If you wanted to go on the first LGBTQ pride parade in Croatia that occurred in Zagreb in 2002, you had to be very brave to say the least. If you look at the video of that event on YouTube, you will notice bunch of skinheads and other pissed-off citizens trying to grab at the 300 participants. There were several clashes with police that resulted in 27 arrests, and someone even managed to throw tear gas on the parade. In total, there were 32 injured persons. Jay Poštić, executive coordinator of Zagreb pride remembers his participation in the first pride, stating that it was a very different time.

„It was very hostile. There were only 300 of us and most of them were from other civil society organizations“, said Poštić.

It wasn’t until 2010. that one could say that it is safe to join the parade. Poštić explains that constant organization of the pride is the reason why it became not just safe but also more appealing to larger number of people.

„First year there were 300 people, then on second maybe 200. But then on third year there were 400 – 500 people and it kept growing. Society got used to pride being part of the city, part of the culture“, said Poštić.

Month of visibility

In 2018, police still had to carefully guard 10 000 participants, but the were no conflicts and ordinary people without any violent intention came to watch the parade. Some of them might have been snarky, some may have mocked it, but most were curious and happy to see people enjoying them self on what became „the biggest protest for human rights in Croatia“, as organizers claim. Apart from LGBTQ community and civil rights activists, many ordinary citizens also joined the parade and people filled with support were waving to participants from their windows. The parade – that marched under the motto: „let gender be alive“, referring to struggles it took for Croatia to finally ratify the Istanbul convention – was only a cherry on top of pride month. From 17th of may, you could’ve see LGBTQ flags on poles throughout the city .

„In 2008 or 2009 we started with pride week and last year we organized pride month“, explained Poštić.  „We hosted different workshops and lectures on community, as well as parties such as karaokes“.

Iva Rosandić came to the pride as a support. She says that this isn’t something that only concerns the LGBTQ community, but every other minority in Croatia.

„In general, I think the situation is much better then it was 20 years ago, but I feel like systematically people try to slow down further development“, said Rosandić, adding that people are constantly working on visibility.

A great example for this is Croatia’s rainbow family association that gathers LGBTQ people with kids and those that want to became parents. In the beginning of 2018. They published a picture book that portrays LGBTQ families and they lift up quite the storm with it. Although some people burned carton boxes, which represented that book, on a children-carnival in Kaštel, Danijel Martinović, coordinator of Croatia’s rainbow family association states that public response to the book was actually really positive.

„Our idea was to make a book for ourselves, because most  rainbow families don’t have materials that talk about their families. It was quite a surprise to see such a huge reaction from the general public. But it was mostly positive“, said Martinović admitting he was expecting much more backlashes. „Many people wanted the book so we had to reprint it“.

I was attacked physically two years ago – but no big deal

Patrik Potočki, a student of Faculty of political sciences in Zagreb also came to support the LGBTQ community because he believes they deserve equal rights, like any other citizen.

„I was born in liberal and open-minded family and I was taught to love everybody and to have no barriers“, said Potočki.

Anton Perović, board member of student-association KSFPZG explains that giving support to a group that doesn’t have the same rights as the rest of society is in line with their ideas and what they represent as a club. Perović is also a member of LBTQ community. He „outed“ himself to his friends, and had no problems apart some yelling from other pupils in his high school which he categorized as „typical teenage crap“.

„I had no problems with people, nor with getting in touch with other LGBTQ people, probably because I’m so cute“, said Perović with a chuckle in good will and humor.

Tarik Kapić, also a LGBTQ member from Zagreb said his friends accepted his sexual orientation as a normal thing. Although he was once physically attacked two years ago he said it wasn’t a big deal.

„I want to support my friends and differences in Croatia’s society“, said Kapić explaining what brought him to this years pride, which is also first time ever for him to attend the parade.

Fear as a still present reality

The streets were safe, but in today’s world there is no better way to express hate than on the internet or in a comment section. Index.hr, a news portal from Croatia wrote an article about  the comments that can be found under articles covering the pride. From the article, as well as the comments, we can see people being full of anger and some were even very openly fascistic.

