April 9, 2020 — Vera Blažek from Cakovec biked five kilometers to a supermarket yesterday afternoon, preempting pensioners and the crowds that come with them. The 68-year-old technically broke the law.
It takes about half an hour to get around the bike path. But reach the Čakovec shop from her Čakovec address, she needs an “e-pass,” she told Jutarnji List. The Municipality of Šenkovec dips into Čakovec a few kilometers along the main road. The bizarre shape and lack of continuity has made Croatia’s e-pass system a confounding mess for local authorities wanting to grant some mobility to citizens, while still preventing the virus’s spread.
Croatia’s multi-tiered municipal and county governments are clashing over loosening restrictions on the movement of healthy residents via the e-pass system. The government has issued 700,000 such passes to residents claiming a need to leave their neighborhood.
Some local authorities want free movement, others fear undoing keep the current system’s effectiveness against the coronavirus. The countries convoluted delegation of government duties doesn’t help.
Oddly shaped municipalities and cities overlap and puncture each other at odd angles. Stand on one street corner, and the opposite side may follow a different bureaucratic regime. Crossing any of these haphazard borders requires a legal document. Which makes Blažek’s casual trip to the supermarket, technically, illegal.
No one thought about the territorial borders, nor did they seem important until the emergence of coronavirus spurred travel restrictions. Now a trip to buy provisions requires a government pass.
“Well, I don’t need a pass to go to Čakovec,” Blažek told the paper. “I’m from Cakovec.”
Josip Zerjav has a pass to get to work in Varaždin County — a 15-minute trip through several commuter municipalities. “My pass is worth the exact route,” he said. His grandparents live two kilometers off the route. “I need a pass to get to them,” Zerjav said. “That doesn’t make sense.” Not that authorities are enforcing the rules.
Police officers monitor the entry points to Međimurje County, but not the municipalities which make it up. The government has yet to approve the Međimurje County’s proposal combining its constituent Civil Protection Directorates, turning all of its smaller parts into one large, pass-free zone. But Međimurje and police officers are tacitly already implementing it.
The National Civil Protection Directorate hasn’t approved territorial mergers of local civil protection authorities, other than in Istria. Several local leaders are backing away from the idea, worried it’ll undo Croatia’s carefully executed and, so far, successful nationwide lockdown.
The leaders of several local civil protection directorates have refused mergers, worried large numbers of people will come into their territory overnight and, potentially, expand the epidemic.
The effects of the loosening restrictions are already showing. More residents and cars are on the streets. Long lines now form in front of shops, some ignoring the mandated social-distancing rules.
The city of Duga Resa, for example, has a population of 12,000 and covers an area of 58 square kilometers. If the proposal to “merge” four neighboring municipalities – Bosiljevo, Barilovic, Generalski Stol and Netretic – were adopted, the number of residents traveling without e-passes would increase by about 10 thousand, while the free-travel area would increase to about 500 square miles.
Interestingly, many “agricultural counties” do not want the liberalization of the e-Pass regime. The Vukovar-Srijem, Požega-Slavonia and Virovitica-Podravina counties, for example, will not submit proposals for enlargement to the National Headquarters. The same is true in Varaždin County.
“When the national headquarters, based on current figures, conclude that the time has come for the loosening, we will certainly support it,” Varaždin County Civilian Protection Chief of Staff Robert Vugrin told Jutarnji.
He also believes that with such decisions, one must also take responsibility if the plans backfire: the large number of people traveling will make the virus will spread faster.
“I understand that there are specific spaces, but it should then be clearly defined which and why exactly. Because like this, with more and more requests, this is no more an exception than a rule,” said Vugrin, noting that he does not like the current situation because it ‘creates a mess’.
In that county, they believe the current model of e-passes needs work. Among other things, pass holders do not specify their route, which loses control over the movement of residents once inside another city’s borders.
The City of Varazdin wants to merge the city area with 10 neighboring municipalities, even though Varazdin County opposes the rule.
The mayor of Varaždin, Ivan Čehok, on his FB profile, commented on the city proposal, but also on those who consider it dangerous, including Vugrin in Varaždin County.
“I have seen counterarguments, however: we do not encourage this to travel anymore, it is an area of otherwise daily migration,” Čehok wrote.
The debate has yet to reach a head, and with many mayors and county heads balking at the chance to unite, e-Passes may continue to be in high demand.