THE STATE OF HUMAN RIGHTS OF SEXUAL AND GENDER MINORITIES IN THE REPUBLIC OF CROATIA IN THE YEAR 2002
   

The general state of affairs of the sexual and gender minorities' human rights in the Republic of Croatia in the year 2002 remains as bleak as it has been for the last 26 years (since 1977, when there was some improvement with the decriminalization of the criminal offence of “acts against nature” between men).
Yet, the year 2002 broke the silence of the LGBT  community in Croatia. The first months of the year were marked by the inauguration of a new organization Iskorak, with huge media attention focused on the organization’s representatives. Lesbian group Kontra directed its resources towards promoting lesbian culture and working closely with Iskorak on the organization of Gay Pride and various legal initiatives. This was followed by a strong media campaign for the advancement of the rights of homosexuals, which was launched by LORI, Lesbian Organization Rijeka. For the first time homosexuality became more than merely cause for scandal, brief news in the entertainment section, or an opportunity for moralizing ranting of the homophobic society.


The fundamental motivation for the discrimination of the LGBT population is ignorance, i.e. the fact that many people lack elementary sexual literacy. Experts believe that negative attitudes towards LGBT people stem from stereotyping and bias, rather than bad experience or any real threat. This is precisely why it is important to educate the general public and enable as many LGBT persons as possible to break the silence.

It is important to broaden the term human rights so that sexual rights are included as well. That is why it is important that the Constitution and other laws forbid any form of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. It is vital to legalize same-sex partnerships, and sensitize state institutions to a consistent and transparent enforcement of such laws; to disable the spreading of discrimination and hate speech, promote the right to sexual diversity and ensure the monitoring of media coverage of relevant topics; to speak out against the manipulation of religious feelings of the country's citizens for the purpose of spreading hate towards LGBT persons.

The failure to sanction the violence that followed the Gay Pride is the severest form of human rights violations in the Republic of Croatia in 2002, when it comes to sexual and gender minorities.

State of affairs in detail

Persons of homosexual orientation keep silent because they are subjected to homophobic behavior and can be subjected to verbal or physical attack, be thrown out of their flats or the family residence, lose their jobs, while at the same time lacking the rights granted on the basis of marriage or common-law marriage status.
There is no sanctioning of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender expression. If this were so, physical and verbal violence towards LGBT people would be recognized as a hate crime.
In case of a physical attack on a lesbian or a gay man, the law as it is today charges the perpetrator with disorderly conduct (as was the case with attacks against the Roma people). In such cases violence is regularly relativized. The passing of an antidiscrimination law would inspire some courage in LGBT people, as they would have formal footing in the legislation, and there would be special measures to prevent hate crime, primarily via education.
The Republic of Croatia does not enforce any positive measures as a means of systematically combating homophobia,  biphobia,  and transphobia,  as well as their consequences. The Croatian legislation still fails to recognize sexual orientation or gender expression as a separate minority identity, which requires adequate protection. However, there have been bills to such ends, but the Croatian Parliament has still not passed them.

Inappropriate media vocabulary

Homophobic reactions in Croatia are partly the result of a general lack of public
awareness concerning the rights of the LGBT population, which is characteristic of some of the media as well. Some papers regularly offer sensationalist coverage of the topic. For instance, Iskorak, Kontra, and Lori made a joint response to an article published in Vjesnik, which mentioned an attempted murder “in the gay milieu”; Vjesnik published the response. In the same vain, papers such as Jutarnji list, Ve?ernji list and Slobodna dalmacija, with their respective columnists Živko Kusti?, reverend Pavle Primorac and Josip Jovi?, have a history of publishing columns or readers’ letters which spread hostility and misinformation about homosexuality. The problem is not that such observations get to be published as well, but the readers should be made aware that they come from a certain perspective.
We would like to single out a Catholic paper Glas koncila, which – contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church – has been misleading its readers and spreading prejudice and hatred towards homosexuals.

Discrimination of homosexuals on the national television

Editor-in-chief of the Croatian national television (HTV), Jasna Ulaga Vali?, has attempted to prevent Dorino Manzin, the president of Iskorak – Group for the promotion and protection of various sexual orientations, from appearing in Aleksandar Stankovi?'s TV show “Nedjeljom u dva”, on the grounds that the show was political, and homosexuality could only be adequately discussed in HTV's scientific program.
We consider such argumentation to be the severest form of discrimination and a direct violation of human rights, which could only be made by a person with absolutely no knowledge or awareness of the problems the homosexual community faces in this society. The resistance of the editor-in-chief to Iskorak's president's appearance in the show “Nedjeljom u dva” is unfortunately yet another evidence of homophobia. It is intolerable that the editor-in-chief should deny the citizens of Croatia the right to information because of her own prejudice of the kind “homosexuality belongs to the scientific program”. 
We have accepted the proposition that homosexuality and other minority sexual identities be discussed in the scientific program too, and that medical experts have their say as well, but we reject the notion that this is the only acceptable way HTV can discuss the matter.
Following our reaction, Jasna Ulaga Vali? unconvincingly refuted such an interpretation of her decision. 

