Serbian Minority Leader Criticises Status of Serbs in Croatia

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ZAGREB, February 20, 2018 – Croatian Serb leader Milorad Pupovac has said that the status of ethnic Serbs in Croatia has deteriorated over the recent years, and that the most drastic deterioration happened when Tomislav Karamarko was at the helm of the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), transforming that mainstream party into a party promoting extreme right policies.

Addressing a panel discussion which the local Serb association “Prosvjeta” organised in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on Monday, Pupovac commented on the status of the Serb minority in Croatia and underscored that for that community it was essential to preserve the acquired rights and not allow that those rights be scaled down.

Pupovac said that “turbulence that affected Croatia from 2013 to 2017 is still present in a latent form.” He connected that “state of commotion” with the international tribunal’s (ICTY) decision to acquit two Croatian generals — Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markač — in 2012, which according to him unleashed hate speech, intolerance and anti-Serb sentiment in Croatia.

Pupovac is confident that Serbs in Croatia will have the future they build for themselves. The struggle for that future is rather demanding, he said admitting the assimilation of Serbs in the urban communities was a problem.

Pupovac’s speech ensued after the Serb National Council (SNV), an umbrella association of the ethnic Serbs in Croatia, released a declaration on the rights of the Serbs in Croatia. The SNV, which is led by Pupovac, sets out in the 13-point declaration new tasks in the fight for the rights not exercised to date and for the preservation of those already achieved.

The declaration reads that, over the past five years, the status of the Serb community in Croatia has not improved but has actually deteriorated in many ways. The rights that have been restored are frequently challenged anew, and there have also been attempts to undermine the status of the Serb community ensured by international agreements such as the Erdut Agreement and the Letter of Intent, as well as the Constitution, the Constitutional Law on Ethnic Minorities’ Rights and other special laws, reads the declaration.

“That is why in the coming period we will continue to fight for rights that are yet to be acquired and work to preserve those that have been acquired. In these efforts, we should be joined by all democratic organisations because they constitute a fight for a democratic Croatia,” reads the document published on the SNV’s website.

The SNV expects the government and state institutions to actively and closely cooperate with it in efforts to accomplish the goals stated in the declaration.

Activities of the SNV and other Serb organisations, notably the Joint Council of Municipalities (ZVO) and the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS), will focus on the fight for tolerance and non-discrimination. “The institutions of the Serb community, notably the SNV and the ZVO, must be given the status of minority self-government bodies, in line with their founding documents…, the Erdut Agreement and the Letter of Intent. Also, the process of restitution of property belonging to the Serb Orthodox Church and the Serb business association ‘Privrednik’ must be completed as soon as possible,” the SNV says.

The Croatian government promotes the respect for and cooperation with ethnic minorities for the purpose of protecting their rights and the operational programmes for minorities that were adopted in cooperation with their elected representatives do not foresee changing the legal status of the Serb or other minority communities, the government told Hina concerning the Serb National Council’s (SNV) declaration on the rights of Serbs in Croatia.

“In accordance with its programme, the government is committed to respecting and cooperating with ethnic minorities for the purpose of protecting their rights. The Operational Programmes for National Minorities for the 2017-2020 Period, that the government adopted in cooperation with the elected representatives of national minorities, do not foresee changing the legal status of bodies of the Serb/minority communities,” the government’s public relations office said in its response.

Asked by reporters about his position on the SNV demand for more rights for the Serb minority and for a kind of autonomy, Interior Minister Davor Božinović said on Monday in Sisak that decisions in that regard should be tackled through the defined procedure: discussed by the government first and then tabled to the legislature.

“In the democratic Croatia, everyone can make demands and express their expectations,” he said and added: “I suppose that this will also be made possible for the Croats in Serbia.” “However, here decision making is defined by the Croatian Constitution and the Croatian laws,” Božinović said. He noted that this demand had not been presented during the negotiations about the programme of cooperation with ethnic minorities’ representatives.

The Serbian national minority has three MPs in the Croatian Parliament, and they are key members of the ruling coalition. Without them, the government would lose its majority.


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