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Have The Criminals Won In Croatia?

Ivo Pukanic's weekly investigated corruption and human rights abuses.
Ivo Pukanic's weekly investigated corruption and human rights abuses.
After the killing of journalist Ivo Pukanic, the question being asked in Croatia is whether organized crime has won its battle with the state, or will this be an opportunity for institutions to start fully working, as they did in a few quickly resolved cases this week?

Croatia was shocked by the first killing of a journalist in the country since the 1991-95 war. Pukanic, 47, the owner and editor of the "Nacional" weekly, was killed by a car bomb in front of his office in central Zagreb.

Author and former President of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights Ivan Zvonimir Cicak says that "nobody is safe anymore."

He says that since Pukanic's killing on October 23, neither President Stipe Mesic, nor Prime Minister Ivo Sanader, nor even "some citizen on a distant island are as safe as they were before the assassination. If you can kill a man who wasn't just anybody in the middle of a big city in such a spectacular way, then I really think that security measures for the leaders of the state, government, Supreme and Constitutional Court, and so on, should be strengthened."

In the last few months, people who wanted to reveal the truth about organized crime and corruption in Croatia have been terrorized, says Gordan Malic of the Zagreb daily "Jutarnji list."

"And that is caused by the situation in the police and judiciary, which is the result of the actions of all previous Croatian governments, especially the current one, led very independently by Prime Minister Ivo Sanader," Malic says.

Earlier in October, Sanader fired the interior and justice ministers and announced a set of tough laws to tackle organized crime, following a number of unsolved beatings and killings in Zagreb.

"If you have a person leading the ruling party and the government by himself, alone, and you have police and judiciary -- two key departments to fight corruption and organized crime -- very devastated, you have to ask yourself -- how is that possible?" Malic asks.

Malic says that only the ruling party and criminals had a positive opinion about the police and judiciary. "How could that happen?" he asks.

"I presume that the reason why the ruling party [the Croatian Democratic Community, HDZ] had the same attitude as organized crime is in the corrupt nature of the leading party," Malic says. "They simply do not want to strengthen institutions enough to make them capable of investigating scandals that people from the government and ruling party were involved in. And there were a lot of such scandals!"

On the other hand, analyst Davor Gjenero thinks that there is ground for optimism. It took the police only a few days to find out who killed a criminal in the Zagreb suburb of Vrapce, while the case of teenager Luka Ritz, beaten to death by hooligans, went unsolved for five months until just a few days after new people in the Interior Ministry were appointed.

A consensus among political leaders on the importance of the struggle against organized crime and winning that struggle is important in other ways, Gjenero adds.

"A social consensus that the criminal underground is unacceptable and that organized crime devastates and weakens the basic values of democracy could push Croatia out of a kind of resignation concerning social reforms and fulfilling European Union criteria," Gjenero says. "This could be shock therapy for Croatia, and as a result Croatia could deal more seriously with the issue of judiciary reform and consolidation of democratic institutions."

Enis Zebic is a correspondent for RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service based in Zagreb