CROATIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE
REPORT ON THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FRAMEWORK
CONVENTION OF COUNCIL OF EUROPE ON THE PROTECTION OF
MINORITIES IN REPUBLIC OF CROATIA
The position of minorities in the Republic of Croatia has been determined by the collapse of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia and by the war that started in 1991 and set off massive forced migration to and from all states of the former Yugoslavia. The overall legislature of the Republic of Croatia was developed during the war, so despite the acceptance of international contracts protecting minority rights, a large number of laws and regulations were intended for the realization of an ethnically homogenous state and the keeping of the situation that had arisen due to the migrations. Such legislature has been most damaging for the Serbian, Romany, Albanian and Moslem/Bosnian minorities.
According to the data of the State Bureau of Statistics (Statistički zavod), the demographic situation in Croatia in 1991 was as follows: Croatians 3.736,356 or 78.1%; Albanians 12,032 or 0.2%; Austrians 214 or 0.0%; Montenegrins 9,724 or 0.2%; Czechs 13,086 or 0.27%; Hungarians 22,355 or 0.47%; Macedonians 6,280 or 0.13%; Moslems 43,469 or 0.91%; Germans 2,635 or 0.06%; Poles 679 or 0.01%; Romanies 6,695 or 0.14%; Rumanians 810 or 0.02%; Russians 706 or 0.01%; Ruthenians 3,253 or 0.07%; Slovaks 5,606 or 0.12%; Slovenians 22,376 or 0.47%; Serbs 581,663 or 12,16%; Italians 21,303 or 0.45%; Ukrainians 2,494 or 0.05%; Jews 600 or 0.01%; Yugoslavs 106,041 or 2.22%; regional affiliation 45,493 or 0.95%; others 4,093 or 0.09%; undeclared 73,376 or 1.53%; unknown 62,926 or 1.32%.
During the war, and especially after the missions that liberated the occupied Croatian territories (see Appendix for The Croatian Helsinki Committee report on the military operation Storm and afterwards, part one – ex UN sector South) members of minorities, especially the Serbian minority, were either leaving the Republic of Croatia or leaving other parts of Croatia for the occupied territories [Podunavlje (Croatian Danube Region) and the so-called Srpska krajina], while Croatians from Bosnia and Herzegovina and from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia were settling in the Republic of Croatia, so that the above demographic picture was thoroughly changed. The first problem that members of minorities had to face was the citizenship: their previous, i.e. state citizenship (of which existence the majority hadn't been aware) was being taken into account in order to determine the body of citizens, and that citizenship was determined by origin, that is, place of birth, and not by residence, so that e.g. persons of Serbian nationality who were residents of the Republic of Croatia often were citizens of the Socialist Republic of Serbia and were denied the right to Croatian citizenship (see Appendix for an article by Prof. J. Omejec clarifying the problems of citizenship). Because of citizenship problems, terminations of work contracts, discontinuation of retirement payments, etc., and of the later property seizures, safety threats and crimes committed during and after the military operations Storm and Flash, 26,000 persons of Serb nationality left Croatia in 1991, 67,000 in 1992, 24,000 in 1993, 10,000 in 1994, 8,000 in 1995, 130,000 in 1996, 7,000 in 1997 and 11,000 in 1998; a total of 283,000 persons. (Source: Croatian Government Office for Expellees and Refugees)
Being pressured by the international community (OSCE, UNHCR), the Republic of Croatia developed the Program for the Return and Accommodation of Expellees, Refugees and Displaced persons (see Appendix for a full text) and had to ban all discriminatory laws and regulations keeping Serb refugees from being issued papers, taking away their property in the Republic of Croatia (Temporary Takeover and Management of Particular Property Law) or in some other way preventing their return, so that by June 17, 1999, 32,178 persons of Serb nationality returned from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and further 65,465 persons of Serb nationality from Hrvatsko Podunavlje into other parts of Croatia (the so-called Two-way return CDR). Yet, there is no return of larger numbers as yet, since the state bodies keep preventing it. (see 0.9)
Members of the Albanian, Moslem/Bosnian and Romany minorities find themselves in a similar or equal position, and due to such atmosphere, the position of other minorities is not satisfactory either. See Field report on the rights of the Romany in particular: The European Romany Rights Center (Appendix). Aspirations of individual minorities are often presented by the authorities as actions against the sovereignty of the Croatian state. A program by the County Department for the Italian National Community and other Ethnic Groups called “For the Culture of Coexistence”, for example, was accepted by the county government of Istria, and yet the ruling party's reaction to it was that “insistence on Istrianism is a way towards some other state in these parts”. Arpad Pasza, the president of the Democratic Community of Hungarians describes the position of Hungarians in the Republic of Croatia in the following words: “We had a hard time establishing a Hungarian church and schooling in Croatia, but our rights do not get realized on an everyday basis, there is a certain discrimination. For example, a Hungarian forester in Baranja is offered a job in Knin, where there isn't any possibility of keeping one's national identity, and his job in Baranja gets a person from Šakovo.” (Jutarnji list, July 24, 1999)|
Vesna Pichler, president of the Alliance of Germans and Austrians: “There is one Serbian minority here, the other minorities are sadly, like us, treated alike, and without serious support we are not able to organize or act the way we want.” (Jutarnji list, July 24, 1999).
