Croatians protest closure of radio station (Radio 101), 1996

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Timing
Time Period:  
Time period notes: 
Campaign lasted approximately 18 hours
Noon 20 November
1996
to
Morning 21 November
1996
Location and Goals
Country: 
Croatia
Location City/State/Province: 
Zagreb
Location Description: 
Ban Jelačić Square (outside of Radio 101)
Goals: 
The goal of the protests was to reverse the closure order issued by the government to Radio 101.
 

In the 20th century, Croatia existed in several different incarnations. Until 1918, Croatia was part of Austria-Hungary, but with the dissolution of the empire, Croatia instead cofounded Yugoslavia with other Balkan states. However, like the Austria-Hungary Empire previously, this state also fell apart with the end of World War II. For a brief time, Croatia existed as an independent state. This period ended with the founding of the Second Yugoslavia and the rise of communism. Croatia existed as this entity until 1991 when they declared their independence and became a sovereign state. Unfortunately, sovereignty did not prevent war between the remainder of the Second Yugoslavia and the Croats and it was not until 1995 that the state fully controlled their territory and expelled Serbian aggressors. Even then, the new government, while not as harsh or despotic as the previous communist regime, was only barely democratic.

Since 1984, Radio 101 had broadcasted on the frequency of 101 MHz (hence their name) from Zagreb, the capital of Croatia to over a million Croatians as an independent radio station. The radio station had always been critical of the government and unabashedly played rock music (both Croatian and foreign) even when it was deemed inappropriate by the government. Through seven years of a communist dictatorship, it remained mostly uncensored despite the government’s disapproval of it.

On November 20, 1996, the Croatian government via the Council of Communications, a 9-person council dominated by the President’s party, revoked the broadcasting license of Radio 101 in favor of reassigning their frequency to a less critical radio station (Radio Globus 101). Although the government claimed this was because of financial reasons, it was obvious that the main impetus was political in nature. This was later proven by comments from lower officials. Because of Radio 101’s history, Croatians viewed it as a symbol of their freedom from tyranny. Consequently, Croatians viewed the decision by the government to close the radio station as an affront to their hard-earned democracy and a threat to freedom of press.

After the government made their decision to revoke Radio 101’s license (at approximately noon on November 20), the staff of Radio 101 announced the decision on air. Almost immediately, the phone lines to the radio station were swamped with calls from supporters. Only hours after that, people began to rally in the streets outside of the station in Ban Jelačić Square (the main square in Zagreb) in a spontaneous show of support for the station. By night, the protesters numbered over 100,000 with some estimates putting the total at 150,000.

These protesters carried signs with various slogans in support of Radio 101 (including signs that read “We love drugs, sex, and rock and roll”), held candles in something of a vigil, and played Radio 101 from whatever devices they could. Radio 101 was airing calls of support, playing favorite rock songs, and unabashedly making jokes at the expense of the government. Simultaneously, taxi drivers in Zagreb caused a traffic jam in the midst of the city (shutting down the city for the night for vehicular travel) and honked their horns in support of the station.

According to some sources, those in attendance at the protest included almost any social and economic group, from students, to doctors, to lawyers, to factory workers. Additionally, the Bad Blue Boys, fans of the Croatian national football team, planned a separate rally in an adjacent square that brought another 6,000 people to the streets. Some sources also report that Peter Gabraith, the U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, was in attendance at the rally and reporting events back to the U.S. Department of State. This eclectic group of people constituted the largest display of solidarity in Croatia since it gained its independence in 1991.

Croatian laws required organizers of rallies in Zagreb to gain a permit 48 hours before they began. However, the spontaneous nature of the rally made this impossible. Consequently, the staff of Radio 101 feared that the police might respond violently to suppress the “illegal” protest. Although attempts to get a last-minute permit were in vain, the staff did receive a promise from the police that they were under strict orders to avoid a violent confrontation. Amazingly, neither side reported violence during the rally.

It is also important to note that Franjo Tudjman, the President of Croatia, was in the United States receiving medical treatment at this time and did not play a direct role in his government’s revocation of Radio 101’s license. However, there is evidence that suggests that he received substantial pressure from the U.S. Department of State through public statements and U.S. Vice President Al Gore while the protests were occurring to reverse the decision. The European Union was also vocal about their disapproval of the government’s decision.

At some point late in the night of November 20 or in the early morning of November 21, the pressure on Tudjman’s party became great enough that officials began publicly denouncing the decision on Radio 101 and denying that they played any role in the debacle. This drew clear lines between the various factions of the party that were played out in an emergency meeting of the Council of Communications.

