Croatia watchdog criticises president over ‘gay minister’ remarks

A Croatian watchdog on Monday criticised the country’s president over his remarks about a minister’s alleged sexual orientation, warning they violated the right to privacy.

President Zoran Milanovic was criticised by the ruling HDZ conservative party as well as the opposition, independent media and many in the public after he said last week that Economy Minister Damir Habijan was gay.

“100 per cent. Habijan is gay, right?” Milanovic told reporters.

The minister “is not in the closet, the man lives a normal life”, he said.

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Croatia’s ombudswoman for gender equality warned on Monday that “sexual orientation is in the domain of one’s privacy and its possible public declaration is decided solely by the person concerned.”

Those holding public functions should display greater social responsibility, ombudswoman Visnja Ljubicic said in a statement.

Milanovic’s “inappropriate and arbitrary statement opens space for strengthening the atmosphere of mistrust among some people regarding their right to privacy and equality”.

Milanovic, who is known for making inflammatory statements, said that “being gay is neither an insult nor a problem”.

“Unless you are part of a hypocritical political group” that the ombudswoman is part of, he said in a statement.

Even though the president holds a largely ceremonial position in Croatia, his comments were criticised by many public figures.

“Such statements are completely inappropriate in a country permeated with homophobia,” women rights activist Sanja Sarnavka said.

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Milanovic is from the Social Democratic Party while Habijan, who was named minister in December, is from the rival centre-right HDZ party.

The minister himself did not comment.

Croatia, which joined the European Union in 2013, has seen a gradual liberalisation of gay rights in recent years but remains a largely conservative society.

Among national-level politicians, so far only one member of parliament, from the opposition, has publicly declared being gay.

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