“A media scene of intolerance, indifference and sensitive media frivolities“

The media scene is largely a reflection of the political interests dominating a country. Consequently, the influence of civilized media and civil society organizations will remain marginal; if institutional politics does not stem the tide of hate speech, a mass revision of Antifascist history, extolling the Ustaša regime and stigmatization of Serbs and other minorities, it is hard to expect that anyone will.

Partisans have perpetrated genocide over Croats! In only three weeks, they have killed hundreds of thousands of Croats, mostly young men and children, without trial! This was not Antifascism; it was the worst kind of Fascism, worse than Hitler’s. In an attempt to conserve ammunition for the raid on Trieste, so-called Antifascists have cruelly murdered our children with cold weapons, thereby laying down the Stalinist, Titoist and Yugoslav payment in blood.

Before the Republic of Croatia, the Socialist Republic of Croatia, the Independent State of Croatia and Croatia in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, there was a Croatian state-building history that will forever after be the basis to a Croatian territory reaching to the river Drina, even if Croatia was to be reduced to the size of a polis that can be encompassed from the top of the Cathedral in Zagreb. The Croatian sate framework reaching the Drina will carry on existing even if Croats were to disappear completely. It is precisely the denial of the legacy of state law that leads to genocide.

“We are witnessing the appearance of ‘professional Antifascists’ who are hounding against the Croatian national idea, ready for a new massacre of Croats if the opportunity presents itself. You can imagine what would have happened in the 1990s had the ‘Allies’ provided more support to Četniks and ‘Partisans’.”

“The Yugoslav and Great Serbian Fascism is so cruel and malicious that we cannot see its expression in Jasenovac. Yugoslav Fascism is worse than anything the world has ever seen- The same Fascism is strongly present in Croatia today, where it is very influential among institutions and many ‘non-governmental’ organizations, who are conducting their actions to deface and demographically destroy the Croat nation. The ascription of Nazi concentration camp Jasenovac to Croats is a typical malignant deception. “

The above quotations are part of a text entitled “Danger of a criminal revision of history – Jasenovac was a Yugoslav camp”, published in the weekly newspaper 7dnevno on May 3, 2015, and three days prior, on April 30, on the web-page dnevno.hr. The text is about ten typewriter pages long and is visibly announced on the front page of the weekly with the phrase “Stop the criminal revision of history – Jasenovac was a Yugoslav death camp”. This text, written by author Tvrtko Dolić, is typical and by no means a lone example of the kind of writing published by both dnevno.hr and 7dnevno. It is important to know that the 7Dnevno weekly costs six kuna, which is 10 less than, say, the weekly Globus. A less discerning and less affluent reader will, likely, opt for 7dnevno instead of Globus, deceiving him/herself that these newspapers (or rather, “newspapers”) will offer a wealth of trustworthy, useful and validated information.

The dnevno.hr portal and the 7dnevno weekly are not classical informative media with the goal of publishing validated information according to the rules, best practices and traditions of the journalist profession. Only a minor part of the information published by these media could be considered to be the result of genuine journalist work. For the most part, as is evidenced by the quotes, these media publish rousing and fabricated texts intended to incite hatred. For example, on the day of last year’s Commemoration day of the Jadovno concentration camp 1941, dnevno.hr published a text entitled “The worst scum of Great Serbian politics visit Jadovno”. This sort of text is published regularly, edition by edition, from the moment they were founded. The dnevno.hr internet portal and the 7devno weekly are perhaps the most familiar, but by no means the only examples of such practice in Croatian media. The ways these media operate and the amounts of intolerance and hate they regularly publish lead to the conclusion that they were not established to proliferate information, but an ideology of Croatian chauvinism and intolerance towards Serbs and anyone else their actors call enemies. Considering the fact that there are many in operation now, we can call this kind of publications “intolerance media”.

