By Miloš Mitrović – Belgrade, Zagreb
“It is hard to imagine something to be more harmful for Vukovar – the town which once was destroyed by an brutal aggression – than the forceful prevention of all the attempts from transforming it from an victim of the groups and politicians which need mythologization of the past into dynamic town”, Zoran Pusić, the head of Croatian NGO Civic Committee for Human Rights said in the interview for IBNA.
Earlier this week “Committee for Defense of Croatian Vukovar” announced the group had collected enough signatures to call a national referendum on changing minority rights law regarding official bilingualism in areas with large ethnic minorities. The drive which actually means to call a referendum on use of Serbian Cyrillic was launched by war veterans angered at the installation of new bilingual signs in Latin and Cyrillic in Vukovar. Embarrassed by the success last Sunday of a national referendum against gay marriage, which he opposed, Croatian PM Zoran Milanović has condemned the anti-Cyrillic initiative and vowed that the referendum won’t be held.
Zoran Pusić believes that “many in Croatia are afraid” that the initiators of the so called anti-Cyrillic initiative were encouraged by the results of marriage voting. Two-thirds of those who voted on Sunday approved changes to Croatia’s constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
Does the marriage referendum result means that Croatian society goes rightward?
“Referendum has been a test; however, we do not have previous tests in order to both compare them and conclude that society goes rightward. We do not have a standard that can enable us to make such comparisons. On the other hand, I think that the referendum results would be similar in the most of the societies in the region if voting has been be called. The results of the polls among youth and students in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and elsewhere in the region revealed a terrifying amount of insularity and bigotry toward the others, rather than ideas of freedom and tolerance”.
Do you think that referendum result and recent Ustasha chanting at stadiums would affect the international image of Croatia?
“We are not the only European Union country with right-wing radicals problem. There are right-wing radicals in the “older” EU countries in the region which are more threatening for the minorities, for example, against Roma minority in Hungary. Hungarian party Jobbik is stronger than ultra-nationalists in Croatia and I hope this will not change. During the recent gathering in Zagreb which was held in order to oppose constitutional change with regard to marriage, a woman addressed me. She was accompanied by young man, her son in wheelchair. “Do you think that we are next” she asked me. In that moment I recalled myself on Nazi Germany placard by which euthanasia was promoted. The inscription above the picture of a man in wheelchair said: “Maintaining him in life cost German citizens 60.000 Reich Marks per year”. I am not certain whether this (marriage referendum) is the end of craziness, but I think that the important part of the citizens as well as the relevant media and the whole government have figured out that referendum has been both a dangerous step and misuse of direct democracy instrument in order to abolish human rights”.
Prime Minister Milanović said that marriage voting has been “artillery prelude” of anti-Cyrillic referendum. Do you agree?
“I do not think this was an intention, but many people are afraid that “Cyrillic” referendum initiators were strongly encouraged with the marriage referendum success. At the same time, one of the most important lessons from human history says that people can be seduced by propaganda; their fears can be directed to some vulnerable minority. This is the real danger for Croatia and for the neighboring countries as well. The neighboring countries should learn from Croatian marriage referendum experience to prevent their constitutions being changed for the purpose of derogating basic human rights.”
Do you think that the living conditions of Serb community in Croatia deteriorated due to anti-Cyrillic protests, possible referendum and Ustasha chants?
“I do not think it objectively deteriorated, but I am sure that many Croatian ethnic-Serb citizens felt unease with the recent developments. The conditions would have been deteriorated if the bigotry had increased among the large number of citizens. Nevertheless, after the President, PM and Parliament speaker have been physically prevented from participating in fall of Vukovar commemorations in November (by the “Committee for Defense of Croatian Vukovar” activists), many people were in shock; many of them have figured out that it was not about the Serbs and that it was rather crawling coup d’état. Top state institutions were stopped in Vukovar. Subsequently, “Committee for Defense of Croatian Vukovar” has increasingly being perceived as an organization which may seriously jeopardize Croatia. With regard to stadium chants, unfortunately this was not nothing new; however, a football player encouraged chants for the first time. He has been punished and widely condemned. The part of football fans incline to violence and they are looking for “backing” in respective ideologies. It is not difficult to find such “ideals” in the region”.