While constitutional protections against discrimination applied to all minorities, open discrimination and harassment continued against ethnic Serbs and Roma, particularly in the area of employment.
Ethnic Serbs are the largest minority ethnic group in the country, accounting for approximately 4.5 percent of the population according to the latest disaggregated census figures available from 2001. During the year ethnic Serb organizations received only isolated reports of physical assaults and vandalism directed against Serbs. Discrimination continued against ethnic Serbs in several areas, including the administration of justice, employment, and housing.
Ethnic Serbs in war-affected regions were particularly subject to societal harassment and discrimination. In July police pressed criminal charges against six ethnic Serbs in the village of Podgorje in the Gvozd municipality near the border with Bosnia and Herzegovina for violent behavior and threats to an ethnic Croat family. The alleged incident occurred during a birthday party at the local community center attended by Serbs, Croats, and Bosniaks. A Bosnian Croat couple called police to complain that some partygoers were singing Serb nationalist songs and had threatened ethnic Croat guests. Police initially found nothing wrong, but a week later interrogated and charged six ethnic Serbs. Serb minority media reported that the belated police actions were a result of pressure by local associations of Croatian war veterans.
Minority NGOs noted that hate speech against ethnic Serbs continued not only at sporting events, but also in print and electronic media including the mainstream press. Serb representatives also criticized a speech by then prime minister Kosor on August 5 at the ceremony marking Croatian Veterans Day as “dangerous hate speech.” In the speech, Kosor expressed solidarity with Croatian generals Ante Gotovina and Mladen Markac, whom ICTY found guilty of crimes against humanity and war crimes in a first instance verdict.
Then minister of interior Tomislav Karamarko banned a monument prior to its October 2 unveiling in the village of Golubic, near Knin. The monument was planned by the Belgrade-based Association of Croatian Serb Refugees to commemorate ethnic Serbs killed or gone missing during the 1991-95 war. The minister cited fears that the monument would provoke ethnic disturbances in the area. A local Croatian veterans’ branch claimed that the monument included the names of the ethnic Serb militia members, in addition to civilian victims.
According to Serb NGOs, local authorities sometimes refused to hire qualified ethnic Serbs even when no ethnic Croats applied for a position. Serb minority representatives said that affected persons seldom took such decisions to administrative courts, because proceedings can take years and a court decision in their favor would still not obligate the authorities in question to hire the applicant.
The law provides for proportional minority employment in the public sector in areas where a minority constitutes at least 15 percent of the population; however, the government for the most part did not observe the law in practice. In September Serb representatives noted that ethnic Serbs continued to be underemployed in government agencies, seldom reaching one percent, except in the Ministry of Justice (1.53 percent) and Ministry of Culture (1.23 percent). In 2010 the SNV issued a survey showing that the number of ethnic Serbs employed in state administration and the justice sector has been in decline since 2008.
While ethnic minorities have the right to establish schools, seven ethnic Serb elementary schools applied for but did not receive official recognition as of September due to administrative obstacles that ethnic Serb NGOs considered a sign of a lack of political will on the part of the government. This lack of official recognition made normal scholastic operation difficult.
Ethnic Serb representatives noted that amendments to the law on free legal aid did not make legal assistance readily available to concerned citizens, especially ethnic Serbs living in war-affected rural areas in central Croatia. Similarly, some ethnic Serb owners of damaged homes reconstructed by the government awaited years to be connected to electricity or water supplies, even though such services were available in nearby neighborhoods inhabited by Bosnian-Croat settlers who relocated to Croatia during or after the war.
Societal violence, harassment, and discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. While only 9,463 persons declared themselves to be Roma in the most recent, i.e., 2001 census, officials and NGOs estimated that the Romani population was between 30,000 and 40,000.
In 2010 three off-duty police officers severely beat a 20-year-old Roma at a gas station in Karlovac. In June the Karlovac Municipal Court convicted one of the officers and gave him a one-year suspended sentence.
Roma faced widespread discriminatory obstacles, including in citizenship, documentation, education, employment, and language. According to the Council of Europe, only 6.5 percent of Roma held permanent jobs in the country, while the government estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Roma received some form of social assistance; roughly more than 90 percent of Roma were believed to reside in Croatia. According to the government office for national minorities, Roma social development indicators differ significantly throughout Croatia with approximately 98 percent unemployment in the Medjimurje region, compared with 15 percent in Rijeka.
While education is free and compulsory through the eighth grade, Romani children faced serious obstacles in their education, including discrimination in schools and a lack of family support. According to the Ministry of Science, Education, and Sports, the number of Romani elementary students increased to 4,723 in 2010-2011 up from 4,435 reported in 2009-10. There are 4,915 Romani children registered for the 2011-2012 school year. The number of Romani children enrolled in preschool education for the 2010-11 school year was 799, a 36-percent increase over the 588 enrolled during the previous year. The number of Romani high school students enrolled in the 2011-12 was 425, a 33 percent increase over the 327 enrolled during the previous year. The government co-funded approximately 776,000 kunas ($133,000) for kindergarten and preschool fees during the 2010-11 academic year for 400 children across 49 kindergartens. The government distributed 363 scholarships to Romani students in high school, while the number of Romani students receiving scholarships for university-level studies slightly increased to 29 from 26 in the previous school year.
In March 2010 the ECHR ruled that the state had discriminated against 15 Romani students from Medjimurje who were placed in separate Roma-only classes. In response to the decision, in September 2010 the government for the first time introduced and fully funded an extended 10-month preschool program for some 200 children in Medjimurje. This program continued during the year. Nationally, the government promoted the employment of Roma by reimbursing two-year’s salary to employers who hired Romani workers. The government joined the EU in building infrastructure in Romani settlements in the Medjimurje region where there is a significant Romani population. By September the government had contributed 5.2 million kunas ($891,000) to EU projects in five settlements in the area. In August the government signed a contract to renew infrastructure in two remaining Romani settlements in Medjimurje, in which it provided $675,000, or 25 percent of the total funding.
The National Minority Council received approximately 42 million kunas ($7.2 million) for minority associations’ cultural programming, including printing communications materials, during the year.