According to the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (Article 134), international contracts signed and ratified by Croatia are part of the internal legal system of the Republic of Croatia and are, by legal strength, above the law. The following international documents (on the subject) are thus part of the Croatian legal system:|
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Political Rights of 1966
- Optional protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966
- II Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, of 1989
- Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crimes of Genocide of 1948
- Convention of Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity of 1968
- Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman of Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984
- Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1950
- Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1967
- Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons of 1954
- Convention on the Nationality of Married Women of 1957
- Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 1949
- Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Times of War of 1949
- Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949, and Relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts of 1977
- Protocol Additional to the Geneva Convention of 12 August 1949 and Relating to the Protection of Victim of Non-International Armed Conflicts of 1977
- International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination of 1965
- UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education
- Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of 1950 with the First Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and fundamental Freedoms of 1952, Protocol No. 4 to the Convention, Protocol No. 6, and Protocol No. 7
- European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages of 1992
- Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities of 1995
Croatia has also passed a very respectable Constitution as well as a Constitutional Law on human rights and freedoms and on the rights of ethnic and national communities and minorities in the Republic of Croatia, but it has also passed a Constitutional Law on the non-application of the Constitutional Law on human rights and freedoms. Passing acceptable legal solutions (most often because of the pressure of the international community) and at the same time open disregard of the same laws or passing of new laws and regulations that change good solutions and exchange them for discriminatory provisions or such that enable the executive bodies to give a discretionary evaluation on the spot have thus become characteristic of Croatia.
Since the Constitutional Law on human rights and freedoms and on the rights of ethnic and national communities and minorities in the Republic of Croatia, i.e. those provisions of the law that remained effective, gave relatively extensive rights of parliamentary representation to minorities, and regarding the importance of the upcoming elections and the question of the Serb vote in those elections, the ruling party has announced a change of the remaining provisions of the Law. That way, the Law is changed every time when one of the rights provided by the Law is about to get realized.
According to the Constitution, the government of the Republic of Croatia is divided into the legislative, the executive and the judicial branch with a strong semi-presidential system. In reality it is a strong presidential system because of the marginalization of other bodies. Apart from the judiciary, the institute of the Ombudsman as well as the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia are crucial to the protection of minority rights.|
Under the pressure of the ruling party, from 1991 till today the judicial body has been completely changed within the judiciary, and the judges have been elected according to supposed political loyalty and ethnic affiliation. There is a large number of vacancies for judges in municipal and county courts, disproportionately high court taxes have been introduced, the judges are mainly young and inexperienced, so that the proceedings are often long and inefficient.
There were 191 vacancies for judges in municipal courts in the Republic of Croatia in October 1998, i.e. 20.2%, and in district courts 55 vacancies, i.e. 16%. The Administrative Court has 12 vacancies or 36.4%. At the time, 43.1% of the judges had 2-6 years experience, and only 26.1% had more than 11 years experience. Further on, the judiciary is facing a financial breakdown, because there is no more money in the budget for expenses such as judges' salaries, postage, electricity and other bills, etc.).
Regarding constitutional charges or motions to evaluate the constitutionality of laws or the constitutionality and legality of regulations, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Croatia has generally acted in accordance with the principles of the rule of law, despite great political pressure, though sometimes giving in by stalling the proceedings.
The Ombudsman of the Republic of Croatia has played a significant role in the protection of minority rights, as far as it was possible regarding the framework of authority, which comes down to filing citizens' complaints, reporting to the parliament, and legislative and constitutional-court initiatives, but without any real power.
Within the parliament the Committee for Human Rights and the Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities has been established, but there is no activity on their part regarding the protection of minority rights. A Council for National Minorities was also established in the summer of 1998, but they have been very passive as well. (In 1991 a Board for National Minorities was established, only to get dissolved in 1992).
The Republic of Croatia has done nothing toward the raising of public or official consciousness regarding the Framework Convention. On the contrary, the representatives of the executive branch often use hateful language, so their statements as well as those of the government media become promoters of chauvinism and national intolerance.|
The President of the Republic of Croatia, Franjo Tušman, for example, said as early as 1991 that he was happy his wife was neither Serb nor Jewish. In 1992, wishing to offend the journalists of Feral Tribune and some other independent newspapers, he said they were all Serbs, Yugoslav army officers' children or children from mixed marriages. In September 1995, on the occasion of the departure of the “Freedom Train” for Vukovar, he referred to the principle of “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” and wished the Serbs who had left Croatia “Bon voyage”. In May 1999, at the opening of the War School he declared the Serb question solved and said that it didn't matter anymore whether the Serb refugees would come back and whether there would be 3 or 5% of them. About Moslems he often said during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina that they should be brought closer to western culture.
