Croatia’s President and Prime Minister condemned violence at a gay pride parade on Saturday, while a party leader pointed fingers at Roman Catholic priests’ messaging during the Pope’s recent visit as a catalyst for the violence against gays and lesbians and their allies.
Just one day after the European Commission green lighted Croatia for European Union admission in 2013, violence marred Split, Croatia’s first LGBT Pride March, instigated by at least 4,000 to include as many as 10,000 violent protesters, who pounced upon 200 LGBT marchers by throwing fists, firecrackers, bottles and rocks, some wielded cigarette lighters, threw tomatoes and tear gas by a virulently anti-gay opposition, who came prepared to disrupt the first gay event in the notorious nationalist right-wing stronghold of 1,700-year old Split, Croatia.
Croatia’s President Ivo Josipovic condemned the violence and was joined by Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor, reports Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty this morning, Josipovic, the first Croatian president to formally endorse nationanl gay pride and LGBT rights last year, said that Split protesters have ”shown that there are some non-European parts of our society and that the violence in Split was ”not Croatia’s real face.”
Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor warned that violence and hatred were “something that cannot be tolerated in Croatia.”
Last year, Josipovic became the first president in Croatian history to endorse and express his support for the national LGBT Pride celebration.
The Split-Dalmacia police department announced in a press conference following the Pride event that 137 persons were arrested, including 25 minors, and eight people required medical attention for injuries sustained, mostly members of the working, press, including a RTL cameraman, who suffered a concussion when hit with a brick and called a “Jew”.
News organizations are also reporting this morning in Croatia Green Party leader Aljoša Babic is calling for the resignation of Tomislav Karamarko, the Minister of Internal Affairs, “because of the shameful conduct of police and security during Split Gay Pride.”
Babic added, “The Croatian tax payers do not pay the police to witness the scenes we’ve seen today in Split. [These] events are the result of recent homophobic statements which were communicated by priests during the recent visit of the Pope.”
UK Gay News reports several “Croatian bishops have condemned what they call “unnatural families,” their term for same-sex headed households.
Babic also criticized President Ivo Josipović and Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor for not condemning the Vatican’s homophobic messages which were reported by the media, according to Babic.
Croatia, a deeply devout Roman Catholic country has historically had a nearly symbiotic relationship with with the Church that dates back to its darkest chapter during World War II while under occupation by the German Third Reich. Cardinal Aloysius Stepinac, a known collaborator and supporter of the ”Ustashe,” a Croatian nationalist movement that served as brutal proxies for the Nazis. Despite his conviction for war crimes in 1946, Stepanac was beatified by Pope John Paul II, putting him on th p ath to “sainthood” (more on the Ustashe later).
Aloysius Stepanac was convicted of war crimes in 1946 and served 16 years in prison at hard labor.
Also condeming the violence was Amnesty International, who was the first international human rights organization,who said the violence was unacceptable. “The Croatian authorities need to act to stop this happening in future,” said Nicola Duckworth, the human right group’s director for Europe and Central Asia, urging an immediate investigation and punishment for the attackers.
According to Pride organizers, the parade participants totalled 200 people, mostly from Split, who were supported by 30 marchers from Belgrade, Serbia; Ljubljana, Slovenia; the Netherlands, among other European cities.
With extensive police barricades in place along the parade route, police reportedly deployed 400 uniformed officers and unknown numbers of officers in plain clothes, although Croatian LGBT activists criticized the government agencies who were responsible for maintaining public safety.
Police in full-riot gear, were outmatched by thousands of full-throated opposition, many of whom screamed “kill the gays,” “kill the Serbs,” and “kill the gypsies,” repeatedly. Signs carried by LGBT activists said “Lesbians are okay,” Lesbians Against Fascism,” and “My Partner, My Lover,” among others were defiantly displayed by the small minority.
In a report by Croatian Nacional newspaper, Sanja Juras, of the Croatian Lesbian group, Kontra, addressed the audience from the rally stage near the Split waterfront and accused police of not adequately protecting the protesters, consequently people were injured.
“State institutions have not done their job properly, and today’s rally in Split reflects that LGBT rights are not guaranteed legal rights in Croatia,” Juras said.
Also speaking at the rally were European Parliament member Marije Coruielssen of the Netherlands, a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, Linda Frieman, co-chair of the European division of the International Lesbian and Gay Association, LGBT activists from Slovenia, the first and only Former Yugoslav republic to have joined the EU and, activists from Serbia, another Balkan country which has experienced at least a decade of violence against LGBT human rights activists who have yet to march, without significant violence occurring in Belgrade.
