The constitution provides for equality of rights regardless of religion as well as for freedom of conscience and religious expression. It prohibits incitement of religious hatred. According to the constitution, religious communities shall be equal under the law and separate from the state; they are free to conduct religious services publicly as well as open and manage schools and charitable organizations under the protection and with the assistance of the state. The penal code defines a hate crime as a criminal offense committed on the grounds of race, skin color, religion, national or ethnic origin, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The code criminalizes public incitement to violence and hate and provides sanctions for such crimes. Hate crimes are also considered an aggravating circumstance unless a provision already provides for more severe sanctions.
Hate speech is also punishable as a misdemeanor under several laws. Use of the Ustasha salute and insignia by themselves are not specifically defined as misdemeanors but could be prosecuted as such under the stricter penal code if combined with acts of violence and incitement to violence. The Constitutional Court ruled in 2016 that use of the salute was a violation of the constitution as an offense against public order and an incitement to hatred.
Legislation covering electronic media stipulates that in audio and/or audiovisual media services, it is forbidden to incite, encourage incitement, and spread hatred or discrimination on numerous grounds, including religion and political or other belief as well as antisemitism and xenophobia, fascism, nationalism, communism, and support for other totalitarian regimes. The legislation stipulates that audiovisual and radio programs and contents in electronic publications must publish accurate information and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The Catholic Church receives state financial support and other benefits established by four concordats between the government and the Holy See. (Three were adopted at the same time in 1997; the fourth was adopted a year later in 1998.) One of these agreements provides for financial support for some religious officials. Another agreement stipulates funding for religious education in public schools.
The law defines the legal position of religious communities and determines eligibility for government funding and tax benefits. Registered religious communities are exempt from taxes on the purchase of real estate, the profit/capital gains tax, and taxes on donations. According to the law, a religious community previously active as a legal entity before the enactment of the existing law in 2002 (amended in 2013) need only submit its name, the location of its headquarters, information on the office of the person authorized to represent it, and the seal and stamp it uses to register. To register as a religious community, a religious group without prior legal status as a religious community must have at least 500 members and have been registered as an association, with at least three members, for at least five years. To register as a religious community, a group must also submit a list of its members and documentation outlining the group’s activities and bylaws and describing its mission to the Ministry of Justice and Public Administration. Unregistered religious groups may operate freely but do not receive tax benefits. They may conduct financial transactions as legal entities. A contractual agreement with the state, which grants a registered religious community eligibility for further funding and benefits, defines the community’s role and activities and provides for collaboration with the government in areas of joint interest, such as education, health, and culture.
There are 55 registered religious communities, including the Catholic Church, SOC, Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Christian Adventist Church, Church of Christ, Church of God, Croatian Old Catholic Church, Catholic Old Church, Evangelical Church, Macedonian Orthodox Church, Pentecostal Church, Reformed Christian Church, Union of Baptist Churches, Seventh-day Adventist Reform Movement, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Union of Pentecostal Churches of Christ, Coordination Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia (an umbrella group of nine distinct Jewish communities), Jewish Community of Virovitica, Bet Israel (a Jewish group), and the Islamic Community of Croatia. In addition to the Catholic Church, 19 of the registered religious communities have formal agreements with the state that more clearly define activities and cooperation, such as in the areas of marriage and religious education in public schools. These groups may access state funds for religious activities.
According to the law, adherents are entitled to one day of leave from work for religious holidays, and the law does not require proof of affiliation for employees to exercise this right.
The state recognizes marriages conducted by registered religious communities that have concluded agreements with the state, eliminating the need for civil registration. Marriages conducted by registered communities that have not concluded agreements with the state, or by unregistered religious groups, require civil registration.
Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and unregistered religious groups may not conduct religious education in public schools. Unregistered religious groups have no access to state funds in support of religious activities, including charitable work, counseling, and building costs. Registered religious communities that have not concluded agreements with the state and unregistered religious groups may engage in worship, proselytize, own property, and import religious literature. Only registered religious communities, with or without agreements with the state, may provide spiritual counsel in prisons, hospitals, and the military.
