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news 02 Dec 13

Croatian PM Denounces Anti-Gay Marriage Vote

Zoran Milanovic says Sunday’s referendum was just a steppingstone to another vote curbing the rights of the Serbian community.

Boris Pavelic
BIRN
Zagreb

Officials in Croatia are mulling the consequences of Sunday’s gay marriage referendum, where 66 per cent of those who voted backed a call to change the wording of the constitution to restrict marriage to unions of men and women. Thirty-four per cent voted against the proposal.

Croatia’s disappointed centre-left Prime Minister, Zoran Milanovic, said the vote appeared “just a preparation” for another referendum that would curb the rights of ethnic minorities.
 
A group of veterans of the independence war of the 1990s, called “Headquarters for Croatian Vukovar”, said it had already collected enough signatories to call a referendum on whether to limit the rights of ethnic minorities to public and official use of minority languages and script.

Current law says a minority has the right to official use of its language and script if it comprises at least a third of the population in a given area. Veterans of the conflict with Serbia - who especially oppose use of the Serbian Cyrillic script - want that changed to 50 per cent.

“The anti-gay referendum was just a preparation for an anti-Cyrillic [script] referendum - but this one won’t be held, regardless of how many signatories the organizers collect,” Milanovic vowed on Sunday.

“This was the last referendum in which a majority limits the rights of a minority,” he continued.

Milanovic said the government intended to pass a law on civil partnerships “in a week or two” that would still give “all couples, regardless of sex orientation, the same rights”.

Adopting a more moderate tone, President Ivo Josipovic, who also opposed the vote, said the results “aren’t a surprise”.

The result had to be respected, he added, expressing the hope that it would not cause additional divisions in society.

Josipovic also expressed the hope that the constitutional ban on same-sex marriage would not prevent a “fair” legal framework for same-sex couples. “The rights of all citizens must be protected,” Josipovic said.

In the 21 counties in Croatia, voters in only two, Istra and Rijeka, voted against the referendum proposal, with 58 per cent “against” in Istria and 53 per cent in Rijeka. Four towns and cities also voted “against”: Rijeka, Pula, Varazdin and Cakovec.

The highest “ for” vote was in Vukovar County, in the east, where 81 per cent backed the proposal. In the capital, Zagreb, 55 per cent also voted “for”. The turnout in the vote was 38 per cent.

Zeljko Reiner, of the opposition centre-right Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, insisted that the referendum result would not lead to anybody’s rights being diminished.

“Our friends, neighbours and relatives of a different sexual orientation don’t have to worry, because their rights must be protected, and the HDZ will do that first,” Reiner said.

But gay-rights NGOs disagree. Zagreb Pride said the referendum had “divided people into ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ ones”, and had revealed an “incredible amount of intolerance and homophobia”.
 
An anti-referendum initiative, “Citizens vote against”, blamed its defeat on poor communications.

“There was too little institutional support, explaining to people that this referendum was an attack on a constitution”, Marina Skrabalo, from the campaign, said.

Gordan Bosanac, also from the initiative, said he hoped “this was the first and last time we had such a burlesque of democracy in Croatia”.

Analysts said the referendum had revealed Croatian society to be more Catholic and socially conservative than some had realised.

“Croatia has shown it belongs in the Balkans, the region it wanted to escape from so hard”, Professor Zarko Puhovski said.

“Croatia is still a half-consolidated liberal democracy and a typical ‘transition’ country”, agreed Zoran Kurelic, professor of Political Sciences in Zagreb.

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