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Zagreb: No political earthquake

In his last story, Ivor found his home city somewhere between chill and fear, but with its priorities more or less right. To his surprise, two weeks into lockdown, it's still finding the fine line between repression and safety; but like lethargic housebound muscles, rights need to be exercised.

So yeah, remember that Zagreb is more chilled than scared text? It's all nice and all but it has a bad side. The two weeks' lockdown will take a while longer. June, to be more exact, as predicted by authorities. It's one thing when people take a walk around the city's Bundek lake in small groups and with respectful distances towards other groups. But a few days later, that turns out to be a giant party. Barbecues, joint exercise, drinks as if people interpret the whole pandemic to be one long Labor Day celebration, as some people commented online.

For Zagreb, the situation didn't get any better with the earthquake that forced people out of their houses, as if the universe really likes trolling people. The situation got serious and the measures got more restrictive. You can no longer move from town to town. A group of up to five people (which at this point is even under negotiation to be reduced to two) is the maximum you can gather with, respecting prescribed distances and police have even had to deal with the 'rebels'. At one point the markets were closed but then they got re-opened with all of the precautions advised by the epidemiologists. Finally, people started taking the situation more seriously. People are staying at home, they are more careful when shopping and every night at 8 pm there is applause from the windows and balconies for all the medical personnel.

Statue of Ban Josip Jelačić in downtown Zagreb. Creative Commons by Patrick Müller

Croatia, before the conclusion of this text, counts 867 infected, with 32 people on a respirator, six dead and 67 cured. So, the situation is under control, as Croatian Civil Protection Directorate claims. And even though nice weather is tempting people to go out, it seems that the majority do respect the measures. But, new fear has started troubling the world. Ideological wars never rest and the ongoing debate is what regime handles this issue better: democracy or dictatorships?

The world will never be the same – say some of the worried people on social networks. They worry that the governments are enjoying this state of emergency and that we will move towards dictatorship. Political experts across the world also pressed this issue and things don't look pretty. Hungary, Romania and some other countries have favored safety over liberty and the question is will things go back to normal after this passes. I can't and I don't want to question these countries as I believe that is something for writers and journalists there to deal with and write about (hopefully on this very platform). Instead, let's move back to Croatia.

'Croatia, nobody will punish you if you don't love your politicians'

Indeed, the country has been rated by Oxford to have the strictest measures when compared with the number of infected. In that context, it was alarming to see the government proposing to spy on everyone's phones, but it was also pleasing to see the opposition objecting to that notion from both the left to the right spectrum; although we can be naughty and wonder whether they oppose such measures for the general sake of privacy and human rights, or simply because they wouldn't be the ones handling the data. Also, while the Croatian Civil Protection Directorate introduced effective measures, one of the judges from the Croatian Constitutional Court warned that they need to limit their actions within what the constitution allows. It is good to see that politicians do actually worry about making sure we don't stroll into dictatorship. Journalists are doing so as well, by holding authorities accountable for the excessive force imposed by some police officers, which also saw two officers suspended last week.

A park in Zagreb. Creative Commons photo by Xaf

Yes, some of the measures like needing a special pass to leave town are a „role-play of the Soviet Union“, but what else made people of the Soviet Union slaves (or in North Korea to compare us to dictatorships of today)? Well, it's the lack of freedom of expression for example and an obligation to worship the leader with serious penalties if you don't (prison or death). Some people praise the current politicians on their own. Others joke about their responses and last time I checked we can all write whatever the hell we want online (with the exception of fake news regarding the pandemic, but I still see that popping up every five seconds). Croatia, nobody will punish you if you don't love your politicians. Same way nobody punished me or my colleagues for performing our controversial slam poems online. In fact, art, the main measure of freedom in every society, has never been more diverse and alive than it is now. You only get punished if you endanger other people which, shocker, you should always be punished for – and which (and this is the real problem) doesn't always happen. Beatings occur daily from hooligans and vandals who use this opportunity to play kingpins on the streets; something we can hope the authorities will handle and take control of. Regarding our actual freedom, well democracy isn't a fixed frame. Human rights are something you must always advertise and fight for: both for improvement and for keeping the ones that are already set.

So, stop panicking, follow safety measures and practice your freedoms from home. Yes, be resilient, unchained, use freedom of thought and expression to show that this is something we cherish. Say what you wanna say, write what you wanna write, conversate, read articles of journalists who check and inform on everything suspicious, but stay home and don't endanger others. Croatia, (believe me, to my great surprise) actually seems to care about such stuff. Hope other countries do too.

Ivor Kruljac is a journalist and slam poet from Zagreb, Croatia.

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