Facebook anti-government protests flop

Protests by a Facebook group scheduled for Friday (December 5th) throughout Croatia failed to attract a significant number of participants. In Zagreb, 3,000 attended the rally, far short of the expected 50,000. Only a few hundred people turned up in the country’s second biggest city, Split. Turnout nationwide did not exceed 5,000.

The group – Stegnite vi pojas, bando lopovska (Tighten your own belt, you bunch of thieves) – has about 60,000 members. Some of them underwent interrogations last week for putting up posters advertising the rally. The detentions sparked public outrage, resulting in their release and an apology from the police.

This was the first time that an Internet-based group has organised a street protest in Croatia. Its members wanted to express their disapproval of the government’s retrenchment measures designed to deal with the global economic crisis and its potential fallout on the Croatian economy and living standards.

In reaction to Prime Minister Ivo Sanader’s announcement of reductions in federal spending that will prevent any public-sector salary increase in 2009, disaffected Croatians without any official political affiliation organised themselves via Facebook. They mocked the prime minister’s belt-tightening rhetoric and decided to mobilise.

"I came here to voice my discontent with the current situation in Croatia, which the government caused," one protester told reporters.

"We simply demand better conditions for every individual in Croatia," he said.

By establishing the anti-government group, the Facebook users wanted to send a message about how these new measures would harm ordinary Croatians while leaving politicians and wealthy citizens untouched. "Only united we are becoming a force that no one can ignore," the group’s leader, Josip Dell Olio, told the crowd in Zagreb.

However, the rallies’ disappointing turnouts left organisers looking for explanations. "It was much easier to click on a mouse in one’s own house than to show up in a public place," group spokeswoman Jaska Matovinovic said after seeing how few people attended the protests.

On Friday, government spokesman Zlatko Mehun said police would leave the demonstrators alone as long as they did not break the law. "The government will carefully analyse the messages from the protests, and they may well play a role in our future activities and decisions," he added.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com

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