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Wikipedia:Wikipedia Signpost/2019-08-30/Opinion

The Curious Case of Croatian Wikipedia: Or how to make a concentration camp disappear?


After more than a decade as a Wikipedia editor, I still feel excited, even proud, when I see Wikipedia being covered by mainstream media. That coverage sometimes seems sparse to me but you might find the coverage of Croatian Wikipedia is not that sparse, and the feeling is definitely not pride.

On 26 March 2018, a Balkan Insight article titled "How Croatian Wikipedia Made a Concentration Camp Disappear" noted that "with its nationalist sentiments, factual mistakes, lack of academic references and omitted facts about World War II history, Croatian Wikipedia is not a reliable source".[1] Days later, Croatian writer and columnist for Jutarnji list daily, Miljenko Jergović, stated that "since quite a long time ago, one could describe Croatian Wikipedia, without being unjust or exaggerating, as an Ustasha Wikipedia",[2][3] and Jurica Pavičić echoed this sentiment, remarking that the "local [i.e. Croatian-language] Wikipedia is an organ of the Neo-Nazis".[4] Finally, in May 2018, a comprehensive article in Novosti titled "Endehapedia" ("NDH-pedia") argued that, under the leadership of right-wing administrators, Croatian Wikipedia has become "a major source of revisionist mythomania". The article accused the administrators of "using shady sources, falsified quotes, fake accounts, and blocking those who try to fix the content".[5]

This is not the first time serious accusations were leveled against Croatian Wikipedia: there was a major controversy over similar issues in 2013. Back then, the Croatian media provided a number of concrete examples of far-right and grossly unencyclopedic content, but probably the best illustration is the entry on anti-fascism. On 27 August 2013, an IP editor inserted a sentence in the article's intro which translated to English as follows:

The modern-day Croatian word "anti-fascism", in the former Yugo-communist meaning, and in the modern meaning of the Croatian new ideological neo-communist groupthink, actually represents several notions: struggle for communism and Marxism, struggle against capitalism, Titoism with Yugo-Bolshevik genocide against the opponents, development genocide of profitable knowledge, culturocide, genetic, spiritual, moral, and creative disorder, curtailment of all basic human freedoms.

Regrettably, we must warn [Croatian students] that a large part of content of Croatian-language Wikipedia is not only dubious, but clearly falsified, so we therefore urge them to use more reliable sources of information, such as Wikipedia editions in English and other major languages.

Željko Jovanović, Croatian Minister of Science, Education and Sports, September 2013[6]

It came with an inline reference to hkv.hr, a far-right website. (Actually, the entire sentence was copied verbatim from there, including typos.) An edit war ensued, in which one editor repeatedly tried to remove the above content, while the other kept inserting it back. The article was soon fully protected by "Z", an admin. However, "Z" left the problematic content in. The editor who proceeded to complain about this in the article's talk received a snide, single-sentence response from "Q", another admin: "Workers of the world, unite!". "Z" continued editing the fully protected article, even correcting a typo in the above-quoted contentious sentence. That sentence stood for weeks, and was rather unceremoniously removed shortly after Jutarnji list published the article that showcased this example, along with a number of others, and thus initiated a nationwide media controversy.[7]

It did get removed in the end, so Wikipedia's values ultimately prevailed? Apparently not. According to Novosti, "Q" happens to be a contributor to hkv.hr, the source for the quote.[5][Note 1] When he was later asked what he thought about the insertion of the "genetic disorder" sentence in the article on anti-fascism, his reply was:

[...] there is no reason to hide the true state of affairs.

The dissenting editor ended up getting indefinitely blocked, and his removal of the above-quoted paragraph was explicitly listed by "K", the blocking admin, as one of the reasons.

Fast forward to 2018 and entries on Josip Broz Tito and Ante Pavelić, which are examples analyzed in the Novosti article.[5] While Broz is described in his article's intro as "communist leader and dictator [...] 13th in the list of greatest criminals of the 20th century", Pavelić is described merely as "leader and founder of the Ustasha movement and poglavnik of the Independent State of Croatia". In the intro on Pavelić, a number of unsuccessful attempts (some of them reverted by "Z") were made to describe him as "fascist" or "war criminal". Meanwhile, in Tito's entry, an editor tried to change "dictator" to "autocrat", with an inline reference provided. For this, he was given a 30-day block by "Q", with the following explanation:

Something can be factually true, but where there is a number of facts, choosing the less important ones and omitting the more important ones tends to lead to wrong conclusions. According to sources, Tito was both an autocrat and a dictator, and stating only the milder qualification is an unacceptable act, an act of vandalism.

In the block log, the reason given was "vandalism". A similar thing happened when an inline-referenced mention of the World War II Glina massacres was added to the "History" section of the entry on Glina. "Q" removed it, then immediately protected the article. The reason he gave was "frequent vandalism" – once again, a blatantly false statement.

Ante Pavelić was, obviously, not a fascist (at least according to Croatian Wikipedia).

"Z"'s on-wiki quotes include:

Ante Pavelić was not a fascist

There is no tangible evidence of mass executions [taking place in the Jasenovac concentration camp]

and

[Slovenian writer] Roman Leljak announces the publication of documents [...] about the real number of victims in Jasenovac [concentration camp]. According to him, that number is 1,654, natural deaths included. So much for the accusations by the so-called anti-fascists, the Serbian side, and some random historians who want to smear Croatia and hold it hostage with their lies.

