News 15 Aug 16

Dispute Over Cyrillic Raises Tensions Between Croatia, Serbia

The announcement by Croatia’s interior minister that ‘false Serb residents’ of the town of Vukovar will be deleted from its population list, thus enabling the Serbian language and Cyrillic script to be abolished as one of its official languages, has sparked yet another rise in tensions between Belgrade and Zagreb. 

Milivoje Pantovic
BIRN
Belgrade
Activists smash a plaque written in Cyrillic in Vukovar. Photo: Beta

Serbian state officials have condemned a statement by Croatia’s interior minister Vlaho Orepic as “scandalous” after he said that Serbian may no longer be an official language in the eastern Croatian city of Vukovar, following a check of its resident’s ethnicities.

Aleksandar Vulin, Serbia’s labour minister, told media that the move could be seen to show that “racial laws” exist in Croatia.

“When you accuse all the nation of lying and breaking the laws, then you are announcing racial laws. Minister Orepic should protect the rights of minorities and not to downgrade them,” Vulin said on Sunday.

Serbia’s interior minister Nebojsa Stefanovic also criticised the statement of his Croatian counterpart, accusing Croatian leadership of going against European values.

“The urge to find any justification, regardless how false and senseless it may be, to deny Serbian people in Croatia their guaranteed human rights, rights on language and alphabet and life without fear of state repression, only shows that Croatian leadership do not understand what European values are,” Stefanovic wrote in a statement on Saturday.

Croatia began checking whether its citizens had correctly reported their places of residence in 2013, but have intensified their efforts this year.

In an interview for Croatian daily Vecernji list, Orepic stated that there are at least 50,000 people with falsely reported residencies in Croatia.

He claimed that once Croatian citizens of Serbian nationality who have falsely recorded that they reside in Vukovar, near the Serbian-Croatia border, are removed from its population list, the Serb minority in the town will total less than 30 per cent of its residents.

“If we erase all the false residencies, the members of Serbian minority in Vukovar do not have 30 per cent. If that was the only reason for the use of Cyrillic in Vukovar, after [deleting people with false residency] there will be none,” Orepic said on Saturday.

According to Croatian laws, a minority with more than 30 per cent of the population in a town or city has a right to use its own language and script in official correspondence, and signs and names of institutions must be bilingually written.

“[The] Serbian minority has manipulated with false residential data in Vukovar,” Orepic told Vecernj list.

According to the 2011 national census in Croatia, just over 34 per cent of the population of Vukovar declared themselves as Serbs.

The introduction of the Cyrillic script and Serbian as a second official language in the town in 2013 was met with strong opposition, mainly from Croatian war veterans from the nineties. On several occasions street signs in Cyrillic were broken in front of the police.

In Croatia, Vukovar is a symbol of the suffering of Croatian people during the civil war in former Yugoslavia, as the town was nearly reduced to rubble by Serb forces.

Relations between Croatia and Serbia have plunged in recent months amid exchanges of inflammatory protest notes and harsh statements from politicians on both sides.

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