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Croatia

Croatia

  • With rare exceptions, politicians in Croatia do not realize and acknowledge the threat in the form of disinformation and influence operations.
  • The activities of the government and the civil society are limited to enhancing media literacy.
  • Raising concerns of decreasing freedom of the press make Croatian society more vulnerable to influence operations.

Relations with the Russian Federation


Below-radar supporter. Concerns about Russia, but given complicated historical relations and local context, has most of the time stayed away from being vocal about the Russian aggression.[1]

Croatia has been wary with the Russian Federation since it gained independence in 1991 because of its involvement in Serbia, while sustaining good relations on a business level. They lost a significant part of common ground after the occupation of Crimea began. Recently, Croatia started to express concerns about Russia's frequent joint military exercises with Serbia. The country has also been attempting to become an alternative supplier of gas for the Central, Eastern and Southern Europe instead to Russia.

Croatia has been generally supportive of the EU actions against the Russian Federation and condemned the violence in Ukraine. After the related sanctions were put into place, the Croatian Ambassador to Moscow declared that Croatia shares the EU principles and does not recognize the annexation of Crimea[2]. The political representation kept their stance on sanctions being strictly dependent on implementation of Minsk agreements. They kept the cooperation on other issues with Russia alive, for example dealing with the crisis in Syria.[3]

Political acknowledgement of the threat


Disinformation campaigns or influence operations originating in Russia or even in general have not been on the Croatian agenda for a long time. In November 2016, the current Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said in an interview that Russian “hybrid warfare” together with Russian connections with Serbia in the form of “intelligence, information and disinformation campaign” represent a threat in Croatian immediate neighbourhood[4], but there has been no concrete action of the state administration.

These threats have not even been acknowledged and described in any strategic documents. Croatian Foreign Minister's Strategic Plan (2016 – 2018)[5], Foreign Policy Aims[6] and the Activity Report of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011)[7] focus almost exclusively on economic relations and cooperation in the energy sector, as well as the statements of Foreign Ministers Vesna Pusić and Miro Kovač In recent years[8].

Publically, Croatia calls for greater action to combat Russian disinformation. Croatia was one of eight EU member states what signed a letter requesting that EU High Commissioner Mogherini fight Russian propaganda, especially in the Western Balkans.[9] According to the Croatian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "The letter warns of ever greater sophistication and intensity in disinformation and spreading of propaganda by outside factors in general," said the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. "Attention is being directed toward attempts to influence the creation of distrust and dissatisfaction with the democratic order as well as efforts to discredit the EU and member states, the transatlantic community, and our partners.”[10] Croatian leadership thus understands the threat posed by Russia, even if actions fall short of the required efforts.

Government activities against Russian influence & disinformation


Croatia has been more active in the area of media literacy. The Agency for Electronic Media of the Republic of Croatia, the official Croatian regulatory authority, launched an internet website[11] aiming at educating teachers and parents about the media and how to pass the knowledge on to children within schools and at home. But the country has more challenges to deal with in the media landscape. Croatian journalists have been raising their concerns recently because of the obstacles they have to face while conducting their work and the decreasing level of media freedom in Croatia. Some state measures, for example the removal of dozens of employees from the public broadcasters or the abolition of funding for non-profit media, have been widely criticized.[12]

Croatian officials also took aim at Russian state investments, with ailing monopolist Agrokor’s government caretaker refusing to recognize Sberbank’s demands for loan repayment.[13]

The approach of intelligence agencies to Russian interference


The Croatian Security-Intelligence Agency (SOA) does not mention Russian activities in any form in its Public Report for 2015[14]. It does however give space to information security, especially regarding the communication within state bodies. According to Rapid7, a security company from the United States which uses its Project Sonar[15] software to compare countries according to their vulnerability to hacking, Croatia is the 40th most vulnerable country overall and 9th amongst EU 28 states. In December 2016, the Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Ministry also disclosed that during the previous government's term, there has been a cyber-attack on their communication network. According to Croatian press, there has been a suspicion that the attack was launched by Russian hackers, but the culprits have never been revealed.[16] According to the Public Report, the SOA conducts dozens of anti-bugging checks each year in important facilities in the country and abroad in order to ensure the safety of communication, but enhancing of cyber-security and protection against hacking is not the main priority.

