Report on Human Rights of Sexual and Gender Minorities in the Republic of Croatia for 2003 

1. Introduction

Compared to the previous year, in 2003, the position of sexual and gender minorities in the Republic of Croatia improved considerably.  The greatest improvement concerning the protection of sexual and gender minority rights was made in legislation.  For the first time, sexual orientation was explicitly recognized as a separately identified group liable to specific kind of discrimination.
Due to the public appearance of NGO representatives and public figures, there was an increase of social awareness in Croatia, which led to a certain decrease in discrimination.

2.    Legislation

Anti-discriminatory regulations which prohibit any kind of discrimination based upon sexual orientation are included in the following laws:

Law on Labor
Direct or indirect discrimination of a person seeking employment or an employee on the grounds of sexual orientation is against the law. Discrimination is prohibited regarding:
–    employment conditions (including criteria and conditions in selecting a candidate in all fields of work and all levels of professional hierarchy)
–    promotion, access to all types and levels of professional education, additional training and retraining
–    employment and work conditions, as well as all rights concerning employment, including equal pay
–    notice of dismissal
–    right to membership and activity in associations of workers or employers, or in any kind of professional organization, including any benefits of such membership.

The decisions of legislators to introduce terminology defining direct and indirect discrimination, which will increase the scope of protection against discrimination, are particularly welcomed.

Law on Sexual Non-Discrimination
Prohibition of discrimination, as well as the encouragement of other persons towards discrimination, motivated by a person's sexual orientation.  This law also prohibits public presentation of men and women in an offensive, deprecatory or humiliating way in regards to their gender or sexual orientation.

We express our regrets that the latest Law on Media does not comply with the Law on Sexual Non-Discrimination, and its regulations regarding the media.  Since it is expected that the new Law will enter into another procedure in the Parliament because of a procedural error, we call upon the Ministry of Culture and the Croatian Parliament to  reconcile the Law on the Media with the Law on Sexual Non-Discrimination.

Law on Scientific Work and Higher Education.
Universities, two-year colleges and institutions of higher education must define the procedures of admittance of candidates in a manner which guarantees the equal rights of all candidates, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Schoolbook Standards
Schoolbooks must not include discriminatory content and must reject intolerance or any negative portrayal of individuals or social groups with respect to their gender, age, sexual orientation, racial, ethnic or religious affiliation, lifestyle, political orientation, social or economic background, or psychological or physical impairments.

Criminal Law
Amendments of the Criminal Law Act should include a regulation directed towards those who produce, sell, import or export, or publicize by the use of IT technology and networks, or any other manner, and possess a large quantity of marketing material which promotes fascist, Nazi, or other totalitarian states, organizations or ideologies that advocate, promote, or encourage hate, discrimination or violence against any individual or group, on the grounds of the differences in their sexual orientation.

The Constitutional Court of Croatia has completely annulled amendments to the Criminal Law because of a procedural error which occurred during the enactment.  Thus, a law which does not recognize sexual orientation as a method of identifying a separate unit, subject to discrimination, is still in use.
Our associations express a great deal of concern regarding the fact that the Criminal Law continues to fail to protect sexual minorities in any adequate way;  i.e., it does not provide them with special protection in cases of physical assaults.  On a number of occasions we warned the former government's Ministry of Law, as well as local authorities, that Article 106 (denial or restriction of freedom or rights for persons and citizens established under the Constitution, legislation or other regulations) as well as Article 174 (racial and other forms of discrimination) of the Criminal Law must explicitly address sexual orientation, as well.  Unfortunately, our suggestions were rejected.  This lack of acknowledgement enables assailants to be charged for assaults against sexual minorities only on the grounds of public disturbance, instead of being charged for overt hate against sexual minorities, as well.

Law on Same-Sex Marriages
This Law holds special importance for sexual minorities in Croatia, because it would be the first law to regulate (and, thus, legally establish) the existence of same-sex relationships; i.e. marriages.  We see this enactment as an important step towards a complete cessation of discrimination against same-sex couples.  It is important to state here that we are addressing only the alleviation of discrimination against homosexual persons, since same-sex couples have gained only 2 out of 27 rights which married couples possess. (The two rights are the right for support and the right for common possessions). We also welcome the strong anti-discriminatory regulations embedded into this Law.  However, as a whole, this Law is just a formal act that requires a broader foundation in the shortest possible term.

