News 03 Dec 13

Croatian Anti-Cyrillic Campaigners Eye Referendum

Campaigners in Vukovar opposed to the official use of Serbian Cyrillic script say they have gathered enough signatures to call a referendum on the issue.

Josip Ivanovic

Ivan Gavric, of the "Committee for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar", said the campaign group had collected enough signatures to call a referendum on changing minority rights law regarding official bilingualism in areas with large ethnic minorities.

Although the results of the two-week drive to collect names are not yet official, Vlado Iljkic, another member of the Committee, said they had already gathered “perhaps even 10 per cent” more signatures than they needed.

Croatian law states that if 10 per cent of registered voters sign such a petition, organisers have a right to call a referendum.

The drive to call a referendum on use of Serbian Cyrillic was launched on November 17 by war veterans angered at the installation of new bilingual signs in Latin and Cyrillic in the town of Vukovar, which was the scene of fierce fighting between Serbs and Croats during Croatia's independence war in the 1990s.

After a gruelling siege, the Serb-led Yugoslav Army took the border town on November 17 1991, expelled the remaining Croats and executed hundreds of men they found incapacitated in the hospital.

Vukovar was eventually returned to Croatian control, after which many Croats returned, but a third of the population remains Serbian, entitling the community to bilingual signs.

The Committee proposes that minority language rights should apply only where at least half of population is from an ethnic minority, instead of a third, as under current legislation.

After the authorities started installing the controversial bilingual signs in Vukovar in September, many were immediately torn down by angry veterans of the campaign to defend the town in 1991.

Gavric insisted that his Committee has no intention to discriminate against anybody but to “synchronize Croatian law with that of progressive, Western EU member-states”.

However, the centre-left government of Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic is alarmed. Embarrassed by the success last Sunday of a referendum against gay marriage, which he opposed, he has condemned the anti-Cyrillic initiative and vowed that the referendum won’t be held.

Independent MP Furio Radin, president of the Committee on Human and National Minority Rights, said the government has already prepared a set of changes that will forbid any such initiatives whose aim is to curb reduction minority and basic human rights.

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