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News 29 Nov 17

Experts Scorn Croatian Leaders' Obsession With 'Hybrid Warfare'

As Croatian top politicians up claims that they and the country are the victims of a media-driven' hybrid warfare', experts say the accusations are being bandied about too lightly.

Sven Milekic
Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic showing documentation that allegedly proves his innocence. Photo: MORH/M.Cobanovic

Media experts have hit back at claims made by top Croatian politicians, including the PM, that the media are engaging in a form of "hybrid warfare" against them and Croatia.

After the news site Index reported on Monday that Defence Minister Damir Krsticevic had plagiarised his final work on the United States Army War College, the minister accused Index of lying and of waging "hybrid warfare".

“They [the media] have again started a hybrid attack against me and what I represent, just like at the beginning of my term [October 2016]," he said.

"At the beginning of my mandate, they mentioned war crimes and told me I couldn't go to Bosnia,” he added, referring to connections made at the time with war crimes committed in Bosnia in 1995.

“I went to Bosnia, it was not easy," he continued. "This morning you asked me if Croatia was in a hybrid war - I said 'Yes', every day,” Krsticevic added.

Kresimir Macan, a PR and communication expert, widely touted as Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic’s likely future PR advisor, told BIRN that the term was being thrown around too loosely.

“Not every investigative reporting is a form of a hybrid warfare”, he said, adding that it was often simply journalism.

“It [the term] is being used too lightly. Sometimes it’s just a matter of good or bad investigative journalism. Not all criticism is 'hybrid warfare' ... yesterday’s statement from Minister Krsticevic was out of place.”

However, Minister Krsticevic is far from the only top politician keen on reaching for the new buzz word.

Last week, talking about the plight of the troubled company Agrokor and its debts to Russia's Sberbank, Prime Minister himself Plenkovic said a hyrbid warfare was going on, and “only the naïve can believe that Croatia is not part of it”.

Late in October, he also said that Croatia was caught in “a hybrid media war involving many actors” – after the opposition announced a non-confidence vote against him.

When a journalist asked Plenkovic who Croatia was in a hybrid warfare with, he responded by asking" “Are you in Croatia or Belgrade?"

The existence of this "hybrid warfare" - waging conflicts through a multiplicity of means – has become a hot topic in Croatia.

“The sort of hybrid warfare we’re talking about these days is the one coined during the US [2016] presidential elections, when it was shown for the first time that a foreign power could significantly affect events around the elections,” Macan recalled, referring to Russia's alleged involvement in the vote through social media.

“But the situation in Agrokor; if it’s not a hybrid warfare it's for sure a hybrid activity,” he said, noting that Agrokor’s owner, Ivica Todoric, the opposition and Sberbank were all “claiming the same” things about the government’s role in the crisis over the company.

After an investigation into Agrokor was conducted in October, Todoric started a blog in which he accused the government of taking his company from him by force while plotting to put him in prison.

The government has meanwhile accused the opposition of simply repeating the claims Todoric made in his blog.

In its report last week, however, Croatia's Security and Intelligence Agency, SOA, did not find the existence of any hybrid warfare in the events surrounding Agrokor.

Sasa Lekovic, president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association, told BIRN that Croatian politicians had only a vague understanding of what hybrid warfare really was – and tended to use the term as a weapon “to attack the media and media freedoms”.

Lekovic called Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic's claim that “media and intelligence wars exist” as redundant as saying that “each morning the sun comes up”.

“None of these statements contains any concrete information on any sort of a media war against Croatia," he said.

"Here, the people in public make claims that have no sense at all; if anyone is leading a media hybrid war against Croatia, it’s actually the same ones who claim that such a war exists,” he concluded.

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