Very basic info: There are about 4.5 million people in Croatia. Zagreb is the capital and there are around 1 million inhabitants. 450,000 people live in Dalmatia, a region with 21 counties in which Split is the central city.
There have been abiding tensions between Serbia and Croatia since the break up of Yugoslavia in ’89 and, like many strained relations, it’s been passed down through generations. For instance we’ve heard 10-year-old Serbs claim that all Croats are gay. When Mima, my host sister in Novi Sad, asked her parents why they go to the beach in Greece every summer instead of Croatia my very open-minded host parents told her that people in Greece are nicer than people in Croatia. My host parents said they cannot read signs or understand the language in Greece whereas they would have no trouble communicating in Croatia since Serbian and Croatian are practically the same language. Greece is much further away and they admit that Croatia is prettier but they refuse to even consider going to Croatia.
The big talk in Croatia now is surprise surprise European Union ascension. We talked to two women who run a women’s NGO in Split and one of them said the government announced last week that Croatian EU ascension will be finalized next month. Following that declaration France stepped forward and said for two years they will monitor Croatia, primarily whether the government follows through on certain agreements, and if those two years go swimmingly as everyone expects them to, Croatia will become a EU member state. However if the course doesn’t run smoothly France threatened with sanctions. This might seem persnickety on France’s part but the EU has become wary of Eastern European countries ascending because of the not so successful Bulgaria and Romania member states.
The same women who talked to us about the EU status are in charge of Croatia’s first Gay Pride Parade to be held on June 11th. The women said they’re planning on marching from the city center to the shore and that they have a good relationship with the police so they aren’t worried. Ceca, our program director, on the other hand gave some good reasons to be anxious. First of all we were in the middle of a hate crime just a week ago in Montenegro and the atrocities of that evening caused Montenegro’s first Pride to be cancelled. Montenegro is known as the least sensitized to LGBT through the Balkans, but none of the countries are particularly open to LGBT. Split, the city we’re in and where Pride is scheduled, has a history of being conservative tracing back to the Croatian-Serbian war in 1991. After the war a ton of Serbs who’d been living in Croatia, or Yugoslavia as it was just two years prior, we’re virtually exiled to Serbia because of the animosity between Serbs and Croats. (The same happened for Croatians in Serbia; through all of Eastern Europe’s history I’ve learned time and time again that there’s never a single story or truth.) According to Ceca there was a huge population of Serbs, especially in Split and Zagreb, the capital, and when those Serbs left Croats from the villages scrambled to occupy the cities. These village-Croats, however, hadn’t had much exposure to the notion of human rights so they were more conservative than the others which held the rest of the population back from addressing or sensitizing themselves to these issues. The same thing happened in many regions of the Balkans and some countries also faced sanctions and harsh codes of law in the ’90s further cutting them off from any human rights movements in the West. On top of this conservativism are strong ties of Croats to the Catholic church. Serbs have their own interdependence with the Orthodox church. Montenegro doesn’t have as many religious adherents and they are they least accepting to the LGBT population. Between conservativism and Catholism Ceca is apprehensive about the outcome of Croatia’s Pride.