they will no longer have to sleep in an unsafe house.

The Bunčić family house also received a red sticker, which means that they can’t live there anymore. Donation of a housing container means a lot to them and guarantees at least a little security in these difficult times.

The Lovrinčić family of four says: "Thanks to the wonderful people who sent us this housing container so that we don't have to be in a house that has collapsed inside and is not safe to live in, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!" 

Families Božić and Jurković have also received housing containers later this day. For them, this means calmer nights in safety. 

Plans for today

This weekend we will coordinate with our volunteers in the field, so next week we can deliver more housing containers. We expect the delivery of at least two more containers for families in Sisak-Moslavina county on Monday.  

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Information in English for donations, both for donations from Croatia and abroad

For the latest news on UGP, follow the dedicated TCN section

For the latest information on the earthquake emergency, follow the dedicated TCN section

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