Journalist gets death threats after reporting plagiarism accusations against Croatian official

Damir Krstičević

Plagiarism scandals involving top government officials in the Balkans are not rare. But when Croatia’s defense minister Damir Krstičević was accused last week of plagiarizing parts of his research project, things got ugly.

The minister summoned a press conference within a day, in which he indignantly downplayed any plagiarism accusation and turned the tables by verbally attacking the journalist who first printed the allegations. Following the press conference, the journalist received death threats on social media.

Nenad Jarić Dauenhauer, science reporter for a popular news website, Index.hr, reported how the minister’s 1997/98 paper at the United States Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., contained several paragraphs that seemed to be completely copied from two other works.  

Whether the college will act on this new revelation is unclear. The public affairs office hasn’t yet responded to our request for comment.

In a press release issued Nov. 27, the minister said the paper was “review work, not a graduate or scientific work,” which did not lead to an academic title. He also said he included everything he quoted from in the reference list. His office has not responded to our request for comment.  

In a press conference last month, the minister did have a strong response to the journalist who published the original story, noting “you’re telling an untruth, shame on you.” “Show me your work, your comprehensive school [work]. I can compete with you and I’m ready to compete with you. Shame on you, you manipulate and lie.”

The minister accused the journalist and the news site he writes for of manipulation and telling lies, in order to discredit the minister and by implication his nation-building work including the war of the 1990s.

A worrying trend?

It’s not the first time journalists who report on government officials and other public officials are named and shamed in public.

Earlier this year, for example, I was one of several journalists accused by a vice-rector of the country’s largest university, the University of Zagreb, of ‘destrolution’ – a sort of combination of destruction and revolution, aimed at dismantling the nation state. The accusation came soon after I helped report a Nature story about accusations of plagiarism by the Croatia’s science minister.  

“The plagiarism case of Minister Krsticevic is worrying on at least three different accounts,” Pavel Gregoric, philosophy scholar from the Institute of Philosophy in Zagreb, told us:  

First, Minister Krsticevic and his PR attempted to exculpate him by saying that the plagiarised paper was not a final thesis but a mere seminar essay, implying that the norms of academic honesty do not apply to all written assignments equally.

Second, at the press conference that Minister Krsticevic summoned hours after Mr. Jaric Dauenhauer published the story, the Minister ferociously attacked the journalist, saying that the story was a part of an orchestrated attempt to destabilise the government, which immediately instigated hate speech and threats directed at the journalist and his media outlet.

Third, it is disgraceful that US Army War College refused to answer the journalist’s repeated queries about Mr Krsticevic’s paper and failed to condemn the malpractice in a later statement allegedly given to another Croatian journalist.

Nenad Jarić Dauenhauer, the journalist who revealed minister’s copy-paste work, told us:

The current Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and his ministers, especially Defense Minister Damir Krstičević, often accuse media of the so-called “hybrid warfare” against the government.

Particularly embarrassing was Krstičević’s recent press-conference where I was accused of spreading lies and manipulating the public….After that conference, I received life threats on social media. The Croatian Journalist Association urged Krstičević to apologize, but he has not yet issued an apology…In the past several weeks, especially with the thesis that the government is a victim of hybrid war, the authorities seem to have opened the hunting season on journalists. Under such circumstances, few journalists are able to write objectively and without auto-censorship.

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