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After his contract was terminated in Vjesnik, journalist Željko Peratović initiated a number of court proceedings. Lawsuit for mobbing, i.e., harassment in the workplace against Vjesnik and the state as the owner of Vjesnik.

Some of those legal proceedings were, at some point, unified. At the same time, he started treatment due to his deteriorating physical and mental state. He was suffering from psychological symptoms of mobbing that consequently started to manifest physically. His situation was caused by continuous stress he was exposed to. He thought that his biggest concern was to receive justice concerning the wrongful termination lawsuit. But the upper echelons made sure that wasn’t the case.

Already before all those developments, Peratović had started his own web site. Experimenting with new media, such as blogging, was already becoming very popular among journalists. Also, writing helped him cope with the loss of his job and the vocation he had chosen 15 years earlier. That’s how the blog 45 lines was created. He posted interesting stories about intelligence services, on people working there, on the sordid field operations those services were implementing under different excuses. The blog had its audience and its sources.

However, on October 17, 2007, police barged into Željko Peratović’s apartment, confiscated his communication devices and computers. The official reason was – he had posted a state secret. Applicants of the complaint – Zagrebačka County Police Administration and the Office of Director of SOA (The Security and Intelligence Agency). Tomislav Karamarko had by then already managed to unify all intelligence services in the Republic of Croatia under a roof organisation – SOA (The Security and Intelligence Agency) and appoint himself its official. The next day Peratović was released, with a criminal charge for giving away state secret.

The ensuing days were all pretty much identical; either he was preparing for legal proceedings that he had to file in order to prove injustice or he was forced to attend the proceedings that the state was opening against him. At a certain point he felt like he was in a Matrix like parallel universe and that his troubles have peaked. But he was wrong. The state wasn’t done with him. Because, as we had stated in the beginning, the person who dares to oppose the current power system must not only be sanctioned, but convicted to eternal damnation, as to warn others not to follow his path. Already in 2009 Peratović was the subject of yet another investigation. This time is was an anonymous complaint for sexual harassment of his under aged daughter. That was the last drop. Peratović decided to take his family and leave Croatia.

This is the way Peratović today views those dramatic times:

“What is there to say? Losing your job at a time in your life when you have a family destroys that little self-esteem that you have left. I applied for every journalist job I could find. But it’s like you’re branded. Simply no one wants to have anything to do with you, or wants to get to the bottom of your problem. It was like someone invisible behind the scenes was pulling the strings and shutting all the doors I was trying to open. Also, I was told by the unemployment office that no one was hiring journalists and that I didn’t have any rights to compensation because the termination of contract had been my fault. I tried to find work through people I knew, literally in all printed media, but the doors were shut for me everywhere. As if I was contagious.

Then a period of complete isolation followed. That isolation is the worst thing a person can experience. When you’re in jail, at least you have someone to talk to. To share your experience. This way, you’re shunned by everyone and you’re all alone with your family and few friends that stuck around. The external world is unavailable to you. You go from being a provider for the family to being a parasite. My family had to support me. It became incredibly hard to face my wife, my mother-in-law, my father. To top it all, at the time I was fired, my mother died. It felt as if the

world came tumbling down on me. There were days that I wasn’t able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The interesting thing is that when the anonymous complaint for sexual harassment of my child came, it sort of coincided with Karamarko’s dropping the case against me for public disturbance in 2009. So, you win a case, that gives you some small fraction of hope, and then something dreadful hits you over the head. When the procedure for sexual harassment against me started, after someone had filled an anonymous complaint, I was on the edge. So, I wasn’t allowed to stroke my child’s hair and complement her when she did something good. I had to weigh my every word and every action, having in mind that everything I do, the prosecutors could use as ‘another proof of my guilt’.

Words can’t describe what was happening to me in those days, months, years. That’s why I decided to go to Switzerland with my family. I thought about, especially when we left for Switzerland, giving up on those lawsuits and simply erasing all my life up to that point. However, my wife pushed me to stand my ground. She convinced me that she was standing by me and I should endure. It meant a lot to me, although I felt as it was my fault we were in that situation. The worst for me were the oscillations. Sometimes something would happen; some information would pop up in the media that would give me hope, only to sink again the next day.

