In 2019, FAIFE is marking the 20th anniversary of the Statement on Intellectual Freedom. Over the last few months, we have covered a series of contributions from FAIFE committee members highlighting various perspectives on intellectual freedom in different countries. Today, Davorka Pšenica – a Library Advisor at the Department of Croatian National Bibliography of the National and University Library in Zagreb – is presenting a perspective from Croatia.
1) What do you and your colleagues understand by ‘intellectual freedom’ in Croatia?
Intellectual freedom in the Republic of Croatia means the right to freedom of thought and expression, the freedom to promote ideas and beliefs, and the right of an individual to be informed.
The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia regulates the right to freedom of expression by the provision of Article 38 which reads: “Freedom of thought and expression shall be guaranteed. Freedom of expression shall particularly encompass freedom of the press and other media, freedom of speech and public opinion, and free establishment of all institutions of public communication. Censorship shall be forbidden. Journalists shall have the right to freedom of reporting and access to information. The right to access to information held by any public authority shall be guaranteed. Restrictions on the right to access to information must be proportionate to the nature of the need for such restriction in each individual case and necessary in a free and democratic society, as stipulate by law. The right to correction is guaranteed to anyone who constitutionally and legally established rights have been violated by public communication.”
2) How important an issue is it for libraries, and for the general population, in your country?
One of basic tasks of libraries in Croatia is to ensure free access to information to all citizens –this fundamental role is stated in all the main documents of the Croatian Library Association (CLA). It also underpins the activities of the CLA Committee for Free Access to Information and Freedom of Speech that for 20 years has organized roundtables on free access to information on International Human Rights Day.
At these roundtables, topics related to problems of free access to information, freedom of the media, freedom of speech and censorship, copyright, intellectual freedom and education, and transparency and openness of the organizational and socio-political system in Croatia have all been discussed at all levels.
It is important to highlight the efforts and involvement of the library community in a multi-year process of adopting the first Law on the Right of Access to Information in Croatia. The law was created due to encouragement of the academic community and civil society; its acceptance was preceded by a long-term public campaign led by a coalition of 17 non-governmental organizations, with the participation of the Croatian Library Association. The law has undergone a number of amendments and harmonization with relevant acts of the European Union and has been in force since 9 August 2015.
3) What have been the biggest questions and controversies in recent years?
In Croatia there is a problem of harmonization between, on the one hand, legal regulations concerning free access to information, freedom of the media and speech and regulations concerning free access to the internet, copyright protection, and on the other, a market-based, neoliberal economy that gives priority to capital and large companies. The neoliberal economy can, by introducing collection and citizens’ control systems, impair to a great extent free access to knowledge and information.
4) What do you think are the biggest challenges for intellectual freedom in the coming years?
The greatest challenges are those in the area of intellectual freedom protection, i.e. those relating to free access, accessibility and openness of information. More specifically, the business sector is not legally obliged to provide information to the public, that is, private companies and organizations are not subject to any legal obligation. Moreover, international institutions, such as the World Bank and other financial organizations, have their own rulebooks on providing information about their work.
The regulation of the right of access to information depends on individual national laws. For example, Freedom of Press Act of 1766 in the Kingdom of Sweden is regarded as the first law on the right of access to information. Acts introducing an obligation on public authorities to make their information available to the public mainly only date from the second half of the 20th century. The United Nations has encouraged drafting of the mentioned Acts on the grounds that the right to seek, receive and impart information also implies an obligation of states to allow access to information in their possession.
In Croatia the Right to Free Access to Information Act is a key anti-corruption tool requiring authorities, administration and the public sector to be responsible and report about their work to citizens, i.e. to report how they work, how much and what they spend public money for, how they make decisions, and who participates in this process.
This is how citizens and especially media and associations, as guardians of democracy and promoters of public interest, can hold the government and administration and make them remember they are here for citizens and for the public interest. Progress has been achieved at the level of the state administration, as the result, among other things, of bigger capacities to prepare, publish and provide information to the user. According to analyses, 60 to 80% of statutory information in Croatia is published, depending on the state institution.
The biggest problems appear in small municipalities, some of which continuously ignore citizens and fail to fulfill their legal obligations. This is a problem for public libraries too, because they depend on local authorities and therefore operate under harsh conditions in terms of limited procurement power, availability of library materials and information in the online environment. As a result of insufficient libraries funding and a lack of clearly expressed libraries policy, there is therefore a limit to the free flow of information flow more broadly.
5) What role do you see libraries playing in relation to intellectual freedom in 10 years’ time?
Librarians in Croatia are aware of the important role of libraries in promoting fundamental human rights such as intellectual freedom, freedom of thought and speech and the right to free access to information, but the state and local government’s support for, and understanding of, library programs and tasks is still insufficient.
That is why it is extremely important for the library community to take a proactive role in the society into the future, in terms of advocacy and lobbying for libraries and library programs as well as activities at all levels. This should include a focus on ensuring adequate funding for the acquisition of materials and equipment, and efforts to balance conditions under which different categories of users can use the library.
Librarians must actively and publicly advocate the defense of intellectual freedom whenever freedom is in danger of being limited or diminished. Intellectual freedom means the right to freedom of thought and expression, based on which the right of an individual to be informed is derived. The librarian must provide users with the information needed for communication about a topic and must actively prevent any attempt to obstruct a transfer of information to users.
You can read more about the work of Croatian libraries to promote access to information, intellectual freedom and other human rights in IFLA’s submission to the Universal Periodic Review in Croatia.