Last Updated 10 November 2016

Croatia is a unitary republic with a parliamentary system of governance. Croatia declared independence in 1991, contributing to the break-up of Yugoslavia. Croatia is a member of the EU, the UN and NATO.

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The constitution and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. The rights to freedom of assembly and association are guaranteed in the constitution and respected in practice. While officially there is no state religion, the Catholic Church has a very prominent and privileged position in public life.


In addition to the concordats and other agreements with the Catholic Church, the government has agreements with fifteen other religious denominations that together make up about 15 percent of the population. A registered religious community may enter into agreements with the government if it was historically present in Croatia in 1941, or if it has at least 6,000 members. According to the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the government provided 20 million kuna (US$3,440,000) during the year to these non-Catholic religious groups in amounts proportional to their size (that amounts to less than 8% of the funding Croatia gives the Catholic Church).

The Catholic Church receives substantial state financial support, as well as other benefits established in at least four concordats between the government and the Vatican. According to the Commission for Relations with Religious Communities, the concordats with the Vatican grant the Catholic Church more than $43 million dollars in annual government funding for religious education and other operational costs.

Education and children’s rights

Catholic Catcheism classes

Although Catholic Catechism classes are taught in all state schools, and although non-Catholic children have some rights to opt out of the classes in theory, in practice non-Catholic students at most schools are not provided with any alternative classes. In April 2010 the Constitutional Court refused to rule on the constitutionality of the Catechism classes in state schools, stating that it lacked jurisdiction on international treaties (ie. the Concordat with the Vatican).

In 2014 the Supreme Court ruled that children that do not attend Catholic Catechism are not discriminated against, and that the Ministry of Education is not under any obligation to provide them with any alternative subject, such as a more comprehensive religious education, including secular worldviews, or any broader philosophical approach to morals and belief.

Catholic Catechism has been introduced in many public kindergartens throughout the country, regardless of the religion or belief affiliation of the local population. In most cases this is not a part of any official program, however, in some places Catholic Catechism has officially became a part of curriculum. For instance, Catholic Catechism is officially introduced into public kindergartens in Dubrovnik, while no adequate alternative programs are being offered for children of non-Catholics.

However, the number of children opting out of Catholic Catechism in public schools is increasing, particularly in urban areas and in some parts of Croatia it has dropped below 50%. It has been suggested that people are increasingly willing to speak out against religious proselytizing, as well as to demand termination of accords with the Holy See under which such education is mandated.

There are some NGOs that organize humanistic workshops for elementary school children. These workshops were created as alternative to Catholic Catechism in public schools but also provide education on number of scientific subjects. The number of children attending these workshops is slowly but steadily increasing and workshops based on the same model are now available in several Croatian cities besides Zagreb.

The Center for Civil Courage also recently sent a formal request to the Ministry of Education demanding systematic and professional care for children who do not attend religious education. At the moment, such children are usually left unattended in school hallways or are, despite their rigiht to opt out, asked to stay in classrooms during religious classes since no members of school staff are available to look after them.

Hatred in the classroom

Catholic Catechism textbooks for elementary school use material from Pope John Paul II which imply that atheists were responsible for “Auschwitz”. These textbooks also contain instructions on how to talk with atheists and make them realize their mistakes.

According to UNICEF-sponsored research among students (Opinions and attitudes of children and youth in Croatia) young people themselves believe that their peers are most likely to discriminate against young people with disabilities, and next most likely against members of religious and national minorities. In fact children estimate than in 7% of cases they act “very badly” toward peers who do not attend Catholic Catechism, and a further 10% of cases they act “badly”.

Family, community and society

In December 2015, the mayor of the town of Đakovo announced that the town would fund ice-skating tickets for all children that attended morning masses in the local Catholic Cathedral. On being publicly challenged, the mayor first stated that in Đakovo there are no members of religious communities other than Catholics; he later claimed that a similar offer was made to other religious communities in the town; and afterwards stated that he intends to carry on with such practice regardless of criticism. No evidence was presented that the town ever had any intention to make a similar present for children of non-Catholics. The case is currently being investigated by the media and was reported to Ombudsman’s Office.

On July 01, 2015 Faculty of Stomatology of University of Zagreb announced its intention to hire an assistant professor of ethics, with one of the requirements being a degree in theology. (Such practice appears to discriminate against professors of ethics who graduated from the Faculty of Philosophy, for example, which tends to be more secular and more likely to contain non-religious academics.) In any case, all faculties of theology in the Republic of Croatia are under direct control of religious institutions (whereas Stomatology is clearly not).

In recent years, anti-abortion activists have been extremely active in participation in global action “40 days for life” during which they have been organizing mass prayers in front of entrances to hospitals in all Croatian cities. Some hospital principal even allowed them to conduct protests performances next to the entrances to gynecology wards. Religious organizations have opened fake abortion clinics providing disinformation and generating confusion to women seeking abortion services, with no apparent intervention by the state.

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

The constitution guarantees freedoms of expression and the press, and these rights are generally respected. However, journalists covering corruption and organized crime report that they are subject to political pressure, intimidation and assaults. Access to the internet is not limited.

Croatian State Radio and Television, the state-run broadcaster, has a formal agreement with the Catholic Church to provide regular, extensive coverage of Catholic events (as many as 10 hours per month). Other religions and denominations receive approximately 10 minutes broadcast time per month or less. All religious communities that have entered into agreements with the government are guaranteed a certain allocation of time in public media. No such right is guaranteed to secular belief groups. Similarly, no such right is guaranteed to members of religious communities that do not have an agreement with the government.

While people are generally free to express views that are contradictory to mainstream Catholicism, those who dare to publicly speak against the Catholic Church or are perceived as opponents of the Church are often subjected to threats and media slander.

Highlighted cases

In May 2015, during the graduation ceremony of high school students in Knin (a multi-ethnic community with a significant proportion of Orthodox Serbian population among students), Catholic blessings and prayers were a part of the official ceremony. The school principal and two teachers who opposed this and refused to participate in prayer were subjected to media slander and threats. They requested that the Ministry of Education protect them, but their pleas were largely ignored.. No Orthodox Christian prayers were included in the ceremony. Atheists, including the school principal and some teachers, who refused to actively participate in prayer were publicly described as “not worthy to celebrate with them”.

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