News 23 Sep 14

Croatia Police Arrest Anti-Cyrillic Activists in Vukovar

Five people were arrested after war veterans tore down bilingual signs in Croatian Latin and Serbian Cyrillic script in the latest unrest over the language issue in the wartime flashpoint town.

Josip Ivanovic

A group of Croatian war veterans tore down all the bilingual signs on official buildings in the town on Tuesday at the same time as a church service was being held to honour the 23rd anniversary of the 204th Vukovar Brigade, which played a crucial role in attempts to defend the town during wartime, local media reported.

First two war veterans smashed a sign on the local police station and were immediately taken into custody, then others joined in the destruction.

“The other signs were taken down and carried by war veterans and victims to the mayor’s office to hand them over to the mayor who will have to put them back personally,” Franjo Soljic, president of the Coordinating Association of Homeland War Veterans in Vukovar told journalists.

Soljic added that the veterans of Vukovar “showed great unity today and that it will stay like that”.

Around 30 anti-Cyrillic campaigners, members of the Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, a group led by war veterans angered by the installation of the bilingual signs, then protested in front of the police station in Vukovar, media reported.

Headquarters activists have been intermittently taking down the bilingual signs since they were first put up last year, arguing that it is too sensitive to introduce Cyrillic in Vukovar, which was besieged and destroyed by Belgrade’s forces during the war.

After staging a series of street protests, the Headquarters launched a campaign in November 2013 for a referendum on reducing minority rights, which would effectively stop the introduction of Cyrillic in Vukovar.

Within two weeks, it had collected over 650,000 signatures, sufficient to trigger a referendum. But in August this year, Croatia’s constitutional court ruled the referendum question unconstitutional, scuppering the Headquarters’ initiative.

However the Headquarters has since announced it will now take its case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

Croatia’s minorities law says that ethnic minorities are entitled to the official use of their language and script in areas where they make up more than a third of the population – as Serbs do in Vukovar.

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