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Gaining political power by utilizing opportunity structures: An analysis of the conservative religious-political movement in Croatia



This paper explores a connection between religion and politics in Croatia by analyzing the conservative civic initiative “In the Name of the Family” (U ime obitelji). It is a part of a broader religious-political movement, which emerged over the course of the last decade, that is connected to other international conservative organizations and initiatives. They advocate for a decrease of secular influence on the family, oppose sexual and reproductive rights, and insist on the primacy of religious freedoms. The political nature of the movement manifests itself through multiple attempts to scrap the legislation and practices of both state and private institutions that are contradicting the value system of the Christian (Catholic) majority. The religious-political nexus of the movement is confirmed by its continuous involvement in policy-making, here manifested through the use of direct democracy institutes.
Review Article
Received: 15 May 2017
Gaining Political Power by Utilizing
Opportunity Structures: An Analysis of the
Conservative Religious-Political Movement in Croatia
Chair of Sociology, Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb
This paper explores a connection between religion and politics in Croatia by
analyzing the conservative civic initiative “In the Name of the Family” (
U ime
). It is a part of a broader religious-political movement, which emerged
over the course of the last decade, that is connected to other international con-
servative organizations and initiatives. They advocate for a decrease of secular
influence on the family, oppose sexual and reproductive rights, and insist on
the primacy of religious freedoms. The political nature of the movement mani-
fests itself through multiple attempts to scrap the legislation and practices of
both state and private institutions that are contradicting the value system of the
Christian (Catholic) majority. The religious-political nexus of the movement
is confirmed by its continuous involvement in policy-making, here manifested
through the use of direct democracy institutes.
Religious-Political Movement, Contentious Politics, Opportunity
Structure, Referendum, Same-Sex Marriage
The referendum on the constitutional definition of marriage as a union between a
man and a woman,
held in December 2013, was the first successful national refe-
rendum in Croatia initiated by a citizens’ initiative. “In the Name of the Family”
(U ime obitelji) argued that the traditional values of Croatian society must be pro-
tected through enshrining the traditional, heteronormative, definition of family. The
1 The same definition already existed in the Family Law, but the referendum initiative claimed
it was necessary to constitutionalize the definition, as in this case it cannot be amended through
a simple majority voting procedure, but amending the definition, once it is part of the constitu-
tional text, required a so-called organic majority, i.e. two thirds of all Members of Parliament
(hereinafter MPs).
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
religious-political movement leaders, in public debates in the period prior to the re-
ferendum, argued they are not homophobes and that their intention is not to restrict
the rights of the LGBT* community.
On the other side, the liberal part of civil so-
ciety, gathered in the initiative “Citizens Vote Against” (Građani glasaju PROTIV),
was taken aback by the establishment of the religious-political movement and its
The referendum results proved that citizens can be successfully mobilized
on their social conservative value orientations, since 66 percent of those who voted
backed the initiative to restrict marriage to heterosexual unions.
Thus, by initiating the constitutional referendum, the citizens’ initiative “In the
Name of the Family” had shed a light on a societal cleavage between the liberal and
conservative-nationalist segments of the society, revealing not only that the Cro-
atian society is socially conservative, but that it also manifests a high level of in-
tolerance and homophobia. The referendum initiative effectively established the
movement and its prominent figures as new political actors, who have managed to
secure a significant political capital and power.
The structure of the paper is as follows. In the first, theoretical part, the paper
will present two social movement concepts: the political process theory and the the-
ory of contentious politics. They shall allow us to establish which political opportu-
nities contributed to an emergence and rise of the religious-political movement, as
well as to explain the indigenous organizational strength of the moment, the mobi-
lizing structures and cultural framing processes the movement applied, and how the
movement has developed its contentious repertoire.
After a short overview of methods, we synthesize the findings of the interviews
conducted in the field, and connect the findings with the relevant academic litera-
ture. In the conclusion, we synthesize our findings and determine if a repertoire of
contention that pursues institutional avenues of social change can be considered a
successful tool in contentious politics.
2 They argued that the LGBT* citizens are already endowed with an array of rights in accor-
dance to the Croatian legislation that was regulating same-sex partnerships at that time.
3 There were no indications that the government was planning to legalize gay marriage. It only
announced the intention to amend the Same-Sex Civil Union Act passed in 2003, by expanding
the rights of same-sex partners. Issues of equality and prohibition of discrimination for this, tra-
ditionally activist-oriented and, until recently, prevalent segment of the civil society, were con-
sidered not only as enshrined in the legislation, but also as widely embraced and consolidated in
the hearts and minds of the citizens.
4 The constitutional ban on same-sex marriage has not, however, prevented the passing of a
new legal framework for same-sex couples, as the centre-left ruling coalition, along with several
other leftist and centrist MPs, passed the Same-Sex Life-Partnership Law in July 2014, equating
a same-sex life-partnership to a heteronormative marriage in all rights and obligations, except
the access to adoption.
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
Framing the Theory on Social Movements
Social movements are “rational attempts by excluded groups to mobilize suffi-
cient political leverage to advance collective interests through noninstitutionalized
means” (McAdam, 1982: 37), as well as “collective challenges to existing arrange-
ments of power and distribution by people with common purposes and solidarities,
in sustained interaction with elites, opponents and authorities” (Meyer and Tarrow,
1998: 4). Research on religion and politics “highlighted the role of religious or-
ganizations in the mobilization of various movements and the ways in which reli-
gious resources and institutions have been appropriated by movements with secular
goals” (Aminzade and Perry, 2001: 115). Keddie (1998: 697) argues that religious-
political mass movements either argue in favor of religious nationalism, or promote
conservative religious politics. Whereas a mission of the first category of religious-
political movements is directed primarily against other religious communities, the
second type is directed primarily against internal enemies.
Applying Keddie’s ter-
minology, a religious-political movement turns into a political actor by responding
to disillusionment with secular government whom they perceive as incapable of
representing properly its value system.
Aminzade and Perry (2001: 160-161) argue that “[t]he central way in which
religious-based political movements differ from secular ones concerns claims to an
other-worldly, transcendental ontology. [...] The issue is not whether such a super-
natural world actually exists. As long as people believe it does and act accordingly,
invisible spirits can shape political life.” Religious politics is a term that refers “to
any social interaction that relates beliefs regarding sacred objects to the interests and
actions of a political community” (Chow, 2012). Religious-political movements,
like any other social movement, tend to result in a social change that redistributes
power (McCarthy and Zald, 1977: 1217-1218; Tarrow, 1998: 4-6; Meyer and Tar-
row, 1998: 4), and, obviously, the nature of a collective claim-making which defines
their contention challenge might also be political. Consequently, along with ideo-
logical messages, religious-political movements convey political messages as well.
In order to be able to explain the emergence of the Croatian religious-political
social movement we opted for theoretical concepts that allow the study of social
movements in a broader economic and political context and that take into account
political opportunities, mobilizing structures, framing processes, protest cycles, and
contentious repertoires (Caren, 2007; McAdam, 1982).
5 The latter is the case with the movement researched in this paper, as this movement appeals
to a religious tradition, which is evoked as a means of solving problems exacerbated by secular
government; applies populist rhetoric in attempting to gain political power; and predominantly
advocates conservative and traditional social views.
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
The Political Process and the Contentious Politics Approaches
to Understanding Social Movements
The political process (or political opportunity) approach, developed by McAdam
(1982), introduced a challenge of the political opportunity structure and the insti-
tutional political power as the context of social movements’ political action. By
focusing on political opportunity structure and context, the political process ap-
proach places analytical attention “to the contours and dynamics of the wider soci-
ety in which the movements operate” (Williams, 2000: 95). A recipe for insurgency,
explained by the political process perspective, is made from the following three
factors: political opportunities, indigenous organizational strength, and cognitive
liberation. The concept of opportunity structure can be described as the threatened
interests of governments and other groups to the actions of a challenger pursuing
the group’s interests (Tilly, 1978: 11). It could also be seen as the “consistent – but
not necessarily formal or permanent – dimensions of the political environment that
provide incentives for people to undertake collective action by affecting their ex-
pectations for success or failure” (Tarrow, 1994: 85).
