news 14 Oct 13

Croatia Leader Condemns Attacks on Serb Signs

President Ivo Josipovic said that the illegal removal of bilingual Croatian and Serbian signs on state buildings by unknown vandals in recent days was “shameful” for the country.

Boris Pavelic

“Everything that is going on with those signs is shameful for all of us,” Josipovic said on Saturday after the most recent attacks on the bilingual signs in both Latin and Cyrillic script, which were installed to comply with a Croatian law that gives official language rights to minorities.

“National segregation should be stopped, otherwise it would mean the failure of Croatia as a European country,” he said.

Several bilingual and Cyrillic signs have been forcibly removed by unknown assailants in recent days, both from state buildings and Serb minority institutions.

Bilingual signs have been installed on state buildings in areas where Serbs make up more than a third of the population – a requirement under the minorities legislation – but the move sparked protests by war veterans in the city of Vukovar which was devastated by Serb forces during the 1990s conflict.

In the most recent incidents, more signs were removed from state institutions in Vukovar, although some of them were replaced at the weekend.

A Cyrillic sign on a Serbian cultural institution’s building in Zagreb was also removed, even though it had been there since the 1990s.

In further incidents, a bilingual sign was taken down from the municipality building in the town of Udbina, where it had been installed by mutual agreement between the Croatian and Serb parties that run the town together, and another was removed from the municipality building in the town of Vojnic, where Serbs make up the majority.

The incidents occured after a Croatian policeman was arrested and five others suspended for allegedly removing a bilingual sign from a building in Vukovar instead of protecting it.

Croatian foreign minister Vesna Pusic said on Friday that a “small and dangerous group”was “aggressively” opposing the introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar.

“The government has the obligation to prove that Croatia protects the rights of its citizens, and at the same time that it is able to talk to those with whom it doesn't agree,” Pusic said.

Several Serb organisations in Croatia, together with Serb parliamentary parties, issued a statement on Friday expressing their “deepest concern” over the latest incidents, which they described as “aggressive and criminal”.

The war veterans, backed by the country’s main opposition party, the Croatian Democratic Union, are demanding that the introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar should be stopped or postponed.

The city, on the border with Serbia, was besieged and demolished by the Yugoslav Army and Serbian paramilitaries in 1991, becoming a symbol of Croatian resistance.

More than a thousand people were killed during the siege. After Serbian forces took the city, more than 200 wounded and prisoners of war were taken from Vukovar hospital to nearby farm Ovcara and executed; at that time, it was the biggest mass killing in Europe since World War II.

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