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.
Serbs were the largest minority ethnic group in the country, accounting for approximately 4 percent of the population, according to 2011 census figures. During the year ethnic Serb organizations received isolated reports of physical assaults on Serbs, and the media widely reported several instances hate speech by public figures that were directed against Serbs. There were also reports of violence, including serious assaults on Serb seminarians, the denial of the legal right of the Serb minority to use the Serbian language and Cyrillic alphabet for legal and administrative purposes, and protests directed against the Serb minority when the government installed public signs using the Cyrillic alphabet. Hate speech directed against Roma, Africans, and gay men continued at many soccer matches during the year. The government repeatedly attempted to quell this behavior. On March 21, Prime Minister Milanovic urged attendees at the World Cup qualifying match against Serbia to refrain from violence, and President Ivo Josipovic condemned the use violence, vulgar remarks, and offensive language.
On March 15, parliamentarian Ruza Tomasic stated in parliament that “Croatia was for Croats, and the others (other ethnicities) were guests in Croatia.” Tomasic clarified on March 16 that she meant that “those who do not see Croatia as their homeland are guests; [that] if they are talking badly so much about it, it means that they are guests.” Prime Minister Milanovic condemned the remarks, and stated that Tomasic was “playing not with fire but with radioactive material.” Also on March 15, Zdravko Mamic, executive director of the Dinamo Zagreb soccer club, referred on radio to Minister of Education and Sports Zeljko Jovanovic as “a Serb [who] cannot lead the most important department in Croatia...He has no experience and has blood cells that predetermine him to hate anything Croatian.” Mamic was arrested and spent a night in jail on charges of violating hate speech laws and instigating violence. On May 21, Jovanovic filed a private suit against Mamic, and on June 19, state prosecutors indicted Mamic for inciting public hatred. On December 3, the Zagreb Municipal Criminal Court found Mamic not guilty of a hate crime. Prosecutors announced an appeal of this verdict.
On September 3, several hundred protestors, primarily war veterans, forcibly removed dual Latin and Cyrillic script signage that the government installed in accordance with the law and the 2011 census. The protests resulted in the injury of five police officers and the arrest of five protesters. In Vukovar ethnic Serbs made up 34.8 percent of the population according to the 2011 census. On November 18, a group of Croatian war veterans obstructed President Josipovic, Prime Minister Milanovic, other government officials, and the diplomatic corps from participating in the Procession of Remembrance, the official commemoration of the fall of Vukovar. President Josipovic stated that he and a “good part of Croatia” were saddened by these actions, which he claimed showed that those opposed to the introduction of Cyrillic signs were more interested in creating a political incident than in honoring the victims of the 1991 destruction of Vukovar.
Societal violence, harassment, and discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. While 16,974 persons declared themselves to be Roma in the 2011 census, officials and NGOs estimated that the Romani population was between 30,000 and 40,000.
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. The government estimated 20,000 to 30,000 Roma, more than 90 percent of the Roma believed to reside in the country, received some form of social assistance. In conjunction with Romani NGOs, the government on April 11 adopted a new National Action Plan to improve Romani education, employment, housing, and health care.
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. The Ministry of Science, Education, and Sports reported in August that 5,173 Romani children were enrolled in primary school, 431 of whom were repeat students. The government sought to improve Roma’s knowledge of Croatian by increasing preschool education. There were 811 Romani children enrolled in preschools and kindergartens in the fall of 2012, up from 623 the previous year. The high rate of Romani dropouts remained a problem. In August 2012 there were 271 Romani students in eighth grade, approximately a third the number of Roma that had enrolled in first grade seven years earlier. The government continued to extend scholarships to Romani high school and university students to cover fees, transportation, and housing allowances. In the 2012-13 school year the Ministry of Education reported funding preschool education for 295 Romani children in Medjimurje county. The government promoted the employment of Roma nationally by reimbursing two years’ salary to employers who hired Romani workers.
Government funding to the National Minority Council, which included minority representatives and NGOs, remained at approximately 42 million kunas ($7.6 million) and supported minority associations’ cultural programming.