The political opportunity structures is the basic idea of the framework as ex-
actly this influences “the choice of protest strategies and the impact of social move-
ments on their environment’ (Kitschelt, 1986: 58). Similarly, political opportunities
result from “any event or broad social process that serves to undermine the calcu-
lations and assumptions on which the political establishment is structured” (Mc-
Adam, 1982: 41).
In addition to changes in the political opportunity structure, the political pro-
cess theory takes into account organizational strength and insurgent conscious-
ness as reasons for the emergence of collective action. Indigenous organizational
strength presupposes the pre-existence of political and potentially political organi-
zations that existed among the aggrieved community. Finally, cognitive liberation
among potential social movement participants emerges out of perceived illegitima-
cy of the current political system, convincing the participants in the social move-
ment they are able to contribute to a meaningful social change (Tilly, 1978: 135;
McAdam, 1982: 38).
A proponent of the political process approach Sidney Tarrow (1994: 1) argues
that social movements are “triggered by the incentives created by political oppor-
tunities, combining conventional and challenging forms of action and building on
social networks and cultural frames”. Tarrow furthermore argues (1998: 71) “that
contention is more closely related to opportunities for and limited by constraints
upon collective action than by the persistent social or economic factors that people
experience”. However, “changing opportunities must be seen alongside more stable
structural elements like the strength or weakness of the state and the forms of re-
pression it habitually employs” (ibid.).
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
Tarrow, thus, recognizes an opportunity as a crucial variable in the emergence
of social protest, emphasizing that social movements are both able to seize pre-ex-
isting opportunities, but also envisage a strategy that will allow them to create new
opportunities in which they will increase their power. Tarrow claims that along with
politics, i.e., political opportunities, two additional factors are crucial for explain-
ing “[h]ow movements become the focal points for collective action and sustain
it against opponents and the state” (1994: 189): mobilizing structures and cultural
frames. Of the two, the one more important for our research is the concept of mo-
bilizing structures. They are resources, which “bring people together in the field,
shape coalitions, confront opponents, and assure their own future after the exhilara-
tion of the peak of mobilization has passed” (Tarrow, 1998: 123).
The political process approach was expanded and consolidated by the concept
of contentious politics. Tarrow (2011: 16) argues that “contentious politics emerges
in response to changes in political opportunities and threats when participants per-
ceive and respond to a variety of incentives: material and ideological, partisan- and
group-based, long-standing and episodic”. McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly define con-
tentious politics as “episodic, public, collective interaction among makers of claims
and their objects when (a) at least one government is a claimant, an object of claims,
or a party to the claims and (b) the claims would, if realized, affect the interests of
at least one of the claimants” (2001: 5). In contentious politics, a variety of interac-
tions takes place among a multitude of contenders. Consequently, the outcome of
interactions among groups of challengers and between them and authorities is de-
monstrated through a dynamic of the cycle (Tarrow, 2012: 201).
Since the nature of the contentious politics is dynamic and interactive (Mc-
Adam, Tarrow and Tilly, 2001: 73), Tarrow holds that the best way to conceptual-
ize it is to observe it as a process (2012: 200). He claims that “people engage in
contentious politics when patterns of political opportunities and constraints change,
and then by strategically employing a repertoire of collective action, creating new
opportunities, which are used by others in widening cycles of contention” (Tarrow,
2011: 28-29). Therefore, a successful cycle of contention can be explained through
four elements of the contentious politics: (i) the expansion of the political oppor-
tunity structure; (ii) the construction of contention; (iii) networks and mobilizing
structures; and (iv) the repertoire of contention (Tarrow, 1998; Tilly, 1978).
Methods of Research
In order to establish which societal trends favored the emergence of religious poli-
tics in Croatia we draw upon the political opportunity approach that argues that a
causal significance of political opportunities is prevalent for a social movement to
emerge, and that collective action needs to be studied by the systematic cataloguing
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
and analysis of contentious events (Tilly, 1978: 41-85; McAdam, 1982). Further-
more, we were interested in establishing what the motivation behind choosing le-
gal mobilization as a means of pursuing a movement’s goals is. We will, therefore,
explain why legal norms were deployed by the religious-political movement as the
movement’s repertoire of contention. In this way, we will show that legal norms
might play an important role not only in the inception of the social movement, but
also in its recruitment and the building of its organizational resources, as well as in
the mobilization and demobilization of its constituents.
In order to explore the growth of a conservative religious-political movement
in Croatia, the referendum initiative that resulted in the constitutional amendment
on the definition of marriage, and the ways in which institutions might be deployed
as means of achieving social change, we used in-depth interviews. By conducting
ten semi-structured in-depth interviews, with scholars and civil society activists
from both the liberal and conservative spectrum of Croatian civil society, we ma-
naged to collect data on the social movement repertoire. We were interested in their
opinion about the rise of conservative activism in Croatia. We especially focused
on understanding their intention to define marriage through the Constitution. We
also wanted to understand how changes to the legal and institutional framework
contributed to the referendum initiative that demanded the valorization of the con-
servative-Catholic values in the constitutional text. In the end, we wanted to know
all we could about the possibility that the referendum initiatives served as a means
for positioning new political actors in the realm of Croatian politics.
The ten interviewees were researchers and scholars (4), representatives of libe-
ral civil society organizations (3), and representatives of conservative civil society
organizations (3) that form the core of the religious-political movement. We found
leaders and lawyers of the religious-political movement particularly important as
interviewees as they had outlined the referendum initiative question and requested
a review of the lawfulness of governmental decisions on behalf of the movement’s
organizations. The other respondents’ active participation in Croatian civil society
or scholarly interest in it has legitimized them as a valuable source of information.
Structure of Religious-Political Actors in Croatia
Mobilization of the religious right emerged in the United States in the 1970s, as
a response to a plethora of progressive laws (Chow, 2012: 1471; Wilcox and Ro-
binson, 2010; Shields, 2009; Amenta and Caren, 2004; Green, Rozell and Wilcox,
2003). Afterwards, and as a response to the secularization process in Western Eu-
ropean and in the majority of Central and Eastern European countries (Ančić and
Zrinščak, 2012: 22; Pickel and Sammet, 2012), the socially conservative organi-
zations demanded the safeguarding of Christian values in the legislation and so-
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
cial policies of European institutions and national governments. They framed their
claims around three sets of ideas: the necessity to preserve traditional family, the
right to life, and religious liberty (Hodžić and Bijelić, 2015).
The Croatian religious-political movement is comprised of a dozen of con-
servative civil society organizations that came into being over the course of the
last decade. They promote traditional or Catholic values, advocate for active citi-
zen participation in the society and in politics, pursue pro-life activism and oppose
abortion; assert that the right to marry and found a family should be solely entrusted
to one man and one woman; and negate the autonomy of the state to prescribe edu-
cational curricula that touch upon sensitive issues such as contraception, education
on gender roles, etc.