Activities of the non-governmental sector


The non-governmental sector in Croatia has also been active on the field of media literacy. The project established by the Agency for Electronic Media mentioned above has been supported by UNICEF within its larger project aiming at emphasizing the importance of media literacy and education of adults and children.[17] Domestic partners also participate on the project, including professional organizations and the academia, namely the Croatian Audiovisual Centre, the Croatian Film Association and the Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Faculty of Political Science.[18] Economic ties between Croatia and Russia, however, remain strong. According to the Washington Post, “Sberbank is Agrokor’s biggest creditor with 1.1 billion euros. Another Russian bank close to the Kremlin, VTB, contributed with rollover loans worth about 300 million euros.”[19]


 




[1] “How do European democracies react to Russian aggression”. European Values. 22 April 2017. Available at: http://www.europeanvalues.net/russia/ 
[2] “Croatia”. EU-28 Watch. October 2015. Available at: http://eu-28watch.org/issues/issue-no-11/croatia/    
[3] “Croatia: An ally who has not became a friend”. Gazeta.zn.ua. 20th October 2015. Available at: http://gazeta.zn.ua/international/horvatiya-soyuznik-ne-stavshiy-drugom-_.html 
[4] Jen Judson: “Interview: President of Croatia Kolina Grabar-Kitarovic”.  DefenseNews. 29 November 2015. Available at: http://www.defensenews.com/articles/interview-president-of-croatia-kolinda-grabar-kitarovic 
[5] “Strategic plan for the period 2016 – 2018.” Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Republic of Croatia. April 20, 2015. Available at: http://www.mvep.hr/files/file/dokumenti/150717-strateski-plan-mvep-2016-2018.pdf 
[6] “Foreign Policy Aims”. Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Republic of Croatia. Available at: http://www.mvep.hr/en/foreign-politics/foreign-policy-aims/ 
[7] “Yearbook 2011”. Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Republic of Croatia. Available at: http://www.mvep.hr/_old/custompages/static/hrv/files/godisnjak2011/pdf/MFEA_Yearbook_2011.pdf 
[8] “Press Releases”. Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, Republic of Croatia. Available at: http://www.mvep.hr/en/info-servis/press-releases/ 
[9] “Mogherini Urged to Do More to Counter Russian Propaganda,” New Europe (blog), October 30, 2017, https://www.neweurope.eu/article/mogherini-urged-counter-russian-propaganda-2/.  
[10] “Croatia Co-Signs Letter Seeking Stronger Fight against Russian Propaganda,” The Voice of Croatia, accessed November 26, 2017, http://glashrvatske.hrt.hr/en/news/politics/croatia-co-signs-letter-seeking-stronger-fight-against-russian-propaganda/.  
[11] “Croatian regulator launched Media Literacy Website.” Agency for Electronic Media. June 27, 2016. Available at: http://www.e-mediji.hr/en/news/croatian-regulator-launched-media-literacy-website/  
[12] “Croatia: Media Freedom in Turbulent Times.” South East European Network for Professionalization of Media. 10 August 2016. Available at: http://seenpm.org/croatia-media-freedom-turbulent-times/ 
[13] Dusan Stojanovic | AP, “Behind the Croatian Bankruptcy That’s Shaking the Balkans,” Washington Post, November 26, 2017, sec. Business, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/behind-the-croatian-bankruptcy-thats-shaking-the-balkans/2017/11/26/a916c0e4-d2a2-11e7-9ad9-ca0619edfa05_story.html.  
[14] “Public Report 2015”. Security-Intelligence Agency. Available at: https://www.soa.hr/UserFiles/File/pdf/Public-Report-2015.pdf 
[15] “Mapped: Countries most vulnerable to cyber-attacks”. The Telegraph. 10 June 2016. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2016/06/10/mapped-the-countries-most-vulnerable-to-cyber-attacks/ 
[16] “Croatian foreign ministry target of hacker attack, classified info not compromised.” EBLnews. 3 December 2016. Available at: https://eblnews.com/news/croatia/croatian-foreign-ministry-target-hacker-attack-classified-info-not-compromised-46844 
[17] New portal for media literacy. European Audiovisual Observatory. Available at: http://merlin.obs.coe.int/iris/2016/8/article20.en.html 
[18] John Cappello: “Russian Information Operations in the Western Balkans.” RealClear Defense. 2 February 2017. Available at: http://www.realcleardefense.com/articles/2017/02/02/russian_information_operations_in_the_western_balkans_110732.html 
[19] Dusan Stojanovic | AP, “Behind the Croatian Bankruptcy That’s Shaking the Balkans,” Washington Post, November 26, 2017, sec. Business, https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/behind-the-croatian-bankruptcy-thats-shaking-the-balkans/2017/11/26/a916c0e4-d2a2-11e7-9ad9-ca0619edfa05_story.html

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