First, as it would be good for our readers who do not understand Croatian and who have not seen your movie "Ministry of love", if you can please describe as director short the movie, what is the idea when you decided to take the role of the director?
I wrote the script inspired by many absurdities of the Croatian law system, so it was pretty natural for me to direct it myself. As you probably know, Croatia is the only EU-country with significant numbers of war widows. These women receive pensions for their dead husbands. But since our new family law equalizes marriage and domestic partnership, it means that all widows who are living in domestic partnership with new partners could lose their pensions if the state can prove they now live in “sin”. So, in my film, which is completely fictional, the government establishes a group of inspectors who are supposed to investigate the widows. The protagonist of the film is one of the inspectors, who is actually a nice guy who is doing some bad things and in the end falls in love with one widow. Of course, there is a huge ethical problem. It is not a film about politics, it’s a film about people, about human urge to be loved, and not to be lonely.
In the movie-presentation on the official webpage is written: The wrong man. The wrong job. The wrong time. Was this a wrong time for the movie?
I do not think so. According to reactions, it was the exactly right time for the film. The film did not want to provoke, we wanted to make a smart comedy drama, not an activist movie, but it seems that it contains just the right dose of subversion to provoke people who feel that they have been attacked or mocked.
One of the actors is a veteran and participated in the war in the 90´. What was his view about the movie?
More actors from the film are war veterans. All of them liked the script and accepted their roles. One of the war veteran actors comes from the district where the film was mostly shot and he connected us with local people. We employed lots of local people, and some of them were participants of the war. During the filming, there were no complaints. Our collaboration was excellent.
Did you spoke with some veterans about the movie?
Well, apart from some actors, some of my friends were participants of the war. They embraced the film. We also had some festival screenings before our film distribution started. During Zadar Film Festival, we had one dislocated screening in a small town near Zadar. The screening was organized by a group of veterans, who also embraced the film. I was very much relieved after these screenings because I did not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The characters of the widows are presented as human and likeable, and the real bad guys are from the state bureaucracy.
Can you please tell us, what happened with your movie?
The world premiere of the film was in July 2016 at the Pula Film Festival. On this screening in Arena most of the audience (5.000 viewers) were overjoyed, we had 4,55 audience rating, the highest of all Croatian films in the Competition. But after that screening there was an open complaint from the Society of War Widows on the content of the film, although it was obvious that the people who wrote the letter did not see the film. This open letter was published on some obscure web portals, that usually represent nationalistic ideas. No one cared about this, I did not even know about it, till one journalist asked me in October 2016, just before our wide cinema release. Actually, no one cared much about it, we thought it was pretty marginal. In 2016 and 2017 we had a pretty good run on festivals, got some good reviews, sold the film to 3 territories, had cinema distribution in some foreign countries. It is also important to say that the film is a Croatian Czech coproduction, made also with European money from Eurimages. The TV broadcast was set for beginning of January in 2018 and HRT started to broadcast the film trailer, and after this the problems started.
Why it was not broadcasted as announced in Croatian public RTV HRT and the "story behind".
On the morning of the day when the screening was announced, at the gate of HRT, the delegation of War Widows appeared, asking the Board of HRT to cancel the screening, scheduled for 21:00. And never again to screen the film which HRT itself co-produced. The executives decided to cancel the screening. One important Croatian film maker died at that time and they immediately changed the program, with the good “In Memoriam” excuse. I got the phone call from HRT and they told me, the actual reason for cancelling the film was the morning visit of the delegation of war widows. At the same time, the journalists started to call.
The next day, several news reports appeared, and War Veterans Societies did not try to hide the fact that they successfully interfered in HRT program, and that HRT executives obeyed. They were sort of proud. HRT gave a panicked statement which said that they had to check if the film has some content which is against the “broadcasting law”. They could not find anything wrong and, with some critical journalists reporting about the censorship, they decided to give the film a new shot, to postpone the screening for one week, and announced: next week, same time, 21:00…
Who attacked you directly in Croatia connected to this movie? Have you been attacked by some today or former politicians / ministers in the government?
