ZAGREB, March 12, 2018 – Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) political secretary and MP Davor Ivo Stier believes that it would be irresponsible and harmful, both for the HDZ and for the development of Croatian democracy, to ask HDZ MPs to vote for the Istanbul Convention as that would mean reducing or marginalising Christian democracy in the HDZ, and that disputes surrounding the convention cannot be bridged over with interpretive statements.
Stier, who is currently accompanying President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović on an official tour of South America, sent a letter to HDZ leader Andrej Plenković and members of the party’s presidency and national council who are meeting on Monday to discuss the convention, saying that if party discipline were to be used to compel HDZ MPs to vote for the Istanbul Convention, that would marginalise Christian democracy in the HDZ.
Christian Democrats in Croatia advocate for the respect of dignity of women and girls and absolutely support the fight against violence, however, they do not accept the postulate of gender theory on which the Istanbul Convention lies, Stier says in his letter.
He recalls that, in an effort to empower women in the business world, former European Commission vice president Viviane Reding and he jointly proposed that the new EU directive on women’s quotas in management boards should use the term “gender equality” and not formulations of “gender theory” in order to direct the public’s attention to the essence of the issue – the empowerment of women – rather than to debates about ideological concepts, and we later defended that stance in the European Parliament, Stier explained.
Unfortunately, such an approach was not used when the Istanbul Convention was written, says Stier, confident that, had the Council of Europe based its text on concepts that were acceptable to everyone, disputes in Croatia and many other European societies would have been avoided, with focus being on the fight against violence against women. “Indeed, the positive aspects of the convention should not be ignored but is it necessary to distinguish between sexes and gender identity to know who women are and who needs to be protected against violence”, Stier asked.
The main dispute is not about the term “gender” but rather about the disassociation of “gender” from nature and “sex,” and pushing for “gender identity” as a concept that need not necessarily correspond to biologically determined sex, says Stier. “The problem is that theories that go against natural law are to be introduced in schools,” warns Stier.
The dispute about the Istanbul Convention cannot be bridged over with interpretive statements, Stier says, conceding that some countries have stalled the ratification of the convention also because of its financial implications.
Many experts, university professors, members of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts and the Catholic Church are opposed to the ratification of the convention, he says, describing as insulting accusations that they who do not support the convention are doing so because they have not read it or are not intelligent enough to understand it. What also reflects a totalitarian mentality are accusations that those opposed to the convention support violence against women or are backward, says Stier.
He adds that Christian Democrats should support increased funding for the fight against violence against women regardless of whether the convention is ratified or not, and that this should be a doctrine resulting from the respect of human dignity and one which is in harmony with natural order.
“There are two approaches to this issue – the Christian (or classical, considering that it is not exclusive to Christianity) and the ideological (liberal or socialist) – and they are substantially different and that is the crux of the dispute over the Istanbul Convention rather than whether someone is for or against the fight against violence,” says Stier.
The HDZ consists of members who have different views on the convention and imposing party discipline to support it would be irresponsible and damaging to the HDZ and democracy in Croatia, he said.
Prime Minister and HDZ president Andrej Plenković said on Monday he knew nothing about a letter in which the party’s political secretary, Davor Ivo Stier expressed his disagreement with plans to ratify the Istanbul Convention. “I have no idea. I didn’t even know he went to Argentina. Had he contacted me, I would have told him to come back,” Plenković told reporters ahead of a session of the HDZ Presidency and National Council on the Istanbul Convention.
HDZ vice president Milijan Brkić also has reservations about the Convention. “The HDZ is a people’s party, a centre-right party with a Christian Democratic worldview, and the HDZ must nurture traditional values, those which are in (its) programme and statute,” he said ahead of the session. He said nobody in politics was against quality protection from violence and that all sanctions should be made rigorous to protect victims of violence, notably women. As for gender, he said it was defined by birth and biology and not social habits. Brkić said the different views on the Convention in the HDZ “didn’t mean that the party’s strength will be shaken in any way.”
Another HDZ vice president, Member of the European Parliament Ivana Maletić, said she was not entirely against the Istanbul Convention, “but I am against it to a great extent.” She said she wondered why the document had an entirely different definition of gender than the internationally recognised definition, i.e. it was identical to sex.
Economy Minister Martina Dalić said the Convention should be ratified, saying values in society were extremely important and that preventing violence against women was one of them.