Croatia likes to be seen as a sun-kissed holiday destination, with beaches, fishing villages and sailing boats. But this week’s car bombing in the centre of Zagreb is a sharp reminder that Croatia has a dark side so dangerous that it threatens to destabilise the whole country.
In the latest spate of violence blamed on the local mafia, Ivo Pukanic, a well-known journalist, and a colleague were killed by a car bomb outside the offices of their magazine, a campaigning journal that has often exposed crime. The outrage followed the recent shooting of Ivana Hodak, the daughter of a top lawyer, and assaults on a prominent crime reporter, a Zagreb city official, and the head of a construction company.
Pukanic, who had alleged links to the mafia, was not the cleanest journalist in the Balkans. But that is beside the point. Nobody should face extrajudicial execution, especially not in a country hoping to join the European Union.
Ivo Sanader, prime minister, condemned the car bombing saying, “I shall not allow Croatia to become another Beirut. This is no longer a fight against organised crime. This is something all of us in Croatia will rise up against.”
He must deliver on his pledge. For too long, the authorities have dragged their feet over fighting crime. Newspapers have often published allegations of links between criminals, businessmen and politicians. But the authorities have not responded effectively. Under public pressure, Mr Sanader this month finally replaced his justice and interior ministers after Ms Hodak’s killing. Now, the authorities must launch a real crackdown on crime.
Serbia managed it after the 2003 shooting of Zoran Djindjic, the late prime minister. If Belgrade could act in far more fragile political conditions than Croatia’s, Zagreb must follow suit.
The EU, which sees Croatia as its next accession candidate, must ensure Zagreb transforms its record on fighting crime well before it actually enters the union. The embarrassing example of Bulgaria, which joined the EU before the job was done, should make Brussels take extra care with its future members in the western Balkans. If that means making Croatia wait, then Croatia must wait. Sunshine alone is not a protection against crime. Just ask the Sicilians.