With “Kiro” vs “Jubito”, politics enters a new era

1325.jpgCroatia’s Social Democrats called this month on the country’s interior minister to resign, charging that he broke laws in an effort to find out who has been posting video clips of his interviews and speeches on YouTube. The ongoing saga has fascinated the country, while worrying the government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader.

Ivica Kirin is the youngest member of Sanader’s cabinet. During a round of appearances on political talk shows, he sought to describe the problems his ministry faces and the results achieved so far. Organised crime and corruption were the main topics.

During the interviews, however, Kirin expressed himself in a convoluted manner. His gaffes were extensively quoted in the media, and soon video footage was discovered on YouTube — with humorous commentary added.

In one week, the YouTube clip drew more than 250,000 viewers. Croatian media hailed “Kiro” as a star of the web. However, the minister was not amused.

In a subsequent interview, Kirin was asked to comment on his sudden internet popularity. He responded by saying, sardonically, that the anonymous posters must be geniuses, and then proceeded to mispronounce YouTube’s name.

As Kirin continued to comment on “Jubito” (you-bee-too), it became clear he had never heard of the site. The internet community found it hilarious, and Kirin received a new nickname. T-shirts, cups and even underwear featuring “Jubito” began to appear for sale in shops and on the internet.

The situation prompted the minister to take legal action — saying he deliberately mispronounced the name and was seeking to protect “Jubito” as his own intellectual property.

In late May, the story began to take a more serious turn, in part because of its political context. In November, Croatians will head to the polls for general elections. For the first time since gaining power in 2003, Sanader and his ruling HDZ party are trailing the Social Democrats.

The YouTube fiasco has not helped, and Kirin claims he has evidence that the opposition is behind the postings. In remarks quoted by the media, he appeared to suggest he had searched the YouTube servers.

However, this contention has unleashed a new set of problems for him. If Kirin indeed launched an investigation, where did he get the authority to do so? SDP lawmakers now charge that Kirin took advantage of his position and police resources to carry out a personal crusade against his cyber-tormenters. Kirin again found himself having to explain an apparent gaffe. He blamed journalists for misreporting his words.

Now he has disappeared from the interview circuit and is avoiding public appearances. However, Kirin’s fame is not simply a YouTube issue anymore. He has now surfaced on another popular website, Boing Boing. So far, the minister has made no comment.

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