Croatia: Majority (Croat) Rights Vs. Minority (Serb) Rights

Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of Croatia (L)
Ivan Penava, Mayor of Vukovar (R)
Photo: uredpredsjednice.hr

When the Constitutional Court of Croatia (of any country) evidently and blatantly misses the beat of its own country’s heart (and reason for existence – in the case of Croatia that reason is victory over brutal Serb aggression in the Homeland War) then one could justly pose the question of whether the nation should permit such undermining of its defining morality and character that are the beacons for justice and, if you like, full democracy. When minority rights are taken out of the context of national suffering and the need to pursue justice for the victims of brutal aggression, one inevitably ends up with major problems and discontent; and blatant unfairness at the basic human level. And so, while on the one hand Croatia battles a political crisis with overtures of restructure of its government, Serb minority rights claims are in a hot seat that requires determination and resolve to end Serb provocation in Croatia once and for all.

For most lawyers, constitutional courts’ success in protecting democracy should be measured by their jurisprudential record – their performance according to legal professional standards of appropriate decision-making. On this view of things, courts are essentially reactive institutions. The only power they have to influence the quality of democracy is to interpret democratic rights in the cases they happen to be asked to decide. For many political scientists, this legalistic measure is inadequate. What needs to be assessed is the actual impact of a court’s decisions on the overall quality of democracy, i.e. life in the country that cannot ignore the priority of essential needs of its people, or majority. On this account, constitutional courts have much greater agency than lawyers give them credit for. They should be seen as political institutions with the capacity to adjust their decisions according to their likely effects. Especially in developing democracies such as Croatia, which still has a long way to go towards delivering justice for victims of Serb aggression of early 1990’s. But given that most judges still sitting in that court in Croatia are remnants of the Yugoslav communist minds the political pull or effects of Constitutional Court judgments have so far mostly gone towards Yugo-nostalgia rather than independent Croatia. If it were the latter Croatia would not, almost 30 years after the Homeland War still be gasping and pleading for justice and human fairness towards the enormous number of victims of Serb aggression.

Ivan Penava, the Mayor of Vukovar, has Friday 19 July 2019 accused sections of Croatian society of turning their heads away from the Homeland War and its victims.

I hear in the statements these days: He does not respect the Constitution, we are modern, we are liberal and we insist that the Constitution be respected. Gentlemen, for 28 years you have not respected that same Constitution and now you have the cheek to come to a city that was destroyed and bombarded with 6.5 million grenades … You hold such attitudes and you come to Vukovar to ask the Mayor if he will respect the Constitution. Yes he will; this has never been an issue. The Mayor will be the first to respect it. However, I ask you where your humanness and cheek are, when you give yourself the right to come here and ask such a question,” Ivan Penava told reporters accusing parts of the Croatian society of having turned their heads away from the Homeland War, from the raped, the missing, the killed and raped and do not see problems with which the people of Vukovar are faced.

“We are not talking about Peter and Mark here. We are talking about thousands of those killed and imprisoned, of hundreds that were raped and again of thousands of displaced people, of those whose rights were denied them. For many of these it’s unfortunately too late for any kind of justice,” concluded Ivan Penava.

This Penava reaction comes post Croatian Constitutional Court decision of 2 July 2019, which determined that Vukovar City councillors from the Serb ethnic minority should have the same conditions as councillors of Croatian ethnicity. I.e., among other things that Council meeting minutes, agendas etc. should be made available in the Serbian Cyrillic script.

According to HINA News Agency report Mayor Ivan Penava said Friday that for the town authorities it was not at all disputable whether or not he would respect the decision of the Constitutional Court, which concluded that the rights of the Serb national minority in Vukovar had to be improved, and he also said that no law was self-contained purpose but must be in the service of the people.

In August 2015, Vukovar changed its town statute to say that the collective rights of the Serb minority [re street signs, government building signs etc.) in the area of the town of Vukovar are to be ensured when the conditions are met.

Under this change, councillors in Vukovar of Serb extraction could get documents issued in the Serbian Cyrillic language/script, but only if they made specific written requests for that.

The Vukovar council voted for the changes in November 2013, proclaiming Vukovar a “city of special significance” exempt from Croatian minority rights legislation because of what it suffered when it was besieged and destroyed by Serbian forces in 1991.

