Only the arrest of the Croatian Prime Minister would probably be more noticed. Formally a role of the vice president, and in fact the owner of the main football club of the neighbouring country was, at least at one time, comparable by its importance with the prime minister’s power. And here lays the beginning of the problem that the current football boss could not understand.
He was not surprised on news of home raids at his and his brother Zoran’s house. On the contrary, he was even announcing them for some time. He probably also noted an interesting news that the Croatian Minister of Finance had reported to police that the president of one of the most prominent Croatian banks had tried to physically assault him in the government cabinet. There is also possibility that he heard information that the Minister of Finance reportedly proposed to the Government a formation of new government, quite special and with authorization of privileged, financial investigation service, which would be responsible only and only to the narrower government’s office. Mamić was telling that he was expecting not only investigations, but also arrests, despite the fact that he could not understand the reasons for such invasion of liberty. Zdravko Mamić was convinced, in interviews at the beginning of the investigation, that he was only a patriot and one of the most capable and respected Croats and respected European football official.
That Sunday afternoon, after the police had taken him over on the Hungarian-Croatian border, the judge decided on the remand prison for him for 30 days without the right to the payment of bail. A few days ago, his detention was revoked upon payment of bail. The Minister of Justice immediately protested against the decision and announced amendment of legislation that allows the payment of bail.
All further procedures remain in the hands of the investigative and judicial institutions and as such do not interest me. The key and interesting question is only the question of where was the point that the brothers Zoran, head coach of the football club Dinamo and his influential brother, Zdravko Mamić did not understand? Or, where is the cause of the different interpretation of the Croatian authorities that they have grossly damaged the state budget and earned, not legally, much and a lot more and their opinion that they only and exclusively create the most important football club?
We have to go back several years ago. Without this going back and the related understanding, Mamić’s conversations in one of the hotels in the Moravske Toplice remain only justification. However, it is not so. Mamić simply did not understand why there were changes.
The crucial was one football shot that should be disallowed. It was at the end of the championship, at the end of the season in 1999. Teams of Rijeka and Osijek were playing. At the end of the match, having the tie, Admir Hasančić scored a goal, winning goal for Rijeka. Nothing really surprising in football, but in exactly the same moment, almost complete intelligence and police apparatus of the state was informed on this goal, as well as their main chief, state president Dr. Franjo Tuđman. The goal, of course, had to be disallowed. Rijeka was not allowed to win, because that would mean that another club, Zagreb Croatia, would lost the title of national champion, and that was the key state interest.
It was the command of the then president of the country, which was executed by the former secret service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
The late president Dr. Franjo Tuđman interpreted sport as a key element of his national policy, and football as the only really serious and influential sport. Therefore, he deleted the names of two clubs immediately after independence and renamed Dinamo, first in HAŠK – Građanski, and then he approved the new name change into Croatia. It was the president’s obsession.
I remember two events. First, pre-election speech of Tuđman in Zagreb’s central Ban Jelačić Square, when he assured that all opponents of the new club’s name were only dangerous provocateurs, Yugo-nostalgic and Serbophiles and he invited them to think again and accept it. For we have for the club, he added excitedly, a new “holy Croatian name and we shall never again allow any nonsense like Dinamo.” I have in my possession a note from that time about the president walk through town, when he asked a child, surrounded by his entourage and the entire propaganda machine, what team he supports. The answer was totally surprising and, above all, for the entourage that organized the event, entirely unexpected. For Dinamo. Even today I hear the forced laughter of the entourage and the president’s confusion. He took the child in his arms and immediately instructed him that the name of Dinamo is the name of clubs from the time of communism, that the Serbian club from Pančevo and Albanian Tirana had this name. Therefore, that the child’s object of support was, however, correct and state-building, but only under a different name, and that is Croatia.
Of course, the reason was related not only with the difference in names.
No, it was something much bigger.
I found one of the interpretations in the memoirs of former vice-president of the Croatian government, Dr. Zdravko Tomac. Tomac claims that the late president was convinced that by abolishing the name Dinamo he would delete the past, including the fact that in the former Yugoslavia it was this football club that was an opponent of Belgrade’s Red Star and, on first place, Partizan, whose president was the then colonel of the former JNA, Tuđman.