The first manifestation of a conservative mobilization can be traced back to
2006, when the association “Voice of Parents for Children” (Glas roditelja za djecu
– GROZD) openly objected to the introduction of a curriculum for sexual education
program in schools (Bijelić, 2008). “GROZD” was established to advocate an ab-
stinence-based program, built on the Catholic view on family, sexuality, and gender
roles. Two other associations, the “Association for a Comprehensive Sex Education
Teen Star” (Udruga za cjeloviti spolni odgoj Teen star) and the “Reform – Asso-
ciation for the Promotion of Ethics, Morality, Family Values, and Human Rights”
(Reforma – udruga za promicanje etike, morala, obiteljskih vrijednosti i ljudskih
prava), have both had Ladislav Ilčić as a connecting, prominent figure. The as-
sociation “Teen Star” promotes a specific program on responsible sexual behavior
that is offered to teenagers in schools or parishes aiming at the maintenance of the
virginity of its participants or the discontinuation of sexual activity of previously
sexually active participants. The “Reform” opposes the introduction of sex educa-
tion in school curricula. The association “Teen Star” is a member of an international
association “TeenSTAR International” that is associated with the “Natural Family
Planning Center” in Washington, D.C.
The association “Vigilare” (Latin expression for ‘vigilant, watchful’) is regis-
tered as an association that “promotes citizens’ participation in the civil and politi-
cal sectors of society and the preservation of dignity and rights of the individual,
family and values of life”. “Vigilare” mostly pursues internet activism, by calling
its supporters to send emails to politicians and the heads of institutions when they
believe a violation of traditional values has taken place. By doing so, “Vigilare”
introduced a form of civic activism that Croatian citizens and institutions were not
used to.
The citizens’ association “Center for the Renewal of Culture” (Centar za obno-
vu kulture – COK) is established with the goal of educating and training future con-
servative leaders, guided “by the belief that if the culture can be renewed then the
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
political landscape can be healed” (Bartulica, 2013: 22). The Center for the Renew-
al of Culture’s mission resembles the one of the “Center for European Renewal”,
a pan-European conservative association that describes itself as “an independent,
non-profit, non-partisan, educational and cultural organization dedicated to promot-
ing and protecting the Western ideal of a civilized, humane, and free society”.
The mission of these conservative civil society organizations is often multiple,
as some of them, e.g. “GROZD”, “Vigilare”, and the “Center for Natural Family
Planning”, also present themselves as pro-life advocates. Several other pro-life as-
sociations established the umbrella organization “Croatian Alliance for Life ‘CRO-
VITA’” (Hrvatski savez za život ‘CRO-VITA’), that “brings together associations,
initiatives, movements, projects and individual members with the idea and imple-
mentation of a primary goal: the protection of endangered or unprotected human
life and human dignity from conception to natural death”. The “Croatian Alliance
for Life ‘CRO-VITA’” served in 2013 as a local expository of a European citizens’
pro-life initiative “One of Us”, organized and coordinated by the non-profit “Euro-
pean Federation for Life and Human Dignity”.
Apart from advocates of Catholic values and pro-life activists, there is a group
of conservative civil society organizations that place protection of marriage and tra-
ditional family as the core of their activism. These are the “Association for Promot-
ing Family Values ‘Blessed Alojzije Stepinac’” (Udruga za promicanje obiteljskih
vrijednosti ‘Blaženi Alojzije Stepinac’), the “Center for Natural Family Plan-
ning” (Centar za prirodno planiranje obitelji), “Family Enrichment” (Obiteljsko
obogaćivanje), and the “Reform”.
Finally, it is impossible not to acknowledge that all the prominent actors of
the Croatian religious-political movement had been or are still active first in the
party “Croatian Growth – HRAST” (Hrvatski rast – HRAST) that was registered
as a political party in 2010, or in the party “Hrast [meaning ‘oak’] – the Move-
ment for a Successful Croatia” (Hrast – Pokret za uspješnu Hrvatsku) which was
founded following the break up in the party. In spite of being a political actor, the
party “Croatian Growth”, founded by several conservative Catholic NGOs, joined
by several marginal conservative parties, politicians and public intellectuals¸ advo-
cated itself as “a Croatian political movement that brings together political parties,
civic organizations, civic initiatives, and prominent individuals” that are tradition-
ally conservative.
Its president was Željka Markić, a leading figure of the conserva-
tive civic initiative “In the Name of the Family”. The party “Hrast – the Movement
for a Successful Croatia” is led by Ladislav Ilčić, conservative civil society activist
that emerged through promoting Catholic morals and values in health education and
6 “Hrvatski rast – Hrast: Vrijednosna programska polazišta”, Portal hrvatskog kulturnog vijeća,
28 June 2011, at
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
later as local politician in the city of Varaždin and then shortly as MP in the Croatian
Parliament elected from the list of the Croatian Democratic Union in 2015. Whereas
the first version of “Hrast” ceased to exist, the later party is politically active, and
is aligned with the European Christian Political Movement and currently has one
representative in the Parliament.
The citizens’ initiative “In the Name of the Family” arrived on stage once the
center-left coalition announced its intention to legislatively arrange the rights and
responsibilities of same-sex partners (such as social and health insurance rights and
inheritance rights). The initiative “In the Name of the Family” was presented, by its
(informal) leader Željka Markić, as an initiative that “brings together individuals,
families and numerous civic organizations aimed at promoting marriage between a
man and a woman as the fundamental value of the social order and the guarantee
of the permanent legal protection of children, marriage and family” (Stanić, 2013).
The religious-political movement’s framing process has set the protection of
the values of the (Catholic) majority and the dominance of the Catholic identity in
Croatian society through preserving the traditional family as its master frame. Up
to now, the neo-conservative agenda in Croatia tackled three issues: the protection
of the traditional family, the resistance to the introduction of sex education, and the
prohibition of abortion. Such a thematic cluster demonstrates their alignment with
a wider European neo-conservative agenda.
The first goal of the protection of the traditional family was successfully ar-
ticulated through the citizens’ initiative “In the Name of the Family” that managed
to include the definition of marriage into the text of the Croatian constitution as a
union between a man and a woman. In this way they were able to create a consti-
tutional prohibition of same-sex marriage and the impossibility of marriage equal-
ity for LGBT individuals. Amending legislation requires a simple majority of votes
in the Parliament, whereas amending the Constitution requires three quarters of all
Parliamentary votes. However, the citizens’ legislative initiative becomes the text of
the Constitution if in a nation-wide referendum the majority of the votes were cast
in favour of the referendum initiative. For the initiative to be valid, ten percent of all
voters in the country need to back it initially. However, in spite of the referendum’s
success for the citizen initiative “In the Name of the Family”, the conservative civil
society organizations continue to oppose the Civil Partnership Act. They argue the
Act is unconstitutional, because it recognizes the same right to the institution of
civil partnership as the one that is enshrined in the institution of marriage (Radelj,
2014). Thus, the ideological battles over marriage and the traditional family seem
far from being over.
Secondly, the religious-political movement objects to the introduction of health
and civic education programs in school curricula on the grounds that learning about
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
sexuality in elementary and high schools is contrary to parental rights and interests
of educating their children in accordance with their own value systems. They argue
that parents should have a freedom to opt for a variant of health education that is in
line with their parental value system.
Apart from submitting open letters to ministers of social policy or education,
the “GROZD” and “Reform” associations submitted in December 2013 a proposal
for a constitutional review of the governmental “Decision on the introduction, mo-
nitoring and evaluation of curriculum implementation of health education in elemen-
tary and high schools”. After the Constitutional Court struck down the provision on
introduction of health education in elementary and high school curriculum since the
procedural requirements were not met, a representative of the “GROZD” argued that
“the [Constitutional] Court recognized what parents, conservative NGO groups, the
Catholic Church, initiative ‘In the name of the Family’ and other major religions in
Croatia, had been saying all along – that the Minister of Education had forcibly and
undemocratically introduced the sex-education program which was a beachhead for
introducing gender ideology and indoctrinating Croatian children against the will of
their parents and against article 63 of the Croatian Constitution and other European
directives and laws which state that parents have the sole responsibility and freedom
to bring up their children in line with their values” (LifeSite, 2013). Although the
Constitutional Court had not based its decision on the grounds evoked by the so-
cial movement organizations, but merely on inadequate procedural requirements, the
movement presented the Constitutional Court’s decision as a victory. The influence
of conservative actors in the modeling of a future educational curriculum is seen in
the interest those actors are pursuing in the modeling of the educational reform the
Ministry of Education has been implementing. Open proponents of the traditional
and Catholic values have occupied some of the leading positions in the expert team
for the implementation of the educational reform. Moreover, recent changes in the
draft Law on Primary and Secondary Education show that the current government
is willing to take into account parental value preferences by assuring parallel educa-
tional content on topics that might have influence on the formation of personal atti-
tudes, values and behavioral preferences.