During the week, in between those announced broadcasts, some right wing portals started a serious campaign against the film and myself, one TV show on a local station, moderated by a well known right extremist had a distasteful attack on the film, accusing me of Anti Croatian Propaganda, for being a ball-less war deserter, employing actors of Serbian origin. Well, I’ve got nothing against employing excellent Croatian actors of Serbian origin, I think doing the opposite would be an attack on human rights. Honestly, I think it is unbelievable that this can happen, in a EU country, right now.
During the whole campaign, I have been protected only by journalists and film making colleagues. Not a single word of any politicians. On the evening of the screening, some 100 protesters appeared, in front of the HTV building, war invalids, widows, trying to ban the film, insulting me, the Croatian Film Centre and HRT, because they opted to screen the film. In their threatening speeches, they announced that their Minister (the Minister for War Veterans) had promised them, that the film will never be screened on HRT. HRT decided to postpone the screening again, putting the film in the “adult slot”, at, 23:20.
Have you been informed about the changes or you learned about the changes like the rest of viewers of Croatian public RTV HRT? Who, according to your knowledge, decided about the changes in broadcasting?
The HRT executive board with the help of politicians. Several days after the scandal, media published the letter of the Minister for Veterans addressed to HRT executives, in which he was demanding to ban the film. The whole situation was absurd, because the program commissioners approved the film script and praised the film. They were the co-producers.
Do you think this was a political decision?
Of course it was a political decision. Our Minister of Culture is a lady not very popular in the circles of right extremists. But the protesters are represented in the government with the Minister for War Veterans, who has no knowledge about arts but has lots of experience in organizing war veterans’ protests against our previous government. I assume, it was a dispute between 2 political options, one centre right, pro European, and the other which is very nationalist, populist and aggressive, furiously fighting for their own privileges. But, of course, the public opinion is that these Veteran societies represent the minority of people who fought in the war.
Did someone contact you from HRT after all happened? Did someone in HRT supported you?
Some decent people did, but they do not have any power. I got information that the ratings were excellent, and later, we broke the record with “on demand” ratings. Thanks to the scandal - everybody saw the film. 2 weeks after, they called me from Drama Department and apologized for all the suffering. They reported that one of the Program Directors is sorry for what had been written and reported about the film. But a week later, another program director in the report he gave to the Program council gave the statement that the film should have never been screened because of its quality. I was shocked again, I thought after the reviews, ratings, awards and festivals you should not give such statements – above all, it was impolite. And makes my further professional life with the public broadcaster very difficult. But, the people in high positions should not mix with the “enemies of the state” like me, and this was the obvious path to save his job.
How was the reaction from your colleagues and media in Croatia?
Excellent, the Film Directors Society publicly supported me and the film and lots of colleagues supported me in separate interviews. And also intellectuals and columnists from different political positions, from centre right to the left protected the film and my dignity.
But again about the extremist in Croatia - they attacked your movie, and according to some of them, very clear independent from the fact, that they never have seen your movie. Is it not ridiculous?
It is ridiculous, but it is typical for a politically very much divided country with lots of uneducated people with many prejudices. It is also a game. This is a way to control art and culture, like in the old communist times. But this time from nationalistic positions. And in the country where most people do not have an opportunity to go to theatre or cinema – the TV screening presents danger. They thought if someone makes the story based on war privileges, even in fictional and comedic manner, it could be dangerous, too subversive. So, this kind of speech should be banned. Real disaster is that these have obvious support even in the government. Although, I have to say, the Minister of Culture, in her recent interview, was very much determined in defending my film and the freedom of speech in art. Without her determination, I do not think they would broadcast it.