In June 1999, Marinko Liovię, President of the Croatian Alliance of Disabled Veterans of the Fatherland War (Hrvatska udruga invalida Domovinskog rata), gave an interview for Radio Slavonia and said that women, dogs, Jews and Serbs were banned from his cellar.
Luka Vuco, a Catholic parish priest, wrote in his column in Jutarnji list in the summer of 1999 that Serbs were the dregs of the 20th century.
Tomislav Merčep, at the time assistant to the Minister of Interior Affairs and Member of the Croatian National Parliament, said he was sorry he hadn't slain all Serbs in Gospię.
At the pre-election meeting of the Croatian Party of Rights in Podunavlje, August 1999, banners were used that said “A dog is everybody's friend, a Serb is no one's.”
The President of the Municipal Court in Split, Ante Šarię, stated publicly that he would not enforce the ruling in favor of Naza and Hazim Begovię because of their national (Moslem) origin and their political orientation. He was removed from office after that, but neither disciplinary nor criminal proceedings were conducted, and he was nominated for a judicial post at a superior court, the District Court.
The Croatian Helsinki Committee has no knowledge of the State Attorney's Office instituting any proceedings in any of these cases, furthermore, in some of the cases, they have even dropped the charges pressed by human rights activists.
The biggest problem in the current situation is the prevention of the Serb refugees' return by refusing to return their property, as well as the problems regarding the state of security in Podunavlje and in the region of the former “Krajina” caused by the placing of booby-traps in houses and the physical and mental abuse of the Serb minority.|
The program for the return is not being carried out and the property of Serbs who are coming back is not returned to its rightful owner, because housing committees do not act in accordance with regulations and are not issuing ordinances for the relinquishment of property by temporary users.
Members of housing committees are often temporary users of such property themselves (Croat refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina), and it is therefore hardly surprising that they do not act in accordance with the Program. Cause for special concern is the physical abuse of Serb returnees. In the period between Aug 12, 1995 and Feb 8 1999, there were 31 casualties caused by booby-traps in the District of Lika and Senj alone, 10 of which died, and another 17 violent deaths. Between 1991 and 1995, 10,000 houses were destroyed in regions of Croatia that had not been included in military operations, while after the military operations Storm and Flash (from 1995 onwards) 17,000 houses on the entire territory of the Republic of Croatia have been mined, burnt or destroyed by other means.
The difficult state of security is hardened by the difficult financial situation, which again influences the high unemployment rates, poverty and the inability to repair damaged property.
1 & 2
The protection of national minorities and of the rights and freedoms of persons belonging to those minorities forms an integral part of the international protection of human rights, and as such falls within the scope of international co-operation.
The provisions of this framework Convention shall be applied in good faith, in a spirit of understanding and tolerance and in conformity with the principles of good neighbourliness, friendly relations and co-operation between States.
“International agreements concluded and ratified in accordance with the Constitution and made public, and which are effective, shall be part of the Republic's internal legal order, and shall be above the law in terms of legal effects. Their provisions may be changed or repealed only under conditions and in the manner specified in them or in accordance with the general rules of international law.”
For a list of international contracts see Introduction, 0.6.
For the possibility of court protection see Introduction 0.7.
Human rights activists are frequently denounced as traitors and government officials give statements accusing them of being a threat to national security. Thus Markica Rebię, the President's advisor for national security, says: “In my opinion, some changes in laws (on the registration and functioning of associations, funds and foreign agencies) are necessary in order to protect the national interests. (...) Here we have imported goods of dubious quality that are not subject to Croatian democratic inspection...”
1 Every person belonging to a national minority shall have the right freely to choose to be treated or not to be treated as such and no disadvantage shall result from this choice or from the exercise of the rights which are connected to that choice.
2 Persons belonging to national minorities may exercise the rights and enjoy the freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention individually as well as in community with others.
3.1. The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia
- I. Historic foundations
“... the Republic of Croatia is established as the national state of the Croatian nation and the state of members of other nations and minorities, who are its citizens: Serbs, Moslems, Slovenians, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews and others, who are guaranteed equality with citizens of Croatian nationality and the realization of national rights in accordance with the democratic norms of the UN Organization and the countries of the free world.”
At the suggestion of the President of the Republic of Croatia toward the end of 1997, the Constitution was changed and the provision now reads as follows:
“...the Republic of Croatia is established as the national state of the Croatian nation and the state of members of autochthonous national minorities: Serbs, Czechs, Slovaks, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Austrians, Ukrainians and Ruthenians and the others who are its citizens, and who are guaranteed equality...” (Status of nations abolished, Slovenians and Moslems crossed out, the remaining text remains unchanged.)
