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News 19 May 17

Croatia Anti-Abortionists Accused of Politicising 'Walk'

Critics of Saturday's anti-abortion ‘Walk for Life’ in Zagreb say it is wrong for such an event to be staged on the day when Croatia is supposed to descend into a pre-election 'silence', free of political activity.

Sven Milekic
Last year's first edition of the 'Walk for Life'. Photo: Anadolu Agency/Stipe Majic

Organisers of anti-abortion "Walks for Life" in Zagreb and the city of Split on Saturday have been accused of politicising the events by staging them on the day when Croatia is supposed to descend into a pre-election "silence", ahead of local elections on Sunday.

Mihael Darko Burazin, from the small right-wing party, Hrast [Oak] – Movement for Successful Croatia, who is standing in the election as would-be Mayor of Split, on Monday invited his party members to join the walk in Split.

“On the behalf of the Split branch of Hrast, we invite our members and sympathisers, as well as our coalition partners and all citizens of the city of Split, to join the action of the 'Walk for Life' … a peaceful walk of citizens in support of every child, born and unborn,” he said.

Kristina Brakula, from Choose Life, the NGO that has organised the walk, told BIRN that the annual "Walk for Life" – first organised in 2016 – is always organised “on the third Saturday in May” and herself took part last year on May 21.

“Organising non-political events doesn’t violate the pre-election silence, just like many other events taking place this Saturday. All citizens are invited to the ‘Walk for Life’, just like football matches, concerts or other public gatherings,” she concluded.

Critics of the event disagree, however. Goran Cular, a Political Sciences professor in Zagreb, told BIRN that those “who scheduled the event for the Saturday before the elections … don’t have any excuse [about the date] regarding the local elections because their date is fixed in advance. Croatia’s local elections are always on the third Sunday in May. It has overlapped on purpose,” he said.

He noted that the silence has an important symbolic purpose, even if not “regulated in the sense of very strict rules”, and while politicians can technically attend public events, it was a fine line.

He complained that right-wing parties and affiliated NGOs are somewhat merged, generally. "We see certain individuals who in the morning are leaders of parties, while in the afternoon, they are leaders of certain civic associations and vice versa,” Cular explained.

He noted the conservative NGO "In the Name of the Family," and its affiliated party, "In the Name of the Family – Project Homeland", in which a number of key people have gone from one to the other.

The NGO successfully triggered a referendum on gay marriage in 2013, which ended with the constitutional redefinition of marriage as a strictly heterosexual union.

The head of In the Name of the Family and its most vocal leader, Zeljka Markic, was high on the party's lists in the general elections in 2015.

Until 2012, Markic was also president of a party, Croatian Growth HRAST, before conflicts resulted in some members, including the current president, Ladislav Ilcic, forming HRAST – Movement for Successful Croatia. Ilcic and Markic are also connected through family ties.

Lawyer Kresimir Planinic, who was NGO’s legal advocate in the 2013 referendum campaign, is the president of the party and often makes statements both in the name of the NGO and of the party.

Cular mentioned how in the 2015 elections, and in these local elections, activists of the NGO volunteered to monitor the elections in which the party was running.

"In the Name of the Family" is widely seen as real organiser of Saturday's events, as it promotes the "Walk for Life" publicly and on its news website Narod.hr (People).

Moreover, the Family Party, which told BIRN that its officials will come to the event, said BIRN should contact "In the Name of the Family" about Saturday's events, “as they are the organisers”.

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