Journalists changing sidesDRAGO HEDL
FRI, 18 FEB 2000
Zagreb, 6 February, 2000 - If former president of Croatia Franjo Tudjman, from somewhere in the other world, still has an insight into writing of Croatian media, he probably thinks that someone is playing a bad joke on him. His foreign minister Mate Granic who until just recently submissively and unquestioningly implemented his policy is nowadays giving interviews to the greatest state enemies among media Feral Tribune and himself writing a column in no less "notorious" Nacional. Nenad Ivankovic, editor of the most loyal Tudjmanís newspaper Vjesnik, is writing venomous commentaries against certain leaders of the Croat Democratic Community (HDZ), and the "sinless" Vecernji list, inclined to whoever is in power, is suddenly attacking Maja Freundlich, columnist of Vjesnik and member of "shock troop" who has for years fought against the greatest evils of this world - George Soros, civil society, the new world order and the USA - because of her inappropriate radicalism. Hloverka Novak Srzic, TV editor and diligent soldier of HDZ, suddenly, in the midst of a popular political show, acclaims live on TV that she has never been a member of HDZ.
If one could climb up high enough where one could see the whole Croatian media scene, it would be a wonderful entertainment. One would see the most ardent spokesmen and advocates of HDZ and its policy among journalists, in the dark of night, in underwear and pyjamas, trying secretly to run over to the opposite team. All the newspapers have all at once become the same - endlessly free and without taboo topics, open to every story and every interlocutor. Some things for which a television editor would have been called to account until just recently or maybe even lost his/her job, nowadays does not bother anyone. What used to be a completely unimaginable sight - a copy of Feral Tribune (which most importantly none of the regime commentators is calling a foreign mercenary, national traitor or yellow media rubbish) not only appears in the central daily news show, but the same picture is repeated in Motriste (Viewpoints), another very popular political show.
The "most meritorious journalists" for democratic changes in Croatia have already been "decorated" and awarded. It is interesting that among them there is almost not a single one of those who had in any way suffered from HDZ repression in the past ten years: the ones who were either sacked from work or threatened, or verbally lynched, physically attacked, arrested by the police or persecuted in court. The "memorial of 3 February" as prints by Edo Murtic awarded on the occasion were called were received by twelve journalists of Europa press holding part of which are weekly Globus, daily Jutarnji list and a number of other politically less exposed editions. To make matters even more interesting, the awards were personally handed out by the new prime minister and president of Social Democratic Party (SDP) Ivica Racan. Among them there was not a single journalist of Feral, Radio 101, Nacional, Novi list or any other media the editorial teams of which suffered the greatest repression at the time of Tudjmanís regime. Zdravko Tomac, vice president of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), marked this extremely imprudent move of the new authorities as "not exactly clever" explaining that the "intentions had not been wicked". Known painter and anti-fascist Murtic, Tomac explains, inspired by changes in the country and democratic transformation, had decided to give his works of art to those he - and not SDP and Racan - considered to be the most meritorious for these changes. Racan, as Murticís friend, asked by the painter to do so, handed out the prints, and that is how, Tomac says, "the improvisation which did not pass well came about".
And while some of the leading personages in the media submitted their resignations to the new authorities, such as Ivica Vrkic, director general of Croatian Television (HRT) and Benjamin Tolic, director of HINA state news agency, Nenad Ivankovic, editor-in-chief of government controlled Vjesnik; a group of journalists, especially some of the most influential ones from HRT, are already marking possible changes as revenge. It is interesting that among them those like Obrad Kosovac blaze the trail, who by means fair and foul promoted HDZ and its regime and satanised the opposition whenever given the opportunity - sometimes even without any immediate reason. Although some of these journalists had been appointed to their posts by exclusive will of the then ruling party, that is, without any professional criteria which would have raised them above their colleagues, and some of them whole-heartedly inclined towards HDZ having even joined the high agencies of this party, nowadays believe that there is absolutely no reason for their departure. For they are nothing but professionals! As if they had forgotten that these very state media once earnestly promoted one of the follies of Vladimir Seks, prominent member of HDZ, that in Great Britain it was impossible to even become a postman in some sequestered village if one did not belong to the ruling party!
It is not easy to see how the land lies in this media confusion which swept over Croatia like a winter blizzard after the change of the regime and after HDZ had stepped down from the political scene. Tomislav Mercep, the unsuccessful presidential candidate who had won the meagre 0.85 per cent of the votes in the first election round, known also for having sent word to journalists that he would re-open the prison camp in Goli otok for them, suddenly started defending journalists.
When allegedly Josip Kelemen, nowadays a journalist of OTV, was allegedly threatened with his life by the Albanian lobby because of the show called "Hello Inspector" in which he revealed the bad conditions in Zagreb bakeries, Mercep defended him demanding that Croatian authorities protect him. The same was done by Forum 21, Croatian Journalistsí Society (HND) and presidential candidate Drazen Budisa, so this extraordinary diverse company found themselves busy on the same task. While reaction of Forum 21, HND and Drazen Budisa were an expected step of protection of journalists the goal of which is the struggle for free and independent journalism, only the true connoisseurs of the media in Croatia could see through the real reasons for Mercepís protection of Josip Kelemen. In fact Kelemen, as a journalist of Slobodan tjednik, one of the morally most problematic newspapers published before and during the war in Croatia, deserves the merit for creation of the wartime myth of Tomislav Mercep - and that of the current district prefect of Osijek Branimir Glavas, by calling them "the father and the mother of defence of Slavonia". Therefore, based only on his personal affinity, Mercep was in fact just paying back a debt.
But the turmoil raised because of Kelemen in which for having revealed cockroaches and dirt in Zagreb bakeries he appeared to be a knight of investigative journalism and a fighter for the right to profession, is an illustration how at the time of big political changes nowadays many wish to present themselves as political professionals and sharp, uncompromising independent authors. Kelemen unfortunately does not belong among them, although it is not impossible that he will be classified among them. His writing of accusations in Slobodni tjednik of Marinko Bozic, unmasking of alleged Kosovars, members of secret services and Chetniks, and the horrible hate speech his articles were swarming with at the time are not the worst thing that is linked to his name and the names of numerous other journalists who were poisoning the media space at the time. Articles he wrote in Slobodni tjednik and the ones he ordered and published in mid 1991 when he took over control of Glas Slavonije from Osijek, unfortunately, had real victims and not virtual ones as he is nowadays trying to present himself.
Although, after all, better days are probably coming for media in Croatia after the fall of HDZ and Tudjmanís policy which held free journalism in contempt, it would be an illusion to expect that the new administration will be completely immune to all kinds of sycophants such as the ones who ruled the major media so far.