Monday, 21 February 2022

Matija Babic on the Origins of, 20 Years On

February 23, 2022 - It is almost 20 years since the founding of Croatia's leading (and independent) media, Founder and owner Matija Babic reflects on the journey. 

Getting sued by the Croatian National Tourist Board, not once, but twice (and then finding out I was the only blogger/journalist they sued in the whole of 2020) has been a totally cool experience so far. And we still have about 20 years to go. 

You can keep up with the very entertaining shenanigans on the TCN Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit feature. But it is the stuff that goes on behind the scenes, that you can't blog about (but maybe I will one day) that has made this a fascinating experience. As well as finding out who my true friends are, and those who fade at the sign of the first discomfort. 

And the experience has made me appreciate what remains of the independent Croatian media even more (and I have learned a LOT about that in recent months). And my respect for those who fight the system has grown as a result. 

I get a lot of criticism for supporting and my friendship (I wouldn't say that we are close but I enjoy our chats over lunch a couple of times a year) with Index owner Matija Babic, and that is ok. The thing is, though, that I am more than comfortable with all the abuse I get from the haters these days (it makes me a little horny in truth), but I also remember those who helped me when I was in trouble. I was terrified when Mayor of Jelsa Niksa Peronja announced in a public meeting that he was suing me (rumour was for 200,000 kuna), quite for what I never found out. For after the theatrical announcement, which you can see above, the summons never came. Young Babic kindly offered me the services of his lawyer, Legendica Extraordinaire, Vanja Juric - a close friend today and someone who I enjoy having pints with after our hearings in court with the national tourist board. At least when their lawyer hasn't double booked and actually turns up. 

I didn't realise that 2022 will be the 20th anniversary of Index, and I had never heard the story of how it started. Here is a translation of Matija's post on Facebook, translated in full, on how it all started. 

Thank you for what you do. 


After my father died, his fellow warehousemen from Dalekovod raised money to help my family out. My mum decided to spend that seven thousand kuna on my very first PC. A few months later, in April 1999, as a 21-year-old motivated by Feral and the fight against HDZ and Tudjman's Croatia, I launched a couple of political sites: VlastNet, IzboriNet and VijestiNet.

Immediately after doing that, I created and ran the portal for the first Croatian internet provider Globalnet, but as Globalnet soon decided that it didn't want to pay us anymore (it was about 20 thousand kuna per month), I decided to launch my very own news portal.

Sometime around this time back in 2002, I started coming up with a hell of a plan for what was going to become Index, and nobody thought it would even make it to the end of the year. At the Nocturno pizzeria I opted for the name Index, people commented that the name wasn't very good because it sounded kind of student-like. We knew that Globalnet wouldn't let us go just like that. We'd been busy preparing the Index for months, and on the day we left Globalnet, almost everyone saw only an advertisement for the new Index portal on the website. Almost everybody! If you had an IP address of Globalnet, then you'd have seen the most normal portal. So, it took the team from the provider half a day to understand that we'd actually left and that now everyone knew that we're going to something called

For the next couple of months we were still working on Index, we bought tables from Emmezeta on my mum’s bank card and brought computers from home, and on December the 2nd, we kicked off.

Andreja Hudika (editor), Gordan Novoselec (programming), Neven Barković (music), Vlado Bulić (Pušiona column), Aleksandar Mlinarić (sales), Miljenko Nikolić (author of the term Breaking News/Prijelomna vijest) and me (design, manager, editor, editorial office, commentator). 200,000 kuna was needed to pay off the start-up costs and a few minimums for a year was invested in Index by Ivan Matić (the founder of Globalnet, who had also been deceived by them, too). Globalnet collapsed soon after that. I'd like to send my greetings to Tomislav Mileis, the first man I remember trying to steal and destroy us as a couple of enthusiastic kids. And he failed in doing so.

Marko Rakar then had a printing house and agreed to "compensate" for the printing of various promotional products in exchange for advertising on a (still) non-existent portal.

We worked 24/7, we were most looking forward to weekends and feasts on breaded hake with potato salad on Trešnjevka. I remember how little money we had from the situation when I wanted to make carbonara, but I didn't have enough money for the ham, so I came up with some form of "carbonara" using just cheese. I'm not writing this to be all ''woe is me'' but I remember all of this with sadness, it was a wonderful and innocent time, we were all young and money was the last concern on our minds, as long as we had enough to keep pushing Index.

The apartment in Trešnjevka, which acted as a newsroom, fortunately had a bedroom, where I mostly slept for the next year, so Index had news at night as well.

To act as a newsroom with two people, I invented a script that pulled news from the agency in real time and automatically distributed and ranked the news on the front page and in columns by the ratio of publication time and readership. People thought there were at least ten of us doing all of that. In order to survive financially without cooperation with politics, the mafia and tycoons, we paid people illegally, through student contracts. Some of our greatest discoveries of corruption were written by journalists from other media, who weren't allowed to publish what they'd found on their own portals. I also paid them illegally, and I'm proud of that.

It was a time when everyone paid for everything ''under the table'' but that's the case in brutally corrupt countries: they create laws that no one can obey and still manage to survive, and for friends... what's needed is created, while for enemies, it's the law.

