The refugees that were stopped in Bosnia and Herzegovina, literally in front of the gates of the European Union, on Monday, October 22, 2018, started their journey to the official border crossings to Croatia. Groups and individuals, including families, women, and children, who succeeded in coming to the border crossing of Velika Kladuša-Maljevac in the following days, began protesting, asking for passage towards the destinations where they could finally, some after years and decades, start their future outside of humanitarian anvil and police hammers. Croatia welcomed refugees by raised fences and police cordons. Both sides got hurt in the conflict that escalated. Over the next few days, hundreds of people remained at the border crossing, some even at night, isolated and exposed to different pressures, without any external aid. They protested quietly until the Bosnian police removed them from the crossing. Although the media was flooded with news from the border, in Croatia, we can freely conclude today, the protest itself was utterly invisible. The images, pictures, statements, and comments that were mediated to us via media were carefully reshaped and unladen from their context and critical viewpoint, and instead of the protest, they spoke of something completely different – of the attack on the Croatian border.
The protest at the border crossing Velika Kladuša-Maljevac was reported by most Croatian media from a distance, behind the police barricades. Reports from the field were, as expected, based primarily on the official statements of The Ministry of the Interior and statements by government representatives, while messages and voices of refugees or individuals supporting them during those days did not find their way to the broader public. Taking into account the continuous efforts of civil society organizations, activists for freedom of movement, and the Ombudsman, over the last couple of years, to point out the violence that Croatian police conducted and kept on performing towards refugees, it is particularly worrying that in the media reports there was a lack of contextualization of protests from that perspective. As it is well known, the Croatian border crossings are closed for refugees, forcing them to enter the country using other paths, exposing themselves to further suffering and violence, and therefore their search for passage at the border crossing had special, symbolic weight.
Our media, devastated by corporate and political interests, once more opened up to the one-sided, simplified and ultimately dishonest and unfair reporting. Due to the eruption of ignorance and hate that followed, we must also add that it was detrimental reporting. Once again, the media disavowed their crucial social role of representing silenced and marginalized voices, as well as participating in questioning those who are dominant and have power, ignoring the principles of journalistic work additionally defined by the Code of Honor of Croatian Journalists.
In the media coverage, we had the opportunity to see those days, the emphasis was on the “breakage of the border”, “escalation of the situation”, “dramatic scenes” and “chaos at the frontier”, which was all pronounced in the titles and leading parts of the articles. Refugees were, by using syntagms such as “breaking the cordon”, presented as only active constituents at the border, but in a negative sense, as the homogenous, threatening mass of illegal migrants. This representation derives from those who are genuinely responsible for general, global and national, political, ecological, class and ethical crisis, to justify further colonial, exploitative and authoritarian practices and political regimes.
The passive role of the “forced” defenders of the border was attached to the police in the media reports, and the actions of the police were reported euphemistically, saying, for example, that the police “moved migrants”. By using such language, the power relations between the refugees and the police were depicted in a manner that is opposite to the situation on the field. Besides, the media confronted the desires and needs of the local community to those of refugees, which spurred fear and panic, and overlooked the efforts of individuals who, despite pressures, continued to support and assist refugees. In this context, the choice of guests on certain TV shows didn’t come as a surprise. It was mostly experts for the so-called security issues and police representatives of both countries, and all of them responded to suggestive questions, such as sending troops to the border, which contributed to the escalation of sensationalism and one-sided narratives. Finally, by using such a way of reporting, the media went hand in hand with political parties and those on social networks that are fueled by the spread of fear, hatred, and xenophobia. In those instances, based on lies and semi-information, shaped by the substitution of the thesis, the lack of common sense, the call for the natural order and other well-known mechanisms of moral panic and incitement, refugees were condemned and persecuted, at the same time as all the others who did not fit into the given frameworks of reasoning.
While manipulating with emotions (fear), Croatian authorities and attached public media focus on fabricating of the “extraordinary conditions” – phantom, threatening crisis in which one group of deprivileged imperils sovereignty and domestic lives – and thereby write out a new page of Croatian nationalism and bigotry. Repeatedly promoted hatred creates discomfort, disturbs and shames, just like similar historical examples emerged not such a long time ago. Even today we live in times of the stark political unaccountability. In the jaws of the Croatian politics fond of weapons instead of the human, while cowardly following the European regime of migration control, there is a strong pull for naturalization of hatred and fear against the ones in need “on the other side” of the police cordon at the Croatian-Bosnian border. While facing the twilight of the ethical and professional media reporting and representation, in the midst of the hysteric production of fake news and calling for “machine gun nests, we cannot but to ask – how much more of the incitement rhetoric and manipulation can we hold as a society? How much longer are we apart from having the words of despise, judgment and hatred turning into cruel, horrifying and violent actions?
As we attentively followed media reporting and comments, appearing in an array between spreading phobia and inciting persecution, as well as the hateful propaganda flaring social media in a systemic and militant fashion, we establish that this is known albeit an extreme, systematic deriving to racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. By the systemic push of the representation of the extreme right views as generally accepted principles in our society, along with the continuous and malicious fabrications of tales about perils at the borders, there is a strong tendency to erase the free, the solidary, the heart-led. This is precisely what we do not wish and what we will not comply with.
Maddalena Avon, Selma Banich, Emina Bužinkić, Marijana Hameršak, Lea Horvat, Marija Mileta, Ivana Perić and Iva Pleše
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