Croatia: The Mother Of All Gags Creeps Back In

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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)

Comments

  1. Ina ..”.Welcome to Yugoslavia”

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    • Been there, done that, no thanks EPO – I’ll pass on that one!

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      • It seems to be the trend in this ‘red’ Croatia. The government is now putting up signs in Cyrillic in Vukovar of all places. Bad enough that Serb criminals can walk around freely amongts their victims after being given amnesty after the war, at the behest of the international community in their lame attempt to end the war in eastern Slavonia, but now there’s this. The government says its for their human rights as minorities, but nobody seemed to care about the human rights of the majority when these same people were murdering, raping and torturing them without being prosecuted.

        Last time signs like these existed was in Yugoslavia.

        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20899868

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  2. This law can only be called lunacy and this government is undoubtedly taking ten steps back for every step forward. Just in the last three or four days they’ve scored the infamous ‘golden sombrero’ (mocking the term hat-trick) with the law described above but also two other unbelievably brazen and unapropos laws as well. One is a government grant of 50,000 Kune (almost 7000 euros) for putting in a swimming pool, and the other is a raise of pay of 3000-4000 Kune per month for government beaurocrats. Our Minister of Finance, in this cruel financial and economic crunch, takes two vacations in three months. One to Monte Carlo, one to Dubai. All this while the former Minister of Economy (now in jail) recently told people that talking a bit less on their mobile phones will enable them to pay the gobs of additional increases in taxes and tariffs. We recently had a situation where an elderly woman spent a week in jail for not paying a utility bill on time, while our current Minister of Agriculture didn’t think for a minute that it would be inappropriate to be running an agricultural apothecary while performing his duties as minister, and even selling the concern despite it being in more debt than the selling price. But of course the buyer has alledgedly been rewarded with a nice government contract. In Croatia people say that politicians are “a group of whores”, but in reality, that’s an insult to whores. And I think that living in Croatia, I should start talking a bit less on my mobile phone because I’m surely going to need to have more money to be able to afford the fines for writing all of the above.

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    • Crazy times surely cannot last? Croatian people don’t deserve this, indeed no one does. They’ve unleashed something terrible that, through wisdom and courage of Croatian freedom loving people, will fall upon them like a ton of bricks.

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      • I sure hope you’re right and I also share your optimism even though it’s hard to imagine this kind of oppressive behavior by an elected government in a hard-fought-for democracy ever being righted. There are signs that even the younger crowd is learning to openly criticize this behavior which can only be described as fascist and totalitarian, although they are stuck for solutions and therefore choose fringe, extremist, anarchy-nature alternatives where their voices don’t get heard and are mainly dismissed due to their extreme nature.

        The one thing that I am looking forward to, notwithstanding Vesna Pusic screwing things up (if she hasn’t already with her handling of Ljubljanska Banka), is that on July 1, 2013, when we become EU members, this gag law will never be supported by the EP. Even Pusic’s pleadings for amnesty for alleged killers like Josip Perkovic may have to be revisited at that time in order to determine the motivation behind that sort of unbecoming behavior by a MFA.

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      • Yes I hope that July 1st comes as it’s hoped and many things change, or at least more avenues open for lots of things including complaints and shaking up the democratic process. The opposition in Croatia disappoints on this new legislative piece, I know they’re in minority and cannot vote it out but they could shout “fowl” and shout and shout until government gets a pain in the ear. Hdz during its time of anti-Tudjmanisation with Sanader etc started to look into same legislative piece for gagging but they say they’re changing and going back to Tudjman’s roots now why then do they not speak out louder against this legislation etc.!

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  3. Mario Budak says:

    Croatian people of every faith, are learning the way of life in a democracy. In the next national election, send every old communist to retierment. In a democracy, government representatives are elected to serve the nation and even the people who did not vote for them, while in systems that have nothing in common with democracy (presently the law that came in effect, puts Croatia in that group), government officials are elected to be served and obeyed. Every Croatian citizen running for public office needs to remember the words of great imortal roman:
    “Non nobis solum nati sumus” ( Not for ourselves alone are we born)-Marcus Cicero

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  4. Welcome ‘Sheep’ to the glorious EU. You wanted it, you got it. It is time to wake up. Falling back and blaming the old Yugo system is very juvenile.