I was constantly performing stunts and coming up with explosive stories and projects so that I'd be constantly in the newspapers without needing to fork out a single kuna for advertising, and I'd be a guest of all live shows. I gave up TV appearances 10 years ago because acting like an arrogant, smug tattooed character was causing me too much stress. And there was less and less acting, I'd started becoming the character I'd invented for TV more and more.

These and many other legal and a few less legal tricks are the reasons why Index, as it is, indebted to nobody, still exists today.

Many times they tried to extinguish and destroy us (and they, starting with Linić and Šegon and their minions - you guessed it - ended up humiliated and forgotten by the world, but not by me, I'll still be seeing more of them), many times they crossed us, some of my closest associates left me more often than that, thinking that we were doomed to fail. Eventually it gets to the point where it doesn't even disappoint you anymore. That said, Index is now the most financially successful portal in all of Croatia.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of this endeavor, where we became the strongest Croatian media portal out of an impossible situation, not from scratch but from less than zero, to more than a million readers a day. To all who have harmed us or tried to destroy us I have returned or plan to return the favour at least threefold. Everyone except Severina, I forgave her because I consider her a great person, I hope she finally understands that Index wasn't guilty of anything.

To all who helped us I have given back to or plan to give back to you at least five times over. I have a couple of months to figure out how we’re going to mark this anniversary. Thank you for being with us for these 20 years.

Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Croatian Media Compares Paul Bradbury Lawsuit to Kafka's 'The Trial'

As the articles surrounding the Paul Bradbury lawsuit launched by the Croatian National Tourist Board (HTZ) continue being published in the Croatian media, one portal even brings the likes of Franz Kafka into the mix.

As Express/Emir Imamovic Pirke writes, had Franz Kafka been born exactly 100 years later, and not in 1883, and if he'd been born in Zagreb instead of Prague, he would be less than forty years old today, and he'd have started writing his most famous novel only in 2014.

His (would-have-been) Croatian publication "The Trial" wouldn't have had just under 300 pages in the Croatian case, and readers would have to either go to the library in a car or have his book delivered with a vehicle of some sort.

"Someone must have slandered Josef K." is the first part of the first sentence of "The Trial,", a famous book which is still relevant to this very day. The situation surrounding the Paul Bradbury lawsuit must ring true to the feelings brought about by Josed K these days. He doesn't know who is going to judge him, nor does he really have a clue as to why.

"Ha! What have I done... My lawyer Vanja Juric is trying to understand that herself. The thing is that I've been writing in Croatia for a decade now and nothing about the Croatian National Tourist Board surprises me anymore. Honestly, all of this is quite hilarious to me, but I was shocked when I received the lawsuit,'' Paul Bradbury told N1 when commenting on the lawsuit filed against him by the Croatian National Tourist Board, who allegedly did so because they felt offended because he'd played around with the slogan ''Croatia full of life "on Facebook, turning it instead into “Croatia full of uhljebs”.

If, then, the move on social media was defaming or slandering the Croatian National Tourist Board, then Bradbury is a slanderer who must now defend himself against such an accusation in a Croatian court of law, even though he expressed what has become very much a majority opinion with a bit of satire. Most people, however, cannot be prosecuted, so the British blogger and promoter of Croatian tourism will, sooner or later, have to face slander at his own expense because he can't be punished for this otherwise. Namely, his guilt in this case must first actually be invented.

Almost two decades ago, Paul Bradbury sold his house in the UK and, thanks to a TV commercial, decided to come and live here in Croatia. What caught his eye was a video with the usual depiction of the natural beauty of the country and that old slogan about the Mediterranean as it allegedly used to be, and it was produced and paid for by no less than the Croatian National Tourist Board.

Yes, that very same Croatian National Tourist Board that has since created the very bizarre Paul Bradbury lawsuit all because of a Facebook post.

"The crazy Englishman/Ludi Englez", as Bradbury is affectionately referred to in Jelsa, didn't realise his Croatian dream by converting pound sterling from the sale of that house in Britain into euros and merely buying a Hvar property with them, then sticking that familiar old blue ''Apartments'' sign somewhere near the door - much more than that was done.

In his now long time spent discovering a country that advertises its own tourist offer as if the whole world is still using dial-up, he first launched the portal Total Hvar, then Total Split, Total Inland Dalmatia, Total Zagreb and Total Dubrovnik, and finally Total Croatia News, which has since been declared the most influential local medium in the English language. In addition, Bradbury is considered the most influential Croatian blogger and a very sharp critic of the Croatian National Tourist Board, considering it to be cumbersome, expensive and passive, and aldo claiming that its abolition wouldn't negatively affect the tourism industry in any way.

There are, for example, county, city and local offices of the Croatian National Tourist Board that have purposes for themselves and themselves only, as well as those without which a good part of the independent cultural scene on the coast would find it even more difficult to survive than today, just as there are employees whose only obligation is to come to work, and there are those who aren't lazy at all and often find themselves engaged in tasks which go far beyond those prescribed by their employment contract.

