It all started on November 14th when Croatian Prime Minister Ivo Sanader announced that as a measure of fighting ongoing crisis he ordered to all government offices and state owned companies to cancel traditional Christmas lunches and ban all gifts. In the wake of crumbling stock markets, with banks struggling for liquidity and other governments giving away billions to their failing economies ,this particular and sole measure looked as funny as it can get. Soon enough, everybody was talking about how the Croatian Prime Minister stole Christmas, just like Grinch (we even got an online game to celebrate this unorthodox crisis-fighting measure). Just a few days (and many articles) later, PM Sanader retreated and launched a new campaign by trying to freeze salaries of public workers; an increase was due in January 2009.
This decision, again, caused unrest; it is widely believed that Croatian politicians have too many benefits and are overpaid. As a form of protest, a facebook group called “You tighten your belt gang of thieves” was created and in just few days there were more than 50,000 members — roughly 1/3 of Croatian Facebook members (Croatia is 4.5mil country with 1.5mil internet users). A day or so later, the groups creators decided to organize a widespread protest under same name. The creation of the group and its rapid growth in membership sparked media interest.
The internet was heavily used in the 2007 parliament campaign when unknown user bijesprvi created a series of YouTube clips about interior minister Ivica Kirin . After the YouTube campaign he was voted third most unpopular politician and lost his minster position, but also lost his seat in the parliament. The YouTube clips were seen more than one million times and are by far the most popular videos on Croatian internet. A similar thing happened in September 2008 when around 12,000 high school students organized themselves via facebook overnight and protested against the Ministry of Education. (government balked again) Whatever is happening on the internet creates much interest.
After the initial interest in the protest died down, another incident occurred. This time, four policemen stormed house of Niksa Klecak, a 22 year old social democrat activist (opposition party), and searched his house, confiscated two notebooks and a cell phone, and brought him in for questioning. Initial reports said that he was detained because of possible threat to the prime minister. Eventually, it became apparent that his only crime was that he created another facebook group called I bet I will find 5000 people who do not love Ivo Sanader. His group was created in March 2008 and struggled to find 5000 members. Within hours of his arrest, it was leaked that Klecak was under suspicion of pedophilia (for an incident which happened four years ago while he was also a minor), and just hours after the charges were dropped, Klecak was detained because of spreading Nazi signs (punishable by Croatian law with a fine of approximately 2USD or two cans of Coca-Cola in local shop). The truth is that Klecaks group was not a hate group, he was only trying to find people who do not love prime minister. As for Nazi signs, police later claimed that they were searching for picture of prime minister in Nazi uniform.
Although Niksa Klecak was released later that evening without charges, this incident sparked a series of new newspaper articles and TV reports, simply adding fuel to the upcoming protest. Additionally, this event triggered a number of new facebook groups (some of them openly showing prime minister in Nazi uniform), and Niksa Klecaks group membership tripled within hours. Days later, two activists promoting protest were detained because they were placing posters with claim you gang of thieves. Any charges were later dismissed because chief of police explained that this was value judgment and not provocation, therefore not punishable.
The public outpouring was so strong that, ultimately, Interior Minister Marko Karamarko and Chief of Police Vladimir Faber, were forced to make public apologies for all events against protestors including Niska Klecak. This is a first appearance in recent Croatian history in which public officials were compelled to apologize.
The final straw was another video clip release of the above mentioned bijesprvi. He used a widely parodied clip from movie The Downfall, in which the Prime Ministers words are spoken by none other than Adolf Hitler, discussing facebook groups, protest organizers and TV shows, mocking him for his latest actions. The movie clip was seen on the internet by more than 200,000 people in the first two days (counting YouTube and Croatian internet video sites; another record for Croatia).
On December 5th, a protest was held but it only attracted a modest crowd of 6-10,000 people. Although the protest itself was pronounced as a failure (or at very best modest success), it is a fact that the Croatian government folded and decided not to pursue the idea of freezing public workers salaries; so at least some of protestors demands were met.
Opposition parties in Croatia are considered too quiet and the media is tightly controlled. National TV is controlled by the governing party, the two private national TV stations are unwilling to bring much opposition news, and the two newspaper media houses are both tightly controlled, especially for any news damaging to the government. Internet penetration is about 40% (half of it broadband) and it has proven to be a significant factor in information dissemination, and, recently, in the organization of people.
Croatian PM Ivo Sanader is a very vain person, and while he uses his position of power to coerce just about anybody within Croatian borders to his will, he is also very soft on influences coming from abroad, since his life mission is to bring Croatia to EU (unfortunately, regardless of the cost). Recent events were organized and coordinated from, until now, unknown internet activists people without dirty laundry which can be brought up to force, blackmail or pressure them into not speaking out. Police actions and the governments poor handling of the situation indicated that the authorities are nervous but also incapable of dealing with this new kind of threat to their position. The government of Ivo Sanader has been fooling too many people for too long a time. The internet has arisen as a tool to stop this.