“So what does this have to do with Belgrade and Serbia?” some of you may be asking. After the breakup of the former SR of Yugoslavia, what do Croatia and Serbia have to do with each other? Well, we speak the same language*, are in the same geographic region, innevitabley connected economically, both countries are leaning toward qualification for EU membership, we share many musical, cinematographic and cultural inetrests… Other than that, not much, I suppose. The fact is, after the mess that were the 90’s in the former Yugoslavia, generated mostly by decades of (for no real reason) unsolved internal problems and certain major figures in all countries of the former Yugoslavia, the people in this region have been connected through cultural similarities. Today, that bond seems to be growing and strengthening yet again and, although we all have our differences, our countries seem to be going through much of the same and our governements seem to be making similar mistakes in most areas.
Last year, Damir Fintić, a journalist and blogger from Vukovar and a Croatian, or rather European, citizen was sentenced by the justice system of the Republic of Croatia to either pay a fine in the amount of some 33,000 Euros in damages or serve 20 days in prison (Croatian Times Oct. 8th) for something that was writen on his privately owned and run website, Vukovarac.net. Something Mr. Fintić did not even write himself, but was posted in a comment on his blog by an anonymous visitor that he, as a moderator of his website, approved the posting of. Mr. Fintić’s income was frozen in the meantime and he has been unable to pay the fine and has refused the finances others have gathered and offered to donate for payment of this fine. (more details in PoliticsOnline article Oct. 7th) To him, generating an open forum on what could easily be construed as a public and even political matter in his democratic nation, is a matter of principle.
As Damir Fintić has not been able to pay the fine himself and is due to report to prison to serve the 20 day sentence instead by October 27th of this year. He will be the first European to be incarcerated for comments on a website or blog. His stay in prison will be paid for by the taxpayers of Croatia, in more ways than one. Both the Croatian Bloggers’ Organization and Croatian journalists have spoken up against this judiciary desicion, stating that it is in violation of basic human and civillian rights and the constitutional principles of the freedom of expression. (blogpost in Spanish)
I find the news of Mr. Fintić’s imminent incarceration infinitely disturbing not only as a blogger living in the region, but much more as a citizen of Europe and the free world. I was raised in the European Union and was taught that speaking one’s mind was a distinguished and honorable character trait if it was done with well researched arguments and a relative respect for the subject and person or persons one was speaking of. Personally, I don’t see how Mr. Fintić violated any of those basic principles of open rhetoric nor do I see how he could assume full responsibility for a comment made by a third party on his blog. The notions of progress and civilization seem to lose more of their meaning every day in the entire world and, lately, in this region especially. In fact, it’s just getting altogether ridiculous. When will logic and decency conquer petty arguments and law suits? Do we, as citizens of a modern, communicative. civilized world really need to come full circle for common sense to prevail?
*Croatian and Serbian dialects differ about as much British English and American English