The Council of Europe warned on Wednesday that a surge in nationalism and radicalisation in Croatia negatively affected minorities, notably those living in areas directly affected by the 1990s war.
The Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities published a report on Croatia, adopted in November 2015, in which it stresses that Croatia's legal framework pertaining to national minorities is good but that a surge in nationalism threatens minority rights.
"Overall, however, a surge in nationalism and political radicalisation is having a negative impact on the enjoyment of minority rights, in particular in those areas that were heavily affected by conflict," the Strasbourg-based advisory body of the Council of Europe says.
The Committee objects that the number of persons belonging to national minorities employed in public service in Croatia remains far too low and that the right to use minority languages and scripts is not implemented in some localities as well as that incidents of hate speech are increasing and have become more acceptable in the media and in parts of political discourse.
"The public debate related to national minorities is dominated by anti-minority rhetoric and prejudice, resulting in many individuals refraining from accessing their rights for fear of negative repercussions," reads the report of the Council of Europe, an international organisation with 47 European member-states.
Strong government commitment is required to prioritise attention to minority rights as an integral part of Croatia's international and national human rights obligations to confront the revival of nationalist attitudes and actively promote openness and respect for diversity in society, the Committee says.
In its response to the report in May this year, the Croatian government said that "individual incidents of hate speech, which were present in the public discourse, both in the media and political discourse, were addressed through continuous awareness raising about such rhetoric being unacceptable and about the available legal remedies against hate speech available to citizens."
The government rejected the Committee's position that at the commemoration of the military operation Storm in August 2015 the celebration of victory was prioritised over the remembrance of the many civilian victims, stressing that it has "a right to celebrate legitimate liberation of its illegally occupied territory while paying attention" to express regret for all the victims.
As for the protests against Cyrillic signs in Vukovar, which are also mentioned in the Committee's report, the government says that "the state authorities condemned such incidents unambiguously and publicly, and qualified the hate speech against the persons belonging to Serbian national minority."
"The Ministry of Public Administration invested significant efforts to secure that the local self-government units apply the valid national legislative on the use of languages and scripts of national minorities," the government says in its response.
"Since the protection and development of minority rights, as well as inter-ethnic tolerance, are an important prerequisite for stability, democratisation and progress of any society, in the upcoming period, numerous activities will be conducted in order to promote minority rights," says the government.