ZAGREB, May 17, 2018 – Croatia will take over the chairmanship of the Council of Europe on Friday, for the first time in 22 years of its membership, in the same week in which Europe’s oldest organisation criticised Zagreb for the escalation of racist hate speech against Serbs, LGBT persons and Roma in public discourse.
Croatia will take over the chairmanship from Denmark on May 18. Six months later, Croatia will be replaced by Finland.
The CoE today has 47 member states, that is, all European countries with the exception of Belarus.
Croatian Foreign and European Affairs Minister Marija Pejčinović Burić who, as of May 18, will chair the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers and in that capacity represent the entire organisation, said Croatia’s CoE chairmanship will be an opportunity to politically brand the country. She also said she was confident that Croatia would be more recognisable among CoE countries and that it would strengthen its status in foreign affairs.
Racist hate speech against Serbs, LGBT persons and Roma in public discourse is escalating in Croatia, according to a report published on Tuesday by the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI). The report, which analyses legislative issues, racist and homo-transphobic hate speech, violence and integration policies, notes a rise of nationalism, particularly from youth, which often takes the form of praising the former fascist Ustasha regime.
Commenting on the latest Council of Europe report on racism and intolerance, Pejčinović Burić said that Croatia had made progress on this issue and had devised plans and a strategy to combat such phenomena, including action plans for education and employment of Roma. “In the area of human rights, you can never do enough,” the minister concluded.
“Racist and intolerant hate speech in public discourse is escalating; the main targets are Serbs, LGBT persons and Roma. There is a growing rise of nationalism, particularly among the youth, which primarily takes the form of praising the fascist Ustasha regime. In the regional media and on Internet, expressions of racism and xenophobia against Serbs, LGBT persons and refugees are commonplace, as is abusive language when referring to Roma. Physical attacks against these groups as well as their property also occur.”
The report decries an inadequate response by Croatian authorities to such increasing intolerance, as criminal action is too often ruled out. Most cases of hate speech and hate motivated violence are treated merely as misdemeanours.
The CoE above all advocates democratic stability in the old continent and the protection of human rights. Not one country joined the European Union before it was first a member of the Council of Europe.
Croatia has ratified 93 CoE conventions, the last being the Istanbul Convention on April 13. A civil initiative is collecting signatures with the aim of calling a referendum to repeal the Convention. Pejčinović Burić said that during its chairing of the Council of Europe, Croatia will advocate for the Istanbul Convention and put the focus on the Convention’s purpose – the protection of women from violence. Considering that there are still some member states that have not ratified the Istanbul Convention, “during our chairmanship we will work on explaining Croatia’s stance and the stance of the CoE” on the Convention, Pejčinović Burić said.
She underscored that it was necessary to focus on the “essence of the Convention, its fundamental purpose and that is the protection of women from violence and domestic violence.” “As it was adopted with a large majority, I believe that shows that Croatia’s entire society wishes to fight against that evil,” she said.
She denied speculation that Croatia rushed the ratification so that it did not take over the CoE chair without having ratified the Istanbul Convention. “The ratification was included in the programme, there isn’t necessarily any connection between these events, but naturally it is good that Croatia ratified the Convention in the year when it will chair the CoE for the first time in its 22 years of membership.”
Ahead of Croatia’s ratification, when some conservative circles in Croatia were calling for resistance to the Convention, the CoE on International Women’s Day said, “In recent months, several Council of Europe member states have shown ‘cold feet’ in moves to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (more commonly known as the ‘Istanbul Convention’)… Almost all the member states have signed the document and 28 have ratified it.” The CoE called on member states to disperse recent “misconceptions about its purpose as ‘ideologically biased’ or against ‘traditional family values’ that are spreading like fog in some countries.”
Minister Pejčinović Burić also presented Croatia priorities during its chairmanship of the CoE – the fight against corruption, efficient protection of national minorities’ and vulnerable groups’ rights, decentralisation in the context of strengthening local government and the protection of cultural heritage and cultural routes.
Croatia has prepared a programme consisting of a total of 26 events, most of these related to the protection of human rights. Most of these conferences (16) will be held in Croatia – Zagreb, Rijeka, Dubrovnik, Zadar, Brijuni Isles and Istria. In its capacity as the chair of the CoE, Croatia will also be included in numerous activities in Strasbourg.
The central event during its chairmanship will be a conference organised by the Justice Ministry, “Strengthening transparency and responsibility with the aim of preventing corruption,” on October 15 and 16 in Zadar.
“The final aim is to advance international efforts in the fight against corruption, in the implementation of conventions regarding the fight against corruption, and to jointly define a platform for further cooperation between organisations responsible for the fight against corruption,” Pejčinović Burić said.
Asked whether the government had zero tolerance to corruption, she underscored that the fight against corruption is one of the government’s priorities and will be one of its priorities during its CoE chairmanship. “We think that Croatia has taken a great step forward institutionally and legislatively and that it has reached high standards. As far as implementation is concerned, that is in the remit of the relevant institutions and there is still room for further work,” she said.
Croatia’s CoE chairmanship will be an opportunity to politically brand the country, Pejčinović Burić said, convinced that Croatia will be more recognisable among CoE countries and that it will strengthen its status in foreign affairs.
The CoE was founded in 1949 by 10 countries – Belgium, France, Luxembourg, Tthe Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
Croatia joined the CoE on 6 November 1996 as the organisation’s 40th member. Accession negotiations lasted unusually long because the Committee of Ministers considered that Zagreb was meddling in the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, that it wasn’t respecting minority rights nor the freedom of the media. The Parliamentary Assembly gave Croatia the green light for membership on 24 April 1996 after Croatia’s then president Franjo Tuđman and parliament speaker Vlatko Pavletić signed a list of 21 demands.