News 03 Sep 14

Croatia War Veterans Stage New Anti-Cyrillic Protest

Campaigners in Vukovar put large stickers with Croatian flags over Serb Cyrillic lettering on signs on official buildings in renewed protests after their bid to force a national referendum failed.

Josip Ivanovic

A protester covers up Cyrillic script with a Croatian flag.


The renewed protest in the wartime flashpoint town on Tuesday was staged by the Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, a campaign group led by veterans who oppose the introduction of bilingual signs in Croatian Latin and Serb Cyrillic on official buildings.

The symbolic protest was held to mark the anniversary of the mass smashing of the bilingual signs during protests last year in Vukovar, which was besieged and devastated by the Yugoslav Army and Serb fighters during the 1990s conflict.

“We covered the signs with the Croatian flag, which should not irritate anybody,” said Tomislav Josic, the president of Headquarters.

Josic warned that if the authorities do not remove the bilingual signs, the Headquarters will bring together other veterans’ organisations in two weeks’ time to plan further action at the annual commemoration marking the 23rd anniversary of the fall of Vukovar to the Yugoslav People’s Army on November 18.

“We call upon the government to remove these objects that were put on the walls illegally, using violence,” he added.

Last year on November 18, the Headquarters launched a campaign for a referendum on reducing minority rights, which would effectively stop the introduction of Cyrillic in Vukovar.

Within two weeks, the Headquarters 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, saying it would undermine minority rights, effectively scuppering the Headquarters’ initiative.

“This referendum was stopped politically,” said Josic on Tuesday. But, he insisted, the centre-left government that opposed the referendum “cannot forbid the will of the Croatian people to express what it wants”.

After covering up the bilingual signs with Croatian flag stickers on Tuesday, protesters presented Marijan Zivkovic, a war veteran who smashed the first bilingual sign installed on the police station in Vukovar on September 2 last year, with a wooden plaque engraved with images of a hammer and a smashed sign.

The Headquarters argues that even 23 years after the brutal siege of Vukovar, the situation in the town remains too emotionally sensitive for the introduction of Cyrillic script.

However 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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