Croatian Conservatives Protest Against Anti-Violence Treaty

April 13, 2018
Protesters in Split rallied against the so-called Istanbul Convention – intended to prevent violence against women – expressing anger at Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, the EU and the Croatian political establishment.
A placard with the premier’s face and the slogan “Obmana” (“Deception”) at the protest. Photo: BIRN/Sven Milekic.

Over 10,000 protesters from all over Croatia, as well as from Bosnia and Herzegovina, gathered on Thursday evening in the centre of the coastal city of Split to protest against Zagreb’s upcoming ratification Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, widely known as the Istanbul Convention.

Protesters of all age groups, many displaying Catholic symbols, and including many Catholic priests and nuns, expressed their discontent with government’s intention to ratify the Convention. Many signs and speeches made references to Croatia’s 1990s war, citing it as a successful struggle for freedom.

Their slogans and placards focused on Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and his government, which they accused of rejecting more conservative voters’ views as well as succumbing to pressures from Brussels.

Protesters from Zagreb’s Dubrava neighborhood sing patriotic songs.

Many protesters carried placards of Plenkovic’s face that deliberately referenced the well-known ‘Hope’ poster from Barack Obama’s 2008 US presidential election campaign. Instead of “Obama”, the placards read “Obmana” (“Deception”), alleging that Plenkovic has betrayed voters.

Plenkovic and his government are accused of representing the views of their junior coalition partner, the centrist Croatian People’s Party, HNS, as well as the opposition centre-left Social Democratic Party, SDP.

According to a debate in the parliament on Wednesday, MPs will ratify the Convention with an overwhelming majority, as all major parties will support it. The opposition centre-right Bridge of the Independent Lists, MOST will be somewhat divided, while a few HDZ MPs will vote against the Convention.

Protesters criticised the entire Croatian political establishment, the EU, political representatives of ethnic minorities and the ‘mainstream media’.

Protesters from Dubrava chant “Treason”.

Protesters claim that the Convention will tamper with Croatian and Catholic traditions and beliefs, especially in its mention of gender. Protesters claim that there is no difference between sex and gender, and that the Convention is secretively introducing ‘gender ideology’ into the Croatian legal and educational system

However, the Croatia’s 2008 law against discrimination from 2008 already recognises gender as separate from sex, while certain Constitutional Court decisions and other legal documents also acknowledge this.

Protesters also claim that the Convention attempts to undermine Croatia’s sovereignty, as well as to introduce external bodies that will control Convention’s implementation that will be under the control of leftist activists.

The protest, organised by a civic initiative called Croatia against the Istanbul Convention, featured speeches from some well-known figures from the conservative arena, as well as unknown supporters of the cause.

Priests and nuns at the protest.

A few MPs joined the protest, including the former Culture Minister Zlatko Hasanbegovic and a colleague from his party, Bruna Esih.

Other well-known figures from Croatia’s conservative scene also joined the rally, such as Zeljka Markic, head of the conservative NGO In the Name of the Family, which successfully triggered a 2013 referendum on marriage.

The referendum ended with the majority of voters opting for the constitutional definition of marriage as strictly a union between a man and a woman.

“It is important that democratic processes in Croatia are turned around in the way that politicians respond to the people. The situation in which the HDZ party president [Plenkovic] represents the views of the HNS and SDP is not a healthy situation and democratic. I expect politicians in Croatia to listen to what their citizens are saying,” Markic told media.