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February 11 2014

Prisoners Lists Stir Informbiro Memories in Former Yugoslav Republics

The recent publishing of lists of prisoners of Goli Otok, victims of communist purges in Yugoslavia from 1949 to 1956, has reignited dormant debates and opened some old wounds, across all the former Yugoslav republics.

Goli Otok is a Croatian island that was used as a prison camp during the so-called “Informbiro era” – the post-World War II breakdown between the communist leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. For many Yugoslavs, “Tito's historical ‘No!’ to Stalin” was a source of pride, especially because it solidified their country's role as an intermediary between the Western and Eastern Bloc. The purges that were part of the clash officially included persecution of alleged “pro-Soviet communists”. According to the victims and dissidents of the time, this was often just an excuse by the country's power-mongers to get rid of anyone they disliked for any reason and, thus, people of many other political affiliations were sent to the notorious camp.

Prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

Abandoned prison area of Goli Otok. Photo by Wikipedia (CC BY-SA).

During the last two months of 2013, Croatian portal Novi Plamen (New Flame) published two lists compiled by UDBA (Yugoslav State Security Service) from the State Archive of Croatia – the list of the 413 people [hr] who died in the camps, and the list of all 16,101 prisoners [hr] who had served sentences there. The second link spread widely through social networks and then through news portals in all six former Yugoslav republics.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment... Published by Novi Plamen.

Scan of the second page of Goli Otok prisoner list, displaying names, birthdates and codes for municipality, ethnicity, type of crime, dates of start and end of emprisonment… Published by Novi Plamen.

Slovenian right-wing blogger Pavel noted [si] that the publishing of the lists coincided with the recent December 9, 2013, death of Jovo Kapičić [sr], who had allegedly been the man in charge of Goli Otok. In an August 2013 interview, Kapičić, a Serb, claimed [sr] that the Serbs had made up the majority of prisoners at the camp.

Twitter user ‏@flusteredcooler from Montenegro commented on this issue as well and, while people from all of the former Yugoslav republics often claim that their nationals made up the majority of those sentenced to serve time at Goli Otok, he noticed:

Legend says that most of the population of Goli Otok consisted of Montenegrins? The lists show that it was Yugoslavia in a nutshell [representing everybody]

A senior Macedonian blogger, among the oldest members of the local blogosphere, and a World War II anti-fascist resistance veteran, Buv (“Owl”), posted an announcement [mk] by the Association of former Goli Otok prisoners, advising caution in relation to the lists and offering first-hand consultations to all interested parties:

Темата за “голооточаните“.“информбировците“затвореници што ја издржувале казната во логорот Голи Оток е дел од пошироката историска тема за конфликтот меѓу СССР и СФРЈ.Не може да се зборува за казнениците на Голи Оток,без да се разгледуваат во комлесот на историските збиднувања.

Независно од тоа колку биле свесни/идејно свесни/за својот однос кон конкретните настани,учесниците во збиднувањата,што подоцна се нашле на Голи Оток,се учесници во еден политички судир кој има исклучително историско значење,за нив,за нивната земја,за пошироките светски движења.

Ова отклонување го направивме за да обрниме внимание на оние лесно искажани карактеристики што се даваат по повод на објавените списоци за голооточаните/информбировците/ и во други прилики.Без да се има во вид поширокиот контекст на случувањата,може паушално да се кажува се и сешто.Важноста на историската проблематика бара сериозен пристап.

Здружението Голи Оток,меѓу другото,ја има и таа задача да ја објасни,документира,да ја покаже историската вистина за настаните во кои независно од нивната волја се нашле и овие страдалници,што така строго ги казнила историјата.

The topic of the “inhabitants of Goli Otok,” the “Informbiro prisoners” is part of a larger historical topic about the conflict between the [USSR] and the [SFRY]. One cannot talk about the Goli Otok prisoners without taking into account the complexity of historical events.

Regardless of how much they were aware or ideologically involved in these concrete events, the participants who were detained on Goli Otok were engulfed in a political clash with exceptional historical importance, for them personally, for their country and the wider world movement.

We publish this notice to draw attention to the reactions that have been published with great ease after the lists of prisoners were exposed, as well at other occasions. Without taking into consideration the wider context of events, anyone can say anything without arguments. The importance of the historical issues requires a very serious approach.

The Goli Otok Association has the mission to explain, document and disclose the historical truth about the events which unwittingly encompassed these sufferers, who were so severely punished by history.

Informbiro activities left deep trauma in the collective former Yugoslav memory, parts of which were artistically expressed through popular cult movies like When Father Was Away on Business (1985) by then young Bosnian/Serbian director Emir Kusturica, and Happy New Year '49 (1986) by Macedonian director Stole Popov.

November 20 2013

Catalan Independence Debate Explained in 16 Languages

The debut video of The Catalan Project (@Catalan_Project) features Fernando de Castro, “a Catalan from Galicia and Spanish”, presenting the project and explaining why some Catalans want independence from Spain using the 16 languages he is able to speak. Subtitles are available in English, French, German, Spanish and Catalan.

The Catalan Project, an independent and non-profit association, provides an open online platform where “all citizens that work and/or live in Catalonia and that have ideas on how to create a better country” can discuss how a hypothetical independent Catalonia should be. Because “independence is not a goal, it is a starting point”. The project is collecting funds on the crowdfunding site Verkami.

November 17 2013

Croatian Activists Protest Concert of Nationalist Rock Band in Zagreb

Actvists posted a banner on the venue of the bands upcoming concert that reads

Actvists posted a banner on the venue of the bands upcoming concert that reads “Thompson is not Croatia” written in Serbian Cyrillic; image by the Occupy Croatia Movement, public domain.

These signs were placed on the Hall of Sports in Zagreb by Croatian activists just days before Thompson, a Croatian rock band, held their concert there on Saturday, November 16. The band bears its name after the nickname of their lead singer, Marko Perković, received during service in the military during the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s. The nickname derives from the Thompson submachine gun, also known as the “Tommy gun”.

The band and Perković are known for righ-wing nationalist attitudes, often included in their song lyrics and public statements. In 2003, Perković was banned from playing in the Netherlands under accusations of neo-nazi activities and has often been criticized by minority groups in Croatia and other countries.

Another banner placed by activists on the venue read

Another banner placed by activists on the venue read “Fascist, not patriot” in Croatian; image by the Occupy Croatia Movement, public domain.

In this latest instance of criticism, activist posted “Thompson is not Croatia” in Serbian Cyrillic script, referring to recent issues regarding decisions to place bilingual street signs and signs on government buildings in the Croatian city of Vukovar. The signs, in both Croatian Latin script and Serbian Cyrillic were taken down, destroyed several times by protesters, then replaced in Vukovar, until a decision was finally to take them down permanently and not allow bilingual signs. The debate of whether or not bilingual signs will be used in Vukovar is on-going.

The band's concert was held in the Croatian capital on Saturday, peacefully and without any incidents.

November 10 2013

Journalist Dubbed ‘Macedonian Assange’ Arrested in Serbia

Zoran Bozinovski, a journalist known as “the Macedonian Assange”, was arrested in Serbia on an Interpol arrest warrant on November 7, 2013. Bozinovski runs the Macedonian site Burevesnik.org, often referred to as the Macedonian WikiLeaks due to the fact that he and others have released documents there in the past that reveal foul play and corruption in Macedonian politics and business.

Still image of Zoran Bozinovski from an interview with Croatian Nova TV.

Still image of Zoran Bozinovski from an interview with Croatian Nova TV.

Another Macedonian journalist recently sentenced to prison for “revealing the identity of a protected witness”, Tomislav Kezarovski, was released earlier that same day to serve the remainder of his four-and-a-half-year sentence under house arrest.

Macedonian citizens and journalists on social media were surprised to hear of the arrest of another journalist on the very day that Kezarovski had been released into house arrest, with some ironically calling it “a trade off”, and others saying there was now an open witch hunt on Macedonian journalists. Comments on Twitter regarding Kezarovski's release and Bozinovski's arrest are mostly ironic, with many suspecting authorities knew this was coming.

Aco Lazarov from Macedonia asked:

There wasn't room in prison for Bozinovski so they let Kezarovski out?

— Ацо Лазаров (@AcoLazarov) November 8, 2013

Another Macedonian Twitter user, Jana, commented upon learning the news of Bozinovski's arrest:

I don't know why or how but this is a bad day for investigative journalism in Macedonia. Journalist Zoran Bozinovski arrested http://t.co/cKcPxUVXiz

— Јана (@PaliKukja) November 7, 2013

Bozinovski was arrested by Serbian authorities on charges of espionage, extortion and criminal conspiracy. He was easily located in one of the two apartments he had been renting in Novi Sad, Serbia, where he had living for the past several months. Police confiscated two computers and several yet unspecified documents from the apartment at the time of the arrest, and stated that Bozinovski will be held in a local jail until extradition to Macedonia, after the Macedonian government officially files for the extradition.

Some Serbian and Macedonian media are reporting [sr] that Bozinovski, also known as a conspiracy theorist who has dubbed himself “Crazy Milojko” on his own site and elsewhere online, is deeply involved in espionage, although no evidence has yet been put forth:

Osumnjičeni je deo kriminalne grupe koja je pre nekoliko meseci raskrinkana kada su pohapšeni visoki zvaničnici makedonske Vlade i zaposleni u bezbednosnim službama te zemlje pod optužbom da su špijunirali u korist Grčke. Prema informacijama iz istrage, oni su špijunirali za strane tajne službe, ali ucenjivali su i pojedince iz javnog života Makedonije. Takođe, pod kontrolom su imali i nekoliko medija, kao i određene internet stranice preko kojih su pretili da će objaviti poverljive sadržaje, što su i činili.

The suspect is a member of a criminal group that was cracked several months ago when high officials of the Macedonian government and employees of [national] security services were arrested and charged with spying for Greece. According to information obtained during the investigation, they spied for foreign secret services, but also blackmailed individuals from Macedonian public life. They also had several media under their control as well as certain Internet pages through which they threatened to publish confidential content, which they did.

These accusations seem to stem from Bozinovski publishing certain files and confidential information that he obtained regarding corruption and foul play within the Macedonian government and Macedonian organized crime, which Bozinovsski and some of his associates claim are closely tied.

