Croatia: Ethnicity Must Not Determine Allegiance

Allegiance to the Croatian Flag

Allegiance to the Croatian Flag

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:

Vesna Skare-Ozbolt

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:
recently wrote an article “Cyrillic and the triumph of Prime Minister Milanovic’s Will”, which was published in 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)


Vukovar: Divided By An Alphabet

Video by Reporter – Euronews: well worth watching!

Article from Euronews:

“It stems from a law to protect Serb minority rights, but in the Croatian city of Vukovar, the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet on public signs has reopened the wounds of an old conflict.

Vukovar was virtually destroyed during the wars that erupted after the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991. Today, it is being rebuilt but remains a symbol of Croatia’s fight for independence – a fight better known as the Homeland War. Now, a new kind of symbol is causing an uproar: that of Cyrillic signs erected on public buildings.

A 2011 census has shown that Serbs make up over a third of Vukovar’s population. According to Croatia’s constitutional law on minority rights, their language and alphabet is protected. The first Cyrillic signs went up in September, but they were torn down just as quickly by Croatian war veterans. Protesters argue that Cyrillic is a reminder of when Vukovar stood alone against a Yugoslav army unhappy with Croatia’s declaration of independence. And they paid the price.

A war veteran, Danijel Rehak heads the Association for Croatian Prisoners of War. He took part in the recent protests:

“We are against the Serbian language and Cyrillic signs because the aggression on Vukovar in 1991 was committed with those letters. 5,000 of our fellow citizens vanished in that aggression: defenders, civilians, children and the elderly, 401 are still listed as missing,” he told euronews.

In August 1991, the Yugoslav army and local Serb milita groups attacked Vukovar after Croatia declared independence. The siege lasted three months and Vukovar was integrated into the Serb Republic of Krajina for the next four years. One of the most horrific stories of this war was the massacre of many patients and staff at Vukovar hospital.

Vesna Bosanac was in charge of the hospital during the siege. She took care of the wounded. Today, this national icon claims that successive Croatian governments have failed to understand the emotional hold Vukovar still has on the nation’s soul. She explains: “When we came back here after the peace accord in 1997 it was all in Cyrillic. And then the process of peaceful reintegration began and everything that was in Cyrillic was no longer valid. And now, because of the census conducted in 2011, Cyrillic signs have been erected on official buildings again. Cyrillic wouldn’t be a problem if people here had healed their wounds, if they had found their dead and missing, but they haven’t, and inflicting Cyrillic is like pouring alcohol on an open wound.”

Today, the hospital basement is a museum which serves as a reminder of the suffering that took place in Vukovar and how many people felt forgotten and even sacrificed by a government fighting their nationalist wars. Although Croatia is an EU member state, people still argue that Vukovar is being used for political gain.

Meanwhile, the Zagreb government claim the constitutional laws protecting the Cyrillic alphabet were necessary to fall in line with EU legislation on minority rights.

Fred Matic, Croatian Minister of War Veterans, told euronews a key ingredient is still missing for a lasting peace:

“The Serbs have not undergone the catharsis of accepting what happened with the former Yugoslav People’s Army, with Serbia and Montenegro who committed aggression against Croatia. They simply still haven’t come to terms with it. There is also a partial responsibility on the shoulders of Croatia, but Croats won’t take responsibility until Serbs take the blame for what they did from the beginning,” he said.

Many in Vukovar are not ready to accept responsibility for the past and move forward together. The time is not ripe for this healing. These feelings run deep into the heart of Vukovar’s school system. Croatian and Serb children arrive at school together. Then they go their separate ways: Croatians into one class and Serbs into another.

Serb students learn both Latin and Cyrillic alphabets. They also learn Serbian history as part of the peace accord to help Serbs keep their national identity. Zeljko Kovacevic, the school’s principal, is an ethnic Serb. He lived in Vukovar throughout the siege and is well-respected by both communities. He told euronews that it’s the adults who block integration, not the children:

“Politics define the rules of the game and people stick to them. There is no work so people clutch at straws and don’t think independently. It irritates me when educated people don’t think things through. If they did, the city would come back to life, with lots of new ideas, better schools and children finally learning together.”

Critics of Vukovar’s school system argue that despite the so-called corridor comradery outside of class, segregated schools offer little hope of Vukovar moving on from on its past. But for many parents, the problem is explaining the history to their children.

While opponents to the Cyrllic signs are calling for Vukovar to be exempt from this minority law, there is fear on both sides that Vukovar will remain divided by its past”.

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