People laid flowers on Friday outside Zagreb Municipal Court in memory of three women who were killed in a small courtroom before a divorce case hearing on September 22, 1999 – a day now marked in Croatia as the National Day Against Violence Against Women.
Twenty three years ago at the court, Mato Oraskic murdered his wife Gordana Oraskic, judge Ljiljana Hvalec and lawyer Hajra Prohic, while seriously wounding court clerk Stanka Cvetkovic.
Oraskic became the first person in Croatia to be sentenced to a maximum of 40 years in prison.
“The fight against violence against women is a priority of the government of the Republic of Croatia. It is a value issue, an obligation of all institutions and the whole of society,” Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said in a statement to mark the National Day Against Violence Against Women.
Plenkovic recalled that the government on September 13 presented a package of changes to the law against violence against women and children.
The specific crime of femicide was introduced, for which the prison sentence will be at least ten years. The rights of victims were expanded, sexual harassment was made a criminal offence, the punishment for rape was increased, and the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse was abolished.
A delegation from the opposition Social Democratic Party, SDP laid flowers in front of the courthouse where the women were killed in 1999.
The president of the SDP, Pedja Grbin, said that the party supports the changes to the law, but believes they do not go far enough.
“What Croatia especially needs is education in order to change and understand how much violence against women and how much violence in general is harmful to the very fabric of society because it destroys its fundamental basis,” Grbin said.
Violence against women remains a serious problem in Croatia, a leading Croatian association for the protection of women’s and human rights, B.a.B.e. (Be active. Be emancipated), said in a statement to coincide with the National Day Against Violence Against Women.
In the first eight months of this year, 1,000 women turned to B.a.B.e. for help, and 426 of them came forward because of domestic violence.
“Most of [the cases] are combined forms of violence. Women are most often simultaneously victims of several forms of domestic violence – mental, physical and economic violence, and we cannot say that some forms of violence are more prevalent than others,” the association said.
B.a.B.e. added that in the year to September, its safe house provided accommodation for 51 people – 22 women and 29 children who were victims of domestic violence.
Earlier this week, the findings of the first research into gender-based violence conducted in Croatia, with a sample of 23,000 respondents, were made public.
“This research is extensive; the questionnaire itself had 70 pages, and the interviewer’s manual 700 pages,” said Dubravka Rogic-Hadzalic, head of the Department of Demographic and Social Statistics at the Croatian State Statistical Office, whose experts were involved in the EU-financed survey.
The research findings suggested that gender-based violence is somewhat more prevalent in Croatia than in other countries in the former Yugoslav region. For example, 20 per cent of women in Montenegro and 21 per cent of women in Serbia stated that they had been exposed to psychological violence by their partners, while in Croatia, the figure was 27 per cent.
Rogic-Hadzalic told BIRN that the research is particularly important because the findings will inform legal, social and health policies in Croatia.
Dragana Jeckov, an MP from the Independent Serbian Democratic Party, SDSS, also raised the issue in the Croatian parliament on Friday.
“When it comes to violence against women, we should be honest and say that we are not doing well; in fact, we are doing very badly,” Jeckov said in a speech.
She noted that in the last 20 years, more than 400 women have been killed in Croatia, and that Croatia ranks third in the EU when it comes to the number of women who have been murdered.