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2019

June 2019: “Gender ideology” continues to fuel ideological debates in the Croatian society
Despite public debates and actions of several far-rightist political parties and religiously (Catholic) (...)

  • June 2019: “Gender ideology” continues to fuel ideological debates in the Croatian society

Despite public debates and actions of several far-rightist political parties and religiously (Catholic) inspired non-governmental organizations and civic initiatives to prevent the ratification of the “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence” (known also as the “Istanbul Convention”), the Croatian Government remained firm in its intention to ratify this document. It sees it as a legally binding international legal instrument in combatting violence against women and domestic violence.

The Croatian Parliament ratified the “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence” in April 2018, attaching to it the interpretive statement, and it came into force on October 1, 2018. Although the Parliament ratified it with a majority of votes, the ratification intensified both political and public debates, even causing divisions in the ruling right-wing party as fifteen out of fifty-five of its MPs voted against. The most problematic aspect of the Istanbul Convention is that it introduces the concept of “gender”, since violence against women is interpreted as gender-based violence. The opposers argue that the concept of “gender” negates biological differences between men and women, and undermines the traditional family as well as traditional family values. Eventually, as argued by the opposers, the word “gender” is a way of importing alien Western, liberal “gender ideology”, which will endanger the Croatian people and culture, inextricably linked with Catholicism.

The ratification provoked subsequent actions by various religiously inspired NGOs, and mainly far-right political actors. The newly established civic initiative called “The Truth on Istanbul” (in Croatian Istina o Istanbulskoj) initiated a collection of citizens’ signatures to force the Government to convey a national referendum on revoking Croatia’s ratification of the Istanbul Convention. During two weeks in May 2018, they collected 377,635 signatures, which was a bit more than the needed 10% of supporting voters’ signatures. However, the Government asked the ministry of Administration to verify the collected signatures. This eventually established the non-authenticity of a number of signatures, and the final number of 345,942 signatures was below the needed 347,470 signatures. Dissatisfied with such an outcome, and with the fact that the ministry of Administration did not allow them to supervise the verification of the signatures (though they obtained the right to see non-valid signatures after the verification process had been completed), the citizen initiative “The Truth on Istanbul” filed a complaint to the Constitutional Court against the Government. In its ruling, publicized in January 2019, the Constitutional Court, while pointing to some inconsistencies in the way the referendum is regulated in Croatia, did not find that the Government violated Constitution and endangered democratic principles and the rights of citizens.

The Constitutional Court decision gave the Government a possibility to continue with the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. However, debates about “gender” and “gender ideology” continue and, together with debates on abortion, sex education in public schools, as well as debates on the Croatian past (mainly about the role of the Croatian collaborationist state in the Second World War), cause deep ideological divisions and constitute main political cleavages in the society. The Catholic Church is among the important actors in the public arena, and it fully supports civic initiatives on these issues, in particular by condemning the concept of gender and the “gender ideology”. The Church called all MPs, particularly those who openly declare their Catholic belonging, to vote against the ratification of the Convention. Though it is expected that the Church propagates its teaching and its moral values, it can be argued that, as it happens in many other countries, Croatia witnesses a tough “cultural war” in which religious actors have become relevant and powerful players.

  • May 2019: “Marches for Life” and Abortion Issue in Croatia

In May 2019 “Marches for Life”, pro-life rallies that have their roots in the US anti-abortion movement activities, were organized in five Croatian towns: Zagreb, Split, Osijek, Rijeka, and Zadar, in which thousands of supporters asked for the protection of life since the conception. The first such “March for Life” was organized in the Croatian capital Zagreb in May 2016, and has been repeated since every year. In 2017, it was organized in two cities (Zagreb and Split), and in 2018 in three cities (Zagreb, Split and Rijeka). Several NGOs and civic initiatives have been in the background of that, among which the most prominent is “In the Name of Family” (in Croatian U ime obitelji), which in 2013 collected a sufficient number of supporting citizens’ signatures to convey a national referendum, on the basis of which the Constitution was changed to define marriage as solely the union of a man and a woman (see the 2017 debate). Though not being an organizer, the Catholic Church openly supported “Marches for Life”.