What I am pretty certain, that “Ministry of Love” is abusive to no one. We were moving artistically on pretty slippery territory, but lots of screenings really gave me the right to be sure – we did not hurt anyone’s feelings. To make it more absurd – now we were screened on “Common Good Film Festival” in USA. This is completely opposite of what I have been accused of.
In Croatia some people coming from the conservative-right groups see the movie as "anti-Croatian propaganda". Some of the extremist attacked you as "pro-Yugoslav", a description that is for us outside former Yugoslavia not understandable, but that is used in Croatia by the right-extremist if someone should be a really enemy of the country. What would be your answer?
Well, it is the same accusation as before. In communist times, everyone who was anti-communist was the enemy of the state, and this is typical state of mind for a country with immature democratic values. Now, if they feel you mock any “sacred cows” of national revolution or pride – you will immediately be pronounced as “pro-Yugoslav”, as the prime “enemy of the state”. This is someone who has nostalgic thoughts about the dead country. For sure, I do not have any, with several victims of terror in my family. But this is the old Stalinist method, functioning very well in new democracies.
But what these proud nationalists do not understand is that this type of behaviour actually harms your own country.
But why this "pro-Yugoslav" description, when we all know that the former Yugoslavia, with the borders including all 6 republics, is not more existing since 1991. Why Yugoslavia plays still an important role for the right extremist in Croatia?
It is very simple. Someone who is not patriotic enough is usually accused as being pro-Yugoslav. Of course, this is crazy, but efficient in accusing the people who think opposite of proscribed ideology.
You movies were presented on international festivals in many countries. What is the situation with festivals in Croatia? As we know, one other your movie was co-produced by Croatian public RTV HRT, but broadcasted by TV in Czech Republic, never on Croatia public RTV HRT? Why?
5 years ago, I made a documentary about our famous film director Lordan Zafranović, who was very successful in the 70s and the 80s. But because of his political views, which were communistic and he was opposed to the idea of independent state, he never got the chance to work in Croatia again and started to be “persona non grata”. My personal motif was not rehabilitation of a failed soul, but the belief that real democracy should be inclusive, and no one should be banned from work because his political beliefs started to be “out of mainstream”. The 2 of us are very different, I come from liberal intellectual background, he comes from communist working class background, and this encounter was interesting. The film was screened on Karlovy Vary FF, was also in Sarajevo but although Czech TV screened it several times, HRT, who was the co-producer never broadcast it. They did not give me an explanation. Now, the whole situation is so poisoned and politically divided, that the film would be misinterpreted.
How you see the media situation in Croatia today?
Public broadcaster HRT is on a huge downfall. There is lots of negative selection there, lots of quality people have left. And if you are not confident and competent, you are afraid that someone else will come and take your job. So, there is no vision and courage there. People are afraid. There is more freedom in the other media, but also lots of bad taste, and lots of hate speech. But I was impressed with our newspaper journalists and columnists – without them, the “Ministry of Love” would perhaps be the first forbidden Croatian film.
How you see the role of civil society in Croatia?
The situation has changed a lot. Independent conservative initiatives are getting much more subsidiaries than before and are much more present in media. There has always been too much clientelism, and now, as a consequence, the cultural politics and civil society has to survive the difficult blows from extreme conservatives. Some books have been burned publicly, recently.
Some people have the feeling that we have again after years, a stronger right-extremism in Croatia today. How you see it?
Yes, but not only in Croatia. In our country, it only looks wilder and more dangerous because of the recent war experience. People are more passionate about it. But this should not be a comfort for anyone. The extreme conservative initiatives, mixed with right extremism, were started as a political protest weapon against social democratic government. And now, it is everywhere. Politicians need votes. And of course, there is the bad economic situation, people are frustrated, and this frustration, and also disappointment, is being channeled through extreme right-wing ideas.
