Author: Darko Markušić

In principle, everyone supports human rights, but in practice, LGBT issues are not particularly popular /// Politicians’ general perception is that advocating LGBT rights can gain them very votes and take away a lot of them /// The left is more supportive of same-sex unions, the right is less inclined to oppose them, and the radical right has no strength to deal with the ‘disease’

Even though Article 14 of the Croatian Constitution clearly states that “all persons in the Republic of Croatia are equal before the law and that regardless of their race, gender … political or other beliefs or characteristics shall enjoy equal rights and freedoms”, when it comes to the right to express one’s sexuality many people seem to forget the cited provision of the Constitution.

Article 35 of the Constitution states that “respect for and legal protection of each person’s private and family life, dignity, reputation shall be guaranteed”; Article 40 states that “freedom of conscience and religion and the freedom to demonstrate religious or other convictions shall be guaranteed”; and Article 42 guarantees “the right to public assembly and peaceful protest, in compliance with law”.

Furthermore, Article 62 defines marriage as “a living union between a woman and a man”, while Article 16 states that “freedoms and rights may be curtailed by law in order to protect the freedoms and rights of others, the legal order, and public morals and health”.

These constitutional provisions are usually cited when discussing the rights of LGBT persons (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender), depending on the interlocutor’s political background.

At the level of principle there are no parliamentary (or even non-parliamentary) political parties that openly endorse violations of human rights of citizens or religious, national and other minorities. But when the topic of LGBT rights comes up, it immediately becomes evident that it’s not a particulary appealing or popular topic. The general attitude is that it brings very few points or votes, and that it can even be seen negatively.

On the Croatian political scene, parties of the left political spectrum are traditionally more vocal about the protection of human, civil and minority rights, so it follows that the representatives of those parties (SDP, HNS, IDS…) are also more openly supportive of the rights of the LGBT population. But, despite the fact that during SDP’s coalition governments (from Ivica Račan to Zoran Milanović) specific legal solutions concerning the choice of lifestyle and rights of same-sex unions provided minimal legal protection to same-sex partners, even those parties were not too inclined to foreground LGBT issues.

Milanović’s SDP failed (to be fair, they didn’t try very hard in the first place) to resist conservative NGOs’ agenda spearheaded by U ime obitelji (In the Name of the Family) and personified by Željka Markić, who used the referendum on marriage to defend the heterosexual exclusivity of this union and provide it with constitutional protection.

Some prominent left-wing politicians, from members of the government and the parliament to mayors and police ministers, such as former SDP’s Ranko Ostojić or Šime Lučin, expressed their position by showing their public support for pride parades in the largest Croatian cities.

On the other hand, the most significant right, conservative, political parties – from the Croatian Democratic Union to the Croatian Peasant Party – in recent years find themselves at the other end of the spectrum. Although declaratively supporting human rights, with few rare exceptions of people who do not have too much power within these parties and are often labelled as “pro-European, there are almost no recorded statements that would link human rights with LGBT persons. For conservative politicians in Croatia it is as if the rights of homosexual unions did not exist at all.

Conservative political parties that are targeting the less educated and religiously active population – such as the Croatian Peasant Party – publically express their determination to defend traditional values such as the family, and in that context there is obviously no place for same-sex unions or the equality of homosexual persons. It is more about tolerance out of necessity, since it is not acceptable, at least not openly, to incite violence.

On the right side of the political spectrum there are, of course, even more radical parties that perceive homosexuality as a disease and unwanted behaviour. It is safe to assume that they, shoud they find themselves in the position of power, might use less democratic methods in dealing with minority groups. It is sufficient to recall that homosexuality was prohibited in both totalitarian systems of the 20th century – same-sex sexual orientation meant death and/or being sent to the concentration camp in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia or Tito’s Yugoslavia. The Soviet Union was somewhat more liberal only at the beginning, in Lenin’s time, but even in theory the founders of Marxism (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels) condemned homosexuality in Ancient Greece.

Croatia’s advantage and the civilization level of even today’s traditional Croatia is the fact that such political parties cannot enter parliament independently or pass the threshold. But, in a coalition with larger parties, their members can still become representatives, deputy speakers or other officials, whereby it becomes difficult for them to conceal their undemocratic attitudes.

Croatian mainstream media (leading print media and TV stations) tackle the issue of same-sex unions only sporadically and in a dramatic way. Their attention is drawn to sensational topics – from parades and festivals to research and occasional incidents. Scandalous equals interesting, so it is more important which politician came to the pride parade and who used threats of violence than what the European standards regarding human and minority rights are or what are some of the examples of affirmative action in the world.

The best example of the media’s relationship to this topic are the results of the survey on high school students’ attitudes published in September 2015 in major Croatian, primarily print, newspapers. The sample consisted of 1146 high school seniors, of which almost every other student (48 percent) stated that homosexuality was a type of disorder or illness. This shocking statement ended up in all headlines and announcements even though there were many other statements that revealed a disappointingly low level of general knowledge and education (every fourth respondent was able to identify the current Prime Minister, and every fifth respondent knew which party was currently in power), but, apparently, the media did not find that equally shocking. Thus, issues related to same-sex unions are not particularly interesting to the average Croatian newspaper reader, or at least this is what the editors and publishers believe, unless, of course, the story is scandalous, at the level of a circus attraction. This fact is not alleviated by occasional positive articles about real-life problems and discrimination facing the LGBT community (generally written by freelance journalists) which, more often than not, do not make their way into the mainstream meadia.

Such a cold and predatory relationship of the media to the issue of LGBT rights is certainly not aided by the fact that there isn’t a single politician or parliamentary/presidential candidate who in their election campaign highlighted this issue as relevant or let alone publicly declared themselves as a member of the LGBT population.