One of the lesser known Croatian euphemisms until it featured on News Bar’s viral America First, Croatia Second video on February 10, 2017. So what exactly is the ‘Croatian Handshake’?
While many Croats regularly shake hands with other people, the “Croatian handshake” is something completely different, something which is not advisable to do if you do want to end up in prison (unless are an influential local strongman). It refers to poking a finger into the anus of an non-consenting person. If you wonder why it is called the “Croatian handshake” (or, alternatively, the “Lika handshake”), read on.
The story begins in 2004, when American basketball player Illisha Jarrett came to Gospić in the Lika region of Croatia to play for a local team. In 2005, Josip Mraović, a local strongman, assaulted her in his hotel where she was staying at a time. Among other things, he fingered her anus. Mraović was arrested in April 2005 on suspicion of rape. A rather strange investigation was started in Gospić, where Mraović was quite an influential figure back then. Due to the suspicion about irregularities, the case was taken from the authorities in Gospić and transferred to the prosecution office in Rijeka.
In early December 2005, a court in Gospić ruled that Mraović was not guilty of rape. Especially scandalous was the explanation that poking a finger in the anus of a person is the same as handshaking, given that neither fingers nor anus are sex organs. The media immediately called this “the Lika handshake”, given that Gospić is the centre of the Lika region. The Supreme Court in December 2006 repealed the scandalous verdict and ordered a new trial in Rijeka. The Rijeka court came to a completely different conclusion and in 2008 Mraović was found guilty of rape of the basketball player and sentenced to three years in prison. Mraović later appealed to the Supreme Court which changed his sentence to two years in prison.
Mraović was still not satisfied with the outcome so he filed another appeal, this time with the Constitutional Court for alleged violation of his human rights. Last year, Mraović submitted a complaint to the European Human Rights Court in Strasbourg, saying that he was not given a fair trial in Croatia, but it is not known whether the court in Strasbourg has reached any decision.
While Mraović is today mostly forgotten, the Lika or Croatian handshake euphemism has survived, and has found its way into international parlance through the News Bar video.