news 05 Apr 13

Croatian Veterans Plan Mass Rally Against Cyrillic

Croatian war veterans will step up their campaign against the introduction of the Serbian language and Cyrillic script with a high-profile protest in Zagreb.

Boris Pavelic

The veterans, who are campaigning to stop the authorities introducing the official use of Cyrillic alongside Latin script in areas of Croatia which have large Serb minorities, will hold their protest in the capital on Sunday.

But Serb politicians in Croatia have warned that the rally could fuel extreme right-wing nationalist sentiments in the country.

The rally will mark the climax of the veterans’ three-month campaign which has already seen 20,000 people demonstrate against Cyrillic in the wartime flashpoint town of Vukovar in February.

“We will be more vocal and clearer in our opposition in Zagreb than we were in Vukovar,” said the main organiser of the protest, Tomislav Josic.

The government announced at the start of this year that Cyrillic would be introduced in areas where Serbs make up more than a third of the population, which grants them rights to the official use of their language and script under Croatia’s minorities legislation.

But the move has been strongly opposed by war veterans, especially in Vukovar, which lies on the border with Serbia and was destroyed by Serb forces and Yugoslav army during a military 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.

But local veterans angered by the impending introduction of Cyrillic formed an organisation called the Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, which announced it would prevent bilingualism “by any means necessary”.

“We will find 2,000 volunteers ready to prevent Cyrillic in Vukovar by force,” vowed the Headquarters’ leader Josic.

After the protests erupted, the government postponed the process until after local elections which are scheduled for May this year.

However this didn’t ease the veterans’ anger and the Headquarters pressed ahead with its protest actions.

Asked on Wednesday what the Headquarters would do if government officials came to Vukovar and installed bilingual road signs, Josic answered that activists “would wait for them to come, and then we would see what would happen”.

Sunday’s rally will be held on Zagreb main square in the centre of the city.

But Serb politicians in Croatia have warned that there is a hidden agenda that is much broader than simple resistance to bilingualism.

“The extreme right is trying to merge its ideas with the social dissatisfaction caused by the economic crisis, which could be very dangerous,” Milorad Pupovac, a Croatian MP and the president of the Serb National Council, told BIRN recently.

“The Croatian public should start a serious debate about that danger,” Pupovac urged.

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