He has also been researching these ties and alleged manipulations in Macedonian politics, as well as the tragic death of Macedonian singer Tose Proeski, who died in a car accident at the age of 26 in 2007. Bozinovski began writing a book on this subject and, after being rejected by 32 publishers in the region, finally announced that he had found a publisher in Zagreb, Croatia willing to make his research public.

In the video below, Bozinovski gave an interview to Nova TV in May 2013, during which he listed several things that he found suspicious about the young singer's death, claiming he had evidence of how the then ruling politicians and media exploited Tose Proeski and continue to profit from the singer's legacy. Bozinovski also stated in this interview that he does not necessarily believe that the late musical prodigy is dead, citing that no real evidence of his death was ever provided. The book is planned to come out sometime in 2014.

Twitter user Parg0 from Skopje noted:

#божиновски [Bozinovski] may be crazy, but I don't think he's stupid. I expect http://t.co/gwxwK000J7 to begin putting out a lot of interesting documents.

— Parg0 (@parg0) November 8, 2013

Whatever the case regarding his upcoming book and work on Burevesnik.org, several media associations have condemned the arrest of Bozinovski, including the Journalists’ Association of Serbia (UNS). In an official statement on their website, they remind Serbian authorities that this arrest has also been publicly condemned by the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), as well as Central and Eastern Europe Media Organization (CEEMO), and they add:

УНС подсећа да је суд у Македонији недавно, без ваљаних правних разлога, осудио новинара дневника “Нова Македонија” Томислава Кежаровског на четири и по године затвора „због откривања идентитета једног сведока у случају нерасветљеног убиства“. [...]

УНС због тога тражи од Министарства правде Србије да приликом одлучивања о изручивању Зорана Божиновског држави која спорним пресудама осуђује новинаре и тражи њихово хапшење, буде посебно обазриво и испита све околности од значаја за заштиту професионалних права интереса новинара.

The UNS [Journalists' Association of Serbia] reminds that a court in Macedonia recently, without valid legal reason, convicted journalist from the daily “Nova Makedonija” Tomislav Kezarovski to four and a half years in prison “for revealing the identity of a protected witness in an uncleared murder”. [...]

Due to this, UNS requests of the Ministry of Justice of Serbia that, during their deliberation concerning the extradition of Zoran Bozinovski to a country that convicts journalists under debatable rulings and requests their arrest, they be particularly wary and look into all circumstances relevant to the protection of professional rights and interests of journalists.

While there are reports that the extradition process has been started [mk], it is now unclear whether Bozinovski has obtained Serbian citizenship during his stay in Serbia and, if so, whether the extradition process to Macedonia will be able to be carried out. When asked by Macedonian media, the Macedonian Ministry of Interior could neither deny nor confirm whether Bozinovski was also a Serbian national at this time.

Curiously, Bozinovski posted this photograph of himself in handcuffs on his Facebook profile on October 11, 2013, adding the note:

fotografijata e od edno minato vreme. taka beše, dali pak ke bide – ke vidime!?

The photograph is from a past time. So it was, whether it will be so [again]- we shall see!?

September 16 2013

EU Prepared to Impose Sanctions on New Member State Croatia

According to numerous Croatian and international news outlets, as well as the conversations brewing on social media sites, the European Commission is likely to punish Croatia in an ongoing row over extradition rules that has left a stain on the former Yugoslav state's first months as a member of the European Union and may endanger EU aid for border control improvements. Sanctions would threaten the EU's aid program for Croatia, notably for border control improvements vital to the country's bid to join the bloc's passport-free Schengen zone.

As Global Voices reported, a few days before Croatia joined the EU on 1 July 2013, it changed the law to effectively ensured that veterans of Croatia's independence war, that are wanted in in other for possible war crimes, could not face prosecution elsewhere in the EU.

The European Commission, which acts as the bloc's executive, is expected to invoke an article in Croatia's accession treaty that allows it to impose punitive measures if standard EU regulations are broken. The so-called safeguard clause, Article 39 of the Croatian accession treaty, will be triggered, which provides for the introduction of punitive measures or termination of membership for Croatia during a period of three years after the country's accession to the union.

“Patience has run out. We will likely move to trigger the safeguard clause,” one senior Commission official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. He said this would likely happen at the regular meeting of EU commissioners this week.

Commissioners of the EU Commission have supported the proposition of the Commission’s Vice President Viviane Reding to impose sanctions on Croatia, as confirmed by her spokeswoman Mina Andreeva and as reported [hr] Croatian portal index.hr.

The Croatian and EU flags on a Croatian government building; photo by Bogdan Giusca, used under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

The Croatian and EU flags on a Croatian government building; photo by Bogdan Giusca, used under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

Croatian TV Nova's correspondent from Split, Mario Jurič, tweeted:

Reporters Without Borders correspondent for Croatia Zeljko Peratovic, mocking the Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, said:

Community manager for @vecernji_list Anton Smolčić was sarcastic:

I think we just broke the speed record in having sanctions introduced. #win #eu #croatia

Reding, together with the President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and Commissioner Stefan Füle notified the panel that Croatia violates provisions of the European arrest warrant. She, as reported, suggested that the European Commission impose sanctions on Croatia, which European Commissioners accepted.

Zagreb daily Jutarnji List published yesterday a statement by an unnamed high representative [hr] of the Croatian government who said that Croatia will persist in the position of a principled state and will not accept warrants by “arrogant” European politicians.

Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said earlier that a proposition for amendment of the controversial law will be delivered to the Parliament in the first autumn session, but that it will be applied from mid-July next year. Milanovic considers that certain criminals should be judged by Croatian courts, not courts of other countries.

Reding personally and via her associates repeatedly warned Croatia that it will be reprimanded for failure to comply with the Accession Treaty.

While Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, as well as Milanovic, believes that it will not come to sanctions [hr], because Europe and Croatia have more important things to do now, the leader of the most influential opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union, Tomislav Karamarko, believes [hr] that everything about the Croatian arrest law, colloquially called Lex Perkovic, is scandalous.

Police Arrest Protesters Protecting Macedonian City Park from Destruction

Eleven protesters who were demonstrating with several hundred others in Bristol Park, one of Macedonia's capital city of Skopje's few remaining parks, to save the green space from the construction of a government building, were arrested on the night between September 11 and 12.

The protests began more than a month ago and have since grown into a larger movement. Around 1 a.m., police surrounded the area, began breaking up the gathering and arrested the group [mk]. Macedonian and regional mainstream media are keeping silent about it.

Tamara Atanasoska, a blogger from Skopje, addressed the international community in a blog post on September 12 and gave a round-up of the events, explaining some of the issues Macedonian society is faced with today:

I hope you had a fine day. In fact, I am pretty sure you did. I myself, did not.
You see, today, in the city named Skopje, from where I come from, in front of the building in which I grew up, there are currently 400 policemen surrounding it. Peaceful protesters were arrested during the night, with the noble cause of saving one of the last remaining parks in Skopje, as the city is clogged with dust, dangerous particles and environment that sparks health problems.

This is not the first time. I’ve been woken up one night, some time ago, with the sound of the chainsaws. It was 4 a.m.. I cried as the old and big trees fell as the angry citizens were clashing with the police. Many, many of policemen, for just 30 citizens. Yes, we are not Gezi. But we are not the Turkish. Macedonia has not still recovered from the communist mentality. We had no resources for that. The governments after exploited that to the highest extent, killing all hope for citizen initiatives.

The demolishing of the park began in early August as preparation for a new government building in faux-baroque style that is part of a new urbanism plan dubbed “Skopje 2014″ by city officials and that many Skopje citizens regard as kitch and derogatory to Skopje's existing architecture and urban history.

A sign in downtown Skopje says:

A sign on one of the few trees left around Bristol Park says: “Yesterday trees, tomorrow heads”; photo by Kaleš Anga, used with permission.

The hashtag #Bristol (#Бристол [mk]) remains popular and active among Macedonian Twitter users, with live updates from the scene as the protests develop. Mainstream media however, remain silent, and many are also criticizing this fact online. Twitter user Stefan Manevski posted a comment and YouTube video showing the police crackdown on protesters at Bristol Park:

Some smaller independent online media and journalists have made attempts to report on the protests at Bristol Park, but have run into heavy resistance and even threats from the several hundred police officers guarding the park from protesters. NOVA TV reports [mk] on their website:

На новинари денеска пред паркот кај Бристол им беше забрането да фотографираат, а на екипата на НОВА и беше избришан видео материјал. Има ли право полицијата да спречува снимање и бришење на видео мат

Павле Трајанов актуелен пратеник и поранешен министер за внатрешни работи ни рече дека снимањето може да се ограничи само на места на кои постои јасна ознака дека снимањето е забрането

Според поранешен висок функционер во јавната безбедност полицијата нема право на таква мерка. Тој вели дека професијата полицаец е ризична но дека токму затоа имаат бенифициран стаж и други привилегии

Слободата на јавно информирање и на пристап кон информации, како дел од Уставот на РМ (чл.16) за секое демократско општество е повисока вредност од заштитата на интересите на прекршочната постапка

The journalists today outside the park in Bristol were forbidden to photograph, and the NOVA team also had their video deleted. Is it legal for police to prevent filming and to delete video mat. [material]

Pavle Trajanov current MP and former Minister of the Interior told us that filming may be restricted to places where there is a clear indication that filming is prohibited

According to a former senior public security official, the police has no right to such measures. He said the police profession is risky but this is why police officers have benefits in seniority and other privileges

Freedom of the press and access to information as part of the Constitution (Article 16) for any democratic society is of higher value than the protection of the interests of misdemeanors

And also describes in more detail the conduct of police officers on site with NOVA TV photographer and journalists:

Во случајот со екипата на НОВА, полицаецот кој го принудил нашиот новинар да го избрише видео записот не се повикал на никаква законска одредба, подзаконски акт, решение или било каков документ кој му го дава правото да забрани вршење на новинарска работа и бришење на снимен видео материјал.

Од нашиот новинар било побарано да се легитимира при што на полицаецот му била приложена прес картата која би требало да овозможи слободно извршување на новинарските задачи.

In the case of the NOVA team, the police officer who forced our journalist to delete the video recording did not cite any legal decree, subordinate regulations, resolution or any document whatsoever which provides him with the right to ban journalists in doing their jobs or to delete filmed video material.

