Štefica Galić: There is no price tag to relinquish determination and morality, in short – to be human

Autor/ica 5.12.2018. u 10:19

Štefica Galić: There is no price tag to relinquish determination and morality, in short – to be human

Schorndorf, 2.12.2018: awarding the Johann-Phillip-Palm-Award for Freedom of Speech and the Press to Josephine Achiro Fortelo Olum (radio journalist and media trainer, South Sudan) und Štefica Galic (journalist, photographer and human rights activist, Bosnia). 9. Johann-Philipp-Palm-Preis für Meinungs- und Pressefreiheit. Photographer: Jan Potente

The international Johann-Philipp-Palm-Award for Freedom of Speech and the Press 2018 awarded to human rights activist Štefica Galić from Bosnia and radio journalist Josephine Achiro Fortelo from South Sudan. The prize is worth a total of € 20,000 and is under the patronage of the Prime Minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg, Mr Winfried Kretschmann. The award recognises women, men and institutions who have committed themselves to stand up for freedom of speech and press in an outstanding manner.

The award winners personally accepted the award in a ceremony on Sunday, 2 December, at the Barbara-Künkelin-Halle in Schorndorf. The ceremonial address was given by Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Heiner Bielefeldt from the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen/Nuremberg, former Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief of the UN Human Rights Council.

The Foundation’s Board of Trustees, which selects the winners, already made its decision in mid-May. It was able to rely on proposals from collaboration partners of Foundations such as Amnesty International, Journalists help Journalists, and Reporters without Borders. The award is named after Johann Philipp Palm (1766-1806), an historically well-known book-seller, who was born in Schorndorf. As a result of publishing and selling a pamphlet criticising Napoleon, Palm was sentenced to death at a sham trial and executed by firing squad.

Štefica Galić is a Bosnian Croatian who is opposed to the resurging radical nationalism of the former Yugoslavia and is seeking to overcome the boundaries imposed by this nationalism. During the Bosnian-Croatian war in 1993, she and her now deceased husband, Neđo Galić, helped hundreds of Bosniaks who had been deported from their hometowns, to escape from prison camps by means of false identity papers. Today, Štefica Galić raises awareness about the crimes committed by the Bosnian-Croatian HVO army during the Yugoslav wars. She believes a shared future for all the people in Bosnia is only possible if the horrors of the past are reprocessed and the victims are asked for forgiveness. In newspaper articles, on her Internet portal “tacno.net” and in talks, she names perpetrators and describes crime scenes where ethnic cleansing occurred. Štefica Galić is therefore regarded as someone who justifiably denigrates her own country and is openly subjected to threats, harassment and even assaults by reactionary nationalists. She receives neither protection nor assistance from any state institution. Nevertheless, she remains steadfast and continues to work unflinchingly to reconcile all sections of the population in her country, thereby setting an extraordinary example in terms of the price she is paying for her noble actions.

Josephine Achiro Fortelo is a radio journalist who has campaigned for many years in various capacities for freedom of speech and press in her native South Sudan. As the director of Radio “Bakhita”, which is part of a Catholic radio network, she was responsible for the content of the broadcasts and has since been deemed as the “voice for human rights” in her country. She currently holds executive positions in various projects to empower and strengthen local radio stations, and promote peace. She is also the Managing Director of the UNESCO-supported Citizens Radio Network “ComNet South Sudan”. Since a large part of the population in her country is unable to read, thus relying on radio as an information medium, the significance of this work for democracy and the peace process in South Sudan can hardly be overestimated. As a result of her journalistic work, Josephine Achiro Fortelo has repeatedly been exposed to serious threats. She does not, however, let this intimidate her. People of different ethnic groups and varying political convictions have their say on her programs. She discusses taboo topics such as flight and displacement and she vociferously calls for human rights. Josephine Achiro Fortelo is an exceptional role model for the struggle for freedom of speech and press, as an indispensable prerequisite for democracy.

Address at the JPP Award Ceremony– Štefica Galić

“I am especially honoured and thank all those who made it possible for me to be here today to receive this important award. The person after whom this award was named, I promise, will inspire and motivate me in my subsequent work, in the struggle for a better and more just world.

