Why Public Shaming is Sadly the Only Way to Effect Change in Croatia

Total Croatia News


August 5, 2019 – So how do you effect change in Croatia? The case for public shaming, and how the little man can win those little victories. 

They say life begins at 50. It certainly seems to be doing so for me and my writing career. 

Just days after my 50th birthday, I was published for the first time in my home country – an article in The Daily Telegraph no less


I was even published in the Samoan Observer this morning, my first article in the Pacific.

And now this. My own occasional column in Croatia’s most popular news portal, Index.hr. After seeing my recent interview with Index on the Kingdom of Accidental Tourism clock up over 100,000 views and more than 5,000 likes, it was clear to me that there was no better way to reach a Croatian audience, and I was happy to agree to contribute an occasional column. Here is my first one in English, which went live on Index this morning. Thank you for the opportunity.


Many years ago soon after I started writing online about Croatia while living in Jelsa, the Internet stopped working at home, and we were told it would take a week to get it fixed. The joys of island life. 

The next day, my wife was in Split and I was forced to take my two young daughters into a smoky winter cafe so that I could do my job. I posted on Facebook asking my friends if anyone had a Croatian solution to get the Internet fixed quicker. Less than half an hour later, our home was back online. How?
A friend messaged me the email address of the telecom company’s PR department and said that they hated bad publicity. One polite email explaining the dangers to my kids’ health from this British Google News journalist, and I had a reply within 2 minutes and Internet restored shortly after. Outstanding customer service, as good as anything you will find in America. 
A few weeks later, a friend who runs a tourist agency called me in desperation. His Internet was down at the office during the season and he was told it would be 9 days before it could be fixed. What was it I did to get my Internet fixed so quickly? 
I decided to write to the PR lady again, copying my friend and asking if there was anything she could do. My friend called me three hours later.
“Amazing. We have the Internet back. Thank you! The engineer came after a couple of hours and sorted the problem. I asked him how he could come so quickly when we were told 9 days? The engineer replied:
“I have strict instructions from Zagreb that when the fat Englishman in Jelsa complains, I have to jump.”
Now you might think that because I am a journalist writing in English with a wide international audience, I have more chance of people fixing my problems than you in case I publicly shame the official online, but here is the good news for every Index reader and everyone else in Croatia – you have that same power at me. Let me tell you how I found this out and then let me show you how you use a simple process to improve your dealings with bureaucracy. 
Six years ago, I bought a car in Germany and the dreaded day finally came when I had to go through the whole process of doing the paperwork to import it at the customs house in Split. I went from room to room to room collecting stamps and signatures. 
When I entered room number 4, the official in his late 50s was busy at his computer, playing Angry Birds or something similar I guess. He looked up at me, then through me and returned to his computer screen. From the time I lived in the Soviet Union in 1991, I have had officials look through me like I wasn’t there tens of thousands of times. The way to deal with this is to get them to notice you are there. 
I explained in Croatian what I needed from him, but he barely responded. This stamp was going to be a hard one to get.
“Also, if you don’t mind, I am am a blogger researching how the customs houses have changed with EU entry for a story I am writing for an American news portal. Would you be able to give me a quote, and perhaps I could take your picture for the article?” I raised my phone to take his picture. 
“No photo!” he snapped, before grabbing my paper, then signing and stamping it. I was onto my next battle 30 seconds later. 
Do you see the difference? With the Internet problem, I explained who I was and wrote an email from my website email. With the car import, I made a story up and gave no proof that I was a blogger or journalist. And the result was the same. 
Over the course of 17 years here, I have come to learn that there are three types of people in Croatia. The uhljebs and their many cousins who are – in the words of one successful Australian Croatian entrepreneur recently – sucking on the nation’s tits. Then you have the vast majority of disenfranchised people in Croatia, who have no voice, and whose sole purpose for the uhljebs is to keep paying more tax so that they can continue to rule this fine country. 
And then there is the third group. It is a group which I thought was the smallest, but it is actually the biggest. The people with shaming potential to cause embarrassment to the people who run the mighty State of Uhljebistan.
The only thing that uhljebs fear is public scrutiny, and they will do anything to keep their activities and uselessness away from the public eye. The mere hint of exposure means that they will react in a way much more dynamic than a polite request. Words such as blogger, social media, viral terrify them.
And the good news for all of us is that the POSSIBILITY of public shaming is often enough to make them act, especially at the lower level. I wrote an article on my Total Croatia News portal called Activate Your Shaming Potential: How to Get Things Done in The Beautiful Croatia. https://www.total-croatia-news.com/lifestyle/24035-activate-your-shaming-potential-how-to-get-things-done-in-the-beautiful-croatia
And it works. Try it. I know at least five friends who are not bloggers or journalists who have followed this advice and had their problems fixed rather quickly. 
Let me give you two examples of how the Kings of Accidental Tourism can react quite quickly, for example.   
On May 10, I wrote to the Croatian National Tourist Board asking some questions about the lack of Game of Thrones promotion. I went in search of the Game of Thrones section on their website.
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“When I didn’t find any, I typed in ‘Game of Thrones’ in the HTZ search box. I attach a screenshot of my findings – a link to our Lady or Trsat in Rijeka, something about food and sailing, and a fruit fair in Zagorje. I have never watched the show, but my GoT friends tell me that they are not related to the show. Can you explain how people are supposed to find any info about GoT on the HTZ website if there is no section and the search box sends you to other parts of Croatia entirely?” Twelve days later, on May 22, I received a reply:

“Your search results on our website may not have resulted in the expected outcome. We are in the process of reviewing the search mechanism of the website.”

Time passed. A week later, as part of a separate press enquiry, I noted that it had still not been fixed.

“No, it is still not fixed. The web department is currently working on more important issues of CNTB’s websites and it will be fixed as soon as possible.”

Months passed, and our heroic IT kings must have been very busy, as nothing had changed. And then last week, Index published an interview with me, in which I pointed out the Game of Thrones searchbox issue. The interview was read by almost 100,000 people apparently, and many thanks for SO many positive messages of support. The next day, something changed.

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Progress. I guess. Now when I search for information, you get a blank page. Croatia, Full of Information. 
(Game of Thrones searchbox update August 5 – there have been some major developments since this article was originally written. So good in fact that we will dedicate a new article to it soon).
As you can see, I did politely try to get the searchbox problem sorted, but something stronger than me, the Index factor, effected the change through public shaming. It is really sad that this is the only way to make change happen in Croatia. 
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Sometimes, however, when you point something out on a blog much smaller than Index, you can get change very quickly. Such as the time you point out that Croatia has the world’s most challenging golf course – an 18-hole course just off Zrinjevac in central Zagreb. The course, Dolina Kardinala, near Karlovac actually closed 7 years ago, but as we know from the Ministry of Tourism’s strategy to build 30 golf courses by the end of next year (none yet started, one lawsuit of US$500 million from one golf investor against), Croatia is Full of Golf. 
Of course, the Index factor is far more powerful than one fat pink British blogger could ever be. Do you think that the ministers who recently resigned would have done so if they had received a polite email pointing out what had been discovered?
Are the first cracks starting to appear in the mighty State of Uhljebistan? Probably not, but at least we can all now activate our shaming potential, whether we are Index or just the regular citizen on the street. Try it and let us know how you got on in the comments below. 
To read the original article in Index in Croatian, click here.


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