Sunday, 6 January 2019

SDP Leader Criticises Policies towards Serbs in Croatia

ZAGREB, January 6, 2019 - Social Democratic Party (SDP) president Davor Bernardić on Sunday extended Christmas greetings to Orthodox believers in Croatia, but criticised those in power for "having their picture taken" while Serbs in remote parts of the country live without electricity, alone, hungry and poor, which is "unacceptable" in the 21st century.

Speaking to reporters at the Serb National Council's reception for Orthodox Christmas, Bernardić said some political parties and individuals were trying to divide people also on ethnic grounds. "That's unacceptable in the 21st century. The SDP has always been a party breaking down prejudices in our society and barriers between people, whether they are Croats or Serbs, men or women, gay or straight, Muslim, Catholic or Orthodox."

"That's why today it's important to send the strong message that in remote parts of Croatia, those mostly populated by Serbs, there are still areas without electricity, there are elderly people who are hungry, poor, alone... while those in power are having their picture taken here. That's unacceptable in the 21st century," said Bernardić.

Reporters asked him to comment on a document which the US administration sent Croatia warning it that the US would not service F-16 fighter jets if Croatia bought them from Israel. He said this was "a big international disgrace for Croatia" and that someone would have to be held accountable, whether Prime Minister Andrej Plenković or Defence Minister Damir Krstičević. He said it was unacceptable that there were so many scandals and that nothing was being done about it.

As for MPs who left their own parties to join the party of Zagreb Mayor Milan Bandić, Bernardić said it represented a deception of citizens who were increasingly losing confidence in state institutions and emigrating. "The most just thing to do in this situation would be to go to the polls."

He recalled that one of Bandić's MPs recently said that "the first requirement for joining (Bandić's party) is to support Andrej Plenković," adding that this showed "how Bandić is using dirty dealings to secure the majority for Plenković." Bernardić said this was unacceptable and should be looked into by the prosecution authorities.

More news on the status of Serbs in Croatia can be found in our Politics section.

Sunday, 6 January 2019

Serb National Council in Croatia Celebrates Christmas

ZAGREB, January 6, 2019 - The Serb National Council (SNV) gave a reception on Sunday on the occasion of Orthodox Christmas at which SNV president Milorad Pupovac said it was necessary to pull out of the quagmire of Serbian-Croatian historical topics and that they gathered today with one goal - the good of the Serb community in Croatia, the good of Croatia and for the best possible relations between Croatia and its neighbours.

"For the good of the Orthodox, Catholic and all faithful with whom we live in our country. Peace from God, Christ is born!"

Pupovac said 2018 was "a year of noise in the communication channels with our neighbouring countries" and that it was necessary to do more this year, not just in the exercise of Serbs' rights in Croatia, but also in the advancement of inter-ethnic relations and tolerance.

"We must also do everything in our power to take the relations between Croatia and Serbia, but also Bosnia and Herzegovina and our other neighbours, out of the period of bad decisions because they, it's clear to see, don't benefit anyone, while harming everyone. This year we will dedicate ourselves to that. Both we deputies and Serb institutions in Croatia. We believe that in our government and the governments of the neighbouring countries, we will encounter not just open interlocutors, but serious and committed partners," said Pupovac.

"We will also be dedicated to pulling ourselves out of the quagmire of our Serbian-Croatian, and on this day, I will say Catholic-Orthodox, historical topics. We must not underestimate any one of them, nothing of that, nor look on them with contempt or run away from them, not those related to the experience of the joint state, not those related to World War II and NDH (Independent State of Croatia), not the issue of the tragic break-up of the joint state in war."

Pupovac said the danger to the future of "each of us, each of our peoples" should be underestimated even less "if we continue to interpret moving in the quicksand of our past as progress."

"Yes to re-examining the past, but no to renewing historical evil or celebrating it," he added.

The support which members of the Serb ethnic minority give the parliamentary majority and the government is no small thing considering Croatian-Serbian relations in the 20th century, and through this support they are genuine political and social stakeholders who take part in the regulation of all issues pertaining to minority rights, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Sunday at a Serb National Council reception for Orthodox Christmas.

Christmas "is an opportunity to strengthen faith in peace, solidarity and tolerance as well as unity in the resolution of issues that are important to all our fellow citizens," he said. "Faith in a better tomorrow unites our citizens regardless of ethnicity or religion, and Christmastime is another opportunity for strengthening cooperation and respect."

