News 05 May 14

Croatian Anti-Cyrillic Campaign Leader Convicted

The head of a group campaigning against the official introduction of Serbian Cyrillic script in Vukovar was convicted of ordering the destruction of bilingual signs in the wartime flashpoint town.

Josip Ivanovic

Protesters attack bilingual signs in Vukovar last September.

Photo: Beta.

Tomislav Josic, the president of the Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, which has led opposition to the official introduction of Cyrillic since the start of last year, was given an eight-month jail sentence suspended for two years for his role in the forcible removal of bilingual signs on official buildings in the town.

Josic expressed anger over what he said was an unjust sentence handed down by the municipal court in Vukovar on Friday.

“Innocent people are sitting in jails while those who should be in jails are still not jailed and some of them are even governing the state,” Josic told Croatian media on Sunday.

“I believe that politics is behind these charges and that it is a message to others, not to do something similar. I did break a sign, but they also charged with injuring policemen who were guarding the signs, which is ridiculous,” he said.

Last September saw an outbreak of unrest in Vukovar, which was besieged and destroyed by Serbian forces during the 1991-95 conflict, as crowds of protesters including war veterans removed the disputed bilingual plaques in Croatian Latin script and Serbian Cyrillic as soon as they were installed.

The protests erupted after the government said that Serbian would be adopted as a second official language in areas of the country such as Vukovar with large Serb minorities, in line with Croatia's minorities legislation. However opponents argued that memories of wartime atrocities were still too painful for such a move.

The Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar then a launched a petition aimed at forcing a referendum to amend the law so minority language rights are only granted in places in which at least half of population is from an ethnic minority, instead of a third, as under the current legislation.

Some 650,000 people signed the petition for a referendum, but the initiative is strongly opposed by the Croatian government.

Four other Vukovar residents have also been charged over the destruction of the bilingual signs.

Vlado Iljkic, another member of the Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, said that the campaign group still believed that “the bilingual signs in Vukovar have been placed there illegally”.

“The state that acted illegally is [now] judging others,” he said.

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