JUNE 1 2009 11:05h
A born Herzegovinian and declared a Zagreb native, Milan Bandic has been governing Zagreb for nine years.
He arrived in Zagreb in 1974, when he was 18 years old, but called himself a “Zagrepcanec” (term used in Zagreb for indigenous Zagreb citizens) nevertheless. In the past nine years, he shook the hand of nearly every citizen of Zagreb, he learned how to say “kaj” (meaning “what” in Croatian, but is a jargon term in Northern Croatia and Zagreb) and became the honorary president of every acknowledged association. Now, the citizens have entrusted him with the fourth term as Zagreb mayor. He is, of course, Milan Bandic, a born Herzegovinian, a relentless marathon runner, Batman and as he calls himself, a little mouse who has conquered the Croatian capital.
His most favourite dish is borecole with dry lamb, according to his mother`s recipe; his life motto is “work, love and kindness”, while his hobby is cleaning shoes, as he told us himself.
He was born on November 22, 1955 in Donji Mamici, a village in Herzegovina which is situated half way between Grude and Klobuk, to be precise in the Cerov Dolac hamlet, or even more precisely, on Bandic Hill. From a resume published on his official website, it is evident that Milan Bandic did not have it easy growing up. In poverty, when he lost his father Jozo at a young age, who had education above average and was quite influential in his environment. Ever since then, Bandic has been exceptionally close to his mother Blagica, which he proves in his addresses, frequently mentioning all the things she taught him in life, that he does not have the time to have some coffee with her and that he gladly remembers the scent of her walnut loaf and tasty waffles.
- All I know how to do in life are the three things my mum taught me: to work, love and build – Milan Bandic said.
A map of Zagreb in a brown fake leather suitcase and away!
Still, he spent most time growing up with her mother`s father, who was the wealthiest man in the village. He had only two horses and the amount of land as everyone in the village had put together. Every day after school, until late in the night, Bandic, his grandfather, elder brother Drago and younger sister Tonka used to water tobacco. His grandfather was called Ante Tomic, but everyone called him Brkusic because of his large moustache, Bandic described in his biography, adding that he has only fond memories of him. On the other hand, he does not remember his father`s father, Srecko, who died before World War II.
Despite working hard in the garden, Bandic was an excellent pupil, who enrolled a grammar school, where he received a student loan.
- I still remember the thrill about that June morning of 1974 when I put a map of Zagreb, two pairs of underwear, jeans and two T-shirts in a brown fake leather suitcase. What I had always been dreaming about became reality – Bandic described his arrival in Zagreb.
Although the city seemed smaller that he had imagined, but more beautiful than in photographs, it took a long time for Bandic to get used to walking under street lamps. He never stayed at a dorm, but Andjelko Leko, a famous hotel owner in Zagreb today, took him in as his lodger. Curious Bandic toured all the cultural events as he arrived in Zagreb and in the autumn, he enrolled the Faculty of Political Sciences. In order to improve his life standard and return the student loan, physical labour was in store along with studying, just like at home.
Initially, he got by unloading sugar and coal, but was best at plastering facades. He plastered half of the Mikulicic Street in Crnomerec with several friends and made good money. At that age, he met his future wife Vesna at a dance. They have a daughter Ana-Marija.
Became popular walking next to Zdravko Tomac
Academically educated, after conscription, Bandic found employment in Ledo, where he worked at minus 25 degrees Celsius in cold storage. Six months later, he moved up to an office, where he did not find his bearings, because, as he pointed out, he prefers being in the company of people. Until then, Bandic was anonymous, nobody assumed he would become the second most important person in democratic Croatia.
A turning point which marked Bandic`s life was his departure to the Pescenica Municipality Committee of the Communists` Association of Croatia, where he became the expert-political worker for ONO and DSZ. Political mentors turned the “man of the land” into a decent, polite politician.
- Milan Bandic was very loveable, beloved, hard-working. We noticed his ability of adjusting to all sorts of situations on the first day already. He was given a hard task, which could have been performed by the most trustworthy people only and we thought he could do it. He was attacked by those who thought he was too young and lacked experience, but we showed that he could do it as a young and capable politologist. He did a successful job and thanks to his abilities, he is what he is today. It is my pleasure that I helped him as an elderly and more experienced colleague to develop into a political worker – Ivan Sikic told us, who was Bandic`s boss at the time and is the president of the Pescenica-Zitnjak City quarter of Zagreb today.
Milan Bandic became the secretary of the Social Democratic Party`s (SDP) City Board in 1993, he qualified for the City Assembly in 1995 and became the president of the Zagreb SDP branch in 1997.
Probably the most credited person for turning Milan Bandic from a construction worker into Zagreb mayor was Zdravko Tomac, who was called his “political father” a few years ago.
“Skinned him” for buying Zagrepcanka
Tomac decided to form a coalition in 1995 and win power in Zagreb. He approached Vesna Vesligaj, the president and Milan Bandic, the secretary of the SDP`s City Board, offering them to be on his list for the Pescenica electoral unit in the direct election for Croatian Parliament. Since then, when that list got most votes, up to 1997, Bandic was Tomac`s right hand man, he walked in the streets of Zagreb by his side and became familiar. This is when the time was right for Bandic to become independent, as Tomac once said.
