The Croatian government at this moment surfaces as a bully in a schoolyard filled with hurting children.
The Croatian government says the law must be respected and applied. Nothing wrong with that – except when the government ignores the full verse and meaning of the relevant legislation. While Croatia’s 2002 constitutional law on minority rights 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 reportedly 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 in Vukovar 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. This is an important subclause of the law Croatian government seems to have been ignoring for months and have failed abysmally in addressing the deep unrest its announcement to erect in Vukovar public signage in both Latin (Croatian) and Cyrillic (Serbian) scripts.
It was February of this year when the Committee for Defence of Croatian Vukovar (the symbol of suffering, mass murders, ethnic cleansing … perpetrated by Serb aggressor against Croatia from 1991) stated at a 20,000 people public rally in Vukovar against the introduction of signs on public buildings in the Croatian and Cyrillic script that it has “filed a motion asking the Constitutional Court to assess the constitutionality of the law on national minorities’ rights, that it 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, that it 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”.
It was April of this year when another colossal in numbers (some 60,000 people) public rally occurred in Zagreb against the introduction of Cyrillic script on signs at public buildings and places. The Headquarters for the Defence of Vukovar sought at the rally that the authorised institutions of the government declare the city of Vukovar an area of special piety for all citizens in the country and the world and that in light of that Cyrillic (Serbian) should not appear alongside Latin (Croatian) script in public places.
“If, within three months, you do not commence upon this request, you will, in that way, let us know that you do not respect our sacrifice…if, then, you come to Vukovar on the 18th of November, we will show you that you are not welcome there…”, said at that rally Tomislav Josic, president of Committee for the Defence of Vukovar.
18 November is significant in that it was on that date in 1991 when Croatia’s Vukovar fell into Serb hands after it had been ethnically cleansed of Croats and non-Serbs, after multitudes fled on foot with barely the clothes on their tortured bodies, after multitudes of Croats from Vukovar had been tortured and imprisoned in Serb concentration camps set up in the vicinity, after Vukovar had been completely destroyed and its buildings and homes reduced to unsightly rubble … but beastly murders and tortures of Croats from Vukovar did not stop on 18 November 1991 – two days later the Serb aggressor had rounded up some 300 Croat patients and civilians found at the Vukovar Hospital, dragged them to Ovcara nearby and slaughtered every one of them.
And we must never forget, as units of Serb-led Yugoslav Army members and Croatian Serb Chetnik rebels marched into Vukovar with only one aim in their sight – to murder every single seed of Croatian life there – they sang and chanted in Vukovar streets: “Slobo, Slobo, send us some salad, there’ll be meat, we’ll slaughter the Croats” (Slobo meaning Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic).
As I write this post – Vukovar is once again under siege. This time it’s hundreds of police guarding the city’s public places from Croats who, once they discovered that the government had in the dark of Sunday night erected bilingual signs on some 20 buildings, decided to smash, bring down those signs on Monday morning (yesterday) and rowdy citizens rallied and protested.
HRT TV evening news on Monday 2 September showed a woman in Vukovar saying the words to this effect: This is UDBA (Communist secret police) style, they came in the night and erected the signs on our buildings just like sons were massacred in the night and we still cannot find their bones…
Several people including police were reportedly slightly injured in scuffles between the protesters and the police in Vukovar yesterday as protesters climbed on each others shoulders and hammered down several Latin/Cyrillic signs mounted during the previous night. Five protesters we arrested for causing damage to public property; others vowed they’re not moving from there and that the police would have to carry their bodies away.
President Ivo Josipovic has called for unity among all political parties to condemn the actions of the protesters in Vukovar; he said law must be followed and applied. Ranko Ostojic, minister of internal affairs was adamant that law on minority rights will be applied and protesters causing damage punished and made to pay for the damage they have caused. He further said that all those who think that the constitutional law on ethnic minorities’ rights should not be applied are free to initiate its amendment, “and then we will apply a new one when it is adopted.”
Josipovic and Ostojic and the whole of the government appear as if they’ve just climbed from under a rock where they’ve been sleeping for the last six months! Indications are that they have done nothing to assist the citizens who have been seeking amendments to the law for quite a time; they’ve done nothing to take into consideration the part of the same law they’re applying that clearly states that application of the law must not cause unrest among the citizens etc. They’ve done nothing to examine the reliability of 2011 census figures and ensure that Serb minority in Vukovar does in fact amount one third or more and not less as is suspected.
And then Ostojic has the gall to say: “Those who fell in Vukovar fell for democratic Croatia, for a country of the rule of law and order, certainly not for violence.”
How can we expect peace, non-violence, from people when the government itself does not appear to have applied the full meaning of the law in this case? Like a thief (or like Stalin …), the government erected the bilingual signs in the dark of night, completely bypassing the full spirit, meaning and conditions of that law, which to my understanding means: bilingual signs can only be erected if they do not cause unrest, intolerance and stifle dialogue.
The siege of Vukovar is not over. Reportedly busloads of people from other parts of Croatia are arriving there and the protests against Cyrillic signs continue – people want Vukovar to be exempted from bilingual signage – to be declared as a place of remembrance for the horrors Croats suffered in the 1990’s war of Serb aggression. It’s not as if Croats are intolerant of bilingualism after all Croatia already has bilingual signs in other regions. In the northern Adriatic Istrian peninsula they are in Italian and Croatian. In other areas where there is a sizable Serb minority there has been no resistance to the use Cyrillic. But the government’s bullying stance in Vukovar will, it seems, ensure that this democratic reality of peaceful bilingualism in several places across Croatia is buried and belittled. Perhaps that’s what the government wants because it seems even the minister for the interior, Ostojic, doesn’t seem to think much of it as evidenced by his above said statement.
When a government does not know how to talk to its citizens, how to preserve their human decency then it’s up to the people to assert their rights to it. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)