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Date: Tue, 4 May 1999 13:03:29 +0900
To: Multiple recipients of NETSOURCE-L <netsource-l@mail.think.service>
From: Hendrik
Subject: [NS] Croatia: Attack on the Media in the shadow of NATO's war

Attack on the Media in Croatia

AIM Zagreb, 21 April, 1999

The strike of workers of Tisak, the greatest Croatian press distributer,
which began on Wednesday afternoon, will most probably at least for some
time prevent most of the newspapers in Croatia from reaching the readers.
After a several-month long delay of financial reorganization of Tisak, more
than three thousand of its workers decided by going on strike to try to
persuade the government of the Republic of Croatia and its institutions to
finally resolve the problems of this enterprise, because along with the
fact that for two months they have not received their salaries, they are
facing the probability of its ruin. But, it is questionable whether they
will succeed in their attempt because apart from the problems with finding
the source of fresh capital necessary for revitalisation of the enterprise
destroyed by transformation plunder, they would have to unveil the
concealed political games in which the regime is trying to get rid of at
least a part of independent publishers by using business problems of the
greatest Croatian press distributer.

While NATO, America and Europe are busy bombing Yugoslavia and breaking
down Slobodan Milosevic, the regime of Franjo Tudjman has snatched the
opportunity to deal with the media, especially the independent ones, and
break down everything that manifests any opinion of its own and any
critical spirit. Franjo Tudjman is abundantly making up for the newly
disclosed cooperativeness of Croatia and its president with NATO,
manifested by its silent on-looking and failing to react to developments in
the neighbouring state, as well as in the initiative for a summit of
representatives of neighbouring countries of Yugoslavia which has allegedly
"met with excellent reception of the international community": two
independent weeklies, Nacional and Feral Tribune, have become the targets
of the strongest strikes this regime has invented against media, while the
greatest distributer of newspapers, Tisak, is still wriggling in agony the
end of which will come in sight only after everything printed that dared
speak up about miserable and looting nature of the regime is destroyed.

After Miroslav Kutle, the notorious tycoon who is close to the Croat
Democratic Community (HDZ), had sucked out of Tisak 150 million German
marks which disappeared into thin air without anyone from the authorities
having even raised the question how he could have done it, for whose
benefit and where the money had gone, Croatian government decided to
financially restore the enterprise whose regular business operation had
been brought to the verge of collapse. After days of negotiations with
representatives of newspaper publishers who are foredoomed to deal with
Tisak because its network of four thousand newsstands all around Croatia is
the major distribution chain, it was decided that a consortium of six banks
would be established which were expected to raise money and transform the
enterprise from a big debtor faced with financial debacle into a model of
"successful transformation" and financial recovery. But, the six banks also
had to be financially reorganised themselves, but the term financial
reorganisation has a somewhat different meaning in Croatia than in the
normal world.

Financial reorganisation around here means that an emergency loan will be
obtained (from somewhere in the world) by the means of which the enterprise
will pay back its debts made by extending loans to HDZ tycoons. Guarantees
for the loans are given by the state, which means that the debt would be
paid back by tax payers, or rather all the citizens of Croatia among whom
the percentage of poor ones is increasing every day. The six financially
reorganised banks which the state had taken hold of again after the
transformation plunder, were expected to enable Tisak six months ago to
stand on its own two feet and go back to normal business operation. This,
of course, did not happen, and it is uncertain whether it ever will. The
debt of Tisak to newspaper publishers according to the latest data has
piled up to 120 million kunas (30 million German marks), although there are
doubts that it might be much higher. At the same time, the offer of the
French distributer Hachette to invest money and put Tisak where it hade
been before was turned down.

The explanation given in the refusal is typically Croatian: Tisak is of
strategic interest of the state and it must not end up in the jaws of
foreign capital. Such a wonderfully put explanation conceals a less
wonderful truth: just six months ago, Tisak brought its owners a daily
profit of one and a half million marks in cash, which in present-day
Croatia brimming with indebted and bankrupt enterprises makes it incredibly
interesting for any tycoon. On the other hand, Tisak is even more
interesting for the authorities: by constantly failing to pay the money
made by sale, the regime has discovered the simplest method by means of
which it can beat independent media on the head for as long as it pleases
and pretend that it, the same regime with the blessing of which various
Kutles and associations of war veterans marched though Tisak, has nothing
to do with illiquidity of a "privatised" enterprise. And the fact that the
banks have done nothing to carry out the planned financial reorganisation
programme, that they are letting this enterprise go to wreck and ruin,
although it could have returned every investment in a very short time is
justified by "business policy of unrisky investing".

