Croatian Parliament: The Detrimental Representation of Ethnic Minorities (?)

From Left/Front row: Furio Radin, Milorad Pupovac, Andrej Plenkovic Photo: V.P.P./ Hina

From Left/Front row:
Furio Radin, Milorad Pupovac, Andrej Plenkovic
Photo: V.P.P./ Hina

 

At the time of its formation in 1990 Croatian parliament and a rather large number of NGO institutions were devised and established in such a way that Croatia’s diverse population in the ethnic sense was and remains rather well represented. There are currently eight (out of 151) seats in parliament dedicated to representing ethnic minorities living in Croatia … Many have and will say that the extent to which ethnic or racial minorities are present in legislatures can be viewed as a litmus test for the effectiveness of a country’s democratic system. However, Croatia has the troublesome misfortune of having to deal with and accommodate into its democracy and parliament an ethnic minority – Serb – that attacked the Croatian majority and other non-Serbs in Croatia and committed war crimes in the early 1990’s against the Croatian people and their property in order take one third of Croatia’s sovereign land for the purposes of creating a Serb, ethnically clean republic that would eventually be attached to Serbia. As such, a number of ethnic minorities in Croatia have not been contributing towards the development of a democratic system in Croatia but have most often tugged the ropes their way with view to securing individual benefits.

 

This is certainly no enviable situation for any democracy let alone Croatia where the perpetually elected leaders of the two largest ethnic minorities – Serb (Milorad Pupovac) and the Italian (Furio Radin) – are still ideologically and practically loaded with communist Yugoslavia agenda and, to boot, the Serb minority with the help of Serbia continues its irritating, angering and utterly unjust quest of trying to equate the Homeland War aggressor with the victim. The ethnic minority part represented by Pupovac do not appear as living in and holding Croatia as their homeland, as their country, but ethnic minority that still in many ways primarily identifies with Serbia and, in many ways the same could be said for the Italian minority led by Radin. Although there are 3 parliamentary seats representing the Serb minority in Croatia the one Pupovac sits on is the loudest, the obnoxiously divisive one that, sadly, gets relatively most left-leaning media coverage.

 

Zlatko Hasanbegovic Minister for Culture Croatia Photo: Grgo Jelavic/Pixsell

Zlatko Hasanbegovic
Minister for Culture
Croatia
Photo: Grgo Jelavic/Pixsell

Last week, Friday 23 September, both Pupovac and Radin have expressed views that they would not collaborate with the new government of Croatia if it re-appoints Zlatko Hasanbegovic as minister for culture. Their apparent sense of self-importance is so obscene that they assume their power includes making decisions about government cabinet members even if they are not in the political party that won majority seats in parliament. They, like a large slice of communist Yugoslavia fans in Croatia and outside, that keep fighting against prosecution of communist crimes and keep calling those who advocate for lustration as well as prosecution of communist crimes – nationalists and Ustashe (as in WWII Ustashe regime in Croatia) – keep promoting the new anti-Croatian trend, which says that under HDZ government Croatia has moved far-right and revisionist inclinations are gathering more and more ground. Zlatko Hasanbegovic has been the one “copping” most of of the “blame” for this vicious construct of defamation and vilification against Croatia and, yet – he remains the brightest light Croatia has had in the parliament for quite a while that keeps insisting on unraveling the truth in Croatia’s history.

 

Having in mind the cruel divisions and utterly unfair agenda behind accusing without foundation in facts Croatian minister for culture Hasanbegovic of revisionism, the two leaders of ethnic minorities (Pupovac and Radin) are perpetuating, as well as other cruel agendas, like equating aggressor with the victim or defending/justifying communist crimes, and amplified by the rhetoric of these two ethnic minorities representatives (and at times others),it is blatantly clear that the word “ethnic” – as in ethnic minorities – has outlived its usefulness in Croatia.

 

 

The word “ethnic” has become divisive and derogatory in more ways than one.

 

Croatian government, and parliament, would do well by turning their efforts away from the political and practical pursuits of engaging in business of seeing what benefit an individual ethnic minority might receive and turning towards the agenda of seeing what individual ethnic minorities will and can contribute to Croatia as a whole. Indeed, the government must be and is committed to ensuring that all Croatian citizens have an opportunity to be active and equal participants in the Croatian society, free to live their lives and maintain their cultural traditions – this is enshrined in Croatia’s laws and the constitution. It’s just that the existence of ethnic minority representatives in parliament has led to an unwanted result: instead of uniting Croatian citizens it mainly divides them as ethnic minority agendas are not often in harmony with Croatian national interests.

