The Croatian parliament had July 15 decided to hand the sensitive matter of whether or not to hold a referendum against the use of the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet on state offices in the city of Vukovar to the Constitutional Court.
Referendum supporters say that Cyrillic symbolically represents the utter terror and the horror inflicted upon innocent Croats in Vukovar as they went about seceding from communist Yugoslavia, seeking through democratic peaceful processes their freedom and democracy. The government (whose political predecessors, although a minority, did not want to secede from communist Yugoslavia) evidently has little or no empathy with the suffering of the Croatian people at the hands of Serb aggressor has after months of the parliamentary committee’s dragging out signature verifications objected to the referendum, calling it uncivilized and in violation of the country’s international obligations. It will now be up to the Constitutional Court to decide.
Vukovar, as the world already knows, is a city devastated to the ground through Serb aggression, ethnic cleansing of non-Serbs, mass murders and mass rapes during the war for Croatian independence in 1991. In November/December 2013 the group of Croatian citizens consisting mainly of war veterans “Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar” after a series of protests against bilingual signs on public buildings in Vukovar, which included the tearing down of these and consequent unrests and arrest as well as violent attacks against the protesters by members of the police, collected over 600,000 signatures for a referendum aiming to raise to 50% (compared with 33% under the current law), the minimum level for minority groups living in a city or a municipality to enjoy the right to bilingualism on public buildings, institutions. The “Committee for the defence of Croatian Vukovar” group and its many supporters want the city that suffered the most in the war (Vukovar) to be declared a place of special piety.
The Committee’s member and legal adviser, Vlado Iljkic, said last week “with the referendum question we are returning to the standards that were in the Constitutional law regarding minority rights when its application did not create opposition and problems, i.e. it was not detrimental”. He added that minorities realised their rights then based on the Constitutional law based on discretionary powers of local government such as was the case for Czechs in the town of Daruvar and based on international agreements such as for the Italians in Istria.
Expressing fear that pressure had been mounting on the Constitutional Court to declare the referendum question unconstitutional, the Committee for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar leader Tomislav Josic said this week that the referendum question was in line with the constitution and did not encroach on the rights which local Serbs had so far exercised.
If the Constitutional Court finds the referendum question on bilingualism in local communities contrary to the Croatian Constitution, activists who launched the referendum initiative will address the European Court for Human Rights in Strasbourg, leaders of the “Committee for the Defence of the Croatian Vukovar”, said at a news conference in Vukovar on Thursday 24 July.
The Committee’s leader, Tomislav Josic, explained that in Croatia, ethnic minorities could exercise their rights in compliance with three sets of rules: the constitutional law on minority rights, local government statutes and international treaties.
Although the Vukovar Committee holds that the survey question was incorrectly formulated, the recent survey (March – May 2014) conducted by the Ivo Pilar Institute shows that a majority of the Croatians would vote against raising the threshold from the current one third requirement to over 50% for enabling minorities to use their language and scrip at public places.
However, when it comes to Vukovar, a marked majority of the respondents, or nearly two thirds (64.4%), are against Cyrillic signs on public institutions in Vukovar.
Also, 38.3% of those polled believe that Vukovar should be permanently exempt from dual-alphabet signs, and 26.1% hold that more time is needed before such a move.
The above Ivo Pilar Institute research clearly demonstrates that people of Croatia are overwhelmingly aware of the need to address Vukovar as the city that is the victim and symbol to be remembered of brutal Serb aggression. It’s a pity that the government doesn’t recognise, or rather – accept, the pulse of the nation it governs. There is absolutely nothing uncivilised about the plights for justice for the victims and the memory humanity owes them regardless of the fact that the Croatian bizarrely out of touch government would like to argue differently. Any international obligations a country “owes” to a civilised world is to uphold the will of the majority of its people while upholding rights of minorities to a degree that does not threaten sovereignty, its sovereign rights and duties to abide by the will of its people and to respect the memory that shapes its nation. Once those aspects are in place everything else can follow, including reconciliation of the past. I trust that the Croatian Constitutional court will reiterate such rights and obligations towards Croatian people and rule the referendum question valid. Indeed, if one digs into the arrangements for ethnic minority rights within leading EU Western European member states one can easily come to the conclusion that newer member states from Eastern and South Eastern Europe are “forced” to adhere to standards regarding minorities the “old” member states do not meet, nor are – to my knowledge – contemplating on meeting. The Ivo Pilar Institute survey on referendum regarding Serbian Cyrillic script in Vukovar has given unquestionable merit to the pursuits for Vukovar’s victims’ justice led by the Committee for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar. It is no longer a matter of the Committee and its supporters but a matter considered worthy across Croatia and this is a most timely message for the Constitutional Court that was founded on the blood of Victims of Vukovar – of Croatia! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)