Because religion and ethnicity are often closely linked, it was difficult to categorize many incidents as being solely based on ethnic identity. SOC and Jewish representatives expressed concern over a perceived increase in societal intolerance. The office of the ombudsman for human rights reported 117 individuals filed discrimination complaints on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national identity, up from 68 in 2015. The ombudsman’s office did not report how many incidents included a religious motivation, but ethnic Serbs, without citing a specific number, reported increased incidents against them, consisting primarily of property crimes, vandalism, and hate speech. While these incidents were not specifically religiously based, ethnic Serbs constituted the largest religious minority community. On April 19, the ombudsman expressed concern regarding “noticeably harsher rhetoric in the public arena during the election in 2015” and called for “the regular and more consistent use of powers at the disposal of police and judicial staff in the prevention and punishment of hate speech and hate crimes.”
After a visit in April, Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern at the reported rise in ethnic intolerance, hate speech, and other forms of hate crime targeting members of national minorities, in particular ethnic Serbs and Jews.
Speaking at a “European Islamophobia Summit” in Sarajevo in June, Dino Mujadzevic, an academic from the University of Zagreb, stated anti-Muslim sentiment was growing in the country following the arrival of migrants and asylum seekers in 2015. According to Mujadzevic, “right-wing parties were exploiting the idea of a Muslim threat… and media were reporting on crimes committed by Muslims or asylum seekers in other countries.”
In January, 5,000 people marched outside of the Electronic Media Council, a government-chartered independent media regulator, to protest the three-day suspension of local private television station Z1 after a talk show host urged viewers to stay away from an area in Zagreb where a SOC church was located, saying “Chetnik [a Serbian guerrilla force in WWII] vicars” could emerge and “slaughter” innocent bystanders.
In March, spectators gave the Ustasha salute and chanted slogans associated with the Ustasha regime, such as “Za Dom Spremni” (“For the homeland, ready”) during a soccer match against Israel attended by Prime Minister Oreskovic and the Israeli ambassador. Prior to the match, President Grabar-Kitarovic had called on Facebook for spectators to “show that we are fans who love our team but respect others, and say no to racism.” After the match, the government issued a statement condemning “all forms of expression which promote or incite hate speech or intolerance.” The statement did not specifically cite the pro-fascist slogans at the match.
Director Jakov Sedlar screened his Jasenovac – The Truth documentary in Zagreb, which questioned the number of killings at the WWII-era death camp. The director said the number of victims killed at the camp was exaggerated and “between 20,000 and 40,000 would be somewhat realistic.” The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum estimated 77,000-99,000 people were killed at Jasenovac, including 45,000-52,000 Orthodox Serbs and 12,000-20,000 Jews. Representatives of the Jewish community condemned the documentary, stating it attempted to revise history, but the documentary was praised by Culture Minister Hasanbegovic, who said the documentary was a great way to “shed light on a number of controversial places in Croatian history.”
During a nationally televised, live broadcast of a Sunday morning Mass at a Catholic church in Split in May, Dominican Friar Luka Prcela criticized President Grabar-Kitarovic’s comments the WWII-era, pro-Nazi government represented a criminal regime. The Dominican Order said Prcela’s sermon represented his personal views and did not reflect the views of the order.
SOC representatives expressed concern about societal intolerance and estimated there were approximately 20 incidents of vandalism during the year, five fewer than the previous year, which included spray painting, destruction of church property, and burglaries. SOC representatives stated they cooperated with relevant elements of the government, including law enforcement, to respond to the vandalism, although only two perpetrators were identified, whose trials were pending. SOC representatives said these incidents occurred in larger cities, including Zagreb, Sibenik, Bjelovar, and Sisak, while in previous years vandalism was largely concentrated in rural areas.
On September 9-10, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church, visited the country on the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Jasenovac death camp. The patriarch met with the president and prime minister and reportedly discussed tolerance, respect, and the importance of dialogue as a means of solving problems. He officiated at services and hosted an academic roundtable on WWII-related atrocities.
On April 27, the Islamic community celebrated the 100th anniversary of the legal recognition of Islam with numerous events attended by senior government and visiting foreign officials. Prime Minister Oreskovic stated the integration of the Muslim community served as a model for other European Union states.