 

Indeed, many – including myself – believe that having an ethnic Member of Parliament has led to high expectations among members of their ethnic community about what will be achieved for them.

 

For the second time in one year Croatia has held general elections and both times a minority HDZ/Croatian Democratic Union led government formed, although forming the new one has not yet happened as HDZ continues coalition discussions with various smaller parties and independents. It is at such times of minority government that the existence of reserved (dedicated) seats contradicts the strict electoral equality of one-vote, one-value and challenge the ‘liberal, individualist notion of political equality’.

 

The fear that a representative holding a dedicated seat may control the balance of power – a scenario seen as lending too much power to a minority group. It is also a scenario capable of causing division within the community, particularly if it is possible for a member to be elected to a dedicated seat with fewer votes than are needed to be elected to a general seat. Allocating seats on the basis of ‘skin colour, ethnicity or any other trait, could by definition be seen as threatening democracy’s principles… it threatens to encourage tokenism and discrimination.

 

HDZ and its leader Andrej Plenkovic would do well in steering away from forming a government with ethnic minority representatives. The past quarter of a century has shown that this causes more damage than good for Croatian national interests. Having ethnic minorities dedicated seats for representation in the parliament for a quarter of a century in Croatia has evidently and essentially given a rise to a reality that tells us that the balance that is struck between the representation of minorities, and the maintenance and development of an overarching sense of national identity and purpose is detrimentally wrong.

 

The fact that the Croatian parliament also has 3 seats dedicated to Croatian citizens living abroad in the diaspora does not present the same problematic issues primarily because these seats are for electorates where Croatian citizens live regardless of their ethnic make-up. If anything, there should be at least 3 more dedicated seats to Croatians living in the overseas diaspora (not living in the neighbouring Bosnia and Herzegovina) as their population is almost as large as the one in Croatia and the agenda of Croatian government to encourage Croats living abroad to return to Croatia and/or invest in Croatian economy is omnipresent.

 

Croatian parliament appears in an urgent need of re-grouping so its every seat represents all people living in every electorate regardless of their ethnic make-up and the enactment of laws that would see the establishment of government department and non-government organisations responsible to an appropriate minister of the government (ideally a minister for ethnic affairs) for dealing with matters arising from or exclusive to ethnic origins or cultural/religious practices of citizens. Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

Croatia: Ethnicity Must Not Determine Allegiance

Allegiance to the Croatian Flag Photo:pixgood.com

Allegiance to the Croatian Flag
Photo:pixgood.com

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)

Croatia: About Cyrillic In Vukovar

Collecting signatures for referendum on Vukovar  Photo: FaH/ Damir SENCAR /ds

Collecting signatures for referendum on Vukovar
Photo: FaH/ Damir SENCAR /ds

When a group of EU parliamentarians get together to sign an open letter or statement against an issue hotly circling among the people in one of the EU member states then we start feeling uneasy about democratic freedom and political pressure and machinations evidently designed to spread certain fear or uneasiness.

The Committee for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar has collected 680,000 signatures initiating a referendum process in Croatia regarding bilingualism. The issue of Cyrillic script signage on public buildings has been at the forefront of current affairs and restlessness in Croatia for almost a year. I have written articles on this previously.
The question for the referendum is formulated as follows: “Do you agree that Article 12, clause 1, of the Constitutional Law on rights of national minorities be changed so that it reads: Equal official use of the language and script used by members of national minorities is realised in the area of local government, state government and judiciary when members of individual national minority make up at least one half of the population of that area.”
On 20th December 73 MEPs (Mainly Greens, Social Democrats and Liberals) and the European Language Equality Network (ELEN is the new European level NGO working for the promotion and protection of lesser-used languages and linguistic rights) have sent in open letters to the Croatian media voicing their concerns over the proposed referendum about Cyrillic script in Vukovar, which, if successful, would according to them undermine national minority rights, for example, raising the threshold for bilingual provision in a municipality from 33% to 50%. ELEN group say the referendum would adversely affect Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Austrians, Ukrainians, Rusins, Bosniaks, Slovenians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Russians, Bulgarians, Polaks, Roma, Romanians, Turks, Vlachs and Albanian national minorities and contravene the Treaties that Croatia ratified in order to join the EU.
Croatian news agency HINA reports that Tomislav Josic, a leading activist in the campaign against Cyrillic signs on public institutions in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar, has said that the issue of dual-alphabet signs is a matter for Croatia and not for the European Union.
If only our deputies were fighting for more funds from EU and for the benefit of Croatia. However, they are fighting for some other things. The Europeans are being asked to give their opinion on minorities in Croatia, while we know that in France there are no minorities at all,” Josic said.
As for 73 signatories of that letter, Josic interpreted it as only a 10% of possible signatures in the European Parliament, while the group whose leader he is collected “60%” of signatures for a petition for a referendum in Croatia on how to regulate the right of minorities to use their language and alphabet.
Josic said that it seemed to him that the activists “will be forced to collect signatures also in the European Parliament“.

