Last week, Croatian finance ministry froze bank accounts of the region's legendary political weekly, Feral Tribune, due to 68,000 Euros of tax debt, forcing the publication to close.
Founded in 1984, the Croatian-language magazine was not in the spotlight until Yugoslavia's collapse in the early 1990s. For the past 14 years, however, Feral Tribune has been reporting on the subjects that most other media did not dare approach – and has survived quite a number of lawsuits.
Here's how Ex-YU Press, a self-described “‘insider’ source about the events in the former Yugoslavia,” characterized Feral Tribune:
[…] The magazine, to our knowledge, has no counterpart in the West. Its satire is too daring for mainstream advertisers, its reporting too uncompromising for mainstream politicians. Feral Tribune‘s mission is not merely to report news and entertain, but also to help turn its readers into better human beings!
In 2004 Feral Tribune sells about 30,000 copies per issue and boasts with almost fanatical readership in Croatia, abroad and all parts of the former Yugoslavia, readership that was prepared to pay court imposed fines and thereby save its magazine. Its editorial policy remains unpalatable for mainstream advertisers, which resulted in the demise of an attempt to publish a luxury color edition of the magazine. […]
As one commenter explained at Bosnia Vault, the magazine's current problems have to do with Croatia's taxation system – namely, the comparatively huge value-added tax (VAT) levied on newspapers:
It seems that Feral Tribune has a massive outstanding VAT bill. I find it difficult to credit that Croatia imposes 22% VAT on newspapers. In the UK books and newspapers are zero-rated for VAT. During the first half of the 19th century Britain had a newspaper tax which was considered a “tax on knowledge”. It would be very difficult for any politician to try and bring in that sort of levy again. It obviously promotes domination of the media by commercially successful publications that are less likely to challenge the rich and powerful.
Bosnia Vault had mentioned Feral Tribune in one of its past entries, too:
Combining satirical and analytical journalism, the basic message it proclaimed was that not all Croats were the same, set out to kill Muslims and Serbs. And not all Serbs were the same, set out to kill Croats.
Written at times in a deeply ironic prose, Feral Tribune utilize wit and common sense to talk about the war in a way that very few papers were capable of doing.
And here's an exchange between two Serbian bloggers that took place on B92 Blog (SRP) on June 15, 2007:
Return Feral to us! Return Roby K. to me!
No Feral! No Roby K.! It is not published, and it is unknown whether it will be again. What will I read now? The only independent journal on the Balkans has now been silenced.
The Croatian ministry of finance waited for Roby K. around the corner and fleeced him. But, since Roby’s pockets were empty, […] the ministry blocked his bank account.
RETURN Feral TO ME!
Return my Croatian (and wider than that) journal, the journal of Croatian anarchists, protesters and heretics who are dear to God, but aren't hateful to the Devil, either.
P. S. The editor-in-chief of Feral Tribune – Roby K. ([Viktor Ivancic]) – received a Golden Pigeon Peace Prize (Colombe d'Oro per la Pace) in Rome last Wednesday. He said then: “… we who thought differently – there are no circumstances that can justify war crimes – were considered the nation's traitors. Here's how they treated us: police mistreatment, court persecutions, death threats, burnings of our newspaper. […] I want to say there are circumstances when national treason is not bad. Blind patriotism is never a good basis for making moralistic principles in a society. Just as the truth has no nationality, I think that honorable journalism has no nationality, either. […]”
“Feral Tribune did not die the death of fascism, but was killed by free market.” (Danko Plevnik, “Slobodna Dalmacija,” 15.06.2007.)
If the market is free, why then did the state forgive a tax debt to the witty [“Slobodna Dalmacija”] and other government newspapers, such as [“Vjesnik”], “The Croatian Voice” and the HRT [state TV channel]? Or is there a criterium, according to which only the government newspapers don't have to pay taxes – because they publish what the government likes?
I really don’t know enough about the situation with their press. But I've read Danko’s column, and I'm shocked. Where is their solidarity? […]
Feral is not a favorite of the state. For example, Croatian government wrote off a tax debt to “Slobodna Dalmacija” – 2,800,000 Euros. But it didn’t write off the 70,000 Euros that Feral owed and blocked its bank account and forcibly took the money from the sales of the magazine. Journalists have not been paid in two months. Writing off tax debts is only for the news outlets that are utterly in government property, as the HRT and “Vjesnik” are.