Public schools at both the primary and secondary levels must offer religious education, although students may opt out without providing specific grounds. The Catholic catechism is the predominant religious text used. Other religious communities that have agreements with the state may also offer religious education classes in schools if there are seven or more students of that faith. Eligible religious communities provide the instructors, and the state pays their salaries. Private religious schools are eligible for state assistance and follow a national curriculum. Registered religious communities may have their own schools. Unregistered religious groups may not have their own schools.
Education regarding the Holocaust is mandatory in the final year of elementary school (eighth grade) and during the final year of high school.
The law allows foreign citizens whose property was confiscated during and after the Holocaust era to seek compensation or restitution if the applicant’s country has a bilateral restitution treaty with the state; however, no such bilateral treaties currently exist. Two court cases have held that such treaties are not required; however, the law has not changed. The law does not allow new property claims, as the statutory deadline expired in 2003.
Appointed by parliament, the ombudsperson is responsible for promoting and protecting human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom. The ombudsperson examines citizens’ complaints pertaining to the work of state bodies, local and regional self-governments, and legal persons vested with public authority. The ombudsperson may issue recommendations to government agencies regarding human rights and religious freedom practices but does not have authority to enforce compliance with his or her recommendations.
The country is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The annual report of the ombudsperson released in March and covering 2021 described one case of discrimination based on religion pertaining to a rental based on religion. In an advertisement posted on Facebook, the owner offered to rent a studio apartment and invited Catholics to apply as potential tenants to apply. As a prerequisite to renting the apartment, the owner asked interested applicants to first obtain a document from the church confirming that they had undertaken the sacraments. According to police, they did not have information about the identity of the apartment owner and reported that the case could not be investigated. The ombudsperson, however, stated the case represented discrimination based on religion. She said that while citizens have freedom of religion, the advertisement was “discriminatory in its restricted offering of goods for sale on the public market,” which was a violation of the country’s antidiscrimination laws.
On January 31, media outlets quoted Ognjen Kraus, President of the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Communities in Croatia, as saying the country “presents itself as an antifascist state, but it has not done anything to ban the symbols and slogans of the fascist Ustasha regime.” Representatives of different minority groups unsuccessfully advocated a specific penal code amendment that would outlaw the use of the Ustasha salute, Za Dom Spremni (For the Homeland Ready). In April, Prime Minister Plenkovic told press the salute was already outlawed. Kraus said that, as in 2021, the government promised to meet with him about legal amendments to outlaw the use of Ustasha symbols, but the meetings did not take place. He stressed the urgent importance of such a meeting and of taking concrete steps towards a ban, since the country would take over the presidency of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) in March 2023.
SOC representatives said their community still had outstanding restitution issues with the government, mainly regarding properties and residential buildings the government appropriated during the Yugoslav period. The government reported that since 1999, the state had resolved 356 property claims related to the SOC that included the right to compensation in bonds, an increase of 12 from the previous year. Catholic Church representatives also said there remained a significant number of outstanding claims for Catholic properties appropriated during the Yugoslav period.
During the year, the government did not adopt amendments to legislation providing for the restitution of private property from the Holocaust and post-Holocaust eras for foreign claimants or reopen the deadline for potential new claims, although government officials cited progress in the resolution of some cases that were filed before 2003. In September, the government reported the resolution of 321 claims, mainly from the postwar period, worth a total of 982 million kuna ($142.9 million), involving Jewish claimants. Of the 101 pending cases that the government monitored since 2018, 52 were resolved, some with cash compensation of 26 million kuna ($3.8 million) and others with returned property with an estimated worth of 78 million kuna ($11.4 million), based on present real estate market values. Forty-nine cases remained outstanding at the end of the year.
Atheist groups continued to complain that Catholic symbols remained prevalent in government buildings such as courtrooms, prisons, and public hospitals. They said they believed this practice was inconsistent with the constitution, which states religious communities are separate from the state.
Some minority religious and secular groups, including atheists, continued to say the Catholic Church enjoyed a special status in relation to other religious communities, in part because of its concordats with the government, which provide the church with significant financial support, and in part because of its far-reaching cultural, educational, and political influence as the majority religion.