Our journalist was asked for identification documents even thought the police officer had been shown a press card which should allow for the unobstructed pursuit of completing journalistic tasks.

Tamara Čausidis, a correspondent from Skopje for online weekly Forum.tm, reports [hr] on her journalistic team's experiences with police and the events on the night of September 12th at Bristol Park:

„Ako objaviš fotografiju, dobit ćeš kaznenu prijavu“, rekao je naoružani policajac mom kolegi nakon što je fotografirao skupinu teško naoružanih pripadnika specijalne policije koji su raspoređeni u središtu Skopja.

Novinar je na licu mjesta izbrisao fotografiju. “I vi novinari previše sebi dopuštate“, zaključio je ovaj specijalac, koji je s velikim brojem svojih kolega zadužen za operaciju „oslobađanja“ parcele koja je nekad bila mali park i koju su aktivisti branili tako što su zasadili nove mladice i u šatorima, na smjenu, danonoćno bdjeli nad njima.

U policijskoj akciji u dva u noći, isto kao što su prethodno posjekli park, sada su uhićeni i privedeni i parkobranitelji, kako se je ta grupa nazvala. U akciji je sudjelovalo nekoliko stotina – brojke se kreću od 200 do 400 – pripadnika obične policije, ali i specijalnih jedinica za brzo raspoređivanje, koji su krenuli na 11 aktivista i priveli ih na ispitivanje u policijsku postaju. Prema riječima policije, zbog „narušavanja javnog reda i mira“.

“If you publish that photograph, you will get a citation”, an armed police officer told my colleague after he had taken photographs of the group of heavily armed members of the special police squadron that was strewn in the center of Skopje.

The journalist deleted the photograph on the spot. “And you journalists allow yourselves too much”, the special forces officer concluded, who with a large number of his colleagues was tasked with the mission of “liberating” the parcel of land that once was a small park and that activists were defending by planting new seedlings and sitting in tents, guarding them day and night in shifts.

In a police action at two in the morning, just as they had previously cut down the park, the park defenders, as this group has named itself, were now being rounded up and arrested. The action was carried out by hundreds – reports of the number vary from 200 to 400 – members of regular police forces, but also special units for faster distribution, that came at 11 activists and brought them in for questioning at a police station. According to police sources, for “disturbing public order and peace”.

Others online, like a1on.mk, have managed to capture video and photographic material despite police warnings and post them online. The video below shows police officers at Bristol Park in full gear, surrounding the park, blocking passage and towing cars away from the park.

In calling for the support of the international community for Bristol Park, blogger Tamara Atanaskosa added:

We are not Syria. Our children are not dying on the street, gassed to death. But my country is dying in another way. For the first time after going out of Yugoslavia, my people got a country, to build, to grow, to develop, to evolve. As the years passed, those dreams of democracy, prosperity and future of any kind are less and less, as we are going rapidly down on all measured markers. This has a huge toll on young people. We try to keep our heads up from the gutter, but it’s quick sand under our feet.

The protests in downtown Skopje continue. As they bring to the surface much of the government pressure and disfunctionality in the country, these protests are slowly but surely growing into something bigger in Macedonia.

September 15 2013

Croats in Vukovar Protest Use of Serbian Cyrillic on Government Buildings

In Vukovar, Croatia, Serbs comprise about 35 percent of the city's population, and have thus been granted the right for official use of their native Cyrillic script according to Croatia's constitution. A part of the ethnically Croat population of Vukovar has objected, however, staging protests this week and destroying bilingual signs that had been freshly placed on state buildings. The protests against Cyrillic script in Vukovar started on Monday 9 September 2013 after the placing of name plates in both Latin and Cyrillic scripts on public buildings. A peaceful protest was also held in Zagreb that day.

The Cyrillic script, also known as Azbuka, is an alphabetic writing system based on Early Cyrillic, which was developed during the 10th century AD at the Preslav Literary School. Cyrillic is one of the most used writing systems in the world.

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is an adaptation of the original Cyrillic script for the Serbian language, developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić. It is one of the two standard modern alphabets used to write the Serbian and Bosnian languages, the other being Serbian Latin script. Although Latin script is in use as well, Cyrillic is the traditional and official script in Serbia.

Peaceful protest against introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar held in Zagreb:

Peaceful protest against introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar held in Zagreb; photo courtesy of Demotix, used with permission

Vukovar, a city of about 26,000 in eastern Croatia, remains a symbol of the Croatian-Serbian conflicts of the 1990s. For some Croatian citizens, Cyrillic remains a painful reminder of these conflicts. During Friday's protest walk, the disgruntled citizens underscored that they do no want Cyrillic script in their city, “not now, not ever, as that is not just any script, but the script under which crimes were committed against Croats and other non-Serbs during the Croatian War of Independence.”

Meanwhile, netizens on social networks were mostly angry about the fact that some were focusing on the past, which many now consider to be irrelevant matters in times of new economic and social crisis. Bosnian football player and journalist, Goran Arbutina tweeted:

Croats are going wild over Cyrillic while this is how we are doing in #Banjaluka… My street. #cirilica #latinica #sarajevo #vukovar pic.twitter.com/aiRJDWYdRY

— Goran Arbutina (@Goc1jedini) September 6, 2013

Bojan Glavašević, Deputy Minister at Ministry of Defenders [Ministry of Veterans] stated:

I am endlessly saddened by what happened today in #Vukovar. Violence is not a way to solve problems in a democracy. #cirilica

— Bojan Glavasevic (@bglavasevic) September 2, 2013

Croatian politician and member of the European Parliament Ruža Tomašić has a different opinion:

Statement for Cro. [Croatian] media in Brussels: "Crillic yes, but not in Vukovaru" http://t.co/5qnZfumtrh via @tportal #Vukovar #cirilica

— Ruža Tomašić (@RuzaTomasic) September 5, 2013

Protesters in Vukovar reaking bilingual boards; photo courtesy of Kurir daily

Vukovar: breaking bilingual board in protest PHOTO: “Kurir” daily

Serbian student and musician Stefan Josimov had a question for the EU regarding this matter:

Is it possible that the #EU still hasn't reacted regarding the breaking of signs in #Vukovar? #Srbija #Hrvatska #cirilica

— Stefan Josimov (@sjosimov) September 4, 2013

But a Twitter user from Bosnia, nicknamed Agent Tajne Sile, might have an answer to the situation, albeit sarcastic:

Luckilly, no one has an issue with numbers. Especially if they are on bank accounts. #cirilica #vukovar #lakunoc

— Agent tajne sile (@AgentTajneSile) September 3, 2013

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic announced that preparations are underway for a possible agreement on the initiative of bilingual inscriptions in Vukovar, as reported by Croatian news agency Hina. Bad news for Zagreb officials it seems – according to statistics, Croatia is fourth in terms of violation of human rights of the 47 countries that are under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, former Croatian Minister of Justice, told SETimes.

I believe that bilingualism introduction will contribute to normalising relations between Croatia and Serbia and progress, but also will be a positive example in the EU.

Skare-Ozbolt announced that about 20 municipalities in Croatia have accomplished formal prerequisites for official use of Cyrillic and it should begin in the near future. She added that Croatia and other EU countries have been installing bilingualism in areas where national minorities make up at least one third of the population. She also stated that the roles of local authorities and the state are crucial in the successful implementation of this process:

Croatia, as a new EU member, keeps this standard, although war consequences are still big, which can be seen in Vukovar, where some resistance still exists.

September 04 2013

Croatia's EU Membership Off to Rocky Start Over Extradition Law

New European Union member Croatia backtracked somewhat in its first row with the bloc's executive arm on 28 August, 2013, agreeing to fully apply the EU extradition law but only after Brussels raised the prospect of sanctions.

Croatia had previously angered the European Commission over its resistance to implementing the EU law, with Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding warning that it could even face consequences after the Croatian government changed its extradition laws just a few days before acceding to the bloc on July 1. In Croatia, the amended extradition law has been dubbed the “Perković Law” because it prevents authorities from extraditing alleged former spy, Josip Perković, for the 1983 assassination of a Croatian dissident in Germany.

There are speculations that the Croatian government amended the country's extradition law just ahead of accession for the purpose of preventing Germany from extraditing Perković. As Global Voices reported on the eve of Croatia's accession to the EU, when Angela Merkel canceled an official visit to Croatia:

The current Croatian opposition, however, sees other reasons for Merkel cancelling her trip [hr], citing the Croatian government's recent legislative amendments that aim to put a time limit on European arrest warrants, in which case Germany would not be able to extradite former Yugoslavia State Security Administration agent Josip Perković, who is wanted for murder and lives in Croatia.

The European Commission could still put Croatia under monitoring and suspending the new member's access to EU funds, and the case could slow down Croatia's Schengen accession.

 Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner, Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, European Commission, Brussels; photo courtesy of World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2013, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Viviane Reding, Vice President and Commissioner, Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, European Commission, Brussels; photo courtesy of World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 2013, used under Creative Commons 2.0 license.

Croatia failed to meet the deadline to abolish the law by 23 August. Soon, the spokeswoman for the Justice Commissioner Reding expressed the “deep regret” of the European Commission regarding Croatia's decision.

Those interested in geopolitics, history and current events in Europe quickly took notice on social networks and expressed their opinions, mostly dismay. John Schindler, a professor at the Naval War College and Senior Fellow at Boston University, said:

Following angry statements from the Commission, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic published a letter that he sent to Brussels. In this letter to Commission President Manuel Barroso, published on the government website, he stated:

On behalf of my government, the justice minister said that Croatia will take necessary measures to bring the law on judicial cooperation in line with the European legislation it had accepted in accession talks.[...] Croatia has always fulfilled its obligations and will continue to do so.

Croatian Justice Minister Orsat Miljenić confirmed to the media that his Ministry had addressed a letter to European Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding concerning the application of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

The government of the Republic of Croatia published the letter on it's official Twitter account:

The letter from President of #VladaRH to the President of@EU_Commission @BarrosoEU http://t.co/vdRMyHXlJw #EU #croatiaEU

— Vlada R. Hrvatske (@VladaRH) August 28, 2013

Mina Andreeva, a spokeswoman for EU Justice Commissioner Reding, confirmed Croatia had responded to a letter Reding sent in July outlining EU concerns.