According to the information we received, the same editor-in-chief has for months been stalling the broadcasting of a video designed to promote the rights of homosexual people made by Lesbian Organization Rijeka LORI as part of their “Love Is Love” campaign.

Also, there is a noticeable amount of derogatory expressions used in the translations of foreign movies and TV series on HTV. It is customary to translate the generally accepted Croatian equivalent of the term “gay” with expressions the equivalent of “fairy”, “faggot”, or “homo”, which have derogatory connotations and thus mock men of homosexual orientation in Croatia. This is present to a lesser extent in the translations of Nova TV as well.

Discrimination of homosexuals and transgendered men in the army

In March 2002, Višnja Tafra, secretary to the Minister of Defense, mentioned that following the Manual for estimating the draftee’s ability to serve in the army, medical committees inquired about the draftees’ sexual orientation, and that homosexuals were not drafted.
It was only after the Parliamentary Committee on Human and National Minority Rights held a session on March 12, 2002, that the then-Minister of Defense Jozo Radoš refuted the claim that homosexuality constituted a reason for exemption from military service. However, he confirmed that according to the manual both transvestism and transsexuality were treated as disorders of sexual inclination and gender roles. We consider this to be intolerable discrimination of transgendered people, i.e. gender minorities.

Physical and verbal violence against sexual and gender minorities

Our organization has thus far received several reports of violence against LGBT people. Because of the high level of homophobia in this society, victims are in such cases afraid to report violence to the police. The last instance of such violence occurred at 5 am on Sunday, November 24, 2002, when several skinheads attacked and beat up two young men in Zagreb’s Branimir Street because they kissed in a street car.
According to our data, there have been some 25 physical attacks on homosexual persons; however, we estimate that the real number is at least four times as many. As a general rule, victims do not wish to report violence because they fear that their sexual orientation will be revealed. The situation is further complicated by the fact that sexual orientation is not recognized and adequately protected from discrimination within the country’s Criminal Justice Act.
Lesbians and gays experience physical, psychological and verbal violence within their families as well. Iskorak’s and Kontra’s Legal Team received several anonymous calls by gays reporting violence committed against them by their parents. In most cases this means various forms of house arrest and threats, but blows are included as well. Almost always, the victims are afraid to report the violence.
It is impossible to estimate the number of minors who suffered violence at the hands of their parents, but the numbers are most definitely devastating.
There is only one club in the Republic of Croatia where members of sexual minorities can bring their partners and not fear for their safety. It is also important to note that all public events in 2002 which advocated sexual minorities (weather they were book promotions, movie screenings, open lectures or other manifestations), had to have protection from special police forces. More than once this level of security proved justified.

Non-sanctioning of violence after the Gay Pride

On Saturday, June 29, 2002, the first Pride parade of sexual and gender minorities was held in Zagreb’s park Zrinjevac. Gay Pride Zagreb 2002 was entitled “Iskorak kontra predrasuda” (Stepping out against prejudice), and was jointly organized by Iskorak and Kontra.

Sometime around 9 am on the morning before the gathering unknown attackers beat up Mario Kova?, who was supposed to be Pride’s master of ceremonies, at Kvaternik Square and took his cell phone. Since he no longer dared to come to the gathering, his role was taken up by Vesna Teršeli? and Drago Pilsel. As the gathering progressed, homophobic opponents to Gay Pride rallied at the western side of Zrinjevac, yelling “Go to Serbia”, “Kill the Serb”, “Fags to concentration camps”, “Heil Hitler”, “Sieg heil”, “Die”, and “We are Aryan”, and then invoked the name of Franjo Tu?man. Some of them tried to jump over the iron fence put up at Zrinjevac, but were prevented from doing so. Throughout the gathering the police used video cameras to record it.
As the gathering was coming to an end, tear gas was thrown at the citizens assembled at Zrinjevac, which disperse them towards its eastern side.
Most citizens managed to leave the gathering peacefully, and security and police vehicles took the speakers to safety. However, it was then that the bullies started rounding the city center and attacking participants of the gathering, as well as passers-by. During and after the gathering, some twenty people were attacked and injured. The police brought in 27 disorderly persons (11 as a preventive measure, 10 for disorderly conduct, and 6 in order to establish their identity).
Several skinheads who threatened them and cursed them, which led to another police intervention, met the organizers of the manifestation, who after the gathering attempted to take the props to a van that was waiting for them in ?or?i? Street. The organizers left the gathering with the help of the police. 
Following the gathering, approximately twenty citizens were beaten up in about ten incidents. Net club Mama was attacked. According to Teodor Celakoski, manager of Mama, seven skinheads stormed into the club, receiving instructions on where to go via the cell phone. Upon their arrival, they started to harass people, asking them who had gone to the Gay Pride. They randomly chose three people and beat them up. After the gathering, nine attackers attacked the guests of Mo?varica in Tomi? Street. Most commentators agree that had it not been for the police cordon, the gathering would have ended in an explosion of violence.
After the gathering, only 27 people were charged – with a misdemeanor.
The failure to sanction the violence that followed the Gay Pride is the severest form of human rights violations in the Republic of Croatia in 2002, when it comes to sexual and gender minorities.

