Funding cuts hit hundreds of CSOs in Croatia

Association

Recent cuts to government funding has negatively impacted the viability and success of many CSOs. This decision will affect the National Foundation for Civil Society Development, and many other CSOs, and was followed by the resignation of CSO members of the Council and an appeal 'For Strong Civil Society!' signed by 435 CSOs. Meanwhile, the anti-abortion “Walk for Life” civic initiative highlighted government influence in civil society. The 'Walk for Life' initiative is officially supported by the wife of the Croatian Prime Minister.

Peaceful Assembly

'Croatia Can Do Better' protests were staged in Zagreb and 12 other cities in response to the forced resignation of the head of a curricular reform working group and calling for educational reform. A counter-protest sprang up in support of the Minister of Culture who labelled the protests as unnecessary politicisation. While most recent protests have been peaceful, during demonstrations related to abortion, protesters and counter-protesters clashed, as two pro-choice protesters approached an anti-abortion protest and were verbally attacked by the 'Walk for Life' stewards. Police prevented further escalation of this situation by arresting two pro-choice protesters and releasing them soon afterwards. Media polarisation continued throughout the protests – the more independent outlets focusing on the exercise of the rights and the causes of the protesters, and the pro-government ones attempting to delegitimise them.

Expression

Continuing political instability negatively impacted people's enjoyment of freedom of expression between April and June this year, with the governing party accusing the media of causing the political crisis. An online journalist received multiple threats of physical assault and even death after publishing an article regarding the veneration of Saint Leopold Mandic's body. A CSO leader received a letter containing extremely insulting content and hate speech, while another person asked for police protection due to hate speech against her. The High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concerns on the rise of hate speech directed toward national minorities, in reaction to the production of stickers showing a tree with people hanging from it and an inscription 'Serb Family Tree'. The Government has widely used the legal system to target critical journalists as well as CSOs by cutting  public funding, changing editors, reducing salaries, firing journalists, and dismissing TV hosts from the Croatian public broadcaster HRT and other pro-governmental media. Although Croatia has freedom of information laws, the parliament continued to avoid the public broadcasting of its sessions, and the Istria County Commissioner for Information did not publish the County Development Strategy 2015-2020. Concerns about state surveillance have also been voiced. For instance, the owner of a PR agency accused the government of wiretapping and covert surveillance, whereas a blogger has been accused of wiretapping policemen, judges, prosecutors and politicians. Self-censorship caused by economic pressure, declining wages, trivialisation of media content, and insufficient copyright protection is common amongst both media practitioners and individuals in Croatia.