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Croatia: Changing Eminent Domain for a Golfing Gain

Near the end of last year, a law was passed in the Croatian Sabor (Parliament) that made a number of changes to how eminent domain can be used within the country, specifically when it comes to the development of golf courses. The blog for Lifejacket Adventures describes why this particular type of development required government intervention:

Currently it is very difficult to organize a large parcel of land in Croatia for a golf resort as the country is divided into numerous small plots, many of which are owned by numerous owners, who may also be dead or living overseas. The newly passed law is a heavy-handed attempt to break this impasse.

The new law allows the government to use ‘eminent domain’ to confiscate land from its owners if a golf course resort is proposed nearby and the land is required for the development, even if the owners don’t wish to sell. There is no right of appeal.

…The situation smacks of overt corruption – several golf developers have given sizable donations to HDZ [the majority party of Croatia] and a local Istrian law firm, who has a number of large golf developers as clients, had a hand in drafting the legislation.
It seems that there is now no way to prevent Jupiter Adria from building its resort below Motovun.

The town in question that this immediately affects is Motovun, an otherwise idyllic hilltop town similar to others that dot the landscape of the Istrian Peninsula in the far western region of Croatia.

Motovun
The approach to Motovun, from Hudin

As this process started, a local to the area named Ranko Bon began writing about what was happening on his site, Residua:

In major developments, such as golf in Motovun, the state land is leased for a period of many years, while the private land adjoining it is sold outright to foreign investors. The spatial or physical planning process preceding individual development projects is widely used in the region to ensure that leasing and sale go hand in hand. In accordance with the Croatian law, agricultural and urban land use can be switched in the planning process without informing the owners.

Motovun is a very small place and this article did not go without notice. Just a few weeks after publishing the article, Ranko was summoned to court for slander as he wrote in a later article:

…this morning I got a hefty piece of registered mail summoning me to the County Court in Pazin on December 1. Vugrinec is suing me for slander on account of a piece of mine published on my website (“Croatia Spells Conflict of Interest,” October 3, 2008)…

…the mayor demanded my apology for slander, which I refused to give. I told him that we should discuss such matters in the presence of our lawyers, and that the public discussion should concern only the study itself.

Ranko's situation to date remains unresolved and is still in legal proceedings.

fields
Valley fields at the base of Motovun. Land such as this is being eyed for federal seizure and development. From Hudin

This issue has become a national concern as well, due to the fact that in addition to not being in line with the EU acquis, there are large environmental concerns as well with the group Zelena Akcija (Green Action) taking up the issue and creating the Facebook Cause, Zahtijevamo ukidanje Zakona o igralištima za golf! (We demand the abolition of the Golf Course Law!) (HRV) which was started by organization member, Jagoda Munić. In the Cause, they outline a good number of the issues and elaborate on how the law came about:

The law was secretly pushed through and threatens the right of ownership and entrepreneurial freedom.

…The law was without a public hearing and deferred through the urgent parliamentary procedure, although it does not relate to the harmonization of Croatian legislation with EU acquis.

They also talk about how large the scope of definitions for golf courses have now become:

Thus the law sets the minimum surface of the golf course to be 85 hectares [210 acres], a building can occupy up to 25% of the total surface area, which makes the possibility of building luxury accommodations and villas, as has already been done by law in the case of Golf & Country Club in Zagreb.

This means that an extremely large resort can be constructed right next to a town that claims fewer than 1,000 inhabitants during the warm months of the year. But, beyond relaying the facts, there is a call to action by multiple groups. On Barkun prozor u istra (A Window into Istria) they write (HRV):

NGOs have called on the citizens to speak up if they are directly affected by this law, and tell others to become a member of the ‘facebook group’ under ‘Zahtijevamo ukidanje Zakona o igralištima za golf!’ which currently has more than 1200 members.

Citizens are also invited to an Internet page where Green Action can send automated mails to all MPs in the Croatian Parliament, Government, and the Ministry of Tourism with the request to revoke this law.

