By Ana Benacic and Una Hajdari
The verdict issued on Wednesday of last week at the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia against a group of Bosnian Croats for crimes committed during the conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s has inflamed the rage of Croatian nationalist and right-wing groups in Croatia and Bosnia who have since shown their discontent with the verdict both publicly and online, and targeted critical organizations and media outlets that lay in their path.
One of the defendants, former General Slobodan Praljak, hoping his sentence would be reduced after a five-year appeals process, proceeded to take cyanide in front of the sitting court once he realised that the original verdict for war crimes that convicted him and five others for their war-time activities was being upheld.
He died just hours later in The Hague, where the court dealing with crimes committed during the conflict in Yugoslavia is based.
Praljak’s demise unleashed a nationalist frenzy in Croatia and beyond, with supporters of Praljak and the wider activities of the Bosnian Croat armed forces organising public rallies and Catholic masses in their honour.
These groups claim that the verdict was unjust and that it unfairly targeted ethnic Croats. Praljak has since become a “martyr” for the Croat cause, and any public attack on him or possible criticism of his activities has been met with a slew of hate-filled propaganda.
Antifa Sites Become Targets on Facebook
Websites and outlets in Croatia that target this form of hate speech and right-wing rhetoric have been covering the nationalist free-for-all in the country since the publication of the verdict and Praljak’s courtroom suicide.
Included are Antifa Šibenik, Antifa Zagreb and Antifašistički Vjesnik, volunteer-run websites whose editorial policy is strongly based on debunking the allegations of right-wing groups – and covering their rallies and events in Croatia – as “antifascist watchdogs”.
On Saturday, Antifa Sibenik, an organisation based mainly in the Croatian coastal town of Sibenik and focused on the Croatian coastal region of Dalmatia, was notified by Facebook on Saturday morning that a couple of their posts were being taken down.
Soon after, the entire Facebook page was taken down, pending review from Facebook. This was followed by shutting down of the Antfašistički Vjesnik FB page, led by an organisation mainly based in the Zagreb.
It appears that this attack was a coordinated effort by supporters of Urbana Desnica (The Urban Right), an extreme right organisation promoting “Identitarian” views and featuring pro- or crypto-fascist symbols, and Generacija Obnove (The Generation of Renewal), a minor right-wing party which has a handful of elected representatives at the local level.
Screenshots of public conversations by these groups have appeared, where supporters of these groups seem to be gloating about the “collective attack” on the aforementioned anti-fascist web pages. “I’m so happy to have participated in the toppling,” says Facebook user Stjepan Spehar. “I hope we can ‘take them down’ outside (in the streets??) as well!” threatens Facebook user Zg Ljubicic. Mario Živko then follows “we need to physicaly crush them. This is not enough”
Antifa accounts have since been permanently removed from Facebook. When news of this broke, Radnicka Fronta (Worker’s Front), Croatian left-wing political movement, and Mreza Antifasistkinja Zagreba (The Network of Women Anti-fascists Zagreb) suspended their pages in order to prevent a similar outcome. Page of Novosti weekly newspapaer of Serbian minority was also attached but they only managed to deleted one post and block one administrator.
Urbana Desnica celebrated the removal of these pages via a tweet, that translates to “Facebook admins drank some moonshine, played Cavoglave [a hate-speech, extreme right-wing song] and deleted three antifa sites! Chaos has ensued, pages are being hidden, they’re hiding deeper into the woods!” #AdminUstasa”. More properly, “Ustaše” is the name of supporters of the murderous WWII Croatian Nazi puppet state.
Fascists Reporting “Fascism”
Antifašistički Vjesnik and Antifa Sibenik realised that the posts that were being reported by these individuals were the ones that displayed right-wing iconography – such as graffiti of swastikas and symbols related to the Croatian WWII Nazi puppet state.
These groups were using Facebook’s screening of hateful images to target the antifa pages – even though they themselves or groups affiliated to them were the ones putting up the graffiti in the first place.
This led to outlets such as Lupiga, a critical news site in Croatia, also having some of its content pulled from its page and some of its administrators having their accounts suspended, mainly due to articles tied to the activities of these fascist groups. Lupiga’s page has also since been blocked and could face permanent shut down if the attacks continue.
“We have been shut down due to reports that we published, due to content that promotes fascism – which is not true. We published pictures of a Polish MEP giving the Nazi salute, as well as one of a Croatian TV host, a Nazi sympathiser dressed in a Nazi uniform and of a graffiti that read: ‘Send Jews to the concentration camps’. All of these posts were clearly against fascism, but you cannot explain that to Facebook – you are ‘speaking’ to a robot”, says Ivor Fuka, the editor-in-chief of Lupiga’s website.
Lovro Krnic, editor-in-chief of Antifasisticki Vjesnik, an antifa-themed left-wing outlet in Croatia, says Facebook’s policies could set a dangerous precedent.
“Facebook’s policy is sloppy,” he says. “They have made it possible to take down a page with a mere increase in reports, anti-fascist site was reported for the promotion of Fascist symbols and historical images just because it revealed and condemned it in a country where fascism and historical revisionism is booming…This has been going on for years and it really amazes me.” Antifašistički Vjesnik’s page is deleted, after being reported continuously about neo-Nazi graphite on streets and monuments of victims of fascism.
By blocking these pages, Facebook is allowing these groups to control the content that appears online. This “loophole” in Facebook’s policy can only serve to encourage these groups, who now feel that they can endanger the presence of critical groups online simply by engaging in a co-ordinated effort to report their content.
While it is not unheard of that right-wing and antifa groups butt heads online, targeting media outlets who also use Facebook, such as Lupiga, Antifašistički vjesnik and Novosti, could have wider repercussions on their ability to reach audiences via widely used social media platforms.