The move came after months of protests sparked by the official introduction of bilingualism, as envisaged by Croatian law in places where a minority makes up more than 30 per cent of the population, as Vukovar’s Serb community does. It must be remembered though that this percentage has been disputed on the fact that no credible census was had to establish it and that the percentage claimed could well have been falsely boosted by Serbs who are registered as living in Vukovar but in fact reside in Serbia.

However, Croatia’s Committee on Human and National Minority Rights complained about the statute changes and requested an evaluation of their constitutionality.

2 July 2019 Constitutional Court decision overturned some of the Vukovar Town Council statue changes, decreeing that Serbs – whether councillors or members of the public – must be able to get official documents in their own language and script.

Miroslav Separovic, President of the Constitutional Court said that Vukovar Town Council will have to extend the level of the rights of the Serbian ethnic minority and that the court will not tolerate any delays because nothing has been done so far.

While the President of the Republic of Croatia cannot comment on the decision of the Constitutional Court Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic did, however, on Friday 19 July, point to Article 8 of the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, which states that these rights must be interpreted and applied with the aim of respecting the minorities and the Croat people, developing understanding, solidarity, tolerance and dialogue among them. Grabar Kitarovic holds that under such circumstances, when the fundamental human rights are neglected, the necessary prerequisites for the expansion of special rights that have to become a democratic standard in Croatia have not been procured and she agreed that it is bad to delay them. However, she called for the same criteria to be applied to proceedings against war crimes suspects and that the declaration by appropriate authorities regarding those cannot be delayed, either. Such an attitude is a good prerequisite for regulated relations based on the trust of the majority people and members of the Serbian national minority, especially in the wounded Vukovar.

The Republic of Croatia must pay particular attention to Vukovar, and it is also a duty of the top state authorities to demand the resolution to the injustice felt by the population of Vukovar. It is inconceivable that nobody has been made responsible for the massacre at Borovo Selo and that no one solved the question of 30,000 concentration camp detainees, the missing … How will we justify this from the constitutional as well as from the moral aspect?

Because of this, the position of Ivan Penava, the Mayor of Vukovar, may not be called as disrespectful of the Constitutional Court’s decision, but an invitation, which I personally support, to finally close the issues of the past and thus provide a sincere opportunity for the future. I do not want any separation or conflict between Croats and Serbs, but I call for patience and consideration, which implies accepting the fact that Vukovar is still treating its wounds. I hold that the obligation of state institutions is to make more effort as soon as possible and find the best solutions that will not cause tension and distrust among people, but rather the opposite,” said President Grabar-Kitarović.

Indeed, even at the merely basic level of human fairness one cannot condone the pressure (from Constitutional Court) to implement promulgation of minority rights when that same court has done nothing to pressure the minority (Serb) to act of the rights of the majority (Croats). By saying this I am aware that while deliberating its decision on Serb minority rights in Vukovar the Constitutional Court was well appraised of the majority rights that stand behind the initial limitation, suspension or ban of the Cyrillic script in Vukovar! Ina Vukic

Croatia – Persistent Grief For Victims Is A Call For Justice

Photos: Screenshots hrt.hr news

Croatia’s Homeland War consequences are still unsettling – a lot. The frequent commemorations at graves of victims or massacre sites of Serb aggression against Croatia convey a clear message of permanent expressions of profound, prolonged and intense grief of a nation, still after 26 years, crying for justice. The country’s pivotal operations, including the diplomatic core, are riddled with communist mindset unwilling to surrender to Croatia’s 1990’s original national creed of independence and full democracy away from communist Yugoslavia. The Serb aggressor has not in meaningful and lasting terms answered for the responsibility of aggression and hatred waged against a nation that chose to secede from communist Yugoslavia.

This week of 18th November 2017 marks 26 years from the fall of Vukovar and massacres and ethnic cleansing of Croats and other non-Serbs from their homes; it marks also the massacres of Croats in Skabrnje; it marks also the amazing love for freedom and the multitudes of Croatian victims who perished in the early 1990’s defending its resolve to secede from communist Yugoslavia, resist a Greater Serbia expansion, and build a nation of freedom and democracy.