However, the naturalised British journalist won't go to court because of his lack of a distinction between any of the above, but because of the excess fears of certain individuals whose dire inefficiency is inversely proportional to the opposite effects of Bradbury's hard work, and because the deep urge for self-preservation has become stronger than the interests of the body itself.

Recalling the events which take place in the aforementioned, famed publication, in the Croatian Trial, had Kafka been born in a different time and place - the Croatian National Tourist Board vs. Paul Bradbury - the prosecutor, ie the Croatian National Tourist Board, is actually performing a Kafkaesque play in which they turns their own guilt for the success of the independent initiator of tourist portals around, but not because the accused is wrong - quite on the contrary - because he's essentially right.

After all, could the Croatian National Tourist Board have launched the Total Croatia News portal? After the success of the Total Hvar or Total Split platform, could the Croatian National Tourist Board not simply purchase both the name and the concept from the author and then go on to further develop them? Couldn't someone, given that Paul Bradbury has already dotted all of the i's and crossed all of the t's, have had the bright idea to hire him the way production companies are hired to create videos of pretty panoramic shots of the islands and close-ups of wine glasses that would bring British tourists with deep pockets flocking to Brela during summer?

Why, after all, does the Croatian National Tourist Board not use resources it has within reach to develop its own network of sites made in foreign languages ​​- media that will offer better content than that of Paul Bradbury, whose Croatian mixes an English accent with a Hvar dialect? As simple as the answers are to each of these questions - each of them would imply effort being made. The very notion of that would mean that the entire local administrative apparatus would end up working against itself.

Namely, it all rests on the fact that nothing changes at any cost, so that, when it is shown that changes are both possible and necessary, instead of autocorrection and moving forward, it starts the Kafkaesque process of removing evidence that would not exist if Bradbury hadn't managed to find empty space to profit from tourism in a country that otherwise lives from tourism almost entirely. Oh, and of course, from EU funds, loans and... And... That's mostly it.

For more on the Paul Bradbury lawsuit (both of them), click here and here.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

Index Editor: If HDZ Want to be Treated Like People, They Should Act Like People

February the 24th, 2021 -  As Index writes, editor Neven Barkovic was a guest on a recent N1 Studio live show to comment on Index's newly added text window on their portal which ended up causing upset in HDZ.

HDZ has condemned Index's move and threatened to "take appropriate legal steps" and expects a reaction from both the Croatian authorities and the Croatian Journalists' Association.

This morning, Minister of Culture and Media Nina Obuljen Korzinek said during the aforementioned N1 programme that she had analysed which article within the law Index had violated, and announced sanctions against the Electronic Media Council, although that body should be independent.

"HDZ party members are people who are voluntarily members of an organisation that is the only one to have been convicted as a party in a Croatian court"

At the beginning, the presenter asked Neven Barkovic: "Do Index's editors consider HDZ party members to be people?''

"The fact is that these are people who are voluntarily members of an organisation convicted in a Croatian court, the only party convicted of corruption as a party. HDZ members aren't members out of altruism or idealism, but to take advantage of the use of that party's card, the way the party leadership has benefited from for years, for which we've had many final verdicts,'' Barkovic replied.

Could Index be prosecuted under the Electronic Media Act?

''It's fascinating to me that the minister is announcing some sanctions for Index, through a body that she says is independent in the same sentence. This is an interesting formulation which is typical of HDZ," Barkovic commented.

"I don't know on what basis we should react," Barkovic said of the possibility of the Electronic Media Council reacting to Index's announcement about HDZ. The minister has referred to the Law on Electronic Media, Article 12, paragraph 2, which says, and I'll shorten it a bit, that it is forbidden to incite hatred on the basis of religious, ethnicity, or even political beliefs. I just spoke with a lawyer who said that political belief is not the same as holding membership of a political party. That same paragraph of the law says that hatred mustn't be spread on the basis of trade union membership. Discrimination would mean that HDZ members are being denied something. That isn't the case. By clicking the option that shows that they are members, they're taken directly to the part of Index where numerous HDZ scandals are listed and where they can be informed of them, although I don't know how they could be uninformed about all the scandals this party has partaken in,'' Barkovic explained.

"If HDZ wants us to treat them like people, then let them start behaving like people. If HDZ wants us to stop calling them criminals, let them stop dabbling in crime," he said.

Bakovic added that Index, while SDP was in power, also wrote very openly against SDP, and he also saw SDP ministers dismissed as a result of his own work.

"Among them is Slavko Linic, who is having a great time with HDZ party members today."

He called HDZ's thesis that they were endangered a joke.

"Someone who is so privileged, I mean privileged within Croatian society, is the last person who should be complaining that he's being discriminated against. Such a person has no right to complain. The least a person like that can do is to endure the criticism, no matter how harsh it might be," he said.

"If Plenkovic wants to consume media that only favours him, then let him watch HTV."

Barkovic also said that the appropriate position of the media in a democratic society is often misinterpreted as "neutral", while in fact the correct description of the position of the media in such a society is "objective".

"Index will put most of its efforts into looking at those who are in power, those who are in a position of power. We think that's the right approach,'' Barkovic concluded.