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Croatia should test merits of proposed anti-minority referendum, MRG says

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Minority Rights Group Europe (MRG) is concerned about the lack of action by the Croatian Parliament to have a demand for an anti-minority referendum sent to the Constitutional Court for review. The campaign for the proposed referendum, including a call for a boycott of Serbian businesses in Vukovar, could, if successful, limit the use of minority languages in public life in Croatia and increase divisions.

The Parliamentary Committee on the Constitution in Croatia rejected on 9 April to submit to the Constitutional Court a request to test the constitutionality of the proposal. If approved, the referendum could lead to a revision of minority language rights, including installing bilingual public signs. Such rights would only be upheld in local self-government units where at least half of the population is from an ethnic minority. Instead, the Parliamentary Committee requested the verification of the number and authenticity of signatures. Meanwhile, the campaign continues to add to tensions, while intimidating the Serbian minority community.

The petition was initiated by a citizen group led by war veterans from Vukovar, a city with a significant Serbian minority, and the request for the referendum was submitted to the Parliament  on 16 December 2013.

Under the current legislation, minorities can use minority languages in public life in municipalities where they make up at least one third of the population. If the claim is successful, it would disproportionately affect, in particular, the Serbian minority in Croatia.

“Questioning the authenticity of the signatures instead of the dubious aspirations of the petitioners sends out the signal that this issue may not amount to the violation of minority rights”, says Neil Clarke, Director of MRG.

The intentions behind the referendum have been criticized by local organizations such as Center for Peace Vukovar and some leading politicians in Croatia as well as MRG in February.

The Parliamentary Committee came to its decision following a day when a call for a boycott was placed in an online newspaper, presenting a list of stores run by Vukovar Serbs. The article invited readers not to buy products in these shops until Cyrillic public signs disappear from Vukovar. On the same day the Serb National Council, a minority organization in Croatia, condemned the call for boycott in a press conference.

“The Parliamentary Committee should judge the demand for a referendum against the country’s constitutional values. Anything else will work towards dimming the core of the matter,” says Ljubomir Mikic from Center for Peace Vukovar.

MRG encourages the Croatian Parliament to measure whether the referendum demand complies with national and international minority rights standards and the country’s Constitution. If passed and if a referendum leads to changes in Croatian minority language legislation, this could lead to a violation of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, which guarantees the protection of the use of minority languages and to which Croatia is a party.

Notes to editors:

Interview opportunities:
• Ljubomir Mikić, Legal Advisor of Center for Peace Vukovar (Croatia)
M: +385 98 346 119
E: centar-za-mir@vk.t-com.hr

• Neil Clarke, Director of Minority Rights Group Europe (Hungary)

• Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.

To arrange interviews, please contact MRG’s Press Office:
Bernadett Sebály
M: +36 70 217 2601
T: +36 1 327 7032
E: press@minorityrights.org

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