The Serbian minority wants improved legal status for its “joint council of municipalities”.
“The position of Serbs in Croatia has not been improved and has actually deteriorated in a number of ways. This is particularly true of the level of tolerance and the rights which were introduced during the period when Croatia was entering the European Union,” claims the Statement on the Rights of Serbs in Croatia, which was adopted at the Third General Assembly of the Serbian National Council held several days ago in Zagreb. The Statement contains a list of demands of Serb political representatives addressed to the Croatian government, and some of them could easily cause new political tensions, reports Jutarnji List on February 18, 2018.
The Serbian National Council (SNV), the national coordination of the Serbian national minority in Croatia. The SNV president is Milorad Pupovac, and his deputy is Saša Milosević.
The Statement includes 13 demands. The first group are socio-economic demands, such as the electrification of the villages where Serb live, the undisturbed return of refugees, of which there are some 19,000 currently living in Serbia, the right to the reconstruction of homes destroyed during the war, as well as the resolution of housing issues for those who have lost their occupancy rights in Croatia. The Statement also includes demand for the determination of the fate of the missing persons and trials for the crimes committed against Serbs during the war.
One of the demands asks the government to start “actively implementing the employment policies for members of the Serb community, by implementing an action plan for employment of members of national minorities.” There are demands for bilingual signs on public buildings, the urgent registration of Serbian schools operating in Croatia, the end to the disputing of crimes committed against the Serbs during the Second World War, and the provision of aid in establishing a Serbian language radio service.
Finally, the Statement includes a demand that could cause substantial political tensions. “The institutions of the Serbian community, in particular, the SNV and the Joint Council of Municipalities (ZVO), must acquire the status of minority self-government, in accordance with their founding documents with an international character, the Erdut Agreement and the Letter of Intent.” The emphasis is on the term “must.”
An almost identical initiative caused political turmoil in 2010 when its implementation was prevented thanks to an amendment proposed by Vesna Pusić. It was initially foreseen that, through the changes to the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, the Serbian ZVO in Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srijem would receive special legal rights. If the proposal of then Croatian Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor (HDZ) had been accepted, that would mean the establishment of a new territorial unit in Croatia, based on a one-national, minority principle. However, Vesna Pusić and HNS were supported by SDP, and later even by HDZ, and the initiative was discarded.
According to Saša Milošević, the problem is that minority institutions are currently registered as NGOs, so “they often have the status as if they were a hunting society or a philatelists society.” Milošević quoted the Erdut Agreement and stated that the ZVO should at least get the status of, for example, hospitals and faculties, rather than informal associations.
Judging by the initial reactions from sources close to the government, the SNV’s demand will not be accepted. An official who wanted to remain anonymous said that the government had not yet discussed the request. It is determined to assist in solving the economic and social problems of the Serb population, but not in the establishment of a territorial self-government unit. “Croatia is divided into counties, towns and municipalities, and there is no place to create new territorial units. This is unacceptable to us, and frankly, I think SNV is using it as a pressure to get some other items from their list of demands.”
“The Serbian community has the right to ask whatever it wants, but the Croatian government must decide and assume responsibility for what can and cannot be negotiated,”, said Vesna Pusić, who is now an MP for the opposition GLAS party.
Constitutional law experts say that the Erdut Agreement, which allowed the creation of the ZVO, is no longer in force. Mato Palić, a professor of constitutional law at the Faculty of Law in Osijek, explains that the Erdut Agreement explicitly states that there would be a transitional period of 12 months for the achievement of its goals, with a possible extension of additional 12 months. “The Agreement came into force on January 15, 1996, when the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1037. On January 15, 1998, the Croatian Danube region was returned to the jurisdiction of the Croatian authorities. Thus, the Erdut Agreement ceased to be in force,” Palić said.
The Erdut Agreement was reached in November 1995 between the authorities of the Republic of Croatia and the local Serb authorities of the Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Srijem region, regarding the peaceful conclusion of the war in Croatia. It regulated the process of returning the area to the Croatian constitutional order.
Translated from Jutarnji List (reported by Robert Bajruši).