That it is really true that “intolerance media” are contaminating the public intentionally and not accidentally can be evidenced by a reaction of the Council for Electronic Media to dnevno.hr’s last year invitation to boycott Serb-owned stores. On April 8, 2014, this portal published a text with the title “People of Vukovar call Croats to boycott Serbian products! Here is a list of stores they will not shop at until the Cyrillic script leaves Vukovar!”. The list was indeed published, but soon taken off the portal because – as the editorial board had explained – because the list had included a store owned by a Croat by mistake. Commenting on such behaviour by dnevno.hr’s editorial board, the Council for Electronic Media warned that the main problem in this specific case was the fact that the provider of an electronic publication, i.e. the editors, sees nothing wrong with publishing contents like these but points out that the list was removed only because it had included a person that should not have been there due to their Croatian nationality. This kind of behaviour is not only a violation of the provisions of the Electronic Media Act, but a direct violation of the Constitutional principle of equality of all citizens of the Republic of Croatia.

The censure of the Council to dnevno.hr, stating that the portal had “breached the Electronic Media Act that prohibits the spread of hate or discrimination based on national belonging”, had no effect. The press release by the Croatian Journalists’ Association had no effect either, stating the following: “The attacks and offenses by dnveno.hr and to a lesser extent 7dnevno against individuals, organizations and social groups that do not share their conservative right-wing worldview return us to the 1990s and often reduce the culture of public communication to a level of hate speech established by the wartime and post-war Slobodni tjednik and Imperijal”.

Recalling Slobodni tjednik and Imperijal will remind us of the tradition of intolerance media in Croatia. Slobodni tjednik, founded in 1991 by Split journalist Marinko Božić, had once published a list of alleged Četniks in Sisak, after which several people from the list were killed or went missing. The same newspaper published a fabricated article about supposed terrorist Čedomir Vučković who tried to kill Branimir Glavaš in the summer of 1991, along with a photograph of a massacred man’s corpse. After years of painstaking investigation, Feral Tribune’s journalist Drago Hedl established that the article, authored by Robert Pauletić, was completely fabricated and that the name of the murdered man was misreported: it was not Čedomir Vučković but Đorđe Petković. Both Petković and Đorđević were victims of torture by sulphuric acid under Glavaš. This way, Božić had concealed a war crime and further contributed to the hate towards Serbs, which was ubiquitous during the war years.

But there was an example of hate media even more egregious than the Slobodni tjednik. It was Hrvatski vjesnik from Vinkovci, edited by Zvonimir Šekulin. The newspaper had published offensive texts and openly called for the murder of Serbs and its editor declared himself publicly as an “independent Ustaša”. Unlike this openly chauvinist weekly medium, other “civil” newspapers in Croatia were attempting to maintain at least a semblance of professionalism, but had also, in the Nineties, published a number of rousing texts against Serbs, Bosniaks and other groups incompatible with radical Croat nationalism.

Continuation of the tradition of intolerance media

This is the tradition that has sired today’s intolerance media. In the 2000s, under the influence of the Government of Ivica Račan and the Presidency of Stjepan Mesić, and later by Prime Ministers Ivo Sanader and Jadranka Kosor, state-owned media were run by more moderate editors so the media space was mostly free of overt hate speech. However, in the last two or three years, following the radicalization of political and economic conditions, the media scene in Croatia became radically worse, which is something that is still not thoroughly analysed.

Apart from dnevno.hr and its printed companion 7dnevno, a whole slew of intolerance media has sprung up. Hrvatski tjednik from Zadar was always nationalist, but its editorial policy can be seen becoming increasing radical from one issue to the next. When the Hague court acquitted General Ante Gotovina, and Gotovina stated in the Serbian weekly Kurir that Croatia is no more his home country than it is the home country of Croatian Serbs exiled during the Oluja military operation, Hrvatski tjednik started attacking the General whom it had hailed as a hero until then. In May of last year, the editor-in-chief of Hrvatski tjednik Ivica Marijačić commented on the fact that the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne had confirmed FIFA’s punishment to football player Joe Šimunić for inciting fans to use the salute “for home – ready”: “FIFA would not have punished Šimunić and the Court of Arbitration for Sport would not have confirmed the punishment if the campaign against him had not been run by Minister Željko Jovanović, who several years ago celebrated the Četnik uprising and cruel massacre of Croats in Srb in 1941”.