When the claim of 1,654 victims of the Jasenovac concentration camp ended up in the article itself, an editor expressed his disagreement with it in "Z"'s talk page. For this, "Z" gave him a 30-day block. His conclusion:

We have an exact list of people in the camp (which is 18,600), and how many of them died (which is 1,654). All other so-called sources are fabrications and lies.

The trouble here is, of course, that Leljak is a self-styled "researcher" with no academic background or recognition, who is widely associated with Holocaust revisionism.[8][9] Reputable modern-day sources put the number of Jasenovac victims at 80 to 100 thousand.[10][11]

One more rather extreme example of right-wing POV is provided by "K", who added the following content into the Croatian Wikipedia entry on Milan Tepić:

[The Presidency of SFRY] did not consider the fact that he caused the deaths of Yugoslav People's Army conscripts, whom he did not ask if they wanted to die, nor did he look into the eyes of parents, friends and family of these conscripts, whose deaths were caused by his terrorist, lunatic act.

All attempts to remove this text have been reverted – some of them by "K" himself – so the above sentence is still present in the article, more than a year later. Again, voicing disagreement with things like these may not be advisable. In one instance, an editor tried to file a formal complaint against two admins, "Z" and "K", but "K" immediately responded to the complaint by deleting it and giving the editor an indefinite block.

The situation right now is an end result of a decade-long process in which a small group of administrators drove out or silenced all dissenters, either by blocks or attrition. Many editors, including some of the dissenting admins, have left Croatian Wikipedia. Those who haven't abandoned Wikipedia altogether are resigned to edit elsewhere, chiefly at Serbo-Croatian Wikipedia. Since there is no opposition left, change has become impossible without outside intervention. It isn't coming from the WMF, though. They know about the issue, but reportedly have no comment.[12] Back in 2013, Jimbo Wales seemed to be interested,[13] but nothing of substance has changed since.

It is necessary to face the reality: just as there is nothing inevitable about democracy,[14] there is nothing inevitable about Wikipedia's values. Is the Croatian Wikipedia "the sum of all human knowledge," or just a digital dictatorship?

Notes

  1. ^ After the publication of this article, "Q" has publicly denied any involvement with hkv.hr content.

References

  1. ^ Milekic, Sven (26 March 2018). "How Croatian Wikipedia Made a Concentration Camp Disappear". Balkan Insight.
  2. ^ Jergović, Miljenko (27 March 2018). "Nazi Wikipedia i Hitlerov napad na Poljsku: kako je moguće da se u hrv. Wikipediji nađe teza da je Hitler Poljsku napao zbog genocida nad Nijemcima" [Nazi Wikipedia and Hitler's attack on Poland: how it is possible for Croatian Wikipedia to claim that Hitler attacked Poland because of genocide against Germans]. Jutarnji list (in Croatian).
  3. ^ Milekic, Sven (29 March 2018). "Croatian Wikipedia Removes 'Polish Genocide of Germans' Claim". Balkan Insight.
  4. ^ Pavičić, Jurica (31 March 2018). "Hrvatska 2018. kao Srbija 1965. Kako je moguće da ta žena plati tu sumu vračari? Još kad sam vidio koga je trebala začarati ta tarot majstorica..." Jutarnji list (in Croatian).
  5. ^ a b c Krnić, Lovro (28 May 2018). "Endehapedia". Novosti (in Croatian).
  6. ^ Tomičić, Tihana (13 September 2013). "Jovanović: Djeco, ne baratajte hrvatskom Wikipedijom jer su sadržaji falsificirani" [Jovanović: kids, do not use Croatian Wikipedia because its content is falsified]. Novi list (in Croatian).
  7. ^ Penić, Goran (10 September 2013). "'NDH nije bila totalitarna, a žrtve u Jasenovcu pobili su partizani': Desničari preuzeli uređivanje hrvatske Wikipedije" ['The Independent State of Croatia was not totalitarian, and Jasenovac victims were killed by the Partisans': Editing of Croatian Wikipedia taken over by right-wingers]. Jutarnji list (in Croatian).
  8. ^ Milekic, Sven (27 September 2018). "Croatian-language Wikipedia: when the extreme right rewrites history". balcanicaucaso.org. Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso.
  9. ^ Zebić, Enis (21 September 2018). "Hrvatska turneja za negiranje Jasenovca" [Croatian Jasenovac-denial tour]. slobodnaevropa.org (in Croatian). Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. According to [Roman Leljak's] media annoucements, he denies that Jasenovac was also a death camp, and reduces the number of victims to several thousand. A book by this denialist and revisionist, which is how reputable scientists call him, will receive promotion in, among other locations, places owned by the Catholic Church [...]
  10. ^ "Jasenovac". The Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  11. ^ "FAQ's". jusp-jasenovac.hr. Jasenovac Memorial Site.
  12. ^ Milekic, Sven (23 April 2018). "Wikipedia Ignores Concerns about Croatia Concentration Camp". Balkan Insight.
  13. ^ Wales, Jimbo (30 September 2013). "User talk: Jimbo Wales". English Wikipedia. The things [about the situation in Croatian Wikipedia] that I'm most interested in are allegations of extreme bias and rewriting of history, and of people being blocked for holding opinions different from administrators.
  14. ^ Harari, Yuval Noah (October 2018). "Why Technology Favors Tyranny". The Atlantic.