While the Facebook Cause now has 2,700 members, Croatia is a small country and the people fighting this law need all the help they can get. For anyone who wishes to support (or challenge) their cause, join the Facebook Cause or go to Zelena Akcija and send the email. Also, stay up to date with the predicament of Ranko Bon, which he writes updates on (as well as a great many other topics) at his site, including this one three weeks ago:

Concerned with the legal pickle in which I found myself, Vjeran Pirsic, a friend and a Croatian ecological activist of note, recently wrote to Zarko Puhovski, a professor of political science and a Croatian human-rights activist of note. “Concerning Bon,” responded Puhovski tersely, “only two things can help–a good lawyer and a good deal of public noise.” And I have followed his advice to the letter. Having already hired the best lawyer I could find in Istria, yesterday I agreed to appear this Monday at a press conference in Pula organized by some of the Istrian greens, and then I wrote a one-page statement that I will distribute to the journalists who appear at the event [...] And now I am sitting with a glass of wine in my hand and waiting for that noise to begin. I can almost hear it already.

  • http://www.hudin.com Miquel Hudin

    For a bit of an update, there is a new Green party that has organized in Motovun in an attempt to try and oust the mayor who started all of this in the first place. Read more.

  • Bertil Garpenholt

    The comment to the process of stopping building golf and Golf resorts in Croatia. I have read a document on Tourism in Croatia and must after reading this article say that saying no to a development that sets the environment and echology that is now the discussion in many countries regarding building of golf courses.
    Think about all jobs that can be given to a large number of unemplyed for a number of years. Also new possibilities to work and education not only in the service departments but as gardener (green keepers ) etc. So look upon this with open eyes. The infra structure will benefit the income for the region will raise and the possibilities to new jobs.
    I have been part of this development in Guatemala and would gladly be part of this in Cratia as well. Of corse in an echological and nature friendly way
    Bertil Garpenholt
    Goplf Course developer and friend of the nature.

  • http://www.hudin.com Miquel Hudin

    The issue with this particular golf course law is that the law allows people to be forcibly stripped of their land in the name of construction by a private enterprise. Eminent domain abuses like this are getting more and more flagrant as the world starts to get more short of land. We’ve had a similar case happen in the US where land was seized for the development of a shopping mall by a private developer. The US Supreme Court upheld this seizure and set a dangerous precedent. Croatia is seeing much the same thing, although it has been quite bold in its action.

    The other side to this is that the law allows for large-scale development of luxury buildings (ie hotels and resorts) in the area where the golf course is to be constructed. The job creation element is a minor one as this type of construction will decimate a very rural area. If you’re not familiar with the area around Motovun, it is very calm, pastoral area as you can see in this Google Map view. The introduction of a hotel and resort would have a massive environmental impact on native species, traffic, pollution, water use, as well as economically adverse side effects as well due to this being a very small region that has existed for centuries, happily farming and making wine.

    The only reprieve in all of this is that with the depressed economy, this construction project will likely never come about and this window of time will be useful in opponents to fight the law as well as get it stricken from the books as it is absolutely not in agreement with the EU Acquis that Croatia is trying extremely hard to meet with by the end of 2009.

    • http://blog.lifejacketadventures.com Shane Braddock

      Miquel

      Not sure if you have seen this article in the local Istrian press 2 days ago – http://www.glasistre.hr/?,TS,4512,,22241,0,276138,,

      It says that the Minister for the Environment has basically approved the massive resort asked for by Jupiter Adria to be built alongside their golf course in Motovun.

      Interestingly a commission setup by the Ministry had twice asked the developers to make the resort smaller. The developers refused and the head of the commission, Velimir Šimičić, was mysteriously fired. The 8 commissioners also then changed their previous votes!

      Zlatan Juras, director of the Golf Park in Zagreb and a member of the commission, also refused to back the project saying that it was obvious that it was more about real-estate deals than sustainable tourism in Croatia. Juras would be the first person to vote for a golf course that would benefit Croatia.

      • http://www.hudin.com Miquel Hudin

        Figures that it would go through. With EU ascension stalled out due to Slovenia’s attempt to grab more water, I guess they figure they might as well do business the same as usual until then. Sad to see that things are still about the same (or maybe even worse) as the Tuđman times.
        Thanks for the update Shane.

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