The letter, sent by Croatia's justice ministry, “appears to indicate a constructive approach on this matter,” Andreeva said at a press briefing.

She said Croatian authorities had indicated that they would bring their legislation implementing the EU arrest warrant “in line with” EU law. Andreeva said that European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso had received “similar assurances” from Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanović.

“The commission welcomes this constructive approach,” she said. The EU's executive is “in contact with the Croatian authorities to clarify their intention.”

July 01 2013

Croatia Joins European Union Amid Cheers, Skepticism, Apathy

After nine years of waiting, Croatia has joined the European Union as its 28th member state.

But response to the Balkan state's entry on July 1, 2013 appeared to be lukewarm, with the majority of positive online commentary coming from the country's media and politicians. Few Croats celebrated on social media, with many more meeting the date with little to no mention, a change from the weeks leading up to Croatia joining the EU when lively online conversations treated the EU prospect with sarcasm and skepticism.

Croatia enters the EU with one of the lowest ranked GDP's of the bloc, with the country's GDP per capita amounting to 61 percent of the average GDP per capita in the other 27 member states, just above Romania with 49 percent and Bulgaria with 47 percent, according to data from Eurostat. The country as joins the union with the third highest unemployment rate of any member state, which was 18.1 percent in April 2013 compared with the EU average of 11 percent.

On Facebook, the sentiment among Croats was seen by following the hashtags #Hrvatska [hr] and #CroatiaEU. Facebook pages such as Occupy Croatia and Anonymous Croatia shared a photo from Zagreb in which a crowd of people push each other to receive gift packages of food from European food retailer Lidl, as part of the celebration of Croatia's accession into the union.

There was no euphoria to be felt among users on Twitter. Official statements about the celebration and protocol could be seen, as well as debates as to whether or not this would bring positive change to Croatia's economy and social matters. But there were very few affirmative comments or images.

The vast majority of tweets under hashtags #Hrvatska and #CroatiaEU were from news outlets and messages from other European citizens welcoming Croatia to the union. After celebrating last night and counting down the minutes to their official entry into the EU, Croats seem to be a little quieter on social networks today.

In the days prior to Croatia's entry, many Twitter users seemed apprehensive of the event and upcoming celebrations. Twitter user Jack Burton Jr (@JackBurtonJrwrote:

@JackBurtonJr: Hrvatska je ostvarila svoje višestoljetne ciljeve, priključila se EU i NATO-u, utvrdila svoju poziciju bedema Zapada i kud sad?

@JackBurtonJr: Croatia has achieved its centuries-long goals, it has joined the EU and NATO, confirmed its position to the pillars of the West and where to now?

Another user on Facebook, Ivan Radman, had this to say, as he shared a photo of a scruffy man searching through trash cans for food next to a poster of a menu listing several popular dishes and bearing the header “European Menu”:

Hrvatska je bogata onoliko koliko je bogat njezin najsiromašniji stanovnik. Nikakvi drugi indeksi ne zaslužuju biti mjerilo blagostanja. Nojevi smo i magarci. Izgubili osjećaj zajedništva i dopustili ovo. Mene je sram.

Croatia is as wealthy as its poorest citizen. No other indexes deserve to be the measure of good life. We are ostriches and donkeys. We have lost a sense of unity and have allowed this. I am ashamed.

Some on social media even feared that Croatia will relive the Greek scenario of the past twenty years in the European Union of becoming, or in this case remaining, one of the economically weakest countries in the Union.

The one thing to cast a shadow on the monumental date was the last minute cancellation of an official trip to the capital city of Zagreb by German Chancelor Angela Merkel. Merkel's decision brought some negative feedback from Croatian citizens and some wondered if they were being shunned instead of being welcomed into the union.

Bobo Weber, a Croatian political analyst, when asked if and how the German leader's decision to not attend Croatia's state celebrations on the eve of its entry into the EU, stated in an interview with Al Jazeera Balkans that he doubted her decision had much to do with the her view of Croatia as part of the European family and that Croatia's fresh EU membership would develop as planned:

The current Croatian opposition, however, sees other reasons for Merkel cancelling her trip [hr], citing the Croatian government's recent legislative amendments that aim to put a time limit on European arrest warrants, in which case Germany would not be able to extradite former Yugoslavia State Security Administration agent Josip Perković, who is wanted for murder and lives in Croatia.

Croatian news portal Vijesti.hr [hr], with live updates of more than 300 news sources from Croatia, tweeted a Deutche Welle article that speculates on this recent legislature, the Perković case and its possible ties to Angela Merkel cancelling her visit to Croatia on this important date:

Ovo nije njemačka pljuska Hrvatskoj, nego hrvatska pljuska demokraciji! – article -

This is not a German slap to Croatia, it's a Croatian slap to democracy! – članak -

Regardless, the country's politicians celebrated the entry into the EU online. Croatian Deputy Prime Minister Neven Mimica (@MimicaEUsaid this on his brand new Twitter account:

@MimicaEU: Hrvatska je u Europskoj uniji. Ponosan sam biti Hrvatom i Europljaninom NM #CroatiaEU

@MimicaEU: Croatia is in the European Union. I am proud to be a Croat and a European NM #CroatiaEU

Marija Lugarić (@marija_lugaric), a representative in Croatian Parliament, also tweeted in the morning Croatia joined the union:

@marija_lugaric: I tak… Eto nas u EU :)

@marija_lugaric: And so… Here we are in the EU :)

Austrian portal Die Presse Politik (DiePresse_Pol) was among the first to welcome Croatia to the European family on Twitter, in Croatian:

@DiePresse_Pol: Dobro došla Hrvatska http://bit.ly/17ls2sQ

@DiePresse_Pol: Welcome Croatia http://bit.ly/17ls2sQ

Twitter user Darko Horvatić (@komarac_) sarcastically wrote:

@komarac_: došla teta EU ko se nije skrijo, magarac je bijo…

@komarac_: Auntie EU is here, last one to hide is a rotten egg…

So far, a group of netizens from Poland were some of the most cheerful and original in wishing Croatian citizens a warm welcome on a special webpage set up just for this occasion that says “Hrvatska welcome to .EU”. Some Croatian citizens, however, didn't seem so thrilled, like Twitter user Asteroid B612 (@marina_b612):

@marina_b612: Stanovnike EU razlikujem od ostalih po tome sto ove ostale razumijem sta pricaju…

@marina_b612: I differentiate citizens of the EU from the others by the fact that I understand what the others are saying…

June 20 2013

Anti-Government ‘Babylution’ Protests Gain Momentum in Bosnia

People in Bosnia-Herzegovina are crossing the country's deep ethnic divides by the thousands to protest together against the government's failure to remedy a lapse in the law that is preventing newborns from being given an identity number and, by extension, travel papers and healthcare.

The protests, which began on June 5, 2013 and have been dubbed “Babylution”, were sparked by the story of a gravely ill three-month-old girl, Belmina Ibrišević, who at the time could not leave the country to get the stem cell treatment abroad that she needed, even though her health was critical and necessary treatment could not be provided in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Days later, the unrest intensified following the news of one-month-old Berina Hamidović [sr] who died the Institute for Mother and Child [sr] in Belgrade, Serbia of sepsis after the medical treatment she needed was delayed.

The young girl could not leave because of the country's failure to pass a new law on ID numbers after the old law expired in February. Thanks to this legal gap, newborn babies only receive a temporary number which impedes them from receiving travel documents, which would be necessary to seek medical treatment abroad.

Protesters began speaking out against lawmakers’ inaction under the hashtag #JMBG, which stands for the Unique Master Citizen Number. On June 6, demonstrators gathered in Sarajevo and blocked the Parliament building, refusing to allow politicians and foreign guests inside to leave the building and demanding the urgent passing of the Law on Unique Master Citizen Numbers.

Suad Baručija posted a video on Youtube of supporters arriving from Zenica to join the Sarajevo protesters, in which they are heard chanting “We want change!”:

On Twitter, the news quickly spread under the hashtag #jmbg, as those present at the peaceful protest or nearby transmitted the events of the evening live. Director of Communications at International Center for Transitional Justice Refik Hodžić (@ledenik1tweeted a picture of a person leaving the Parliament building through a ground-floor window:

@ledenik1: #BiH parliament staff escaping through windows the building surrounded by protesters instead of joining them. #jmbg pic.twitter.com/NhdMNaGCxv

Twitter user Irma Plavčić (@Irma_A_Pclarified the reasons behind the protest:

Od borbe za ljudska prava i #jmbg,preko krsenja istih,medjunarodnog skandala do unistenja prilike za ulaganje kapitala.Sve za 1 dan #BiH

@Irma_A_P: From the battle for human rights and #jmbg, the violation of those, international scandals to the destruction of opportunities for investment capital. All in 1 day #BiH

A video on YouTube posted by Cyber Media Technology titled “We want JMBG!” summarizes the first days of the #JMBG protests:

The following day, protests stopped briefly [ba] in Sarajevo and the Parliament building was no longer blocked by citizens standing guard out front. But those involved in the protests created the website JMBG for everyone! [ba] with this message:

Mi smo građani i građanke ove zemlje – roditelji s djecom, studenti i studentice, domaćice, radnici i radnice, nezaposleni i nezaposlene, penzioneri i penzionerke, bez obzira na pripadnost etničkoj ili religijskoj skupini, ili bilo koji drugi status, te nam je zajednički interes da se poštuju prava svake osobe, a prije svega djece. Obraćamo se svim građankama i građanima, koji/e žele da žive u državi u kojoj političari i političarke rade svoj posao i izvršavaju zakonske obaveze. Državi u kojoj su nacionalni i stranački interesi sekundarni, a u prvom planu je dostojanstven i siguran život građana i građanki.

We are the citizens of this country – parents with children, university students, housewives, workers, the unemployed, pensioners, regardless of ethnic or religious groups, or any other status, so it is in our common interest that the rights of every person be respected, those of children above all. We address all male and female citizens who wish to live in a state in which politicians do their jobs and complete their legal obligations. A state in which national and partisan interests are secondary and the dignified and safe lives of citizens are primary.

The website also details the demands of citizens regarding legislature related to Unique Master Citizen Numbers and the creation of a fund for the treatment of threatened categories of the population.

