Center for Civil Courage is a feminist and freethinking organization, established on 25th November 2011 in Croatia. From its beginning, the Center has been promoting civil courage, awareness of the merit of evolutionary humanism and secularism, human rights, and freedom of conscience, belief, and opinion, and especially feminist ethics of responsibility and solidarity in protecting human rights, equality, and critical dealing with the past.
Years that passed since we first organized as a civil association were full of challenges. We met many of them head-on. We courageously and explicitly stood for what we advocate – a humanist worldview based on critical and free-thinking and on the feminist theory and activism primarily insisting on empowering everybody who is different and thus deprived of civil rights.
We spoke loudly when many were silent. We offered support to people whom others decided to turn their back to. We vociferously expressed our discontent with violations of human rights.
Through our actions, projects and activities we are striving to primarily create a better and more humane world. Compassion and solidarity shall remain foundations for our future actions.
Through our support center “Secularism without Compromise” we offer support and advice regarding to preserving secularism and freedom of/from religion in the educational system. In 2013 and 2014 we published online leaflets and manual „ No God, No Religion Class” offering specific advice to parents in respect to the rights of their children in case parents decide not to enroll them in religious education classes in public schools.
Our secular advocacy is about speaking out on human rights issues and taking action to improve a situation. Since we are concerned about persistent violations of the secular principle, especially in the public education domain, in September we addressed the public with information about the fact that the Ministry of Education and Sport ignored our warning regarding the statue of the Virgin Mary in an elementary school in Zadar. After this information became published in media the school was forced to react and to restrict religious statues only to premises in which religious classes are being held. Unfortunately, while we were successful in this particular case, the display of religious symbols is still commonplace in many public institutions, including public schools, so there is still a lot of work ahead of us. Center for Civil Courage recently sent a formal request to the Ministry of Education demanding to ensure 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, most alarmingly, asked to stay in classrooms during religious classes since no members of school staff are available to look after them. Thus far we haven’t received any formal reply and haven’t been convinced that proper steps will be undertaken in due time.
The feminist and freethinking circle Lilith Club was founded on December, 26th, 2011 by eight women – feminists, skeptics, atheists, and agnostics. The Club promotes feminism and critical thinking among women and encourages women to oppose oppressive religions, cultures, and dogmas. The Club’s name Lilith derives from a female figure in the Jewish demonology – Lilith. The female founders of the Club were inspired by her struggle for gender equality and refusal to make herself subservient to god or men.
According to Jewish folklore, Lilith (hebr. לילית) was the first wife of Adam. She was created also from the Earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them (The Bible, Genesis, 1:27). Lilith and Adam immediately began to fight over who would be on top during sexual intercourse. Lilith said, “We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.” Lilith then pronounced God’s name and flew away into the air. At Adam’s request, God sent three angels to bring Lilith back, but she refused. God cursed her to become a demon. Once a source of fear, Lilith has been transformed into an icon of freedom.
In “The Lilith Question,” Aviva Cantor writes:“Her strength of character and commitment of self is inspiring. For independence and freedom from tyranny, she is prepared to forsake the economic security of the Garden of Eden and to accept loneliness and exclusion from society… Lilith is a powerful female. She radiates strength, assertiveness; she refuses to cooperate in her own victimization.”
According to feminist readers, Lilith is a role model for sexual and personal independence. They point out that Lilith alone knew the Ineffable Name of God, which she used to escape the Garden and her uncompromising husband. And if she was the proverbial serpent in the Garden of Eden, her intent was to free Eve with the power of speech, knowledge, and strength of will.
The Academy’s humanist workshops for elementary school children are a place where we encourage and promote free and critical thinking, rational and scientific ideas, humanist principles, feminist theory, activism and civil courage. The workshops encourage skeptical thinking and, consequently, exploration and critical evaluation of existing knowledge while encouraging children to have confidence in their own reasoning. Children are also introduced to human rights struggle and heritage thus developing their compassion and solidarity with the needs and rights of other, especially underprivileged members of society.