Not a week passes in Croatia, it seems, that we don’t come across a marking of anniversaries of terror waged against the Croatian freedom fighters, whether that be the scaffolds, the mass graves from the 1990’s Homeland War or those of communist Yugoslavia crimes. Intense grieving for the victims never seems to subside; intense anger at the lack of justice for the victims is ever-present, intense need to justify (because others/pro-communists have wrongfully embarked upon criminalising it) defending Croatia from aggression in the 1990’s Homeland War that was – unquestionably – just. A nation arrested in grief unable to truly and fully move forward, channelling one into thinking and worrying as how all this will manifest in future generations.

As things stand now the foreseeable future in Croatia is unlikely to bring any significant reprieve from the state of prolonged grief and confusion when it comes to lack of justice for the victims of the Homeland War. Year in and year out the status remains the same, some courageous political leaders and citizens speak the same: we need justice for the victims. Instead of pointing the finger in Serbia’s direction, for guilt and war damages compensation to Croatia, president of Croatia Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic decided in Vukovar or Saturday 18 November upon a populist statement that may appease emotions of the grieving Croats but shows absolutely nothing in the way of a future where intense grief would be requited by acts (instead of hope) of justice for the victims and country, giving way to building a better future where assertive emancipation of the nation’s original goals of democracy (severed fully from communism and communist mindset influencing the governance of the country) and prosperity.

We hear every year, year after year, how Serbia needs to come clean regarding the missing in Croatia from its war of aggression against Croatia.

A lot of water will flow in the Dunav river before Croatia and Serbia become friendly states, but that doesn’t mean we cannot talk to them, our responsibility is to talk and solve the open questions such about those that are still missing that is a humanitarian question, which we have to solve as soon as possible, ” Grabar Kitarovic said.

Tracking her and her dimplomacy’s relations with Serbia one couldn’t possibly see any genuine intention on her part as far as the connotations of this statement are concerned. We’ve heard it all before – for at least 20 years in fact.

One would expect that to truly insist on justice, to truly insist upon solving the issue of the still missing, after 26 years, Croatia’s leaders would cease employing the diplomatic staff that have obviously not been doing a good job at moving beyond the impasse with Serbia on the issue of the missing.

Instead of intent to continue talks with Serbia on this and similar issues president Grabar-Kitarovic would have convinced us better of the genuineness in her efforts to resolve the question of the missing with Serbia were she announcing in Vukovar the blatantly clear picture that Croatia’s diplomatic core needs a severe shake up. A shake-up which would sift out the pro-communist Yugoslavia, the former communist operatives and bring in fresh untainted by communism staff who might do a better job than their predecessors when it comes to diplomacy with a country that was also a member state of communist Yugoslavia but which did not want a break-up of Yugoslavia.

Friendship per se has nothing to do with diplomacy when it comes to resolving critical issues that are important to the soothing of grief for victims of war of aggression prevalent in ones nation (Croatia). Business is business and, at that, friendships and any emotional or politically sensitive ties due to previous coexistence under the Yugoslav flag should be closely scrutinized, for it is these that interfere with objective justice. Croatia’s diplomatic core is riddled with former communist Yugoslavia operatives and it’s a fool’s paradise to think things can change regarding the missing while they go about playing the diplomatic game with Serbia for the interests of Croatia and Croatian people.

So I choose to heed the words of a man taking part in Vukovar’s remembrance procession on Saturday who said:

I think we should be restoring people’s lives more than some monuments, that people have a job, have a good time and that they don’t leave this town,” he said.

Yes!

For that to occur it is essential to recognise that, in aid of maintaining the destructive notion that communism and Yugoslavia were well-functioning platforms for people to live under, things of national importance for Croatia have become warped and distorted. The relationship that normally exists between national creed/orthodoxy and revisionism in historical writing as well as living itself has been reversed in Croatia. Specifically, in the case of Croatia, the national creed of righteousness of the fight for freedom only lived a relatively short time without disruptions before the former communists began with revisionist injections, claiming that the fight for freedom is to be criminalized while permitting constant claims how communist Yugoslavia was a great place to live in. It’s usually the case that the national creed precedes revisionism in historical writings: the first historians to write about great events generally accept official explanations for them – not in Croatia, not with so many former communists who didn’t want an independent Croatia in the first place. The overwhelming majority of citizens (94% of voters) voted to secede from communist Yugoslavia and defend that decision and belief with bare life defined Croatia’s national creed regarding the 1990’s Homeland War. The righteousness of that national creed moved the nation in 1990 with its diaspora to the robes of David against the Goliath (communist Yugoslavia led by Serbia and its determination for a Greater Serbia to be created via brutal aggression against Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina in particular). This was not at all an easy task, particularly given the fact that a great many of Croatian powerful communists acted against the very idea, let alone emancipation, of an independent Croatia, away from communism.

