How Croatian agriculture bought the farm
Agriculture was once a core industry in the former Yugoslavia. But corruption and mismanagement turned the region's one-time breadbasket into a 'small war zone.'
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In the end, 62 workers received an average of around €1,100 ($1,400) from the collapse of PP Retkovci – roughly a quarter of what they had expected to get at the start of the bankruptcy process. Despite all the litigation, no one has been held accountable for their losses.Skip to next paragraph
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In 2004, the state concluded its investigation into some 1,500 suspicious privatizations from the 1990s. Evidence of irregularities were found in all but 75 cases.
PP Retkovci was included in the audit. It did not get a clean bill. The move to compensate Markovic was singled out for criticism. The audit questioned how he had managed to claim €147,000 from the privatization fund for his shares in PP Retkovci. The claim was approved after the farm had been declared insolvent – which meant that his shares were practically worthless.
“The bankruptcy means that the value of the stocks was very low at the point when the money was returned,” says Sulejman Tabakovic, an expert in privatization law who runs an organization that helps small stockholders. He adds that the fund had no obligation to pay Markovic, and in doing so, it had made an unfair exception for him. Thousands of other stockholders whose privatized companies faced bankruptcy during this period were not able to make such claims.
The fund was replaced in 2011 by a new agency, known by its acronym, AUDIO. Erik Mohorovic, the agency’s director, told BIRN he had only studied the fund’s work since 2005 – and had not been aware of the PP Retkovci case, or any others like it. He says no one at the institution had a clear explanation for what had happened.
However, he believes cases such as this were commonly accepted as “anomalies of the privatization and transition process”. Back then, “the legislation, market and institutions were not ready for such complex tasks”.
While modern laws are more sophisticated, he says, “today’s instruments cannot solve the problems created 15 or 20 years ago”.
Djuro Perica, a founder of the HDZ, says that neither Markovic, nor the government of the time, should become scapegoats for the failure of PP Retkovci.
“Nobody stole the land in Retkovci,” he said. He conceded that mistakes had been made during the privatization – but said he had opposed the “wrong moves”.
“Of course I know production fell, and it hurts my soul to see what’s happening in agriculture,” he told BIRN.
Babic refused BIRN’s requests to discuss the details of the PP Retkovci affair, saying court documents from the time contained all the necessary information. He is currently a judge with the constitutional court, the highest judicial body in Croatia.
In the complex that was once the heart of the Retkovci collective farm, all that remains today are about a hundred sheep, whose care provides employment for about five people. Kasteljan, the former worker, says the villagers “live in perpetual debt, hoping to make ends meet”.
Ivekovic, the Croatian trade union leader, says he is losing hope of justice for the victims of privatization.
“When I’m really depressed, I wonder if we should have an amnesty for all these crimes,” he told BIRN. “At least it would put an end to the matter.”
Ana Benacic is a Zagreb-based journalist. This article was edited by Neil Arun. It was produced as part of the Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence, an initiative of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and ERSTE Foundation, in cooperation with the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network.