Encouraging of critical thought and rational ideas, strengthening of own identity, and, most importantly, safe space remains a part of each workshop in which children may freely and without fear express their opinions and experiences from school. Experiences from our previous workshops show that the need for humanist workshops is not only recognized by non-religious families but also by religious parents who do not want their children to be deprived of an education that includes humanist values.
Our Sophie Scholl Legacy was founded on March, 20th 2013. Through the Sophie Scholl Legacy, the Center will promote an invigoration of cultural responsibility, a confrontation with the past, a culture of retribution for war crimes, and solidarity with the victims i.e. survivors of all aspects of violence. We, who live in democracies owe it to all the victims of war, violence, and threats not to stay silent. Our Center explicitly opposes fascism, misogyny, ethnocentrism, militarism, racism, and xenophobia.
The founders of the Legacy honor Sophie’s courage not to be silent and to oppose the Third Reich during the Second World War. In Croatia, the Center for Civil Courage will not be silent. We will shout. Laws change. Conscience doesn’t. Sophie Scholl is our response to all those who say they did not know or could not act. While her fellow citizens were silent or were conquered by their own cowardliness, she had the courage to oppose the dark political regime of her youth, at the cost of her own life. She is our eternal inspiration in moments of my own doubts and weaknesses. She is our mirror.
Sophie Scholl was a 21-year-old fearless activist of the underground anti-Nazi non-violent student resistance group, the White Rose. She was convicted of high treason after having been found distributing anti-war leaflets at the University of Munich with her brother Hans and their friend Christopher. As a result, they were executed by guillotine, February 22, 1943.
In the People’s Court before Judge Roland Freisler on 22 February 1943, Scholl was recorded as saying these words: ”Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don’t dare express themselves as we did.”
“How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause?”
“We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!” – closing lines of the fourth leaflet
The Center is the first organization in Croatia and the entire Balkan region that successfully funded a children-book through Kickstarter and published it afterward. The book in question is entitled “Humanism for Children” and it is printed in Croatian, English, and German.
The author, as a parent, attempted to introduce her child to humanist values, love for fellow human beings, responsibility towards society and environment, as well as the capability for free inquiry and critical evaluation of existing knowledge. This was the starting point of the creation of this book which was completed with the cooperation of various experts such as physicists, sociologists, psychologists, and philosophers, as well as human rights and feminist activists from civil societies.
The result is a book that promotes skepticism and consequently inquiry and critical thinking and encourages children to have confidence in their own reason. Prepared and informed children are better equipped to understand the world in which they live, they may not be easily misled by society and are more assertive in the realization of their rights and less vulnerable.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part introduces children to scientific and social ideas, while the second part offers children ten humanist suggestions to make their lives better and more just. The first part of the book explains what the society in which children of the present live is about. It also discusses the values the families cherish which are often opposed to that reality. Thus the children are faced with a realistic picture, through valid arguments the worldview of their parents is strengthened. The second part of the book contains ten recommendations for better and more equitable life based on humanistic values. These are not rules, norms, commandments and not something that children should blindly accept. The book offers advice that should also be critically evaluated. Recommendations are based on existing human knowledge, researches and human experiences. They provide tools for children to answer questions they will face throughout life but ultimately these recommendations don’t have to be accepted, which is significantly different than religious norms.
The first Humanist Conference in Croatia gathered humanist, feminist, and secular activists from ex-Yugoslav countries (mostly from Croatia and Serbia) and world-known secular activists and thinkers. This humanist gathering enabled the meeting of a larger group of people from Croatia, who otherwise are unable to attend humanist conferences or have no other opportunities to explore humanist thought, and provided them with the opportunity to get familiar with the opinions of renowned thinkers from the country and abroad.
