Tuesday 7 April 2020

Trial and Warning - Croatia after Corona

Trial and Warning

We all undergo changes, and doubtlessly Croatia will look different after Corona. I sincerely hope that this change will be for the better, and will leave us better organized, that human qualities, unity, relying on local producers, innovation and functionality will be appreciated…, says Božo Skoko professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Zagreb in interview with Vladimir P. Goss

Božo Skoko is a professor at the Faculty of Political Sciences of the University of Zagreb, where he is Head of the Graduate Studies in Public Relations. His scientific interests are: public relations and communications, international relations, national identity and image, as well as media. He is co-founder of Millenium promocija, the leading Croatian public relations agency. He is a long-time strategic communications consultant. A former journalist and editor at the Croatian Television, he is also the author of seven books and over seventy scholarly papers on public relations, the media and managing the identity and image of Croatia. He is a columnist of the daily newspaper Večernji list.

VG: Recently you used several times words such as “trial” and “warning”.

BS: If all of this has been a warning, as it seems to be, I hope that we will finally understand how fragile and how vulnerable we are; how man cannot be master of either his own, or of others peoples’ lives, regardless of the trust that others might have in him, or regardless of his authority over them. Man can’t be Master of the Earth regardless of his titles, or political and economic powers supporting him.
Whenever man arrogantly tried to rise above others, above nature, above God, the message came back like a boomerang, telling him that he is fragile and vulnerable…

VG: Thus, man has started to claim the seat of infallibility considering himself to be godlike…

BS: The time has come for us to understand that there is a higher purpose than the one which we perceive and waste our time and fight about. That there is a higher force, and that we do not get to make decisions about anything, let alone our own lives.

VG: If I understand you correctly, this must change…

BS: Things that happen around us can help us distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, and understand what really matters and is durable.
If we really wish to change, then more humility, openness and kindness towards others, and real faith, are required. Although today it is unpopular to say so, we need to have more confidence in God. Although we deny Him, or push Him aside, He regularly lets us know that He is alive and ever present, that we can rely upon his protection at any moment, if we ask for it.

VG: This would imply a choice…

BS: Yes. We do have a choice – either to confide in one’s own power, into various idols, leaders and self-appointed gurus, or to entrust ourselves to the One who rules throughout the ages.

VG: Crisis is Trial, but, if I am following you correctly, it is also an opportunity?

BS: Every crisis can also be an opportunity, if we recognize it and profit from it. Thus this crisis, caused by the virus, forced us to make many changes and adjustments. Beside turning towards our inner selves and questioning our own way of life and values that guided us, we have devoted ourselves to our families, discovered the value of good relations with our neighbors and the beauty of nature (even on a small balcony), we have learned to value the role of local produce and agriculture in general, we have learned about the fragility of entrepreneurship without protection by a powerful state/administration; and our society started to digitalize itself much faster than it could have been expected.

VG: Thus digitalization is not just an evil…

BS: We discover willy-nilly the opportunities of the virtual world, and the institutions, having no other choice, have been adopting services that were previously unimaginable without queues and seals. A few days ago I had the honor to attend the first on-line defense of a Ph.D. thesis, something that two months ago would have been unimaginable. We all undergo changes, and doubtlessly Croatia will look different after Corona. I sincerely hope that this change will be for the better, and will leave us better organized, that human qualities, unity, relying on local producers, innovation and functionality will be appreciated.

VG: Along the corona we had the earthquake…

BS: Although we are still recovering from the destructive earthquake in Zagreb (https://vijesti.hrt.hr/598050/tema-dana-sanacija-stete-od-potresa), this deplorable occurrence can also be regarded as an opportunity. It certainly must sound absurd, but without the devastating earthquake of 1880 there would be no luxurious palaces in the Lower town of Zagreb, no Lenuzzi’s Green horseshoe, or Hermann Bollé restoration of the Cathedral with its two elegant neo-gothic towers…

VG: … which the great art historian, Xavier Barral i Altet, declared „the best 'ottocento' in the world“...

BS: I completely agree. This is an opportunity to raise awareness about our city’s cultural and spatial riches, and to protect them in a correct manner, bringing a breath of modern architecture into irreparable gaping crevices, and thus leave the imprint of our generation onto the urban development (https://matis.hr/vijesti/akcije-prikupljanja-pomoci-zajedno-za-zagreb-i-hrvatska-protiv-koronavirusa/), turning our beloved city into a real metropolis. Zagreb churches and the cathedral are not only places of worship. They are part of the city’s identity, its symbols and cultural treasure, heritage of both the city and the people that we all are proud of and glad to show our visitors… That is the reason why the pictures of the earthquake hurt so much. Priorities are clear – providing for normal function of hospitals and repairing damaged homes, but saying that we should not care about restoration of historic monuments demonstrates a total narrowness of view, ignorance of the true Zagreb identity and (notwithstanding everything else, malevolence included) an ignorant and niggardly attitude towards culture and heritage.

VG: In this difficult situation there is a lot of talk about “priorities”. But isn’t there just one? A new, rebuilt, and confident Croatia?

BS: Exactly. I am deeply convinced that by the end of this crisis we will be more self-confident and responsible. The price of this lesson will be huge since large part of the economy will suffer damage. Tourist season is questionable. Borders will most certainly be closed at least until summer. Therefore we must address our own resources and abilities. We can see how local farms and agriculture become functional… The government turned out to be responsible and capable regarding health care, because by its efficient dealing with the epidemic Croatia is one of five leading countries. The Croat Andrija Štampar is responsible for global expanding of public health and health education. He was also founder of World Health Organization. We feel responsible to demonstrate that we apply these principles. The Government was determined to help Croatian economy, and its measures are among the most efficient in the EU. This is an excellent opportunity for major economic and fiscal reforms. So, not everything is black. We will overcome. Many of us still remember the Liberation War, and enormous sacrifices and shortages that we suffered. Compared to it we will overcome these hardships with ease. All we need are togetherness and responsibility.

Zagreb. Palm Sunday, 2020

Interview conducted and edited by Vladimir P. Goss
English translation by Višnja Bedenko.

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