news 08 Apr 13

20,000 Croatians Rally in Zagreb Against Cyrillic

Protesters took to the streets against the official introduction of the Serbian language and Cyrillic script but Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic said he wouldn’t give in to their demands.

Boris Pavelic
BIRN
Zagreb
 Photo by Beta

Some 20,000 people gathered on Sunday in Zagreb’s main square to protest against the government’s plan to introduce Cyrillic script and Serbian language into official use in areas where Serbs make up more than a third of the population, as envisaged by the country’s legislation on minorities.

Many of those who joined the rally were war veterans wearing military uniforms and carrying banners demanding the cancellation of the plan to introduce Cyrillic in the town of Vukovar which was devastated by Belgrade’s forces during the war but now has a large Serb minority.

“If they [the government] come to Vukovar to put up bilingual road signs, we would immediately call all our friends to come to Vukovar and prevent that, with force if needed,” the rally’s organiser Tomislav Josic, president of the Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar campaign group, told the crowd.

Some protesters also called for Cyrillic to be banned across the whole of Croatia.

But Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic dismissed the protesters’ threats, repeating that bilingualism would be introduced after local elections in June.

“The law is the law, and we will defend it,” said Milanovic in a television interview.

“The law is the same for everyone. Vukovar is in Croatia and our biggest success is that Croatian laws and constitution are respected there,” he said.

The government announced the introduction of bilingualism at the beginning of this year but it has been strongly opposed by war veterans, especially in Vukovar, which was destroyed by Serb forces and the Yugoslav Army during a siege in 1991.

More than 1,000 people were killed during the siege, and after the town fell to the Serbs on November 19, 1991, more than 200 wounded people from Vukovar hospital were taken to a nearby farm at Ovcara and killed.

The town was peacefully reintegrated into Croatia in 1998 after being run by Serbs for seven years.

Croatia’s latest census in 2011 showed that more than a third of Vukovar’s current population are ethnic Serbs.

However protesters demanded on Sunday that the census for Vukovar should be checked again, because they don’t believe the figures are genuine.

War veterans minister Predrag Matic, himself a war veteran who spent nine months in prison in Serbia after Serbs took Vukovar, also condemned the protest, calling it a “manipulation of war veterans”.

A coalition of human rights activists also condemned “hate speech and intolerance demonstrated at the protest”.

“Respecting minority rights is a Croatian democratic achievement which cannot be discussed in the streets, where ‘the law of the loudest’ rules,” the Platform 112 rights groups coalition said in a statement on Sunday.

 Photo by Beta
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