Testo d'approfondimento parte della "Guida Minoranze"

19/07/2002 -  Anonymous User

In 1991, Croatians constituted 78.1% of the population, followed by Serbs (12.1%), Yugoslavs (2.2%), Moslems (0.9%), and many other smaller minorities. Altogether, one can realistically consider that there are 16 minorities in Croatia. The demographic picture was thoroughly changed during the war, but no census has been taken since independence, so there are no reliable demographic data.
Constitutionally, ethnic minorities enjoy the same protection as other self-identified ethnic and religious groups. Croatia 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 (1991). However, it also passed in 1995 a Constitutional Law on the "temporary" non-application of the Constitutional Law on human rights and freedoms... Passing acceptable laws and at the same time openly disregarding these laws was a characteristic of Croatia until 2000. In practice, a pattern of open and sometimes severe discrimination existed in a wide number of areas, including the administration of justice, employment, housing, and freedom of movement. Serbs and Romas are particularly affected.
The most important minority issue concerns the return and reintegration of ethnic Serb refugees. More than 280.000 Serbs fled from the country between 1991 and 1998, and less than 33.000 had returned by June 1999. Serb property owners whose homes were occupied by ethnic Croat refugees from elsewhere often remain unable to access their property. A related problem is the failure of the Government to recognise or "convalidate" legal and administrative documents from the period of the 1991-95 conflict (enacted by the de facto Serb authorities). Without such recognition, Serbs continue to be unable to resolve a wide range of social problems. Lately, the Government took some steps to facilitate the return of refugee citizens (mostly ethnic Serbs) of the 1991-95 conflict, including the establishment of a coordinative commission and the reform of laws that previously discriminated against ethnic Serb refugees.Nine years of HDZ rule came to an end with the victory of the opposition parties at the parliamentary elections (January 2000), and the election of President Mesic (February 2000). This resulted in a marked improvement in the human rights situation in general and the situation of minorities in particular. In May 2000, the government passed a package of laws on minority rights, including a Constitutional law, that added nine new recognised minorities to the existing list of seven in the Constitution, including Muslims, Albanians and Slovenes. The government indicated that further amendments would soon be passed. Ethnic Serb leaders in particular report improved communication with government officials.

The first problem that members of minorities have to face is that of citizenship. The Citizenship Law and electoral legislation grant citizenship on purely ethnic grounds to ethnic Croats abroad with no genuine link to the country, whereas Croatian Serbs who fled in 1995 have to provide proof of previous residence and citizenship not demanded of ethnic Croats. Ethnic Serbs have thus often been deprived of their right to vote because they could not document their citizenship.
Croatian law provides for different mechanisms for the participation of members of minorities to public life at the national level according to their numerical strength.
The 1991 Constitutional Law conferred specific rights of representation and participation in public institutions (Parliament, Government and supreme judicial bodies) to all minorities representing more than 8% of the population - in effect, to the Serb minority. This Constitutional Law however was suspended in 1995, when Croatia recovered the territories inhabited by the Serb minority. The new Constitutional Law (2000) reactivates this provision, but simultaneously suspends it again until the proclamation of the results of a (future) census. Thus in practice, the very progressive rights of representation and participation awarded by the Constitution to the Serbian minority have never been implemented since the independence of Croatia.
The 1991 Constitutional Law reserved seven seats in the Lower House of Parliament to ethnic minorities representing less than 8% of the population (in effect, all minorities but the Serbs). A 1999 electoral law however reduced the number of seats to five, to be held by various minorities on a rotating basis (Ukrainians, Ruthenians, Jews, Germans and Austrians, for instance, shall rotate for the election of one of these representatives). The number of representatives does not match the minority representation to the size of the minority population (15 %). Also, Serbs are now taken into account within this system - pending the result of the census - and are thus to elect only one representative. Lastly, no representation whatsoever is guaranteed for Slovenes and Muslims. After the last parliamentary elections, a total of 11 seats out of 151 were held by members of ethnic minorities in the lower house. The 1991 Constitutional Law also granted a special status to districts with a majority of Serbs (Glina and Knin). This status was also suspended when these districts came under Croatian rule in 1995, on the ground that , following population movements, there were no longer units where the Serbs would be a majority. The Constitutional Law of 2000 then abolished all provisions concerning special status districts. This can only have a discouraging psychological effect for members of the Serbian minority who would like to remain in or return to Croatia. The Council of Europe (Venice Commission) emphasised the provisions of the special status should be revised rather than abolished, and, to be in line with Recommendation 1201 of the Council of Europe, a regime of local self-government should be instituted. In this perspective, local self-government rights should be granted to all concentrated minorities, not only the Serbs.
A law on local self-government is in preparation but is unlikely to be adopted before 2003. In April 2001, the Assembly of the Istrian District proclaimed a specific autonomy for the peninsula. The initiative was strongly condemned by virtually all parties of the ruling coalition in Zagreb and has been referred to the Constitutional Court in order to judge its legality. The outcome will be important for judging to which extent a regime of local self-government is possible in Croatia today.

