A rally against the ratification of the Istanbul Convention was held in Split on Thursday evening, with speakers at the event claiming that the document would impose a new totalitarianism on Croatia.
According to the conservative civil initiative "The Truth about the Istanbul Convention" (Istina o Istanbulskoj), who organized the rally, some 70,000 people gathered in Split. The police estimated the number was significantly lower, around 15,000.
Many of the protesters carried Croatian flags and banners with messages criticising the Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, and his government, for causing discord in the country and going against the wishes of their conservative voters. They turned the people into “servants to the bureaucrats in Brussels”, according to the civil initiative.
The Istanbul Convention is a document on combating violence against women, drafted by the Council of Europe. The government, led by the centre-right party Croatian Democratic Union, (HDZ), unanimously supported its ratification in March this year.
The far-right groups and political parties in Croatia, supported by the Catholic church, take issue with the Convention because they believe it promotes the so-called “gender-ideology”, and would oblige the country to adopt legislation recognising gay-marriage or the “third gender”, as well as introduce the topic of LGBT rights into the school curriculums.
To appease the opponents, the government has adopted an interpretative statement alongside the bill on the convention, which clarified that the purpose of the convention was the protection of women against all forms of violence, and that its provisions did not contain the obligation to introduce “gender ideology” in Croatia.
The ruling coalition was hiding behind women and children to impose on their voters an “ideology-based education, undermine their sovereignty and finance left-liberal NGOs that keep lying about the Homeland (1991-95) War," said one of the protesters, a war veteran.
“I expect those who we helped enter the parliament, because they said that they were Christian Democrats, to show with their deeds that they are Christian Democrats,” said another protester, a former military nurse.
The leader of the ultraconservative group “In the Name of the Family” (U ime obitelji), Zeljka Markic, said at the protest that she was surprised to see HDZ, a right wing party, supporting the positions of left-wing voters, adding that she was happy to see the people were voicing their discontent. Markic is known for her views against the LGBT community, as one of the organizers of the 2013 referendum which banned gay marriage in Croatia.
Protesters spoke out against unemployment, corruption, and the divisions within the society, claiming that the erosion of traditional, Catholic values was to blame for these issues.
During the protest, in another part of Split, the city's women's rights activists released 100 lanterns into the sea, marking 100 women in Croatia killed by men. The event was organized by the women's rights group "Dominoes" (Domine), who said that the protest in Split was another form of violence against women and other victims of domestic violence. They have gathered to commemorate all the women who were killed by their partners in Croatia since the convention was signed by the previous government seven years ago, until its ratification.
The Istanbul Convention was ratified in the Croatian Parliament on Friday with 110 votes in favour, and 30 against.