Understanding and tolerance are the foundations of Croatian society and the government's activity, Plenković said, adding that he was especially pleased that for the third year in a row the government had the support and confidence of all ethnic minority MPs, including Serbs, who "are directly participating in the adoption of public policies."

"That's no small thing because we all know well that the history of Croatian-Serbian relations in the 20st century was fraught and not simple," Plenković said, adding that those relations are directly affected by the quality of Zagreb-Belgrade relations. "Just as the lasting reconciliation between France and Germany didn't happen overnight, it will take more time for the still fresh wounds in the relations between Croatia and Serbia to heal."

He said the issue of persons gone missing in the 1990s war was especially painful and a burden to those relations. "Failure to resolve this issue is markedly slowing down the reconciliation process because it keeps us in the past and prevents us from turning to building a future."

Plenković said returns were another issue which should be completed in all directions. "There's also the question of truth, because without truth there's no dealing with the past, without truth there's no reconciliation, there's no building a common future," he said, adding that "Croatian society needs reconciliation, tolerance, mutual respect."

He said minorities should support the parliamentary majority and be a part of it because it was the only way they could help the government and the parliamentary majority regulate even better the legal, material, financial and institutional issues related to minority rights.

That's the path we will continue on and it's the path which can give Serbs in Croatia a good status, the exercise of their rights and their place in our society, which we should build together as a society and a state in which trust is built together, civil rights are respected and minorities' particularities and identity which make society richer are acknowledged, Plenković said.

Christmas should be the foundation of understanding and mutual respect of all Christian believers in Croatia, he added. "Because faith and hope in a better and more just tomorrow for our families and all of Croatian society are common to us all. So let this Christmas be an incentive to all Christian believers for dialogue, cooperation and the building of a society based on tolerance and trust."

More news on the Serbs in Croatia can be found in our Politics section.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Plenković Rejects Proposals to Ban Serb Minority Political Party

ZAGREB, December 21, 2018 - Prime Minister and HDZ party leader Andrej Plenković said on Thursday that Croatia was not a country where freedom of speech or political parties were banned, stressing that anything that raised tensions between Croats and the Serb minority was not good.

"It is my duty as Prime Minister and president of the HDZ to see to it that such situations are avoided, to nip them in the bud and work on promoting coexistence between all people who live in Croatia. I will insist on that, regardless of any local initiatives," Plenković told the press after a session of the HDZ's Presidency, National Council and Main Committee.

The HDZ deputies in the Vukovar Town Council on Tuesday strongly reacted to statements by Serb Deputy Mayor Srđan Milaković of the Democratic Alliance of Serbs (DSS) and DSS councillor Borislav Nikolić, saying that they would take the necessary legal steps to have the DSS banned because Milaković and Nikolić had tried to equate the victim and the Great Serbian aggressor, humiliated Homeland War victims and manipulated historical facts about the war.

Plenković reiterated that war crimes prosecution and work on determining the truth was what had to be done. Those in charge of that job, the police and the prosecutorial authorities, are working more intensively than before, he said. "That task should be dealt with by them and the courts."

Stressing that the peaceful reintegration of the eastern Danube region was the key legacy of Croatia's first president Franjo Tuđman, Plenković said that it was a unique endeavour that should be promoted and that reconciliation and coexistence should be built on the truth, while victims should be respected and war criminals punished.

Asked if he would call on HDZ deputy leader Milijan Brikić to explain to the public details of the fake text messages affair, Plenković reiterated that their goal was to have this affair fully clarified, which he said was the task of the law enforcement authorities and not a political party.

"We as a political party can discuss this matter only if we know for sure that something unlawful was done. I think it would be irresponsible of us to act otherwise before we have a clear situation," the prime minister said, recalling that he had discussed the matter with Brkić after the scandal broke out and now the relevant authorities were investigating.

Commenting on the case of Darko Kovačević, who had brutally beaten up a young girl in Zadar and was released from investigative detention a few days ago, Plenković said that some of the provisions of the Istanbul Convention could help in cases like this and could provide guidance in aligning Croatia's procedural law with the Convention.

Plenković said that the HDZ's approval rating was at about 29 percent. "After two years in office, we can be more than pleased, compared with some others. We feel good, we are consolidated and on the right track."

