Lessons from Croatia on perilous times
Alan T. Saracevic Sunday, July 14, 2002
Sorry, folks. I was vacationing in sunny Croatia for the past few weeks, so we haven't had a chance to talk.
From what I gather, Western capitalism was further exposed as a thinly veiled game of three-card monte in my absence. Next thing you know, they'll tell us fatty foods are bad.
While your collective innocence was being shattered stateside, I was on the Continent visiting family and island hopping the Adriatic.
Aunt Vesna is doing fine, taking care of little Yanko and Matko. Uncle Dino and Aunt Aida, over in Sarajevo, are thriving in Bosnia's postwar building boom. And the glorious Adriatic remains the finest swimming hole on the planet.
But that's not what my fans are interested in, of course. (For the record, the guy in Walnut Creek likes political snark. The other fella, who I believe is incarcerated, likes it when I make fun of Carly Fiorina.)
Sorry, guys. Skewering corporate con artists is too easy. Instead, lemme tell you about the revival of the Austro-Hungarian empire without the Hungarians; the fall of American integrity without laughing; the magically disappearing Dow -- and I'll even throw in some funny hamburger pictures. Don't worry, I'm sure I'll be skewering corporate con artists next week.
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Ten years after the start of its war with Serbia, Croatia is slowly emerging from its economic funk . . . with a little help from its old masters.
The Austrians, who along with the Hungarians have ruled Croatia off and on from the 17th century until the end of World War I, have slowly but surely reinstalled themselves as Croatia's keeper, using monetary muscle as opposed to military might.
In the past two years, Austria has quietly bought nearly every bank in Croatia, helping its nascent Balkan neighbors finance a slew of privatization projects, infrastructure developments and tourism initiatives. The Austrians have also bought up Croatia's largest media company, with plans to reinvigorate a number of daily and weekly publications. And while most Croatians see this as a healthy sign of foreign investment, methinks they should read their history books.
Back in 1657, the Croatians found themselves in a similar spot. Facing yet another threat from the Turks, the great Croatian leaders Peter Zrinski and Krsto Frankopan headed to Vienna. Their plan was to establish closer ties with the Hapsburg monarchy. Leopold I, the top Hap at the time, promptly arrested them for treason and beheaded the Croats. Shortly thereafter, Croatia fell into line under the Austrian feudal system and did not regain independence until 1995.
Here's hoping the Croats don't miss any payments on those loans. And if they do, send word by e-mail. Vienna can be a dangerous place.
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No trip to Europe is complete without a big, fat dose of America bashing. I got plenty. The continentals are plenty upset over our carpet-bombing efforts in Afghanistan, but, believe it or not, their shorts are even more crimped over our apparent lapse in business ethics.
Can't say I blame them, seeing that we've been preaching the benefits of free-market economics since 1989 like so many tent revivalists. Problem is, we forgot to give their accountants the cooking class that goes with it.
I say we send Cheney, Skilling, Lay and Ebbers over there, put some chefs' hats on 'em, and let them spread their southern-fried accounting tactics about the Old World for a few weeks. We can call it the "Four Horsemen of the Hypocrisy Tour." Maybe Bono's free to join them.