I asked for help and support from associations in Croatia. But nothing happened. All the help I received came mainly from international organisations, Croatian Journalists’ Association and the occasional colleague. I was at a point where proceedings against me were being filed one after the other. All of them ended in my favour, all complaints that were filed against me were either discarded or I won the litigation. Regardless of that, each procedure robbed me of a small piece of my life.”

After all the evidence were analysed, Municipal Civil court of Zagreb passed a non-binding verdict in favour of Željko Peratović. The court ordered Vjesnik d.d. to compensate Peratović damages in the amount of HRK 89.250 and the costs of litigation in the amount of HRK 37.400 with added value of interest on arrears. The verdict stated that it was possible to make a complaint regarding the decision of the court to the County Court of Zagreb. Considering that Vjesnik was shut down, in case a legally binding verdict gets passed, Peratović is to be compensated by printing house Vjesnik owned by the state.

Seemingly, that is the end of the story. The court specified the perpetrators of Peratović’s hardship, which was the culmination of the ten years of hell that Peratović went through. A lot of unanswered question remain. One of them is the following: what is the system of value that sets the value of human suffering at HRK 89.000? That is truly sad. Tragic.

However, all is not well yet, seeing how we still do not have the answer to the question whether Željko Peratović’s excruciating life agony is over.

Tomislav Karamarko is currently making another come-back. He is the president of a party that has the largest public support at the moment. The parliamentary elections are drawing closer. He could become the prime minister, and the liaison between the prime minister and the judiciary can lead to amazing twists. On the other hand, Peratović’s articles and sources are part of evidence on the trials against Perković and Mustač in front of the court in München. They are two individuals that have shown, on numerous occasions, how strong their tentacles of power are and how far they can reach. Maybe further than any border we dare to imagine.

However, we must hope there is justice and fairness. Justice gained in at least one case in our surroundings gives strength to all those who are suffering at the moment, falling down and getting up during their battles with the system which is relentless. All those people whose stories we haven’t told so far.

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Ante Leskur, MD, Psychiatrist, who holds psychotherapy group meetings (Anti-Mobbing Programme) in Zagreb as part of his practice, gave us his expert opinion about the things that victims of mobbing go through.

Doctor Ante Leskur explained: “the term ‘mobbing’ is usually accompanied by the term ‘change’. That is the most common denominator of all harassments. Change is happens in most cases after the election of new management (owner, director, manager).” According to doctor Ante Leskur “workplace harassment leads to professional, psychological, social and family ‘homicide’ of the employee. The unwanted expert is placed to work in an inadequate, degrading space, to set the example for others. The person who is the victim of mobbing slowly comes to realise what is happening and begins to experience various psychosomatic reactions: insomnia, nausea, ‘foretelling’ dreams of danger, dysfunctionality of (all) organic systems, irritableness at home, lack of concentration, public and private withdrawal, loss of self-esteem, degradation of (all) partner relations, activation of latent psychosis is even possible.”

In the case of workplace mobbing there is a “feeling of being haunted, helplessness, despair, abandonment, depression, resignation, suicidal thoughts, etc. Accumulated stress from e.g. harassment in the workplace causes dramatic changes in the prefrontal cortex, area responsible for self-control, emotions, physiological functions. Stress causes the person to lose touch with his emotions, alongside with insensitivity of actions and interactions with other people. Neurochemical changes during stress lead to weakening of associative upper cortical functions (‘deconcentration’) “, explains Ante Leskur, MD.

For Fairpress Peratović recalled those events and the way they affected him:

“After Karamarko’s appointment as the Director of POA, colleagues started to avoid me. Every morning I had a knot in my stomach while going to the office. I didn’t know who would say hi to me that day and who wouldn’t. The same situation was in the street, in press conferences, in public spaces where there were other journalists present. They avoided me. Looked away. Changed topics when I was around. Most of the colleagues, in the office and outside it, who I used to hang out talk to before, go for a beer, stopped contacting me. It became clear to me that I was being marginalised in every possible way. I managed to cope with the situation somehow and continued to work as before. Until summer of 2005.

I think it was around July of 2005 that Krunoslav Prates was arrested in Germany, under the suspicion that he had participated in the killing of Stjepan Đureković, and it was suspected that he had been

working under the orders of former heads of Yugoslav security service Josip Perković and Zdravko Mustač. The country was shaken up again. In circles close to the ruling castes there was noticeable nervousness, because Mustač, and especially Perković had knowledge about some of Croatia’s biggest and most buried secrets. I had a feeling it was an important topic so I suggested, at the editorial meeting, to do an article about it. It was accepted. Considering how it was a hot topic, at first I didn’t go into the details of the matter. I simply called the witnesses of that time – Perković, Boljkovac, Manolić and Gaži and composed an article from their statements. Perković, the same as Karamarko the year earlier, failed to give me a statement, saying that he was busy and I should call him the next day. But the next day he was already away for business, i.e., not available.

