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 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 directed against Serbs. Two ethnic Serb human rights NGOs assessed in September that “the times of physical interethnic incidents are mostly behind us.” However, both groups cited frequent occurrences of ethnically based hate speech against Serbs, Roma, Africans, and Jews in the media and at soccer matches.
On September 7, during a match between the Croatian and Macedonian national soccer teams in Zagreb, fans chanted an Ustasha slogan (Ustasha refers to the fascist regime that ruled the so-called “Independent State of Croatia” during WWII). In a separate incident, the Croatian Football Federation was fined 80,000 euros ($106,000) by the Union of European Football Associations for improper conduct by Croatian supporters, who led racist chants and displayed racist symbols at a match against Italy on June 14. Ethnic Serbs also charged that Split mayor and member of parliament Zeljko Kerum used hate speech in a September 16 interview when he said that “Serbs are the source of all problems in Croatia.” The chairman of the parliament’s Committee on the Constitution Josip Leko also condemned Kerum’s statement.
Discrimination continued against ethnic Serbs in several areas, including the administration of justice, allocation of employment and housing, as well as in the ability of ethnic Serbs to use the Serbian language and Cyrillic script in schools and administrative procedures as per the constitutional law on national minorities. Minorities other than Serbs, including Czechs and Hungarians, were also affected by slow implementation of official usage of minority language and script in local communities, where they were legally allowed.
Serb NGOs continued to report that local authorities sometimes refused to hire qualified ethnic Serbs even when no ethnic Croats applied for a position. The SNV noted in September that the percentage of minorities employed by the state decreased in 2011 and only marginally increased at the municipal level. The law provides for proportional employment of minorities in the public sector in areas where a minority constituted at least 15 percent of the population; however, the government for the most part did not observe the law in practice. 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 the central part of the country.
Societal violence, harassment, and discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. While only 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. According to the government Office for National Minorities, Roma social development indicators differed significantly throughout the country, 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. The Ministry of Science, Education, and Sports reported in August that the number of Romani children enrolled in first grade was 751, among whom 124 were repeat students. The government sought to improve Roma knowledge of Croatian by increasing preschool education. There were 623 Romani children enrolled in preschools and kindergartens; a third of these were in Medjimurje where classes were previously segregated.
On September 17, approximately 50 ethnic Croat parents prevented 44 Romani children from attending class in Gornji Hrascan, claiming that the school was already overcrowded and that Romani children had poor personal hygiene. The Romani children had been moved to Gornji Hrascan to ease overcrowding at a school in the nearby community of Macinec. Police intervened to prevent the situation from escalating, and local officials brokered a compromise to allow the Romani preschoolers to attend classes in Gornji Hrascan. On September 19, President Josipovic stated that the effort to prevent ethnic Romani children from attending the preschool was particularly unacceptable and discriminatory.
The high rate of Roma dropouts remained a problem. In August there were 271 Romani students in eighth grade, approximately a third the number of the Roma cohort that 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 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 years’ salary to employers who hired Romani workers. The government joined the EU in building infrastructure in Romani settlements in the Medjimurje region, where there was a significant Romani population.
Government funding to the National Minority Council remained at approximately 42 million kunas ($7.4 million) for minority associations’ cultural programming, including printing materials.
In May a Romani family had its land in Skabrnja, a village in the Dalmatian hinterland, cordoned off with barbed wire and trenches by neighbors; the family left due to threats. Luka Skara, the mayor of Skabrnja, said that “Serbs and Roma never lived in Skabrnja since time immemorial and there shall be none of them here in the future,” and added that “Roma should be put together with the garbage.” The Zadar County prosecutor indicted Mayor Skara for racial discrimination on June 6. As of September Skara’s hearing had not been scheduled. Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Vesna Pusic condemned the event in a speech to the parliament, while the ombudsman for human rights said “such statements had no place in 21st century Croatia.”
In the first such case before the courts involving employment discrimination directed at Roma, the municipal court in Varazdin ruled in a first instance verdict on February 7 that two Romani high school students were victims of discrimination based on ethnicity. The court found that a store owner refused to accept these students as interns “because they are Gypsies.” An appeal was pending before the Varazdin municipal court at year’s end.