Restoring people’s lives after a major war requires a national consensus on moral judgment for the war. It requires an affirmation on the national level of the righteousness of its national creed that catapulted it to today. Croatia, today, suffers a disturbing and disquieting dichotomy when it comes to the assertion of righteousness of moral judgment of its defence efforts against Serb and Yugoslav Army aggression in the 1990’s. Croatia must reverse the relationship between national creed and revisionism.

With the passage of time and the coming into power of former communists in Croatia (emboldened by foreign biased powers) and the lack of lustration with view to enabling Croatia to move forward into a functioning democracy do we end up with palpable skepticism in the Croatian society regarding the Homeland War. Croatian defenders, victims and Croatia’s status as victim-nation become lost – fretful for due recognition and justice. Its goals of freedom and democracy become bastardised as the Homeland War is shown by former communist leaders and notables as a criminalised venture, the push to equate the victim with the aggressor creating confusion, anger and helplessness for a nation largely arrested in prolonged grief due to lack of justice for victims of the war of aggression. The fight against communism in Croatia constantly being devalued and made to appear irrelevant and yet it was crucial for the nation voting to secede from communist Yugoslavia.

Lustration would indeed put a significant stop to the communist revisionists of Croatia’s Homeland War – the equating of victim with the aggressor would experience the deserved quashing blow. Croatia’s communists never wanted an independent Croatia and all the revisionism regarding its war of defence, all half-baked attempts to influence the delivery of justice to the victims, have a great deal to do with that fact.

The task for Croatia’s leaders must become one of insisting in unison that the Homeland War was necessary for precisely the reasons that the Croatian people and leaders at the time said it was: to preserve the credibility of people’s wishes to secede from Yugoslavia, because of which they had no choice but to fight the war in order to defend the nation and its people. To achieve that unison, lustration is absolutely necessary.

Croatia achieved a military victory over Serb and communist Yugoslavia Army aggressor. The persisting efforts to equate the victim (Croatia) with the aggressor (Serbia) pretty much have the effect of minimising or even belittling the significance of that military victory, giving way to controversies that should not be. Giving way to unrelenting and intense grief for the victims-without-justice across the nation.

If, as a nation, Croatia reflected seriously on the journey from independence through the lack of full emancipation of the goals set for that independence, we would have to acknowledge that the threat to freedom and democracy through continuing enslavement of the nation by communist mindset is something that is arresting progress and keeping the nation in a prolonged, constant state of grief. As long as there are present systems and structures which deny citizens of Croatian the opportunities and the judicial system commensurate with a full democracy (away from communist come socialist bureaucracy), social justice free from corruption, rights, and respect, emancipation of its 1990/1991 original goals remains an ideal and communism or its off-cuts will continue retarding the glory due for Croatia’s independence.

The purpose of history is to unearth and engage with those truths that have something to teach us. This requires a willingness to interpret and render moral judgments; the moral judgments that will emancipate the grounds upon which a terrible war was fought for a better future. A moral judgment based on the national creed for Croatia’s independence has the power to unleash the decisive will and power in mobilising lustration in Croatia. Ina Vukic

Remembering Vukovar And The Smut Of Erdut Agreement

Ivo Lucic
Photo: screenshot

This is the week we remember the victims in the November 1991 fall of Croatia’s Vukovar (and all the victims of Serb aggression against Croatia), brutally attacked, destroyed, slaughtered and tortured by Serb rebel paramilitary as well as Serb-led Yugoslav Army forces. This is the week that in our mind the thoughts of forgiveness and reconciliation inevitably intrude upon those of profound sadness for the victims and the search for that light of justice due for all. Forgiveness, though, is only truly earned by those that repent. This, though, is not the case for the Serb who are, these days, on an accelerated and noisy rampage of trying to justify the crimes because of which Croatia was put into the situation of having to defend the self-preservation of its own people and land from the onslaught.

