news 09 Oct 13

Croatia Arrests Policeman in Vukovar Serb Signs Row

A policeman from Vukovar has been arrested because he took down a bilingual Croatian-Serbian sign from a state building in the city that has seen repeated protests over the issue.

Boris Pavelic

The policeman was arrested on Sunday amid the ongoing dispute over the installation of the bilingual signs in Latin and Cyrillic script in the wartime flashpoint city – a requirement under Croatia’s minority rights law which has sparked protests by war veterans.

He was detained and charged because he personally removed a sign from the state social care building, Vukovar police spokesperson Domagoj Dzigumovic said.

Five other policemen were also suspended for failing to prevent the removal of bilingual signs from four state buildings in the city on Saturday. The other vandals have not yet been identified.

About 100 Croatian war veterans protested on Sunday night in front of Vukovar police station, where the arrested policeman was being questioned, but dispersed after he was released.

Croatia’s war veterans minister Predrag Matic, who participated in the defence of Vukovar during the 1990s conflict, criticised the latest outbreak of vandalism, saying that “the removal of bilingual signs is the wrong way of helping Vukovar”.

The Croatian authorities installed the signs in September as they began to introduce Serbian language and the Cyrillic script into official use in about 20 municipalities where Serbs make up more than a third of the population – a requirement under the country’s minority rights law.

According to the 2011 census, 34.87 per cent of the population of Vukovar is Serbian.

But war veterans strongly opposed the introduction of bilingualism in the city which has a special symbolic significance for Croatians because of its devastating wartime siege by Serbian forces.

The angry ex-soldiers ripped some of the signs down when they were first installed, although they were later replaced, with the government insisting that the minorities law must be respected.

The situation calmed and until Saturday, just one more bilingual sign was removed from a state institution, in the central Croatian village of Krnjak which is populated mostly by Serbs.

Vukovar, 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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