However, all in all, I was pleased. The text was handed in on time. The next day I started to go through Vjesnik as usual, however, my text wasn’t there. I called Nada Dmitrović who told me that ‘Andrea  read the article’ and that it’s not going to be published. I then asked where Andrea Latinović was because she owed me an explanation why the article wasn’t going to be published, but no one told me where she was or how I could get a hold of her. I feld bad, because I thought that it was quality material. On the staff meeting, where the editor in chief didn’t show up again, I asked Vodopija, assistant editor and colleague, could I do an interview with Pavle Gaži regarding the topic of Đureković killing. Vodopija looked at me blankly and asked why I was under the impression that the interview would be published if my previous article with statements wasn’t? I got the message. I asked him whether it was OK to do the interview and publish it somewhere else? Vodopija just briefly said OK. That is what I did.

After work I sat in the car and drove to Koprivnica. I did the interview with Pavle Gaži, took the photos and send it to Ivančić in Feral. Ivančić confirmed that the material was good and that he was going to publish it. However, as soon as that issue of Feral was published I had a phone call from the newsroom and they told me that they had held an editorial meeting about me, that everybody’s mad at me and my future doesn’t look bright. I tried to find out what the real story was by asking people who knew about the circumstances surrounding the Perković case as well as the current situation in the country. I remember what Manolić said to me then: ‘Well listen, it’s all because of Karamarko and Perković, you can’t fight the system alone ‘.

That was the way my journalist career ended in Vjesnik, in August of 2005, exactly a year after the agony began. They terminated my contract. The verdict in the case for mobbing is basically a review of the events that took place during that year.

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Judge Jelica Pandurić established in the verdict for mobbing that “Journalist Željko Peratović was harassed by his superiors in his workplace from the period of September 2004 till August 2005”. Based on evidence, the court established that Željko Peratović was in that period exposed to “relentless harassment” by his superiors, predominantly by editor in chief Andrea Latinović and part of her deputies and assistants. According to judge Pandurić, the pressures and mobbing manifested in a way that Peratović was getting to do articles that subsequently didn’t get published. The editor demanded that Peratović disclosed his sources of information which would, according to judge Pandurić, discredit Peratović as an investigative journalist and consequently end his career. Also, he was being given topics that were potentially threatening, considering that he was forced to write about and contact the same people that he had already had conflicts with because of his writing.
All of the above, based on the findings from the court procedure, reflected on Peratović’s mental health.

Peratović commented on that period for Fairpress:
“I think it was about a week after the interview that my colleague Marko Barišić had conducted with Tomislav Karamarko that Andrea Latinović again came to my desk in the newsroom. Same as before, she started to loudly berate my work.

‘I just came from lunch I had with Tomislav Karamarko concerning you ‘, she told me. ‘I learned a lot about you’, she continued. ‘ Karamarko told me that you hang out with dubious characters like Zvonimir Trusić and all sorts of others’ , said Latinović. All the people in the newsroom were looking down again. I was dumbfounded. I mean, I had contacts with Zvonimir Trusić. Journalist contacts. He was from the group closely related to Merčep and the suspects in the Pakračka poljana case. Trusić was full of information about the people and events from that period and I occasionally took advantage of his information for a story I was working on. I then remembered that I would occasionally see Tomislav Karamarko, Vladimir Faber and other police officials, who were more than friendly with  Trusić, in his illegal restaurant  “Blato” located near Remetinac. Although I never contacted them, I saw them there. And now all out of a sudden it was a problem that I was contacting him, but in turn it wasn’t a problem that they were contacting him. Nothing was clear to me anymore. I had a feeling they were trying to condemn me in any way possible. For anything.

In the months that followed Latinović started to give me assignments which were extremely dangerous and could have cost me my life. In the infamous Turek presentation I was labelled as one of the journalists that were conducting “enemy and anti-government activities” in the Gotovina case. Then Latinović would give me an assignment of conducting interviews concerning people that aided Ante Gotovina’s getaway or with people that wanted to make a name for themselves by “knocking around” somebody who dared to write about Ante Gotovina’s escape.

