Nearly four years ago Croatia made headlines around the world when its former Prime Minister Ivo Sanader was arrested for bribery and corruption on a cold December evening whilst on the run in Austria. Last Sunday the media spotlight was on the country again when current Mayor of the capital Zagreb, Milan Bandić, was arrested for similar offences.
Whilst Sanader’s arrest sent the majority of the country into celebration mode, with many wanting the book thrown at him (he eventually was sentenced to 10 years in prison with more charges pending), the same can not be said about Bandić who now sits in a cell in Remetinec jail. Within hours of his arrest, and still no details regarding charges released, a number of public figures had already come out to show their support, including World and European discus champion Sandra Perković and former champion hammer thrower Ivana Brkljačić.
“He is a man with absolute supernatural energy. He lives all day for this city,” Perković tweeted not long after the news, whilst others elaborated sarcastically.
“Of course he should be locked up. Imagine, he renewed the public transport system, laid hundreds of kilometres of roads, renovated schools, made primary school kids books free, gave 1,000 euros for every child born in Zagreb, done up the women’s hospital, cleaned up the Sava, 70% of facades in the centre are new. The government spends millions on Audi’s, BMW’s and Mercedes’, whilst he drives a 2007 Passat. Shame on him. Maybe he is controversial, but he turned Zagreb into a respectable European capital. Those who ordered his arrest forget that 75,000 young Zagreb locals stand behind Milan Bandić,” read one post on a special Facebook page set up in the fallen Mayor’s honour.
So far the Facebook support page has over 45,000 fans, but it is not just social media and Zagreb where Bandić has support. A cafe in the central Croatian city of Bjelovar closed its doors for one day this week in support.
“I personally met him a long time ago and he is a convincing great friend of Bjelovar and that is why I am showing my public support in this way. I am aware that the institute is doing its job, but for me he is an innocent man until proven guilty,” Cafe Kugla owner Josip Košutić said.
Web portals have gone mad in Croatia covering the story, with Croatia’s leading portal 24sata saying that readership records had been smashed this week. 24sata, which has over 1.1 million unique visitors, ran a poll during the week testing the nation’s support for Bandić after the corruption charges. The poll was overwhelmingly in the Mayor’s favour with over 70% saying they still supported him despite the arrest.
Bandić, who along with other influential council members and company heads, is charged with defrauding the city to the tune of over 2.5 million euros. Time will tell if his support grows or wanes as more evidence comes out in the trial that will no doubt be played out in the media.