In May, media widely reported a story regarding a woman who was unable to find a doctor in the country to perform a medical emergency abortion. Catholic Church members stated that due to the widespread public debate and media coverage, the issue led to a lack of dialogue and cooperation with local government officials.
According to the Office of the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government budgeted 342 million kuna ($49.8 million) during the year to the Catholic Church for salaries, pensions, and other purposes, compared with 325.9 million kuna ($47.4 million) in 2021. The government provided funding to other religious communities that had concluded agreements with the state, a portion of which was based on their size, in addition to funds provided to support religious education in public schools and the operation of private religious schools. The government budgeted 24.9 million kuna ($3.6 million) to these groups, compared with 23.9 million kuna ($3.5 million) in 2021. Atheist groups again criticized the government for allocating more to the Catholic Church than to other groups. Although the funding was generally proportional to the Catholic share of the population, representatives from atheist groups stated the criticism reflected their general concern about what they perceive as the outsized role of the church in society.
Muslim community representatives said the government worked with all religious communities to temporarily reduce a pre-Croatian-independence tariff on utilities for religious community buildings by reclassifying them as “households” rather than “industry” offices.
The March ombudsperson’s annual report stated that during 2021, a request for the formal withdrawal of official registration with the Catholic Church was positively resolved. Several citizens in past years had contacted the ombudsperson’s office e to report difficulties in the procedure to withdraw from the official Catholic registry.
On January 27, parliament started its session with a minute of silence to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, while a delegation led by then Deputy Prime Minister responsible for Social Issues and Human Rights Boris Milosevic and Minister for Culture and Media Nina Obuljen Korzinek laid wreaths at Zagreb’s Mirogoj cemetery. Local press quoted Speaker of the Parliament Gordan Jandrokovic as saying, “The Holocaust is an eternal warning of the evils that can rise from xenophobia and racism.” President Milanovic remarked, “Today we remember with great respect the unprecedented suffering of the Jewish people. We sincerely mourn the millions of people killed. We all need to continue to respect and commemorate their sacrifice. Our obligation, especially towards future generations, is to send a message of peace, understanding and friendship among nations.”
Prime Minister Plenkovic led a delegation on April 22 to commemorate the 77th anniversary of the inmate breakout from Jasenovac concentration camp, which was also the annual commemorative event for victims of the camp. Then Deputy Prime Minister Milosevic, representing the Serb minority, accompanied Plenkovic, along with several other government ministers. President Milanovic attended separately and laid a wreath at the site. Representatives of the Jewish community chose to attend the commemoration separately from the government to protest the government’s failure to change the criminal code to outlaw the Ustasha insignia, including the salute and slogan Za Dom Spremni.
On April 28, Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah), Prime Minister Plenkovic posted on Twitter, “On the occasion of Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day we show our respect for the victims of the Holocaust and the Ustasha regime. We are not forgetting; we must not forget. By promoting a culture of remembrance, we are building a future in which tolerance and respect will be the foundation of peace.” On the same date, the head of the Jewish Community of Zagreb and President of the Coordinating Committee of Jewish Communities Kraus attended a commemoration at Jasenovac concentration camp, where he stressed that the camp was the largest of the Ustasha’s more than 50 death camps.
Ombudsperson Tena Simonovic Einwalter participated in a global online event on April 27-28 marking the founding of the Combat Antisemitism Movement and the Zikaron BaSalon global Holocaust remembrance initiative. According to the ombudsperson, the event served as a conversation with the last generation of Holocaust survivors, bringing them into “living rooms” around the world, while also featuring virtual messages from decision makers and opinion shapers. The ombudsperson highlighted the country’s forthcoming March 2023 IHRA presidency and stressed the importance of education on the Holocaust, including the suffering it caused, the dangers of the propaganda, and the hate speech that preceded it. She also emphasized the importance of events that provide an opportunity to record the testimonies of the last generation of Holocaust survivors as a “crucial element in the education of the generations to come,” particularly in a time “rife with hate speech, fake news, and Holocaust denial.”
