MYPLACE research team at the Ivo Pilar Institute, Zagreb on Croatia’s referendum on a constitutional definition of marriage.
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Three referendums have been held in Croatia since the downfall of Communism and the beginning of the transition process. At the first two referendums, the Referendum on Croatian Independence (19 May 1991) and the Referendum on Croatia’s Accession to the European Union (22 January 2012), the citizens voted on the state and legal position of Croatia. The topic of the third referendum, which was held on 1 December this year, was completely different. The citizens presented their position on whether they wanted the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia to include the definition of marriage as a union of woman and man. This is the first referendum that has been called on the basis of collected signatures. In order for a referendum to be held based on citizens’ signatures it is necessary to collect the signatures of 10% of the total number of citizens with voting rights within 15 days. Namely, on 14 June 2013 U Ime Obitelji [In the Name of the Family] civic (Catholic) initiative had submitted to the Croatian National Assembly 749,316 citizens’ signatures in favour of calling a referendum, which figure is almost double the prescribed. On 8 November 2013, the Croatian National Assembly voted in favour of calling a referendum on the definition of marriage. The voter turnout at the referendum, which was held on 1 December, was 37.9% (1,436,163). Of those, 65.87%, which nearly constitutes a two-third majority, circled the option IN FAVOUR on the ballot, which asked the following question: “Are you in favour of the provision being entered in the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia according to which marriage is a union of woman and man?” while 33.51% of the voters voted AGAINST. Moreover, it is evident that, in the country deeply affected by the economic crisis, the majority of the citizens were not sufficiently motivated to take part in the referendum in view of its cause. This has given rise to a public debate on the legitimacy of the referendum considering the low voter turnout, which was similar to the one at the referendum on joining the EU, in which 43.51% of the citizens took part.
The latest referendum was different from the first two referendums, that on leaving the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and that on joining the EU, which were largely integrative in nature and which homogenized the society. It may be said that a ruthless worldview war was waged between conservative and liberal social actors in the past six months. The public appearances of the persons and organizations on the political and civic scene in the last days of the referendum campaign and the commentaries following the publication of the official results showed the division of the public into the liberal (left) and the conservative (right). The liberal (left) option (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dIU8wTQzSBY; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UrUWEUWJMs) believes that the campaign of U Ime Obitelji initiative and the outcome of the referendum have shown that the Croatian society is mostly conservative-oriented, lagging behind world trends, as well as that, despite the fact that Croatia has joined the EU, “it is still in the Balkans.” Certain liberal intellectuals, writers, and journalists even went as far as to compare the current attitude of the Croatian society towards the issues and the position of the LGBT community to the attitude of the German society of the 1930s towards its minorities. On the other side of the political spectrum, the minority in the media space but the majority in the referendum comprised protagonists and citizens of conservative (right) positions (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIJaiVrEbWg; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4s3Blw6CHhs). They emphasized in the media that “conservative is not the same as retrograde,” that “the liberal media Croatia is opposed to civic Croatia, that is, its conservative majority”, and so on. There is no doubt that some of the people who consider themselves part of the majority were irritated by the dominant media discourse and the policy of the incumbent Croatian authorities — the prime minister and the president clearly advocated a vote AGAINST. Despite the heated political passions, the outcome of the referendum was expected and in line with the results of the public opinion polls. At the same time, the referendum also marked the collective public coming out of the Croatian LGBT community. Their position is no longer a social problem that is discussed more or less only during gay pride parades. On the other hand, the right has taken a distance from the established rhetoric. In addition to topics related to the Homeland War and the 1990s, there is now an important instrument for mobilization of its sympathizers that is linked much more closely to universal conservative values — faith and family.