On 1 May 2020, Croatia’s president Zoran Milanovic left a state ceremony celebrating the 25th anniversary of the reconquest of territories held by rebel Serbs for four years in protest of a Nazi-era salute – writes Willy Fautré, director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
The president’s reaction was prompted by a war veteran who was wearing the emblem ‘For the homeland ready’ (Za Dom Spremni) used by the Ustashi fascists during WWII. Between 1941 and 1945, the Nazi-aligned Ustasha murdered tens of thousands of Serbs, Jews and Roma. They were known for their particularly brutal and sadistic methods of execution. Despite the connotation of the event, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković decided to stay, which demonstrated the challenges for politicians and society alike when confronted with the fascist past of the country.
The EU is currently developing a policy to support the gradual integration of the Western Balkans, including the accession of Serbia, but at the same time anti-Serb sentiments continue to increase in Croatia.
Dalmatia, a well-known touristic region along the Adriatic Sea, is one area where many Serbs do not feel at home.
An investigation with local Serbs that was carried out by Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) about the situation in Zadar, the main city of Dalmatia after Split, is particularly enlightening. Since 1990, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), a ruling party in Croatia and a member of the European People’s Party (EPP) at the European Parliament, has continuously held the post of mayor of Zadar.
In 2008, Mayor Živko Kolega refused to lay a wreath at a monument for anti-fascists who died during WWII. Anti-fascists in Zadar objected, insisting that local and national authorities were not doing enough to combat the neo-Ustasha ideology. Anti-Serb hostility is a by-product of this fascist political agenda.
One example of how a political ideology has translated into hardship for individuals is the discrimination that Dalibor Močević faced. Močević is a Croatian citizen of Serbian descent who spoke to HRWF about the challenges he faced in receiving fair treatment by various administrations and the judiciary of Zadar.
From his birth in 1972 until 1994, Močević lived in an apartment in Zadar that belonged to his father. In 1992, his father died as a victim of the war in Bosnia after being placed in a sanatorium.
In 1993, Močević, who was employed by a merchant shipping company, returned from a one-year trip on foreign seas. He discovered that his house, which jointly belonged to him and his elderly mother, had been confiscated by the authorities and given to Croatian refugees who had been displaced by the war. After 15 years of judicial proceedings and conflicting decisions from the Zadar Municipal Court and Zadar County Court, Močević was deprived of his property rights. In 2010, he appealed this decision at the Supreme Court and then at the Constitutional Court, but to no avail.
In 2009, his mother died under suspicious circumstances. Močević requested access to a number of medical reports from the General Hospital in Zadar, which he is entitled by law, but his request was denied. He filed a complaint against the Ministry of Health but received no reply. Močević sent another complaint to the County Prosecutors Office in Zadar requesting an investigation based on his suspicions, but no criminal investigation was ever initiated.
Additionally, the second husband of his late mother, A. Radetić, who was friendly with some politicians that had dubious pasts, illegally took Močević’s inheritance. In 2017, the Constitutional Court rejected Močević’s complaint. Močević felt discriminated against because of the general anti-Serbian hostility that has persisted since the collapse of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. On 2 May 1991, during one of the many clashes between Croats and Serbs, Radetić’s uncle was part of a Croatian mob that ransacked over a hundred shops of Serbian companies and businesses and destroyed hundreds of Serb houses in Zadar. The police passively watched these violent incidents without interfering.
In another case concerning his divorce, Močević was denied custody of his young son despite the fact that he had been taken from his ex-wife by the local Center for Social Welfare because of her persistent alcoholism and psychiatric problems.
Močević asserts that he was repeatedly denied justice in these instances because of his Serb origin. His lawyer shares the view that Serbs in Croatia are discriminated against due to various personal or institutional collusions between a number of judges, political figures and extreme nationalists.
The President of Croatia did well to withdraw from a ceremony that had some fascist connotations, but there is still a long way to go before anti-Serb sentiments are eradicated entirely. The wars between 1991 to 2001 which led to the breakup of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the current frontiers between newly established states left wounds at individual, societal and institutional levels. These urgently need to be healed for the wellbeing of all Croatian citizens and so as to allow successful integration of the seven Western Balkan states into the EU.
Willy Fautré is director of Human Rights Without Frontiers
EU Cohesion policy: €61 million to support research and innovation for innovative applications in economy and society in Croatia
The European Commission has approved an investment of more than €61 million from the European Regional Development Fund to modernise and expand the Ruđer Bošković Institute (RBI) in Zagreb, Croatia, to increase its scientific research capacity with the project ‘Open Scientific Infrastructural Platforms for Innovative Applications in Economy and Society' (O-ZIP).