Appearances by public figures

Numerous public figures are responsible for inciting homophobia in 2002, from politicians and doctors to the representatives of religious communities.
From the ranks of the politicians, we would like to single out parliamentarians Jadranka Kosor, Anto ?api?, Anto Kova?evi?, Drago Krpina and Miroslav Roži?, whose statements concerning homosexuality do great injustice to the homosexual citizens of the Republic of Croatia, whereas it is their duty to work to everybody’s advantage.
We would also like to address public appearances by Dr. Vladimir Gruden, who persisted in spreading medical misinformation about homosexuality. In this Dr. Veridijana Pavlovic accompanied him. The two are self-promoters who offer people the possibility to “cure” homosexuality, a process that has hundreds of times proven fatal for the mental health of the persons in question. This is precisely why we consider their statements to be not merely untrue, but also extremely dangerous.
A handful of theologians and/or representatives of religious communities have also made statements that belittled or insulted homosexual, bisexual and transgendered citizens of the Republic of Croatia, and contrary to their religious teachings. We single out only some of them: D. D. Valentin Pozai?, Imam Ševko Omerbaši?, D. D. Adalbert Rebi? and Živko Kusti?.
When it comes to political parties, particularly homophobic outbursts came from the following parties: HDZ (Croatian Democratic Union), HSP (Croatian Party of Rights), HKDU (Croatian Christian Democratic Union), HB (Croatian Bloc) and HSS (Croatian Peasants’ Party).

Future perspectives and conclusion

In 2002 some progress was made. Apart from the fact that for the first time in Croatia lesbian and gay activists entered the public arena, and that the first Gay Pride was held, we especially wish to point out the legal initiatives that are currently undergoing parliamentary procedure.
The Labor Bill and the Gender Equality Bill explicitly forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Family, Marriage and Common Law Unions Bill is also in parliamentary procedure; it would enable same-sex couples to register their partnerships, and would grant them only 3 out of 24 rights that are secured by marriage.
Also, we would like to point out our co-operation and very good relations with the Ministry of the Interior during the organization of the Gay Pride. The police are showing a high degree of understanding for various civil initiatives, which was not the case during HDZ’s reign.
Most of the media were very affirmative when reporting on LGBT activism and the problems faced by homosexual, bisexual and transgendered persons. According to the poll from Iskorak’s web site (www.gay.hr), 56.1 per cent of respondents believe Jutarnji list showed most political correctness when reporting on LGBT activism; 31.5 per cent chose Novi list. Radio 101 and Obiteljski Radio also need to be singled out. Unlike the national television, the national radio station Hrvatski Radio awarded plenty of room to our activist work. 
The nongovernmental sector also offered support. Many organizations offered help and endorsed our initiatives. We wish to single out the following: Center for Peace Studies, Antiwar Campaign Croatia, Center for Women War Victims, Autonomous Women’s House, B.a.B.e., Croatian Helsinki Committee (HHO), Human Rights Committee Karlovac, Citizens’ Human Rights Committee, and Neo AFŽ.
Our activist work also received moderate support from the following political parties: LS (Liberal Party), IDS (Istrian Democratic Party), HNS (Croatian People’s Party), Libra, as well as some members of HSLS (Croatian Social Liberal Party).
As regards foreign embassies, we would especially like to single out our co-operation with the Royal Dutch Embassy and the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Croatia.
Numerous public figures gave unequivocal support to the struggle for the rights of sexual minorities. We particularly wish to note the public appearances and the work of Šime Lu?in, Minister of the Interior. Apart from him, our work and our rights received support from the following persons: ?ur?a Adleši?, Furio Radin, Aleksandar Štulhofer, Helena Štimac Radin, Sanja Kapetanovi?, Milanka Opa?i?, Zlatko Kramari?, Davorko Vidovi?, Gordana Sobol and Vesna Pusi?.
From the ranks of journalists who reported positively on the rights of LGBT people we single out the following: Merita Arslani, Toni Jerkovi? and Tanja Toli? (Jutarnji list); Nataša Papi? and Aleksandar Stankovi? (HTV); Tina Disopra and Tomislav Klauški (Slobodna Dalmacija), and Irena Frlan (Novi list).

In hope that next year we will be able to make a much more positive report on the state of human rights of sexual and gender minorities, we are sending this report to:

–    The Government of the Republic of Croatia;
–    Parliamentary Committee on Human and National Minority Rights;
–    President of the Republic of Croatia Stjepan Mesi?;
–    Council of Europe;
–    The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE);
–    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR).

Sanja Juras
Coordinator of Kontra  

Dorino Manzin
President of Iskorak