The head of the Democratic Alliance of Vojvodina Croats (DSHV), Tomislav Zigmanov, has told the Belgrade press that the DSHV expects to have one seat in the Serbian parliament after early parliamentary elections in that country, set for April 24, in which it will participate together with the opposition Democratic Party (DS).

"We will not take part in the elections on our own because we would need to collect 10,000 signatures for that, which, proportionately, would be the same as if the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) had to collect one million signatures for its slate," Zigmanov told the Politika daily of Wednesday.

"We feel as if between a hammer and an anvil, and it is clear who is the hammer here and who the anvil," Zigmanov said, adding that his party had decided rationally that it would be better off in a coalition with the DS and counted on one seat in the parliament after the elections.

Commenting on debates between senior Serbian and Croatian officials about the non-representation of the Croat minority in the Serbian parliament, Zigmanov said the status of the Croat minority would continue to be misused until a just solution to problems encountered by Croats living in Serbia was found.

Responding to Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac's statement that Serbia was not honouring an agreement signed by the two countries, under which representatives of the Croat minority in Serbia should have guaranteed seats in the Serbian parliament, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said recently that the Croat community was entitled to three seats in the parliament but that its representatives did not exercise that right.

Serbian Minister of the Interior Nebojsa Stefanovic gave an even stronger-worded statement, saying that Croatia should not be lecturing Serbia about ethnic minorities' rights but should itself enable its minorities to exercise rights that every minority in Europe should enjoy.

Zigmanov said those statements were more than problematic and served for domestic political purposes.

He also responded to claims by the chair of the previous Serbian parliament's Human and Minority Rights Committee, Meho Omerovic, that around 60,000 Croats in Serbia, if they ran in elections on their own, like other minorities, could get up to three seats in the parliament.

"Meho Omerovic either does not understand what determines the political participation of minority communities or is telling untruths. We cannot register for elections as a minority party under the same rules that apply to political parties of the majority people. Omerovic failed to mention that 10,000 verified signatures should be collected for a slate to be valid," Zigmanov said, adding that Omerovic did not know the exact number of Croats in Serbia.

"There are 57,900 Croats, not 60,000. When minors and those who cannot vote are deducted from that number, the number of those eligible to vote does not exceed 45,000. Collecting the signatures of 10,000 of those people would, proportionately, be the same as if the Serbian Progressive Party would have to collect one million signatures for its slate, namely impossible," said Zigmanov.

He said that implementing and honouring the Serbian-Croatian agreement was the solution to the problem.

"We advocate that the agreement Serbia has already signed be implemented, notably the segment referring to the political representation of the Croat minority and their democratic participation, and that the solution existing in Croatia be applied," Zigmanov said in reference to the Serb community in Croatia, which has the right to three guaranteed seats in the parliament.

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