Speaking of today's meeting of the HDZ's leadership, Plenković said that a report on the party's activities, a financial report and key documents for next year's work plan had been submitted at the meeting. He said that the HDZ was financially consolidated and had no credit obligations or obligations towards suppliers.

More news on the tensions in Vukovar can be found in our Politics section.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Tensions Rising in Vukovar

ZAGREB, December 20, 2018 - Vukovar Deputy Mayor Srđan Milaković on Wednesday produced a list with the names of 42 "Vukovar Serbs killed or gone missing in June, July and August 1991," thus responding to mayor Ivan Penava's claims that all civilian wartime victims in Vukovar had been a consequence of the Great Serbia aggression.

He refuted claims that Serb civilian war victims had been executed by Serbs, producing a list of Serb victims from the time of the military aggression on the town and reading out the names of persons he claimed had been arrested at home or at work. He said some remained unaccounted for, the bodies of some were found in the Danube, and some were killed at home.

Milaković also commented on the announcement by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) party's branch in the Vukovar Town Council that it would take every legal step to ban Milaković's Democratic Alliance of Serbs (DSS) and extremists who, the HDZ said, tried to equate the victim and the Great Serbia aggressor, from participating in government.

"When someone doesn't like what we say, they call for bans," he said, wondering what message is being sent if elected representatives of the Serb community are banned from speaking publicly or if their political activity is determined by certain views, for example on the Homeland War or Operation Storm.

Milaković said the DSS would not be banned. As for his own safety in the wake of his statements, he said he did not "know what to expect, but there's always danger."

As for the Town Council session at which sparks flew between the HDZ and the DSS because of an initiative to erect a monument to Vukovar's Serb civilian victims, he said it was a consequence of a recent protest against the authorities' inefficiency in prosecuting the war crimes committed in Vukovar, the marking of Vukovar Remembrance Day, and recent arrests of Serbs.

"Tensions have been raised and the political scene in Vukovar seems extreme, which is reflected on the functioning of the Serb community's representatives," Milaković said, adding that he was a legally elected representative of the Serb community. He said a Serb who expressed his identity "isn't accepted in Croatian society" and that his legitimacy was disputed even by some Serb councillors elected on the HDZ-HKS slate.

Milaković said his views on 1995's Operation Storm were seen as problematic, whereas the statement by Predrag Mišić, a Serb councillor from the HKS (Croatian Conservative Party), that it was a pity "Storm didn't happen in Vukovar too" were not. He said Serbs in Vukovar were faced with many problems on a daily basis and discriminated against, and that Mayor Penava did not want to cooperate with him or deal with those problems.

Asked why he refused to participate in the observation of national holidays or the commemoration of Vukovar's war past, Milaković said it was "because of how war events are depicted in Croatia, and there are only monuments according to which all the victims were a consequence of the Serbian aggression."

"Once Serb representatives are included in the planning of Vukovar remembrance ceremonies and Serb civilian victims are commemorated too, then we can observe everything related to Vukovar together," he added.

He said this year's visit by Independent Democratic Serb Party leader Milorad Pupovac for Vukovar Remembrance Day was, "to a certain extent, harmful for the interest of the Serb community."

Reacting to the events, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Wednesday that it was important to establish the truth about what happened during the war, especially in 1991, and that it was clear to the Croatian political scene that the Great Serbian aggression launched by the regime of Slobodan Milošević caused the worst suffering and atrocities in Vukovar.

"Today, 27 years after that tragedy, we are in the position that we are supposed to honour one of the most important messages of the legacy of President Franjo Tuđman – peaceful reintegration of Croatia's Danube region," Plenković said when asked about the latest tensions in the Vukovar Town Council after a Serb councillor of the DSS party inquired about the possibility of erecting a monument to Vukovar's Serb civilian victims.

Asked by the press today about the latest developments in the Vukovar Town Council, Plenković said that he was not yet familiar with all the details.

We must create an atmosphere of tolerance, understanding and mutual respect instead of raising tensions, Plenković said, adding: "We must solve war crimes. Those responsible for them should be held to account".

"This is my message as the prime minister and the leader of the party (HDZ). I have explained that to members of the HDZ and I am going to explain that to the (HDZ) main committee tomorrow," Plenković said.