While the Erdut Agreement reached on 12 November 1995 for a peaceful reintegration into Croatia of its Serb-occupied territory in the vicinity of Vukovar, the region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium established all transitional arrangements, including a transitional administration that would facilitate the return of refugees in the region, the protection of refugees and their property rights, and the deployment of an international force to maintain peace and security in the region, Croatian Serb leaders including member of parliament for Serb ethnic minority Milorad Pupovac, undoubtedly propped-up by Serbia’s support, are resurrecting these days the Erdut agreement as though it was a permanent fixture in the way independent Croatia should proceed to develop itself as a sovereign democratic state, and as though it gave the Serb aggressor absolution for its crimes and rights to go on with life as though no aggression, murder, ethnic cleansing of Croats from the region, torture – occurred back then! Pupovac said this week at the marking of the anniversary of the Erdut Agreement that the agreement would be satisfied in full when there is Serb representation in all municipal councils of Croatia, in all government ministries, in all institutions…!

Whether the Erdut Agreement had in fact clauses or addendums that stipulate any such representation or not, is beside the point as in fact and de jure agreements have a life span that cannot be extended or shortened without due legal processes. The Erdut Agreement had the life span of transitional nature and if anyone has issues with its implementation the world of judicial pursuits upon which any “complaints” should be adjudicated in democracy is open to all, including Serbs. But I somehow doubt Pupovac has a leg to stand on in the scheme of things that occurred with Serb aggression and their tremendously destructive consequences for the Croatian citizens and the development of the democratic state.

Erdut Agreement was largely a brainchild of Peter Galbraith, US Ambassador to Croatia, who along with Russian Ambassador Leonid Karestadjians and German diplomat Geert-Hinrich Ahrens, concocted in January 1995 the so-called Z-4 Plan for Croatia where autonomy (to Serbs) would be given on a significant part of the occupied Croatian territory! It actually planned for a legal Serb state within Croatia! There’s more than one way of succeeding in extending the borders of Greater Serbia, it seems – if Croatia’s leaders permit Pupovac and his followers the reign of drunken, hateful, disrespect for the victims of aggression and Croatia’s victory of independence as a sovereign state. There was not a single word of remorse for the genocide committed against Croatian people, across Croatia. Pupovac made the point of saying that Erdut Agreement brought peace to the region but failed to address why it was essential to bring peace and what was behind it (Serb aggression).

The fact that Pupovac rhetoric regarding infiltrating public administration and decision making with members of ethnic Serb minority brings about torrents of traumas to the Croatian public because, among other disquieting thrusts that suggest Serb victory within Croatia, it represents the notion that all crimes of aggression against Croatians and Croatia should perhaps be erased as acceptable and forgotten as if nothing happened! Pupovac move here is a clear example of attempting to solidify the equating of victim with the aggressor.

That which medical doctors did in Vukovar hospital in 1991, healing all patients, even those belonging to the enemy, is something that is rarely seen and we can be proud of that. With this book I wanted to tell that relatively unknown story because we know quite a bit about the battles for Vukovar and about defending it but the story about the heroic doctors has remained somewhat in the shadows,” said dr. Ivo Lucic in Zagreb, Croatia, on 14 November 2014 at the promotion of his book “Vukovar hospital, the lighthouse in the historic storms of Croatia’s East” (“Vukovarska bolnica svjetionik u povijesnim olujama hrvatskog istoka”).

The hospital was also a warning for those who approached, and who has destroyed Vukovar just before that. The hospital sent the message to watch how they approach the institution marked with a red cross and protected under international laws. However, they did not accept that message and ran aground the cliffs of crimes, did everything that is already known to us, in Ovcara and other places, murdered the wounded and civilians and that is something that will remain in their conscience forever,” dr. Lucic emphasised.

By the end of its three-month siege at the hands of Serb forces in November 1991, Vukovar had become utterly devastated and its Croatian and non-Serb population ethnically cleansed. The capture of the town was an important strategic objective for the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army. It was designed to consolidate Serb control over the region of Croatia known as Eastern Slavonia.

When the Serb forces took control of Vukovar on 19 November 1991, several hundred people took refuge in the town’s hospital in the hope that they would be evacuated in the presence of neutral observers. But instead of the hoped-for evacuation, about 400 individuals – including wounded patients, soldiers, hospital staff and Croatian political activists – were removed from the hospital by Yugoslav army and Serb paramilitary forces and taken to Ovcara farm near Vukovar. The detainees were beaten up. Some died of their injuries and approximately 260 of them were executed and then buried in a mass grave.

Lest we forget!

Ina Vukic

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