The organization of “Marches of Life” coincided with debates on changes of the law on abortion. Though with some amendments, the 1978 abortion law prescribing the right of a woman to terminate pregnancy up to ten weeks following the date of conception, to be performed solely in public hospitals, has been still valid in Croatia. While legally unconditional up to the tenth week of pregnancy, the accessibility of abortion on demand has in reality significantly decreased in recent years, mainly due to the right of doctors to not perform it because of conscientious objection. There are hospitals, particularly in socio-economically deprived regions, in which no one is performing it. Also, the woman has to pay for it and the price varies as it is not nationally regulated. According to official data, the number of abortions has been declining significantly. There is suspicion that not all abortions are registered, or registered as “abortion on demand”. Different attempts were made to question the constitutionality of abortion as the Yugoslav Constitution, which constituted the ground for the 1978 abortion law, does not exist anymore, and the Croatian Constitution from 1990 stipulates the right to life of every human person and forbids the death penalty. This allowed pro-life groups to argue that the unborn life is also a human right protected by the Constitution. Following several constitutional complaints that challenged the right to abort on demand, the Constitutional Court concluded in its ruling from February 2017 that the 1978 law is not unconstitutional, in particular since the law does not jeopardize the just balance between the Constitutional right of women to privacy, liberty, and personality on the one hand, and the public interest to protect the life of the unborn. However, the Constitutional Court also found that in some parts, the 1978 law is not in accordance with the current legislation, and required the Parliament to pass a new law in the period of two years. As explicitly said in the ruling, the new law should find a way to maintain the above-mentioned balance, but also to envisage educational and preventive measures to make abortion an exception.

Two years have passed since this ruling, but the government has failed to adopt a new abortion law. According to the available information, the ministry of Health had formed an expert group to study foreign experiences and to draft a new law, but neither this group nor the ministry itself has come out with any legislative proposal. At the same time, civil society organizations and politicians have put forward different draft laws. As Croatia is facing presidential election in late 2019 and parliamentary election in late 2020, it could be predicted that the Government will not propose any change of the law in the near future. Nevertheless, this also means that the public debates and the pressure on the government will continue, as is visible from “Marches for Life” which seemingly ask only for the protection of life, though this inevitably means a ban on the right to abort. Similarly, “40 days for life”, collective vigils in front of public hospitals that provide abortion on demand, have been organized since 2014. At the same time, this means also that the right of abortion, though legally permitted, will remain difficult to realize in reality.

  • January 2019: Religious education in public school is in accordance with the Croatian Constitution

According to the Constitutional Court ruling from December 2018 (publicized in January 2109), the position of religious education as an elective subject in public schools, and religious education in preschool institutions, does not contradict the constitutional provision of separation between religious communities and the state.

Religious communities in Croatia enjoy a wide range of rights, regulated by four agreements between Croatia and the Holy See (in relation to the position of the Catholic Church) and by the Law on religious communities, and by agreements signed between the government and 19 other (mainly traditional) religious communities. One of the rights enjoyed by the Catholic Church and other religious communities that have signed agreements with the Government is the right to organize religious education in public and private schools if at least 7 pupils opt for it. Though religious education is an elective subject, it becomes a compulsory subject for the pupils who have signed in for it. Exemption is possible if a written request for opting out is submitted to the school principal by the parents (in primary schools) or by both the parents and the pupils (above the age of 15, i.e. those in secondary schools) prior to the beginning of the school year. Religious education is confessional, as religious communities are in charge of the content of textbooks for the purposes of catechism teaching, and of hiring qualified teachers. Upon being granted by the religious community a special permission to teach religion, teachers are employed by schools and are paid by the ministry of Science and Education and have the same full employment rights as other teachers.

Since its introduction in 1991, the position of religious education in public schools has remained a topic of public debates. Some of the critics, who officially filed a constitutional complaint, argued that the fact that confessional religious education is a part of public education violates the constitutional provision of separation of the state and religious communities. In contrast, the Constitutional Court argued that, though the constitution opts for the equality of all religious communities before the law and for the separation of religious communities and the state, it also stipulates that religious communities are free to publicly conduct religious services, open schools, academies, and other institutions as well as welfare and charitable organizations, and to enjoy the protection and assistance of the state in their activities. Consequently, the Court concluded that the Croatian constitution does not ask for the “absolute separation of the religious communities and the state”, and that the religious education in public schools and preschool institutions, as such, does not violate the Constitutional provision. It also restates the former ECtHR ruling in respect of Croatia (Savez Crkava Riječ Života and Others v. Croatia, Application no. 7798/08) which found that, inter alia, religious education in public schools and preschool institutions is an additional right which the Croatian state has voluntarily decided to assure. It is considered an additional right that falls within the broader scope of Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Though the ruling of the Constitutional Court solidifies the position of confessional education in public schools for the years to come, some challenging aspects still remain. For example, though the majority of pupils opt for religious education in primary schools (mainly the Catholic education, as Croatia is a country with an important Catholic majority) the fact is that there is no alternative subject provided for pupils not attending religious education, and this might be interpreted as discriminatory for children who are left unattended in the school premises. In secondary schools, this practice disappears, since pupils are required to choose between religious education and a subject on ethics. Discriminatory attitudes, in particular toward new religious movements and atheists, were reported in some Catholic religious instruction textbooks. Discrimination can also be found in the fact that religious communities which do not have agreement with the Government can’t enjoy the right to have religious education in schools. Finally, in recent years, some religious NGOs have started to mobilize supporters among parents to advocate for the rights of parents to have their philosophical and religious convictions respected in the provision of their children’s general education.