„What normal person would fuck them? Look at those freaks! Don’t blame the parents, they are dying from shame helplessly…“ or  „This is what smart men are ashamed of, and what idiots are proud of. Get lost all of you and fuck Bandić (Zagreb’s mayor) for allowing this. Yuck, yuck“, are just some of many comments people in Croatia had opportunity to read.

Given that it’s a short way from internet to the street, last year Croatian LGBTQ community was still facing violence. In February of 2017. Tear gas was thrown in Zagreb’s Super Super club where hundreds of people were having a good time on an LGBTQ party, leaving several people injured while others were running in panic. Later that year in June, security of Zagreb’s Hangar club attacked a Brazilian tourist for kissing another man at the club’s party. Poštić said that when they announced this years pride, they received a lot of hate mail. However, there were some even more serious threats.

„People reported to us that someone was offering online 200 kunas to take down our flags on the main square and then they raised it up to 300“, said Poštić describing the offer eventually nobody accepted. „When something like that or anything else happens to just one of us, it creates fear in the rest of the community“.

Perović thinks that „outed people“ could perhaps have difficulties finding job due to discrimination. „The problem is in mentality because people in Croatia aren’t adjustable to change“, said Perović, although he thinks with time it’s possible for this to change.

Lack of rights and systematic support

Poštić believes that the biggest obstacle towards acceptance of LGBTQ community in Croatia lies in the lack of information and understanding. He believes that by implementing civic and sexual education in Croatian’s school that could change. However, conservative associations in Croatia are powerful and influential, especially when they are supported by church. A good example of this is GROZD – a conservative NGO responsible for stopping health education that was planned to start of in 2013. They opposed the suggested curriculum due to the module about sexual education and they as well as other conservatives still battle the complete educational reform that Croatia should witness in September of this year.

„We think they are quite powerful. We monitor what’s happening in other European countries and they have resources to mobilize“, commented Poštić referring to their ability to even bring their people by buses. Still, they faced a big defeat this year when Croatian government finally ratified Istanbul convention. They opposed the convention for protection against violence because they believed that the convention will promote gender ideology in Croatia.

The biggest systematic attack towards LGBTQ community in Croatia occurred in 2013. When a clerical conservative association called „U ime obitelji“ (eng. In the name of family) started collecting signatures for a referendum that suggested to put a definition of marriage as a unity between man and woman in Croatian constitution. The referendum past. LGBTQ still have a possibility to form a civil partnership but they can’t adopt children. Many politicians from left and liberal political spectrum joined the pride parade and sent their messages of support through media.

„Everyone in Croatia, regardless of their orientation, should have the freedom of choice. Nobody shouldn’t be discriminated. I’ve come to support a peaceful Croatia“, said Davor Bernardić, president of social democratic party (SDP).

But, the current government doesn’t seem to care to much for progress of LGBTQ rights. Indication of that is the fact that Croatian rainbow family association, although talking with different members of government and other political parties, still didn’t have an official meeting with Croatian ministry for family.

„We have sent them invitations and we will continue to do so and push until we don’t have quality meeting“, said Martinović.

Optimism and love trumps hate

Even though the constitution doesn’t favor LGBTQ families, Martinović believes it is perfectly possible to gain equal rights under different definitions.

„We are hopeful for the future and there probably will be some positive changes“ said Martinović remembering constant progress towards bigger tolerance.

Bright future for LGBTQ community in Croatia is something everyone I talked to believe is possible. Kapić is certain that homophobic people are just very loud and Potočki is sure they are minority that isn’t really the problem.

„We spend too much time thinking about that kind of people while not supporting what we want to support“, says Potočki regarding homophobia. „Just love everybody, because we are all created the same way. Some of us think differently, but you should also respect that“, he concludes.

Ivor Kruljac
Journalist and slam poet from Croatia