Remember the popular Facebook group I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who dislike George Bush! or a group dubbed Stop Hillary Clinton: (One Million Strong AGAINST Hillary)?
It all looked like an innocent way to express one's feelings about U.S. politicians. Well, what works on Facebook in the United States doesn't always play out as well in other countries, especially in Croatia, where it can result in an arrest.
On Nov. 28, police arrested 22-year-old Croatian Niksa Klecak, a member of the Social Democrats, the main opposition party, and founder of the Facebook group I bet I can find 5000 people who dislike Sanader.
The politician at issue is Croatian Premier Ivo Sanader, recently under fire for his economic policies and for a revival of tensions with neighboring Serbia. The Facebook site critical of Sanader altered images of him to contain Nazi symbols, which are illegal under Croatian law.
So far, a little less than 15,000 members have joined the group, far more than the 5,000 that Klecak wanted to gather. Compare those numbers to the 27 who have signed up for two Facebook groups that support the premier.
Police said they detained and interrogated Klecak Nov. 28 "not because of his party affiliation" but because he posted a photo montage portrait of Sanader in a Nazi uniform, a violation of Croatia's law banning Nazi propaganda.
The detention has drawn sharp criticism from Klecak's Social Democrat party. The party's leader, Zoran Milanovic, said, "The action endangered freedom of expression in the European Union candidate country."
Sanader at first defended the police action by focusing on the banned Nazi imagery. "Everything that's going on Facebook with that Nazi insignia, it's not aimed against the prime minister, but against democracy in Croatia," Sanader told Croatian radio. "There is no satire or games with swastikas or Nazi insignia."
Political opponents and the media dismissed the explanation, saying the police had never acted against Nazi propaganda until now.
"When I saw what occurred, I was unpleasantly surprised and decided to start a Facebook group Enter my apartment, Gestapo gang, Croatia is not a police state, which will point out all the other groups on Facebook that use messages and photographs to prompt hatred, which the police are not reacting to," Marko Jurcic, an avid Facebook activist, told the Croatian press.
On Jurcic's list of Facebook names are (originally in Croatian): Kill, Slaughter So That Serbs Do Not Exist and one that refers to Croatia's World War II-era Nazi group, Ustasha Youth.
Jurcic has previously used the disputed photograph of Sanader in a Nazi uniform. He currently has it as his avatar at Police State Alert, which a number of groups on Facebook have picked up, along with its warning that Croatia has become a police state.
But Croatian police have detained and questioned other Facebook activists critical to the government. They've detained an organizer of a Facebook group that called for anti-government rallies today in several towns, including the capital of Zagreb. The group has more than 80,000 members. Police also detained and questioned an activist in Zagreb, who had been posting protest posters on billboards.