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Vol 2, No 19
15 May 2000
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Croatian Issues National Minorities in the Republic of Croatia
Mirjana Domini

History written out in European territories shaped the destiny of Croatia and its population as well. Frequent wars, state demarcations (boundary determination), voluntary (economic migration, planned colonisations...) and forced (exile, banishment, displacement, "human removals"...) population movements, relations of big powers toward small nations as well as many other factors moulded the ethnic map of this area. Natural-geographic, economic, traffic and ethnic entities (units, totalities) were criss-crossed with boundaries while the parts of nations have become minorities in the established territory/state communities.

The break-up of Yugoslavia and the declaration of independence of its component parts (1992)[1] for Croatia meant the establishment of new relationships in the relation majority – minority/minorities. For the first time in its recent history the Republic of Croatia has arranged the relations between Croats as the majority nation and members of ethnic communities independently in its state territory and established the system of minority protection legally shaped in the Constitution (1990),[2] Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities (1991) and other accompanying laws.[3]

According to the 1991 census[4] 4,784,265 persons lived in Croatia, out of whom 3,736,356 were Croats, 74,792 inhabitants of nationality (minority) status,[5 ]and the others were the members of the constitutive nations of Yugoslavia of that time,[6] nationally undeclared populations[7] and the members of other nations who, owing to their small number, dispersion and lack of organisation, remained at the level of mere appearance in the Croatian multi-cultural territory as well as those whose national affiliation was not known. To them should be added those who were minorities,[8 ]but due to certain reasons did not enjoy minority status.[9]

Minority protection

The established system of minority protection in the Republic in Croatia – along with international instruments for the protection of human rights and minority rights to which implementation Croatia committed itself[10] – offers, besides the guaranteed protection of basic human rights, a legal frame for the realisation of cultural autonomy of minorities,[11] for self-organising and uniting with the aim at promoting minorities’ national values, right to take part in political life,[12] territorial autonomy to those minorities whose members make up more than eight per cent of the total population of Croatia,[13 ]financial support from the State Budget and funds of local government and other rights

It is important to point out the following:

The Republic of Croatia is the only successor of ex-Yugoslavia that sanctioned the condition as it found it, ie acknowledged minority status to ethnic communities already existing in the Republic or to those that were "in the process of foundation,"[14] without regard to if it is a question of autochthonous or alochthonous groups;[15] at present 16 national minorities in Croatia have minority status;

"minority rights" are placed within the context of human rights – Croatia is one of few countries guaranteeing in a single document (and that with the force of a constitutional law)[16] the realisation and protection of human rights and freedoms and rights of ethnic minorities in its state and legal territory;

minorities are guaranteed the use of "minority rights" on the whole territory of the Republic of Croatia, and the implementation and manner of use of these rights are built into and articulated in the statutes of local government units manifesting the recognition of real situation characterised by small number, dispersion[17] and low concentration of minority members in the majority of ethnic groups in Croatia;[18]

the legal frame-work for the protection of minorities and their presence in legal, cultural and political life of Croatia is based on the continuity of acknowledged and realised rights in the former system (so-called confirmed rights) along with adding those which follow a new constitution of the Republic and accepted standards of minority protection.

What next?

To display the position of minorities in the Republic of Croatia and on this base to project future development directions and opportunities of each of these minorities in creating their own cultural and national promotion in the Croatian legal and state territory is almost impossible. The reasons are many: a lack of relevant data and researche of real relationships within the minority itself (alone) (the problems of self- and group identification, ethnic and cultural markers resulting from economic, political, social, psychological and other mechanisms, structural adaptation and the like), inter-relationships in relation to the minority – environment (not only between a minority and majority nation), as well as those referring to the real number of the members of particular minority in Croatia and the total number of the inhabitants/citizens of the Republic of Croatia respectively.[19]

At this moment the attention is directed towards the elimination of the consequences of Serbian aggression and war in Croatia. In addition to tragic outcomes manifesting in human losses and traumatised conditions due to everything one experienced or the loss of close persons, material damages and mass population movements,[20] this jeopardised the "ethnic substance" of minority groups in war demolished areas and brought, along with shaken foundations of trust among various national groups, other subtle challenges for inter-ethnic relations in micro and macro surroundings.