This session of the Council was held publicly and arguments were thrown back-and-forth between members of the same party as well as other parties about why Radio 101 should or should not have its license revoked. Among other things, those that wanted Radio 101 off the air said that Radio 101’s use of foreign music subverted Croatian independence and culture. Such comments were then critiqued on air as listeners called into Radio 101 constantly. In the end, this public debate further galvanized Radio 101’s supporters behind the radio station and further split the debating President’s party into two distinct camps.

Eventually, the Council decided to reverse their decision and, instead, gave Radio 101 a temporary renewal of their license. Part of the reason they reached this decision was that Nino Pavic, a prominent Croatian entrepreneur and the owner of the future Radio Globus 101 station that was supposed to take over Radio 101’s frequency, announced that he preferred not to take away Radio 101’s frequency because it was so popular. Some sources suggest that his announcement was made at the prompting of the government in an attempt to save face, but this cannot be confirmed. Regardless, this marked the reversal of the Council’s previous decision and, consequently, the continuation of Radio 101.

The staff of Radio 101 announced their victory on air and urged all of the protesters to return home. The protesters left without any reports of violence.

While Radio 101’s contract was only renewed on a temporary basis, this would be extended to a more permanent 5-year contract within less than a year after the campaign. Ultimately, the protesters achieved all of their goals in a relatively short period of time and made it clear to the government that challenges to freedom of press would not be allowed.

Research Notes
Influences: 

Croatia’s independence protests in 1991 were an influence on the Radio 101 protests, especially because Radio 101 was viewed as a vital part of Croatia’s struggle for freedom as it remained independent throughout. (1)

Sources: 
"Attacks on the Press in 1996 - Croatia." UNHCR. Committee to Protect Journalists, Feb. 1997. Web. 21 Nov. 2010. <http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/publisher,CPJ,,HRV,47c564fe28,0.html>.

Boric, Stanko. "Jedanaest Godina Nezavisnosti Radija 101 - Poslovni.hr." Poslovni.hr. 23 Nov. 2007. Web. 21 Nov. 2010. <http://www.poslovni.hr/vijesti/jedanaest-godina-nezavisnosti-radija-101-61642.aspx>.

"Croatia Reverses Closing of Radio Station." New York Times, The (NY) 22 Nov. 1996, Late Edition - Final, Foreign Desk: 4. NewsBank. Web. 30 Nov. 2010.

"Croatian leader vows to fight foreign influence." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 24 Nov. 1996, Final, A News: NewsBank. Web. 30 Nov. 2010.

Daskalovic, Zoran, and Milivoj Dilas. "Radio 101: Independence Day." Ex-YU Press. 25 Nov. 1996. Web. 21 Nov. 2010. <http://www.ex-yupress.com/feral/feral40.html>.

"From the Air: They Said It about 101." Ex-YU Press. 5 Dec. 1996. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://www.ex-yupress.com/vijenac/vijenac4.html>.

Hedges, Chris. "Tudjman Seeks to Muzzle a Radio That Aided His Rise." Press Freedom Online. Committee to Protect Journalists, 1 Oct. 1996. Web. 30 Nov. 2010. <http://cpj.org/reports/1996/10/hedges.php>.

Lovink, Geert. "Croatia -- Media Alert." Nettime Mailing List. 21 Nov. 1996. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9611/msg00036.html>.

Pomfret, John. “Dissent mounts in Serbia, Croatia – in Zagreb and 10 Serb cities, hundreds of thousands protest regimes.” Washington Post 23 Nov. 1996. NewsBank. Web. 30 Nov. 2010.

Prenc, Maden, Snježana Ivić, and Gordana Malašić. "Croats Do Not Have Power to Overthrow Cabinet - Top News - Current Events - Croatia - Dalje.com." Dalje.com. Trans. Joseph Stedul. 30 Mar. 2009. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://dalje.com/en-croatia/croats-do-not-have-power-to-overthrow-cabinet/247065>.

"PROTESTS ARISE IN ABSENCE OF CROATIAN PRESIDENT." THE ORLANDO SENTINEL 24 Nov. 1996, METRO, A SECTION: A22. NewsBank. Web. 30 Nov. 2010.

"U.S. Department of State Daily Press Briefing #189, 96-11-22." Hellenic Resources Network. 21 Nov. 1996. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://www.hri.org/news/usa/std/1996/96-11-22.std.html>.

Vukic, Igor. "Candles Lit for Radio 101." AIM | Alternative Information Network. 23 Nov. 1996. Web. 20 Nov. 2010. <http://www.aimpress.ch/dyn/trae/archive/data/199611/61123-001-trae-zag.htm>.

Additional Notes: 
This campaign is unique in that it appears to be entirely spontaneous. While the Radio 101 personnel did call for protestors to gather, the time frame (within hours) coupled with the number that showed up (over 100,000) is incredible to say the least. It could be helpful to research cultural factors and more background on Radio 101 to figure out this anomaly.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Matthew Heck, 28/11/2010