On April 27, Zagreb Mayor Tomislav Tomasevic and Auschwitz survivor Oleg Mandic unveiled a memorial for the victims of the Holocaust and the Ustasha regime. President Milanovic, Minister of Culture and Media Korzinek, representatives of Jewish communities, religious leaders, former presidents, and antifascist groups attended the opening. The 39-foot-high metal sculpture next to Zagreb’s main railway station represents a wall of suitcases the Ustasha regime seized from victims before the regime packed them into cattle cars and deported them to concentration camps. The monument inscription states that the sculpture stands where approximately 800 Zagreb Jews were transported to Auschwitz in August 1942. The project’s unveiling was delayed for several years following protests from the Jewish Community of Zagreb that the monument inscription referred only to Jewish victims of the Holocaust and did not specifically note the Ustasha regime’s role in their deportation to concentration camps. The updated plaque listed victims of the Holocaust and included reference to the Ustasha regime. President Milanovic told reporters he was pleased with the unveiling of the memorial and commented that the inscription was appropriate.
On May 1, the head of the Muslim community, Grand Mufti Aziz Hasanovic, hosted an iftar that President Milanovic, Minister of Culture and Media Korzinek, Zagreb Mayor Tomasevic, members of parliament, Zagreb city officials, and former presidents attended. At the iftar, President Milanovic stated the Croatian model of protection of the rights of ethnic minorities and religious communities was good and civilized, but that there was still a lot of work to do to combat existing prejudices. He remarked that his office “was always open to the Muslim community to talk as often as possible and exchange views.” Zagreb Mayor Tomasevic said that the only way to face challenging times was “cooperation between citizens, nations and religions, [and] cooperation among all people to achieve the universal values of peace, love, respect and tolerance.”
On May 12, Holy See Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin visited the country to mark the 30th anniversary of the Holy See’s recognition of it and the 25th anniversary of the ratification of three of the four agreements between the Vatican and the country. In comments made to parliament, Cardinal Parolin said, “The Vatican’s recognition of Croatia will be remembered as an act of strong and resolute support for the legality and legitimacy of the Croatian state before the international community.” Speaker of Parliament Gordan Jandrokovic stated, “Croatian history was inconceivable without the role of the Catholic Church and Christianity,” which, he added, “were deeply woven into the Croatian people’s being.” He added that through the centuries, “The Church and faith have been the guardians not just of the religious, but also the national and cultural identity of Croats.”
On July 9, Speaker of Parliament Jandrokovic extended Eid al-Adha greetings to the head of the Muslim community, Grand Mufti Hasanovic, and all Muslims. He said, “This holiday reminds us that it is important to raise awareness in society about mutual understanding and respect, tolerance and community solidarity, and charity towards those in need.”
On September 8, President Milanovic and Turkish President Erdogan attended the official opening ceremony of the Islamic Cultural Center in the town of Sisak. President Milanovic remarked that “in the old Croatian city of Sisak, where many
centuries ago the swords of Christianity and Islam crossed, is where today peace and friendship reign.” He said the country was opening a monument to “culture, modernity, the Muslim community, and a modern Croatia, a democratic country open to all people of good will, of all faiths.” President Erdogan said, “Croatia is an example of a European Union country that respects the freedom, prosperity, and rights of Muslims.” He said the new center in Sisak was a symbol “of Croatia’s model status and multiculturalism.” The Croatian and Turkish governments jointly funded the center with $1.9 million and $6.8 million, respectively.
During the year, the ombudsperson reported a complaint from an employee whose supervisor denied him a day off for an Islamic holiday in 2021. The complainant stated his supervisor requested written confirmation from his religious community as proof of his religious affiliation before approving the leave request. The ombudsperson stated that according to the law, adherents are entitled to one day of leave from their work for religious holidays, and the law does not require any form of proof of affiliation for employees to exercise this right. As such, the ombudsperson concluded that the employer had no legal basis for requesting such documentation.
In September, the government appointed Sara Lustig as Special Advisor to the Prime Minister for Holocaust Issues and Combating Antisemitism. Lustig also serves as Deputy Head of the Croatian delegation to the IHRA, which was preparing for the country’s presidency of the alliance in 2023.