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While the government has shown its determination to uphold the rights of sexual minorities, it’s questionable what would have happened to the march had the police not been there in such force.
|Participants of the Split pride march on Saturday, Photo by Beta|
The Croatian authorities did all they could to make sure Gay Pride in Split didn’t send out the same kinds of images of bloody violence that marred last year’s parade in the city.
About 900 members of the special police were on hand to secure the safety of about 500 marchers, forming an unbreakable corridor on the Riva, the city’s maritime walkway.
To get the message across, some five ministers in the new centre-left government, including Foreign Minister Vesna Pusic - best known as an energetic advocate of Croatia’s European Union membership - came to support the gathering in person.
In statements issued before the rally on June 9, Split Gay Pride was also supported by Croatian President Ivo Josipovic and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.
Both urged locals to show their tolerance and respect for differences and the right of minorities to hold public gatherings.
The country, which is due to become a full-fledged member of the EU this time next year, has thus formally demonstrated that, in Croatia today, gays can advocate for their rights in public places unhindered.
But the question remains about what would have happened in Split, the second largest city in Croatia, had those 900 policemen not been there to form a steel cordon.
In the run-up to Split Gay Pride, militant groups supported by local authorities and by the statements of some politicians, vowed to stop the gathering.
While the most radical groups threatened a physical showdown, including attacks on marchers with Molotov cocktails - clearly aiming for a reprise of the bloody scenes seen at the last Gay Pride - the city’s controversial mayor, Zeljko Kerum, called on locals to boycott the parade.
He said that Split, as a mainly Catholic city, did not want such a rally and that the participants in the parade were not welcome.
Some right-wing MPs in parliament also voiced vehement opposition to Gay Pride, with one MP, Zoran Vinkovic, calling homosexuality a “disease” and “a perversion”, saying: “This is, above all, a Catholic normal country, not a country of faggots and same-sex communities.”
The Catholic Church was more sophisticated in its advice, on the one hand calling for tolerance while at the same time advising believers not to head for the Riva that day, but to head for the Marijan picnic resort or some other part of town instead.
A public survey conducted in 48 countries by the International Social Survey Program showed that two-thirds of Croats - 65.8 per cent – disapprove of gay relationships and that Croatia ranks in 11th position in terms of intolerance towards the LBGT population.
That is why the question remains about whether Split Gay Pride met all the goals set by the organisers, that is, whether, after it, Croatian society has become more tolerant towards people of a different sexual orientation, or whether its resistance towards them remains at the same level, or has become even stiffer.
The opponents of the Gay Pride, citing the exceptionally strong police presence, are trying to prove the latter, claiming that most citizens of Split boycotted Gay Pride.
Those who support gay rights meanwhile maintain that such events are gradually changing people’s views.
In an intolerant and closed society, things cannot change overnight, they say, but that is no reason to give up the fight for the rights of minorities, including sexual ones, in general.
The war that Croatia went through in early 1990s generated a powerful intolerance towards the Serbian minority in Croatia.
The intolerance was not directed only against the Serbian minority in Croatia but against Serbs in general. Twenty years on, Croatia is somewhat more tolerant towards Serbs, but the nationalistic intolerance of the 1990s has fed intolerance towards other minority groups as well, from gays to punk-rockers.
Zagreb took serious heed of warnings from Brussels, where Split Gay Pride was closely monitored, that, as a future member of the EU, Croatia must deliver on minority rights, including towards people of a different sexual orientation. That is why the police took such pains to secure the rally in Split.
But the police alone cannot change public opinion and nudge it in the direction of a tolerance that can truly embrace differences and not treat minorities as foreign tissue that needs to be removed. To that end, Croatia has still a lot to do.
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