The initiative “In the Name of the Family” used the legal mobilization by sub-
mitting a request for a constitutional review of the Family Act after a comprehen-
sive reform of family law was passed in 2014. Interestingly, the constitutionality of
the Family Act was challenged by a number of organizations and individuals from
both the liberal and conservative spectrum, and was eventually suspended by the
Constitutional Court.
The third topic the religious-political movement is pursuing is the protection
of life from its inception until natural death. One of the first arenas in which the
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
religious-political claims became articulated was the legal regulation on assisted
human reproduction. For example, in February 2012, representatives of the civic
initiative “I Was an Embryo Too” (I ja sam bio embrij) formed by the civil society
organizations “Vigilare” and “Fertility Care” presented a legislative proposal in the
Croatian Parliament that would contribute to the solution of problems of couples
with infertility by advocating natural conception and opposing the freezing of em-
bryos for the purpose of artificial insemination. The liberalization of assisted human
reproduction legislation was put for a vote in July 2013 and was not backed by the
center-right parties. The Croatian Bishops’ Conference labelled the law “profound-
ly immoral and inhumane, because it will dissolve the fundamental values of fami-
ly and marriage” (Glas Koncila, 2012). Damir Jelić, vice president of the Croatian
Democratic Union, in that time the biggest opposition party, compared the new law
to “the human tragedies of the Holocaust and the crimes of the Communist regime”
(ibid.). Already in July 2012, the citizens’ initiative “I Was an Embryo Too” and
civil society organization “Vigilare” issued a joint statement in which a retreat to
the constitutional referendum was mentioned for the first time: “We are left with no
other option but to take advantage of the rights enshrined by the Croatian Constitu-
tion that endow citizens with the possibility to call a referendum to bring down this
law. This will certainly be possible because we are no longer a ‘silent majority’. The
constitutional complaint and the referendum are the last line of defense left to the
citizens, but our efforts do not end in breach of this bad law” (ibid.).
The social conservative and Catholic associations have recently undertaken a
number of activities that oppose sexual and reproductive rights that have been le-
galized since the 1970s in Croatia. Interestingly, in the same period the number of
medical specialists who provide abortions has decreased due to the expression of
conscientious objection. For example, since 2014, during Lent, prayer vigils under
the name “40 Days for Life” (40 dana za život) were organized across the country in
front of public hospitals that perform abortions. The prayer vigils constitute a novel-
ty in the repertoire of civic activism, and are likely inspired by, and imported from,
American and Western European pro-life initiatives. The prayer vigils in Croatia
are coordinated by the “International Ecumenical Prayer Initiative for Unborn Life”
(Međunarodna ekumenska molitvena inicijativa za nerođeni život), which confirms
international support for this development of the protest repertoire.
The opening up of the pro-life agenda by the organizations belonging to the
religious-political movement can be explained merely as an import of the foreign
repertoires, since the legislator has not announced any intention to promote abor-
tion as a contraceptive means, and there were no prior announcements from the
government to amend any law on reproductive rights. However, there was a pend-
ing constitutional review request of the so-called abortion law from the late 1970s
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
which was rejected by the Constitutional Court in February 2017. Conservative and
Catholic associations “In the name of the Family”, “Croatian Movement for Life
and Family” (Hrvatski pokret za život i obitelj) and “Croatian Catholic Congrega-
tion ‘MI’” (Hrvatski katolički zbor ‘MI’) as well as several citizens filed additional
complaints to the Constitutional Court to back the original constitutional review
Thus, the movement, similarly to its organization of the Constitutional refe-
rendum on the definition of marriage, is acting preemptively, by trying to restrict
the potential liberalization of the reproductive rights. This particular issue was an-
nounced back in 2013 as the movement’s future attempts to transform the legal sys-
tem, since Krešimir Miletić, one of the leaders of the religious-political movement,
stated that “discussion on all relevant issues in society shall be opened, including
the one on the law on abortion that was passed during the Communist rule” (Ćurić,
Interestingly, in pursuing all these topics, the conservative civil society acti-
vists consistently use human rights discourse for the legitimization of their claims.
Human rights discourse, referencing to pluralism and democratic principles and
values, has been widely used as a repertoire of contention by conservative organi-
zations and movements in the Western world.
One of our interviewees considered
that “the discourse of human rights, normally used by the left-liberal organization,
made them distinctive, even putting them farther away from the Church, which is
traditional, conservative”. Secondly, they are claiming a concept of human rights
as a reasoning discourse. For example, they manipulate the legal discourse and in-
terpret the right of the parents to decide on the way in which sexuality and gender
equality will be taught to their children, the right to marriage equality, the right to
free and autonomous decisions regarding one’s reproductive life, and the freedom
of religious conviction to fit Catholic teaching and values. Moreover, in the country
that has a significant share of self-declared Catholic believers (almost 80% accord-
ing to the 2011 Census) the religious-political movement claims the legitimacy of
representing the moral, Catholic majority.
7 In her research of the Christian right, Jennifer S. Butler (2006) noted, for example, that the
Christian right social movement uses liberal procedures and rights, supported by human rights
treaties and declarations, to advance conservative and restrictive policies. Cynthia Burack (2008)
demonstrated that the Christian right uses the notion of pluralism, that diversity is a social good
which prevents dominance of one particular idea, for its own political purposes against the les-
bian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT) community.
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
The Expansion of Political Opportunity Structure:
Lowered Referendum Requirement
The Croatian Constitution was amended in advance to Croatia’s accession to the
European Union on 1 July 2013. Originally, the Constitution required that more
than half of all registered voters vote in favor of the referendum question in order
for the referendum to be valid. Political elites, being realistic that in a climate of
significant voter apathy, the turnout would not satisfy that requirement, abolished
the threshold for a nation-wide referendum (Butković, 2017; Gardašević, 2015;
Horvat-Vuković, 2014). Moreover, the Constitution contains a provision that the
Parliament needs to call a referendum on proposals to amend the Constitution when
ten percent of the total electorate of the country request so and that decisions made
in the referendum are binding.
Željka Markić, the religious-political movement’s informal leader, stated that
the initiative’s activity was motivated by the French movement “The Protest for
Everyone” (La Manif Pour Tous), who organized a massive march in Paris against
same-sex marriage in November 2012. Markić argued: “having learned from the
events in France, where millions of people have come out to the streets to send a
message to President Holland that they do not accept equating the same-sex rela-
tionships and marriage, we think that it is good to resolve such an important is-
sue peacefully, through the democratic process open to all Croatian citizens”
(Ciglenečki, 2013).
The interviews with other representatives of the religious-political movement
confirmed our starting assumption that they recognized the change in the referen-
dum legislation as an opportunity structure. One of the respondents said that one
local referendum
served as inspiration. Realizing that requirements for local re-
ferenda are much harsher than those for a national one, the religious-political ac-
tors decided to seize the opportunity, knowing the success in referendum both le-
gitimizes their claims and makes them legally binding, as well as hard to overturn.
