Journalist Ivo Pukanic was killed on Thursday evening along with marketing director Niko Franjic when the former’s car blew up outside his office in downtown Zagreb. There is no trace of the attackers.
Mr Pukanic, the 47-year-old founder, editor in chief and owner of the independent weekly Nacional, frequently wrote about corruption and human rights violations. In 2003 he gained international notoriety for interviewing Croatia’s former General Ante Gotovina, who was wanted by the UN Yugoslavia tribunal in The Hague on
suspicion of war crimes.
The interview earned Mr Pukanic a Croatian journalism prize but also confirmed his reputation as a journalist not shy of using controversial methods, such as contacting the secret services or mafia figures.
Earlier this year Mr Pukanic narrowly escaped an attempt on his life when gunmen opened fire on him in broad daylight while walking on the street. Last summer he refused further police protection.
His assassination is the fourth to rock Zagreb in recent months. Last month saw the brutal murder of Ivina Hodak, the 26-year-old daughter of a well-known lawyer suspected of links with Croatia’s mafia.
The woman’s killing prompted Croatia’s prime minister to sack the justice and interior ministers as well as the head of the national police. The move was widely welcomed in Croatia but Thursday’s murder once again proves the authorities unable to quell the violence.
Ivo Pukanic (1961-2008) and Niko Franjic (1970-2008)
(Photo: Croatian indepedent weekly Nacional)
The spiraling violence not only casts doubt on the competence of Croatia’s justice and police systems but also raises questions about the country’s readiness for EU accession. Croatia hopes to join the bloc in 2010 but before then will have to prove it is able to crack down on the country’s mafia.
The evaluation report the European Commission is to publish in early November is expected to call into question Croatia’s judicial reforms and its fight against corruption and international crime. "This is the biggest problem", the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Croatia, Hannes Swoboda, told Croatian media on Friday.
Derailing accession talks, says political commentator Davor Djenero, only benefits Croatia’s organized crime.
"Their position is best guaranteed in an isolated country where they can operate unhindered. The violence, though it only affects a small circle, in that sense also aims to sabotage Croatia’s membership talks. On the other hand it forces the Croatian government to step up its efforts to clamp down on organised crime."
Following an emergency meeting of the national security council on Friday, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader announced a raft of new measures, including widening police powers, faster trials, the creation of a DNA database of convicted criminals and a procedure to confiscate illegally acquired property.
Alluding to the car bombs which have been marring the Lebanese capital for decades, the prime minister vowed to do all he can to prevent Zagreb from becoming a "second Beirut".