The Constitution provides that the Croatian language and the Latin Script are in official use in the Republic of Croatia, but that in specific local units, another language or script may be used along them for official purposes, under conditions specified by the law. There was no such law until THE LAW ON THE USE OF LANGUAGE AND SCRIPT OF NATIONAL MINORITIES IN THE REPUBLIC OF CROATIA was passed in May 2000. This law provides for the official use of languages and script of national minorities by local administrative authorities in their official work, in their relations with individual citizens and before first instance State authorities and Courts, if either (1) the members of a particular national minority constitute the majority of inhabitants of a town or municipality or (2) a municipality or town has so decided in its Statute. The same rule applies to use of minority languages and scripts in the display of topographic indications. All in all, this law provides for a relatively large application of the equal official use of minority languages.
Up to 2000, there was no law in Croatia on education in the minorities' languages, so all depended on the decisions of the ministers, who were as a rule disinclined to let classes in non-Croatian language.
The LAW ON EDUCATION IN MINORITY LANGUAGES (May 2000) provides for extensive possibilities for education in minority languages from the kindergarten up to secondary schools. The law also stipulates that the minority culture curricula are adopted by the Ministry of Education after opinion of the associations of the national minority concerned. School institutions with minority classes can use textbooks from the parent country subject to approval of the Ministry of Education.
Much will depend on how the law is implemented in practice, but as such it guarantees successfully education in the minority language. According to governmental information, mothertongue and bilingual education already exists at primary and secondary level in many minority languages.
A remaining problem is that in many textbooks the history of the former Yugoslavia has been omitted in favour of a more nationalistic Croat interpretation, and derogatory adjectives have been used in reference to minorities.
Roma remain largely outside the education system: an estimated 10% of Croatian Romani children begin primary school, and only 1% go to secondary school.

The government's respect for freedom of speech and press improved markedly after the change of regime. The strangulation of independent media through charging journalists for defamation has ceased, and self-censorship has largely disappeared. However, reform in public broadcasting has been slow, and a truly independent nationwide television station does not exist yet. The LAW ON CROATIAN RADIO AND TELEVISION (February 2001) provides that Croatian Broadcasting should develop informative programs for members of minorities and that the usage of the Croatian language is not obligatory for such programs. Regional radio stations and TV centers are specifically entrusted with the task of promoting regional programs and programs in languages of national minorities. It remains to be seen how these provisions will be implemented in practice. There are also print Media in minority languages, such as "La voce del popolo" for Italian speakers.

The laws passed in May 2000 grant a relatively high level of protection of cultural rights for national minorities, concerning the use of and education in their languages. But these provisions are not likely to compensate for the abolishment of the special status provisions and the lack of local government rights. Croatia still lacks clear rules at the constitutional level to set the frame of an effective participation of minorities in public life, and the Serb minority should see the "temporary" restrictions on its participation rights at the national level lifted.

Further Information:

US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, 2000

Opinion of the Venice Commission on the Croatian Constitutional Law amending the Constitutional Law of 1991 (2000)