Welcome to the Free Balkans: Croatian Damir Fintić May Be First Blogger in Europe to Be Jailed for Third Party Comments

“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


3 responses to “Welcome to the Free Balkans: Croatian Damir Fintić May Be First Blogger in Europe to Be Jailed for Third Party Comments

  1. I’m going to throw the cat amongst the pigeons here.

    I don’t know the details of this case but if the post was clearly slanderous and personal then why shouldn’t he be held to account? As I understand from the links he moderated the site and reviewed all posts. He is from a fairly small town and must have known the context and implications of the anonymous post. In that sense did he not have a legal duty? There is a difference between freedom of speech and making statements (if untrue) that can cause personal damage and harm. It is clearly unjust if a person is harmed by slanderous anonymous comments made on a website. It does not take too much thought to envisage a situation where innocent people can be the subject of malicious posts and suffer great harm.

    Having said that, I don’t know what was said or the facts of this particular case but as a matter of principle innocent people need to be protected from defamation and slander. I cannot comment on Croatian Law but that has long been enshrined in Scots and English Law. The only difference is the medium of the internet.

  2. Not exactly throwing the cat amongst the pigeons as I would have to agree with you (at least partially) on this one and I believe most would. Both sides in this case seem to be doing more to create a problem in order to prove a point than anything else. Yes, he is from a small town, but the blog is quite popular and the subject was huge – regarding the real estate and income of a local politician and his wife. That’s the part I have a problem with. Shouldn’t we be able to openly comment and critisize public figures, especially those with any social and political influence? The post in question did carry somewhat of a crude tone, made certain allegations, and was very sarcastic but in no way called for any form of violence or anything inappropriate in that sense. I don’t know if you’re familliar with the outbursts of certain politicians from these parts in regard to each other, other public figures, journalists and even civilians. I’m just saying I’ve had it with the double standards. If a blogger needs to watch what he/she says in a public forum then public figures also need to start watching their mouth (and ‘pen’ so to speak). Or maybe we should all be allowed to speak our minds. That would work too.
    Again, thanks for your comments. You always bring a valid point and some insight to my scribblings. 🙂

  3. If public expressing of a lie or half-truth would br punishable by law, then half of the politicians (not only in former Yugoslavia) should be in prison by now.
    In principle, blogger may have made a mistake, but really, it is just local politician, businessman and judge haressing the “ordinary guy”
    Again, nothing but shame.