By Stephanie Moore

Croatia is considered a partly free democracy by Freedom House based on their political, economic and legal environments. Croatia is also considered the one eastern European country that is as stable as those countries identified as western Europe. This is important to take into consideration when it is realized that Croatia has only been an independent and sovereign state since June 25, 1991. This also happens to be the same date that Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. The media in Croatia is still a state-run and controlled outlet, except in the few instances of independent media organizations. The independent media organizations of Croatia do not hold much in the way of media power or influence. The year 2012 saw the ranking of Croatia move up two places to 83rd out of 197 in the Freedom House rankings of press freedom from 85th in 2010 and 2011. A new constitution was adopted in 1990 although Croatia was not yet a fully sovereign state.

Historical Background

Croatia is a Balkan state lying on the Adriatic Sea, and is also a former Yugoslavian Republic. Yugoslavia was made up of six republics that included Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Croatia. Each of these republics had a diverse and unstable makeup consisting of eight people groups, five languages, three religions, two alphabets, all under one dictator- Tito. When speaking about the former Yugoslavia and especially when speaking in terms of the third Balkan war from 1990-1995 it was said best by a travel journalist: “ Everyone you talk to in the former Yugoslavia will have a different version of events.’Listen to all three sides – Muslim, Serb and Croat.’ Then decide for yourself what you think.” (Hewitt,1) While under the dictatorship of Tito, all Yugoslavs had to serve in the military and were not allowed to serve with a unit of their own ethnic group. Similar to Stalin, Tito ensured that there was no press that spoke unbecomingly of his regime and eliminated those who spoke out against him. Croatia was a major player in the Slovene succession of 1990, though the Croatians were themselves victims of ethnic cleansing. Thousands of Croatians simply disappeared and were found in mass graves many years later. The bloody battles were over territory that Croatians and Serbians disputed; ending in 1995 with the borders established as they are today. Croatian journalists during the Serbian-Croatian war had to choose sides resulting in a lack of objectivity and fair reporting within the war zone. Fair reporting would likely have gotten the journalist jailed or killed.

Croatia is a constitutional democracy and this constitution provides for freedom of expression and speech. Article Three Fundamental Freedoms and Rights of Man and Citizen number 38 subset two states that:

“Freedom of thought and expression of thought shall be guaranteed. Freedom of expression shall specifically include freedom of the press and other media of communication, freedom of speech and public expression and free establishment of all institutions of public communications censorship shall be forbidden, journalists shall have the right to freedom of reporting and access to information. The right to correction shall be guaranteed to anyone whose constitutionally determined rights have been violated by communication.” (Croatian Constitution)

Franjo Tudman was the first of the freely elected leaders of the Croatian democracy. He ran the Hrvatska demokratska zajednica(HDZ) or Croatian Democratic Union party and from the outside , the media looked like it was free and open. However, this was untrue; the media of the 1990s was highly influenced by political parties. The media was not directly censored by the government though access to unbiased information was limited by the legal system. Tudman was known for filing hundreds of lawsuits against media outlets because they “offended” the government. Journalists were often jailed because they had insulted or caused mental harm to a public official. It was said by an observer of Croatian politics of the 1990s that: “Outside observers and savvy insiders who had access to facts, knowledge of the laws and information about lawsuits, jailings, the boarding up of print and broadcast facilities clearly saw that censorship masqueraded as freedom. For the Croatian public, the iron hand on information was invisible.” (Malovic, 9) Croatians were at the mercy of a repressive government and only knew what they were told.

A major change occurred in the presidential elections of 2000. Major newspapers were able and willing to publish polling results, which in turn empowered the people to vote for who they wished to see in their highest office. The media had never played a major role in informing Croatians of corruption within their own country. The polls not only showed the popularity of an “underdog” as well as the corruption of elected officials while the people of Croatia suffered economically. The media’s role in the 2000 election showed the people how important it was to demand free and fair press. The new president, Stipe Mesic, changed some of the legislation such as being able to prosecute the highest officials of Croatia. Prior to his presidency, they enjoyed immunity.

Parliament was also no longer allowed to control the radio and television as general managers, and hate speech was outlawed while the professional journalism standards were revised to meet international guidelines. This action came under fire when the parliament of Croatia revised the criminal code in 2011. The revision states that journalists can be tried for libel, face jail time and have their wages garnished for half the year if they are convicted. This is a step back from the 1848 law that abolished censorship. The revision actually causes journalists to censor themselves in order to avoid possible punishment for disagreeing with the government.

Croatia also has an agency to regulate media that on the surface looks very similar to the Federal Communications Commission in the United States. The Electronic Media Agency is the regulating body of state run and for profit communications agencies. It is also the manager of the Fund for Promotion of Pluralism and Diversity of Electronic Media which is set up to help stimulate the content that is seen on local and regional television and radio, but it does not include online media. Online media and not for profit organizations can not and do not get funding, but are expected to pay taxes. Most of the independent media falls under the banner of non-profit and online media. “ Croatia is the only country where the press can be jailed for slander or insult to the character of the President or of other officers of the republic.” (Malovic, 6) The Croatian public still sees media as a way for government to speak to the public.