It succeeded in the improvement of communication and connections between Serbian and Croatian humanist and feminist NGO-s, such as Žene u crnom (Women in Black) and Humans from Serbia and Center for Civil Courage, Protagora and Ženska mreža Hrvatske (Croatian Woman’s Network) from Croatia. It enabled us to compare the anti-secular fundamentalist movements that are the leading force in defying women’s and LGBT rights in both countries.
Special attention was given to the physicians that demand control of appeal to conscience in Croatia since the appeal to conscience is the biggest obstacle to the consummation of women’s right to abortion in our country.
Elisabeth O’Casey, director of advocacy of IHEU, informed the Croatian and Serbian activists about the international human rights practices connected to the religious opposition to women’s rights and the religious sanction of discrimination of women and LGBT people. On the other side, A. C. Grayling gave a speech about the philosophical foundations of the irreligious worldview, which is something that can be rarely heard in ex-Yugoslav countries.
The conference strengthened persons who were activists in respect to discussed topics and removed prejudices and fears in those that were previously only bystanders. We are particularly proud that we were able to reassert the term «humanism» in Croatian public discourse since this term almost disappeared in the last ten years or was only occasionally mentioned with certain historic figures and even incorrectly only in respect to humanitarian work.
We are glad that the term secularism that we have been promoting for years in our public activities, after this conference was included even in political programs of left and liberal parties, some of them already being parliamentary parties and some of them only now entering the political arena. Separation of church and state, as a motto that dominated the conference, in many cases became the first thing these parties emphasize in their programs.
We are glad that some lectures of our Croatian and Bosnian lecturers, upon request of European organizations, were translated into English.
We, activists at the humanist and feminist Center for Civil Courage Association from Croatia, support the Muslim´s or Ex-Muslim women´s fight for their liberation from religious shackles. We are feminists from Europe and we are not silent, dear sisters!
We oppose the idea that women have to cover up thus to “stop men’s thoughts about women”. This reason is insulting to all – women and men. Women are not sex objects; men are not uncontrollable animals only driven by their instincts. Yes, many women grow up to want to wear veils (or niqabs or burkas, etc.) and dress modestly, but we see that as a form of internalized misogyny. Women’s “modest” covering has always been a symbol of misogyny, undeniable evidence of male dominion and fear of female sexuality. It is a clear, physical representation of a patriarchal culture that treats women as second-class citizens. Failing to see the sexism behind this practice is cowardly. We do not support cultural relativism.
We find the attempts to portray the misogynistic veiling of women as an act of emancipation ridiculous – especially by religious bigots, some of the left-wing politicians, human-rights activists or by the consumerism world of capitalism. No, we do not attack women who are covered, we criticize the misogyny behind the “hiding”. Covered women are used as a sort of human shield by the Muslim fundamentalist agenda. And no, we don’t want to find allies in libertarian and right-wing politics. We have to pay attention to the fact that millions of women on our planet are without their basic rights as human beings and not to glorify some made-up models wearing a fashionable headscarf in Western countries. This is the reason we also support the project “Den Kopf frei haben” from Terre des femmes Deutschland. We are calling for a ban on veils for girls until they reach the age of majority!
We are critical of Christianity in our country; we are marching through Croatian and European cities to fight against misogyny, violence against women, homophobia, nationalism, racism, far-right populism, and religiously motivated backlash on women’s reproductive rights.
People, like us, who aren’t from a Muslim background, have a duty to call out all oppressive practices, not just those that affect us. We support brave women across the globe who want to be free from the veil. Women should be able to decide for themselves what to wear or what not to wear on their heads. We support women who fight against either misogynist governments that will imprison them for removing their hijab or against abusive families and communities that will ostracize, abuse and even kill them.
There is no religion, no tradition nor culture that can justify abuse against women.
In memory of all the women who were killed or punished for not wanting to put on a headscarf or to live under the Islamic rules, we say – we will not be silent! We do not take over the fight of our sisters, indeed, they teach us their fight, we stand by them!
…from the age of 13, I was forced to cover up. For years I didn’t feel the sun on my skin, and people couldn’t see my feelings when I spoke…..
