Row over Cyrillic script shows war echoes for Croatia's Serbs

Wed Mar 20, 2013 10:15am EDT
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By Zoran Radosavljevic

VUKOVAR, Croatia (Reuters) - The neat, freshly rebuilt houses in Vukovar testify to Croatia's determination to heal the scars of this town on the Danube after shelling from Serb rebels in the war of independence nearly erased it in 1991.

But plans to add Serb Cyrillic script to signs in Vukovar threaten to inject a sour note into government efforts to rebuild trust between Serbs and Croats just as Croatia prepares to join the European Union on July 1.

Serbs won the right under the constitution to use their language and script in Vukovar after the 2011 census showed in December they had crossed the threshold of one-third of the municipality's population for the first time since 1991.

While bilingual signs have not met with resistance in a dozen areas with a sizeable Serb minority, Vukovar, a symbol of war suffering for many Croats, has taken a different path.

In February, thousands of Croats led by war veterans in fatigues rallied in the town against having Cyrillic signs, stirring up bad feeling among local Serbs.

"You don't feel comfortable in this atmosphere, with 20,000 people rallying against something you want," said Srdjan Milakovic, a local Serb leader and city councilor. "For Serbs in Vukovar, the Cyrillic is a matter of equal rights, an indicator of how Croatia treats its Serb community."

Serbs and Croats, who are both Slavs and speak almost the same language, united in Yugoslavia in 1918 but have had a turbulent history of conflicts and disagreements since, mainly over equality and dominance in the region.

When Croatia declared independence in 1991, its Serbs rebelled and said they wanted to stay in Yugoslavia.   Continued...

Nikola Jankovic (R), 83, poses next to his wife Dragonja in the village of Bobodol, near Knin, in central Croatia March 6, 2013. REUTERS/Antonio Bronic