Law on Granting Asylum
On numerous occasions, our associations have insisted that the Law on Granting Asylum include the possibility of gaining asylum in the Republic of Croatia on the grounds of discrimination involving sexual orientation.  We regretfully inform that our suggestions were rejected, with the explanation that sexual orientation is included implicitly in the term special social group affiliation.

The legal amendments in question represent an important prerequisite for the abolishment of discrimination against sexual minorities.  Inarguably, it remains to be seen in what way the aforementioned laws function in practice.  The fact that a vast majority of homosexual persons still fear to seek protection granted under these enacted laws underscores the continuing presence of an atmosphere of uncertainty for sexual minorities, one where a free life remains inaccessible for them in Croatia.

3. Cooperation with State Institutions and Government Bodies

During the process of lobbying and performing other activities by our associations, we have come into contact with various state institutions.  An appropriate level of communication has been established with the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, Croatian Government, the Croatian Parliament, the Parliamentary Committee for the Protection of Human Rights, the Parliamentary Committee for the Equality of Sexes, the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Healthcare and the Ministry for European Integration.  Further, the institutions mentioned have displayed openness towards addressing the needs of sexual minorities.

Despite our best efforts, we encountered significant problems forming any communication with, first of all, the Ministry of Education.  We received no reply whatsoever to our numerous official letters.  The Ministry also turned a deaf ear to our requests for a meeting with officials of the Ministry.  Such behavior is seen as utterly alarming, because by ignoring the needs of one part of the citizenry, the (former) Ministry violated the laws of Croatia and undermined the basic values of democratic society.  Communication was never successfully established with the Ministry of Justice either, nor with the Parliamentary Committee for Families, Youth and Sports.

4. Political Parties

The attitudes of political parties towards sexual minorities vary. From parliamentary parties, we received transparent support in relation to our demands from the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Liberal Party (LS), Libra, the Croatian People's Party (HNS), the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS), and a part of the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS).  The parties listed above, as a rule, supported and stood up for legislative acts in the Croatian Parliament which protect sexual minorities in Croatia. Communication was also established with the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), though, in the Parliament, this party never openly supported the rights of sexual minorities.

The parties which completely refused to communicate with our associations were the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS), the Croatian Party of Rights (HSP), the Croatian Christian Democratic Union (HKDU), the Croatian Bloc (HB) and the Democratic Center (DC).

A comparative analysis of party manifestos shows that, among all parliamentary parties, only the Liberal Party (LS) includes the rights of sexual minorities in their formal agenda.

We express a special concern because of the misusage of issues concerning the rights of sexual and gender minorities for political purposes during election campaigns. This was clearly seen in the case involving pressure that the Croatian Bishop Conference placed upon the voters, calling for them “not to vote for those who promote same-sex marriages”.  In another case, the Croatian Peasant Party (HSS) based its promotional campaign, among other things, on the motto that “if it wasn’t for HSS, we would have same-sex marriages sanctioned in city halls today”.  In addition to the fact that such statements reflect the low degree of democratic awareness within HSS, it is also the case that they are simply untrue.  In other words, HSS cannot claim to possess “merit” for preventing the institutionalization of homosexual marriages, because such a bill was never proposed by any party.  HSS’s “merit” lies solely in the fact that a regulation on same-sex marriages was extracted from the bill for the Law on Families, Marriages and Common-Marriages.  Therefore, their merit is that same-sex marriages were regulated by another, well-founded Law on Same-Sex Marriages, instead of a previous bill belonging to the Law on Families, Marriages and Common-Law Marriages.

At a round table held by our Legal Team, only the Liberal Party (LS) explicitly supported the adoption of children by same-sex partners.

The majority of political parties in Croatia refuses to recognize the rights of sexual minorities as a part of their own sphere of interests.  Proof can be seen in research performed by the Ženska soba and Iskorak associations, which sent out a questionnaire on the rights of sexual minorities to 79 political parties. Only 8 parties (HKDS, HNS, the Croatian Liberation Movement – HOP, HSLS, LS, SDP and the Green Left of Croatia – ZEL) responded to the questionnaire.