Those were traumatic experiences, especially when you know that you have an obligation to hand in an article because your livelihood and your job depend on it. Regardless of the fact that I, despite limiting conditions, managed to hand in the requested articles, they were not being published. When they would get published, the interventions that were subsequently made would seriously damage the integrity my original articles. All in all – torment.

However, the real drama was just about to play out. Joško Podbevšek wasn’t removed from office at the moment the affair with his brother Petar broke out. He somehow managed to persist. However, during fall that year, POA (Counterintelligence Agency), i.e. the state, was shaken by another affair.

In October 2004, journalist Helena Puljiz was called in for a benign talk, i.e., she was invited for coffee with “police employees”. When she arrived, Helena Puljiz demanded for the employees to identify themselves, and discovered that the police are not the police but Counter-Intelligence Agency, coffee isn’t so much coffee as it is harassment in the Agency’s office. She experienced threats, warnings and was offered awards for an “associate position” in the Counter-Intelligence Agency. So, a classic case of recruitment. All Helena Puljiz was supposed to do was agree to cooperate, occasionally write a few tailored articles and discredit Agency’s targets in public. In turn she would get resolution of her existential issues (tenure journalist position, author’s comment) and the “protection” of the Agency concerning her work and life (resolving her petty violations and crimes if she happened to have an occasional slip-up, author’s comment). However, Helena Puljiz decided not to accept her “cooperative” status, went to the authorities, affair leaked to the public and complete chaos ensued.

In November and December of 2004 a special commission was called upon to investigate the claims. There were various speculations in public that the real target in the Puljiz case was the president at the time, Stjepan Mesić. Namely, he was de facto the decision maker concerning the election of officials in the security service. This time everything fell into place, and Karamarko was back in the game.

Already during December of 2004, Karamarko was appointed as the Director of POA, and even greater hardships were ahead of me. Pressures, threats and unpleasant situations in the newsroom were becoming more and more intense. I was forced to contact the Prime Minister Ivo Sanader. Considering that Vjesnik was owned by the state, I requested that the Government of the Republic of Croatia, as the owner of the newspaper, protect me from mobbing. I eventually went to see a doctor because all the above had affected my physical health. I was becoming sensitive about the little things in my private life. I started to react harshly and impulsively in my family surroundings, with my father, wife, even with my little daughter. I slowly begin to realise that something was happening with me. Something that was beyond my control.

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“Journalist Željko Peratović was harassed by his superiors in his workplace.” That is the summary of the verdict made by the judge of the Municipal Civil Court of Zagreb, Jelica Pandurić in the Željko Peratović vs Vjesnik litigation for mobbing. Seemingly, just another story in line. No different from thousand other human stories regarding the devastated journalist occupation, in a country where the free market can be described with “Stealers, keepers”, and capitalism is identified with feudalism. Journalist Željko Peratović was created by Vjesnik. Human being Željko Peratović was devastated by Vjesnik. Brought to his knees. Professionally, emotionally, physically. Left with indelible marks on his face and a shaken identity as a son, father, husband, neighbour, colleague.

However, Vjesnik, athough convicted in this procedure, is not a criminal. The true criminals were the faces behind the story, people working there. Both inside and those closely connected with Vjesnik. In the before mentioned verdict, the court non-bindingly asserted that the persons involved in a criminal act (which was enforced in the period between 2004 and 2005, and is still party ongoing) were Andrea Latinović, Vjesnik’s editor in chief, assistant and editor’s deputy at the time and Tomislav Karamarko, Director of Counterintelligence Agency (POA). Although nothing explicitly indicated towards him, the ghost of Josip Perković, former chief of various security services and presently a suspect in a proceeding in front of a court in München, was present throughout the verdict. Mostly concerning the killings that he, according to the indictment, ordered and organised on behalf of the former Yugoslav State Security Service, known by its colloquial and incorrect term UDBA.