At the same time one should not neglect the fact that minorities and minority "élites" respectively are in new circumstances – multi-party system, transition of the whole economic and political system, their segmentation in several socio-political systems after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, most often with a thin intellectual strata, were not able to change the well-established way of functioning and thinking overnight and thereby not to take the responsibility of shaping a political and actual minority programme.[21]

In addition to objective factors, the influence on the position and perspective of minorities in Croatia have subjective factors as well,[22] in the first place the relationship of an individual toward his own identity (in a narrower and broader sense) as well as his feelings and conscience of belonging to an ethnic/national group (and the significance of this belonging in the value system of each individual), then the importance of certain ethnic indicators (markers) in relation to environment (the importance of differentiation or minimisation of their values) and preservation of the substance of an ethnic community.[23]

Translated into everyday life, subjective relation between general conditions of life and the perception of one’s own perspective, comprehended as cultural adaptation and adjustment to an inter-ethnic environment,[24] make up a structural accommodation of the individual. It will reflect upon the relation to traditional values (dressing, building construction, traditional customs, folklore, manner of doing business, language expressions, structuring value judgements etc.) as well as to the way of the acquisition of new technologies and challenges bringing (introducing) changes in the adopted and recognisable pattern of life.

Thereby a special place will be given to the environmental structure: minority - majority, multi-ethnicity and pluri-culturalism in contrast to ethnic intolerance, domination – marginalisation, methods, techniques and mechanisms for storage, exchange and use of experiences and cognitions of an ethnic community, but also the exchange with "those different" in the surroundings and common conscience arisen from the tolerance and understanding diversities opposite to the model of dominant value system prescribed by a group in power, etc.

On the group level subjective factors will be especially present in the motivation for association and the reasons for it, in the choice and selection of leaders, creating association programme, setting goals and their promotion in public, preservation of cultural achievements and traditional minority heritage, relation between mother nation and domicile country and other parts of social activities of ethnic minorities as communities.[25]

The law and minorities

In the Republic of Croatia the legal system is being adjusted to altered circumstances: districts with special status are wiped out,[26] all 16 ethnic minorities are stated by name in Constitutional Law and the terminology is made uniform,[27] discriminating provisions, adopted during the war (1995), on the limited free use of properties of the Serbs who escaped from Croatia are wiped away, the Law on Reconstruction is changed with the purpose of abolishing distinctions among all war sufferers (with no regard to the side taken in the war, except war criminals), implementation laws on education in minority languages and official use of minority language and script[28] not having passed legal procedure earlier are enacted, one tries to establish the atmosphere of dialogue and tolerance (and this is quite difficult because traumas are still fresh and consequences visible on every step) – in general, efforts are made to establish the patterns of adaptation (of minorities and the majority) on European standards along with the promotion of tolerance and recognition (taking into consideration) as basic assumptions for the realisation of proclaimed unity in diversity. Yet, it can be seen that "minority question" is still more present in political-legal sphere than in the atmosphere of recognizability of Croatia as a multicultural community.

At the end, instead of a conclusion: one should believe that the awareness of unsolved minority question collecting recurrences from the past (which are latent or actual reasons for mutual disputes and tensions) will stimulate solutions enabling minorities to keep their ethnic characteristics and to further cherish their historical and cultural heritage whereby the multi-levelness of multi-ethnic space will be to its advantage. The dynamics of minority communities as particularities within the framework of the Republic of Croatia proves that today, too (as in the past) the cohabitation between various ethnicities is not possible to be founded once and for all.

Mirjana Domini, MSc, 13 May 2000

The author is researcher at the Institute for Migrations and Nationalities (IMIN, Institut za Migracije i Narodnosti, Zagreb)

Moving on:


[1.]The cracking of bonds in ex-Yugoslavia had began much earlier and legal operationalisation for the declaration of independence of the Republic of Yugoslavia started in June 1990 in order to "express historical existence of Croatia and its state identity in an indisputable manner and improve its legal system" (Decision to raise a debate on the change of the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Croatia, narodne novine, no. 28, 30 June, 1990).

[2.] The Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (Narodne novine, no. 56, 22 December, 1990).

[3.]Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities in the Republic of Croatia (Narodne novine, no. 65, 4 December, 1991).

[4.] The last official census for the Republic of Croatia was taken in 1991 according to the methodology and within the framework of the official census for the whole ex-Yugoslavia.

[5.]These were Czechs, Hungarians, Slovaks, Ruthenians, Italians, Ukrainians and Roma, (who, in fact, were at the beginning of their recognition as a minority group and were not stated by name in the Croatian Constitution of that time).

[6.]Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Muslims (Bosniaks) and Slovenes.

[7.]Yugoslavs, regionally declared or not nationally declared according to the 170 Constitution article.

[8.]Russians, Greeks, Turks, Rumanians etc.

[9.]Those were Austrians, Germans, Jews and Albanians. The first two of these minorities, due to their "historical sins" had no right to organizing themselves as an ethnic group, with Jews the division between religious and ethnic was not clear, while Albanians, although recognized as a minority in Yugoslavia, did not enjoy this status in Croatia.

