Slovenian PM Accuses Croatia of Interference in Freedom of Press

Slovenian PM Accuses Croatia of Interference in Freedom of Press

Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec accused Croatia of “outrageous” behavior, saying that the country tried to suppress a media report that Croatian spies were responsible for obstructing the efforts to end the border dispute between the neighboring countries.

Despite declaring independence from Yugoslavia almost three decades ago, Slovenia and Croatia have been locked in a border dispute that led the countries all the way to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Following the arbitration tribunal’s final decision on the border issue in 2017, very few developments regarding the matter have been reported on.

However, the beginning of April put the issue under the spotlight as both local and international media began reporting on new developments. Local Slovenian media first reported that the Croatian Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA) had wiretapped a Slovenian judge talking to a Slovenian government agent in 2015, during the abortive border arbitration process between the two countries.

In July 2015, the Croatian daily Vecernji List published audio recordings of communications between the two Slovenes, despite not revealing who recorded them.

Then, on Monday, Slovenian media accused Ivan Tolj, manager of the publishing house that owns the Croatian Vecernji List, of trying to suppress reports of SOA’s involvement in the wiretapping. Slovenia’s independent POP TV made a similar claim last week, saying that SOA was responsible for the recordings.

Following the news, Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec called Croatia’s behavior “outrageous.”

“It’s outrageous that Croatia tried to influence one of our media not to publish … this interference of the Croatian secret service,” Šarec said on Wednesday while in Brussels.

He added that he was more troubled by Croatia’s efforts to interfere with the media freedom in Slovenia than he was by the alleged role of Croatian intelligence in the recordings. “It’s not friendly. We know that every intelligence service in the world is doing its job, it’s normal. But it’s not normal to try to interfere in freedom of media, freedom of press,” he said.

“As far as I know, Croatian journalists have joined in the protest against such interference in the media,” Šarec said. The Trade Union of Croatian Journalists has becked the Slovenian Journalists’ Association in condemning the pressure on POP TV reportedly made by SOA.

While no official discussions with Croatia have been scheduled, Šarec said that he would see Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković at the European Council summit on Brexit on Wednesday evening. “We will say some words, of course,” he noted.

Šarec also made it very clear that Slovenia has no intention of starting a conflict with Croatia and that the country was only interested in implementing the arbitration judgment “as soon as possible.”

Plenković and Šarec have also seen each other at the summit of China and 16 central and east European countries in Croatia’s Split on Thursday. The public is yet to see other major developments, as apart from Šarec’s public criticism, Croatia has been mostly silent on the issue.

After the National Security Council met in Brussels on Wednesday, Šarec expressed regret about the European Commission’s “lukewarm” response to the problem. He said he had expected the Commission to call for the rule of law to be respected and condemn the pressure on the media.

Many Slovenians have accused Šarec of trying to create a state of emergency ahead of the EU elections. “There’s no state of emergency. We have responded to the pressure, we’ve convened the National Security Council because there was [sic] a series of initiatives for that, and I find that’s right.”

“This doesn’t mean we’re creating a state of emergency,” he said.

(Banner image: UKOM/Wikimedia Commons)

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