Meet the Journalist Split Mayors Love to Hate

By 22 July 2016

From abusive SMS from Kerum to an all-out ban by Baldasar.

It’s no secret politicians are not big fans of journalists, especially if they do not dance to their tune, but the case of Drago Miljus, a journalist from Index.hr, is a very curious one. He was not only very publicly (verbally) abused by the former Split mayor Zeljko Kerum, current mayor Baldasar actually issued an order to his PR team to erase Miljus from all press contact lists. On July 22, 2016 we take a look at the reasons behind this very interesting love-hate relationship.

Drago, let’s start with Kerum. We were all pretty much used to his antics and rants but it never got quite as personal as it did with you. What happened?

“Well, Kerum is temperamental, and throughout his mandate, he would always get very vocal whenever I wrote about him. It started with the now infamous quarrel after the article on Kerum giving a 6 million kuna project to one of his friends without a public tender where fists almost started flying, but it wasn’t until I wrote about the fact that he bought a Mercedes worth over 300 000 EUR each for himself, his wife and his son (who bragged about it on Facebook) even though he was in some serious problems, that our communication escalated into a wild SMS rant. I wasn’t sure whether I should publish the SMS but I wanted the public to know who they voted for, so I posted them on my Facebook page. I do have to say that, prior to sending me that SMS, Kerum and I spoke on the phone and I could hear desperation in his voice, it’s as if he really didn’t want to take it that far but, if you know his character and temperament you understand it’s just stronger than him”.

It seems you just love causing trouble with Split mayors since Baldasar is not your fan either. You’re the only journalist on the “black list”, in other words, his PR department has specific instructions not to invite you to any of his press conferences. What did you do this time?

“Honestly, I can’t pinpoint the exact time when I became a persona non grata in the Baldasar administration, in fact, when he took over the office, he wanted to represent himself as a completely different mayor than Kerum. He held press briefings every Thursday and even made sure we had coffee and cookies (don’t forget, at that time he cancelled daily lunches for council members and gave them sandwiches instead, so sweets and coffee for the press were considered a luxury). First months went by in bearable co-habitation, he was courteous and at our disposal but it all went South with the HOS monument incident since Baldasar didn’t exactly like my article in which I expressed my opinion saying it’s inappropriate for a Split mayor to send flowers to a memorial which was held on April 10, the anniversary of the infamous Independent state of Croatia (NDH).

I was expressly removed from the mailing list but I wasn’t aware of that decision until I stumbled upon a reception for former Minister of Tourism Lorencin in Diocletian’s cellars and mayor Baldasar was, of course, there.

I wanted to ask him to clarify one particular situation for me, since he was claiming that he had the power to appoint the new director of the Split Tourism Board even through the HTZ statute clearly states that this decision can only be made by the Tourist council and confirmed by the minister, in other words, the mayor has absolutely nothing to do with the process. This was one day after I wrote about it and just a mere few hours after I heard him say on Radio Dalmacija that he doesn’t have the jurisdiction to make this decision. I just wanted to ask him why he changed his mind in only 24 hours. It was a weird conversation, some heavy words were included, lucky we were interrupted by minister Lorencin who noticed feathers were flying between us two.

Anyway, months went by and Baldasar’s anger did not pass but I still had to do my job. Next topic was, again, damning for the mayor since, as it turned out, two of his close associates did not pass the State exam. He came to a city council assembly one morning apologising to council members for the lack of material due to one pestering media outlet that keeps sending countless requests and enquiries so his team was swamped and did not have time to prepare for the assembly. Since I was still banned from the City Hall, I was watching this on TV and thought to myself – wow, there’s someone out there even crazier than I am – since I send, on average, two to three questions a month. The assembly went on for hours, the news of the State exam failure broke out, other colleagues started asking about it and he simply said he’s ashamed to answer the question, which I quoted in my article. Assembly continued the next day and immediately Baldasar called a press conference. Luckily, one of my colleagues was recording everything for me and she sent it. She also told me he was talking about me and when I opened the audio file I noticed it’s 10 minutes long. I thought to myself, come on, he couldn’t have spent 10 minutes talking about me but he did. 10-minute spewing session lead by Baldasar while some of my colleagues were backup vocals. It was like a klapa concert.

Now, they send me some information about things that are going on in the city but I am never invited to any events that include Baldasar, just to make sure I don’t irritate him with my mere presence. Needless to say, after our first incident, Thursday press briefings were cancelled, and I don’t know why he changed from a self-proclaimed defender of freedom of the press into a man who dodges questions and is far from having a transparent mandate”.

Since the new mayor will be elected in less than a year, can you compare Kerum and Baldasar, at least in terms of their relations to the media and overall appearance?

“I have to say Kerum is a lot more honest than Baldasar. Yes, we had a love-hate relationship worthy of a Mexican tele novella but unlike Baldasar who is pretending to be suave and polite, tends to be overly vain and often loses perspective in terms of his own position and what he should be doing, with Kerum you always knew what to expect”.

And just a note for the future mayor, Drago does not intend to change his approach. As he says, it’s his job to deliver information and to investigate so watch out.