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Parliament decision regarding a controversial proposal for referendum brings hope for minorities in Croatia

24 July 2014

Minority Rights Group Europe welcomes the recent decision of the Croatian Parliament regarding sending a proposed anti-minority referendum for constitutional review. The Parliament decided to test the merits of the proposal because, if approved, the proposal could limit the use of minority languages in public life in Croatia and increase divisions.

MRGE has previously expressed concern about the request for the referendum and said that it is likely to result in violations of national and international minority rights standards and the country's Constitution. The human rights organization together with its partner organization Center for Peace Vukovar called on the Parliament in February and April this year to send the proposal to the Constitutional Court for review.

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. A citizen group led by war veterans from Vukovar, a city with a significant Serbian minority submitted a referendum request to the Parliament and requested that such rights would only be upheld in local self-government units where at least half of the population is from an ethnic minority. The campaign continued to add to tensions, while intimidating the Serbian minority community.

MRGE and Center for Peace Vukovar express hope that the review will prove that the referendum, if successful, would disproportionately affect minorities, in particular, the Serbian minority in Croatia, and therefore, the referendum would be against the country's constitutional values.

The use of minority languages is a fundamental right of minorities, enshrined in the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages (ECRML), to which Croatia is a party. The right of use of minority languages is guaranteed under articles 8, 9 and 10 of the ECRML, in particular the issues of public signage is guaranteed under Article 10 (2) (g) "the use or adoption, if necesary in conjunction with the name in the offical language(s), of traditional and correct forms of place-names in regional or minority languages". This should be applied along with the overarching principle that existing standards for protection of minority languages should not be reduced.