It was in 2000, when Bandic was the first on the lost at the early elections and became Zagreb Mayor. A year later, at the regular local elections, he confirmed this function and formed a coalition with the Croatian People`s Party (HNS). Becoming mayor, Bandic started his first scandal. Scandals became an everyday occurrence, particularly during his third term, from 2005 until 2009.
Apart from hiring 14 new advisors at the City administration, which cost the city budget additional 150,000 kuna every months, the media discovered in 2000 that he financed the renewal of houses in Bosnia-Herzegovina`s Derventa in the amount of half a million kuna of Zagreb money. A line of scandals occurred. In 2001, it was discovered that he had a weekend house in Samobor which did not have a construction permit, while his political career became questioned the same year.
On behalf of the city of Zagreb, Bandic purchased land of the former Zagrepcanka meat industry in Heinzelova Street in the amount of 30 million German marks in 2001. He was accused of making a harmful deal, but to experts` surprise, Bandic managed to partially clear the land and enter his name as the owner. However, lacking funds, he sold half of valuable real estate to Radic`s IGH, which he believes was the best deal he ever made.
Drunkenness cost him his seat
On the other hand, the most stupid thing in his political career, which is what he called it, happened in January 2002, when he caused a traffic “accident” under the influence of alcohol and ran away from the police. This accident cost Bandic his post as mayor, and the police officer who pulled him over lost his job. Luckily, the officer was reinstated and Bandic explained his recklessness saying that he was at a wake where he had three glasses of wine and water.
Only 19 months later, in July 2003, he suffered a brain stroke. The doctors then said it was too much stress and a killer pace, but this did not stop Bandic from returning to his job in September and continuing as he were.
- The happiest day of my life was when I was reborn after the stroke – Bandic said on one occasion.
At the end of his term in 2004, the media revealed the “Nenuphar” scandal. The City government singled out six million kuna for cleaning Lake Jarun, while 4.88 million kuna ended up in private accounts, supposedly. Aleksa Kocijan was arrested three years later, who was accused by the opposition that he pulled out money for financing an election campaign.
Apart from a line of scandals, the SDP-HNS coalition was on the verge of breaking down several times with many arguments and public accusations of corruption.
Suspicious land substitutions
At the next election in 2005, Bandic formed a coalition with the Croatian Peasants` Party (HSS) and the Croatian Pensioners` Party (HSU) and won his third term in the city.
- I have intensively been socialising with Milan Bandic for ten years, but we go way back. Milan is a man who knows how to do his job, he has a lot of warmth in his soul and an incredible heart, he supports his friends. He managed to do something not many people can, to separate friendship and business. I am proud to be his friend, but he is the boss during working hours and I am a part of his team. It pleases me when he says that my office is doing a good job – Zvonimir Sostar, City head for health, said. Despite the praises, even this term was marked by scandals, mostly linked with suspicions substitutions of land and favouring Bandic` s best men.
Many scandals during Bandic`s third term were linked with the Zagreb Holding company, which was founded in 2007 with the goal of efficiently and permanently performing utility services with the maximum of environmental protection and the protection of public interest, which hid not stop the prices of utility services going up. Critical opposition frequently called out Bandic because of the Holding company, while he announced restructuring and better work.
Over 250 charges against Bandic
The biggest blow to the Holding company was in 2008 when Igor Radjenovic, director of Zagreb Roads at the time, reported a line of irregularities in business, which resulted in him being beaten up. In the end, Slobodan Ljubicic was dismissed, a close associate of Bandic`s, who was the director of the company which was 100 percent owned by the City.
The same year, Bandic`s City government was criticised due to frequent affairs with the Tigra company, owned by his best man Milan Penava. Over paid business for works at the wooden pavilion in Tuskanac and a tin kiosk of the Zagreb Electric Tram in Crnomerec, later on public toilets at Dubrava and Dubec tram stations again intrigued the office for the Prevention of Corruption and Organised Crime (USKOK). During his three terms, over 250 charges have been raised against Bandic because of suspicions of crime, which is how many are familiar to the public.
Still, many praise him because of the projects he has realised, the kindergartens, schools, roads he has constructed… His greatest pride is constructing apartments according to the Zagreb model of housing, while his best project was decorating Lake Bundek. The age-long mayor of Zagreb points out the construction of the Arena sports hall, whose future is still uncertain, the Contemporary Art Museum, which has still not been opened, “reviving” Kozari putevi, construction of the new Ambulance institution, decorating Mount Sljeme. As he announced, he would like to head the City administration in order to realise the construction of the Craftsmanship Centre, the Handball Home, the swimming pool in Svetice, apartments in Podbrezje, ten nursing homes, the cable car and the Northern by-pass…
His greatest wish, which has not yet come true and which he has been announcing since 2000, is a referendum for the Maksimir stadium.