Free Speech

Croatian media is considered at near sustainability which means: “ The country has progressed in meeting multiple objectives within legal norms, professionalism, and the business environment supportive of independent media. Advances have survived changes in government and have been codified in law and practice. However, more time maybe needed to ensure that change is enduring and that increased professionalism and their media business environment are sustainable.” (Zidaric, 2) This seems relatively progressive for a country that less than 30 years ago was under Communism and the Soviet media model.

There are still cases of speech being suppressed in present day Croatia. Damir Fintic was sentenced to prison after making a comment on a blog in 2005 that was critical about a public official and his wife after they made a real estate purchase. The comment on Fintic’s blog was pure criticism of a government official, there was nothing found that would have proved a falsehood had been published. His crime was “libel” and this conviction definitely hints at the seriousness of defamation laws on being able to criticize government officials. Fintic was also convicted a second time for making criticisms of the mayor in his town of Vukovar. He took the case to the Supreme Court in Zagreb which found that the sentence of 20 days in prison was illegal and sent the case back to the Vukovar court on Oct 2, 2009. The libel law was abolished in 2006 and reappeared again in 2011.

Marko Perkovic Thompsonwas a singer that won a case of freedom of speech in Croatia against the wishes of a powerful adversary in 2011. Thompson was a supporter of fascism and ultra-nationalist parties. The Helinski Committee for Human Rights did not agree with what Thompson promoted and believed, however, they will not step on his rights to free speech when it does not involve public funds. This is a case in which free speech, even if detestable, was protected in the Croatian democratic system.

Ivonu Ramadzu, a reporter, and Kresimira Morica, a cameraman of the national radio and television station HRT were attacked while covering a concert in which Marko Perkovic Thompson was supporting a celebration for Operation Oluja. The celebration was attended by ultra-nationalists that follow the “ideology of the Ustashis which is a movement that was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Croatian Serbs, Jews, Roma, and Communists during WWII.” (Reporters Without Borders 08-12-10) The issue that Reporters Without Borders had with this incident is that it encourages censorship of journalists when their views do not match the public. Croatia wants to join the European Union and has made major leaps towards being able to do so, but this incident was a step in the wrong direction. The Croatians are allowing their own dislike of a specific group to cloud their views of free speech and press by allowing violence against media personnel to go unpunished.

Victor Ivancic and Marinko Culic won a court case against the former Croatian president Franjo Tudman for defamation in 1996. These two journalists were a part of the Feral Tribune, a satirical weekly publication which has seen multiple days in court for defamation and libel for attacking government officials. “This ruling could help the Croatians join a council that promotes democracy and human rights in former Communist countries called the Council of Europe.” (Barber)

If Croatia is allowed to join the Council of Europe, it would mean that they are well on their way to also meeting the requirements to join the European Union.

Croatia has made major strides in becoming a true democracy but the people still fear repercussions of criticizing the government.

Free Press

The Feral Tribune cases are numerous and very important to the freedom of press in Croatia. One case involves seditious libel accusations from 1996, in which the satirical newspaper ridiculed the president, his family and the ruling party. The government tried to force the Feral Tribune into bankruptcy by withholding $500,000 in revenue, but Feral Tribune fought back. The newspaper found backing from international free press organizations and foreign governments to keep afloat while being punished by the government. A second case against Feral Tribune involved cases of war reporting from the Croatian-Serbian War . The Feral Tribune was accused of not caring about the outcome of the situation in the former Yugoslavia and how it would affect those people involved. The Feral Tribune stated that they were just objectively reporting the information and left it to the people to decide who was right and who was wrong.
Zeljecko Peratovic was a journalist that was arrested on Oct 17, 2007 and stood accused of “disseminating information that would likely upset the population.” (Babic,119) The charges were brought up against him by interior minister Tomislav Karamarko in retaliation for an article. The article accused the interior minister of obstructing an investigation into death of a witness in an international tribune war crimes case. Though Peratovic has been released, he has not had the charges withdrawn or his files returned. He also is considered a traitor by many Croatians and still recieves death threats. Peratovic received the press freedom prize of the Reporters without Borders Austrian section in 2003 (Reporters Without Borders 01-15-09).

Karolina Vidovic-Kristo is a well respected Croatian journalist with HRT/HTV. She investigated a new government policy on sex education. The report that was made was critical of the policy of the program, and the foundation for which the board of regents was chosen. Vidovic-Kristo was accused of defamation because she reported that one of the appointees to the curriculum development was associated with exposing children to pornography and pedophilia. The show was canceled on Dec 30 ,2012 and Karolina Vidovic-Kristo is still awaiting trial. She has found a large support base with the Croatian people.

