On December 1, Croatia, the newest European Uion member state, held a referendum on same-sex marriage. However, unlike other European countries, Croatia was not voting on its legalisation, but on whether a new clause, defining marriage as a “union between a woman and a man”, should be included in the constitution. The preliminary results show that 65 percent have said “yes”. The referendum was called for in reaction to the election promises [Sr] of the ruling coalition to give certain rights to same sex couples. A Croatian Catholic group “In the Name of the Family” launched a petition on this matter, gathering 750,000 signatures. As a result, the Croation parliament, with 104 out of 151 votes, decided to open the decision-making to the public, through a referendum. Although less than 40 percent of the 3.8 million [Sr/Hr/Bs] eligible voters actually took part in the referendum, the results are binding, as there is no required quorum. Although most Balkan countries include sexual orientation in their anti-discrimination laws, Croatia’s call for referendum and the petition do not come as much of a surprise to anyone in the region. Past attempts at asserting LGBT rights have been greeted with contempt and sometimes outright violence. Croatian analysts and intellectuals indicate that the referendum on marriage is just a prelude to the referendum on the use of the Cyrillic alphabet in Croatia.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina, the first Sarajevo Queer Festival was attempted in 2008, but it ended on the first day, due to violent attacks on guests and organisers. Similarly, in Serbia, the Pride Parade was cancelled for the third time this year, because of right wing threats and the apparent inability of the authorities to ensure safety. Violence also escalated during the Pride Parade in Montenegro in October when almost 2,000 police officers were deployed to guard the participants.
Attempts at advocating for LGBT rights in the Balkans have in many cases become opportunities for extremists to exert certain versions of religion, nationalism and morality, and a sad outlet for public homophobia, violence and hatred.
However, before labelling the Balkans as intrinsically intolerant and hateful, as some foreign journalists tend to do (who can forget Kaplan?), we must remember that many other democratic countries do not fare much better when it comes to this question. This year’s poll from the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights found that a quarter of the LGBT population in the European Union have experienced attacks or violent threats. Religious groups and the general population across Europe, the US and the world tirelessly debate the same question which was asked in the Croatian referendum, and this is not in any way, unique to Croatia, or the Balkans.