The Opposition in Croatia
From: Burn This House
Over the course of this blog, I haven't written much about Croatia. The three or four posts dedicated to Croatian topics, seem to focus around Tudjman and the HDZ. While of course the former are very important topics; it is obviously important not to reduce the entire Croatian war experience to the actions of the Presidency and most radical element of the Croatian political scene.
Surely Croats suffered greatly in the war, from the siege of Vukovar to the experience along with the Bosniaks in the camps and seeking refuge in refugee centers across the globe.
And just like there was some opposition to Milosevic's murderous ethnic-cleansing campaign in Serbia; there was also some opposition to Tudjman's ultra nationalism and dictatorship in Croatia.
And I think that I also focus on that aspect of the Croatian war experience, besides just focusing solely on the negative aspects.
So, with that lengthy introduction, here is "The Opposition in Croatia" by Sven Balas.
This essay, part of the book "Burn This House" focuses on the role of the independent media played in resisting Trudjman's nationalism.
In the climate filled with both overt and covert pressure to subsume to the "party line" it was not an easy task.
Perhaps the most illustrative example is that of "Slobodna Dalmacija" A high quality newspaper; in 1991 it denounced Croatian violation of the human rights of Serbs, a topic that the other newspapers didn't want to touch with a ten foot pole.
Trudjman's government decided to privatized the paper, and the best journalists quit in protest. The result that the paper under government supervision and the editorial policy parroted that of the government.
If the experience of "SD" is a cautionary tale of the limits of expressing independent thoughts in Trudjman's Croatia; than the experience of "Feral Tribune" is a much more hopeful example.
Feral Tribune's mastered boldly declares that the newspaper is "the property of those who write and read it." Combining satirical and analytical journalism, the basic message it proclaimed was that not all Croats were the same, set out to kill Muslims and Serbs. And not all Serbs were the same, set out to kill Croats.
Written at times in a deeply ironic prose, Feral Tribune utilize wit and common sense to talk about the war in a way that very few papers were capable of doing.
While Feral Tribune utilizes irony and sarcasm to make a point, perhaps the most illustrative example of this is their use of creative illustrations; such as the one in the winter of 1993 showing a composite of a naket Trudjman enjoying a "pillow chat" with a naked Milosevic. The text below reads "Is This What We Fought For;" the paper was one of the best papers for analyzing all aspects of the war and the effect of the war on the people and institutions in the former Yugoslavia.
The use of "scandalous" graphics on the frontpage was exploited by the Tudjman government. In 1994 a "pornography" task was slapped on the paper. The aim was to destroy the paper financially, and therefore put it out of circulation; while at the same time, not make it appear as the Trudjman government was engaging in censorship. This censorship by proxy would give Trudjman the double advantage of having one of the most critical voices of his policies shut down, while at the sametime, having Tudjman still appear "democratic."
Given the experience of "Slobodna Dalmacija" it would seem as if the "Feral Tribune" would follow the same pathway of formerly independent newspapers who would become a mouthpiece for the government.
Yet, for some reason it didn't happen. And I use the very ubiquitous term "some reason" because the essay does not explain why Feral was able to resist. Was it because the "porn tax" wasn't succesful, was it because Feral received financial aid from outside sources, was it because of a particularly determined editorial staff?
None of that is explained in the essay. But what is explained is the newspaper's continuous role as a voice in the wilderness of nationalism.
Feral frequently denounced the racism and anti-Semitism of the most extreme in Croatian society. It addressed the great taboo of Croatian war crimes. In 1993 it was the first journal to break the story of the HDZ war against the Bosniaks. "Officially" the story was very similar to the story given by elements of "Greater Serbia" just a year ago. That the Bosniaks will getting aid from extremists Muslim terrorists, determined to turn Bosnia into a Shari'a state.
Feral Tribune as it did in the past did not take the official party line as fact; instead it did investigations into HDZ run camps for Bosniak civilians; and the role of the Herceg-Bosna leadership in instigating and causing the Muslim-Croat war, and HDZ camps.
Feral tribune also posted about atrocities committed against Serb civilians. It was indeed the only journal in Croatia to report the existence of ten mass graves of Serb civilians. Feral also posted about human rights violations, abuses and crimes committed against Serb civilians during the "Operation Storm" period.
Feral Tribune was recognized for the reporting and received a "Freedom of Reporting" award from the International Press Directory. Although Trudjman claimed the paper was "anti Croat" and traitorous to the cause of the Croatian state, by reporting the stories no one else would; and by not taking Trudjman's government's word on everything; Feral Tribune served the Croatian people and Croatia in a way that is more true and patriotic than anything rudjman's government could have done.