Even though baby Belmina's parents eventually managed to get her across the border for treatment, the death of one-month-old Berina Hamidović due to this bureaucratic obstruction to her medical treatment, as Bosnian news outlets reported [ba], further fueled protests.

Citizens throughout the region paid their respects to the little girl, while the story shook with tremendous strength and speed Berinda's birth country of Bosnia-Herzegovina and neighboring Serbia where she died. From that moment on, the situation escalated quickly: from minute to minute on social networks, web portals and blogs, bitter citizens organized for protests, united and calling for support anywhere they could get it.

#JMBG is among the first to show the power of the new Facebook hashtag feature, while the JMBG fan page already has close to 23,000 fans on this social network.

The protests in Sarajevo continue, now under the name “Babylution” - a peaceful revolution that managed to bring over 10,000 people into the streets on June 18 with the support of public figures [sr] and musicians from the former Yugoslav republics who have expressed their grief and revolt.

Citizens are invited to attend the peaceful protests every day beginning at noon until demands are met.

Babylution in Bosnia

Protesters in front of Parliament. Photo by Almir Panjeta, courtesy of “JMBG za sve” Facebook fan page.

Zoja BB (@skejtas) on Twitter shared a picture of a gathered crowd:

@skejtas#JMBG protest today was huge. Hope ‘they’ feel the pressure… pic.twitter.com/NrHljS4qaS

Protester Davor Stanković (@Dastkodescribed the evening:

Veče za pamćenje. Bez mrlje i najmanjeg problema. Umoran sam, ali bih uz ove ljude ostao koliko god je potrebno. Borba se nastavlja! #jmbg

@Dastko: A night to remember. Without a stain or any minor problem. I am tired, but I would stay with these people as long as necessary. The fight continues! #jmbg

Editor Nenad Memić (@NenadMemicadded to the description:

@NenadMemic: Around 10,000 people at a protest concert for #JMBG in #Sarajevo tonight! Spread the good vibe! :) pic.twitter.com/jrqHI2VEfT

Once an identification number, #JMBG has now become a hashtag, a meme, and a call for revolution in the countries of the former Yugoslavia. Politicians have been given a deadline until June 30 to pass the law and create a solidarity fund for those who need medical treatment. Should Bosnia's Parliament fail to meet this deadline, citizens have vowed, among other actions, to organize the first Facebook hashmob [cr], a novel concept described as a hashtag-driven flashmob.

Until then, the “Babylution” continues.

May 29 2013

Former Croatian PM Tweets on Parliament's Discussion on Marriage

Jadranka Kosor, former Croatian Prime Minister and current representative in the Croatian Parliament, decided to use her Twitter account on Tuesday evening to express her dissatisfaction with one of the debates taking place in the Parliament these days. The Croatian Parliament, among other matters, is currently discussing the definition of marriage to be added to this country's constitution. As in many other European countries, same-sex marriages have recently been a hot topic in Croatia's overwhelmingly Catholic society as well. Many users on Twitter and Facebook have related Jadranka Kosor's tweet from last evening to the matter of same-sex marriage, but it seems Ms. Kosor had somewhat different thoughts on her mind.

Around 6 PM on May 28, Jadranka Kosor tweeted [hr]:

Kako bi bilo da u Ustav ugradimo zabranu političarima (osobito demokršćanima) da imaju ljubavnice? Onima koji su u braku, jasno.

How about we install a ban for politicians in the Constitution (in particular for demochristians) from having mistresses? For those who are married, of course

Jadranka Kosor. Photo by Roberta F., Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Jadranka Kosor. Photo by Roberta F., Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0

Ms. Kosor later gave a statement [hr] to the Croatian news site Dnevnik, confirming that the tweet was indeed hers and explaining that she was merely expressing her “thoughts at a moment when certain changes to the Constitution were being discussed, while the state has much bigger and more important problems.”

Her tweet stirred up quite a bit of support and some trouble on Twitter nevertheless.

Twitter user @Nena_Nic said [hr]:

@_jadranka_kosor opa jadranka,pravo u centar

@_jadranka_kosor wow jadranka, straight on the bullseye

With over 50 retweets in some six hours, many on Twitter supported Kosor's statement, even those who obviously haven't shared her political views in the past, like @hajdarovicm [hr]:

@_Jadranka_Kosor Ne vjerujem sam sebi da cu ovo napisati, ali bravo zastupnice Kosor!

@_Jadranka_Kosor I can't believe myself what I am about to write, but bravo representative Kosor!

User @Implantologia_ says [hr]:

@_Jadranka_Kosor pa kad već predlažu blesave izmjene ustava idemo do kraja, stvarno svaka čast na izjavi…………:)

@_Jadranka_Kosor well since they're already suggesting silly amendments to the constitution let's go all the way, really every respect for the statement………….:)

Others weren't so supportive and questioned Ms. Kosor's motives and intentions. User @anikahahn echoes the sentiment of some other users [hr]:

@_Jadranka_Kosor Vaša ogorcenost sto nemozete biti vise nikome ljubavnica nije dovoljan razlog da mijenjate zakon ili ? Zar se ne sijecate

@_Jadranka_Kosor Your bitterness because you can no longer be anyone's mistress isn't reason enough to change the law or ? Don't you remember

Twitter user @Jela911 poses the question [hr]:

@_Jadranka_Kosor Gospođo Kosor, zašto Vama smeta to što će u Ustavu brak biti određen kao zajednica jednog muškarca i jedne žene?

@_Jadranka_Kosor Mrs. Kosor, why does it bother you that marriage will be defined in the Cosntitution as the union of a man and a woman?

In the end, there are also those who seem to have understood exactly what Ms. Kosor claims to have been thinking when she wrote this tweet, and they are wondering when other topics, like the current economic state of the country will be discussed in Parliament. @CountessBezuhov asks [hr]:

@_Jadranka_Kosor Kako bi bilo da se gradjani i političari u Hrvatskoj počnu baviti ekonmskim pitanjima, umjesto što se bave brakovima?

@_Jadranka_Kosor How about citizens and politicians in Croatia start working on economic matters, instead of working on marriages?

May 24 2013

In Croatia and Serbia, Mixed Feelings About the EU

As Croatia prepares to enter the European Union officially on July 1 of this year, and Serbia awaits to finally receive a date to begin talks about EU entry, citizens of both countries express mixed feelings about EU integration.

Some young Croatian citizens are looking forward to being able to seek employment in EU countries and to the economic benefits some say the EU promises to bring. Twitter user @tash from Zagreb says [en]:

@EszterLzr haha i know, bad timing for EU and here ppl have mixed feeling ab it..and i just want to be able to go to work somewhere else

Others, like Aleksandar Holiga from Zagreb, look forward to traveling with more freedom to other EU countries [en]:

Flying to London tomorrow. For the last time ever required to fill that form and speak to immigration officer on the non-EU airport booth.

Pro-EU and anti-EU Croatian citizens are having spontaneous street debates in Zagreb on the eve of the 2012 European Union referendum. Photo by Marin Tomaš, copyright © Demotix (14/01/12).

Pro-EU and anti-EU Croatian citizens are having spontaneous street debates in Zagreb on the eve of the 2012 European Union referendum. Photo by Marin Tomaš, copyright © Demotix (14/01/12).

The majority, however, seems to be taking entry into the EU with a grain of salt. Goran Saravanja, a Croatian economist who blogs for Vecernji List daily, begins and ends his thoughts on the matter with simple, objective conclusions in a post titled “Facing Change: Croatia in EU” [hr]:

Prosječna osoba neće primijetiti veliku razliku u svom svakodnevnom okruženju na dan pristupanja Hrvatske EU. No, važne promjene nastupit će ubrzo. [...] Pristupanje EU samo po sebi neće automatski poboljšati kvalitetu domaćih institucija, kao ni razne politike niti njihovu provedbu. Ukoliko želimo da nam rast bude konstanta, nezaposlenost smanjena, a izvoz povećan, mi sami moramo provoditi reforme i (ne samo) ekonomsku politiku na kvalitetan način.

An average person won't notice a large difference in their everyday surroundings on the day of Croatia's entry into the EU. However, important changes will come quickly. [...] Entry into the EU in and of itself won't automatically improve the quality of domestic institutions, nor various political standpoints or their execution. If we want our growth to be constant, our unemployment lowered, and exports to grow, we must implement reforms ourselves and (not only) economic policy in a quality manner.

While Mr. Saravanja lists many of the benefits and opportunities that EU membership will bring Croatia, Zarko Plevnik in an editorial for Glas Slavonije [hr] (Slavonia is a Croatian region) questions how Croatian products will fare in the EU market because most are “unprotected”:

Gledajući i slušajući vijesti iz Hrvatske o tome kako svaki dan pronalazimo neki novi problem vezan uz naš ulazak u Europsku uniju, između ostalog, nameće se pitanje – što smo mi zaštitili od naših proizvoda prije ulaska u EU?

Watching and listening to the news from Croatia about how every day we encounter a new issue related to our entry into the European Union, among other things, the following question arises – what have we protected [trademarked] of our products prior to entry into the EU?

An article on the same site, titled “And This Is the European Union,” shows a picture of Greek farmers giving away fresh vegetables to their “class allies” [hr], or, rather, government employees.

Most social media users from Croatia seem to be skeptical about the benefits of EU membership.

Twitter user @ruzniuzorak says [hr]:

smorena sam ko europska unija

I'm bummed out like the European Union

User @nxyassa from Croatia comments [CRO]:

Glupost nema granice evo naprimjer EUROPSKA UNIJA

Stupidity has no limits [borders] for example the EUROPEAN UNION

User @cromarko from Zagreb quotes an article and adds his own opinion [hr]:

“Najvece priznanje ulaska RH u EU je sastanak s kraljicom”. Priznanje hah, sve sto cu reci je Sjeverna Irska! #freeireland #oneireland

“The greatest acknowledgement of [Croatia's] accession in the EU is a meeting with the Queen.” Acknowledgement hah, all I will say is, Northern Ireland! #freeireland #oneireland

In Serbia, social media users, bloggers and many journalists are just as skeptical. Considering the recent history of Serbia and Croatia, one might wonder at the lack of perhaps expected envy that might come from Serbia towards Croatia, as Croatia enters the EU, while Serbia is still on hold and waiting for talks on membership. Serbs, however, seem to be much more concerned with their own fate.