"The 13 October protest in Vukovar was focused on the prosecution of war crimes that had not been prosecuted. To raise further tensions between Croats and Serbs in Vukovar is not good, I will oppose that. Any act of raising tensions can have a spiralling effect which is not easily manageable, as we know from the past, and it should be thwarted immediately," Plenković said.

More news on the Vukovar can be found in our Politics section.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Croatian Serbs Worried about Recent War Crimes Arrests

ZAGREB, December 9, 2018 - The Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) leader and a member of the Croatian Parliament, Milorad Pupovac, said that local Croatian Serbs who work or used to work in the town administration in Vukovar had been exposed to pressure since 1997, and added that the purpose of the recent arrests in that eastern Croatian town was to cause disturbance and legal insecurity.

Considering the concrete case of the arrest of a few citizens of the Serb background and the issuance of the indictment against two of them, we can say that such forms of pressure have been performed since 1997 by a certain number of people from Vukovar, whose identities are known, against a certain number of citizens of Serb origin who used to work or are now working in the town administration or in other institutions, Pupovac said at a news conference he held in Vukovar.

On early Thursday morning, five ethnic Croatian Serbs from Vukovar were taken in for questioning early on suspicion of committing war crimes in Vukovar in 1991. The SDSS and the Joint Council of Serb-majority Municipalities (ZVO) expressed concern on Thursday after their arrest. The interior ministry said on Friday that police and the Osijek County Prosecutor's Office had completed an investigation, pressed charges and handed over to prison authorities two men, former members of Serb paramilitary units, aged 63 and 64, who are suspected of committing war crimes against civilians in the Vukovar neighbourhoods of Petrova Gora and Sajmište in September 1991. The suspects were arrested in Vukovar on Thursday on the suspicion that, as members of the Petrova Gora Territorial Defence units, in September 1991 they took part in the unlawful detention and torture of local civilians.

Pupovac today criticised the current Vukovar mayor and his advisers for being the first of the local office holders to take helm of that campaign against local Serbs which had been in place since 1997.

The SDSS leader went on to say that making use of the judiciary as a tool for causing legal insecurity was against the Constitution and laws. He said that exploiting traumatic and serious problems from war crimes trials for the purpose of acquiring and strengthening political power is also against the Constitution and amoral, and that it is dishonest to exploit the deaths of other people for the purpose of staying in power.

Pupovac calls for the judiciary to prosecute those who were responsible for the victims among the Serb people from July to November 1991 in Vukovar. In this context, he said that the father of one of the two Serbs who were now indicted for war crimes, had been taken captive in Borovo Commerce in October 1991 and executed on 4 November on the bank of the Danube. If his son is guilty of something, his guilt should be established, however, those responsible for the death of his father should also be held to account, Pupovac said.

He reiterated the dissatisfaction of the Serb community with the performance of the Croatian judiciary when it comes to the prosecution of war crimes committed against its members. "We will not point an accusing finger at anybody, we will not do anything to mount pressure on the judiciary, but we are going to use international and local legal tools to seek justice for those who were accused although they were innocent and for those who were killed, or arrested and abused by those who now enjoy the legal protection of the order of the Republic of Croatia," said Pupovac.

Interestingly, Pupovac supports the current government in parliament.

More news about the Serb national minority in Croatia can be found in our politics section.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Leader of Serbs in Croatia Milorad Pupovac Visits Vukovar

ZAGREB, November 17, 2018 - Serb National Council (SNV) president and Member of Parliament Milorad Pupovac said in Vukovar on Saturday that Croatia needed to introduce a policy of remembrance that would not be a source of fear and accusations and perpetuate hate, but would rather provide an opportunity for people to come together and pay tribute.

Pupovac paid tribute today to the victims of Vukovar together with Marica Šeatović, head of the association "Protiv zaborava" (Against oblivion), which represents the families of Croatian Serbs killed, gone missing or abducted in the war. Together, they lowered one wreath into the waters of the River Danube and then laid a wreath and lit a candle at the town's Homeland War Memorial Cemetery, after which they lit candles for all people killed in Vukovar at the Serb Orthodox Church of St. Nicholas.

"It is our deepest wish that we start creating, in Vukovar and the whole of the country, commemorative and remembrance policies that will not be a source of fear and accusations and perpetuate hate but rather provide an opportunity to come closer to one another and express respect, tribute and solidarity," the leader of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) said.

