Serbs in the Croatian city are growing fearful amid threats of force to stop the official introduction of Cyrillic script and the Serbian language, a Belgrade official said.
Serbs in Vukovar are feeling “growing insecurity”, the director of Serbia’s office for the diaspora, Slavka Draskovic, said during a visit to Zagreb on Tuesday.
Draskovic, who is to meet government officials and Serb minority representatives in the country amid growing tensions over the introduction of Cyrillic, said that “Croatia should react more vigorously to hate speech in Vukovar”.
Croatia should send “a clear message whenever ethnically-motivated problems occur”, she said.
Her comments came on the day that Croatian war veterans vowed to prevent the planned official introduction of Cyrillic road signs and the Serbian language to Vukovar “by any means necessary”.
The president of the veterans’ campaign group, the Headquarters for the Defence of Croatian Vukovar, also warned on Wednesday that resistance could include the use of force.
“We will find 2,000 volunteers ready to prevent Cyrillic in Vukovar by force,” vowed the group’s leader, Tomislav Josic, in comments published by Croatian newspapers, although he said he was “not willing to fight” himself.
Public controversy erupted two months ago after the government announced that it planned to introduce official use of Serbian and Cyrillic into about 20 Croatian municipalities where Serbs make up more than a third of the population, including Vukovar.
Its introduction in Vukovar is particularly controversial because the city became a symbol of Croatian resistance after it was devastated by Serb forces in a siege during the 1991-95 conflict.
Milorad Pupovac, a Croatian lawmaker and the president of the Serbian national council in the country, said after meeting Draskovic that “no security measures would be needed in Vukovar” to install Cyrillic signs.
“The process will be gradual. The government will do its job, and we will do ours,” Pupovac said.
Veterans groups’ have also warned the government not to use using police to help ensure the installation of the controversial road signs.
Pupovac said that the introduction of Cyrillic should be introduced with “respect to all who regard respect as necessary, but at the same time not to worsen inter-ethnic relations in Vukovar nor let anybody misuse the situation politically”.
The plan to introduce street signs with dual Latin and Cyrillic script sparked a 20,000-strong protest earlier this month in the city.
Croatia’s law on minority rights 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.
According to the 2011 census, 34.87 per cent of the population of Vukovar are ethnic Serbs.