Two weddings and no funerals: The Split Open final

originally published on 15 May 2011

Thank God there were only two weddings. Had there been four, we would also have had a funeral.
Branka Marusic

Usually, we like to define debating as the activity that empowers people to speak up, make an argument and try to change the world to the better. At the very least, we are all familiar with the concept of being able to argue any subject on both sides, regardless of our personal taste, and through that experience be able to tolerate other opinions, try and integrate different perspectives into a better version of ‘truth’ or — at the very least — be able to make a decent rebuttal to things we disagree with.

All of that, however, gets lost within the weekend of a debating tournament. It’s all about getting a win, or staying on straight seconds, or the dreaded few minutes during the break announcement where you are wondering if you made it to the out-rounds or if you’ll be drowning your sorrows in the cheap bar that the Convenor has booked for you and the other participants.

The Split Union Open was no different up until the final. Debaters were trying to calculate how many points they needed to break and whether or not they were still in the running, we were going around telling people to dress up for the final so that we looked at least decent, Dino did our tabbing and we figured out the four teams we’d be sending to the final which was to be held in a Roman monument in the heart of the city called the Peristil. We wanted to run a motion that was relevant to the local community, so after ruling out a debate about the destruction of the forests nearby the city to build malls and one about naming streets and squares after war criminals, we decided to have a debate about the gay pride parade. Apparently, there is a movement to organize one in Split which has met fierce opposition from the locals — hence, THBT gay pride parades should only be held with the consent of the local community.

The final venue was right outside the entrance of a church — something that meant that while we were announcing the break, two wedding parties met in front of it and started singing while waving Croatian flags and bottles of Johnnie Walker. Flares were quickly lit and we decided to release the motion hoping the parties will be out of the square soon enough to start the round. Indeed, 25 minutes later, everyone was ready to begin the debate — which had to run quickly, because another party was expected to come out an hour later.

The Prime Minister stood up and mentioned her definitions. The moment she said the words gay pride, a random person wearing a wedding flower on his shirt started yelling at her in the local language. The part that wasn’t that hard to understand was when he shouted ‘fuck gays’ and made his way towards the microphone to repeat his opinion on the issue, to be then taken aside by one of the organizers who was trying to talk some sense into him. At that point, we were angry about the fact that a drunkard was able to get past all of us and yell into the microphone. The point that we figured out that something was going on, was when a few dozens of people sitting at the back of the venue started yelling and shouting with him.

Quickly the situation turned worse: the cursing and booing became louder and louder, especially when Opposition speakers were on the stand. Slurs and threats were thrown against each and every speaker, especially the Deputy Prime Minister who, loud and clear, declared himself gay during his speech. To the best of our knowledge, he isn’t. The participants did their best to outdo the jeering by applauding the debaters — largely unsuccessfuly, as the drunks kept on marching on stage and grabbing the microphone, while one local organizer that was trying to keep them away received a few handsome threats of violence. The worst one was probably someone yelling “I’ll throw a bomb and kill you all.”

When the Opposition Whip started his speech by saying, “I will backstab the Opening Opposition and yell “Being gay is not okay”, he received a loud applause from the drunk crowd. He went on, in a sober voice, to say “imagine if there’s no-one there to say otherwise”, to receive an ovation from the debating crowd. There was no time to congratulate him though, as we had to run away as quickly as possible, as we overheard one of the hecklers calling his friends to come over to beat us up, while the church bells signified the ending of the wedding and a potential disaster at our hands.

Did we manage to change anyone’s opinion? No — far from it. But at least, 8 debaters had the courage to stand up there, speak loud and clear into the microphone, regardless of the side they were on, and challenge the narrow-mindedness of their drunk audience. It was one of the very few BP rounds that managed to do what we claim our sport is all about — and for that, I’m proud to have been involved with the tournament in which this happened and I applaud the locals for trying to promote a culture of dialogue in a city that seems to desparately need it.

For the record, the eight brave debaters that participated in the final were Nika Jelaska, Tvrtko Pater, Dina Salapic, Ana Salapic, Matija Blace, Luka Keller, Damjan Raicevic and Ivana Dimitrijevic. Dina and Ana won the tournament.

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