This magazine sounds like exactly the kind of institution that ex-Yugoslavia need more of. However, I would be concerned if the Ex-YU Press really believed that “The magazine, to our knowledge, has no counterpart in the West. Its satire is too daring for mainstream advertisers, its reporting too uncompromising for mainstream politicians.” Um, Private Eye? Le Canard Enchaîné? It is not cultural chauvinism to point out the obvious here: rigorous investigative journalism was hardly invented in the Balkans.
It’s a very interesting story. I’ve just translated it to portuguese in the GVLingua-Portuguese site.
I’m curious about some things.
Doesn’t Feral Tribune have a website? Why don’t they go on with the good work online? I know that maybe a large part of the faithful readers may have poor or no access to the internet, but if they publish nice printable PDF’s, people who has access to the ‘net can download them and print/redistribute the journal among their peers…
Shuting up an important voice in the region shouldn’t be so easy.
One more question: what about using a picture of one of the magazine covers in the post? I’ve got a good one here: http://feral.mediaturtle.com/cgi-bin/get_img?NrArticle=13082&NrImage=1
I almost used it in the translation, but it’s bad form to change the content and editorial choices of the original writer so… what about we both using the image in the two posts, the original and the portuguese translation?
Congrats for the post.
I congradulate you on the choice of theme. With pleasure I read all your posts. Continue in that way!
Great text Sinisa. I didn’t know about the magazine before.
Feral failed because of bad sales. If it actually sold, then it could pay taxes. Other Croatian magazines do so.
It was never that popular, because its journalism was actually rather poor. “shit of the week” and so on. Many of of its western admirers had not in fact read it.
It’s not comparable to state media, which are government owned. Feral is not state owned, nor should it be.
Feral is private sector. If they don’t have to pay tax, then nor should any other private media, or indeed anyone else.
Feral would have much to say if others were requesting a similar tax dodge.
Feral are basically trying to dodge their taxes, cheating Croat citizens of the money they are owed.
Dear Dave, if YOU had in fact read Feral you’d know that Greatest Shits is not “poor journalism”, but a satirical collection of the most stupid, nationalistic and primitive statements from the public life in Croatia. Those comments say a lot about their creators, and it is good that Feral cares to show them to all of us.
Calling people “shits” is poor journalism. End of story. Hate speech in fact.
Did George Soros – who used to fund Feral – ever feature as shit of the week? For his conviction in France if nothing else? Did they attack him for that?
And I think people who dodge taxes could be called shits, no? Did Feral support others not paying their taxes and begging for the taxpayer to bail them out?
How has Feral got itself into such a massive debt? I trust they will be investigated, as every company in Europe would be if they got into such debt.
Or should Feral be exempt from that too?
I just had to pitch in.
Dave; you obviously have absolutely no idea about FT or the draconian hunt on it due to its content, which, although partly satirical in nature, was the ONLY beacon of non-sponsored truth in Croatia. They ednured MERCILESS witch-hunting in a climate which prefers obedience and the party line. The fact that you center around one word (shit) and one party line (pay taxes) shows just how informed your commentary is.
If you really want to contribute, get a couple of issues and read them; 90% of FT is NON-satirical and very upright and honest. It doesn’t pander, it doesn’t flinch. And now it’s gone, and NOT just because of back taxes.
And hopefully, there is no “end of story”.
Ignorance shall set you free.
I am a serb from croatia, and Feral Tribune was the only printed material that made any sense to me during the early 90s. After moving abroad I still followed their online edition until their recent closure. They will be sorely missed.
To anyone who claims they were not selling well due to poor journalism they are very mistaken. Their excellent investigative journalism was the cause of their demise, but the paper kept in the spirit of its original satirical predecessor which was a 2 page section in the “Slobodna Dalmacija” a local paper from Split. This was pure satire hence “Shit of the Week” and stories of Robi K. 3a (both absolutely hilarious} but their serious articles are the ones that were a thorn in the side of successive right leaning governments in Croatia