Croatian authorities have finally released a new batch of data from the 2021 population census, and daily newspapers were quick to pick up on the country’s shrinking Serb minority.
One of the most popular dailies in the country, Jutarnji list, ran a front page story with the headline, “Fewer than 30% Serbs in Vukovar.”
The newspaper’s main competitor, Vecernji list, ran a similar front-page story, dedicated to the proportion of Serbs living in Croatia’s many counties and towns.
Earlier batches of data from last year’s census revealed Croatia had lost close to ten percent of its population over the past decade, largely due to work-related emigration to other EU countries.
The exact data on the ethnic composition of the Croatian population was not published until September. This latest batch of figures revealed that citizens with an ethnic identity other than Croatian, including the country’s Serb minority, dropped substantially. As a result, many localities have also experienced substantial political change.
Following its independence in 1992, Croatia has adopted special rules on the rights of the country’s traditional minority ethnic groups. This has most notably included the Serb minority, but also groups of Italians, Czechs, Hungarians, Roma and others.
These rules were a prerequisite for international recognition of Croatia’s independence, and ultimately its accession to the European Union. One of the prescriptions of the minority rights legislation is that a town or municipality would be officially bilingual if a minority group forms at least one third of the population.
Data from the last census, in 2011, revealed that ethnic Serbs made up 25 percent of Vukovar’s population. At the time, the government attempted to introduce bilingual signs in the Serbian language and Cyrillic script, in addition to Croatian and Latin script. The move was met with violent protests, led in large part by Ivan Penava.
At the time, Penava was an activist with little political sway; today, he is the mayor of Vukovar and the leader of the far-right Homeland Movement.
Multi-ethnic municipalities, towns and counties are also covered by special provisions to ensure that political representation reflects the ethnic composition of the population. In practice, this means that a town in which one fifth of the population have minority ethnic backgrounds should also have a town assembly constituting roughly one fifth members from minority backgrounds.
The sharp drop in people declaring themselves to be from a minority background in this latest census means that political representation for ethnic minorities at the local level is also likely to drop.
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