I receive this award at a time when I almost had lost all faith in the good and the just. This award does not come from my country, but from you, from Germany.

I cannot help but think of the saying that the prophet is worth nothing in his own country. It is like it is; I am happy that someone has recognized my years of commitment and struggle. I work and fight and never thought I would ever get a prize for it, nor did I expect it. All my activity is the result of what I feel is my moral and human duty, no less and no more.

I fight to be absolutely clear against a system where nationalism and clerical fascism are the yardstick, where “their criminals” are celebrated as heroes, and where this is seen as a patriotic act; against a system that deals with human lives and their property, whose educational system will produce future soldiers that will hate everything that does not belong to them; where national parties constantly win the elections… this system is my enemy!

Bosnia and Herzegovina is a beautiful country, destroyed by a terrible government. I don’t want to embellish it, and this may sound rough to many, but: we have been ruled over a quarter of a century by a network of useless people – three ethnic cartels. They have seduced us, led us into war, killed us, displaced us to all parts of the world, plundered all of society’s assets, and they continue to do so to this day. They leave behind only moral and material dilapidation, nothing good.

Free speech is gagged, courts are placed under political control, the democratic space is being tapered by “democratic” means, an atmosphere of fear, poverty, and apathy spreads. Fear and ignorance are the basis of all suffering and the best political weapon. People no longer believe in what they see, but in the words of their leaders, who poison the public space with their lies through the media that serve them.

The result: massive emigration of young people and their families looking for a better future and a normal life — not ever returning to the past.

I don’t want to complain, but the fact is that I have to deal with this system on a daily basis – with the police, the courts, and the rights of the street…because of my commitment I have lost almost everything ranging from a good reputation to my own existence. Many have turned their backs on me as friends and family……. On the other hand, despite everything, it is greatly encouraging that there are many, many more people who support and help me….Why? Because I speak the truth of what I’ve seen with my own eyes. Besides making sacrifices in the war and post-war period, I have never deviated from the “principle of humanity”. I did not approve the division, the national blackmail, and the intimidation of the “official truth” and “alternative facts” of the new creators and old avengers.

Those of us who believe there are no excuses or circumstances that justify war crimes, camps, and displacements simply because someone has a different name, religion or nationality, are considered national traitors. In spite of the Hague Judgments, in spite of the trials before the courts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the truth is constantly being suppressed at all levels.

That is precisely why I insist on the importance and clarification of the truth about the past. My point is that “forgetting a crime is a crime”. I don’t renounce the common future of all in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but only if all atrocities of the past are dealt with and forgiveness of the victims is asked. For without it there is no catharsis; for without catharsis there is a real danger that what has happened will happen again.

Once again, I want to be very direct: everything is being done to divide the country in order to annex the parts to Croatia and Serbia— the two states that committed aggression against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. This aggression, which was originally military, then economic and now diplomatic, has never ceased, it has merely changed forms.

I would like to mention the media again, because many of its members have contributed to this break-up and general suffering:

Some journalists have become dealers of hatred and instruments of conflict because they have lost their professionalism and ethics. Without reporters, this war would not have been possible. This is how it was in the 1990s, and unfortunately this is how it is still today.

The poisonous vocabulary of hate, of radicalism, the acceptance of violence as something normal, as well as fake news, discrimination, xenophobia towards migrants, are all part of our daily lives. Society is plagued by taboos, mistakes, the flood of historical revisionism, self-deception, corruption, and a general uncertainty.

Today, it seems to us as if our nationalism was a kind of right-wing “avant-garde”, a marker to what is happening today in Europe, the USA and beyond.

Radicalism (fascism under the mantle of democracy) is spreading like a virus, and we are all becoming victims.

Digitalisation and social networks have changed the media landscape; free speech blends with hate speech and the institutions don’t have the adequate mechanisms to prevent this trend in the public space. The list of journalists killed is getting longer and longer. According to a UNESCO report, a journalist is killed in the world every fourth day. Between 2006 and 2017, 1,009 people involved in journalism were killed. This year in Bosnia and Herzegovina, there were 41 assaults on reporters and violations of media rights. This should not come as a surprise, since the situation in society is reflected in the media. That is why it is vital to carry out journalistic work in a humane, fair, and responsible manner.

