Mention the name Marko Rakar at any cafe in Croatia and you will get one of two looks. If the person is in the know, politically, they will smile and ask, only half-jokingly, if he is not on the run from the police anymore. If the person is a bit more disconnected, they will assume that he is indeed either on the run, arrested, or imprisoned.
Meet the man Marko Rakar and you will be say “excuse me, I’m looking for Mr. Rakar, the sensationalist political activist and debated treasoner.” I managed to hold this sentiment back when I met Marko one sweltering July morning, 6 weeks into my time in Croatia. He invited me to his office, a multi-thousand-square foot publishing complex in an up-and-coming district of Zagreb, and introduced me to his young son – boisterous, but Marko clearly loved him too deeply to reprimand him much.
“Your building is beautiful,” I said. “But…why is it so empty?”
“Four years ago,” Marko began.
Four years ago, Marko was the head of the largest publishing company in Croatia, a conglomerate he had single-handedly built from the ground up. Like most business owners in Croatia, he paid multiple bribes every year, to every department imaginable. Bribes to keep utilities flowing, bribes to ensure that land registries were up to date, and that his license to print stayed afloat. Four years ago, Marko decided he had bribed enough. A tax official came to him and said that things were moving slowly at the agency, and it would be a shame if his business could not go on. Marko told him it would indeed be a shame, as he had paid his taxes, and left it at that.
Marko’s tax payment mysteriously never arrived, his business was forced into bankruptcy, and he lost everything. The building now sits almost entirely empty, as a brief tour showed – save stockpiled publications from political campaigns.
“Whose political campaigns?” I asked. Meaning – who would be crazy enough to hire someone with the political and economic blacklistings which Rakar has received.
“Josipovic,” Rakar returns, with a smirk.
And a well-deserved one – Josipovic is the new president of Croatia, a former law professor and internationally renowned classical composer who ran for office on the sole predication of his lack of political taint. Hiring Rakar was not Josipovic’s first radical move in his thusfar short political career, but those other stories are for another time – because here is where Rakar’s story gets interesting.
Josipovic hired Rakar because of Rakar’s fame as a multimedia marketer. Rakar’s fame as a marketer comes from a virally successful website he created in 2009, when he pieced together a crowd-sourced exposure of massive voter fraud that had allowed Croatia’s ruling party, HDZ, to win countless elections with nothing but thousands of fake votes.
Rakar recalls, “I put out a call online. I said ‘I have a way to prove that the government is faking votes, all I need is a copy of the voter registry’. One week later, some man, a man I have never met and do not know, comes to me with an envelope and says that these CDs have what I want. Two days later, I launched the site and the entire thing begins.”
Rakar started out with a simple comparison – voters registered vs. living Croatian citizens. Guess which number was larger. He knew he had some proof, but not enough. So he placed the registry online, delineated by full address and number of voters registered. Comments began pouring in by the thousands. Citizens of rural towns would report that the house down the street, with all of two bedrooms, had 100 voters registered to it. In many cases, the population of false voters in a town entirely exceeded the number of actual residents.
Rakar was arrested, and his computers and phone seized, but the truth prevailed, and he was released with no charges. When I ask him what has happened since, he tells me nothing has happened, that this is Croatia and that it will be a long long time. I tell him that Josipovic is something, and he just gives me that smirk.