The status of women in Croatia has been severely downgraded in the recent years. While rapists and abusers keep walking out of courtrooms unpunished, women are slowly being stripped of their rights, one by one. After Ivana Ninčević-Lesandrić, a representative in the Parliament, shared her testimony (1.) of enduring a curettage procedure without anesthesia while being humiliated by the hospital staff, the first comment of the Parliament Speaker, Goran Jandroković, was that by sharing such “an intimate thing” she had put him into “a very uncomfortable situation.” Ninčević-Lesandrić’s story was followed by those of hundreds of other women who shared similar experiences regarding reproductive care in Croatian hospitals. Their campaign titled #PrekinimoŠutnju (#BreakTheSilence) (2.) gained international attention, but not much has changed since. Just last month, Slovenian broadcaster RTV reported (3.) on the rising number of Croatian women coming to Slovenia for abortion, the number skyrocketing and rising by 25% just in the last three months. The women interviewed cite humiliation by the medical staff and lack of access in general as main reasons for traveling to the neighboring country to receive the procedure. Almost 60% of Croatian gynecologist (4.) are already declared as conscientious objectors, yet all of this has not prompted any kind of reaction by those in power. Mirta Bašelović, WAVE Youth Ambassador from Croatia, decided to interview Bojan Glavašević, a representative in the Croatian Parliament who works closely with the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights, about the situation in Croatia and the importance of the upcoming 2019 European Parliament elections for tackling issues such as this one.
Mirta: Since Ivana Ninčević-Lesandrić’s testimony last Fall and the wave of reactions it created, has there been any real change, or at least any talk of change in the Croatian Parliament?
Bojan: Unfortunately, no. The current government has very little interest in pursuing this issue and the whole campaign played directly against what they want to do in Croatia. Reproductive rights are not something that is on their agenda, and it is safe to assume that their plan was to just wait it all out. Unless there is constant pressure from the public to address this problem, it will be very hard to make any progress whatsoever.
Mirta: But the UN did send a letter (e.) to the government calling for an independent investigation into the allegations made in the #PrekinimoŠutnju campaign, the publication of these results and the subsequent elaboration of a national action plan for women’s health. The deadline for response was at the end of April, but are you aware if any response was actually sent?
Bojan: No. This administration is known for their lack of respect for deadlines and order in general, so they will probably break this deadline as well. They do not even care to respond to the parliamentarians’ questions in time, so I do not see why they would bother with honoring this request either. This paints a very bad picture to the outside observers though, since the government acting in this manner is disrespecting a very reputable institution that is the UN.
Mirta: Drawing from your experience and your knowledge about the topic, are there laws and legislations that the government could implement that would have immediate results?
Bojan: If there was any political will, yes. The abortion regulation (f.) that is currently in the making will probably remain in that status for the rest of this term, and unfortunately, that status quo might even be the best option for the citizens. There is also talk about addressing the Tampon Tax (g.) issue in Croatia, which I believe is a great initiative since the taxation that is currently in place unfairly targets women, but that probably will not get voted into law either because, again, there is no political will. The sad fact is that women from Croatia are already massively going to Slovenia and other countries to get abortions, reproductive healthcare, and the government is okay with that.
Mirta: So, does fighting the government for reproductive care access in Croatia even have a point or should we start turning to European Union institutions and call for action on their side?
Bojan: I do not think that is a binary choice, I think we should actively be doing both. People need to keep pressuring the government because a lot of the problems need to be dealt with at national level, but we should also absolutely use other institutions to draw attention to the government’s non-responsiveness. That is also why we need to elect MEPs who know and care about this subject and will argue in the European Parliament for the cause as well.
Mirta: What concrete steps can citizens take to pressure the government into taking action?
Bojan: Any and all: participating in public discussions and elections, protesting, supporting NGOs and activist groups, starting grassroots movements, and even talking about this issue and raising awareness in their own communities. There have been very few successful public efforts to organize and continuously apply pressure on the government. The worst part about this is that there is a very strong opposition to protecting reproductive rights in Croatia, and they are very well organized. The European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual & Reproductive Rights issued a publication (h.) revealing how well networked and financed the groups working towards rolling back human rights are across the EU. In Croatia, you have ‘Vigilare’, ‘U ime obitelji’, and Željka Markić who are driving the movement towards taking Croatia back into the 16th century, especially in regard to the role of women in society. These groups know what they are doing, and they are still very actively trying to push their agenda. So now, more than ever, we need a strong voice calling for more rights for all people, and better reproductive healthcare for all citizens of Croatia.
Mirta: The European Parliament elections are on the 26 May in Croatia. How important is it for these issues that people show up and vote?
Bojan: It is crucial. Very few Croatians participated in the last elections. We had one of the lowest turnouts among all member states. The 12 people who we choose as our representatives at the European Parliament are going to be our voice for the next five years. We need to elect people who will advocate for a more liberal Croatia, we need people who understand the issues of the citizens and are willing to fight for them. Because of the low turnout, it takes about 70,000 votes to get a seat at the Parliament, and quite literally every vote counts. One thing that is certain is that people who want to see the EU and Croatia backslide into the middle ages will be showing up and voting, so in order to see both our country and the Union develop and improve in the coming years, we need to vote too. I am participating as a candidate myself and enhancing both the reproductive rights and the rights of the LGBTIQ people are important parts of my platform. I hope that voters get informed before the elections and give their vote to the people who will fight for the rights of all. I hope Croatia does not remain a place where people have to travel abroad to get access to a safe abortion, and where they are judged and humiliated for getting one in the first place. Croatia is the EU, and the EU is Croatia, and we should strive to make it a better place for all.
With elections being less than a month away, it is now the time to learn about your candidates and demand their commitment towards improving access to reproductive care.
Remember: Our voice has an impact. Our vote has an impact. So, let’s be decision makers too and step up for everybody.
By Mirta Bašelović, WAVE Youth Ambassador from Croatia
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the Youth Ambassadors are those of the Youth Ambassadors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or opinion / position of Women Against Violence Europe (WAVE).