AIM: start



Withering Away of Ethnic Minorities in Croatia

By: Zoran Daskalovic

According to the investigation on the level of social closeness to non-Croats that was carried out in the end of last year on a sample of one thousand respondents by GfK Investigation Centre, every fourth adult citizen of Croatia would expel the Serbs from the country, and every seventh citizen would do the same with the Montenegrins and the Bosniacs. The Slovenes fared somewhat better; only every tenth respondent would kick them out of Croatia. The investigation was carried out according to Bogardus's method which requested the participants of the poll to mark their attitude to ethnic minorities by one of the seven levels (from the highest "closely related/spouse" to the lowest: "I would expel him from the country"). On the average, only ten per cent of the respondents would not mind at all being closely related with a member of an ethnic minority. The most desirable are the Slovenes, since 15 per cent of the respondents would agree to marry a Slovene. The average closeness to the Montenegrins and the Bosniacs was expressed by a qualification according to which the respondents would like to see them as "visitors of Croatia"" while every tenth Croat would accept a Serb as a "personal friend", 8 per cent as a colleague at work, and 4 per cent as a neighbour in the same street.

The degree of intolerance to ethnic minorities varies according to regions: it is the highest in Dalmatia and Slavonia, and the lowest in Istria, Croatian Littoral and Gorski kotar. In Dalmatia, 44 per cent of the respondents do not wish to have the Serbs in Croatia, 35 per cent would not like to have the Bosniacs, 30 per cent the Montenegrins, and 15 per cent the Slovenes. In Slavonia, the Serbs are undesirable for 35 per cent of the respondents, the Montenegrins for 20 per cent, the Bosniacs for 13 per cent, and the Slovenes for 5 per cent. In Istria, Primorje and Gorski Kotar, the Serbs are not wanted by just 7 per cent of the respondents, the Bosniacs and the Montenegrins by 6 per cent, and the Slovenes by 4 per cent. In Zagreb and its surroundings, 18 per cent of the respondents feel repulsion to the Serbs, 14 per cent to the Bosniacs, 13 per cent to the Montenegrins, and 9 per cent to the Slovenes.

Experts explain the differences between regions primarily by their exposure to war conflicts, so since Slavonia and Dalmatia were affected by the war the most, they assess that the war is the main cause of explicit intolerance to minorities in these regions. But, despite the war and everything that went with it in the nineties, the results of the investigation and an exceptionally high degree of intolerance to ethnic minorities surprised many people in Croatia, to such an extent that they are suspicious about the credibility of the investigation, although it was conducted by an institution with a high reputation. Those who among experts and public figures have no doubts about the results of the investigation and who are not surprised by the degree of intolerance, conclude that such a state of mind will burden Croatia for a long time to come, and that it will affect social processes in general and its future.

The results of the investigation were published on the very eve of passing of the new Constitutional Law on the Rights of Ethnic Minorities in Croatian Assembly. Since a two-thirds majority of votes was necessary for passing of this Law, despite the pressure exerted by the international community and the demands of the representatives of ethnic minorities, its drafting was prolonged for almost three years after the fall of Tudjman's regime and it took great effort to push it to the final voting in the parliament. Passing of the new Constitutional Law on the Rights of Ethnic Minorities in Croatia is the last link in the process that began in the end of 1991, when the first Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and the Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities was passed as one of the key conditions for its international recognition.

Like all the others states created on the territory of former SFRY, Croatia inherited from that former federal state a comparatively high level of protection of collective minority rights (the right to education in their own mother tongue and script on all levels of education, the right to official use of language, various possibilities of preservation of ethnic, linguistic and religious identity and institutions of political representation of minority interests…). Croatia has accepted and recognized all these acquired rights, and except with Italian minority, all the past years had no problems concerning other minorities. The problem has arisen with "new minorities", in other words, with the members of the nations who were constitutive nations in SFRY, especially the Serbs in Croatia who had the status of a sovereign nation in socialist Croatia.

