ZAGREB, Croatia (ChurchMilitant.com) - Tens of thousands of Croatian Catholics gathered in the capital Zagreb last weekend to protest the ratification of the Istanbul Convention, a European treaty that would hijack Croatian law by redefining gender.
On Tuesday, Church Militant spoke with Dragan Volaric, a Croatian Church Militant follower, about the rally.
Describing the march as "truly magnificent," Volaric recounted its prayerful nature: "Around 50,000 people got together in Zagreb to proudly march against the totalitarian government of Prime Minister Andrej Plenković," he said. "Catholic communities and parishes from all over Croatia participated in the event by praying the Rosary and singing traditional Catholic hymns."
Though designed as a means to combat violence against women, the Istanbul Convention has provoked fierce controversy over its use of the term "gender."
Article 3 of the agreement defines gender as a social construct, declaring, "For the purpose of this convention, 'gender' shall mean the socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for women and men."
According to one critique, the Istanbul Convention has sweeping philosophical, political and legal implications, both nationally and internationally. It is "one of the very first treaties providing for a 'gender' definition and the first ever introducing a definition based on the so-called 'social theory of gender.'"
Almost a dozen E.U. members — most of them in Central Europe — have not yet ratified the treaty, much to the dismay of E.U. leaders.
In a March 12 debate in Brussels, convention supporters blamed "misconceptions and misleading arguments regarding how the word 'gender' is used" for delaying union-wide ratification.
But detractors blasted the "ideological baggage" of the treaty and its definition of gender. According to the Dutch-language Parliamentary Monitor, opponents "rejected the idea that the European Union has any competence on the issue and called for respecting 'the internal order of every society.'"
Croatia has seen some of the strongest pushback against the convention. Its government signed the treaty in 2013 but delayed ratification owing to opposition among Catholics, who make up roughly 85 percent of the country's population.
On one side of the ratification battle is the ruling party, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), headed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, together with his government coalition partners and Leftist, feminist non-governmental organizations (NGOs), on the other, the Catholic Church and its conservative allies.
Recognizing that ratification of the treaty would allow gender activists to bend Croatian law to their will, Catholics and their conservative allies are aggressively fighting the measure.
Croatian political commentator Ina Vukic notes, "The conservative opposition and the Church, while recognizing that combating violence against women and domestic violence are extremely important issues for the society, are against the ratification of the convention as it stands, claiming mainly that it paves the way to 'a third gender.'"
She describes the fundamental moral concern as "the eradication of the tradition based on stereotypical gender roles: that motherhood would soon be replaced by a socially imposed construct such as 'parent 1' and 'parent 2' for instance."
Vukic warns that in general, the Istanbul Convention adheres obediently "to Marxist-Feminist ideology."
"Marxist feminists use Marxist concepts," she writes, "but they see the exploitation of women as the key feature of family life."
On March 14, the head of the Croatian Bishops' Conference, Zadar Abp. Želimir Puljić declared the Church in Croatia would support ratification once references to gender were removed from the document. Puljić noted the Church had issued two prior statements against the convention and said the Church in Croatia's position is that gender ideology — "a new kind of ideology" — is behind the convention.
"We have clearly stated that we do not accept some positions from the document," said the archbishop. "We wholeheartedly support the protection of those threatened and the protection of women and children, but we also said we do not accept the convention because it contains a paragraph about gender ideology."
But in Zagreb, the HDZ is ignoring the will of the people.
Church Militant contacted the archdiocese of Zagreb for a statement on the rally; on Tuesday the archdiocesan communications office responded:
The faithful are called to give public witness to their Christian identity, especially when it comes to fundamental issues regarding individual and family life. ... many of the participants of the rally were faithful Catholics who rightly believe that with the ratification of the Istanbul Convention into the Croatian legal and social system will be introduced unscientific and harmful gender ideology, defined by Pope Francis "ideological colonization." The archdiocese believes that civil manifestations such as the one that happened on Saturday promote authentic dialogue between the civil authorities and the people which the archdiocese, as well as the Croatian Bishops Conference, has at various times endorsed.
Faithful Croatian Catholics have taken a strong stand against same-sex "marriage." In a December 2013 ballot, two-thirds of voters backed an amendment to the country's constitution to define marriage as a "union between a woman and a man." Now, Volaric explained, Catholics are being called again to defend their country against another means to distort human sexuality.
Plenković and his allies come from "the vicious bunch of E. U. politicians in Brussels," he said. They "will try to force this wicked legislation onto all segments of everyday life in Croatia. This includes funding certain NGOs with tax money to help with the process."
"But," Volaric vowed, "the battle has just begun."