Twitter user @na_preporciju from Serbia says [sr]:

Evropska unija nam se pokakila na demokratiju i slobodu,
a naši Slepci ne znaju da povuku vodu.

The European Union pooped on our democracy and freedom, while our Blind Men don't know how to flush.

User @m2aja echoes [sr] what many Serbs are saying:

Britanc žele da napuste Evropsku uniju, a Srbija bi da ide…

Britons want to leave the European Union, while Serbs want to enter…

Even users like @luminous_pg from Montenegro, which began EU accession negotiations a year ago, view EU-related matters [sr] sarcastically:

Muče vas bolovi u vratu? Imate problema sa zglobovima? Zaboravite na vaše neprilike, uskoro ulazimo u EVROPSKU UNIJU!

Neck pain bothering you? Have problems with your joints? Forget all your troubles, we're entering the EUROPEAN UNION soon!

User @na_preporciju also comments [sr]:

Kad uđe Hrvatska Evropska unija zaključava vrata – od robijašnice.

When Croatia enters, the European Union will close the door – of the work camp.

Some, like the Beograd Cafe blog, see positives economic opportunities for Serbia in Croatia's entry into the EU [sr], reporting from the recent “CEFTA After Croatia's Entry Into EU” trade conference, where all of the regional countries’ representatives met to discuss the Central European Free Trade Agreement:

Ulazak Hrvatske u EU doneće Srbiji niz prednosti, kao što su dominantan položaj u CEFTA regionu i povećanje suficita u razmeni sa okolnim zemljama, a očekuje se i više investicija…

The entry of Croatia into the EU will bring Serbia several advantages, such as a dominant position in the CEFTA region and a larger sufficit in trade with surrounding countries, while more investments are also expected. [...]

A blog from Bosnia and Herzegovina also writes about the subject [bs] in a post titled “Due to Exiting CEFTA, Croatian Companies to Move Production to Bosnia and Herzegovina?”.

In general, both in Croatia and Serbia, people seem to have an “it is what it is” attitude about the European Union in general. Perhaps the tweet of one user, @Darac42, sums it up best [hr]:

Da da, bit ce taj EU hard landing za hrvate.. niti ne zasluzujemo bolje..

Yes, yes, that EU will be a hard landing for Croats.. and we don't deserve better..

January 29 2013

Spain: Catalonia's “Declaration of Sovereignty” Translated into 36 Languages

On January 23, 2013, amid rising tensions with the Spanish government, the regional parliament of Catalonia approved by majority vote a Declaration of Sovereignty [ca] — seen widely as a prelude to a referendum on independence, expected to be held by 2014. Thanks to a diverse team of collaborators, the online Catalan-language publication Vilaweb [ca] has been able to publish the document in thirty-six languages.
(more…)

March 25 2012

Serbia: Controversy Over Draža Mihailović's Rehabilitation

Dragoljub Draža Mihailović was a commander of the Yugoslav Army in the Homeland, also known as the Chetnik movement, during World War II. In 1946, he was captured by the communist Yugoslav authorities, convicted of high treason and war crimes, sentenced to death and executed.

The tribunal for his rehabilitation, which began in June 2010 on the request by Draža's grandson Vojislav Mihailović, is nearing the end now. Although the request has been supported by some academicians, professors and politicians, the public in Serbia is divided. For some, Draža Mihailović is an innocent victim, for others, he is a justly convicted collaborator of the occupiers, who committed crimes not only in Serbia, but in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia as well.

Some politicians, NGOs and citizens from these countries have also reacted to the news. They have a more or less unified view of Draža Mihailović, considering him a criminal and a nationalist who had the idea to establish the so-called Greater Serbia.

Draža Mihailović. Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije, in the public domain.

Draža Mihailović. Photo: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Muzej Revolucije Narodnosti Jugoslavije, in the public domain.

Ivo Josipović, the President of Croatia, said to the Croatian daily Jutarnji List:

Draža Mihailović was a war criminal… I could remember a lot of cases where [Chetniks] collaborated, not being anti-fascists, but collaborated with the Germans, Italians and [Ustaše] fighting against the [partisans]… If the trial is finished as the media are announcing – but wait for the end of it -
it will be a bad step in regard to the Second World War and anti-fascism.

The Movement of War Victims from Bosnia issued a statement, in which they said this, among other things:

Bosnia and Herzegovina paid dearly for the Greater Serbia ideology, one of whose trademarks Draža Mihailović is. On the occasion of his rehabilitation we are seriously worried about sovereignty and peace in our country and we are afraid because we don’t know whether the atrocities and deaths which we experienced 20 years ago are behind us forever. Equaling the fascist and anti-fascist movements is the same as equaling victims and criminals from the period of aggression on our country.

However, Vuk Jeremić, Serbia's minister of foreign affairs, thinks the rehabilitation of Draža Mihailović is an internal issue of Serbia.

Serbian blogger Filip Mladenović wrote in his post:

[…] However, I am particularly irritated with the revision of history. It’s not clear to me who is in favor of relativizing our ancestors’ anti-fascist fight during the Second World War now by attempting to rehabilitate the Ravnogorski movement and its leader Draža Mihailović. Why does Serbia throw itself out of the winning anti-fascist coalition by these auto-goals? Why does it disown so many victims who perished honorably and courageously during the fight against Hitler’s Nazi regime? […]

There are more than 350 comments on Mladenović's post. Below are some of them.

Johnnyt wrote:

You are spitting at the man who was a genuine fighter against fascists and communists, while criminal [Tito], the president of the genocidal country of SFR Yugoslavia, is loafing in the House of Flowers […]

Dextera said:

Filip, you don’t know a lot of things. You have exclusively read and cited official history created by Tito’s regime. You don’t know that the trial of Draža Mihailović was a fixed [political] trial, you don’t know what kind of documents there are, you don’t know the role of the [Comintern], you don’t know who Dragić Joksimović was, you don’t know that Draža’s sister was killed by the Soviet soldiers when they entered Belgrade in 1944, etc. You would like to make things to be black and white, just the way Tito was doing.

Cult said:

It has to banned by law to falsify history and rehabilitate national traitors and collaborators with the occupiers.

niccolo said:

It’s futile to discuss again who killed more civilians – the Chetniks or the Partisans. However, does any of the participants in the discussion realize that the procedure of rehabilitation is not related to the question of whether someone committed a crime or not, but to the question of whether the accused one had a fair trial or had no trial at all?

A Belgrade-based historian Ljubinka Trgovčević said this to the Slobodna Evropa (Free Europe) web site:

If it was only about the reconstruction of the court trial, then the problem would be much less anyway. In this way, it goes without saying that he was acquitted, as well as his movement, of everything that he did or did not do.

Mirko Kovač, a well-known novelist from Croatia, said this to the same source:

Super. People could hardly wait for it to be done, so they could rehabilitate their own ones. This region is the same as Serbia. People here dream of rehabilitating [Ante Pavelić].

Dušan Stefanović from Chicago left this comment to the Slobodna Evropa article:

I don't see who was betrayed by Draža in the war. He was fighting against Tito's communists, Pavelić's soldiers [the Ustaše], Hitler's fascists… all enemies of the Serbian people during the war. He saved thousands of American pilots, more than 500 of them were evacuated only from the village of Pranjani in 1943. De Gaulle and Truman decorated him with the highest medals for his role in the war. Above all, General Mihailović did not betray Serbia.

March 15 2012

Macedonia: Fuel Prices Continue to Rise

Continuous increase of fuel prices is a cause of much concern for citizens of Macedonia, and some vent the tension through humor. The prices are set by a regulatory body, and more and more social media users object to the fact that the lion's share of the revenue in fact goes to the government, stymieing the growth of the business sector.

On his blog, Zoriv published comparisons of the prices of oil derivatives in Macedonia, the USA and the EU [mk], and also calculated how much fuel one can buy on an average salary in various countries [mk]. (Both posts are in Macedonian, but the tables with country comparisons are in English and easily comprehensible.)

So, according to Zoriv, Latvia has the lowest price of gasoline in Europe (EUR 1.20), while Norway has the highest (EUR 1.94). Consumers in Macedonia have to pay EUR 1.4. While the official explanation for rising fuel prices is always the change of price of crude oil, Zoriv points out that a major factor in forming the end price are the excise taxes that go directly to the state budgets in countries with the highest prices (Norway, Holland, Italy, the UK, and Greece). He adds:

In Macedonia, for instance, the total taxation together with the profit margin for the merchants form around 70% of the price (Official Gazette of Republic of Macedonia, no. 138/09 and 52/11). The difference between Macedonia and the EU countries, alongside the salary levels which are incomparable, is the tragic fact that even the slightest increase of oil derivative prices affects the personal material existence of every citizen of Macedonia. The latest data show that fuel consumption has decreased by 30% [mk]. The increase of fuel prices leads to a spiral of the increase of all other living expenses, while family budgets drastically decrease.

The Macedonian government temporarily abolished the excise before the June 2011 elections, but returned it later, raising the prices [mk] in August.

By calculating how much fuel a citizen can buy with an average salary, Zoriv tried to shed light on income disparities: in the United States, one can buy 4,296 liters of gasoline on an average monthly salary. In Europe, the top spots go to Switzerland (3,441 l), Luxemburg (3,439 l), and Germany (3.075 l). The lowest on the list are Macedonia (243 l) and Albania (194 l), with a “disastrous ratio of 1:14″ compared to the leading “rich” countries.

According to the 2010 edition of the annual publication 200 Largest Companies in Macedonia, prepared and published by the Euro Business Center – Skopje, the two largest companies in the country are: the sole oil refinery OKTA (owned by the Greek interests, privatized while the current PM Gruevski served as the Minister of Finance) and the biggest oil derivatives distributor Makpetrol, with the total revenues of EUR 512 million and EUR 350 million, respectively.

The prospects for the future seem bleak. According to the UNDP report “Assessing the Economic Impact of Climate Change,” Macedonia also faces numerous other challenges in the energy sector.

Social media users shared various kinds of data related to the fuel price increase, such as the table [mk] showing the elements that form the prices of fuel:

Elements of fuel prices in Macedonian Denars.