- Article 3
“Freedom, equality, national non-discrimination, pacifism, social justice, respect for the rights of man, inviolability of property, preservation of nature and man's surroundings, the rule of law and the democratic multi-party system are values of the constitutional system of the Republic of Croatia.”
- Article 14
“The citizens of the Republic of Croatia have all rights and freedoms, independently of their race, skin color, gender, language, religion, political and other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth, education, social standing or other characteristics. All are equal before the law.”
- Article 15
“Members of all nations and minorities shall have equal rights in the Republic of Croatia.
Members of all nations and minorities shall be guaranteed freedom to express their nationality, freedom to use their language and script, and cultural autonomy.”
Before the changes in the Constitution, the provision read as follows:
“All nations and minorities are equal in the Republic of Croatia. Members of all nations and minorities are guaranteed the freedom to express their nationality, the freedom to use their language and script, and cultural autonomy.”
- Article 39
“All invitation or exhortation to the working or use of violence, to national, racial or religious hatred or any other form of intolerance is forbidden and punishable.”
- Article 40
“The freedom of consciousness and confession and the free demonstration of religion or other opinion is guaranteed.”
- Article 41
“All religious communities are equal before the law and separated from the state. Religious communities are free to perform their religious ceremonies publicly, in accordance with the law, to establish schools, places of learning, other institutes, social and charitable institutions and to govern them, and their activities are protected and supported by the state.”
3.2. The aforementioned changes in the Constitution were explained by the fact that the Constitution had been enacted while the Republic of Croatia was still within the former Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, but members of the aforesaid nations and minorities have taken these changes as a restriction of their rights.
The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia therefore retained the enumeration of the national minorities, whereby in that enumeration there are no larger national groups living in the Republic of Croatia, such as Slovenians, Romanies, Moslems (see Introduction 0.2. for the demographic situation of 1991).
3.3. The Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and on the Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities in the Republic of Croatia
In 1992 the Republic of Croatia passed the cited Constitutional Law, because its enactment was a condition for the formal recognition of the Republic of Croatia.
In September 1995, the Croatian National Parliament passed a Decision on the Enactment of the Constitutional Law on the Temporary Non-Applicability of Individual Provisions of the Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and on the Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities in the Republic of Croatia.
The Law establishes the non-applicability of those provisions that relate to special rights and protection of those ethnic and national communities or minorities that according to the census of 1991 presented more than 8% of the overall population of the Republic of Croatia, until the results of the first census of the population of the Republic of Croatia are published. Such census has never been taken, nor is it being prepared. In that way, individual rights have been completely abolished till further notice, without any time limit. The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia has thereby been violated, since it forbids the restriction of constitutional rights if it results in the inequality of citizens (Article 17, The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia).
3.4. In the Republic of Croatia no census has been taken since independence, so there are no reliable demographic data, only some general ones, which are the result of a combination of various data from the State Bureau of Statistics, registers of births, marriages and deaths, etc., data from the Office for Expellees and Refugees, the UNHCR and similar institutions and organizations.
3.5. In connection to the equality of all before the law regardless of origin, some discriminatory regulations have to be mentioned, as well as the practice of courts and administrative bodies, which result in the inequality with respect to ethnic affiliation:
- by using the provision on the loss of tenants' rights of tenure in case the apartment is not used by the tenant for more than 6 months, Serb refugees and Moslems have lost their tenants' rights in the Republic of Croatia;
- tenants' rights were being lost also because of so-called enemy activity, which didn't have to be established in a criminal finding; it was enough if the tenant was Serb or Moslem and absent from the Republic of Croatia;
- A large number of employees in public services have been given notice on the basis of some thirty ordinances with legal status (in case of a war threat) of the President of the Republic of Croatia passed without the existence of conditions stated by the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (that the Croatian National Parliament is not able to be in session, that the Parliament ratifies such ordinances, etc.);
- members of non-Croatian nations have to pay a tax of 1,500 Kuna (375 German Marks) on the document that awards them Croatian citizenship, a tax that members of the Croatian nation do not have to pay;
- The Law on Regions under Special State Protection and the Reconstruction Law contain discriminatory provisions against members of the Serb minority who are not able to obtain funds for the reconstruction of houses and estates;
1 The Parties undertake to guarantee to persons belonging to national minorities the right of equality before the law and of equal protection of the law. In this respect, any discrimination based on belonging to a national minority shall be prohibited.
2 The Parties undertake to adopt, where necessary, adequate measures in order to promote, in all areas of economic, social, political and cultural life, full and effective equality between persons belonging to a national minority and those belonging to the majority. In this respect, they shall take due account of the specific conditions of the persons belonging to national minorities.
3 The Measures adopted in accordance with paragraph 2 shall not be considered to be an act of discrimination.
See Points 1, 2 and 3 on equality and the prohibition of discrimination.
