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Filming OpenGov Champions: Marko Rakar, Zagreb, Croatia

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You cannot hang around the global OpenGov and transparency community without running into Marko Rakar. This open data activist ended up creating so much change in his native country of Croatia that he is now a close consultant to the country’s current president in all matters of politics. His story is so inspiring that even though we focus mostly on the open government movement in the U.S. in our OpenGov Champions series, I wanted to nominate him as our next Champ. He is a great example of making big change happen through fairly simple actions.

In Croatia, there has long been a surplus of voters in the state’s voter files, a problem that everyone in Croatia is aware of. By simply publishing the list in a searchable web site where you could type in any address to reveal fraudulent voter registrations, Marko and his colleagues at his organization Vjetrenjaca (Windmill) were able to define the problem for once and for all. This led the government into being forced to change the constitution and its laws governing voter registration and residency. Now the government has adopted and published their own version of Marko’s site, asking people to use it to clear up the old, messy voter list.

Which is remarkable, considering that Marko was arrested and accused of “publishing state secrets” in another, similar issue. After the Croatian War of Independence ended in 1995, there were 350,000 war veterans in Croatia. By 2010, there was a surplus of 200,000 registered war veterans in Croatia, and a similar site with a searchable database was published anonymously. Since Marko and his website was now well known in Croatia after the voter file scandal, he began the prime suspect for a crime that wasn’t really even a crime. The public was overwhelmingly on the same side as Marko. Marko had said to the police: “What are you going to do? Do you want me to be the last political dissident in Europe?” The police released him after questioning and the state now has its own version of the Veterans Registry.

When he published another website, this time about public procurement, in 2011, the police released an announcement stating they were “not going to arrest him -- this time.” That site was a another searchable database, this time of state contracts. You could easily find companies that made business with the government, and find illegal setups and interesting “coincidences.” These included companies that existed to do one government contract job only and with exceptionally high profits, or companies with government officials on their boards, revealing back room dealing and corruption in the way the Croatian government grants contracts.

As a result of affecting so much change in his native country through these and many other projects, Marko is constantly being invited to other countries in the region and throughout the world to talk about how he made it happen and helping other organizations to do the same in their countries. Marko uses Foursquare to check into places, and he says only half jokingly that when it’s been six weeks in a row checking into different hotels around the world, it’s time to dial it down a little bit and go back home to Zagreb to his wife and son.

But when you are as passionate about opening up your government as Marko is, it’s hard to keep it under wraps. The way he talks about his work is contagious. He makes it seem so fun and easy: You just publish a simple website, and overnight, you have changed the course of your whole country. Now that’s truly something to look up to.

Our OpenGov Champions are remarkable ordinary people who have done extraordinary things to open up our government. Get inspired by their stories and nominate someone in your community to become an OpenGov Champion.