This research clearly demonstrates a continuing support for the rights of sexual minorities on the part of HSLS, SDP, LS, HNS and ZEL; HSS was neutral, whereas HKDS and HOP were strongly opposed.

It is interesting that the parties opposing the rights of sexual minorities state as one of their strongest arguments that this kind of sexual orientation is a "mental disorder" (HOP) or a "deviation of human nature" (HKDS). Our associations express their deepest concern over the fact that certain political parties still talk about homosexuality as if it was a pathology, thus, contributing to the further stigmatization of sexual minorities.

5. Media

As a rule, the majority of the Croatian press and electronic media began to write about and report on the needs and rights of sexual minorities from a more objective viewpoint than it has in the past. This claim is supported by research performed by Lesbian organization Rijeka – LORI, which monitored press media writings during a portion of the year of 2003. However, here we are highlighting events regarding the media that we believe contribute to the discrimination of sexual minorities.

We would like to remind the public that Croatian Television (HTV) continues to refuse to broadcast the Lesbian group Lori video Ljubav je ljubav (Love is love), which aims to promote homosexuals’ rights.  The video was broadcast only on one occasion on Croatian Television (HTV), on the show Nedjeljom u dva (Sundays at two), on personal initiative and to the responsibility of the editor, Aleksandar Stankovi?.  The silent decision by HTV not to broadcast the aforementioned video, represents for us a harsh form of discrimination of sexual minorities in Croatia, because, in this way, the Croatian public is prevented from being educated on sexual minorities' rights.

Further, we welcome HTV’s special decision to include, during the course of the Queer Zagreb festival, two films (“Beautiful Thing” and “Happy Together”) that deal with gay identity issues. However, these films were broadcast during late-night slots, thus, sending out a message that those films are for “certain audiences only”.

We find it unacceptable to provide media space to individuals who use their alleged expert knowledge in order to stigmatize homosexual persons.  An example for that could be found in the daily newspaper, Ve?ernji list, which invited Mr. Vladimir Gruden to answer readers’ questions on homosexuality. We have pointed out to the editor-in-chief of Ve?ernji list that Mr. Gruden’s viewpoints were in contrast with the findings of contemporary science. This claim was confirmed by the Croatian Physicians’ Chamber of Medical Ethics and Deonotology Committee in their response to our appeal regarding Mr. Gruden’s public appearances. Their letter concludes that “Mr. Gruden was obliged to clearly state that his viewpoints were in contrast with the opinion of the Croatian Psychiatrists’ Association, and, moreover, he was obliged, as a scientist, to respect the empirical truth.  We welcome the efforts of the Croatian media to educate their readers on homosexuality, but we expect them to publish more reliable and scientifically proven facts on homosexuality.”

We would like to draw to attention the writings of a weekly magazine, Glas Koncila, which persistently stigmatizes and deprecates sexual minorities, sometimes even using “hate speech”. This paper creates especially difficult situations for religious homosexual persons, as well as young people in general, as it manipulates the issue of homosexuality and presents its readers with untruths.

The same can be said for the columns of Mr Živko Kusti? in the daily newspaper, Jutarnji list, in which he has deliberately and repeatedly stated numerous untruths, especially during the course of debate regarding the Law on same-sex marriages.  

Our corrections, sent to Jutarnji list in accordance with the former Law on Public Informing, were never published; neither was the correction addressed to Ve?ernji list after Prof. Gruden’s public statements.  We are sending a message to the media that it’s their duty to abide by the regulations on publishing corrections in the press. In further similar situations, we will have no other choice than to address the Croatian Journalist Association Honor Committee and other relevant state institutions.

6. Homophobia in Statements of Public Figures

In the year of 2003, a number of certain public figures made discriminatory statements against sexual minorities.  We must express a special concern for a discourse that took place in the Croatian Parliament during the course of debate on the Law on Same-Sex Marriages and the Law on Granting (Political) Asylum.  Such speeches were mostly made by now former MP's, Mr. Anto Kova?evi? (Croatian Christian Democratic Party – HKDS), Mr. Ljubo ?esi? Rojs (Croatian Democratic Union – HDZ) and Mrs. Ljubica Lali? (Croatian Peasant Party – HSS). Even though certain statements by MP's were extremely offensive to sexual minorities, the MP's were not sanctioned by the president of the Parliament; instead, as a rule, the Parliament reacted to their statements with “amusement”. We strongly hope that such scenes will not be seen again in the Croatian Parliament.
Outside the Parliament, and in various media, homophobic attitudes were displayed by Ivi? Pašali? and the former President of the Croatian Parliament, Zlatko Tom?i?. We find it disturbing that the former President of the Croatian Parliament uses the discrimination of sexual minorities in his election campaign as his trump card for parliamentary elections (e.g., “if it wasn’t for the HSS, we would have same-sex marriages sanctioned in city halls today”).

