The Croatian Tolerance Center is about to open its doors in the Dalmatian hinterland town of Sinj, a region not noted for its liberal views; Digital Journal went to meet the project founders on December 23, 2014. The project was originally started by Ante Grubišić Čabo and Božo Boban, who were later joined by Goran Vulić.
What is the Croatian Tolerance Center?
Goran Vulić (president): We are a non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded in order to support and promote freedom, equality, national equality, gender equality, religious equality, the right to sexual orientation, pacifism, social justice, respect for human rights, inviolability of ownership, conservation of nature and the environment, and the rule of law.
Why now? We live in the 21st century and Croatia is part of the EU.
Ante Grubišić Čabo (secretary): Living in a small rural area has never been easy. However, when living in a small country like Croatia, no place is far away, even the rest of Europe. All of that resulted in quite open-minded people and society. At least it was like that until a decade or two ago. In the meantime, instead of democracy and freedom, we got radicalism and political terror. The result? Well, hate provoked referendums on issues such as forbidding LGBT marriages by the Constitution
, forbidding the Croatian historic Cyrillic alphabet (Cyrillic is part of our common Slavic heritage) just because it is still used in Serbia, and the depreciation of the national education system due to political and religious influences on education values, etc...
But why Sinj? Shouldn't a centre like this be in the capital Zagreb, or at least in the regional capital of Split?
Božo Boban (vice-president): There are numerous NGOs in large cities, but they are strictly specified in their area, and only a few of them actually cooperate with each other. Also, only a few of them really understand what's happening beyond their city boundaries. Sinj was left, not on the edge of civil society, but beyond it. So much underestimation, vilification and later even hate was coming from large city centres. The result is that new generations no longer see Split and Zagreb as places where they can grow as individuals, to develop their own personality and culture. The animosity of a few lasted too long, and spread like a cancer.
What made you finally decide to start the Croatian Center of Tolerance?
Ante Grubišić Čabo: Our dissatisfaction with society and the NGO scene has been present for some time, but the final trigger was the referendum against the LGBT community. To insert into the Constitution that gay people do not have the right to their own family was too much for us. That was a year ago. That is when we began this project. At first we thought we would be crucified, but as time passes, we are receiving more and more support. When we finally submitted all the paperwork, everything went very smoothly.
You have plans to make the Croatian Center of Tolerance a national movement.
Ante Grubišić Čabo: About 20 years ago we had some sort of national NGO office, but then politics infiltrated the youth and executive leadership. When the government was changed 15 years ago, they made their own "Main National Office". All of that resulted with dispersal, suspicion and rejection by other real NGOs, especially those from civil society. Where do we fit in? Well, our long term plan is to have our own offices in all Croatia. That way thousands of people, young, old, minorities, gay... should have access to facilities that can change their quality of life.
Doing all of that is a big job. Can you tell us what concrete steps can we expect?
Božo Boban: We have defined 6 key areas of expertise we will focus on, and each one of them will have its own projects and activities such as workshops, publications, festivals, and why not? - even protests. Each of those will eventually get its own Director, and I must mention that we already have agreements with a few notable people who have agreed to be our "ambassadors". This is very important for us, as we are in the very early stages of our project. The six sectors are religious, national, racial freedom and gender equality; LGBT community rights; multi-culturalism; social justice, human rights, rule of law and the inviolability of ownership; conservation of nature and the environment; and human rights on knowledge, education and access to information.
What values can one expect from joining Croatian Tolerance Center?
Goran Vulić: Our values encourage a variety of activities for the purpose of contributing to the better socialisation in society, as well as mutual respect in order to provide a quality of life and generally healthier thinking. Our main values are the encouragement of socialisation, culture consumption, and the spreading of knowledge.
What has been the local reaction? Sinj and the Dalmatian hinterland are not noted for their liberal views.
Ante Grubišić Čabo: Rumours about the centre have already spread around town, and all people we know of are supportive of the project. These are not just friends, but other organisations as well. For example, Božo has already been invited to be a 'Vojvoda' at the Students' Alka this year (Vojvoda means 'duke', and the Sinj Alka is one of Croatia's most important cultural events, which will turn 300 next year), and to give a speech about our activities.