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.