Media in independent Croatia.

Written by Marko Pinteric, January 15, 1997.

Table of Contents

Political history of independent Croatia

The Republic of Croatia was up to 1991 still a full member of Yugoslavian Socialistic Federation. But this common state of South Slaves was, beside its famous non-aligned communism, another classic example of a "dungeon of nations," where national interests of the largest national community, Serbs, was widely protected over the interests of the other nations. Additionally, other nations' rights for self-rule and specific culture were also denied, so not surprisingly most Croats and Slovenes exploited first free elections in Yugoslavia as a referendum for the independence. Therefore, elections in Croatia were overwhelmingly won by Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), which offered the most radical programs toward national sovereignty.

However, peaceful separation from Yugoslavia was bloodily blocked by Serbian minority in Croatia. During the worst war days in 1991, the government of national reconciliation was formed, however beside that short period the new-born state was governed unilaterally by HDZ itself. Despite some known cases of misuse of rule and corruption, HDZ kept full support of most of Croatians. Namely, the ground for any kind of free democratic state was separation from Yugoslav Federation and Serbian overrule and the most people believed that HDZ is offering the safest way toward that goal.

Because of immense Serbian military superiority, due to completely unfair and wrong treatment of the problem by international community, equally disabling arming of armed Serbs as well as unarmed Croats, the war elongated until 1996. Nevertheless, even before that, some voices of criticism become louder and stronger, despite even then their sound was tried to be silenced. For several times the Croatian opposition proved to be totally incompetent and infantile compared to strong stands of ruling party, so HDZ kept the power strongly in its hands.

However, after 1996 and the great final military victory of the Croatian army, majority of citizens turned their eyes to other issues than war activities. HDZ slowly started to lose its support and popularity, while the prospects were pushing them toward losing the authority.

A possible solution to that situation was by reforming the party and suppressing all kinds of misuse and corruption. However, even if a such attempt was made, it was never completed. The problem is in enormous diversity of interests among party members, as this party was from the beginning a party of different people with only one common goal - national realization; On other questions there was no global consolidation at all. Additionally, after convincing victory after the first elections, it was infiltrated by many people interested exclusively in their own prosperity. Therefore, the pure basis of consolidation inside party was keeping the authority and protecting corruptions, so suppressing them would surely lead to its disintegration.

However, the party leaders didn't consider reforming seriously. They rather chose the worse way - keeping the power, no matter of the cost! The example of such actions was well-known Zagreb crisis. The opposition meanwhile learned how important is to organize into the coalition and won together in 1996 local elections in all more important cities in Croatia. The elected mayor of Croatian capital Zagreb should be by constitution approved by the president of the state. Despite that condition should be in fact only a formality, the president dr. Franjo Tudman refused successively four opposition candidates. Additionally, afterwards he used his constitutional right to name his own candidate; Despite the city assembly voted the named mayoress out of duty several times, she is still holding disputed office.

To preserve as good reputation as possible, the ruling party started two kinds of policies: Silencing all voices of criticism and creating internal and external "enemies," which would justify their hard rule. These methods obviously resemble us strongly on those during the communistic era and they will be worked out in next sections.

Independent media in Croatia

HDZ has assured that most media came under its control. The most important ones, the state radio and television, with numerous branches all over the country, are legally under the control of Parliament, so there were no major problems. Daily newspapers, on the other hand, were overtaken by privatization. Authorities have assured that by this privatization, owners of these became proved members or sympathizers of the ruling party. However, one daily slipped out - Rijeka's "Novi List." Despite HDZ made several attacks against it afterwards, like competition dailies or various intrigues, the conscience of citizens of the third largest Croatian city preserved it. They were simply keeping buying it exclusively.

After a such wild privatization of the Split's "Slobodna Dalmacija," part of journalists formed their own weekly "Feral Tribune." As a weekly it doesn't have even approximately similar influence as daily, however it is under the most furious attacks from the authorities, from the beginning of its existence; It is perhaps only political newspaper that pays an extra tax. This newspaper recently received prestigious newspaper prize for promoting democracy, however, even it still leaves most of potential readers skeptical. "Feral Tribune" is namely too radical. Even if it contains many excellent articles, its criticism is often too radical and offending against state officials, so even most liberals consider it tasteless. But they are notorious not because of its real influence, but because of the vanity of most state officials.

The rest of the independent newspapers could be characterized simply as a yellow press. Together with "Feral Tribune" they give the wrong picture of the liberal media space. They are not under the pressure just because they are simply not influential and therefore not dangerous for authorities.

"Radio 101" incident

Private radio stations are the last resource for those who think differently. But the Commission for Telecommunications, again legally controlled by Parliament was systematically picking offers not by the quality of the program but by its owners. So few really free radio stations are confined to local radio stations of largest cities like "Maestral" of Pula, "KLM" of Split, "Gradski Radio" of Osijek and the last but not the least "Radio 101" of Zagreb.

When it was established as an "Omladinski Radio" (Youth Radio) in 1984, "Radio 101" was the first independent radio in Croatia. Despite it could be hardly heard even on all urban area of Zagreb, it was already persecuted by the communistic government. After renaming to the present name after the frequency it held, administration took them this frequency away. Exactly on this radio the current president of Croatia appeared in the public for the first time in 1989. Probably because of its merits in communism, it was left free even after it kept his independent position even after the elections. After it had to be privatized in 1996, it assured its independence by being equally owned by few hundreds previous and present employees. This fortunate circumstance happened because it was the ownership of the City of Zagreb; By that particular time opposition was already "in charge" there.

However, according to the new Telecommunication Law, in 1996 "Radio 101" had again to compete for its frequency. Between three applicants, the Commission picked the "neutral" concessionaire, which significantly in time of competition had no equipment and no crew at all. However, when the decision was broadcasted, the mass of support faxes and telephone calls swarmed in the office of the radio. Encouraged by the support, radio crew, led by the editoress Zrinka Vrabec-Mojzes, started a special program and the campaign against the unfair decision, which climaxed in the largest demonstrations in Zagreb after the independence of Croatia. Objectively, more than 100.000 people appeared on the Zagreb's Jelacic place the next day, what is enormous number considering that the total population of the city is one million and that radio cannot be heard even in the whole urban area. State media deliberately neglected events, giving only short reports without pictures from the protest meeting.

Under the pressure of population, the "neutral" concessionaire gave up his new gained frequency in favor of "Radio 101," but Commission for Telecommunications afterwards decided that a new competition should take place. The problems about disputed frequency should be resolved by the end of January, up to when the old concession is prolonged.

Despite its popularity, president of the state attacked events concerning "Radio 101," calling demonstrators "yugo-communists." This proves that HDZ is ready to go to the end of this matter or any other matter that could endanger its position.

Prospects for the future

Perhaps frightened by the prospect of losing the elections, authorities started prosecuting the President of Supreme Court, dr. Krunoslav Olujic. Namely, by the law he is also the president of Elections Commission. Despite he is formally a member of ruling party, he is believed to be "too soft," although he overlooked some obvious smaller irregularities during the last elections. This perhaps suggests that irregularities on the next elections should become much larger as the small ones would not do enough. Although the accusations against him should be considered seriously, under doubtful assumption that Croatian courts are free of politics, his greatest "sin" is probably freezing his party membership while holding this responsible office.

However, the winner will not become one that gets formally more voices, but one that gets and uses more support. Despite the opposition learned how to organize together and how much it can improve the results, its consolidation is still far from being solid. Additionally, it has to learn how to use in practice the support and voices that it gets on elections, learning from the example of the popular radio's employees. Only then there is a possibility for changes in Croatia.