A large effigy showing two men embracing was torched in front of cheering festival goers to the sound of funeral music on Sunday during a carnival in the southern town of Imotski.
Zoran Milanovic, Croatia’s president, has described the incident as an “inhumane, totally unacceptable act” and demanded an apology from the organisers of the event.
“The event was observed by many children who could witness the spreading of hatred and inciting to violence,” Mr Milanovic said in a statement.
The president's condemnation was followed by Croatia’s government, which said it was opposed to “any form of hate speech or aggression… and any act that insults the feelings of the Croatian people and contributes to the divisions within society”, according to the country’s Hina news agency.
The incident on Sunday followed a recent ruling by Croatia’s top court against discrimination towards same-sex couples who are acting as foster parents.
Burning effigies is a satirical tradition at Croatian carnivals, with past incidents including the burning of a children’s book about same-sex families in 2018 and the torching of an effigy of a Croatian Serb politician last year.
Same-sex partnerships have been allowed in Croatia since 2014, when Mr Milanovic was the prime minister, but gay couples are not allowed to adopt children.
Mr Milanovic was elected as the president of Croatia in January after defeating conservative former president Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović in a runoff vote.
Brian Finnegan, a spokesperson for the LGBT+ rights organisation ILGA-Europe, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on Monday that the burning of the effigy represented “another sign of the rise in hate in Europe that is being fuelled by anti-LGBT rhetoric”.
“This is a clear expression of hatred,” Mr Finnegan added.
The Imotski carnival organisers have not responded to a request for comment by Reuters via their Facebook page.
Additional reporting by agencies