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Protest for women’s rights in Zagreb, Croatia

[Zagred, 25 May 2016, News from EWL members in Croatia] Faced with aggressive attacks on women’s reproductive rights, various feminist activists, initiatives and organisations from the cities across Croatia have joined forces to organise a protest „In defence of freedom of choice“, which was initiated by the Women’s Network of Croatia.

The protest was held today in Zagreb’s downtown, gathering around 500 protesters, as a reaction to the so called first national „March for life“ that was announced as “celebration of life, family and Croatia” with the main aim at criminalisation of abortion. The counter protest was organised in the park next to the street where marchers were passing by. Approximately 7.000 participants, family members of all generations, attended this march which is a part of the global movement of radical catholic conservatives and fundamentalist that gathered 80.000 participants in Slovakia and 30.000 participants in Italy last year. Today’s March imposed the false picture of happy and perfect Croatian Catholic family and state while its real purpose was to drastically restrict fundamental women’s rights.

Željka Markić, organizer of the first referendum against marriage equality in Croatia (2013) was one of the organizers of this march financially supported by the City of Zagreb and mobilized by Catholic Church. The spouse of the new Croatian Prime Minister Sanja Orešković also participated in the first rows of the march against Croatian law on free abortion right. She stated that "any reasonable person should support initiative March for life, and choose life against death”.

The most dramatic event was a moment when the marchers were passing by the counter protest and two women counter protesters stood in front of the March, after which they were quickly attacked physically by the members of the march and arrested by the police. As a reaction 30 protesters stood in front of the police station for two hours, until painter Dunja Janković and musician Dunja Ercegović (Lovely Quinces) were released without any charges pressed against them. Dunja Ercegović stated that she reacted instinctively because she couldn’t just stand and whistled against pro-fascist tendencies in the society. Dunja Ercegović said that she came to the counter protest to defend her right to decide about her own body.

Two women protesters were exposed to violence from March security and police while the attackers from “March for life” that violently acted against them have not even been asked for their names of questioned whatsoever. This kind of police reaction is illustrative for current antidemocratic tendencies in Croatia. Media reported about incident against peaceful walk for life, and organizers of this March stated in their press release that these two women where evidently distraught, and possible alcoholised, which was absolutely not the case.

Protesters speakers included Bojana Genov from Women’s Network Croatia, Nataša Vajagić from the Centre for citizen initiative, Sanja Juras from Lesbian group Kontra, Sara Kekuš from the Initiative Refugees Welcome, Martina Horvat from the Platform 112, Alan Sorić from Centre for Civil Courage and Protagora, Mia Gonan from Zagreb Pride, trade union activist Jagoda Milidrag Šmid and actress activist Urša Raukar. The support letter from the initiatives of Doctors against conscience objections in medicine was read. Musical program was performed from drummers Drum ’n’ bijes, Zdenka Kovačiček, Denis Katanec, U pol’ 9 kod Sabe and Lovely Quinces.

The protest was a follow-up on many feminist actions against attempts to stop the right on abortion in Croatia since 1991, and most recently action of Women’s Network of Croatia under the title „We do not want to go back to the illegal abortion!“ which was held on the 29th od December 2015, shortly after a new right-wing coalition government was formed.

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