All these games with Tisak appear to be even worse in the context of what
is happening in the past few weeks to Nacional and Feral Tribune.
Journalists of these weeklies are in court almost every day where they are
forced to justify their actions because of accusations mostly of HDZ
officials or creations of Croatian social life close to HDZ. Because of
"spiritual pain inflicted" by journalists various state dignitaries are
trying to find consolation in indemnity demands of several hundred thousand
German marks. In about eighty appeals and court proceedings taking place at
the moment against Feral indemnity demands have reached the amount of five
million marks, and similar is the situation with Nacional and its
journalists. Nacional has also encountered a precedent in Croatian
judiciary: father Anto Bakovic, president of the Croatian Populist
Movement, owner and editor of the populist (pro-fascist) newspaper called
Narod (People) and priest warrant for the arrest of whom has been issued by
Austrian police, has managed to bring about bankuptcy of Nacional's
publisher, Media press. Bakovic lodged an appeal against them three years
ago for the article in which his activities were analysed based on known
facts from his life. The court ruled 200 thousand kunas (50 thousand German
marks) of indemnity to be paid in his favour, but Nacional, partly because
of the situation in Tisak, has not that much money on its account.

After that, with the help of attorney Zeljko Olujic Bakovic demanded
initiating bankruptcy proceedings in the publishing company, which was
accepted by the Commercial Court in the middle of April. All appeals of
Nacional's attorneys and the attempts to find a more peaceful solution for
the dispute remained futile, and Media press is facing bankruptcy
proceedings initiated by the same Commercial Court which has for months
refused to register Radio 101 until this radio station was abandoned by
majority of journalists who are now on the verge of survival.

In the mentioned eighty odd appeals against Feral, along with extremely
high indemnity demands, the number of cases is increasing in which criminal
penalties are sought for journalists and editors, but also sentences in
jail. And the judges loyal tro the regime are dilligently meeting these
demands: Boris Raseta of Feral Tribune was recently arrested and sentenced
to one month in prison, suspended sentence of two years, for insult of a
minor judge, and a similar sentence is threatening executive editor Viktor
Ivancic. The editor-in-chief of Feral Hani Erceg was visited four times by
the police in just one week and summoned to court, and an indemnity demand
for two million kunas (more than half a million marks) sought by a
physician whose few baby patients died on his operating table was
accompanied by a demand that she too be sentenced to prison. Feral's
journalists and editors have difficulties counting the number of court
decisions that convicted them in the past few months, and the amount of
money they are sentenced to pay is emptying Feral's cashbox and threatening
its further publication.

At the same time, Tisak's debt to Feral and Nacional is increasing all the
time, but Feral is also having problems with collecting claims from the
distribution network of Slobodna Dalmacija, another newspaper publishing
company taken over by the state again after Miroslav Kutle had used it as a
stepping stone for his scandalous plunder of about two hundred enterprises.
In collecting debts from Tisak, newspaper publishers according to certain
information will encounter even greater problems. After two state
enterprises, daily Vjesnik and Croatian printing works, have merged, it
seems probable that the former president of the management board of
Croatian printing works Goran Maric will be the new director of Tisak will
be .

The American of Croat origin Chris Bojanovic brought to Tisak to try to
save it, thanks to "lack of business cooperativeness" of the bank
consortium did not manage to save this enterprise, not even to help it
which is a sufficient pretext to remove him from the post of the director
and put the tested cadre from the Croatian printing works in his place.
Doubts are increasing that bringing Maric in Bojanovic's place could mean
the beginning of a merger of Tisak with Vjesnik and Croatian printing
works, that is, of creation of the largest newspaper publishing enterprise
in the state owned by the state itself, whose dictate of (unfavourable)
conditions would completely ruin independent newspaper publishers. Even if
this had not been the year in which change of party in power is expected,
that is, the departure of HDZ, its members' hatred of everything that has a
critical stand concerning the way they rule is so strong that destruction
of media is not at all surprising, but a logical result of egoism of an
autocrat and his wretched retinue. The elections are just an additional
stimulus for HDZ repression on printed media after it had destroyed
electronic media (radio stations) or after it had prevented them to
normally develop (private television stations). If like in the case of
Tisak it is possible to get hold of a sum of money along the way, their
efforts become - at least from the way HDZ understands power - utterly
justified. Had they had by any chance a different stand about it, several
hundred thousand workers would have still had their jobs and they would
have been able to live off their salaries. But this would have been another
story in which media would not have had the problems they are encountering
nowadays nor would Croatia have had the authorities it has.



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