Croats in Vukovar Protest Use of Serbian Cyrillic on Government Buildings

In Vukovar, Croatia, Serbs comprise about 35 percent of the city's population, and have thus been granted the right for official use of their native Cyrillic script according to Croatia's constitution. A part of the ethnically Croat population of Vukovar has objected, however, staging protests this week and destroying bilingual signs that had been freshly placed on state buildings. The protests against Cyrillic script in Vukovar started on Monday 9 September 2013 after the placing of name plates in both Latin and Cyrillic scripts on public buildings. A peaceful protest was also held in Zagreb that day.

The Cyrillic script, also known as Azbuka, is an alphabetic writing system based on Early Cyrillic, which was developed during the 10th century AD at the Preslav Literary School. Cyrillic is one of the most used writing systems in the world.

The Serbian Cyrillic alphabet is an adaptation of the original Cyrillic script for the Serbian language, developed in 1818 by Serbian linguist Vuk Karadžić. It is one of the two standard modern alphabets used to write the Serbian and Bosnian languages, the other being Serbian Latin script. Although Latin script is in use as well, Cyrillic is the traditional and official script in Serbia.

Peaceful protest against introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar held in Zagreb:

Peaceful protest against introduction of bilingualism in Vukovar held in Zagreb; photo courtesy of Demotix, used with permission

Vukovar, a city of about 26,000 in eastern Croatia, remains a symbol of the Croatian-Serbian conflicts of the 1990s. For some Croatian citizens, Cyrillic remains a painful reminder of these conflicts. During Friday's protest walk, the disgruntled citizens underscored that they do no want Cyrillic script in their city, “not now, not ever, as that is not just any script, but the script under which crimes were committed against Croats and other non-Serbs during the Croatian War of Independence.”

Meanwhile, netizens on social networks were mostly angry about the fact that some were focusing on the past, which many now consider to be irrelevant matters in times of new economic and social crisis. Bosnian football player and journalist, Goran Arbutina tweeted:

Croats are going wild over Cyrillic while this is how we are doing in #Banjaluka… My street. #cirilica #latinica #sarajevo #vukovar

— Goran Arbutina (@Goc1jedini) September 6, 2013

Bojan Glavašević, Deputy Minister at Ministry of Defenders [Ministry of Veterans] stated:

I am endlessly saddened by what happened today in #Vukovar. Violence is not a way to solve problems in a democracy. #cirilica

— Bojan Glavasevic (@bglavasevic) September 2, 2013

Croatian politician and member of the European Parliament Ruža Tomašić has a different opinion:

Statement for Cro. [Croatian] media in Brussels: "Crillic yes, but not in Vukovaru" via @tportal #Vukovar #cirilica

— Ruža Tomašić (@RuzaTomasic) September 5, 2013

Protesters in Vukovar reaking bilingual boards; photo courtesy of Kurir daily

Vukovar: breaking bilingual board in protest PHOTO: “Kurir” daily

Serbian student and musician Stefan Josimov had a question for the EU regarding this matter:

Is it possible that the #EU still hasn't reacted regarding the breaking of signs in #Vukovar? #Srbija #Hrvatska #cirilica

— Stefan Josimov (@sjosimov) September 4, 2013

But a Twitter user from Bosnia, nicknamed Agent Tajne Sile, might have an answer to the situation, albeit sarcastic:

Luckilly, no one has an issue with numbers. Especially if they are on bank accounts. #cirilica #vukovar #lakunoc

— Agent tajne sile (@AgentTajneSile) September 3, 2013

Croatian President Ivo Josipovic announced that preparations are underway for a possible agreement on the initiative of bilingual inscriptions in Vukovar, as reported by Croatian news agency Hina. Bad news for Zagreb officials it seems – according to statistics, Croatia is fourth in terms of violation of human rights of the 47 countries that are under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Vesna Skare-Ozbolt, former Croatian Minister of Justice, told SETimes.

I believe that bilingualism introduction will contribute to normalising relations between Croatia and Serbia and progress, but also will be a positive example in the EU.

Skare-Ozbolt announced that about 20 municipalities in Croatia have accomplished formal prerequisites for official use of Cyrillic and it should begin in the near future. She added that Croatia and other EU countries have been installing bilingualism in areas where national minorities make up at least one third of the population. She also stated that the roles of local authorities and the state are crucial in the successful implementation of this process:

Croatia, as a new EU member, keeps this standard, although war consequences are still big, which can be seen in Vukovar, where some resistance still exists.

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