The movement relied on the referendum as a model of participatory democracy,
knowing that citizens would recognize it as a response to diminished opportunities
8 The civic initiative “Srđ is Ours” (Srđ je naš) mobilized in April 2013 the residents of Dub-
rovnik to oppose the construction of a golf resort on the plateau Srđ above Dubrovnik, by call-
ing for a local referendum. Though the initiative managed to collect a sufficient number of sup-
porting signatures to call for the referendum, the referendum failed, since less than 50 percent of
voters in Dubrovnik voted. Namely, only 31.5% of voters showed up at polling stations when the
referendum was held, whereas the Law on Referendum set a threshold of more than a half of the
total number of registered voters.
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
to participate in the policy-making processes. The movement thus recognized the
niche of political dissatisfaction of voters, who were demonstrating their distrust in
mainstream political institutions by electing not to vote at various elections.
provided another opportunity for success of the referendum initiative, as they need-
ed to mobilize just a certain percentage of citizens willing to cast their vote, as there
was no threshold for the results to be binding.
The citizen initiative “In the Name of the Family” managed to collect 749,316
signatures in a two-week period in May 2013. The initiative was supported by con-
servative political parties (both parliamentary and non-parliamentary ones), the
Catholic Church and the majority of other religious communities. The ruling left-
wing coalition opposed the amendment, along with numerous liberal human rights
organizations and the majority of Croatian media. The Constitutional Court did not
discuss the constitutionality of the referendum question, because the Croatian Par-
liament did not request it from the Court.
The constitutional referendum was held on 1 December 2013 and 37.9% of eli-
gible voters voted. The State Election Commission announced that 65.87% voted
Yes, 33.51% voted No, and 0.57% of ballots were invalid.
However, this was not the only referendum initiative by the citizens’ initiative
“In the Name of the Family”. The political nature of its activism was confirmed first
in 2014, once the initiative started to collect signatures for a referendum to change
the electoral system, and then in 2015 when “In the Name of the Family – Project
Homeland” (U ime obitelji – projekt Domovina) registered as a political party and
run in parliamentary elections that year, though without securing any seat. In 2014
the initiative attempted to change both the Constitution and electoral legislation in
order to introduce preferential voting, so that voters, and not party leaders, would
have a dominant influence on the candidates elected. Under the slogan “Let Us
Elect Deputies by Name” (Birajmo zastupnike imenom i prezimenom), the petition
was signed by 380,649 voters,
almost half the number the initiative gathered for
the first referendum. The lower number of citizens supporting this initiative can be
explained by the fact that all parliamentary political parties, including the largest,
9 For example, the voter turnout at the local elections held in May 2013 was merely 13.55% in
average (State Electoral Commission of the Republic of Croatia, 2013). The voter turnout at the
European Parliament elections held in May 2014 was 25.24% (State Electoral Commission of
the Republic of Croatia, 2014a). The last presidential elections held in December 2014, however,
witness an increase of participation, as the turnout was 47.12% in the first round and 59.05% in
the second round (State Electoral Commission of the Republic of Croatia, 2014b).
10 They needed just above 400,000 signatures for the initiative to be successful.
11 The Constitutional Court found in December 2014 the initiative had not managed to collect a
sufficient number of signatures to initiate the second referendum, as the Court established that in
order to call for a referendum 404,252 signatures were required.
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
the Croatian Democratic Union, which was openly supportive of the first referen-
dum initiative, were against the second initiative. However, popular support for the
initiative’s idea signaled political parties that citizens do favour preferential voting.
The amendments of electoral legislation from February 2015 resulted in letting vot-
ers endorse one particular candidate from the party list in 2015 and 2016 parliamen-
tary elections.
Other opportunity structures recognized by the religious-political movement
were the public’s high level of dissatisfaction with mainstream politics, and wor-
sened economic situation. In a country that has widespread corruption
and sub-
stantial distrust in political institutions,
people turned to new forms of political
activism that appears un-compromised and voices concerns over traditional values.
The lack of trust in political institutions puts at risk the willingness of citizens to
back new public policies (in the Croatian context those were the centre-left govern-
ment’s Minister of Public Administration announcements on the alignment of same-
sex couples’ rights and responsibilities to those of any other married couple, and the
introduction of health and civic education in the school curriculum). In addition,
an on-going economic crisis, which in the case of Croatia lasted for more than six
years, and the austerity measures that followed, contributed to the unpopularity of
the government.
The Construction of Contention: Framing the Family in Danger
Tarrow (2011: 120) argues that the social movements “do not invent forms of con-
tention out of whole cloth but instead innovate within and around culturally embed-
ded repertoires”. The religious-political movement had managed to gain support for
its goal by using the concept of family, not heterosexual marriage, as their central
frame. Our interviewee adds: “this was a matter of representation of values of the
whole society. I think that people were not thinking only about marriage, as a defi-
nition. They didn’t want to interpret it as a mere legal scope, but as a fight for what
you believe in and what proved to be the right thing throughout history. This means
that the family is the best place to raise children. Unfortunately, legal options were
such, sense and simplicity in the presentation requires simplicity in question.”
The literature on social movements suggests emotions might play a key role
in mobilization processes (Aminzade and McAdam, 2001; Goodwin, Jasper, and
12 Data of the 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, a public opinion survey on views and experi-
ences of corruption, revealed that 72% of respondents in Croatia felt that political parties were
corrupt or extremely corrupt, whereas 63% of respondents held that the parliament was corrupt
or extremely corrupt (Transparency International, 2013).
13 Political parties, the parliament and the government are the least trusted institutions according
to many recent surveys (Budak and Rajh, 2012).
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
Polletta, 2001; Summers-Effler, 2002). Indeed, citizens who expressed their sup-
port for the initiative were mobilized through the use of emotions, as the initiative
systematically framed saving the endangered family and endangered values as a
goal of their activism. It was visible from choosing the initiative’s name (“In the
Name of the Family”), through using arguments that the family is the best place for
raising children, to claiming that children who live in families with one biological
parent or with homosexual parents are necessarily sexually, emotionally and physi-
cally abused.
At the outset of the initiative’s activities, its informal leader, Željka Markić,
stated that the referendum has been chosen as a means of action, “in order to en-
sure that something so fundamental for a society as marriage, and thus the family,
and all the rights arising from marriage, such as the adoption of children, cannot be
changed just by changing the Family Act or any other law” (Stanić, 2013). More-
over, Markić repeatedly stated that referendum was chosen as the initiative’s activi-
ty since the organizers expected “the referendum to ensure constitutional protection
of marriage as a union between a woman and a man, and to show to the politicians,
both in the present and subsequent Governments, what is Croatian society’s view on
such important issues as marriage, family and adoption” (Ciglenečki, 2013).
Part of the public was most likely deceived by the alleged scientific data the
movement provided, including through public lectures by Judith Reisman, an
American academic and social conservative activist who denounces the work of
sociologist Alfred Kinsey. In her lectures in February 2013, delivered at the Faculty
of Political Science and the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, as well as in the Cro-
atian Parliament, Reisman attacked sex education and gay rights as an anti-family
and pedophile-friendly agenda. Željka Markić often asserted that so-called Texas
Research proved that the children living with homosexual parents are “on average
at a significant disadvantage when compared to children raised by the intact fami-
ly of their married, biological mother and father” (Regnerus, 2012). The latter re-
search has been denounced by the Croatian Sociological Association, which stated
this academic research was incorrect and biased (Croatian Sociological Associa-
tion, 2013). But the members of the religious-political movement were undeterred.
Vice John Batarelo, for example, stated that “it has been empirically proven that
where you have a happy marriage and a happy family – there children are more suc-
cessful, happier, more ambitious” (Hudelist, 2013).
Moreover, the initiative wisely used emotions, in public addresses and appear-
ances of its leaders as well as in its campaign (e.g. by using a silhouette of a family
with mother and father holding hands with their children as the central logo of the
referendum campaign, or by picturing a happy young family with a small child as
the web identity of the “GROZD” association). An example of emotional manipula-
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
tion was a poster of a girl who allegedly fell asleep in the drawing of her deceased
mother, she drew herself on the street. The media discovered that the message the
picture asserted was fake, as it was an artistic photo taken by an Iranian photogra-
pher of one of her nieces (V.Š. and R.J., 2013).
