A river of citizens from across Croatia spilled into Vukovar Saturday 2 February (more than 20,000) to protest against the government’s intent to introduce Cyrillic script (Serbian language) along the Latin one (Croatian language) on public places or official signage. Although police presence was significant the event proceeded without incidents.
Organised by the Committee for Defence of Croatian Vukovar, the rally carried its main slogan: Cyrillic Never in Vukovar. Banners with slogans “ We defended Vukovar, not Bykobap”, “We Fell for Vukovar, Politicians Have Betrayed Us”, “Betrayal – Again!”, “Victory in War, Defeat in Peace” …
The Croatian government was asked to listen to the voice of the eastern town’s residents and give up enforcing the constitutional law on national minorities’ rights in Vukovar and introducing bilingualism.
Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic was asked “not to test and provoke” those who defended Vukovar in the 1991-95 war.
Committee chair Tomislav Josic said the committee Friday 1st February filed a motion asking the Constitutional Court to assess the constitutionality of the law on national minorities’ rights, and that it expected the government to give up enforcing it until the court passed its ruling.
In demands read out by Josic, the committee wants the government to see to the arrest and prosecution of war criminals, and parliament to hold a discussion on the enforcement of the constitutional law at issue.
Josic said the committee wanted state institutions to enforce the law on the residence of every resident of Vukovar, and the town council to stop amendments to the town statute that would enable bilingualism in Vukovar.
A proclamation by the Committee for Defence of Croatian Vukovar was also read out, asking the state and legislative authority to “turn the wheel” which “is heading towards the destruction of everything that has been created so far.” The state authorities were accused of the high unemployment and discontent among the people, and urged not to put themselves above the people.
January 2013 was the month, which marked the 15th Anniversary of the Peaceful Reintegration of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium.
“During the two transition years (1996 – 1998) foundations for peace were laid as a basis for reconstruction, revival of Vukovar’s post-war community”, said for Hrvatski List Dr. Drazen Zivic from “Ivo Pilar” Institute of Social Sciences in Zagreb.
“However, even then we asked ourselves whether a just and non-aggressive peace was established by the Reintegration, or whether the Reintegration established an unjust or aggressive peace,” Dr. Zivic continues in his interview with Marko Curac of Hrvatski List. “Were only the short-term political interests in those foundations of peace, or does that peace rest upon truth, justice, forgiveness, reconciliation, understanding, dialogue, tolerance, mutual and inter-ethnic trust and acknowledgement as long-term or lasting facets of peace?”
The latest disquiet and upheaval in Croatia, spurred on by the government’s announcement to introduce Cyrillic script into Vukovar, appear to suggest that the peace achieved through the Peaceful Reintegration of Eastern Slavonia in the late 1990’s may not, indeed, have been as genuine as the world was led to believe.
War wounds are still painfully open, and it would seem that the Peaceful Reintegration of Eastern Slavonia did not consider an effective process of healing those wounds but rather utilised porous bandages, superficial tolerance, pushed for legal rights of all without taking on responsibility in delving into healing the war wounds from within.
After the bloody Serbian aggression, which took at least 2,500 lives in Vukovar area, 800 still missing, deported or ethnically cleansed more than 43,000 Croatians and non-Serbs, and perpetrated a cataclysmic destruction of homes, businesses and infrastructure in the early 1990’s it is humanly clear that wounds and scars still burn with pain and bitter anger in Croatia, in Vukovar.
Surely (!) these circumstance must provide for and urge the Croatian government to reconsider at least the timing for the promulgation of ethnic minority rights to bilingualism “guaranteed” by Constitutional law, particularly given that this law was changed in 2002 and, I hold, in line with the mindset from the 1996-1998 Peaceful Reintegration of Eastern Slavonia. The 2002 law provides for the establishment of bilingualism (or multilingualism) when one or more ethnic minorities make at least a third of the total population in a particular region. Serb ethnic minority fulfilled that criteria in Vukovar in the 2011 census, however, that census is considered questionable given that it according to many consists of a relatively large number of Serbs who have a registered address there but do not reside in the area. Furthermore, the same Constitutional law stipulates that in the event of applying the minority rights to bilingualism the government must ensure that such an implementation does NOT cause a disturbance in the relationship of the ethnic minority with the national majority (Croatian), that is that the realisation of those rights must not come at the expense of dialogue, understanding, tolerance …
On 22 December 1990, Franjo Tudjman, the first president of the Republic of Croatia, at the proclamation of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia said to the Parliament: “…future generations are going to be the ones who will more objectively judge and give opinion about this Constitution. We can only bear witness to the fact that we have courageously and decisively, with an open heart and free spirit, approached the writing of it, in a milestone and dramatic time”.
Indeed, this was the time when the horrid Serb aggression had not hit and devastated Croatia and in the spirit and intentions found in Franjo Tudjman’s speech when proclaiming the Constitution, now is high time to revisit and review the Constitution as well as the Constitutional law in relation to ethnic minorities, bring them in line with other civilized democracies of Europe and the “West” as Tudjman and the first parliament of independent Croatia intended in 1990. Certainly, the Constitution of Republic of Croatia does NOT provide for the loss of sovereignty of any part of Croatia and the announced introduction of official bilingualism in Vukovar area certainly comes with bitter taste, pain and heightened alertness that Vukovar is in danger of significant ethnic unrest. Given that, one would expect the government to remove its blinkers and assess the intention and the spirit of the total legislation relevant to ethnic minority rights; not charge ahead with bilingualism like a bull against red rag. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)