They also posted various reactions to ongoing developments with the fuel prices, and the most shared were the humorous responses, such as this joke: “Would you like to take your girlfriend someplace expensive? - Take her to a gas station!” The latest chuckle is a demotivation-style meme featuring the late Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito and a supposed laconic quote in Croatian:

Tito advises on gasoline

Photo of Tito and a supposed quote: You say the gasoline got more expensive? Well, why don't you make a deal with the Non-Aligned countries?

During the Cold War, Tito was famous for striking a balance between Eastern and Western blocs, with Yugoslavia serving as a kind of a buffer, to the commercial benefit of its people. In 1961, he co-founded the Non-Aligned Movement, which included many oil-producing nations, resulting in favorable trade relations. A famous political-economic quote attributed to him (in the Lexicon of Yugoslav Mythology) is this: “The grain that we received from the Americans is much superior in quality to the grain the Soviets did not deliver.”

October 09 2011

Croatia: Court Forbids Homophobic Priest From Blogging

Serbia Insajd, a Hungarian blog about South-Eastern Europe, reports [hu] that the Rijeka Court has banned Franjo Jurčević, a Kastav-based Catholic priest, from writing homophobic blog posts [Jurčević's blog, hr: http://zupnik.blog.hr/]. The court has also ordered Jurčević to publish the court decision in two national dailies at his own expense.

September 04 2011

Macedonia: Euphoria after Basketball Victory over Greece

Celebrations erupted among Macedonians worldwide after the national team beat Greece at the European Basketball Championship of 2011 - EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania - the first such victory ever in the history of international sport.

The victory for the Macedonian national team with 72:58 at EuroBasket 2011 was a big surprise, since the Greek national team “is considered among the world's top basketball powers; they were runners-up in the 2006 FIBA World Championship and they have won the European Championship twice, in 1987 and 2005,” according to Wikipedia.

� вака им �е покаж�ва ��еден п��� на ���и�е #makbasket #Skopj... on TwitpicSoon after the game ended early Satuday evening, the jubilant flag-waving fans filled the public spaces of Macedonian cities and towns. Sport!Denes (Sport!Today) published a photo gallery [mk] from the main square in Skopje.

A Croatian media outlet 24 sata (24 hours) reported [hr] immediately after the match:

The story of the day is the Macedonian win over their southern neighbors, whose [political pressure] forces them to use the designation “Former Yugoslav Republic of” in front of their name. Even though the players do not want to talk politics, they claim this is the dearest victory of their careers.

- “It's crazy now in Skopje and the whole Macedonia, everybody goes to the main square to celebrate this” - Todor Gečevski said, while Pero Antić added:

- “We shall celebrate Independence Day on September 8, and they might build another monument for us on account of this.”

The best player of the game for Macedonia was African-American Bo McCalleb. Specialized basketball blog NBA Macedonia declared [mk] that he's “The Greatest Macedonian.”*

A screenshot from MakNBA blog featuring Bo McCalleb.

A screenshot from MakNBA blog featuring Bo McCalleb.

Twitter (the main hashtag: #makbasket) and Facebook buzzed with comments. Many Macedonian social media users expressed joy with dignity, while others used triumphant nationalist “in your face, Greece” rhetoric.

Right after the game, Azder wrote [mk]:

#makbasket should be celebrated with going to a town square. Please suggest a square with space for people, instead of statues.

Twitter profile photo with Bo McCallebDavorvori9, who changed his profile photo to one with Bo McCalleb, wrote [mk] a few hours later:

I can't remember when I was so euphoric and happy, possibly never. Thank you for this, guys! #makbasket

Roberto Belicanec wrote on Facebook (reprinted with permission)…

YEAAH ! We won! Hm - let me explain something to you. Five athletes won over five other athletes while you where turning beer into the piss. - Bill Maher!
But still, this is quite nice :)

…and Ivica Anteski retorted (also reprinted with permission):

Our diplomacy will be as strong when we take a Black person for Minister of Foreign Affairs :)

Cchevymk proposed [mk] a new basketball-inspired country car sticker, using [mk] clipart by Rosie Piter…

…and DzikiKikiriki refered [mk] to the first Greek reactions, linking to an article in E Kathimerini:

Well now it is not our fault that the Greek Government did not have money to send Greek fans to Lithuania…

Border Blockade

The next morning, a group of several dozens angry Greek citizens, who allegedly came on several buses, blocked the main border pass towards Macedonia. Reports [mk] by PlusInfo.mk portal claimed the mob consisted of nationalists (according to the signs they displayed), including neo-Nazis or skinheads. The Greek police redirected Macedonian travelers to other border crossings for a few hours to prevent confrontations, and the crossing was unblocked [mk] without additional incidents.

Victory over Finland, Too

During the afternoon, Macedonia also won the game with Finland, and darko_avr refered to an old internet joke based on famous advertisement (”Nokia - Connecting People”) and a favorite Balkan spirit when he tweeted:

Rakia 72 - Nokia 70

Karakash_MakNBA commented [mk] on this much harder won game:

Either due to fatigue, or due to physical or emotional effect of yesterday's victory, or maybe due to getting wasted last night (who knows), the Macedonian team had a hard time with Finland. Even though they are not as weak and naive a team, as everybody thought so before the match. Especially if they start a good shooting series, they are no joke.

Teams that are hard to define and and play fast basketball, without much boloney, are the hardest opponents.

As both Greece and Finland are EU members, Parmakovski joked [mk]:

After today's blockade of [Evzoni], I'm afraid if we win the championship, EU could forever block us from the [Schengen Area]…

This victory, alongside the previous unexpected win over Croatia and continued good showings could result in participation at least in the quarter-finals, according to the analysеs (1, 2) [mk] by angelov480048. Kuzevski also provided [mk] some applied analysis:

Let's all jointly support Greece and Croatia, since if they win their next games Macedonia would get 4 points in the next group…

…and Sead93 concured [mk]:

We survived the Hangover Game well enough, we should all most patriotically root for Greece (because it suits our score in the tournament)…

In conclusion MarjanIvanovski informed [mk] about a unquestionably positive consequence, regardless of nationality:

The neighborhood kids immediately gathered to play some basketball :)). There's no better advertisement and greater motivation than an achieved result…

* Note:

Success of multi-ethnic Macedonian national team runs contrary to the ideology of ethnic nationalism, and the irony seems lost on the Macedonian nationalists, who wholeheartedly partake in the celebrations. Like their other Balkans brothers-in-hate, they often use slogans such as “clean Macedonia,” and value “purity” of assumed genetic lineages. Even though the mainstream Macedonian nationalism is not explicitly racist in the color-of-skin sort of way, some of its propagators lean toward white supremacy, like in the film about God's message to Macedonians [mk] by Niche Dimovski, repeatedly aired on the state TV after the current regime took power. It includes claims that prehistoric Macedonians are progenitors of the “White Race”:

[Voice of God:] “I inhabited your Mother Earth with three races: the White - Makedonoids, the Yellow - Mongoloids, and the Black - Negrids. The rest are all mulattoes. I started the White race from you, the Macedonians, descendants of Macedon, and from you all began, till the Japanese Sea.”

Other nationalist products often refer to a genetics study about “Sub-Saharan” (i.e. recent African) origins of modern Greeks to “prove” that Macedonians are older and more indigenous people.

Still, examples of racial violence have been rare in the recent Macedonian history, possibly because not too many dark-skinned people immigrate to Macedonia on account of its depressed economy. There have been football incidents of racial abuse, though, and a chant mentions “Goce's race.” Most regular citizens would say [mk] that “there's no racism in Macedonia.”

August 24 2011

Croatia, Serbia: A Flag of Friendship

Just a few weeks after Croatia officially marked the 16th aniversory of the military operation “Oluja” (the Storm), when more than 200,000 ethnic Serbs were expelled from their century-old homes, two young adults from Croatia and Serbia created a mixed Serbo-Croatian flag, as a gesture of reconciliation between the two countries.

Anja Blazevic and Stefan Guzvica, who are taking part in a regional art camp in Gvozd, Croatia, where the flag has recently been created, explained [hr] to Vecernji.hr, a popular newspaper in Croatia, their motivation to do it:

We’ve had enough conflicts based on nationalism […] permanently evoking the past bothers us, while no one is thinking about the future. We feel frustration because of that, and so we decided to make an effort in order to build, at least symbolically, more friendly relationships between the two countries.

We have created the flag in order to call our peoples to love and tolerance. We are aware that the flag will provoke a lot of reactions and polemics, but it is so desirable in democratic societies. We have made a few copies of the flag. One of them is fluttering in our camp in Gvozd, one copy will be taken to Serbia and others have been given to our friends.

More than 850 readers have commented on the article. Below is a selection of some of these comments.

pLoto* wrote:

Behind that are NGOs financed from abroad aiming at some new community to Croats’ disadvantage. But, after two former Yugoslavias that were a failure in blood, they who are working on it did not learn anything. I have nothing to do with Serbs, I’ve never been to Serbia… and I don’t want someone uniting me with them.

Jolly-Roger wrote:

The first step is that Serbs recognize Croatia, especially those who have lived in Croatia for a long time.

The second step is that they ask for forgiveness for all the crimes that they commited in Croatia, not only during the last war.

The third step is that all of them are moved out of Croatia.

Then we can have good relations, and the flag of Croatia will not be changed. We were fighting and dying for it.

cro1com wrote:

[…] We don’t need to be friendly people at all. We have to be very cautious of each other, especially Croats toward Serbs, because Croats have never waged a war against Serbs in Serbia but all of us have witnessed the aggression from the East […]

bilikamen wrote:

They should be killed immediately so that our children and grandchildren are not killed later.

21 KK Kobra wrote:

You are stupid… do you think that we like the flag and that it is OK? I have no words.

Andreeejjj wrote:

[…] Why so, my dear Croats? It will not be excused by anyone from the world! […] The future is the most important, not the past, whatever it was. If the politicians from all former Republics [of Yugoslavia] had wanted to prevent the war, it would have been done. Unfortunately, there was no interest in it because no one of them could become so rich. That’s all and brutally true, my people, be wiser just once. It’s the time.

Serbian daily Blic re-published [sr] the news, which has generated more than 600 comments. Below are some of them.