Networks and Mobilizing Structures: Interconnectedness of Conservative Actors
Tarrow (2011: 123-124) argues that it is possible to distinguish among three dif-
ferent meanings of movement organization: the organization of collective action at
the point of contact with opponents usually controlled by one formal organization
or a coalition of organizations; the advocacy organization which either promotes or
resists social change; and “the connective structures or interpersonal networks that
link leaders and followers, centers and peripheries, and different parts of a move-
ment sector with one another, permitting coordination and aggregation, and allow-
ing movements to persist even when formal organization is lacking”. In addition,
he argues that social movements depend on three levels of organization: “the social
networks at their base, the organization of collective action, and some degree of for-
mal organization” (ibid.: 183). The third meaning of movement organization, i.e. the
one that asserts the interpersonal networks between movement leaders, as well as
the first level of movement organization, i.e the social network, constitute the main
connective structure of the Croatian religious-political movement. Representatives
of liberal civil society gathered in the campaign “Citizens vote against!” argued that
behind the citizens’ initiative “In the Name of the Family” is actually “one mar-
ginal political option”, i.e. the conservative political party “Hrast” (Građani glasaju
PROTIV, 2013). Similar messages were voiced in articles on portals and in maga-
zines that were not sympathetic to the idea of the constitutional referendum (R.I.,
It is impossible not to acknowledge that the movement is represented by just
a few individuals that reappear in a dozen conservative civil society organizations,
sometimes even being formally connected to the institutions of the Catholic Church.
Željka Markić, as an informal leader of “In the Name of the Family”, was the former
president of the political party “Hrast”. Ladislav Ilčić, president of the party “Hrast”
at the moment of the referendum, was the former president of the civil society or-
ganization “GROZD”. Krešimir Planinić, who is the legal councilor of the citizen’s
initiative “In the Name of the Family” is, through his wife, associated with the or-
ganization “Mary’s Meals”
. Krešimir Miletić, at the time associated with the as-
sociation “Vigilare”, is also the president of the “Association for Promoting Family
14 The civil society organization Mary’s Meals Croatia (Marijini obroci) is a branch of the inter-
national charity organization Mary’s Meals “that aims at providing a proper meal to the children
in the world’s poorest countries every school day”.
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
Values ‘Blessed Alojzije Stepinac’”, a member of the “Croatian Marriage and Fami-
ly Alliance CRO-BIOS”, and a former member of the party “Hrast”. Vice Batarelo,
who is the president of the association “Vigilare”, used to be head of the Office for
the Pastoral Care of the Family of the Archdiocese of Zagreb. S. Bartulica, who is
the president of the citizens’ association “Center for the Renewal of Culture”, used
to serve as advisor to the former President Ivo Josipović on religious issues.
The interviewees from the conservative civil society organizations claimed
they had not been initially coordinated and acquainted with each other. On the con-
trary, they argued that shared values and interest brought them together, and as a re-
sult of that they are acquaintances and friends today. Indeed, interpersonal networks
that exist among the movement’s leaders (a dozen of associations and civil society
organizations often share personnel in governing boards and bodies) are the driving
force behind the movement’s identity development.
The interviewees from liberal civil society argued the leaders of the religious-
political movement are closely related to the Catholic Church. However, the in-
terviewees from the conservative civil society organizations repeatedly articulated
that the nature of their initiative is non-confessional and apolitical, but neverthe-
less seeks partners across religious boundaries, and presented themselves as acting
across religious divides. The proclamation of a non-confessional character of the ini-
tiative managed to increase participation opportunities to almost all religious com-
munities. Such an outlook indeed had a strategic effect, as the initiative managed
to mobilize support for a referendum on the definition of marriage of the Catholic
Church, but also of other major religious communities.
Repertoire of Contention: the Role and Power of Law and Politics
The Croatian religious-political movement uses the rhetoric of human rights, acts
within the institutional framework, and relies on democratic tools such as the refe-
rendum. It transmitted conservative values mainly through institutional means, pri-
marily through the attempt to influence the drafting of legislation and by addressing
judicial institutions, predominantly the Constitutional Court, for a judicial review
of the constitutionality of legislative provisions, but also, as it was shown above, by
initiating the referendum. Such a repertoire of contention constitutes an exception
to traditional social movement activities. The Croatian case demonstrates the ability
to play within the existing framework and to use its norms strategically.
For example, the movement relied twice already on the institution of the civic
referendum; and it addressed the Constitutional Court to decide on the conform-
ity of regulations with the Constitution and to review the constitutionality of le-
gislation. Reliance on the courts and referenda presents an organized effort to re-
sist changes in the structure of the society. However, if law is to serve as an instru-
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
ment of social change, it necessarily requires the engagement of legal profession-
als who are associated with the movement and thus, as our interviewee points out,
“(...) gaining credibility and seriousness. They have shown that they are serious
people who acknowledge the rule of law – they are institutionalists; they respect the
system and use everything at their disposal, but at the same time indicate that they
want to change the system, the game rules.” By assuring the involvement of legal
professionals, this relatively cheap repertoire of contention which legitimized the
claims of the movement, not only before the authorities, but also in the wider pub-
lic, increased the power of the Croatian religious-political movement.
Social movements challenge the behavior or the legitimacy of specific social or
political actors by engaging people who wish to redirect power. When political in-
teractions occur between authorities and social movements that wish to impose tra-
ditional or religious values by challenging the political structure, the nature of such
movements is religious-political. At the outset of this research we detected that the
Croatian religious-political movement shares a number of features with social con-
servative movements arising and acting globally. The Croatian religious-political
movement, similarly to its counterparts abroad, uses religious identity and values as
a fuel for social change. Subsequently, by analyzing the roots, the evolution, and the
goals of the religious-political movement that promotes social conservative values
in Croatia, we established a relation between contentious politics and social change.
Our central goal was to reveal how the religious-political movement managed
to utilize opportunity structures to leverage political power. We detected three dis-
tinct opportunities that were available to the movement. First, a crucial change in
the referendum legislation, which generated a favorable political context for the
religious-political movement to seize a political opportunity. The second oppor-
tunity was the deep distrust in mainstream politics, as well as the economic crisis,
as instigators of change that were conducive to the claims of the religious-political
movement. Supporters of the religious-political movement perceived it as an uncor-
rupted actor. Third, the leaders of “In the Name of the Family” had been stressing
that their initiative was not Catholic, but was non-confessional, and that they are
acting merely as citizens concerned about the society’s moral downfall.
The theoretical approach we opted for required the identification of the move-
ment’s social and political adversaries, and the change in the structure of political op-
portunity; the movement’s framing processes; the movement’s network and organi-
zation; and a repertoire of contention that used referencing to law. We established
that contentious politics can be used for the positioning of a novel political actor.
We demonstrated that the movement organized the contention through the frame
Croatian Political Science Review, Vol. 54, No. 4, 2017, pp. 61-84
of the endangered traditional family and values, though the family was not a mat-
ter of constitutional referendum at all. The movement’s capacity for contention was
strengthened by an impressive organization of volunteers and supporters who were
willing to collect the signatures needed to initiate the referendum. The central organi-
zational strength was positioned in the closely connected movement’s leadership.
The movement’s leadership secured not only the internal organization of the activi-
ties, but also represented the movement’s claims in media and in public. Although
the interpersonal networks of the leaders served as the basic organizational structure
of the religious-political movement, the support of some political parties, as well as
of the Catholic Church, significantly contributed to the organizational strengths of
the movement in the cycle of contention described above. The leadership had opted
to use the strategy of referring to legislative provisions, particularly those on human
rights, their interpretation, and to address judicial institutions (particularly the Con-
stitutional Court) as the chief repertoire of contention. By using legal discourse as
the repertoire of contention, the social movement entrepreneurs managed to position
the movement as a credible and legitimate new political actor.
