News 05 Sep 13

Serbia Condemns Anti-Cyrillic Protests in Croatia

As rallies against Serb Cyrillic signs in the Croatian city of Vukovar entered a fourth day, Serbia’s ruling party condemned the protests, urging Zagreb to protect Serb minority rights.

Marija Ristic, Boris Pavelic
BIRN
Belgrade, Zagreb

Serbia’s ruling Progressive party demanded that the Croatian authorities “urgently take every measure to secure peace, safety and respect for the human rights of all Serbs” as protests in Vukovar sparked by the installation of bilingual Croatian and Serb Cyrillic signs on state buildings in the wartime flashpoint city continued for a fourth consecutive day.

“We cannot understand and justify the behaviour of those who want the disappearance of Serbian lettering in Croatia,” the Progressive party said in a statement.

Protesters gathered again in Vukovar on Thursday morning, but dispersed after marching through the city and visiting places where Serbian forces assembled Croatian prisoners after they besieged and devastated the city in 1991.

Croatian interior minister Ranko Ostojic, however, announced the withdrawal of  riot police who had guarded the bilingual signs which were reinstalled at five state institutions in Vukovar on Tuesday after being smashed the day before.

“There’s no need for special police engagement since there’s no violence in the city,” Ostojic said.

However the Coalition of Serbian Refugees, which represents many Serbs who fled Croatia at the end of the war in 1995, said the protests were another example of how minority rights were violated in the country.

“The latest events are no surprise and they are just one in a series of incidents through which a message is sent to Serbs that they are not welcome in Croatia,” the coalition’s statement said.

Meanwhile Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic on Wednesday night appealed to protesters who he said had “reacted with too much emotion” to the instalment of the bilingual signs, saying that “the law must be respected in Vukovar”.

Cyrillic script has been brought into official use in about 20 Croatian municipalities, like Vukovar, where Serbs make up more than a third of the population – a requirement under the country’s minority rights law.

Vukovar became a symbol of Croatian resistance after more than a thousand people were killed during the 1991 siege.

After Serbian forces took the city, more than 200 wounded Croatians and prisoners of war were taken from Vukovar hospital to nearby Ovcara farm and executed; at that time, it was the biggest mass killing in Europe since World War II.

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