However, this explanation is insufficient. The reason for this persistence in changing the name of the football club despite the empty stands and protests was elsewhere.
Tuđman was convinced that Croatia was denied in territory in the former AVNOJ Yugoslavia. Croatia should include all those territories, – of course, in accordance with the state’s philosophy from the 19th century that the power of the state is not measured by the power of acting institutions, but by the size of the territory, – where Croats live. He was referring primarily to Bosnia and Herzegovina. He was also convinced, in accordance with this thesis, that Croatia needed a serious political partner. And such a partner could only be Milošević’s Serbia. Tuđman was therefore convinced that Croats had to achieve a historic compromise with Serbs, actually historic agreement on demarcation. That is why he agreed to secret agreements with Slobodan Milošević, first in Karađorđevo and then in Tikveš, because he considered them the way to conclude this great, historically resounding compromise. However, only at the bilateral level. At home, he did not want such deal with the Serbs, because he considered Croatia the national state of the Croatian people.
In this part, the explanation of Tomac that Tuđman wanted to erase, with new club name Croatia, the memory of the rivalry between Partizan Belgrade and Dinamo Zagreb, can be enough.
But it does not give us sufficient answer to the question where was the focal point of overlooking of now detained owner of again Dinamo, Zdravko Mamić.
Let’s go back again, first in 1991, to the aforementioned game between the players of Rijeka and Osijek, eight years later.
Tuđman loved football. He was convinced that he would be the first Croatian president to establish a football club, as he added, with “holy name Croatia”, which would be able to fight on equal terms with the most powerful European clubs. He considered Croatia as a key part of the strategy of the Croatian political and military independence, as the most powerful instrument of state promotion. Most likely, he was convinced that this would be the shortest way to socialize with the most influential European politicians and the richest owners of big clubs with which he would meet in the grand lodges of big football matches. He saw football club Croatia as the best way for foreigners to understand the Croatian independence and internationally recognized state.
For such set goal, of course, all means were permitted. Or, as Tuđman’s presidential advisor, Dr. Slaven Letica, stated few years later, all legal, sports, business and political frauds became permissible.
Croatia had to become a big European club. And exactly here is where Mamić’s problems begin. Despite the fact that he was still not allowed to come closer back then, neither in the glorious honorary box where only those supporting the club sat, according to excellent and not only sports commentator Tomislav Židak.
Establishment of big club Croatia caused a radical change of player pricing and consequently the need for new money and new sponsors. In the early nineties, an annual football contract higher than one million German marks was paid for the first time in Zagreb. All other football clubs had to follow this. Therefore, various local banks and local public enterprises had to consequently increase their payments irrespective of the current state of their safes.
At the beginning of 1999, the practically forbidden question was asked in Zagreb city council for the first time. The representative from the Liberal Party wanted to know whether the players of Zagreb club pay taxes and contribute to the country. Then Tuđman’s football trustee and the president of Croatia replied affirmative, but he failed to disclose that he speaks only of monthly contributions, but not of large sums from the sales of players, various transfers and contract renewals. No one dared to ask more than this back then.
Tuđman recognized, as football chief, only one serious financing model of clubs, i.e. via state banks and big public enterprises. Various taxes and similar were considered only as a burden or even a weapon with which the Yugo-nostalgic people or Serbophiles would jeopardize the big goal, European Croatia.
Therefore, the late Croatian president believed also in summer of 1999 that Croatia had to be a national champion in football. It was a key national goal. At the same time, the club Rijeka came from environment politically mastered by communists and whose president was retired former prime minister and head of the president’s office, Hrvoje Šarinić. Because of this, Rijeka was not allowed to defeat Osijek. The task of such result was ordered to police and intelligence because of the state-building goal. Everyone who could affect the result was controlled: referees, players and officials. All information was streamed directly to the President’s Office. When the last hit was disallowed, Tuđman only added, “There is still God, and there is still justice left.”
When Zdravko Mamić took over the Croatia after 2000, that is, Dinamo again, after Tuđman’s death, he overlooked the crucial thing: what was allowed to head of state could not be allowed to him; that taxes and everything that the state requires simply has to be paid; that there are no longer any ideology and major sacred goals. There is just a pure accounting proof of payment. That was a key Mamić’s oversight.