Businesses rally over economic impacts of COVID-19, media accused of trying to overthrow the state
On 4th February 2021, the government initiated the drafting of the new National Plan for Creating an Enabling Environment for the Development of Civil Society 2021-2027. The National Plan is a strategic document that outlines the policies of the Croatian government and the goals to be achieved for the normative, financial and institutional environment for civil society operations and development. On the other hand, the Council for Civil Society Development, which aims to develop cooperation between the government and CSOs in the implementation of the National Plan has not been able to hold any session at which it could make decisions since July 2020, when the new government was formed.
The CSO GONG has voiced concerns over political pressures on civil society in Croatia. After GONG warned the Council of Europe that the work of the main anti-corruption body in Croatia may be hindered by the announced changes to the law on Preventing Conflict of Interest, the Minister of Justice and Administration criticised the NGO and blamed GONG for pressuring the judiciary and undermining trust in public institutions. Later, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković also made comments portraying GONG activists as traitors for raising this issue with the European Commission. According to GONG, government pressure on civil society not to raise its voice “only confirms the attitude of the ruling party towards the defenders of human rights and democratic principles”.
Thousands of small business owners and entrepreneurs gathered in central Zagreb demanding the resignation of Croatia’s economy minister. The protesters expressed their economic struggles in the face of COVID-19 related closures and highlighted the failure of government to assist the industry during the pandemic. The protests were sparked by the detention of a Croatian gym owner, who opened his gym as a form of protest and has become a symbol of resistance for other business owners.
A protest in #Croatia's capital Zagreb organized by an association of small business owners attracts several thousand people demanding more relief subsidies for sectors most severely hit by the #coronavirus and an end to crippling pandemic restrictionshttps://t.co/zg9gPnehTl— N1english (@N1info) February 3, 2021
Croatian civil society associations organised a performance on 2nd February 2021 to mark the first anniversary of the protest against Mayor Milan Bandić. The previous protest was the biggest ever rally, gathering over 20,000 protesters to condemn Bandić, who is currently under investigation for suppression of corruption and organised crime. The organisations announced that they will host similar performances every ten days until the local election in late May 2021.
The ban on public events and gatherings of more than 25 people in one place, or gatherings of more than 10 people from more than two households is still in force as part of the COVID-19 measures.
The Minister of Culture in Croatia presented a new bill to protect copyright and related rights in the digital environment in order to support the Croatian cultural and creative industries whose activities have been moved online due to COVID-19. Journalists, however, raised their concerns over their employers being the sole owners of the copyright to their work.
In addition, the Croatian Parliament again debated a new Law on electronic media, which has previously been criticisedby the Croatian Journalists’ Association. While opposition lawmakers questioned the provision on publishers' responsibility for comments on Internet portals, stressing that it could lead to restrictions on public speech, the Minister of Culture, who proposed the draft, stated that it would create better conditions for the work of the media and contribute to raising professional standards, preventing hate speech and providing for greater transparency in the publication of data.
Five members of the Bad Blue Boys fan group were sentenced to six months in prison with a probation period of two years and an additional year of community work, for public incitement to hatred and violence against Serbian women and children at an event in June 2020.
The Electronic Media Council reported no complaints regarding the coverage of the devastating earthquakes that happened in late December 2020 and early January 2021 in several Croatian cities. The council stated that the media managed to perform its main role in informing the general public. However, the association BaBe reacted to the lack of fact-checking and professionalism of journalists when the association was attacked on social media with accusations (often accompanied by swearing and insults) regarding their (in)action in the crisis response – despite BaBe not being a humanitarian organisation. According to Babe, this makes journalists accomplices in the further incitement of intolerance towards civil society organisations. It said:
“...we believe that the standards of investigative journalism still require greater engagement in seeking and verifying information. With this statement, we appeal for journalistic responsibility in reporting and we hope that in the future mutual respect and cooperation will be the basis for overcoming difficult periods.”
On the international day of impunity for crimes against journalists, the Croatian Journalists' Association (HND) issued a reminder that in the last six years 64 attacks and threats against journalists have taken place in Croatia. Out of these, a total of nine attacks took place this year, of which the State Attorney's Office has initiated proceedings in two cases, while there are numerous cases from previous years that have not yet been concluded. HND warns of the long-term silence of the country's leaders and demands clear and unequivocal condemnation of the attacks and threats against journalists. HND also made a list with 72 reminders of the unfavorable state of the media in Croatia on the 72nd birthday of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
On 11th January 2021 the ruling Croatian Democratic Union (HZD) party allegedly accused journalists and media outlets of conspiring with the opposition party to overthrow the government through their reporting. These accusations were preceded by attacks by HZD President and Prime Minister Andrej Plenković on journalists and the media. He argued that criticism of the government's response to earthquake-affected areas was an attempt to dismantle the state. The HND condemned the attacks on the media:
“The CJA (HND) will not deny anyone the right to criticise, but this amount of unsubstantiated claims is not only shameful, but also dangerous and speaks of the deep disruption of the society in which we live.”