Cohesion and Reforms Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “Thanks to this EU project, the institute will become more competitive and will increase its collaboration with local and international research partners and business stakeholders. Given the global challenges we face, it is essential to invest in European research institutes and projects to solve societal problems in sectors like health, food and the environment.”
The institute's improved capacity and working environment will help train a new generation of students in multidisciplinary scientific fields with the additional aim to motivate the current generation of scientists to stay in Croatia, contributing to the country's economic development and innovation. Better links with business and industry will ensure that the institute's research meets real societal problems in areas such as the environment, climate change, energy, health and ageing. The O-ZIP project will help the country implement its Smart Specialization Strategy (S3) and projects under the EU Research and Innovation programme (Horizon 2020) priorities. More on EU funded investments in Croatia is available on the Open Data Platform.
European Court of Human Rights finds Croatian response to violent homophobic attack to foster impunity for acts of violent hate crime
A judgement issued on 14 January by the European Court of Human Rights finds that the response of Croatian authorities to a hate crime against a lesbian woman was “particularly destructive of fundamental human rights”.
In the judgment in Sabalic v Croatia, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found a violation of Article 3 (prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment) in conjunction with Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) of the European Convention on the account of Croatian authorities’ failure to respond effectively to the applicant’s allegations of a violent homophobic attack against her.
Sabalić was attacked in a nightclub when she had refused a man’s advances, disclosing to him that she was a lesbian. The man, known as M.M, severely beat and kicked her, while shouting "All of you should be killed!" and threatening to rape her. Sabalić sustained multiple injuries, for which she was treated in hospital.
M.M. was convicted in minor-offence proceedings of breach of public peace and order and given a fine of 300 Croatian kunas (approximately €40). Sabalić, who had not been informed of those proceedings, lodged a criminal complaint against M.M. before the State Attorney’s Office, alleging that she had been the victim of a violent hate crime and discrimination.
Although Croatia has hate crime legislation and offences based on sexual orientation are to be charged as an aggravated crime, it is generally disregarded and violent acts are considered as minor offences, as in the applicant’s case.
The European Court found that “such a response of the domestic authorities through the minor offences proceedings is not capable of demonstrating the State’s Convention commitment to ensuring that homophobic ill-treatment does not remain ignored by the relevant authorities and to providing effective protection against acts of ill-treatment motivated by the applicant’s sexual orientation”.
It stressed that “the sole recourse to the minor offences proceedings against [the aggressor] could be considered rather as a response that fosters a sense of impunity for the acts of violent hate crime.” Such conduct by Croatian authorities was found to be “particularly destructive of fundamental human rights”.
The Court’s judgment was informed by a third party intervention submitted jointly by the AIRE Centre (Advice on individual rights in Europe), ILGA-Europe, and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).
Marko Jurcic, an activist at Zagreb Pride who provided victim support for the case, said: "The European Court of Human Rights has proven something we have been saying for decades: the Croatian police are failing to protect victims of homophobic and transphobic violence. Unfortunately, the practice of treating homophobic and transphobic hate crimes as misdemeanors is continuing in Croatia. In the last couple of years, three hate-crime complaints by Zagreb Pride have also been rejected by the public prosecutor because of police misconduct."
According to ILGA-Europe’s Head of Litigation, Arpi Avetisyan: “Today’s judgment sends a strong signal to the Council of Europe member states to ensure effective investigation, prosecution and punishment of homophobic and transphobic violent crimes. Downplaying such crimes and letting the aggressors get away without due punishment serves as encouragement to homophobia and transphobia.”
Croatia earthquake: EU member states offer further assistance
Following the initial offers of assistance to Croatia – most of it dispatched in the first 24 hours after the devastating earthquake of 29 December 2020 – EU member states are offering further in-kind assistance. Sleeping bags, housing containers, lighting systems and mattresses, provided by Germany, France and Austria, are on their way to Croatia or will be in the coming days. Slovenia delivered supplementary housing containers to Croatia on 11 January 2021. “Once more, I would like to thank all EU Member States for their prompt response to the earthquake. The overwhelming response of 15 EU member states and one participating state helping the Croatian people in times of need is a tangible example of EU solidarity,” said Crisis Management Commissioner Janez Lenarčič. In 2020 alone, the EU's Emergency Response Coordination Centre co-ordinated more than 100 times assistance to countries in Europe and worldwide due to crises.
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