Gordana Igric has been active in journalism for 34 years, starting as a journalist in 1981.for Belgrade based Politika and Borba dailies, covering the whole territory of former Yugoslavia. During the war years she reported on the fighting and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Croatia in places such as Banja Luka, Zvornik and Foca. Marked as a traitor, during 1999 she was forced to leave Serbia traveling in secret to Sarajevo and then on to London where she began working as an editor for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and manager of the Balkans project. The need for continued impact in the Balkans inspired Gordana Igric to localize the IWPR Balkans Project in 2005. establishing new regional organisation - Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN. Ten years later, BIRN, with a pool of close to 500 journalists, has offices in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Romania and Serbia, with editorial presence in Bulgaria, Croatia, and Montenegro, is one of the biggest media networks in the South Eastern Europe.
SEEMO: How often BIRN journalists are target of a threat? Can you give us some examples, please?
BIRN is celebrating decade of its existence and occasionally our investigations were cause for attacks, mostly threatening emails or phone calls. Some of the attacks were seriously vicious. Our editor in BIRN Albania, Besar Likmeta has been physically attacked by an Albanian politician, while the director of BIRN Kosovo, Jeta Xharra, has had several government campaigns orchestrated against her, branding her as “Serbian spy”. Currently, against BIRN Serbia, the government and allied media have launched smear campaign, branding us as liars, spies, mercenaries and lobbyists for some companies. The main accusation is that we are trying to overthrow the Government, being paid for that by the EU. All that for raising legitimate concerns about public interest and validity of Government spending. The proportion of latest smear campaign is beyond anything seen on media scene in Serbia.
SEEMO: It is very hard to be an investigative journalist...
Professional investigative reporting rarely receives plaudits from politicians or states, since in most cases it exposes corruption or malfunctioning of the state institutions. In its ten years of work, BIRN was exposed to different kind of reactions from the states in the Balkans. Control over the media is such that investigative reporting is limited mainly to non-governmental organisations, with rare access to mainstream media. Usually, this means the media, deeply dependent financially and politically on authorities are forbidden to carry sensitive stories, compromising for the governments.
SEEMO: How you see the media situation in the region BIRN covers?
Macedonia is for years a trouble spot, with the closure of independent media, arrest and conviction of investigative journalist Tomislav Kezarovski while the Government is one of the main media advertisers. The situation in Serbia is quickly deteriorating, with numerous complains about censorship and self-censorship. Shutting down of programmes, and increased government pressure on media outlets, with some TV stations and tabloids tasked to perform smear campaigns against political opponents, or anyone with different opinion is happening as we speak.
SEEMO: Your comment about the critics from the Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic - he spoke about BIRN.
How does one respond to allegations that we are liars, undermining Serbian reforms on EU orders, lobbying for some international companies, etc? The prime minister keeps going out on TV and repeating outrageous accusations against BIRN. This in turn is then carried on all media in the country without anyone even approaching BIRN for response. We have no intention to get into a shouting match with the ones screaming “traitors!” but rather participate in a quality debate about the issues have raised on misuse of public spending.
The unprecedented reaction of the Serbian government to our latest story sends two fold message, both to the journalists in Serbia and to the EU. One, that anyone who dares to dig into the topics the Government deems inappropriate will have end up in a similar fashion. At the same time, the PM has used this case to test the limits of EU’s patience, in a situation when Brussels is rarely interested in developments beyond relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
Dunja Mijatović is a media expert from Bosnia and Herzegovina. In 2010 she succeeded Miklós Haraszti as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RfoM) and in March 2013 she was reappointed for a second three-year term.
SEEMO: What are the main press freedom problems today in OSCE member states?
I see two major trends challenging media freedom in the OSCE region; the increasing number of attacks on journalists and the attempts to filter and block access to the Internet.
Journalists’ safety must be ensured at all times, not just for the sake of justice also for the sake of democracy. And the fact is that we see more attacks on journalists today than we did five or ten years ago, this trend has to be reversed. And when I say attacks, I include a whole host of actions taken – just not physical assaults. Reporters/bloggers are jailed on dubious charges or held under house arrest simply for not toeing the government’s line.