Further reading: Staničić, Frane (2018), "Do We Need a Revision of the Treaties with the Holy See?", Zbornik Pravnog fakulteta u Zagrebu, 68(3-4):397-429. (in Croatian)

D 19 June 2019    ASiniša Zrinščak

2018

2018: Why religious slaughter is (still) not an issue in Croatia?
Croatia allows slaughter for religious purposes and there are no public debates to question that. According to the Law on Animal (...)

  • 2018: Why religious slaughter is (still) not an issue in Croatia?

Croatia allows slaughter for religious purposes and there are no public debates to question that. According to the Law on Animal Protection from 2017, derogation of stunning in case of religious slaughter taking place in slaughterhouses is allowed in accordance with the Council Regulation (EC) No 1099/2009 of 24 September 2009 on the protection of animals at the time of killing (Official Journal of the European Union, L 303, 18.11.2009). The EU regulation became a part of the Law on Animal Protection in 2013 (Narodne novine 37/2013, in Croatian), just a few months before Croatia became an EU member. However, the derogation of stunning was allowed also before, as demonstrated by the Law on Animal Protection from 2006 (Narodne novine 135/2006, in Croatian). The interesting fact is that in the process of drafting and discussing the law in 2017, religious slaughter did not appear as an issue which would attract public interest. More interestingly, “Animal Friends Croatia” (Prijatelji životinja, in Croatian and English), the most visible and influential non-governmental organization devoted to animal protection, expressed the opinion that slaughter without stunning should be banned in Croatia, naming it a brutal and unhuman praxis. This was already formulated as an amendment on the Law from 2006, and in previous versions of draft laws in 2015 and 2016. However, not only was this ignored by the Ministry of Agriculture (in charge of drafting the law), but hardly attracted any public interest. In addition, this NGO had an influence on law drafting, and seemed satisfied with other aspects of the 2017 law as it presents an important step forward in animal protection in Croatia. (See Law on Animal Protection, Narodne novine 102/2017, 32/2019, in Croatian). Thus, a ban of religious slaughter is not (yet) on the public agenda and, it would be hypothesised, no change in that respect is expected in years to come.

There are two main reasons why religious slaughter does not attract public interest in Croatia.

The first one is connected with the role of religion in society and Church-state relations. Croatia is among the European countries with a relatively high level of religiosity. According to the new 2017/2018 European Values Survey data, 82% of respondents declared belonging to a denomination. More importantly, Croatia gives a wide range of rights to a number of religious communities. While the position of the dominant Catholic Church is regulated by four agreements with the Holy See signed in 1996 and 1998, the position of other religious communities is regulated by the Law on Legal Status of Religious Communities (2002) and agreements between the Government and respective religious communities which grant them specific rights, such as co-funding from the state budget, the right to organize confessional instruction in public schools, recognition of religious marriage by state authorities, police and army chaplaincies, religious assistance in prisons and hospitals, etc. Currently, 19 religious communities out of 42 registered have agreements with the Government, including the Islamic Community, and two Jewish communities which exist in Croatia. In addition, Croatia celebrated in 2016 the hundredth anniversary of the official recognition of Islam. For different social and historical reasons, the social position of the Islamic Community in Croatia is very favourable, mostly because Muslims in Croatia mainly originate from neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina, with which Croatia shares a history of living in common states, and share a language and culture very similar to that of Croatians / Catholics. As long as the Islamic and Jewish communities recognize the ritual slaughter as an important part of their religion and culture, there is not much chance this would be forbidden in Croatia, at least not in a foreseeable future. In addition, there are market benefits as many companies produce food (mainly for export) which are certified as halal by the Islamic Community or kosher by one Jewish Community in Croatia.