The presence of homophobia in the area of sports could be seen in the statements of Croatian Soccer Representation Coach, Otto Bari? (e.g., “I am not saying that a homosexual cannot be an excellent player, but I couldn’t have a player like that on my team.  I would have to replace either him or myself.”).

We would like to single out a statement by Mrs. Dubravka Hrabar, Professor and Zagreb Law School principal, who stated among other things that "homosexual marriages are unnatural”, in her interview for the daily newspaper, Vjesnik.  A similar attitude was expressed by Mrs. Aleksandra Kora?, a Professor,  in her interview with Glas Koncila.

Antun Laslo, President of Slavonia Peasants' Association Union, has, on numerous occasions, publicly warned authorities against giving media space in support of sexual minorities' rights, almost as if he was running an election campaign himself.

7. Violence and discrimination towards sexual minorities

Violence against sexual minorities is still a common occurrence in Croatian society.  Different forms of violence range from psychological to physical assaults.  The real number of violent events is almost impossible to estimate, for the primary reason of the lingering fear that sexual minorities feel due to social stigmatization when they need to report assaults.  Our associations have been informed about ten physical assaults on gay people, only two of which have been reported to the police.  After this year’s Zagreb Pride 2003, the parade leader was verbally assaulted.  The police were informed about the case and they caught the assailants.  This case is currently in court.
The cause of the violence that arose after the end of the Queer Zagreb event continues to remain unclear.  What happened was that on May 1, 2003, the police reported that a young man broke into the premises of Studentski centar (Student Center), where a part of the Queer Zagreb program was held, and demolished most of the inventory. Even though the police say that he was not a member of any skinhead group, nor that the assault was in any way motivated by the fact that the Queer Zagreb Festival was held there, there are strong indications that the case was connected to the festival mentioned. We are also concerned by the frequent occurrence of psychological violence inflicted upon young homosexual individuals by their parents, who ground them or deny them material resources.

A great amount of media attention was given to the murder of the priest Mijo Stijepi?.  Since there are indisputable indications that the victim was a homosexual, we think it very important to analyze this case, so that the motives for the crime are established; i.e., was it a case of murder for gain or a hate crime against sexual minorities. During the course of the murder investigation, we received information that the local police in Zadar held official interviews with members of the so-called “Zadar homosexual milieu”, thus putting homosexuals into unpleasant situations.  A large part of the homosexual population still keeps their sexual orientation hidden from the public eye; therefore, calling in individuals for official interviews could have put people into uncomfortable positions and exposed them to the possibility of social stigmatization.  This fact raised suspicions about the existence of a possible “database of homosexuals” within the Ministry of Home Affairs.  The former Minister of Home Affairs, Šime Lu?in, has, in response to our inquiry, denied the existence of such a database.  In addition, we have to express our discontent about certain representatives of the Catholic Church repeatedly trying to obstruct the investigation.

Within the area of education of the young, we must point to a discriminatory document distributed by the Ministry of Education.  Namely, on September 8, 2003, the Ministry of Education issued a document named “Catholic Religious Teaching Program for Primary Schools”, which has been in use since the school year 2003/2004.  The 8th grade curriculum of that program included teaching instruction on aspects of human sexuality. The teachers' instructions for the program unit included, among other things, “…debate on wholesome meaning and the relationship between the notions of “love” and “sex”, as well as an evaluation of the erroneous forms of sexuality (including homosexuality, prostitution, incest, transvestism…)”.