The Internet is frequently under attack in parts of the OSCE region. There are definitely forces in motion that seeks to hinder the advancement of human rights online, making the Internet the new front line in the fight for freedom of expression and media freedom worldwide.
SEEMO: How you see especially the situation in two OSCE member countries: Turkey and Belarus?
In Turkey there are overarching issues with regard to free media and free speech; imprisonment of journalists and limitations on freedom of expression online.
Although the number of imprisoned journalists is significantly less today than it was only a few years ago, the much needed reform of the laws that allow for imprisonment for journalistic work - especially the Anti-Terror Law and certain provisions of the Criminal Code - has still not taken place.
Limitations of freed speech online continue and in 2014 the restrictive Internet Law, also known as Law No. 5651, was turned even more limiting. The estimated number of blocked websites is above 40,000 and we see accounts in social media platforms like Twitter and YouTube being silenced on a daily basis.
My Office also follow cases, in Turkey and elsewhere in the OSCE region, where individual female journalists are targeted for their work, this is an important issue that I plan to raise in more details in the coming months.
Although some positive steps have been taken in the past, free media are facing serious challenges in Belarus. The authorities need to show more political will to comply with international standards on free expression and free media. Areas of particular concern is the need for an immediate reform of the restrictive media law, changing the accreditation requirements for journalists, and intruding more effective ways to access information.
SEEMO: Do you have contacts with the officials in Ankara and if you look the situation in 2015 and some years ago - what is different in Turkey?
I have an ongoing dialogue with the authorities in Ankara and with the Permanent Mission of Turkey to the OSCE here in Vienna. Although we have different views on a number of issues with regard to freedom of expression and media freedom, we have a fruitful dialogue and a good co-operation. I trust that open communications about all issues, including sensitive ones, is the only mutually useful way forward.
SEEMO: What is the future of media in Europe after Charlie Hebdo attack?
The attack on the editorial office of Charlie Hebdo was an unprecedented attack on free speech and free media and I think we will be dealing with the fallouts from this horrific attack for quite some time.
The future of media depends on many different factors and it is not my role to try to predict it. Despite the emotional impact that the events in Paris may have had in journalists and media professionals around Europe and the rest of the world, I believe that the best reaction should be to continue exercising the right to freedom of expression without any form of constraint or self-censorship. On their side, governments should also facilitate the conditions for a pluralistic speech and media environment as well as adopt measures aimed at enriching discussions and influencing emotions in order to avoid all forms of aggression.
SEEMO: How can OSCE and your office of Freedom of Media help journalists who have problems, especially if journalists are arrested by a state authority?
My office is tasked to monitor media freedom developments in all 57 OSCE participating States. We assume an early-warning function on media freedom violations in the OSCE region and intervene on breaches of the OSCE commitments with regards to free media and free speech, like attacks and imprisonment of journalists.
In cases of imprisonment of journalists for what they say or write, my office raises these cases directly with the participating States. Voicing our concern about these cases, also with public statements, raises awareness and puts international pressure on the authorities to honor their international commitments on free speech and free media. This is one tool of many we use to help journalists deprived of their freedom.
SEEMO: Your comment to the Tomislav Kezarovski case?
I have been following this case very closely and I have raised it with the authorities on many occasions. Although I welcomed the latest decision to release him from prison, on probation, this does not negate the fact that the conviction sets a dangerous precedent for free media and investigative journalism, regardless of the fact that his sentence was reduced from 4.5 to 2 years in prison. It is high time for the authorities in the country to send a clear signal, ease the pressure on media, and respect free and critical voices.
SEEMO: How you see the media situation in Hungary in 2015.
Since the restructuring of the Hungarian media landscape in 2010, I have continuously voiced concerns about the restrictive elements of the media laws. Despite minor adjustments, the laws can still be used to restrict free expression and pluralistic discourse in the society.