Glas Koncila, the weekly newspaper of the Catholic Chruch in Croatia, published in last July an interview with Mladen Ivezić, a historian who denies the genocide and Holocaust in Jasenovac. “I cannot accept 4,000 people as the real maximum number of victims. It is impossible that there have been 5,000, probably not even 3,000, probably one thousand at most of all causes, mostly natural causes and typhus”. The example of this interview leads us to the “spill-over” of speech of intolerance from media established explicitly in order to incite hate to so-called “civil”, mainstream media who are usually considered to be respectful of elementary political correctness.

But before we touch on these, it is important to mention a phenomenon that was not there in the Nineties and is probably the main channel of spreading hate today – online forums and social networks. Any reader of online portals can attest to how much the Internet in Croatia has become a breeding ground for hate speech, far beyond the limits of the media outlets we have dubbed intolerance media. In a three-part series entitled “The resurrection of hate in Croatia”, providing a summary view of sixty-something pages of hate speech directed at Serbs that the Serb National Council had compiled last year in politics, the media and public speech, the Internet portal lupiga.com – one of the few that speaks out against hate speech – concluded that “social networks have become the main tool of spreading intolerance towards Serbs and other minority groups”.

A solution to the problem is nowhere in sight, warn the authors of the series on lupiga.com: “The Internet provides anonymity, encouraging many participants of discussions in social networks, forums and comments sections of portals to use hate speech, reaching many users in a short timeframe. Since most portals and other online platforms do not have the adequate staff to moderate discussions, with even those that do being under-capacitated, most offensive comments are never deleted. An aggravating circumstance is the fact that the Internet is still a  gray area for many legislations, Croatian included”.

Indifference media

Apart from intolerance media, we will point out another recognizable group – indifference media. Here we can point to the most influential mainstream media, from the national television and radio service HRT to the nation-wide TV networks Nova TV and RTL, to daily and weekly newspapers with a nation-wide reach. These media hardly give any notice, much less resist, the rising tide of hate speech in all channels of public communication in Croatia. A positive counter-example could be the reaction to the punishment for Joe Šimunić for using the Ustaša salute after a match, as the most influential media have expressed support for this measure by the International Federation of Association Football. The problem is, however, the fact that mainstream media do not recognize hate speech as a mass occurrence that is impacting the political and public spaces, but still treat instances of hate speech as isolated incidents that do not merit attention. This attitude cannot be called anything else than – forgery.

The indifference media, on the other hand, are themselves not immune to intolerant speech. The most famous and highest-print examples are probably the columns written by Milan Ivkošić in Večernji list. Week after week, Ivkošić uses stereotypes of “Communists” and “Leftists” as though they were self-understandable truths. Ivkošić’s style of writing is an obvious example of disrespect to political correctness and labelling those who think differently. The Croatian Television, on the other hand, has used its show TV Calendar to publicize historic revisionism about WWII, but also to conceal the entire truth about the 1990s in Croatia.

Finally, there are media opposing hate speech. The most prominent are the already mentioned lupiga.com, Serbian minority journal Novosti and online portal h-alter. There are also human rights civil society organizations that are sensitized to the increasing problem. The influence of these media and organizations with access to the most influential media is not negligible, but nowhere near enough to stop the slide of Croatia towards the radical Right. The media scene largely reflects political interests dominating the country. The tide of hate speech coincides temporally with the arrival of Tomislav Karamarko to the head of the Croatian Democratic Union and the formation of the so-called Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, which has inspired the violent removal of Latin-Cyrillic signs in the City of Vukovar. Consequently, the influence of civilized media and civil society organizations will remain marginal; if institutional politics does not stem the tide of hate speech, a mass revision of Antifascist history, extolling the Ustaša regime and stigmatization of Serbs and other minorities, it is hard to expect that anyone will.

Croatia is facing another paradox: Tomislav Karamarko, in terms of civilization values, should be learning from Ivo Sanader.

This article was published thanks to co-funding from the Europe for Citizens Programme.