Placing homosexuality and transvestism into that context is a clear case of the use of scientifically unfounded information.  Homosexuality is by no means “an erroneous form of sexuality”, but a variation of human sexuality, one of the same value as heterosexuality, which has been confirmed by official Croatian institutions (e.g., Croatian Psychiatrists' Association and Croatian Physicians' Chamber).  Defining homosexuality and transvestism as “erroneous forms of sexuality” within the context of a religious educational program is in contradiction with a series of national and international laws which prohibit such discrimination and stand to protect the right in public education to true and accurate information.

At a time when there is no sexual education curriculum offered in primary schools, we find it completely unacceptable that this issue should be placed in the religious teaching program, especially because these actions explicitly discriminate against persons of homosexual orientation, with students being encouraged towards discrimination. The long-term consequences of such a program will be an increase instead of a reduction in the amount of discrimination against the LGBT population as a result of the spread of scientifically unfounded information which should be confined to its own circle of religious dogmatism.  Our associations have informed the Public Attorney’s Office for Sexual Equality about this matter, and we expect a prompt reaction to this issue.

Only two days before the Queer Osijek event, on April 27, the Head of the Student Center in Osijek, Pejo Pavlovi?, prevented the central part of the festival, a round table named “Homophobia in Croatia”, from taking place.  He felt frightened that the “Zagreb incident, when a half-million material damage occurred after a similar debate”, could be repeated at the Osijek Student Center (STUC). Notably, the organizers were presented with that explanation on the very first day of the festival.

The problems of sexual and gender minorities in Croatia can be placed within a broader international context. Last year, Amnesty International commented upon the assaults on visitors of the first Croatian Gay Pride event.  

8. Public events

In 2003, two major events concerning sexual minorities were held.  Queer Zagreb, held from April 25-30, 2003, was the first festival dealing with the culture of sexual minorities. This event is important for the promotion of the cultural rights of sexual minorities. We welcome the decision of local authorities, including the Ministry of Culture and Cultural Institutions, to support this event. Apart from Queer Zagreb, Queer Rijeka and Queer Osijek events were held as well.

In addition, a second sexual and gender minorities pride parade, Zagreb Pride 2003, was also held. This year, thanks to a large number of police officers, there were no assaults at the parade.

Such cooperation by the police proved to be very beneficial at these events. The issue that concerns us is that, unfortunately, intervening police forces must still actively serve to guard a book promotion, a film showing, a theatre play, or a peaceful citizens' protest march against violence in the Republic of Croatia.

9. Future Activities of the Legal Team

In order to protect human rights of sexual and gender minorities in Croatia in the best way possible, we openly call for:
The Croatian Parliament and Croatian Government to include the issue of sexual orientation in the Croatian Constitution. This action would set a path towards true equality of all the citizens of the Republic of Croatia.
Croatian Government to continue with efforts to foster the protection of sexual minorities in Croatia, especially in terms of introducing the Law on Registered Partnership for both homosexual and heterosexual partners, which would become equal in rights as married partners. In the same way, we expect that all of the anti-discriminatory regulations in Croatian legislation will place sexual minorities under protection as a separately identified group.
Proper authorities to diminish the level of discrimination against same-sex partners by passing a Law on Inheritance, so that they are given rights equal to those granted to heterosexual partners under common-law marriage.
The Croatian MP's to clearly implement in criminal legislation a ban against violence against sexual minorities.
The political parties to continue to stand up for LGBT population rights; i.e. to adjust their public appearances to civilized standards of behavior.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Sports to introduce sexual education into primary and secondary schools which would deal with the subject of sexuality and sexual minorities objectively, as well as to re-define the discriminatory program “Catholic Religious Teaching Program for Primary and Secondary Schools”
Croatian Television to start broadcasting the program entitled Ljubav je ljubav (Love is Love) as soon as possible; also, to include shows and films dealing with LGBT identities in its program more often. We expect these programs to be aired during timeslots that are more accessible by the general viewing audience.
Members of sexual minorities to use legal instruments in Croatia more frequently in order to fight for their rights, and protect and define their identities, as well.
Our Legal Team to open a legal help line, so that we can legally support LGBT persons even more effectively.
The authorities to recognize the rights and needs of transgender individuals, and to introduce a ban on every form of discrimination into Croatian legislation and the Constitution, including one concerning gender expression and identity.
The authorities to enable transsexual individuals to change their names and other relevant data in a legal manner.

Sanja Juras                                        
Coordinator of Kontra                          

Dorino Manzin
President of Iskorak