An ethnic minority is in dictionary terms referred to as a group of people of a particular race or nationality living in a country or area where most people are from a different race or nationality.
Allegiance to one’s country to the benefit of that country is called patriotism and it is a positive force that, despite globalisation, still guides our sense of belonging, our immediate “family” for which we look out for in our daily lives. Borders after all, define countries and define allegiance.
The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, in its chapter on Historical Foundations, explicitly defines who the ethnic minorities are within Croatia’s sovereign borders: “Setting forth from these historical facts and the universally accepted principles governing the contemporary world and the inalienable and indivisible, non-transferable and perpetual right of the Croatian nation to self-determination and state sovereignty, including the inviolable right to secession and association as the fundamental conditions for peace and stability of the international order, the Republic of Croatia is hereby established as the nation state of the Croatian nation and the state of the members of its national minorities: Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Austrians, Ukrainians, Rusyns, Bosniaks, Slovenians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Russians, Bulgarians, Poles, Roma, Romanians, Turks, Vlachs, Albanians and others who are its citizens and who are guaranteed equality with citizens of Croatian nationality and the exercise of their national rights in compliance with the democratic norms of the United Nations and the countries of the free world.”
According to the last census (2011) the population of Croatia is comprised of 7.7% people who identify as belonging to the ethnic minorities (Albanians 17,513 /0.41%, Austrians 297/0.01%, Bosniaks/Muslims 31,479/0.73%, Bulgarians 350/0.01%, Montenegrins 4,517/0.11%, Czechs 9,641/0.22%, Hungarians 14,048/0.33%, Macedonians 4,138/0.10%, Germans 2,965 /0.07%, Polish 672/0.02%, Roma 16,975/0.40%, Romanians 435/0.01%, Russians 1,279/0.03%, Rusyns 1,936/0.05%, Slovaks 4,753/0.11%, Slovenians 10,517/0,25%, Serbs 186,633/4.36%, Italians 17,807/0.42%, Turks 367/0.01%, Ukrainians 1,878 /0.04%), Vlachs 29 (0.00) and Jews 509/0.01%.
With the population growth hovering over 0% or -0.4% (2013) the size of ethnic minorities would not be expected to have increased since 2011, however, resettlement of displaced persons from 1990’s war (Croats and Serbs) may show slight variations to representations either way.
Today, the issue of minority rights in multiethnic societies has grown to be one of the most sensitive issues challenging almost every country. In particular, the challenge from the quest of different ethnic or cultural groups for political relevance is the most noticeable one in all countries where ethnic minorities live. Unlike most countries though, the accommodation of political relevance of specific ethnic minorities in Croatia is reflected in the specified seats for individual or combined ethnic minorities in the Parliament. One can safely say that in Croatia the mechanisms for ensuring that interests of ethnic minorities in creating and passing of mainstream legislation are well represented.
The outcry by Croatian Serbs last week when the President-elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic addressed the citizens in her victory speech as “Dear Croatians” and when she said in an interview to Bosnia and Herzegovina TV “The way I see it, Croats are also people of Christian Orthodox religion and people of Serb ethnic background. They are Croats in the sense that they are Croatian citizens,” has once again demonstrated the fact that many Serbs in Croatia do not consider Croatia as their country. It demonstrates the fact that some ethnic minorities in Croatia want to stay separated from the mainstream and therefore continue injecting social unrest in a country that needs unity towards one common goal: a prosperous Croatia. In fact Croatian Serbs, or one of their leaders Milorad Pupovac took offence at being considered as a Croatian in Grabar-Kitarovic speeches, even though he is a Croatian citizen and a member of Parliament representing a part of Croatian Serbian population!
“Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile” is an old idiom that perhaps finds its practical use for abuse here in Croatia. What else could it be with such a reaction to Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic’s statement that to her all citizens of Croatia are Croatians. Indeed, while the more loud ethnic minorities in the developed countries advocate for political relevance with view to protecting their ethnic minority rights in mainstream legislation Croatian Serbs seem still set on being separated from Croatia; the same mentality ruled in early 1990’s when they attacked Croatian independence and secession from communist Yugoslavia. The dream of Greater Serbia one would create by stealing land from sovereign national territory of other people is evidently still strong in Croatian Serbs and can only be neutralised by insisting on unity for and allegiance to Croatia while enjoying citizens’ rights that come with ethnic/cultural definitions and heritage.
Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is not the first president-elect or the first leader of a country to refer to all citizens of the country by the name of the country, but, she is perhaps one of the first to “cop the flak” because of it and that is because of unpatriotic, pro-communist, elements that arise from ethnic minorities who did not and do not want an independent and unified Croatia.
France is considered a country where the existence ethnic minorities is substantial and yet President François Hollande in his inauguration speech 15 May 2012 emphasised: “…I send the French people a message of confidence”!
Likewise, President Barrack Obama addressed the people of the U.S. in his second term inauguration speech 2 January 2013. “…My fellow Americans…”!
I could go on and on with similar examples and I know: any ethnic conflict in Croatia is caused by those who want to reap the benefits of being Croatian citizens but want no part in the responsibility to create and live a unity towards the benefit of Croatia. While such regretful state of affairs exists Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic is completely justified in insisting on treating all Croatian citizens as equal Croatians! That is the job a president must do and must insist upon the respect and allegiance of all to the one flag!
And to go back to the Croatian Constitution, people should be declaring their Croatian patriotism regardless of their ethnic backgrounds. Indeed given that the Constitution of independent Croatia arose after a 94% vote to secede from communist Yugoslavia the people of Croatia have a responsibility to practice allegiance to Croatia. The diversity of their ethnic backgrounds should not get in the way of being Croatians. The ethnic diversity of Croatia’s population, no matter how low nationally or relatively high in some areas is nothing new, but it is an important aspect of post-Yugoslavia nation building and the President-elect Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic demonstrates that she is well aware of the fact and ready and able to tackle it in a way other presidents since Franjo Tudjman have ignored. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A.,M.A.Ps. (Syd)