Vjesnik had, besides daily reporting, the role of voicing politicians and tycoons behind it (from its very beginnings dating back to the middle of the 20th century). The newspaper had the state gazette “syndrome”. The intent and the message that the tycoon Croatia wanted to get across, in case of Peratović, was clear – not only will every disobedient action and individual journalist thought be nipped in the bud, but all those who dear oppose them, or even stir the waters a little and decide to go ahead with their work regardless of the prohibition – shall suffer. In every form and every field. That was the message that Željko Peratović was supposed to get in the past 10 years. Ever since, because of something that looked like a simple journalist assignment (composing profiles for potential candidates for the highest state functions) his agony has been enduring. That was the same year, 2004, that Tomislav Karamarko planned his big comeback into state service.

However, the position of the Director of POA was troublesome, burdened by affairs of the former director Franjo Turek. He labelled journalists and policemen as being the key enemies of the state when they were only doing their jobs – digging and researching key political issues. After Turek, the hot chair was occupied by Joško Podbevšek. The position brought along habits. Already in August in 2004, only a few months after Podbevšek took over as Director of POA, the media reported that his brother, Petar Podbevšek beat up a young man in Korčula. Besides that information, there were indications that there had been more similar incidents that involved Petar Podbevšek, but were covered up by the police and other services. There were signals that the cover ups were connected with his brother Joško. The result was immediately speculations about Podbevšek’s potential successors. Among others, Tomislav Karamarko’s name popped up.

Željko Peratović reminisced about those times and events for Fairpress:
“It was summer, August of 2004. The newsroom was half empty. Editor in chief was away. She was away a lot for business meetings and official trips, and at the

time, as I recall, she was on a vacation. I think that was the time I read, in Jutarnji’s Sunday edition, an interview with Luka Bebić, where he said that Karamarko was a potentially good candidate for the director of POA. Then it became clear to me that everything was coming to its place and that the interview with Luka Bebić was, among other things, preparation for Karamarko’s appointment.

Next day in office I suggested to do a profile on Tomislav Karamarko, considering that his appointment as the director of POA was already the subject of public speculation. My suggestion was accepted. Looking back, I think that my idea, and me as author, got the green light because the editor in chief wasn’t in the office at the time. Summer is the silly season period anyway, and the amount of media control is not that high. Seeing how I had my sources in the “service”, as well as around Karamarko, and the data from his biography, the article was finished by Wednesday. I turned it in on Thursday, and it was published on Saturday, August 28, 2004. Ever since Tuesday that week I had been trying to get hold of Karamarko for comment regarding some of the information, but he wasn’t picking up the phone. A source told me that Karamarko was in a vacation home in Mljet with a friend and colleague Vladimir Faber and the owner of Profil (biggest Croatian multimedia bookstore). That is why I wrote in the article that Karamarko owns a holiday home in Mljet. On Saturday, while reading the article, I noticed that some of the things were missing. I called the editor for an explanation, and was told that the article was cut in length because of space. I accepted that explanation, but found it strange that the text was missing information regarding Karamarko’s companies and relationships with certain individuals. However, up until Monday everything seemed ordinary and the weekend went by normally.

Andrea Latinović came up to me in office on Monday morning. She leaned over to my part of the cubicle and said that she was receiving complaints regarding my work. How “other journalist colleagues from other newsrooms and readers” were complaining about me and that lately I was conducting “serious professional errors”. During her talk she was loud enough so that everyone in the newsroom were able to hear her. They were all looking down. She went on to say that she received a phone call from Karamarko and that he said that the article was a disaster and that he did not own a vacation home in Mljet and I should apologise to him in my next article. I was dumbfounded. It would be a benchmark of a sort for a journalist to apologise in an article to somebody who is shooting for a director’s position because of one single detail, i.e., because of an information that he owns a vacation home in  Mljet. I told her so. I also told her that, in those types of situations, there are instruments of rebuttal or right of reply. I also offered to remove the mistake by writing another article; also to include Tomislav Karamarko’s comment about other allegations from the article, especially the fact that he had been connected with criminal circles on numerous occasions and concerning legal affairs. Latinović then said: “How would you like it if I wrote you had killed a man?”, and that a new article was out of the question. It ended there.

After that grim Monday and conversation with the editor, everything changed for me, continued Peratović. That was the week that Marko Barišić, a ring-wing, conservative oriented journalist did an interview with Tomislav Karamarko, which received huge coverage in Vjesnik. It wasn’t so much an interview as it was praise of Tomislav Karamarko and his “achievements”. There wasn’t anything in the article about controversies or stains that were part of Tomislav Karamarko’s career up to that point.

And I was beginning to get jobs that would finish my career.”

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