Since the new Constitution defines Croatia as a "national state of the Croatian people and the state of the members of its nations and minorities", it is clearly stressed which nation is the bearer of statehood, and who are the others. A part of Croatian Serbs rebelled against such Constitutional definition of Croatia, so under the influence of the international community, before its international recognition, Croatia passed the Constitutional Law in which it defined the rights and freedoms of minorities. In the first three chapters of the Constitutional Law, human rights of members of minorities are defined, along with institutionalized right to cultural autonomy (equality, general development, right to self-organization for the sake of protection of ethnic interests, cooperation with parent states, right to non-discrimination, identity, culture, religion, public and private use of language and script, possession and hoisting of ethnic symbols, bilingual signs with names of settlements and municipalities, the framework of upbringing and education of children of the members of ethnic minorities was also defined…). The fourth chapter of the Constitutional Law elaborates the right to participation of the representatives of minorities in representative and other authorities, and it was determined that an ethnic community which participates in the population of Croatia with more than 8 per cent is entitled to proportional representation in the Assembly and the Government of the Republic of Croatia and the agencies of the supreme judiciary. In regions where members of a minority form more than half of the population they got the right to territorial autonomy, so the Constitutional Law regulates the status of two districts and several municipalities with special status, because in them the Serbs formed more than half of the population. But, that did not prevent a part of Croatian Serbs to start an armed rebellion and make a forcible attempt to secede a part of the territory of Croatia and annex it to the parent state.

Since on the other hand, the census of 8 per cent was defined as a condition for an ethnic minority to acquire the right to territorial autonomy and proportional representation in the authorities, it was clear that if the rebellious Serbs lost the war and a significant number of them left Croatia, they would be deprived of that right. And that is exactly what happened. In the period between 1991 and 2001, when population censuses took place, the number of the members of ethnic minorities was reduced by more than half, so that nowadays they form just about ten per cent of the total population instead of one fourth in 1991. Out of 581 thousand people who declared themselves as Serbs in 1991 census, there remained 201 thousand of them in Croatia, or from 12.2 per cent of the total population they came down to 5 per cent. The number of the Bosniacs was also reduced by half - from 43 thousand they came down to 20 thousand, or from 0.9 per cent their percentage was reduced to 0.47; there are also less Slovenes: 13 thousand instead of more than 22 thousand; there used to be 9,700 Montenegrins, and nowadays there are 4,900; there were 6280 Macedonians, and nowadays there are 4270; there are less Italians by about two thousand, so there are 19,636 of them now. Only the number of the Roma increased; there are 9463 of them now and there were 6695 of them in 1991.

After the end of the war and liberation of the entire territory of Croatia, Croatian parliament suspended the provisions of the Constitutional Law that provided for the special status of the regions with majority Serb population and the ones that entitled the Serbs in Croatia to proportional representation in state agencies, because it was justified to assess that there were not more than 8 per cent of the Serbs in Croatia any more. The 2001 census of the population confirmed this. But, instead of the suspended parts of the Constitutional Law, it was necessary to offer new regulation of rights, especially the ones that were completely abolished, and even in parts where it was impossible to do it, like in the case of the right to proportional representation in local and regional authorities in regions where the Serbs still significantly participate in the composition of the population, and in some even are the majority population. Besides, the international community insisted on it, together with the demand that conditions be created for the return of a significant number of refugee and banished Serbs who wish to do so, which, among other, implied restoration of property, reconstruction of houses destroyed in the war, regulation of tenancy right and similar. The resistance to that in Croatia is strong, as indeed the results of the investigation on the social attitude to non-Croats, especially the Serbs, clearly show.

The recent passing of the Constitutional Law on the Rights of Ethnic Minorities finally created the Constitutional and legal framework in which at least a part of the abolished minority rights can be exercised. Primarily on the political level, which of course, does not mean that in a foreseeable future it will result in the improvement of social, economic, cultural and other conditions for the realization of minority interests, because they mostly depend on the general development of Croatia. Intolerance to minorities which is primarily focused among the majority nation on the members of minorities against whose fellow-countrymen the war was waged (the Serbs, the Montenegrins, the Bosniacs), but also spread to most of the other minority nations, will certainly prevent the practicing of the minority rights recognized by the Constitutional Law, from the fundamental human and ethnic rights, cultural autonomy to the right to political representation on all levels of power. As much as they prove that a framework for the promotion of minority ethnic interests has been created, the increasing number of associations and organizations of ethnic minorities also testifies that they are deprived of their rights , because members of minorities are forced to get organized in order to turn them from theory into practice. Whether they will remain isolated in their communities and organizations like in ghettoes will, among other, depend on the question whether the level of intolerance to minorities will start to decrease in the foreseeable future among the majority people. If it does not, minority nations will completely disappear from Croatia and at the next census they will already be reduced to an even smaller portion of the total population.