The violence against LGBT people in Split, Zagreb, Belgrade and Sarajevo did not manifest from a vacuum. Wars were fought three times during the 20th century in the Balkans which have planted seeds of deep emnity, transmitted intergenerationally by members of ethnic groups and religious faiths–leaving scars all around that remain tangible in the body politic and cultural memory.
Croatia fought two wars in the 1990s, led by extreme nationalist Franjo Tudjman, who merged his rule with an insurgent and nationalistic Roman Catholic Church, against former Yugoslavia, eventually securing independence from Belgrade, long imagined and sought for throughout the 20th century. Croatia fought a bloody war against Serbia, eventually repelling Serb forces who invaded Croatia in 1991.
Croatia later joined forces with the Bosnian Muslim-Croat Federation. who had declared independence from Belgrade in March 1992. Croatia and Bosnia jointly fought the Serbs who were pushed to stop the war by American diplomat Richard Holbrooke. The parties signed a peace agreement in Dayton, Ohio in 1995 . Many horrible war crimes, including genocide and crimes against humanity, rape, torture and enslavement, occurred during the course of these wars, committed disproportionately by Serbian, Bosnian Serb and Croatian military and paramilitary members, many of whom have been prosecuted by the International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY).
But the recent wars are emotionally layered and political charged by unresolved events that occurred during World War II. Croat nationalists established the Croat Revolutionary Movement, also known as the “Ustashe” who committed some of the worst excesses of World War II in its heinous and banal collaboration with Nazi Germany’s Third Reich. These sordid events transpired during the Axis Powers occupation and annexation of Croatia (including the Split area) and of Bosnia and Herzegovina as far east as Banja Luka, the present capital the Bosnian Serb entity.
According to many historical accounts, Archbishop Stepanac was a partner and collaborator with the Ustashe government. He supported the Ustashi Government from the beginning until the end. Indeed, even after Ustashi Croatia collapsed following the disintegration of Nazi Germany. Stepinac was not only the Head of the Council of Croatian Bishops and of the committee which carried out a policy of forcible conversions, he was none other than the Supreme Military Apostolic Vicar of the Ustashi Army, which is a major symbol of the Roman Catholic Church.
When Ustashi Croatia fell in 1945 as a result of the defeat of Nazi Germany and Ante Pavelic, the leader of the government ran for his life, Archbishop Stepinac, in a futile effort to save the regime, succeeded him as leader of the Ustashi Croatia. Stepinac ordered special ceremonies in all the Catholic churches on Pavelic’s birthday, and he frequently invoked prayers for the Ustashi.
Marshall Tito, who led the Partisan communisist in a civil war against the Croats and the Serb Chetniks, of the Serbian Renewal Movement, eventually defeating both parties and supported efforts by Allied Forces who invaded Italy and drove the Nazis from the Balkans. Tito formed the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia that he governed until his death in 1980.
Since 1995, Croatia has been working its way toward achieving peace, interrupted at times on its path to Europe, which took a considerable leap when Tudjman died in 1999. Through a series of good fortune and electing less nationalistic governments (although corruption remains an endemic problem for Croatia and throughout the region) that rid itself of the hardline political party Croatian Democratic Union and has worked assiduously during the past six years toward achieving required legal and financial reforms necessary for European Union accession.
EU accession requires the decriminalization of existing sodomy laws and adoption of anti-discrimination laws, including employment anti-discrimination protection. This leverage over the accession process has advanced LGBT organizing throughout hte Balkans to mitigated success.
But it has always been two steps forward, one step back for Croatia, whose efforts to arrest war criminals has been resisted by many in the populace, who view some of these generals as “heroes”. In April two former Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac were sentenced for war crimes committed in 1995. Gotovina had been a fugitive for many years when he was arrested in Spain in 2006, although thousands turned out in Split in protest over his extradition to ICTY.
Thus last Friday, the European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announced that “today is a special day for Croatia and for the European Union.“ Barroso also said: ”At this significant moment, I would like to applaud the Croatian authorities for their hard work over the last years. Even more importantly, I would like to congratulate the people of Croatia. Joining the EU family of nations is first and foremost your success!”
Tanya L. Domi is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, who teaches about human rights in Eurasia and is a Harriman Institute affiliated faculty member. Prior to teaching at Columbia, Domi worked internationally for more than a decade on issues related to democratic transitional development, including political and media development, human rights, gender issues, sex trafficking, and media freedom.
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