4.1. Penal Law
“(1) Whoever shall, based on differences in race, skin colour, gender, language, religion, political or other creed, national or social origin, property, birth, education, social status or other properties, or based on belonging to an ethnic or national minority in the Republic of Croatia withhold or restrict the freedom or the right of man and the citizen as defined by the Constitution, law or other regulation, or whoever may, based on such differences or belonging award privileges or preferential treatment to citizens, shall be given a prison sentence of between six months and five years.
(2) The penalty as per paragraph 1 of this Article shall be imposed on any party that infringes on or restricts the right of a person belonging to a nation, ethnic or national community or minority to freely express his or her national belonging or the right to cultural autonomy.
(3) Any party that shall violate the regulations pertaining to the use of language and script by withholding or restricting the right of a citizen to use his or her language or script, shall be fined or imprisoned for a duration of up to one year.”
“(1) Whoever withholds or restricts the freedom of religion, public demonstration of religion or other belief shall be fined or imprisoned for a duration of up to one year.
(2) The penalty as per paragraph 1 of this Article shall be imposed on any party that infringes on a religious community's right of equality with other religious communities in the Republic of Croatia, or that infringes on or restricts the right of public performance of religious ceremonies, of establishing schools, places of learning, institutes, social or humanitarian institutions and of governing them in accordance with the law. ”
“(1) Whoever shall, based on differences in race, gender, skin colour, national or ethnic origin, violate the basic human rights and freedoms recognized by the international community, shall be given a prison sentence of between six months and five years.
(2) The penalty as per Paragraph 1 of this Article shall be imposed on any party that may persecute organizations of individuals over their commitment to equality of all people.
(3) Whoever shall publicly advocate or promote the idea of the superiority of one race over another, or shall spread racial hatred or instigate racial discrimination, shall be given a prison sentence of between three months and three years.”
In spite of the frequency of the stated acts, the Croatian Helsinki Committee has no knowledge of the State Attorney's Office having instituted any proceedings of such acts (See Introduction 0.8.). One of the reasons is the state policy, that has the aim of creating an ethnically pure state, the other the fear of persons that have been damaged by those criminal acts.
5 & 6
1 the Parties undertake to promote the conditions necessary for persons belonging to national minorities to maintain and develop their culture, and to preserve the essential elements of their identity, namely their religion, language, traditions and cultural heritage.
2 Without prejudice to measures taken in pursuance to their general integrationpolicy, the Parties shall refrain from policies or practices aimed at assimilation of persons belonging to national minorities against their will and shall protect these persons from any action aimed at such assimilation.
See above on the legal aspect of religious and cultural rights.
5.1. The status of religious communities is regulated by the Law on the Legal Position of Religious Communities from 1978. As the law was passed during communism, more than 20 years ago, it is necessary to pass a new one that would regulate the status of legal communities in accordance with international standards.
5.2. In spite of the principled separation of the church from the state, regulated by the Constitution, and of equal rights of all religious communities, the Catholic Church plays a dominant part because of the social and historical role it has played and of the fact that the majority nation belongs to the Catholic Church, a fact that surfaced especially after the independence, so it cannot be said that the Church is indeed separated from the state. This is also because of the extraordinary frequency of appearances of church officials in the state media and in public meetings organized by the state. Some priests of the Catholic Church have also been great advocates of nationalism and national intolerance.
Thus the Catholic priest Vjekoslav Lasię serves an annual mass in a church in the center of Zagreb on the occasion of Ante Pavelię's birthday, and during the celebration of the Anti-fascism Day in 1999 on the Square of Croatian Great Men, formerly named Victims-of-Fascism Square, he led a group of fascists who threw rocks and tear-gas at the anti-fascists. On the occasion of a protest against the opening of a border crossing between the Republic of Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina at Brgat, on Aug 21, 1999, the protesters were led by the parish priest Miljenko Babaię, who, singing ustasha songs, damned all who would forgive the enemy (thinking of Bosnian Serbs who would be enabled to enter the Republic of Croatia via the border crossing).
Members of the Jewish community also get anonymous threatening letters sent to them by the New Croatian Right led by Mladen Schwartz. The work of the party is formally forbidden, but the declarations of its representatives, printed matter of fascist content and rallies are not being prevented. Moreover, Mladen Schwartz has a regular show on the “independent” television OTV where he openly advocates fascist ideas. (See also Introduction 0.8.)
For these reasons, as well as because of the entire atmosphere towards members of minorities, members of other religious communities do not feel free to express their religion, although they are formally allowed to.
At the introduction of religious training in schools, for example, a poll was taken among the students on which religions they wish to be taught at school. On the territory of Zagreb only 7 students said they wanted religious training to include the orthodox religion, which is in great disproportion to the number of orthodox believers in the city and speak of a fear among members of that particular religious community.
