On the Tuesday evening news on the RTS SAT channel that we managed to retrieve on our satellite recently, I was deeply shaken by what I heard Croatian businessman Željko Kerum said about my people.
I recently heard a good deal about this man. Željko Kerum is the founder of his own supermarket chain that bears his name throughout Croatia called KERUM. He is also the mayor of the Dalmatian city of Split. And having been in Gračac recently, I was quite proud to have a KERUM supermarket on my own street opposite the post office there. It's on a very busy location traffic-wise, and as such is very practical. And of course, I liked that supermarket because lots of people go there everyday and the women who work there are also very helpful! ;-)
Anyway, he was interviewed by popular Croatian TV host Aleksandar Stanković on Nedjeljom u 2 ("Sunday at two"), a program on HRT, the Croatian national TV and Radio channel.
Regarding Serbian businessmen like Miroslav Mišković intending to invest in Croatia, Stanković asks him, "Can Serbs purchase market chains in the Croatian market?", to which he replied, "As far as I'm concerned, I wouldn't allow [it]."
(But I wonder why he needed to ask him that. Isn't it just an accepted norm in business and finance that it's not important who your ancestors were but whether you can do the job right?)
When pushed to offer a reason, he explains, "Because Serbs have never brought us any good, therefore they won't even now! Not only them, but also Montenegrins and Serbs. And whoever [deals] with them, afterwards, they won't pass well".
Then, when asked would he agree to a Serb being his son-in-law, he answered, "No way. There's no chance. There never was, nor will there be … in my family."
Now, not only has he revealed that he harbours prejudiced views about Serbs, but when the host asks him, "then why did you bother to help many Serbs (in Split) if they're [such bad people]?", only then does he realise that, "Good and bad people exist", and that about himself, "I'm a good person, and those people I helped are good people"! Nevertheless, "Everyone should know where his place is". How enlightening!
What an embarrassment for the people of Split, if only all of them realised it.
Željko Kerum did issue a written apology following this incident. In it he says, "Exclusively, because of my unresourcefulness in that type of provocative discussion, I said words that I regret and because of which, I ended up looking like something I never was - a racist, nationally intolerant and exclusive".
But in his apology above, he actually contradicts what he said in the interview. Asked why he wouldn't like Serbs in his family, he replies, "Because that's how we're raised!" See what I mean?
But something else also surprised me. It looks like Kerum won't face any legal action against him over this.
Zagreb's Municipal State Attorney's Office, after reviewing the recording of the mayor of Split Zeljko Kerum's appearance on HTV's show "Nedjeljom u dva", and given his statement (referring to the apology), confirmed that there is no basis for action as Kerum's statements are not characteristic of the crime of racial and other discrimination or other criminal acts which are prosecuted ex officio, stated the State Attorney's Office today.
The attorney maintains that there is no basis for further action, because his statements and answers were obviously not conveyed with the aim of propagating national hatred, or with the aim to influence the will, intellect, emotions and passions of viewers.(See here in Croatian)
What?! Not racist?! Are they joking??!!
Kerum would never be allowed to get away with such comments here in the UK.
Let's say a Protestant politician from Northern Ireland who holds a ministerial position, i.e. an official job working for the local or national government, said something similar about Irish Catholics. Afterall, there was a conflict there not so long ago that lasted much longer than any recent conflict in the Balkans. Of course, both Protestants and Catholics lost loved ones in "the Troubles", as they call the decades-long conflict there. But if this hypothetical Protestant politician stated that Catholics there never brought any good to Ulster, and that he would never accept a Catholic marrying one of his daughters, what do you think would happen to him in response to such remarks?
He would be forced out of his job! Simple as! There is no justification for such comments, regardless of the history of the region or people's actual experiences from that period.
And just so we're clear, there would make no difference if it was the other way round, if the shoe was on the other foot. Let's say it was a Catholic politician who said that Protestants never brought any good to Ireland and that he wouldn't want his daughter marrying one of them. He would lose his job likewise. And of course, in both hypothetical situations, both incidents would cause a scandal each nation-wide!
By conveying such discomforting opinions like that in the public domain, you are tarring people with the same brush, or as we say where I come from, "trpaš sve ljude u isti koš". Saying how this nation and that nation is like this and that, because its members at some point in the past did this and that to another, is unpleasant and hurtful to the members of such targeted communities. And of course, it creates a bad image for the person saying such things.
I can understand why people who have been affected by wars harbour such feelings of hatred and resentment for people from other tribes, ethnic groups, regions or countries. But if you are in a position of high authority, with which you represent all the citizens of your town/city/county/district or wherever, like Kerum is for Split, you have to be very careful with what you say, and even more careful how you think about things before you respond to whatever comes your way!
Business is supposed to be the means by which a variety of people come together to do trade with each other. Of course, many people the world over would rather talk about business than politics! And yet, this very successful entrepreneur and mayor of a city has such disappointingly prejudiced views about the nation to which many people he himself has done business with belong to. And of course, many Serbs live in Split too and many of them probably voted for him to be their mayor! How must they feel this week?
And NO! No-one should use history, whether recent or ancient, to justify such unpleasant statements, especially in a country that is trying to move forward and away from war-time politics and ethnocentric belligerence.
And yet it's shocking and bemusing that he could even think that Serbs have never brought any good to Croatia. He must have forgotten about Nikola Tesla, who invented the very current through which his microphone worked on that programme, into which he could air such vile and nonsense about his people!
And therefore, I end this article thus:
SRAM TE BILO, KERUME!!!
Excerpt of the interview with the inflammatory comments:
From nacional.hr (in Croatian):
- Kerum kod Stankovića: Ne želim Srbe i Crnogorce u Splitu
- Ograda dalekovidnice: 'Nismo mi krivi što je Kerum netrpeljiv'
- Pismo hrvatskoj Vladi: Srbija službeno osudila Kerumov ispad
- DORH: Kerumove izjave nemaju rasistička obilježja
From B92 (in English):