At and around election times anything and everything is possible. After all – it is a race the results of which are largely determined by the ordinary person, the voter. Although the official campaigns for presidential elections in Croatia (reportedly to be held 11 January 2015) have not commenced, for months now, the pre-campaigns of the three (known) candidates have accelerated fiercely and brought about in eyes of many, particularly those living in the democracies of the West, the frame in which one senses that Croatia has little chance of living a true and full democracy any time soon. This is blatantly clear and obvious when the head of Croatia – the President Ivo Josipovic – goes on television and purposefully misrepresents democracy and democratic rights of expression and freedom of association to a nation widely unexposed and uniformed about democracy, but a nation that is still under the impression or the mindset created during communist Yugoslavia, which tends to make people believe that what a leader says – is right!
Only a few days ago Josipovic appeared on a TV show in which he characterised freedom of expression and the rich variety of sources offering information, opinion, statements…about presidential election candidates as defamation and defamatory attacks, and, gave the explicit impression that freedom of association (support etc) was a bad thing.
Translation of what he said: “Ivo Josipovic: …defamation. I think that is not good, but I need to warn that there are some candidates who have the guard that they’ll do everything nicely but there is a whole regiment of collaborators, friends, supporters who through various portals, media, newspapers, in reality vomit black tint. And that is crypto-democracy and that is crypto blackening of the opponent and I see that public sees that and recognises that.
Question: there have been some such attempts to use defamation to introduce black tint into the pre-campaigning, do you expect that during the real campaign there will be serious political attacks and hits that come beneath the level od democratic ones?
Ivo Josipovic: well see, outside these mainstream media a lot is happening, look at Dnevno (www.dnevno.hr) , then look at Udarno (www.udarno.com) then look at … I don’t know what those portals are called, you’ll see and read the worst of things …traitor, this and that and what else not about family, friends, that is the worst type of defamation…look even a book has been published about me, the Red President, you saw there were lots of people there, a whole panel was dedicated to slinging mud, I consider that politically irrelevant just like I do the daily statements by one of the opposing candidates that are disappointing, that discourse of insult, politicising in the dirty sense … so there is no relevance and the elections will show that.”
Not only does Josipovic seem stupid here – for there is nothing crypto (hidden, secret or concealed) in articles written and published about a candidate or in support of another in numerous outlets but he presumes here that a candidate controls everything that is to be said or done about them or in support of them by media at large, while they themselves “pretend” to be nice etc. Well, perhaps he speaks from personal experience in the communist underground, where control is the modus operandi and free speech or expression is an unknown or an undesirable?
Besides utterly wrongly (without legal proof of defamation) pointing the finger at certain media outlets in terms of defamation here, his action reminds one of the communist-style intimidation during the years of former Yugoslavia where those labeled as defamers, without trial or court of law deliberations were in fact jailed, frequently in the Goli Otok prison where his own father is said to have been the governor for quite some time, or their business put out of business. It is of no wonder that this particular TV appearance by Josipovic was construed, with utter horror, as a threat to have the media outlets mentioned – closed.
It is easy but totally deplorable, from the position of President or power, to manipulate masses that are rather uninformed and uneducated on matters of democracy, including that which guides as to when something can be called defamation and when it cannot. Calling something defamation when it is not or it has not be proven to be so in a court of law as the law requires, is just as bad as engaging in defamation. Such type of indirect but nevertheless devastating intimidation from political and government leaders is something Croatians must fight against tooth and nail. One can expect and forgive an ordinary person to call something defamation when it has not been tested in court of law as such, but one cannot expect nor forgive such behaviour from a lawyer and president of a democratic state that is supposed to be ruled by law at every instance.
Relevant to the above TV appearance, defamation would mean making or publishing of false statements about a candidate. The relevant law on defamation in Croatia says that defamation is when a person publishes a falsehood, as true fact about someone, knowing it to be false. But then, the ordinary citizen of Croatia is not likely to rush into finding out what legally constitutes defamation and what does not – and Josipovic knows that very well. And defamation is a strong word; one that associates undesirable qualities of the one said to have engaged in defamation. Hence, the only conclusion I can draw from this appalling TV appearance is that the ground under Josipovic’s electoral feet is shaken and is shaking severely and he will stop at nothing to save his political hide – even try and convince the Croatian voters that telling the truth in public’s interest is defamation and punishable, when it comes to matters published about him (he does not mention any defamation against any other candidate and indeed plays hard to appear as victim of foul play). He is trying to tell the public that it’s a bad and unwelcome thing to have lots of sources of information; to have the situation where a great number of citizens are engaged in the political or election debate upon which their own future depends! Very, very nasty! As president of a democratic state he should only be too happy that there are many and diverse outlets for information and opinion – but he is expressly bothered about that! That is sad for democracy, sad for Croatia. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)