The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia
“The Croatian language and the Latin script shall be in official use in the Republic of Croatia. In specific local units, another language and the Cyrillic or some other script may, along with the Croatian language and the Latin script, be introduced into official use, under conditions specified by the law.”
The Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and the Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or minorities in the Republic of Croatia
“(1) Members of all ethnic and national communities or minorities in the Republic of Croatia are entitled to the free use of their language and script, both publicly and privately.
(2) In those municipalities in which members of a national or ethnic community or minority represent the majority of the local population, the language and script of that ethnic and national community or minority shall be officially used parallel to the Croatian language and the Latin script.”
“Local self-government units may provide for the official use of two or more languages and scripts, taking into account the number of members and the interests of ethnic and national communities or minorities.”
Note: The knowledge of the Croatian language and the Latin script is a condition for obtaining citizenship by naturalization, and that is the very way in which a large number of Serb and Moslem minorities members gained Croatian citizenship.
5.4. There is no law in the Republic of Croatia on education in the minorities' languages, so all depends on the decisions of the ministers who as a rule have never been in favor of the minorities, but have tried to stop classes in non-Croatian languages.
5.5. In spite of the fine provisions of the Constitution, there are problems in the practice, so that in the region of Podunavlje, where classes are being held in both the Croatian and the Serbian languages, parents in both national groups demand the separation of children and the banning of classes in the other language, whenever there is tension between the nations. Croatian parents in Baranja, for example, organized a school boycott in November 1998, claiming that the teachers, members of the Serb minority, taught their children in Serbian. After the incident, the teachers were assigned to other positions.
The application of legal solutions is being avoided in other ways, too. For example, at the “Lidrano” school drama groups contest only performances in Croatian have been allowed since 1998, although the use of the languages of national minorities had been allowed before.
Classes in the minorities' languages were tried to be stopped by the so-called merging of classes because of a small number of students, so since schools are scattered (e.g. for members of the Italian minority in Istria) around a relatively large area, merging the classes would have meant going to school in another town, which forced parents to enroll their children in schools where classes were being taught in Croatian.
5.6. Regarding the general integration policy, there is no direct legal set of regulations, but it should formally be conducted through the actions of government bodies such as the Committee for the Establishment of Trust (for the formerly occupied regions). Yet, the very representatives of the Committee are doing everything to prevent the trust, and they often publicly advocate ethnically clear areas and the abolishing of the rights of Serbs (e.g. one of the members of the Committee was the mayor of the town of Knin, Josip Odak, notorious for his remarks against the return of Serbs to Knin).
1 The Parties shall encourage a spirit of tolerance and intercultural dialogue and take effective measures to promote respect and understanding and co-operation among all persons living on their territory, irrespective of those persons' ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity, in particular in the fields of education, culture and the media.
2 The Parties undertake to take appropriate measures to protect persons who may be subject to threats or acts of discrimination, hostility or violence as a result of their ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity.
See Introduction and Point 5.
Regarding Paragraph 2 see 4.1.
6.1. In the Republic of Croatia the government bodies do nothing towards the promotion of tolerance, on the contrary. See above on hateful speech.
Intolerance within the education system is mostly encouraged by history books that contain the most spread stereotype on the Croatians being one of the oldest nations in Europe, constantly oppressed by others. Periods of coexistence with other nations are, as a rule, described in negative terms. The idea of the Croatian right to Bosnia runs through the handbooks. The fact that the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) had been a (pro)fascist state is being glossed over, even somewhat glorified, and the fall of that regime is described as the entry of Serbian chetnik partisan units into defenseless Zagreb, and about the racial laws it is said that they applied only to Jews, Gypsies, Serbs and Croats who were enemies of the regime. It is stated that non-governmental organizations worked during the 90's against the newly created democratic Croatian state.
6.2. In the same way intolerance is being encouraged in the state media, both television (Croatian Television – HTV) and newspaper (Vjesnik, Večernji list), so that minorities, especially the Serb and Moslem ones, are often talked about in negative or cynical context, with constant reminders of the war and with the promotion of the idea of a collective guilt of Croatian Serbs.
6.3. Regardless of numerous violent excesses towards members of national minorities the state does nothing to prevent them or to find the perpetrators of these acts. Therefore proceedings are regularly not instituted in cases of physical abuse of Romanies (because of unknown perpetrators), and hospitals often refuse to establish the injuries. Cases mentioned in the Introduction 0.8., in 5.2 and others are not being processed either.
The Parties shall ensure respect for the rights of every person belonging to a national minority to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, freedom of expression, and freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
7.1. The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia
“All citizens shall be granted the right to peaceful gathering and public protests.”
“(1) The citizens shall be granted the right to free association for the protection of their interests or advocacy of social, economic, political, national, cultural or other beliefs and goals. For that purpose, citizens shall be free to establish political parties, syndicates and other associations, join them or step out of them.