After his visit to the church, Pupovac addressed the press, saying that he had decided to visit the town today after a meeting held on Friday with representatives of leading organisations of Croatian Serbs, so that he could lay wreaths and pay tribute in peace without having to feel that it might offend anyone or that tomorrow, on Vukovar Remembrance Day, he might be in a place where his presence was not wanted.

"I came here today because I did not want what happened on the previous two occasions to happen again – not being able to lay wreaths and express my deepest respect for the victims," Pupovac said.

Asked by reporters to comment on Vukovar Mayor Ivan Penava's statement that he (Pupovac) could not both visit Bačka Palanka (where Serbian authorities organise commemorations for Croatian Serb refugees and Croatian Serbs killed in the 1995 Operation Storm) and pay tribute to the victims of Vukovar, Pupovac said that just as he had not been for masters of life and death in the war so he was not for masters of the dead in peacetime.

"All the dead belong to us and those who want to prevent that are bad masters, have bad intentions and are ill-advised," he said, adding that he was aware that not all Serbs would understand his visit to Vukovar just as not all Croats would accept his messages.

Asked if his actions should be followed by representatives of the Vukovar SDSS branch, who so far have not attended Vukovar Remembrance Day commemorations, Pupovac said that they were among those who attended the meeting with him on Friday and that his visit to Vukovar today was also owing to their contribution to the meeting.

"And as for when Serbs will come here in large numbers, that is not only up to them. I am doing what I am doing to make that happen, to make room for them, too, so that they too can feel that they can come here. And they were here, only that's being forgotten," said Pupovac.

For more on Serbs in Croatia, click here.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Serb Minority Representatives Warn about Rise in Hate Speech

ZAGREB, November 6, 2018 - President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović received on Tuesday a delegation of the Joint Council of (predominantly Serb) Municipalities (ZVO), who informed her of their view on the status of the ethnic Serb minority in Croatia, particularly the eastern parts of the country that were peacefully reintegrated into Croatia's constitutional and legal system in 1998, the Office of the Croatian President said in a press release.

"The delegation expressed concern over what they see as a rise in hate speech and expressions of intolerance against the Serbs as well as over incomplete implementation of the laws that regulate the rights of ethnic minorities," reads the press release.

The president expressed her conviction that some of the problems were caused by the unfavourable economic and demographic situation in the areas that were peacefully reintegrated, explaining that those problems affected all residents and should be solved by concerted action of the state-level and local authorities.

She underlined the importance of the permanent development of the culture of dialogue and full social integration of ethnic minorities.

"Since all unresolved issues from the recent past still affect coexistence, it is necessary to investigate all war crimes, which are not covered by the statute of limitations or amnesty, and in that process there must be no room for collective stigmatisation as responsibility is always individual," the president was quoted as saying at the meeting.

For the overall progress in coexistence, it is of the utmost importance to continue inter-state dialogue between Croatia and Serbia and keep making joint efforts in the search for all missing persons, Grabar-Kitarović said.

For more on the position of Serbs in Croatia, click here. If you are interested in reading more about relations between Croatia and Serbia, click here. More info about the political events in Croatia can be found in our dedicated section.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Children Killed in WWII Commemorated

ZAGREB, October 6, 2018 - A memorial ceremony was held at Children's Cemetery in Sisak on Saturday to commemorate the children who had perished in an Ustasha-run children's concentration camp in the town between 3 August 1942 and 8 January 1943 and to thank people who had saved many of the children.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Serb Deputy Mayor Reacts to Announced Vukovar Protest

ZAGREB, October 6, 2018 - Vukovar Deputy Mayor Srđan Milaković from the ranks of the Serb minority said on Friday that ethnic Serbs from Vukovar too have reason to ask that a protest rally announced for October 13 be an incentive for state institutions, after 27 years, to shed light on the fate of all war victims, including Serb civilians, and to bring those responsible to justice.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

Police Find Attacker on Serb Minority MP Pupovac

ZAGREB, October 4, 2018 - Zagreb Police have completed an investigation against a 36-year-old man and brought him to court on suspicion that on September 28 he committed a misdemeanour offence by throwing food remains at an MP for the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS), Milorad Pupovac, at Zagreb's Dolac farmers' market.

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