The case of Branko Markan, a 48-years-old resident of Osijek who until mid-1996 peacefully lived in a run-down family home in the center of Osijek, which had been left to him by his parents, shocked the Croatian public. Markan's misfortune was that his house caught the eye of the former Police Chief Jezercic, who had decided to exactly on that spot build a luxurious restaurant. When Markan refused to sell the property, Jezercic followed up with threats, violence, night attacks, and then even three-years-long captivity, during which Markan worked without pay, was deprived of his freedom and all rights, literally as a slave.
"I know that this will be hard to understand, that someone can be a slave these days, but whatever I did, they would be informed about it within 30 minutes," says Markan, using the vocabulary that betrays a learned and educated, but extremely scared person. He very precisely describes pressures to which he had been exposed. First only "friendly" persuasion that it would be in his interest to sell the house, then insistence of a handful of policemen that he should go talk to Jezercic, then a night break in into his house during which two armed individuals pushed a barrel of a gun into his mouth. Markan described his first meeting with Jezercic in the conversation with Feral exactly the way he later described it to the Police, during the investigation and during a court hearing. He had to describe corridors along which he walked, the elevator, and Jezercic's office, as well as the layout of the furniture in the office and explain who set where. He said that Jezercic was polite but firm. He said, mentioning minister Jarnjak, that he was supposed to get a loan for purchase of land from the Police and that is why he was in a hurry to buy the house from Markan.
After the initial refusal to sell and the nighttime attack which followed immediately, Markan, as he said, was again taken to see Jezercic. This time, already extremely scared, he agreed to exchange his house for a small apartment (about 75 square feet of area), worth DM30,000 and another DM5,000 in cash. He would later get only DM1,000.
However, the small apartment in the Osijek district Jug II, where Markan briefly lived after the sale of the house, caught the eye of Tomislav Mikulic the policemen who had taken him to see Jezercic, driven him to real estate agencies and notary public offices, and would soon afterwards turn him into his personal slave. However, before that Mikulic forced Markan to appoint Mikulic's wife for his caretaker, until his death. Later, at the same notary-public's office, Markan authorized Mikulic to sell his apartment. The money from the sale of the apartment, as well as DM4,000 owed to him by Jezercic never made it to Markan. After the sale of the apartment, Markan briefly lived with a friend, and then Mikulic moved him to an abandoned holiday home on the very bank of the Drava river, in the territory which, as the reintegration of the Danube Valley region had just begun, was under special Police surveillance at the time. Markan slavery started on this spot.
While in the center of Osijek, on the spot where Markan's run-down house used to stand, a new apartment building was being built (it would later be converted into a restaurant; Jezercic managed to get a thirty year loan for the construction of the object from the Police, for 216,000 kunas, without a down-payment, and with the privileged interest rate of only two percent), Markan lived in isolation, guarded by Mikulic. He was soon moved from the holiday home near the Drava river to a container on the outskirts of Osijek, on the land owned by a construction material trading company. Finally, in that very same container, Markan ended up in the yard of the house of Mikulic's parents, near Osijek. He did not receive any compensation for his work, apart from food.
"Who could I complain to? Mikulic was a policeman and most of his friends worked for the Police. Jezercic was a Police Chief. I was continuously exposed to threats. They said that I would be killed. I was extremely afraid," explained Markan.
Living in a container, he had to do all sorts of jobs, but he mostly did field work, fed pigs and cleaned the pigsty at Mikulic's parents' farm. On one occasion Mikulic even loaned Markan to his acquaintance Gordan Jurkovic, also a policeman, so that he could help him clean his cellar.
Another episode, related to Feral's journalist by Markan illustrates his situation at the time, as well as the sort of deals that took place in the Osijek Police during Jezercic's tenure. Markan was issued a new personal identification card. This card indicated that Markan lived at 4 Kornatska St. in Osijek, even though he had never been there. "A physician, Mikulic's friend lived there. They registered me at that address so that that physician could use my war veteran privileges and import a car without paying taxes. She was supposed to be my driver and that is why I had to be registered at her address. I do not know why they never imported that car, but I never got the new identification card. Thus, for a long time, I did not have either my identification card or my passport," said Markan.
Markan and Jezercic, although the former Osijek Police Chief probably does not remember that, met for the first time at the founding of the 160th Osijek brigade. Jezercic was its commander and Markan a private. When the war ended and Markan was demobilized. He was unemployed and lived on the assistance received by Croatian defenders for a while after their demobilization. Jezercic, on the other hand, based on his wartime achievements and close friendship with Osijek-Baranja county governor Branimir Glavas, references that opened all doors, became the Osijek Police Chief. However, that important function did not satisfy his appetite so that he decided to build a restaurant; true, he chose an indirect route - first he was going to build a family home, so that he could get a loan, and then, once the money arrived, he was going to convert the house into a restaurant. As we already saw, that endeavor reunited him with Markan.
It would be interesting to see the bills for the construction and equipment for the exclusive restaurant Grand. That was not the object of the investigation, but it is definitively an impressive skill to build an object estimated at DM1 million from the initial loan of DM55,000. In the meantime, Jezercic's restaurant had to change its name and it is now named Barun, as another restaurant had already been registered in Osijek under the name Grand. While Jezercic was the Police Chief that did not bother anyone and the name of the restaurant was changed soon after Jezercic was dismissed early this year.
If the HDZ was not defeated in the January 3 elections, Markan would still most likely be imprisoned in a container, would feed about 30 pigs owned by Mikulic's parents and would still be doing field work. When he heard on the radio that Jezercic had been fired, Markan realized that freedom was near. He soon afterwards contacted the Police and his horrendous story, about slavery in Europe at the very end of the twentieth century, made it to the public.
If the evaluation were conducted and its conclusions were favorable for those who were trying to set Markan up, would have anything been different? Would that mean that retarded and disabled persons in Croatia are not covered by laws, and can be kept in custody and enslaved without sanction?
What did the judge really want to achieve with that psychiatric evaluation? Was he trying to find mitigating circumstances for Jezercic and Mikulic, ridicule Markan, and legalize the practice of enslavement of persons who are unable to oppose brutal Police force?
When last week Jezercic and Mikulic were sentenced, most of those questioned had already been answered. Impressed by Jezercic's wartime achievements, judge Ljubojevic took that as a mitigating circumstance, although adding that the fact that Jezercic was a Police Chief did not mean that he could do anything he liked. Judge sentenced Jezercic to the minimal prison sentence of one year because, after all, he was a commander in the war and a Chief of the Croatian Police, and such individuals do not deserve the same treatment as a despised slave. Mikulic was also found guilty for three crimes and given the minimal sentence of two years and ten months in prison. He was sentenced to a year in prison for every crime, and when those sentences are added up, the overall sentence is shorter by two months than the time Markan spent as a slave.
Surprisingly, although he was a defender of Croatia, none of numerous war veteran associations raised its voice to protect Markan. Obviously, all of them have much important business to deal with - domestic and foreign policy of Croatia. His fate does not interest those brawny, tall, well fed men with crew cuts, with thick gold chains hanging around their necks, who every few days establish a new organization for the defense of the dignity of the Homeland War. Wasn't exactly Markan's case ideal for a demonstration of the reasons for their existence? They could have stood in defense of a war veteran who was not only treated unjustly but also humiliated and deprived of every human dignity.
And human dignity, one would think, is more important than the dignity of every war, even the Homeland War.
More about Markan case: Better Slave Than in Grave, slavery in Croatia, 5/20/00