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt Photo: Politikaplus.com

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt
Photo: Politikaplus.com

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt (a Lawyer with post-graduate studies in Criminal law. She served as legal advisor to the late President Franjo Tudjman for ten years. She led the process of Peaceful reintegration of Eastern Slavonia in the late 1990’s. She was Minister of Justice of the Republic of Croatia (2003-2006) and author and initiator of many legislative proposals in Croatia. She served as elected member of Croatian Parliament over three mandates from year 2000. She is also President of Democratic Centre party. Honorary citizen of Vukovar, Ilok and Brela. 1998 Woman of the Year. Decorated with the Order of Croatian Interlace, Order of Croatian Trefoil and Order of Katarina Zrinski and Vukovar Medal.  Source: http://www.vesna.com.hr)
recently wrote an article “Cyrillic and the triumph of Prime Minister Milanovic’s Will”, which was published in objektivhr.com portal and translated into English by Sonja Valcic.

After months of the status of “neither war nor peace” between the Croatian government and the Committee for the Defence of the City of Vukovar, due to the introduction of bilingualism, it has become clear that the issue cannot be solved by implementing the law ”by force.”  The citizens of Vukovar wanted that their city be granted a status of Memorial City of Victims of Serbian Aggression and as such to be exempted from the introduction of Cyrillic alphabet.

Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic had no understanding for this proposal nor did he bother to examine legal options for the realization of this proposal. Instead of listening to the politically wise President Dr. Ivo Josipovic who advocated the dialogue with the Vukovar citizens, Milanovic gave green light for setting bilingual sign plates at the crack of dawn. From that moment on, all hell broke loose: the normalization process painstakingly built for years was compromised; bilingual sign plates were flying from the Vukovar façades and from those in other cities, and the blood was shed. This was the result of placing bilingual sign plates in Vukovar which Prime Minister Milanovic called ”the triumph of the Croatian will and the state” whereas in reality that was only a triumph of his own will.

After the Croatian Parliament had refused to put the issue of Cyrillic on the agenda, the Committee had no other option but to launch an initiative for a referendum. But, since the introduction of Cyrillic alphabet in Vukovar is a complex issue, both from the legal and human perspective it is of no surprise that  the referendum question is ill-conceived: while it could not have been asked for an explicit ban on the use of the Cyrillic as this would be discriminatory, it remains unclear why the ban on the use of minority languages extends to state administration and judiciary.  Moreover, the raising of threshold for obtaining minority rights from the current 33% to 50% represents de facto a step backward in the protection of minority rights.
What is important to underline is that a deadline for the introduction of bilingual sign plates in Vukovar is an internal matter of the Republic of Croatia. The official position of the European Commission is that the issue of ”bilingual signs is within the competence of the Member States”, thus, it is utterly inappropriate for the Croatian government to „pull up the sleeve „ of the EC, begging support for the introduction of Cyrillic! The European Union does not insist on bilingualism at all costs as there are many EU member countries which have not yet resolved this issue in the best way:  i.e., Slovakia has rather restrictive laws on the use of the Hungarian minority language; Estonia also has not resolved the situation with the Russian minority, etc.
Judging by over 580,000 signatures collected for the referendum on Cyrillic across the country, the conditions for introducing Cyrillic in Vukovar are not met: the citizens of Vukovar are still waiting that war criminals who, due to the lack of evidence at the moment of the promulgation of the Amnesty Law escaped from justice, are waiting for the citizens of Serbian nationality to help them find their missing citizens which can be done in a way that would not put local Serbs at risk. It is time that the Serbs from Vukovar take an active role in building of co-existence; just asking for their rights but not wanting to reveal information about the missing and killed is not a good way towards building a good relationship with the Croats in Vukovar.
In such circumstances the only politically correct option would be to leave the representatives of both Serb national minority and those of Croatian citizens to agree when the time for introducing of Cyrillic is ripe. Until this moment, there are no legal obstacles for granting a special status to the city including the postponement of the introduction of Cyrillic by law, without bidding deadlines from both sides. There are some who say that such status would ”freeze” the development of the city, but it makes no sense: only happy people who have jobs and the youth who sees the prospect for their future make one city alive. It could be assumed that some do not like to see Vukovar being portrayed as a victim and they would prefer that all signs be eliminated suggesting Croatia was a victim of Serbian aggression.
For the time being the speculation that for the Croatian Serbs Cyrillic is important only as a step toward restoring the status of a state-building nation and for a potential autonomy in the future, needs to be put aside. The only thing which is now important is to let the people of Vukovar decide on Cyrillic themselves…
Even if the referendum does not take place – as the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia will probably be called to establish whether the issue of the referendum is constitutional or not – all the effort of the Committee for the Defence of the City of Vukovar was not in vain: a huge number of signatures in favour of referendum collected across Croatia is the message to the Government that this issue cannot be resolved from the office of the St. Mark’s Square but only through a dialogue with the representatives of both nationalities living in the City of Vukovar.
This is also a message to Milorad Pupovac, the representative of the Croatian Serb minority and the president of SDSS (Independent Democratic Serb Party) to refrain from providing inappropriate statements regarding the referendum initiative, such as ”…Milosevic did the same thing in Serbia…” as such statements aggravate not only the position of the Serbs in Vukovar but also in the entire Croatia. Moreover these signatures are also a message to all the politicians to stop their political trading across the back of the citizens of Vukovar.