In 1993, when I had to leave my city and my country by bus for Zagreb and on to Prague with my children, I held a little book in front of my eyes so that my children would not see my tears and my fear, while the policemen searched my suitcases at the border. In this booklet by Martin Luther King I found this saying: Our generation will not care about the cruelties of evil people, as it will about the devastating silence of the good ones.

On my way to Prague I asked myself: Did we keep quiet? Could we have done more? What’s right, is that we rebelled against fascism fuelled by war dogs in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I remember the trucks bringing our Bosnian neighbours to the camps, their screams as they were tortured; I saw people disappearing; mosques, Orthodox churches, houses burning, people being transported in refrigerated trucks, our neighbours fleeing and disappearing, Korans burning in front of the house of a slaughtered old woman, local terrorists threatening and killing—terrorists who still remain unpunished to this day; I saw a world breaking down and disappearing.

I did what I could do in those moments. I helped out with letters of guarantee and photographs, but a question haunted me: could we have done more? I still don’t know. Nevertheless, we rebelled publicly – you won’t do that in our name, we are against fascism. You cannot put innocent people away…. everyone else kept silent. Yes, many have helped secretly, but nobody publicly.

They called us the “Mujahideen Embassy” and refer to us as “traitors of the Croatian people”, members of the secret police, these Yugoslavs….. When everyone was released from the camps, we went with the children to Prague. My husband Neđo said at that time: “I couldn’t, out of shame, look straight if I now stayed with these fascists who want a clean nation”. When the Dayton Agreement was signed, we returned to Ljubuški, but we were no more than lepers and completely isolated there. I’ve done a lot of things to survive: I’ve picked strawberries and cleaned hallways. Our children were victims of our commitment and my husband fell ill and died in 2001, leaving me with debts. Even today, it is difficult for me to talk about this time. I cannot remember a worse time in my life.

I recounted about this terrible time in the documentary film “Neđo from Ljubuški”, made in 2012 by Dr. Svetlana Broz, granddaughter of Josip Broz Tito, and director of the organization Gariwo, in light of the Prize for Civil Courage awarded posthumously to my husband. Since the release of this film, my family and I have gone through hell. A media chase of the rights, threats, verbal and physical attacks, obstruction by the police and the corrupt system ensued. We locked our house and left Ljubuški.

That’s how we’re rewarded.

Today we live in Mostar, on the left side of the Neretva in the Titova street. I feel safe and welcome here as long as I do not enter the “right (Croatian) side” of the city. There, I have been verbally attacked several times, even by the police in the police station, then at the market, on the street…..not to mention the threats in the social networks. After each of my remarks, there was a whole gush. I don’t report such incidents anymore, because I know that the police are “watchdogs” of the local political rulers, against whom I have been fighting for years.

I have sued for libel against some ultra-right and hateful media members for brutal lies and comments and, of course, I have lost.  The reasoning behind it: it is not libel, it is the “judgement of the court”.

Free speech for the right dealers of hate! And that already in the third year, since they cut my pension in half to pay for their court costs.

Despite all this, I have been working for eight years on our portal Tacno.net, which is published by the association “Center for Critical Opinion”. Our staff and readers say that this is one of the few media outlets in the post-Yugoslavian region that tries to maintain the dignity of the profession and report critically on important social issues, and it does so without taking in political or financial interests and intelligence structures. On our portal, texts are published by people of different professions, ages, nationalities, beliefs, yet they all have one thing in common: to criticize openly and harshly the government and society in which they live. Not because they love to criticize, but because they want to see improvement. For them, we are a “nest of resistance” and in our space a “fortress”.

We have also founded a school of critical thinking that has existed for two years now, with the aim to reach out to young people so that they don’t migrate, so that they can critically rethink the reality and thus, make their contribution to peace and human relations. We also have a publishing house, where 7 important books have already been published, and we organize a panel to discuss current topics with well-known “left” intellectuals. After all that has happened, and despite all the problems, I can still say:

It was worth it! There is no price tag to relinquish determination and morality, in short – to be human.

I apologise for exceeding the time allotted, but I had to say all this – especially here, especially today, and especially to you.

Once again: Thank you very much.”

Autor/ica 5.12.2018. u 10:19