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    • Easy Marko! Read the article! No one is blaming the old Yugo here in this, we just don’t like that the government of today has voted in one of the laws, close cousin of the one that Yugoslavia used to control people

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      • Realize this!

        The EU will never consider Croatia as an equal. Once all the chess pieces are in place, Croatia will no longer have a say in what her future is or how the present will be. This will benefit a few who tow the EU line. The question should be, by how are these rules going to benefit the citizens in the short term and long term. It will not either way, this enslavement will be worse than any Yugoslavian experiment.

        The Genesis of the shadow of our homeland is sadly beginning.

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  5. I agree…using the past government or habitual proceedings is a sign of ignorance. The main problem is the Maslows Hierarchy of needs…of which it all starts from the role models…
    Sadly, the core of various non legislative and in bred old roots will not be changed, as the generations have been thawed to the presenting empowerment.
    EU is another chance for the Hymn to be heard and sustained by those close to the Altar! !

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  6. This may not be related directly, but I hear that there is movement to introduce bilingualism in Vukovar. Unless it is Croatian and English or German or French etc. and not Serbian I find this a waste of resources and a seditious act. But with this new gag law will Croats be able to criticize and debate this stupid move? The only reason to introduce Serbian as an equal and bi-lingual language is to prepare for the ultimate conquest of Croatia – assimilation into Serbia slowly by law.

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  7. One would assume these “insults” to public officials/government workers/etc. runs rampant in Croatia with a law such as this! Sheesh. It’s these seemingly insignificant laws that are often the most dangerous when their language is nonspecific, thus opening up needless and fruitless judicial cases.

    Your comparison to the from law from Yugo is amazing. Thank you for that.

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    • Yes eatingthepages the fact that it is introduced now (when many democratic countries are in the process of getting rid of insult of public official laws when it comes to Public Order and Peace in the streets) is indicative of two things: former Communists are in government and Communists of Former Yugoslavia “knew” how to shut the public up, and, secondly, to minimize or even render ineffective the increasing number of demonstrations and peaceful rallies occurring in protest of government measures etc – first is same as second. Fear-mongering I’d say. But thanks to the strong resolve of Croatian people for democracy and progress I think we’ll see some interesting developments in this over the coming year or so. Croatia has survived 20 years of independence and democratic development and it had not needed this part of law – why introduce it now if not to subdue and control!? Thank you on your comment.

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  8. I like the photo: say nothing, write nothing – just be there! In streets, in masses! Powerful message – let the government decipher what’s wrong. More could be fixed in fear of losing votes than we think!

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  9. Računovodstvo says:

    I overheard a judge say this: speech can startle and offend, as well as enlighten and illuminate.

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  10. If you want to spend your life as a smug, pointless bureaucrat stuck in a safe reasonably well-paid job – which is to waste people’s time and money, and impede their freedom and security – you should have to sign a contract accepting that being shouted and sworn at and called all sorts of names just come with the job.

    It seems something similar is going on here in Slovenia, where everything is pretty much Yugo in the sense that everything is probably illegal, and anyone can be picked on, with foreigners somewhat more likely to be candidates. I wonder, for instance, if I am contravening the Slovenian insult laws by calling attention to such facts as:

    The cleaning lady at the Ptuj Upravna Enota speaks more English than the woman in charge of the “Register of Foreigners” or;

    The man in charge of the Ptuj ZZZS (state health insurance) office doesn’t know how to copy and paste an URL from a browser address bar

    The jobsworths’ self-image is of a beleagured civilising force surrounded by irrational masses who don’t understand them. And they are right – we don’t – because they have made it too complicated. And they show no signs of stopping.

    Slovenia’s dream is for everyone to need to be accompanied at all times by a lawyer.

    And yet they can hardly complain of feeling violated by NPOSIALPU – or that denying health and social welfare for foreign residents on the grounds of their own poorly administered permit system is a form of civilisation threatened by my Slovenian Health Insurance Questionnaire, for which see http://www.aaa.si/q

    Can they?

    Like

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