My Office follows their implementation as we do with additional issues that have the potential to curb critical voices; including economic pressure by authorities on certain media outlets, libel suits initiated by public figures against critical journalists, or police raids against and investigations of NGOs using foreign funding.
SEEMO: How you see the role of SEEMO?
NGOs dealing with media freedom issues are crucial for the work of my office. SEEMO is a longstanding partner of the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and it plays an important role for the development of free media in South Eastern Europe.
Ferai Tınç worked for Hürriyet newspaper, one of the leading Turkish dailies, from 1982 to 2012. Tınç worked first in the foreign news department as a correspondent, then as Head of Foreign News Desk and later as Foreign News Editor. She also worked as a foreign news columnist and senior political correspondent from 1998 to 2012. From 2000 until 2010, Tınç lectured at Marmara University on Current Foreign Political I issues, European Union and Turkey, Turkey and Middle East. She is a founding member of Turkish-Greek women's Peace Initiative, and has worked for women's liberation initiatives. Tınç received the Turkish Journalists Association Press Freedom Award in 2012.
SEEMO. How you see the media situation in Turkey today?
Ferai Tınç: Freedom of the press in Turkey is not an issue any more. It does not exist. Even if there are opposition newspapers, they are under strong pressure. The journalists and media outlets are facing drastic legal penalties. A large amount of mainstream media has changed hands, and most of them were bought by investors who are under the government control. The rest face political pressure.
A year ago Turkey was on top of the list of countries which have had largest number of journalists in prison. But because the government gave priority to fight against the Gulenist movement and negotiates with Kurdish PKK, secularist journalists as well pro-PKK Kurdish journalists who were imprisoned were released. Now pro-Gulenist media is under attack. But it is certainly not only them. All journalists are under scrutiny. They are sued because of what they write in their tweets. We face internet bans very often. It is ten years now that the Turkish press has been under pressure. Self-censorship throughout the years caused the loss of journalistic reflections, eroding the quality of Turkish journalism.
SEEMO. If you look back in the past 40 years - as you are a journalist with long experience - was there a period in Turkey when it was possible to work free and independent as a journalist?
Ferai Tınç: In Turkey we never enjoyed a real freedom of the press. The mainstream media, opposition newspapers or television channels included, all shared the same limited press freedom. But the critical approach to the government was never as dangerous as it is today. Then press freedom was more problematic for Kurdish and leftist media outlets.
SEEMO: How strong is the influence of politics and the state on the media in Turkey today?
Ferai Tınç: As I said, today the party in power controls and shapes the media. They have so-called journalists that function as the government's mouthpieces. And they act together in political lynching campaigns against this or that journalist who the government targets.
SEEMO: What are the main safety issues facing journalists in Turkey?
Ferai Tınç: Journalists lost their trade unions years before this government. A media mogul in the 80s bought most of the influential mainstream newspapers and forced the journalists to leave trade unions. The safety of journalists is not secured by their media outlets. There are journalists sent to war scenes even without adequate money or helmets for protection.
SEEMO: Did you personally experience pressure during your work as journalist?
Ferai Tınç: When you work in a climate where press freedom is under pressure, you feel already limited. When your colleagues go to prison, when your boss is rebuked by the prime minister, when press freedom can be legally violated, every journalist feel the risk. But personally I also faced interventions on the editorial level, and indirect serious pressures throughout my career.
SEEMO: Why we do not have solidarity between media and journalists in Turkey?
Ferai Tınç: Solidarity is a social feeling. It is more difficult when people feel hopeless. But this is not endless, it changes.
SEEMO: Why did you choose to retire from journalism?
Ferai Tınç: When I realised that I could not exercise my profession properly, and felt that self-censorship was thickening around me, I decided to retire. It was a sudden and very painful decision for me to make. After retirement I continue on working for press freedom on a voluntary basis, and to work on a book.