(2) The right of free association shall be limited by the ban of violent threats to the democratic constitutional system, and the independence, unity and territorial integrity of the Republic of Croatia.”
7.2. Associations of citizens have been regulated in detail by the Law on Associations. Yet, the Law is contradictory with the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Basic Freedoms, since it lays down unjustified restrictions. Thus on the basis of the Law associations are allowed only in the capacity of corporation, i.e. forms of associations that are not institutionalized as associations cannot perform activities that are potential activities of associations. An association can be established by at least ten founders, provided that foreign citizens cannot be founders. The Law proscribes an obligatory content of the statute in such detail and so demanding that it presents a significant restriction of the freedom of association. It also demands of the associations to have an assembly as the highest body of the association as well as a president, and provides one sanction only for any irregularities in the activity, even for the nonconcurrence of activities with the statute, and that is termination of the association's activities. Such a Law significantly restricts the freedom of association and the associations' activities.
Apart from that, the Law on Associations is the same for all associations, even those that deal with minority rights, and does not take into consideration the special needs of such associations.
In 1999, the Ministry refused to register the Italian Union, the explanation being that its statute said it would look after the political rights of the Italian minority and that political activities of associations are not allowed. The association was also forbidden to carry the name Unione Italiana – Talijanska Unija, because the Croatian name has to be in first place (according to the legal provision, the name in the minority language may come next to the Croatian name).
The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to manifest his or her religion or belief and to establish religious institutions, organisations and associations.
As in 5, 6 and 7.
1 The Parties undertake to recognise that the right to freedom of expression of every person belonging to a national minority includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas in the minority language, without interference by public authorities and regardless of frontiers. The Parties shall ensure, within the framework of their legal systems, that persons belonging to a national minority are not discriminated against in their access to the media.
2 Paragraph 1 shall not prevent Parties from requiring the licensing, without discrimination and based on objective criteria, of sound radio and television broadcasting, or cinema enterprises.
3 The Parties shall not hinder the creation and the use of printed media by persons belonging to national minorities. In the legal framework of sound radio and television broadcasting, they shall ensure, as far as possible, and taking into account the provisions of paragraph 1, that persons belonging to national minorities are granted the possibility of creating and using their own media.
4 In the framework of their legal systems, the parties shall adopt adequate measures in order to facilitate access to the media for persons belonging to national minorities and in order to promote tolerance and permit cultural pluralism.
As in 5, 6 and 7 noting that regulations in the field of telecommunications lay down such high rates for the use of radio and television frequencies, that except for commercial media, it is practically not possible to run a television or radio station, and even those independent TV and radio stations that had started were soon closed down because of restrictive regulations, high costs and bans, while all independent media got suffocated by incredibly high compensation amounts claimed by state officials who treat criticism as libel or slander.
Independent media are being destroyed by the existence of only one distributor, “Tisak”, owned by the state (that has been on the verge of bankruptcy for years), so that newspapers suffer under the irregular payment of sales profits.
1 The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to use freely and without interference his or her minority language, in private and public, orally and in writing.
2 In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if those persons so request and where such a request corresponds to a real need, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible, the conditions which would make it possible to use the minority language in relations between those persons and the administrative authorities.
3 The Parties undertake to guarantee the right of every person belonging to a national minority to be informed promptly, in a language which he or she understands, of the reasons for his or her arrest, and of the nature and cause of any accusation against him or her, and to defend himself or herself in this language, if necessary with the free assistance of an interpreter.
As in Point 5.
All procedural laws, the Law on Criminal Proceedings, the Law on Civil Proceedings and the Law on General Administrative Proceedings provide for the right of the party to address the court or administrative body in his or her language if the party does not understand Croatian.
1 The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to use his or her surname (patronym) and first names in the minority language and the right to official recognition of them, according to modalities provided for in their legal system.
2 The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to display in his or her minority language signs, inscriptions and other information of a private nature visible to the public.
3 In areas traditionally inhabited by substantial numbers of persons belonging to a national minority, the Parties shall endeavour, in the framework of their legal system, including, where appropriate, agreements with other States, and taking into account their specific conditions, to display traditional local names, street names and other topographical indications intended for the public also in the minority language when there is a sufficient demand for such indications.
As in Point 5.
11.1. Law on the First Name
“(1) Each person is entitled to the change of the first name.
(2) The request for the change of the first name should contain the reasons why the change is requested and the proposal of a new name should point to the justification of the request.
(3) The competent administration authority in the place of residence of the submitter of a request solves the request of the first name.”
“Change of the first name will be granted in the case of established justification of the request with appraisal of the authority that a new name is not contrary to the social rules and customs of the surrounding where a person lives.”
11.2. The legal provisions cited above significantly restrict the right to the selection and change of the first name, because they demand of the submitter of the request to state the reasons for such a request and give the local authority the power to grant the request according to its discretionary evaluation, a power that is too broad.
