So, let’s say I notice that a Croatian Public Servant (Government employee) is having a two or three-hour taxpayer funded lunch break (which can certainly happen in Croatia on a regular basis – an unwelcome habit formed during the days of Communist Yugoslavia) and I comment with disapproval about that in public (to one or more people etc.), I stand the risk of being heftily fined or sent to prison for it. Because, you see, my comments may have embarrassed or insulted the Public Servant! Let alone if I criticize a guy seemingly working, but hopelessly incompetent behind the desk of some public service office! Or I say something “I shouldn’t” at a democratic peaceful public rally where baton-happy or handcuff-quick police stare intently.
The changes to Croatia’s Violation of Public Order and Peace Act (Zakon o Prekrsajima Protiv Javnog Reda i Mira) that became effective as at 1st January 2013, say that one cannot “publish” facts that have the capacity of embarrassing, insulting a Public Servant.
I.e. Article 17, section (1) of the Act says: “Those who belittle or insult government bodies, i.e. official persons from those bodies during their conduct of their official duties or associated with the conduct of duties or applied to their authority or refuses to proceed according to their legal orders, will be punished with a monetary fine of 7,000.- to 15,000.- Kunas or a prison sentence of up to 60 days”.
Putting this monetary fine into perspective: average monthly wage in Croatia is around 5,500.- Kunas (730.- EURO), and not many are on that average wage and more are unemployed.
It’s clear that parts of the former Communist Yugoslavia penal code/legislation has crept into the today’s democratic Croatia – a New Year’s gift from hell.
Communist Yugoslavia got to enjoy much – undeserved – “glory” for its corrupt regime via Article 133 of the Criminal Act of SFRY (Kazneni Zakon SFRJ) which enabled criminal prosecution of persons who publicly express dissatisfaction with government officials, servant (with the regime)!
Article 133, Criminal Act SFRY said: “ Whosoever in writing, in flyers, in drawing, in speaking or in other way calls for or incites bringing down the authorities of the working class and working people to anti-constitutional change of the Socialist Self-governing social order, to bringing down of brotherhood and unity and equality of people and nationality, to deposition of organs of social self-management and authorities or their executive bodies, to resistance towards decisions of authorized bodies of government and self-management which are of importance for the protection and development of Socialist self-management relations, security or defense of the country, or maliciously and untruthfully shows the social-political conditions in the country, shall be punished by prison from one to ten years”.
From the above Article 133 we can easily see that it covered the criminal act of classic treason but that it also incriminated a typical verbal delict, if not a thought as well!
It is highly possible that Article 17 (1) of Croatia’s revised Violation of Public Order and Peace Act also incriminates that what we know as verbal delict.
The use of word “insult” in this Section of Croatia’s law is not only a Draconian measure but, much worse, it has all the markers of giving the Public Servants (Police, Judges, Teachers, Social Security workers…) wings that will breed over-zealousness in their interpretation of the Section of the Act and consequently many unwarranted arrests or other punitive moves that criminal codes sweep into the scenes. Abuse of such power will most likely be visible within months – the memory of arrogant, self-fulfilling Public Servants in former Yugoslavia still hovers fresh.
While more progressive countries such as the United Kingdom are seriously considering scrapping the “insult” legislation from Public Order laws, Croatia has just introduced it!
The word ‘insulting’ should be removed from section 5 of the Public Order Act – reads Daily Mail from May 2012. This would provide proportionate protection to individuals’ right to free speech, whilst continuing to protect people from threatening or abusive speech.
Even Bolivian court has recently ruled that insult laws against public officials are unconstitutional as they violate citizens’ right to freedom of expression.
Well, in Croatia, the new Public Order Act Section 17 (1) is definitely the gate for new manipulation by legal means, which could, for example, manifest itself in legally gagging the mouths of citizens who express dissatisfaction with the political (government) authorities, regardless of the fact that Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has said a few months ago that his government wouldn’t imprison anyone for verbal delict. When we assess the political benefit this legislation has the capacity of creating, a freedom loving person almost wishes that this law were in force while Dr. Franjo Tudjman was alive (and since his death in 1999) and anti-Tudjman lies and garbage were the order of the day, almost. Not even in the harshest days of malicious, unsubstantiated, attacks in the media against him had he contemplated to revert back to such gags as were present in Communist Yugoslavia. He would look at what other civilized countries of democracy are doing and use them as models (as he asked everyone to do when the first democratic parliament was assembled in Croatia, in May 1990) – he would see that these other countries are well on the way to eradicate “insult” of Public Officials legislation and certainly would not condone enactment of the legislation other democratic societies are getting rid of.
There are adequate remedies that exist in civil libel and slander legislation to provide recourse for perceived defamation in every democratic society, so too in Croatia. Public Servants are the servants of the public, not its masters. The European Court of Human Rights has on numerous occasions expressed this view in turning aside legal efforts to punish “insult”. It said in the late 1990’s case where President Tudjman sued the editor of Feral Tribune newspaper for insult: “the very function of the press in a democratic society (is) to participate in the political process by checking on the development of the debate of public issues carried on by political office-holders”. Amnesty International stuck its finger in that pie too, calling upon the President to drop the case and ensure freedom of expression in Croatia!
I wonder how Amnesty International will react to the new Article 17 (1) of the Croatian Public Order Act? Perhaps they won’t react at all – after all they seem to miss out on giving a piece of mind to many acts former communists in today’s government undertake.
All nations are bound by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares in its Article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” But, I fret that Croatian Public Officials may not bother distinguishing between an opinion and a statement – their heavy hand mind fall with equal force against both, just like it did in former Yugoslavia pursuant to Article 133 of Criminal Act of SFRY. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)