Persa wrote:

I support each initiative which contains a desire for well-being of the people, for mutual understanding, for love, for kindness, for offering aid… I’d like that everything that was bad does not happen anymore […]

Nikola Radovanovic wrote:

Hey, people, what’s the matter with you? Let’s forget once what happened! Look into the future and allow our children to live in peace and without hatred.

per-aspera-ad-astra wrote:

It should allow everyone, regardless of nationality, who hates and chokes in their own hatred, but I don’t understand how they want to go to Europe?

Serbian blogger Strongman also re-published [sr] the news and more than 80 people commented on it.

Mariopan wrote:

Bravo to the young people. A little bit normalcy in the crazy Balkans.

Looping wrote:

I believe the motive is good, but the creators should be taking care of their lives.

ivanivica wrote:

I am only reading and thinking of how many times the young Israelis and Palestinians meet up. And?

newyorkcity.boy wrote:

All honors for maturity and courage. I support it. Finally, someone has tried to make an effort of reconciliation. I hope the move will be just the beginning. All honors to you. How much further will we hate each other?

This issue has drawn attention of several thousand people from Croatia and Serbia, as well as the rest of the region, who have left their comments on many other internet platforms and forums in the past few days.

July 18 2011

Serbia: Disgruntled Community vs. Disgruntled Politician on Twitter

While social media is becoming ever more popular in the world of politics worldwide, the Balkan states and their officials seem to be struggling with the very notion of social networking. Just weeks after an event promoting local blogs and citizen journalism, organized by bloggers and attended by a few rare officials, Serbia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vuk Jeremić, instigated a situation that may very well seriously damage any relations that local citizen media and some politicians have been building in recent years.

Minister Jeremic not only noticed a satirical, “fake” Twitter account partially bearing his name and image, @vookjeremic, but decided to report the matter of this account to Serbian police and influenced authorities to contact Twitter administrators, have the account removed from the network and then proceeded to take legal action against the creator of said account. Jeremic and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs claim that said account and what was being tweeted from it was insulting and damaging to Minister Jeremic and his foreign colleagues [EN].

Twitter accounts (mis)representing politicians and celebrities, usually in a satirical, sarcastic and often comedic fashion, have been popular on Twitter and other social networking sites for a while, which is only logical as these are channels that allow individuals and groups of citizens to freely state their opinions. While a few rare southeastern European political figures have taken to social networks and learned to use them to their benefit, both personal and professional, Vuk Jeremic seems to be stuck in the age of unilateral media.

It is true that insults and defamation should be sanctioned and are illegal. Dragan Pleskonjic, a b92.net blogger emphasizes that “Twitter Rules” [EN] clearly state that users “may not impersonate others through the Twitter service in a manner that does or is intended to mislead, confuse, or deceive others.” In his blog post [SR], this blogger goes on to say:

“I would rather not place myself on the side of the Twitterer Vuk or Vook, real or fake Twitter account, or analyze the humoristic, social (un)reasoning, nor the action and reaction to the writings there and closing of the account. However, what I would like to say with this text is: if a company on the Web offers its services under certain terms, then it would be advised to read those terms well, before using their service. In the end, by the very registration of an account, you have agreed to the terms of service…”

This brings about another question and one that is elementary in proving whether or not Mr. Jeremic and those like him have an adequate comprehention of social networks or the way people use and understand them. Are such “fake” accounts intended to mislead, confuse or deceive others? Or are they another tool that citizens use to demonstrate lack of satisfaction with their government officials?

In February, the NY Times, published an article [EN] on the very same subject, regarding fake accounts of U.S. politicians. The article says that “Twitter allows parody accounts as long as they are labeled as such…”. Would the blatantly obvious misspelling of the Minister’s name, Vook instead of Vuk, and ridiculous tweets exchanged between the @vookjeremic account and the @FakeQaddafi account be label enough?

Weltschmerz, a Croatian living in Serbia, commented on this matter on his blog [CR]:

“I don’t understand how many permilles (aproximately) of reasonable people can’t tell the difference between ‘Vook Jeremic’ and ‘Vuk Jeremic’. Nor how that can be defined as identity theft.”

The aforementioned NY Times article also carries an interesting quote from a GOP consultant, Matt Mackowiak, for whom a fake and mocking account has been created on Twitter. Mr. Mackowiak, obviously undisturbed and even a little flattered by the account and what its authors tweet, stated:

“The one thing everyone in Washington can use is a check on their own ego.”

From the Sisala Vesla blog

The same would apply in this case. Serbia’s government can use a check on its own ego, and Vuk Jeremic may be first in line. Mr. Jeremic is getting that check these days as Serbian bloggers are in an uproar about his reaction and the actions taken by the authorities in this matter. According to Alo.rs [SR], the portal of the local mainstream print edition of the same name:

After the request of the Minister of Diplomacy, Vuk Jeremic, to remove the profile ‘@vookjeremic’ from the social network ‘Twitter’, Twitterers have been more active than before, opening accounts with the names of almost all the leading politicians [in Serbia].

In that same article, Jasna Matic, former Minister of Telecommunications and Internet Society and current Secretary of Digital Agenda of the Republic of Serbia, also a very active member of the local Twitter community, recommended that active participation on social networks is a solution, rather than closing profiles and implementing bans:

“The general attitude of people who are in the business of digital communication is that the proactive system is better than banning, but it is also as important to allow less room for misinformation. Worldwide, a high level of informedness is expected, in particular of government officials. Whenever that isn’t the case, a window for manipulation is opened.”

Vladimir Stankovic, an elementary school principal and one of Serbia’s most popular bloggers, wrote a post ranting, within reason, about this case. DedaBor, as he is more commonly known in the regional blogosphere, concludes in a blog post of his own [SR]:

“My advice, and the advice of the larger portion of people who regularly use social networks and know anything about crisis PR, crises in communications, is for Vuk Jeremic himself to tune in and begin using social networks.

If he [Vuk Jeremic] can sit and watch Novak Djokovic [at Wimbledon], then he can ask him to explain how to tweet. [Novak Djokovic, currently world no. 1 tennis player, is an avid Twitterer with over 230 thousand followers on his official and personal @DjokerNole account]. Should Nole refuse, he has several political colleagues that are more than solid examples: @jasnamatic [Secretary of Digital Agenda], @gordanacom [Deputy Speaker of the Serbian National Assembly], @cistacica [Oliver Dulic, Serbian Minister] and a few others….”

Other social media users and leaders of the local online community have similar things to say, like Zoran Torbica, co-founder and vice president of the Center for Internet Development and a formidable regional Twitter evangelist among politicians, local celebrities and high-level corporate executives, who recently gave a statement to Moja portal [SR], saying:

“It [the reaction of the online community] isn’t a war against Jeremic, but simply the fact that he irritated people by the way he requested that the account [@vookjeremic] be shut down…

I don’t deny that they had the right to shut it down, it may have been better if Vuk Jeremic had been taught to run a Twitter account of his own and, in that case, all other accounts that resemble his own wouldn’t be less followed and would close with time.”

Another favorite local blogger, the highly opinionated Mahlat, often uses vernacular to depict any situation and puts things into a “people’s” perspective in this case as well [SR]:

“Now I wonder, how much of an optimist does a politician in Serbia need to be to think that noone will mock what they say, when they know that they say nothing. We’ve all learned the tune, we’re bored with it. And he [Vuk Jeremic] complains that someone is dragging his image and work through mud. Politician commrades, you can only ask for the respect of your image and work, whatever it is that you do, from your immediate families, those who share a bed and coalition partners with you. Those with whom you have deceived all of us.

You’re just lucky that most Serbs are still offline, were it different you wouldn’t be doing as well… Every love has a price, consider yourselves lucky that you are paying merely with mockery, it could be worse, history has already proven that.

And in regards to that, were it not sad, it might be funny. All that has been written.

Concluding with ‘Vuk Jeremic the Target of Fraud on Twitter’…”

It seems the debate of freedom of speech in the online community will remain a subject of debate in the days and weeks to come in Serbia and the region. What is clear so far is that politics, with disgruntled citizens on the one end and seemingly equally disgruntled politicians on the other, is still a hot issue in the Balkans. One of the initial reasons that the Internet quickly became popular in the late 90s in Serbia, was the political state in the country. Rectifying the image the world had of us, getting information out and getting information in, criticizing the regime of the time and having our voices heard outside of the walls of a damaged country and society - those were the driving forces behind the expansion of Internet usage more than a decade ago. The current regime should know that, as many of its members were actively participating in the online conversations of the time. Many of those in power in Serbia today, employed the Web to their and our collective benefit. It may be high time they learned to cope with Web 2.0.

June 23 2011

Croatia: EU Membership Approval

Anti-EU protest on the day of ICTY convictions.
Photo by Sophie Guesné

On June 10, 2011, Croatia was cleared to become the newest member state of the European Union. There is still a long road before Croatians are officially a part of the EU, and the timing at the moment is, at best, precarious, creating many skeptics. Beyond the current state of the economy in Europe, there is also the fact that on April 15, 2011, the ICTY convicted former generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač of war crimes.

As noted on This Just In:

The verdict was greeted by boos and hisses from crowds gathered in the central square of Croatia's capital, Zagreb, the BBC reported. The generals are regarded by some as national heroes.

This public opinion is important to note, as prior to joining, Croatia will hold a national referendum which, if held currently, could fail with approximately only 38 percent voting “yes” or could pass easily with 64 percent voting in favor of joining, depending on the source. Despite this electorate uncertainty, the Croatian government has continually pushed forward on the joining, as noted on Jutarnji List [hr]:

[PM Jadranka Kosor] said that the decision of the European Council is a joyful moment for Croatia, especially as Croatia this week marks the 20th anniversary of independence. “I have always said that this would be the greatest reward for the anniversary of independence,” stressed the Prime Minister.

Of course, most of the accession frustration in this country of 4.5 million people revolves around the length of time it has taken to get to this point, as was written on gospon profesor [hr]:

So, these six so far and two more? And I thought that when we finish negotiations, hop, here we are in the EU. But, no.

A commenter on that post by the name of Kinky Kolumnista approaches the pending accession from a practical standpoint [hr]:

Let's face it, if there was no pressure from the EU, none of these minor [country] improvements would have happened and we were the same quagmire as before […] EU countries are definitely more successful than we are, and those who are bypassed are at a disadvantage.

Much will still be expected of Croatia in the next two years, but currently everything points to their becoming the 28th member of the EU.

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