More than 20,000 Croats have been protesting against plans to put up bilingual signs using the Serbian Cyrillic alphabet.
The Social Democrat-led government, which will take the country into the European Union on July 1, wants to put up signs later this month, in both the Latin script used for Croatian and in Cyrillic, in areas where the population is more than one third ethnic Serb.
The issue is extremely sensitive in Vukovar, a town still traumatised by the war in the former Yugoslavia.
According to the 2011 census, there are about a dozen regions in Croatia with a sizeable Serb community, including the easternmost town of Vukovar, which many Croats still see as a
symbol of destruction and suffering brought on by the Serb rebellion against Croatia’s independence from Yugoslavia.
More than two decades on, Croat and minority Serbs communities live separate lives and some now fear fresh violence.
“I can’t stand this. I can’t even look at Serbs…and now they want Cyrillic here? They spilled the blood of our sons, of our men, our neighbours. I don’t like them at all. If they did not kill people, they could have lived here with no problem,” said Mara Jurcic, whose 25-year-old son Pavo was among more than 200 prisoners executed and buried in a mass grave at a pig farm near Vukovar.
Tomislav Josic, one of the organisers, said they wanted the law on minority rights, which stipulates bilingual signs, not to be applied to Vukovar “as a sign of respect for the sacrifice Vukovar has made”.
The picturesque town on the Danube was reduced to rubble during a three-month siege by the Serb-dominated Yugoslav army and local Serb militia in 1991. All non-Serbs were expelled and some 200 patients from a local hospital were executed after its capture by the Serbs.