news 26 Aug 13

Croatian Town Installs Cyrillic Signs For Serbs

The small town of Udbina has brought Cyrillic script into official use despite fierce disputes elsewhere in Croatia about introducing bilingualism in places with large Serb populations.

Boris Pavelic

Udbina, a town of about 2,000 people in central Croatia where 52 per cent of the population are Serbs, is now using both Croatian and Serbian languages and scripts for official purposes.

The move came after the town’s ruling parties, the Serbian Independent Democratic Party, SDSS, and the Croatian Democratic Union, HDZ, agreed to implement Croatia’s minorities law, which says that a minority has the right to the official use of its script and language in areas where it makes up more than the third of the population.

Signs in both Latin and Cyrillic script have been installed at the municipality building and at local public cultural centre in Udbina.

The proposed introduction of bilingualism has caused major controversy elsewhere in Croatia – particularly in the town of Vukovar, which was besieged by Serb forces during the 1990s war.

A government plan to put Cyrillic script on official signs in Vukovar sparked mass protests in the town and in the capital Zagreb.

Local media reported that the agreement in Udbina was reached by mayor Ivan Pesut of the HDZ and Slobodan Bjelobaba, SDSS’s speaker in the local parliament – men who fought on opposite sides during the war.

They said they made the deal in the interests of the town.

However Pesut’s HDZ opposes the official introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar, where the Serb minority also makes up more than a third of the population.

“Udbina is different from Vukovar,” Pesut told Croatian media.

“Vukovar is a special symbol. Wounds there are still open. We have to be extremely cautious with Vukovar,” he said.

Croatian war veterans from Vukovar, supported by right-wing parties, have threatened to forcefully prevent bilingual signs from being installed.

The government announced plans to introduce bilingualism in Vukovar back in January and Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic has emphasised several times that “Croatian law must be respected”.

Before local elections in June, Milanovic said that bilingualism would be introduced in Vukovar after the polls, but no such moves have yet been made.

Vukovar was destroyed by Serb forces and the Yugoslav Army during a three-month siege in 1991.

More than 1,000 people were killed during the siege, and after the town fell to the Serbs in November 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.

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