Groups and initiatives that advocate socially conservative and religious values
have been on the rise both in Europe and in Croatia. They act in response to legis-
lative amendments that “threaten” traditional family values by legalizing same-sex
marriage, or by recognizing the right to adoption for homosexual partners, or by intro-
ducing educational curricula that are deemed contrary to parental value systems. As
such, this is an issue that will be a major political cleavage in contemporary societies.
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Mailing Addresses:
Antonija Petričušić, Chair of Sociology, Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Trg
Republike Hrvatske 2, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia. E-mail:
Mateja Čehulić, Chair of Sociology, Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Trg Re-
publike Hrvatske 2, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia. E-mail:
Dario Čepo, Chair of Sociology, Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Trg Repub-
like Hrvatske 2, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia. E-mail:
Petričušić, A., Čehulić, M., Čepo, D., Gaining Political Power by Utilizing Opportunity Structures...
... Free of conditionality mechanisms of the pre-accession period, the state seems to have become less responsive to advocacy NGOs' demands (ibid.). On the other hand, the identity of civil society representatives became "contested" (Stoyanova, 2018), since it used to be associated primarily with actors promoting left and liberal causes, and is more recently claimed by a heterogeneous group of actors, including right-wing and conservative organizations using the rhetoric of civil society, democracy and human rights in promoting their claims (Petričušić, Čehulić and Čepo, 2017;Cerovac, 2018;Vučković Juroš, Dobrotić and Flego, 2020). In addition, the continuous importance of nonpartisanship for one part of NGOs is particularly relevant considering that in recent years several NGOs and social movements, on both left and right side of the ideological spectrum, decided to form political parties. ...
... Adding to the changing opportunities and threats after Croatia acceded the EU in 2013, advocacy NGOs' position was openly c ontested and damaged by rightwing conservative NGOs and social movements for the first time since the 1990s. Right-wing actors proved capable of broad mobilization through mechanisms of participatory democracy, and framing their goals through the language of democracy and human rights, while carefully avoiding association with racism or homophobia (Petričušić, Čehulić and Čepo, 2017;Cerovac, 2018;Vučković Juroš, Dobrotić and Flego, 2020). Pressed between the loss of political influence, which they used to enjoy as 'watchdog organizations' during the EU accession process, and the rise of counter-contenders on the radical right, the advocacy NGOs' influential position of nonpartisan experts started to weaken. ...
Advocacy NGOs in Croatia often emphasize their nonpartisan identity, meaning‎that they do not publicly associate with political parties or declare their‎endorsement of electoral candidates. While such NGOs’ behavior could be‎explained based on overall negative public perception of political parties, as‎well as funding conditions imposed by NGOs’ donors, this article argues that‎the continuous nonpartisan identity of advocacy NGOs is further reaffirmed‎by a specific civil society discourse. Drawing on the analysis of in-depth interviews‎with senior members of nine Croatian NGOs, active in areas of human‎rights, the rule of law, and education, three relevant themes of civil society‎discourse reaffirming NGOs’ nonpartisanship are outlined: (1) idea of civil‎society as an answer to malfunctioning state, (2) NGOs’ legitimation based‎on autonomy and expertise, and (3) perception of political parties as an inherently‎limiting organizational form.
... 36 Additionally, the provision of Art. 47 allows for the conscientious objection of those who are not ready to participate in military duties in the Armed forces because 33 Goldstein, 1995, p. 267 Petričušić, Čehulić, andČepo, 2017, p. 61. 36 Petričušić, Čehulić, andČepo, 2017, p. 74. ...
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This paper will strive to show that Christian values can be found in almost every constitution in the western world, although explicit invocations of Christian values are quite rare. There are constitutions that use invocatio dei and those that create state churches, but such constitutions represent a minority among constitutions. Croatia and Slovenia make good models for the purpose of this paper as they represent very similar and, at the same time, very different states with regard to the chosen model of state-church relations. The paper will show that, notwithstanding their different constitutional setup of state-church relations, Croatian and Slovene constitutions do not differ much with regard to the presence of Christian values in them.
... U drugoj grupi su tri rada koja se bave ili ustavno-zakonskim okvirom izravne demokracije u Hrvatskoj (Rodin 2000;Prkut 2015) ili mogućim prednostima i nedostacima osnaživanja izravne demokracije u hrvatskom političkom sustavu (Grdešić 2011). U trećoj grupi su tri rada koja se bave konkretnim narodnim inicijativama (Podolnjak 2015;Petričušić, Čehulić i Čepo 2017;Čepo i Nikić Čakar 2019). ...
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Središnji je cilj rada ustanoviti u kojoj je mjeri i na koje načine koncept izravne demokracije bio tema znanstvenog i stručnog istraživačkog interesa u okviru hrvatske političke znanosti. Analiza je obuhvatila članke objavljene u politološkim znanstvenim i stručnim časopisima u razdoblju od 1990. do 2020. godine. Glavni je nalaz provedene analize da je izravna demokracija bila na marginama istraživačkih interesa hrvatske politologije. To je posebice vidljivo ukoliko se opseg tematiziranja izravne demokracije usporedi s tematiziranjem različitih institucija predstavničke demokracije. Hrvatska politologija primarno je fokusirana na model predstavničke demokracije, a tek sporadično se bavi izravnom demokracijom. Dodatno, provedena analiza pokazuje da hrvatski politolozi na izravnu demokraciju dominantno gledaju negativno, te su vrlo oprezni prema njenom eventualnom češćem korištenju u hrvatskoj politici.
... 460-461) -including conservative groups focused on battling secularism, LGBT, sexual and reproductive rights, while promoting far-right historical negationism (Kasapović, 2018;Lendvai and Stubbs, 2015, pp. 460-461;Petričušić et al., 2017). ...
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The paper investigates war veterans as organisers of contentious politics in postwar Croatia, by looking into two significant protests. Already amid the 1990s War in Croatia, the first veteran associations were tied to the army or governing Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). After the HDZ government ignored their demands in 1996, the main association gathering disabled veterans announced a protest, shocking the regime. After defusing the situation by meeting most of veteran demands, the protest against the Government was transformed into a support rally for officials who helped the protesters' cause. In 2014, veteran associations initiated a protest over, at first, officials' speculations about PTSD cases among the local Serb population, framed among the veterans as "aggressors". As Prime Minister Zoran Milanović refused to dismiss the Minister of Veterans and his associates, the veteran protest outlasted the Government, including violent episodes in the government building's vicinity and ending in April 2016. The article proceeds to analyse the disruptiveness of the protest, the repertoire and violence used, as well as frames of meaning with which protesters justified their collective actions and wished to appeal to wider constituencies. The article attempts to analyse the motives behind the protest and links of protesters with different political actors mostly HDZ-trying to show if veterans acted as independent political actors or only as an extended arm of politicians. By using veteran associa-tions' documents, archival documents, media reports and literature, the paper wishes to place the two case studies into the body of literature that describes the decades-long patron-client relationship between veterans, HDZ and the state.
... I define religious actors and organisations as 'social entities which, insofar as they enter a political system to engage in power relations, become political actors' (Potz 2020, 20). Specifically, I focus on the discourse of the clergy, since other movement actors in Croatia have been analysed extensively (Hodžić and Štulhofer 2017;Petričušić, Čehulić, and Čepo 2017;Vučković and Juroš 2020). In the following section, I address how issues of gender and religion figure in populist radical right politics. ...
