The civil society group "Kulturnjaci 2016" (Cultural Workers 2016) on Sunday asked Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic to replace Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic over "a shameful statement" issued by the Culture Ministry in response to a recent assault on writer and journalist Ante Tomic.
"The Ministry's statement on the physical attack on writer and journalist Ante Tomic and his friend is an open, public call for the lynching of all those who think differently and criticise the new government, it is an open attack on freedom of speech, a direct and clear attack on basic democratic values guaranteed by the Constitution," said the group which had already demanded Hasanbegovic's replacement, having launched a petition that has been signed by more than 4,500 people.
The group resented the fact that aside from condemning physical violence and attacks on any citizen, the minister in his statement also said that "the case in question underlines the importance of responsibility for what one says or writes in public."
The group said that the statement was a culmination of the minister's comments and actions so far, "which have been aimed at restricting democratic rights and freedoms and undermining Croatia's constitutional and legal order."
"It's Ante Tomic today, and after this shameful statement, it may be you tomorrow. You may comment on the increase in the price of supplementary health insurance and someone may attack you for it, verbally and physically. When the gutter is given the mandate to commit violence, all citizens are possible targets. That is the beginning of the fascistisation of a society," the group said.
Commenting on the ministry statement, Tomic told the N1 regional TV network that Hasanbegovic's statement had met all his expectations. "I would be disappointed had Zlatko Hasanbegovic reacted as a normal human being."
Hasanbegovic commented on Tomic's statement for the same TV network, describing it as being in line with previous personal insults Tomic wrote against him in a newspaper article.
He repeated that he condemned any violence against anyone, including any type of verbal violence, hate speech and personal insult.
Tomic was attacked after a literary event in the coastal city of Split this past Thursday. He and his friend were approached by two young men, one of whom tried to hit Tomic on the head. The writer managed to duck and the attacker hit his friend instead, who had to be hospitalised.
Both attackers were arrested.