Sunday, February 20, 2005

Things (Not) To Come

It seems that the controversial law banning shops from working on Sundays was just a test for Catholic Church. Apparent failure of the law – it was struck down by Constitutional Court few months after being passed in Sabor – didn’t discourage Church officials from pushing for even more ambitious legislation.

Few weeks ago Church officials in Croatia open the first salvo in their PR campaign by issuing an official statement condemning the practice of in vitro fertilisation. Soon afterwards, group of Croatian doctors calling themselves Asociation of Catholic Physicians stated that the children conceived that way were more likely to be deformed and women who subject themselves to such procedure would have 1900 % more risk of developing cancer.

Soon after that it was discovered that one of the brochures endorsing such views referred to children conceived in vitro as “things” instead of human beings.

Under normal circumstances, this kind of discourse would have created full-blown culture war in Croatia. Feminist groups, NGOs, liberal section of Croatian media and scientific establishment did react, but public in general didn’t pay much of an attention, being engrossed in series of other scandals that just happen to erupt in these times.

Needless to say, when Church starts talking this talk, many people in Croatian political establishment are walking the appropriate walk.

In March, National Bio-ethics Commission, expert body which helps government in creating medical legislation, is about to vote on the recommendation for new laws covering in vitro fertilisation and similar issues. The present legislation covering that area dates from 1978, when Croatia used to be under Communism. Sanader’s government has agreed to make new legislation and even agreed on proposed bill to be sent to Sabor, but Sanader, apparently after some “friendly persuasion” from Men in Black, decided to make additional changes after consulting with National Bio-ethics Commission.

According to statements by Commission member, dr. Ante Ćorušić (Ante Corusic), majority within the Commission is most likely to recommend radical change in current in vitro practices. Donation of sperm, eggs and embryos is going to be banned. Only couples who are married or live in “extramarital unions recognised by court” – the latter would include only heterosexuals – will be allowed to have in vitro procedures.

So, if Ćorušić has his way, lesbians, single women or straight couples when one of spouses is completely sterile will not have any legal chance of having children.

Ćorušić has not only government’s support – more tacit than in previous time, though – but even some arguments on his side. For a long time, Croatian liberals in their struggle with conservative used very simple mantra – any socially conservative legislation is un-European and would, consequently, block Croatia from entering EU. Ćorušić is now in position to counter this argument very easily. In neighbouring Italy Berlusconi’s government has recently passed equally restrictive legislation.

This new legislation is very likely to pass for two reasons. Sanader needs Church in order to mobilise rural and conservative voters for the local elections. If they stay at home or – which is even more dangerous – vote on their local and tribal interests rather than on party line, HDZ is going to suffer embarrassing defeat. If EU doesn’t start accession negotiations in March, embarrassment will turn into catastrophe.

Sanader is going to secure the passage of legislation with a same way he secured his HDZ chairmanship – by presenting himself as a moderate and liberal alternative to something much worse. The proposed changes are likely to more radical than those which are ultimately going to be passed in Sabor. That would allow HDZ to look as “serious”, “moderate” and “European” party that listens to the voice of liberal public.

One such manoeuvre is already happening. Zvonimir Šeparović (Zvonimir Separovic), Commission vice-chairman, legal scholar and former Tudjman’s foreign minister (and failed candidate on 2000 elections) gave statement to Slobodna Dalmacija hinting that the changes would include what amounts to Holy Grail for Croatian conservatives – ban on abortion. Šeparović wasn’t that radical – after saying that for him the life started for conception, he stated that the present law was “too liberal” and that some restrictions should be “considered”.

Andrija Hebrang, former health minister and champion of Tudjmanist hard-line right within HDZ, quickly reacted (and surprised many) by voicing his strong opposition to the ban. This was very good thing for Sanader – as former Sanader loyalist, Hebrang is likely to present “gentler and kinder” face to Croatian liberals; as someone who had to leave his post for health reasons, Hebrang doesn’t have enough clout to seriously offend Sanader’s conservative allies.

Therefore, it is unlikely that abortion will be banned, at least not this time. But the path has been cleared for a disturbing scenario of Croatian future in which society would favour unwanted over wanted children. And, just like in Space: Above and Beyond, children brought to this world in “improper” way are going to be referred as “things”, “non-humans” and discriminated. Or worse.


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