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article imageReferendum in Croatia on marriage, petition on language rights Special

By Paul Bradbury     Dec 1, 2013 in World
Jelsa - It was a turbulent week in Croatia, as Croats vote in a referendum on marriage, while a petition on minority language rights provokes debate.
History was made in Croatia on December 1, 2013, as Europe's newest EU member held a referendum on the state of marriage, the first such referendum of its kind triggered by a popular petition in the country's history - a discussion which has divided the country.
According to Croatian law, a referendum must be held if 10 percent or more of the electorate sign a petition on a particular issue. A Conservative pressure group, In the Name of the Family, which is strongly backed by Croatia's most powerful institution — the Catholic Church (approximately 90 percent of Croats are Catholic) — gathered more than 700,000 signatures on a petition to outlaw gay marriage.
Early morning voting in Jelsa s kindergarten was quiet.
Early morning voting in Jelsa's kindergarten was quiet.
This was a phenomenal achievement in a country with a population of 4.29 million, with an electoral role of 3.8 million, and provides an interesting comparison with the previous referendum in the county — on EU membership. On that occasion, just 650,000 people voted against EU membership, with 1.3 million voting for.
Signatures on a petition are not the same as actual votes of course, and it will be interesting to see what the final turn out will be. According to the law, a simple majority in the referendum will be enough to amend the constitution, no matter how low the turnout.
Voting was brisk after mass.
Voting was brisk after mass.
The simple question posed to voters is: Do you want the constitution of the Republic of Croatia to recognise marriage as a union between a man and a woman?
Civil liberty groups and gay activists are understandably outraged at the referendum, and the referendum has split the country down the middle, with the president, prime minister and many public figures urging a 'no' vote, while the church is advocating a 'yes.'
Voters in Jelsa go to the poll after morning mass
Voters in Jelsa go to the poll after morning mass
In what Digital Journal believes is a first in modern Croatia, the National Association of Journalists has successfully called for a boycott of the post-referendum press conference of the 'In the Name of the Family' group, after they refused press accreditation for some of the country's largest media outlets, such as Slobodna Dalmacija,,, and Europa Press Holding, citing biased media coverage as the reason.
One aspect of the discussion of the referendum, where polling booths are available in some 37 countries for the large Croatian diaspora, concerns the cost at a time of economic crisis in the country — some 48 million kuna (US$8.54 million).
The highly-charged atmosphere in the country is further enhanced with two other ongoing debates at the same time, both of which are the subject of petitions. A similar attempt to force a referendum on the rights of minority languages has its deadline tonight, and has large political and emotional undertones.
The fall of Vukovar is remembered every November in Croatia.
The fall of Vukovar is remembered every November in Croatia.
According to the constitution, an ethnic minority with 30 percent inhabitants in a certain area has the right to have signs in its language. While this might not be a problem in most areas, the unique and tragic case of Vukovar has thrust the issue into the national spotlight, with attempts by petition and referendum to amend the consitution.
The destruction of Vukovar in the regional conflict in the 1990s is a national wound which is commemorated every November in all towns and cities in Croatia by candlelight, and the implementation of the consitution to erect road signs in Cyrillic for the benefit of the Serbian minority caused understandable distress, thereby provoking the petition. With the deadline of midnight tonight for the signatures, it would appear that this petition will not reach the 10 percent threshold, while the marriage amendment petition far exceeded it.
A controversial fan reaction from Hajduk Split fans.
A controversial fan reaction from Hajduk Split fans.,hr
On a busy Sunday of potential constitutional change, the intrigue does not stop there, as the third major talking point in Croatia — also with a petition element — takes place in Zagreb, as arch rivals Hajduk Split take on Dinamo Zagreb in a top of the table clash with added spice after recent events concerning Dinamo star Joe Simunic and his alleged Nazi salute after Croatia's recent victory over Iceland.
The interpretation of Simunic's gesture caused national debate, and a petition was started to overturn FIFA's decision to fine him. One of the stranger reactions of the fallout from Simunic's actions was that of a section of Hajduk fans - arch rivals, and a club known for its anti-fascist credentials - at a recent game at the Poljud Stadium. The two rivals meet today in Zagreb, with Simunic not in the Dinamo lineup, as he is suffering from a virus.
Whatever the outcome of the referendum — results are due at 9:30 p.m. local time — and petitions, one thing is certain: the first day in December 2013 will long be remembered as no ordinary Sunday.
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