11.3. It has to be noted that between 1991 and 1993 there has been an enormous number of requests for the change of “Serbian” first and family names to “Croatian” ones, from both members of the Serbian and of the Croatian nations, because during that period having the “wrong” name could have resulted in the loss of working place, tenant's right of tenure, in forceful eviction, etc.
11.4. In regard to names of streets and squares, it has to be said that since 1991 a great number of streets and squares have changed their names, especially those which carried the names of antifascist events, of fighters in the Battle of National Liberation (NOB), Serb writers and scientists, and almost every town has a street named after Mile Budak, the Minister of Culture in the Independent State of Croatia (NDH) and the creator of the racial laws.
1 The Parties shall, where appropriate, take measures in the fields of education and research to foster knowledge of the culture, history, language and religion of their national minorities and of the majority.
2 In this context the Parties shall inter alia provide adequate opportunities for teacher training and access to textbooks, and facilitate contacts among students and teachers of different communities.
3 The Parties undertake to promote equal opportunities for access to education at all levels for persons belonging to national minorities.
As in Point 5.
1 Within the framework of their education systems, the Parties shall recognise that persons belonging to a national minority have the right to set up and to manage their own private educational and training establishments.
2 The exercise of this right shall not entail any financial obligation for the Parties.
As in Point 5.
1 The Parties undertake to recognise that every person belonging to a national minority has the right to learn his or her minority language.
2 In areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if there is sufficient demand, the Parties shall endeavour to ensure, as far as possible and within the framework of their education systems, that persons belonging to those minorities have adequate opportunities for being taught the minority language or for receiving instruction in this language.
3 Paragraph 2 of this Article shall be implemented without prejudice to the learning of the official language or the teaching in this language.
As in Point 5.
The Parties shall create the conditions necessary for the effective participation of persons belonging to national minorities in cultural, social and economic life and in public affairs, in particular those affecting them.
The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia
“Every citizen of the Republic of Croatia has the right, under equal conditions, to take part in the conducting of public affairs and to be employed in public services.”
“(1) All Croatian citizens over 18 years of age have the general and equal right to vote.
The right to vote is realized in direct elections by secret voting.”
15.2. From 1991 onwards, ethnic cleansing has been conducted in all public services from clerks in ministries, government offices and the judiciary to those in education.
The explanation being that the members of the Serb minority had been privileged in the earlier regime and that they had therefore held a disproportionally large number of positions in public services. Still, during the appointments and reappointments, the ethnic principle had precedence over qualifications, expertise and work experience.
15.3. In the Republic of Croatia the electoral legislation is being changed just before every election in order to suit the current position of the ruling party.
The Parties shall refrain from measures which alter the proportions of the population in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities and are aimed at restricting the rights and freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention.
16.1. The banishment of members of the Serb minority and the prevention of their return is the basis of the politics of the ruling party in the Republic of Croatia. See Introduction.
1 The Parties undertake not to interfere with the right of persons belonging to national minorities to establish and maintain free and peaceful contacts across frontiers with persons lawfully staying in other States, in particular those with whom they share an ethnic, cultural, linguistic or religious identity, or a common cultural heritage.
2 The Parties undertake not to interfere with the right of persons belonging to national minorities to participate in the activities of non-governmental organisations, both at the national and international levels.
17.1. Because of the war in the former Yugoslavia, especially between the states that are the native states of the minorities that live in the neighboring states, the movement and travelling from one state to the other has been difficult. A citizen of the Republic of Croatia who is a member of the Serb minority, but not in possession of Yugoslav citizenship is, for example, required to have an entry visa to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia that takes weeks to obtain. For reasons of reciprocity, such a measure has been applied by the Republic of Croatia for citizens of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, who do not have Croatian citizenship. In spite of the Agreement on the Normalization of the Relationship between the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the Republic of Croatia, the relationship is still very bad. The Republic of Croatia has such bad relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina as well, mainly because of the attitude towards Herzegovina and the Bosnian Croats.
1 The Parties shall endeavour to conclude, where necessary, bilateral and multilateral agreements with other States, in particular neighbouring States, in order to ensure the protection of persons belonging to the national minorities concerned.
2 Where relevant, the Parties shall take measures to encourage transfrontier co-operation.
The Republic of Croatia signed bilateral agreement on the rights of members of national minorities in 1992 with Italy and Hungary. In 1996 the Republic of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia signed an agreement on the normalization of relationships.
1. Program for the Return and Accommodation of Expellees, Refugees and Displaced Persons
2. UNHCR data on the return to the Republic of Croatia
3. Report of the Croatian Helsinki Committee on the Military operation Storm and after, part one – former UN sector South
4. Article by Jasna Omejec on acquiring citizenship
5. Statements by the Croatian Helsinki Committee
6. Report of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for 1998
7. ERRC – Field Report
In Zagreb, Sept 1, 1999