But it is my belief that there is nothing more racist than thinking something is acceptable for other people that you would not want for yourself.
a young Muslima
On the International Day of Safe Abortion on September 28, 2020, the Croatian humanist and feminist association Center for Civil Courage launched its new feminist project: “Brave Sisters“. Following the example of our humanist colleagues from the Dutch Humanist Association (Dutch Humanistisch Verbond), we established a network of women in Croatia who provide support to women who decide they want to have an abortion.
This type of activism differs from the loud – but no less important – political advocacy regarding the right to safe, free, and legal abortion (without counseling), which we pursue in common with all feminist associations in Croatia. But our feminist struggle is multidimensional, and in this new path, we will offer a hand of solidarity to women who specifically ask us for support.
By the end of 2020, over 130 women from all over Croatia and abroad have applied. The testimonies of these women, their concern, but also their determination confirmed that we did well in launching this project. Feminist and humanist activists from the USA, Canada, Ireland, England, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Slovenia, and Serbia are participating in this project.
After the end of the application period, our main goal was the education of the women in three fields: basic medicine about conception and abortion, basic knowledge about psychological assistance, and basic knowledge about the feminist movement. Even if some brave sisters would never get the chance to be a company to a woman, they would be enough prepared to spread their knowledge in their communities and thus to stop the prejudice, stigma, and unscientific claims of the anti-abortion movement.
In the first quarter of 2021, we evaluated applications and held education and now we can proudly say – 40 brave sisters are ready to support and accompany women on abortion.
The responsibility of or brave sisters is to provide unconditional support and protection to a woman with an unwanted pregnancy in understanding her own reproductive rights. At a time when elected political representatives and, unfortunately, for the most part, the gynecological profession itself is undermining the reproductive rights of women in Croatia, it is our responsibility to provide an atmosphere of security and respect for the women who turn to us for support. We accompany women seeking reproductive care on the walk from their homes to the clinic, during which it’s likely the women will encounter anti-abortion protesters who attempt to shame or dissuade women from going through with the procedure.
The Brave Sisters support women in accessing the care they need. We will psychologically and morally support women in their decision to have an abortion, we will accompany them when they go to the hospital for examinations and conversations with doctors, and during the procedure itself. We contribute to creating welcoming, supportive environments for women, and play an essential role in de-stigmatizing abortion — a normal part of healthcare.
We invite doctors, medical staff, feminists, humanists, and also other activists from abroad to join our network freely. Contact us!
We cooperated with various other organizations on the following activities:
- Within the scope of our Lilith Club and as a legal advisor, our president worked in 2012 on the legislation of a new bill for Assisted reproductive technology (ART) (the previous ART bill was passed under heavy Catholic worldview and was discriminatory; the new Croatian legislation was passed in July 2012)
- Co-organizing the Zagreb Pride 2012
- The Center of Civil Courage submitted a request to the Constitutional Court to assess the constitutionality of the Croatian Parliament’s decision to call a referendum on the constitutional definition of marriage and also urged the court to suspend that decision. We demanded protection of the Constitution and consider that the Parliament has breached a number of constitutional provisions, pointing out that the Parliament had not consulted with the Constitutional Court prior to calling the referendum
- Advocacy against the referendum
- We were active members of the secular group “The Voice of Reason – Movement for a secular Croatia”, who has organized January 2013 a Reason Rally in Croatia
- Within the scope of our Sophie Scholl Legacy, we participated in the legal team and in the founding of The Women’s Court for the territory of former Yugoslavia. In early May 2015, we attended and participated in a session of Women’s Court held in Sarajevo
- In December 2014 and June 2016 we had our first and second Humanist Baby Naming
- Co-organizing gathering of solidarity with victims of the attack on French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Zagreb
- Organizing anti-war protests
- 2016 we held the first Humanist Conference in Croatia
- Our President participated in the Board of Directors of the European Humanist Federation from 2017 to 2020 and in various meetings, gatherings, and conferences of humanist organizations