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.
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.
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.