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News 07 Aug 17

Serbian Montenegrins Demand Official Language Rights

The Montenegrin Party asked Serbia’s premier to uphold ethnic Montenegrins’ constitutional rights and ensure their language is put into official use in the town of Vrbas, where many of them live.

Maja Zivanovic

The town of Vrbas. Photo: Wikipedia/Novosivacki.

The Montenegrin Party, which promotes the rights of ethnic Montenegrins in Serbia, has urged Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic to intervene to ensure that the Montenegrin language is finally adopted for official use in the town of Vrbas in northern Serbia.

Milena Bulajic from the Montenegrin Party’s legal team told BIRN that authorities in Vrbas have been ignoring Montenegrin requests since 2011 when it was determined that 17.5 per cent of the local population are ethnic Montenegrins. 

According to Serbian law, local authorities are obliged to introduce the language of a minority into official use if 15 per cent of the population is a member of that minority.

Serbian, Hungarian and Ruthenian (Rusyn) are the current officially-accepted languages in Vrbas.

“Although all the legal requirements have been met, the municipal leadership is avoiding the introduction of the Montenegrin language into official use with the existing Serbian, Hungarian and Ruthenian [Rusyn] languages, despite the legal norms,” Bulajic explained.

The Montenegrin Party’s move was triggered by a statement made by Brnabic during her meeting with Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic on August 2, when she asked for the rights of the Serbian minority in Montenegro to be respected.

In Montenegro, ethnic Serb organisations have been urging the authorities for years to end what they claim is discrimination against the Serbian language in the country.

The dispute over the status of the Serbian language in independent Montenegro goes back to 2007, a year after the country split from Serbia, when it adopted a new constitution that named the official language as Montenegrin, much to the annoyance of the Serb community.

Pro-Serb political parties and Serb associations insisted that this discriminated against their community and against the majority of Montenegrin citizens who claim Serbian as their native language. 

“The Montenegrin Party reminds Prime Minister Brnabic that in the municipality of Vrbas there is a long-standing practice of discrimination against citizens who belong to the Montenegrin national community,” the party said in a press release on August 3.  

Bulajic also said that the party sent its seventh official request to the Vrbas authorities on June 13, and that it was again ignored. 

“We never got rejected, and there were some verbal promises [from the authorities] but formally we have constantly been ignored,” she said. 

She accused the authorities of “using a legal loophole in which there are no defined sanctions” if the law on minority languages is not properly applied.

The National Council of Montenegrins in Serbia and Montenegrin diplomats in Serbia have also called for the official introduction of the language in Vrbas. 

Montenegro’s consul-general in Sremski Karlovci in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, Miodrag Kankaras, asked Vrbas to adopt Montenegrin in January 2016. 

“Other rights that are relevant to any national community come from the exercising of the right to use the language,” he said.

The ombudsman of Vojvodina also recommended in 2013 that the local authorities in Vrbas fulfil the ethnic Montenegrins’ requests. 

Although Vrbas has so far avoided officially introducing Montenegrin as an official language, another small town in northern Serbia, Mali Idjos, declared it official in December 2010. 

This means that Montenegrins in Mali Idjos can get documents in their own language or communicate with local institutions in Montenegrin. 

The mayor of Vrbas was unavailable for comment.

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