January 18, 2020 – Croatia is one of the safest countries in Europe with a low crime rate, but here is why I will never again report a crime in Croatia.
As previously reported on TCN, back in 2018, Netflix bought its first-ever Croatian TV series, called The Paper (Novine), a gritty, hard-hitting fictional story of the struggles of the last surviving independent newspaper in Croatia, based in the city of Rijeka. It has been on my list of things to watch for some time, and we finally got down to watch it early this month, quickly devouring the 23 episodes in the first two series, and eagerly awaiting the third.
I thought it was outstanding and highly recommended for those who do not understand why so many people are emigrating from a country which is such a beautiful tourism experience. A great country for a holiday, not so much for full-time living is a common sentiment here (I personally disagree and could not imagine living anywhere else, but not for the first time in my life, I am in the minority).
The Paper covers a Croatia that most people don’t see, certainly not our tourist visitors, but as someone who runs a news portal here, it resonated very strongly. The plot centres around the imminent sale of the last independent paper, and its subsequent use for political purposes, a mirror of much of the Croatian media today. It is set against a backdrop of the Croatian presidential campaign, whose two candidates bear more than a passing resemblance to an actual Croatian female president and the mayor of a large Croatian city who pushes the premise of innocent until proven guilty to the limits.
As someone who works in the Croatian media, The Paper really resonated with me. And while I keep away from the really dodgy stuff here, and so have yet to experience the assassinations, car bombs and baseball bat beatings that appear on the show, the unpleasant phone calls, threats, unfinished sentences, and viral stories which remain unpublished are all too familiar.
One theme which came through very strongly in the show – and one of the greatest problems in Croatia – was the corruptness of the judicial system and the law in general. A crime in Croatia might be reported, then go up the food chain until it hits a stumbling block – the criminal is working with someone higher up the police force or legal system. And so the investigation goes dead.
Similarly, a great story, thoroughly researched and destined to be the top story of the day, gets pulled as a political decision to protect the person it will expose. Someone told me years ago that news portals here make more money from the stories that they do not publish that from those that they do. While TCN is not big enough to be in that line of business even if we wanted to be, I can believe it to be true.
But that lack of trust of justice being served if the crime goes against some corrupt interests is just part of the problems with justice here. And of course, Croatia is far from unique in this, but it does seem much more pronounced here. And it is somewhat ironic, as Croatia is – together with Japan – easily the safest country I have lived in.
But back to the main topic, reporting a crime in Croatia.
My dealings with the police over 17 years here have been thankfully very minor apart from getting residence permits. There was that driving incident on Hvar about 15 years ago I would rather not talk about, then the occasion when my 6-year-old daughter insisted on calling the police when someone stole her rucksack and a freshly caught fish from the back seat of our unlocked car after we popped into a shop to buy a birthday present. The policeman said he would look into it, but advised her that we should always lock the car. My daughter is still blaming me for the loss of the rucksack and the fish five years later.
We never did find the fish.
I went to the police myself this week to report my first crime in Croatia. I will not do so again.
My inbox is fruitier than it has ever been, and running TCN has certainly opened my eyes to a new Croatia. Emails exhorting me to investigate extortions, corruption, attempted rape, abuse of migrants, officials abusing power – they all end up in my inbox. Even if I wanted to look into some or all of them, we simply do not have the resources, but one correspondence recently piqued my interest, and I decided to look into it a little as I unusually had some time.
After a little research, we had a story. A really, really good story. A story which I think would make it to all the national portals (at least those who were allowed to publish). It was also a story which was not without danger, and one with a criminal element. Rather than publish the story, I thought it would be more responsible to report the crime to the police, then see if we could make a story once they had investigated. And so I went to report my first crime in Croatia.
My dealings with bureaucracy are limited these days, and I had forgotten the disinterested look of the receptionist as she listened to me explaining what I wanted. I was told to sit in the waiting room, which I did for 5 minutes until a policeman came. Having explained the same thing again to him, there was another 5-minute wait until an inspector came, and I followed him to his office.
“ID card please.” Nothing was going to happen until he had established my identity and checked me out on the police database. No chance of an anonymous tip-off then… Had I not been just watching The Paper, I might have been less paranoid, but now I was in the system, the originator of an allegation of a crime which may or may not be connected to someone higher up the investigative food chain. And if there is someone higher up the investigative food chain involved, not only will the crime go uninvestigated, but it will not be hard to figure out who was reporting it in the first place.
The inspector took the details of the alleged crime, looked into it a little from the info I gave him and declared it could be interesting. And that was that. I told him I would be interested in doing a story on it and asked if he could come back to me with any news. Nothing since.
Perhaps the tip-off has been investigated and the criminal arrested. Perhaps the investigation got to a certain level, and an interested party higher up decided to stop the investigation. And start looking into who discovered and reported the crime.
I didn’t think I would feel so uncomfortable about doing my civic duty, and I posted on Facebook to see if anyone else had similar experiences. The feedback was interesting, from several who said the police response to petty crime was excellent, to those who felt too intimidated to come forward, or having come forward, the case disappeared. Lack of faith in the system was a common theme in the private messages I received.
Have you reported a crime in Croatia, or were you too afraid to do so? Let us know your experiences on [email protected] Subject Crime.