Far-Right Attacks on Croatian University Condemned
Far-right claims that Serbs are 'taking over' an important university in Croatia have met widespread condemnation and derision.
|Zeljko Jovanovic and Sasa Zelenika. Photo: Facebook|
Some far-right media outlets in Croatia have been condemned for publishing a press release from an alleged initiative of academics called "Let’s Save Rijeka" claiming that Serbian groups with the help of some political parties are trying to take control of the university in the Croatian city of Rijeka.
Those named in the statement have dismissed the claims as nonsense and as borderline hate speech.
The press release does not mention any names of the people supporting it or give any contacts. The so-called initiative also has no website or profile on social networks.
As evidence for its claims, the initiative said the son of Croatian Serb leader Milorad Pupovac would now be employed at the university and that its provost, Snjezana Prijic Samarzija, who is running for the post of rector, graduated from Belgrade University.
“We oppose the hegemonic plans of taking over academic and cultural institutions in Rijeka on the platform of Great Serbian ideology,” the initiative says, adding that the rector on leave, Pero Lucin has allowed the university to become “a sort of academic SAO Krajina”, referring to the breakaway Croatian Serb statelet in the 1990s.
The initiative also mentioned the role played by the centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP, through the former Science, Education and Sports Minister, Zeljko Jovanovic, and the liberal Pametno (Smart) party, through Jovanovic’s former deputy, Sasa Zelenika.
Zelenika told BIRN that he is no longer a member of Pametno, as the release claimed, and added: “People who don’t even have the courage to sign themselves don’t deserve an elaborate comment.
“Nevertheless, this shows how communication inside Croatia looks like and how so-called, patriotic internet portals use this for their petty interests.
“It is them [the initiative] who can’t get over Yugoslavia because it is Yugoslavia and ethnic labelling that gives purpose to their lives," he added.
"It’s then easiest to attack something that doesn’t exist. In our public discourse we have already numbed ourselves to such outbursts of hate while those who should react officially, from the government and others, don’t react,” he continued.
He also said the media should not share press releases that “spread hate speech and ethnic and racial intolerance”, which is contrary to Croatia's constitution, the law on electronic media and different international obligations on human rights.
He called the entire press release of the initiative a lie, noting that Pupovac’s son had been elected to his post through an open tender, while neither Pametno nor the SDP nor the Serbian National Council, the body representing Serbs in Croatia, has any influence on Rijeka University, while rectorial elections are held according to laws and regulations.
Jovanovic told BIRN that he “doesn’t wish to dignify them with a comment”.
University spokesperson Elvira Marinkovic Skomrlj told BIRN that such statements “can’t be called anything else than accusations based on nothing.
“It’s best not to comment too much … In the 21st century, to point to someone’s ethnic background is unacceptable,” she added.
Prijic Samarzija told BIRN that she could not comment on anything until the elections for the post of university rector are over on February 28.