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article imageCroats Are Still Far From A Farewell To Arms

By Igor Medic     Jul 26, 2001 in Technology
ZAGREB (dpa) - Every fourth Croatian household is in possession of illegal firearms left over from the 1990s war or guns bought on the black market, according to recent interior ministry estimates.

The ministry said Croats were probably among the best-armed nations in Europe. Many still keep machine guns, rifles, hand grenades and even rocket launchers at home.

The high level of arms ownership has some alarming effects on everyday life.

"Do you really want me to kill you?" a 17-year-old boy was quoted as yelling at his teacher last month, distraught at failing to make the grade at the end of a school year.

The boy opened fire in the classroom in the Adriatic town of Split in the incident last month. Fortunately no one was injured since both classmates and their teacher managed to escape.

Another teacher, Josip Medvedovic who works at the high school in the northern town of Varazdin wasn't nearly so lucky. He was shot dead last month by one of his students, 16-year-old Josip Kostanjevac.

Kostanjevac turned on his teacher after getting a poor grade in geography studies. He killed the teacher with a single shot through the window of a car before taking his own life.

It's no secret that some anxious Croatian teachers are tending to upgrade poor E grades into satisfactory ones, especially at the end of school years.

"You never know what the children actually carry in their school bags nowadays. I'm especially scared of hand grenades," said a teacher aged 40 in the capital Zagreb. She preferred not to reveal her name.

Police have frequently appealed on citizens to relinquish their private arsenals, promising that no charges will be pressed against those who voluntarily hand in illegal weapons.

Few people have complied though with the result that many innocents get killed almost every month, frequently minors, who "play" with war souvenirs.

One of the victims was Mario Trpcic, 18-year-old youth who was playing with the hand grenade during a high school party at his home, obviously trying to impress his friends, when it exploded.

He was killed immediately, and six of his colleagues were seriously injured. The incident occurred last May 7 in the eastern Croatian village of Vidovci.

Two months before, in the central town of Sisak, two people were seriously hurt when a 14-year boy opened fire in his classroom. He wounded a colleague after a quarrel and also a teacher.

The boy took hostages and threatened to kill them but laid down his weapon after a 20 minute stand-off. Police found the rifle had belonged to his father who failed to return it after the war ended.

"Because of the war, children have started thinking that violence is the best way to deal with problems, they figure, if nothing helps, the gun will", another teacher said.

Starting from the next school year this autumn, the Interior Ministry plans to organize lectures at Croatian schools about the dangers of guns and other leftover weapons. The motto of the project is "Say Farewell to Arms".

In the last four months, the police say they have confiscated more than 3,000 hand grenades in Croatia, together with 110,000 rounds of ammunition.

Records show that 4.3 million Croats legally keep 383,000 registered firearms yet the number of illegally-held weapons is likely to be much higher. Around 90 firearms are held per 1,000 Croats.

"Many people like war veterans, think they will be much safer with arms. Especially veterans, who also feel sentimental about their war- time weapons," psychiatrist Herman Vukusic said in a recent interview.

"Some of them still think that the war might come again, and they simply want to be prepared," he said. It's estimated that some 16 per cent of the 150,000 soldiers who fought in the 1990s war suffer from so-called post traumatic stress disorder.

Most of them need special care, which they usually don't get. They are easily irritated, and then they reach for the trigger, using a gun against themselves or others, said Vukusic.
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