The Croatian media in the case of Karolina Vidovic-Kristo shows steps back from free speech and press and “sets an extremely bad precedent because journalists are now afraid more than ever to speak out against the government. Younger generations are worried about keeping their jobs because unemployment is high and this plays a major role in freedom of the press and speech in Croatia.” ( Censored, 2)

Critical Comparison

Croatia has made many leaps forward from being a Communist country under the Soviet Model of media control to becoming a partly free democracy. Croatia has a constitution that guarantees freedom of expression, but in most cases it is not a true freedom. The new legislation states “Croatia is the only country where the press can be jailed for slander or insult to the character of the president or of other officers in the republic.” (Malovic, 6) The United States saw this happen in the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, while it was a fledgling democracy. This could be considered an important marker to the democratic maturity of a nation. The United States has seen its own share of self-censorship in the past and we have now had 200-plus years to become a flawed yet functional democracy.

The cases of seditious libel seen in Croatia were found in the cases with the Feral Tribune. A critical analysis of the case by an U.N. Council shows that the Croatian judgment should follow closely with the case of NY Times v. Sullivan. The case with the Feral Tribune shows that it followed the right to free political speech and that politicians must also be willing to be criticized when they are in the public eye. President Tudman was a political figure in a democratic state and therefore really could not claim the same rights as a private citizen.

Brandenburg v. Ohio, R.A.V. v. St. Paul, Nationalist Socialist Party v. Skokie, and Snyder v. Phelps are all United States Supreme Court cases that involve hate speech much like what is being heard in Croatia with the pop-music artist Marko Perkovic Thompson. Thompson’s thoughts and views are highly offensive to the mixed ethnic and minorities of Croatia, but under Croatian law he has a right to his own opinions.

Hate speech in Croatia has gone through three stages to become an almost completely illegal form of speech:

1990-1997 :hate speech was encouraged in publications during the Croatian-Serbian war to encourage picking one side over the other.

1997-2000 :an effort to reduce the ethnic tensions and raise awareness of hate speech is

put into effect.

2000 to the present: a huge reduction was seen in hate speech but not completely made illegal in the present time.

Terminiello v. Chicago was a United States Supreme Court decision in 1949 that allows for hate speech. Justice Douglas stated that even hate speech is “protected against censorship or punishment, unless shown likely to produce a clear and present danger of a serious substantive evil that rises far above public inconvenience, annoyance, or unrest … There is no room under our Constitution for a more restrictive view.” The argument for the Helinski Commission is seen to agree with the United States Supreme Court in their decision in the case of Thompson who supports something as hateful to the population of Croatia as the symbols of the Ku Klux Klan is to Americans.

Croatia is working on becoming acceptable to the European Union and recognized as democracy in the eyes of the great democracies of the world. Malovic said it best in a quote from his book “ Free Expression is sometimes seen as a product of open society, but that is backwards: free expression is the foundation to open society.” (Malovic, 41)


Croatia has a free media that does not fall under the influence of the government because it is independently owned, but it does not enjoy a majority in the media. A majority in the media of Croatia would be fair and balanced news that shows all sides of the story, something the United States could take into consideration with the media conglomerates as well. New legislation has caused an international outcry in the media because it proposes a new press law that will hamper access to official information, limit criticism of public figures, make the prosecution of journalists even easier and encourage self-censorship. The United States has a precedent of allowing speech and press freedoms even when they are unpopular decisions or downright despicable actions.

This essay was last updated on April 30, 2013.

Works Cited

“The Case of Karolina Vidovic-Kristo”

The People, Press, and Politics of Croatia, Malovic, Stjepan and Gary W. Selnow 2001. Praeger Publishers,07564.htm “ Criminal code amendments and planned press law changes deal a blow to press freedom” 17 July 2003 “Croatia- Fighting for a free media” Babic, Danijela

“The Period of Croatia within Ex-Yugoslavia (1918-1941) and (1945-1991). Zubrinic, Darko

http://,35966.htm “Judicial harassment of war crimes reporter continues”15 January 2009 “Battling Seditious Libel in Croatia” Committee To Protect Journalists.,00623.html “Feral Tribune survival jeopardised by heavy fines” 7 March 2002

“Understanding Yugoslavia” Hewitt, Cameron,38131.html “Stones thrown at TV covering ultranationalist celebration”12 August 2010

“Journalism students in Zagreb look to free press as weapons in the struggle for Croatian democracy” Ricchiardi,Sherry. The Chronicle of Higher Education. June 30,1993; 39,43; ProQuest

“Nationalism, News Media and Tolerance in Croatia” Peck, Lee Anne. Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies 20 no. 1/ 2 105-19 2008

“Croatian journalists win free speech case” Barber, Tony “ Croatian singer’s right to free speech” Banac, Ivo “Blogger saved from jail by the croatia supreme court”


2 Responses to Croatia

  1. Zeljko says:

    Marko Perkovic Thompson IS NOT a supporter of fascism.

    Can you please delete that statement as it is defamatory

  2. Thank you for your kind thoughtfulness indicating Free Speech rights in Croatia. Free speech rights are constantly violated by uneducated educated intellectuals who strive for power, only to fine themselves in the end swept away by the standing laws of which they are most ignorant, this is apparent abd ever so historically true.

    http://www.bee– Franken-zine Free Speech Press Niagara Falls, NY

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