This paper explores the role of the Catholic Church in the articulation of populist discourse. By analysing the frames in Catholic doctrines and their dissemination by the Croatian clergy, I make three contributions. Firstly, in contrast to research on the populist radical right, which demonstrates the manipulation of religion committed by secular actors, I identify the Church as an influential source and producer of the populist master frame. Secondly, I demonstrate how the bridging of the ‘gender ideology’ frame to this populist master frame allows the national Church to articulate traditionalist stances on morality policies. Thirdly, I identify the local-level argumentation strategies, empowered by frame bridging with anti-communist, nationalist, and sovereignist themes typical of radical-right populism. Focusing on religious actors’ agency allows us to improve theories rooted in the secular world of populist politics that neglect churches as important sources of populist discourse and mobilisation.
Contemporary anti-gender movements mobilize against gender and sexual equality for which feminist and LGBTQI+ movements have been advocating for decades. We propose the term ‘contentious gender politics’ to capture this clash of opposing movements concerning bodily integrity, kinship structures, sexual morality, and institutionalization of gender equality. Existing literature has recognized the transnational character of anti-gender movements and identified matching tactics, frames, and allies across different countries. We examine how these transnational movements used similar campaigns to ‘localize’. Localization is conceptualized in this research as the process of adapting frames and tactics to different national contexts. To do so, this study examines the diffusion of social movements and anti-gender campaigns by comparing anti-gender movements in Italy and Croatia through critical events between 2013 and 2019. We demonstrate that the localization of these anti-gender movements occurred through a three-step pathway: first, by adapting frames and tactics of left-liberal civil society and progressive movements; second, by forging alliances with existing right-wing parties; and third, by embedding its agenda within formal political and administrative bodies.
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This paper attempts to showcase the development of LGBTIQA+ citizens’ rights to equal access to foster-care and adoption after the 2014 adoption of the Life Partnerships Act, as interpreted in the light of the Croatian antidiscrimination code. As a quintessential issue of equality, prohibition of discrimination on the basis of suspect grounds such as sexual orientation and family status is expressly stipulated in the 2009 Croatian Act on Combating Discrimination (ACD), in implementation of the relevant EU directives as well as the Constitution’s Articles 3 and 14. A synthetic reading of this code and the ECHR (a “corrective” of, and inspiration for constitutional hermeneutics in Croatia, as a quasi–constitutional source of law) will hopefully (continue to) govern contestations of the supra mentioned “battlefields” of homoparentality in Croatia. The denial of equality in these areas is often formulated as based on the ACD’s exceptions to the prohibition of discrimination: the “genuine occupational requirement” concession is particularly relevant to life-partners’ access to fostering, while the negation of their access to adoption centers on a particular interpretation of ACD’s exemption of discrimination in the area of family law whenever this furthers the wellbeing of children and/or protects marriage. With regards to the latter, we will carefully analyze the 2021 case-law of the Zagreb Administrative Court and its groundbreaking decision protecting life partners’ rights to become adoptive parents. We will also offer arguments in favor of this decision’s confirmation in current proceedings before the High Administrative Court. For the sake of exhaustiveness and doctrinal clarity, in addition to the disclosed two exceptions to the prohibition of discrimination we will also add a third among the ACD’s total of ten: a genuine occupational requirement justified by the employer’s religious ethos. As a result of erroneous application of substantive law this exception has also been used in negation of LGBTIQA+ couples’ basic dignity, effectively protecting hate speech directed against them. Given the potential of such speech to promote subordinate citizenship and de-sensitize the general population, we feel that it is most important to explain the lack of a substantive basis for the protection of utterances which cause grave dignitary harm to a vulnerable minority.
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The conflict between the pro-life and pro-choice movements over the question of the right to abortion can be assigned to the category of a (global) cultural war. Croatia is a region where significant desecularisation tendencies can be observed, and where there has been a return of religion into the public space. It is a region in which the Roman Catholic Church and the conservative movement intervene in the debates on the right to abortion and tend to shape the public discourse on this issue. The article responds to the debate about the existence of culture wars in the Croatian context. To establish the Croatian context of this situation, the text uses the concept of a'postsecular conflict' as defined by Kristina Stoeckl, who uses this term instead of the term 'culture war'. The research is based on a content analysis of newspaper articles published in five different periodicals between 2016 and 2020 that all explicitly mention the March for Life in Zagreb. This is not the case of a Western concept being mechanically applied in a different non-Western context. The article transposes the concept of a postsecular conflict to the context of a country in which there is one dominant religious actor that intervenes in society. In the case of Croatia and other countries like this, the conflict between the pro-life and pro-choice movements plays out not only on the conservative-liberal line but also the religious-secular one.
Conference Paper
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Citizenship education, in Croatian primary and secondary schools realized within the cross-curricular topic, strives to develop students' knowledge and skills, and to encourage the values necessary for taking up the role of an active citizen. In order for citizens to be able to respond to the challenges of modern society, it is necessary to prepare students for the role of digital citizens. Digital citizens understand the importance of technology and its competent usage on impact for everyday life and have the ability to utilize digital technology in a critical and competent manner. Since the aim of education is to prepare students for the challenges of the world, preparing them to be digital citizens should represent one of the pillars of national education policy. The aim of the research presented in this paper was to determine in which sociological context and in what way digital citizenship and digital divide are presented and defined in the curricula of Citizenship Education and strategic documents of the national education policy. Two curricula of Citizenship Education and three strategic documents of the national education policy were analysed by a comparative method and qualitative content analysis. In the analysed documents and curricula, digital citizenship is not mentioned or defined on the conceptual level and on the contextual level it is placed in various sociological frameworks. Analysed documents occasionally point to the strategic importance of Internet access for educational process.
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This article was written as a part of the research project “The New Croatian Legal System”, organized by the Zagreb Law Faculty, University of Zagreb, for the year 2016.
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In 2010 the Croatian Constitution was changed to lower the requirements for the implementation of direct democracy at the national level, in order to save the referendum on Croatia's EU membership from possible failure. Since then, Croatia has witnessed a sharp increase in people's initiatives that have managed to block a number of the government's reform proposals. Therefore, the newly discovered appeal of direct democracy in Croatia has created a new environment for the operation of its representative democracy. Starting from theoretical notions, this paper analyses the practice of direct democracy in selected transitional countries, which could be instructive for Croatia. In its central part, the paper explores the obstacles that stand in the way of the efficient implementation of direct democracy in Croatia.
The Christian Right is frequently accused of threatening democratic values. But in The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right, Jon Shields argues that religious conservatives have in fact dramatically increased and improved democratic participation and that they are far more civil and reasonable than is commonly believed. Shields interviewed leaders of more than thirty Christian Right organizations, observed movement activists in six American cities, and analyzed a wide variety of survey data and movement media. His conclusions are surprising: the Christian Right has reinvigorated American politics and fulfilled New Left ideals by mobilizing a previously alienated group and by refocusing politics on the contentious ideological and moral questions that motivate citizens. Shields also finds that, largely for pragmatic reasons, the vast majority of Christian Right leaders encourage their followers to embrace deliberative norms in the public square, including civility and secular reasoning. At the same time, Shields highlights a tension between participatory and deliberative ideals since Christian Right leaders also nurture moral passions, prejudices, and dogmas to propel their movement. Nonetheless, the Christian Right's other democratic virtues help contain civic extremism, sharpen the thinking of activists, and raise the level and tenor of political debate for all Americans.
This book contains the products of work carried out over four decades of research in Italy, France and the United States, and in the intellectual territory between social movements, comparative politics, and historical sociology. Using a variety of methods ranging from statistical analysis to historical case studies to linguistic analysis, the book centers on historical catalogs of protest events and cycles of collective action. Sidney Tarrow places social movements in the broader arena of contentious politics, in relation to states, political parties and other actors. From peasants and communists in 1960s Italy, to movements and politics in contemporary western polities, to the global justice movement in the new century, the book argues that contentious actors are neither outside of nor completely within politics, but rather they occupy the uncertain territory between total opposition and integration into policy.