[10.]A part of these obligations Croatia received by mere membership in international organizations, while the other one it accepted as a party to a contract (among last ones e.g. the provisions of the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages and of the Framework Convention on Minority Protection which Croatia ratified as one of the first countries).

[11.]Right to identity, to culture, public and private use of mother tongue, education in mother tongue, admission to mass media and foundation of their own, foundation of national libraries, protection of cultural heritage and monumental works, right to self-organising and uniting with a view of promoting national minority values and their presence in public and cultural life of Croatia, right to co-operation with their mother nation, to transfrontier co-operation etc.

[12.]Right to establish their national political parties, right to have representatives in the Croatian Parliament, right to proportional representation in representative and local government bodies.

[13.]These are Serbs in the districts Glina and Knin (territory with a special self-governing autonomous status. This autonomy has never become a reality because the Serbs in this area obstructed the legal system of the Republic of Croatia. After liberation actions "Flash" and "Storm" (in which these areas were liberated and the exodus of Serbs began, 1995), the Constitutional Law on Temporary Non-application of Certain Provisions of the Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and Rights of Ethnic and National Communities or Minorities in the Republic of Croatia was enacted whereby this autonomy has been temporary suspended (till the new census).

[14.]Therefore the terms ethnic community, national community or minority are used in the Constitutional Law.

[15.]More than 50% of the members of minority groups of Albanians, Montenegrins, Macedonians, Muslims and Slovenes immigrated to the territory of Croatia after 1941.

[16.]For the change of this law 2/3 majority is needed in the Croatian Parliament.

[17.]Although the number is not decisive for the realization of minority rights, small number and low percentage presence in the total population will reflect upon the possibility of use of guaranteed rights to cultural autonomy (e.g. the organization of education system in mother tongue, use of mother tongue in official and public communication, establishment of cultural institutions network etc.), but to the minority recognizability as a particularity in cultural, scientific, artistic and generally in social sphere of life in Croatia as well.

[18.]Dispersion, social level of development and stratification will have an affect on minority organization, its models of activities and, in general, driving forces for gathering on ethnic base (or giving up).

[19.]Estimates of war losses differ, there are no exact records of the number of persons who permanently emigrated from the Republic of Croatia the same as of those having permanently settled (especially refugees) in Croatia. Besides, there is a problem of the citizens of RC with dual citizenship as well as of the ones who did not want (or were not able) to regulate their citizenship status.

[20.]In Croatia, according to existing data, there are still 45,000 exiles (waiting for return to their settlements in Croatia) and a significant number of the inhabitants of Croatia (particularly of Serbian nationality) in exile in neighboring or other countries.

[21.]Existing organizations of the majority of minority groups in Croatia have not managed till nowadays to realize such organizational structure that would constitute an integral system but they act in parts and frequently on opposite sides. In final outcome this causes damages to the primary goal of their existence – gathering of members and promotion of their creative abilities and their valorization in the Croatian cultural space.

[22.]It will be possible to speak with valid arguments about the importance of subjective factors in the estimation of future position and development opportunities of minorities in Croatia only after carrying out aimed researches.

[23.]>It is a question of the factors distinguished by dynamism, flexibility and continuity in time, expressed as immanent human rights, shaped by social situation and existential assumptions.

[24.]At the same time, with its steadiness temporal cultural and space dependence creates preconditions for bringing together spiritual and material culture of ethnic groups in contact, but also for "drowning" weaker ones (not according to the value, but to the power of presence and recognizability) into stronger systems.

[25.]The fact is that no minority group (as the majority nation, too) is immune against disintegration within its community, but nevertheless something common remains.

[26.]According to the explanation of changes proponent "districts were a form of political and economic self-governing which is presently unnecessary in Croatia". Besides the 2001 census will give a more real picture of the Croatian ethnic mosaic.

[27.]Minorities make such demand after changes in Original Constitution Foundations (1997) where 10 autochthonous minorities are stated by name, and the rest under "others".

[28.]For 6 year already these two laws have been "in procedure", but as they have not got a necessary number of votes to be accepted and some remarks were put in regard to provisions contents (being the topic of discussion of the Council of Europe), they were sent back for revision and repeated procedure of adoption.

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Zoran Ferić
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Jurica Pavičić

Sue Bagust

Borko Špoljarić
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The Yugoslav Conflicts

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Igor Nobilo

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William A Everett
Contemporary Music

Anna Maria Gruenfelder
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President of Croatia
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Vesna Pusić, Croatian People's Party leader

Vlado Gotovac, Liberal Party leader

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