__________________________
During the past couple of weeks there has been a significant number of criticisms about the formulation of the referendum question (as set out above). Many say it is not well formulated in the legal sense. Hence we are awaiting a decision from the Constitutional court in Croatia regarding the matter. There is a fair consensus among legal professionals (including the author of above article, Vesna Skare-Ozbolt) that it would have perhaps been much better had the referendum concentrated on declaring Vukovar as a special place of piety (perhaps it should have included other Croatian towns too).

One can expect that whatever the Constitutional court decide the referendum will go ahead; perhaps even a re-formulation of the question will be called for? However, it would seem to me that the desired status of a special place of piety would have formed a platform for a more positive move towards bringing closure to the still open questions of war in Croatia. This way there does not seem to be any word in association with the referendum on the still missing persons, there are no positive movements in holding the Serbs accountable for the horrors perpetrated against Croatia, there are multitudes of known or suspected Serb war criminals that have achieved amnesty for their crimes through deals made by former Croatian governments and president and this amnesty is a deep and open wound to Croats – and there are more and more accusations against Croatia regarding “the horrors” persons suffered as Serbs in Croatia in 1991!

It is to be emphasised that, regardless of media write-ups or claims to the contrary, Croats have never been against the rights of ethnic minorities and they have never even expressed anything against positive discrimination when it comes to minorities. Someone or some group with political agendas are obviously trying to turn the fight for victims’ rights in Vukovar into discrimination against minority rights!

It is to be remembered that during Croatia’s negotiations with the EU, for membership, Croatia was expected to behave in line of some political precedent towards its open enemy (Serbia). The pressure for this “task”, which no self-respecting nation would ever place upon itself and which often bore the hallmarks of humiliation, seemed to come from Britain and its political satellites in the EU (perhaps even the same players who hoodwinked Croatia into the unnatural Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918 – the Kingdom to be ruled by Serb king, who married into Queen Victoria’s family?). One could see that this pressure was never about creating rights for the Serb minority in Croatia but about creating chaos in Croatia, creating radical social situations and eventually stopping Croatia from becoming a member of the EU in order to achieve a new re-arrangement of political positions in the region. Along with this went the trumped-up charges against Croatian leadership for the so-called joint criminal enterprise during the Carla Del Ponte ICTY prosecution leadership. Aware of such positions the Croatian Serbs continued serving those interests, especially their leaders, openly positioned themselves as some kind of partners of the Republic of Croatia, without an inkling of a real intention to integrate into Croatia’s cultural, political, social and community values.

And so, the question of 50% rather than 33% of ethnic minority in a local government area of Croatia for achieving the right to bilingual usage does not seem to relate to ethnic minorities but rather to an authentic issue of national interests and the threshold of protest against humiliation.  And, indeed, Croatia simply cannot be a hostage to the real Greater Serbia and anti-Croatian politics. The 680,000 signatures for the referendum say that loud and clear! Ina Vukic, Prof. (Zgb); B.A., M.A.Ps. (Syd)

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