A helpful guide for foreigners interested in Croatia’s cast of characters.
If you are a foreigner in a need of a guide through the maze of Croatian politics, history and society, you could do worse than enjoy the illustration prepared by Index.hr, Croatia’s most popular news website. Everybody who’s anybody is here, all joined in a joyous party. The only thing missing here are the ordinary, regular people, for whom all those in the illustration allegedly care about (or used to care, while they were alive). But, they aren’t really important anyway. If they were, they might be shown here.
Although some of the “dignitaries” depicted have since left the stage, while some new ones have appeared in the meantime, the basic principle is always the same and never changes. It is only the actors who come and (rarely) go.
In the centre, as it should be, is the main table, headed by Franjo Tuđman, Croatia’s first president, easily recognizable by his somewhat South-American presidential sash. Appropriately, he is playing Monopoly with some of the “heroes” of Croatia’s privatization process. Closest to him is Miroslav Kutle, one of the notorious tycoons from the 1990s. On the other side is Željko Kerum, a flamboyant entrepreneur and former (and possibly) future Split mayor. Standing behind them is Ante Starčević, easily the most popular among all the figures represented, not because of any of his achievements, but due to the fact that he is featured on the 1,000-kuna banknote, the largest and, therefore, the most-sought-after of them all.
In a somewhat pastoral scene, we see (in the centre) a figure from Croatia’s past. That is Ante Pavelić, who headed the Nazi-puppet Independent State of Croatia. Although he belongs to the past, he is very much part of the present as well. Next to him, with a machine gun in his hand, in Marko Perković Thompson, a singer of patriotic songs. He constantly sings about his love for Croatia, but that has not prevented him from being caught in tax evasion.
In the corner, surrounded by his entourage, is one of Croatia’s real rulers. On the throne is Zdravko Mamić, the real boss of Croatian football, although he of course does not hold any official position and is just a fan. His feet are being washed by Slaven Bilić, former national football coach and current boss of West Ham United. Mamić’s shoes are being cleaned by a representative of Croatia’s fearless sports journalists.
High on a balcony, overlooking everybody else, is the person for whom conspiracy theorists claims is the main man. That is Josip Manolić, the seemingly immortal and eternal boss of Croatia’s secret services. His critics claim that he has been pulling strings in Croatia for the last 70 years, ever since he became a boss in secret services immediately after the World War II, and more or less stayed there for many decades and under several regimes. Although he is almost 100, he is still going strong and will probably outlive everybody else.
The person most talked about in recent weeks in Croatia also had to be included here. In the centre we see Ivica Todorić, the owner and (former) CEO of Agrokor, Croatia’s by far largest privately-owned company. Until just recently, he used to own everything and everybody, which is the reason why you could never hear anything bad about him in the media. However, the recent downfall of his company has changed that, and now everybody is brave enough to criticize him. It remains to be seen whether he will follow in the footsteps of the person next to him, Ivo Sanader, former prime minister. He also used to be very powerful and everybody liked him, until he one day resigned for still unexplained reasons. Soon the charges and indictments started piling up, he ended up in prison several times and his downfall is complete. Now, he is feared no more.
No cast of Croatia’s characters would be complete without the person in the centre of this segment. In his blue marshal uniform, that is Josip Broz Tito, Yugoslavia’s longtime ruler. While he will remain a subject of controversy forever, there is no doubt that among the people on the illustration it is he who has left the deepest mark in world history. Next to him is Stjepan Mesić, a former president and a rightwing populist turned main guardian of antifascism in the country. On the other side is Nikola Tesla, who needs no introduction, and has undoubted been included here in order to give some dignity to the otherwise rather lacklustre scene.
While Zagreb is not the Eternal City, it does have an eternal mayor. Milan Bandić was first elected in 2000, and has been the mayor ever since, except when he caused a traffic accident while drunk driving so had to pretend to resign for a while, and another time when he was arrested for corruption so he had to temporarily hand over his duties. He is currently running for another term which he will probably win, if for no other reason than because it is unimaginable than anyone else could ever be the mayor instead of him.