The second reason might be connected with a short history of public debates and actions on animal rights. The already mentioned and publicly most visible and influential NGO “Animal Friends Croatia” was established only in 2001. Among the many campaigns they performed, those for the ban of fur farming and wild animals in circus, campaigning about the need to have shelters for abandoned dogs and to ban killing of dogs in shelters, and in general promotion of veganism, attracted public interest and in fact brought some changes. However, public concerns are mainly about pets, not about animal in general. Although there is no research data to confirm this, traditional views on animals seem very widespread. They include a tradition of pig slaughter (kolinje in Croatian) in private households. Hence, the idea to ban slaughter without stunning does not attract interest among general population.

References:
- Zrinščak, S. (2014) "Re-Thinking Religious Diversity: Diversities and Governance of Diversity in “Post-Societies”". In: G. Giordan, E. Pace (eds.) Religious Pluralism. Framing Religious Diversity in the Contemporary World. Springer, pp. 115-131.
- Zrinščak, S., Marinović-Jerolimov, D., Marinović, A. Ančić, B. (2014) "Church and State in Croatia: Legal Framework, Religious Instruction, and Social Expectations". In: S. Ramet (ed.) Religion and Politics in Post-Socialist Central and Southeastern Europe. Challenges since 1989. Palgrave, pp. 131-154.

D 28 December 2018    ASiniša Zrinščak

2017

August 2017: Religiously (mainly Catholic) inspired NGOs continue to oppose the so-called “gender ideology”
Several religiously (Catholic) inspired non-governmental organizations initiated a vivid (...)

August 2017: Religiously (mainly Catholic) inspired NGOs continue to oppose the so-called “gender ideology”

Several religiously (Catholic) inspired non-governmental organizations initiated a vivid public debate and different actions to prevent the Government’s intention to ratify the “Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence” (known also as the “Istanbul Convention”). The main reason for opposition is a phrase “gender” used in the Convention which, according to these organizations, is a non-scientific, ideological term, which in fact negates biological differences between men and women. The term “gender” is described as a part of the so-called “gender ideology”, interpreted as an ideology promoting homosexuality and other “non-traditional” sexual orientations, and which negates the right of parents to educate their children according to “traditional cultural values”.
Similar debates and actions have become much more visible in recent years as religiously oriented individuals and newly created non-governmental organizations have started to actively promote values based on Catholicism, though this mainly takes the form of attacks on what they see as threats to religious values in society. The cornerstone was the action done in 2013 when the newly started organization, “In the Name of Family”, collected enough of citizens signatures to hold the Constitutional referendum on the definition of marriage. Its aim was to prevent the Government from giving additional rights to same-sex partnerships which have existed in Croatia since 2003. The referendum was held on December 1st, 2013 and although only 37.9 % of citizens voted, it was valid according to the law. Due to the referendum results, the Constitution was changed to include the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman. Still, the Government passed a new Law on the Life Union of Same-Sex Partnership in 2014, by which they were granted some additional rights, although not the right to adopt children.

D 22 August 2017    ASiniša Zrinščak

2016

2016: 100 years of recognition of Islam as an official religion in Croatia
Under the auspices of the Croatian Parliament, the 100 years of the recognition of Islam as an official religion in (...)

2016: 100 years of recognition of Islam as an official religion in Croatia

Under the auspices of the Croatian Parliament, the 100 years of the recognition of Islam as an official religion in Croatia have been celebrated in Croatia. The Law on the recognition of Islam came into force on 27 April 1916, after being drafted by the Parliament of Croatia. The law followed similar laws passed in Austria in 1912, and in Hungary in 1916, as Croatia has been a part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire until the end of the World War I.

Although being a minority (according to the 2011 census, there were 1.43% of Muslims in Croatia), the Islamic community is an equal and fully recognised religious community. Its legal position is today regulated by the Law on Legal Position of Religious Communities and by the Agreement signed between the Islamic Community and the Government of the Republic of Croatia in 2002. By this agreement, the Islamic Community enjoys a range of rights, such as the right to organize confessional education in public schools, the right to establish their own schools, educational, cultural, and social institutions which are recognized and co-funded by the state, the official recognition of the religious marriage, chaplaincy in military and police forces, the right to attend school or not during religious holidays, etc. (see Legal status of religions).

It should be noted also that Muslims, mainly originating from the neighbouring countries Bosnia and Herzegovina, have the same language and culture as any other citizen. Thus, Islam does not provoke public controversies, as is the case in some other EU countries.

D 15 December 2016    ASiniša Zrinščak

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