While constitutional protections against discrimination applied to all minorities, some discrimination continued against ethnic Serbs and Roma.
According to the 2011 census, Serbs were the largest minority ethnic group in the country, accounting for approximately four percent of the population. During the year ethnic Serb organizations received fewer reports of physical assaults on Serbs than in previous years. Nationalist groups continued to protest against the use of Cyrillic-script signs on public buildings and called for a public boycott of Serb goods and shops in Vukovar. The boycott was not successful.
An organization known as Headquarters for the Defense of Croatian Vukovar initiated protests against the placement of Cyrillic signs and also collected more than 500,000 signatures for a referendum on restricting the use of bilingual signs in areas of the country having significant minority populations. In August the constitutional court declared the proposal unconstitutional, effectively ending the bid for a referendum. In addition to declaring the initiative unconstitutional, the constitutional court ordered the Vukovar City Council to resolve all issues concerning bilingual signs within one year and to determine which city neighborhoods would require such signs.
On May 2, the Vukovar Municipal Court convicted Tomislav Josic, leader of the Headquarters for the Defense of Croatian Vukovar, of incitement to commit illegal acts for his continued efforts to encourage both his organization and the general public to remove forcibly dual-alphabet (Latin and Cyrillic) signs on public buildings in Vukovar. The court gave Josic a suspended sentence of eight months, with a two-year probationary period during which he would be subject to incarceration if he continued his agitation.
In March 2013 Zdravko Mamic, executive director of the Dinamo Zagreb soccer club, referred on the radio to the then minister of education and sports, Zeljko Jovanovic, in a pejorative manner based on his ethnic Serb background. Mamic was arrested on charges of violating hate speech laws and instigating violence. In May 2013 Jovanovic filed a civil suit against Mamic, and in June 2013 government prosecutors indicted Mamic for inciting public hatred. In December 2013 the Zagreb Municipal Criminal Court acquitted Mamic. On June 3, the Zagreb County Court confirmed Mamic’s acquittal in the civil case brought by Jovanovic.
Following a Croatia-Iceland soccer match in November 2013, the national soccer team captain Josip Simunic led fans in a World War II-era, pro-Nazi Ustasa government chant. President Josipovic and other senior government officials condemned Simunic’s actions. Following the incident prosecutors levied the highest possible fine – 25,000 kunas ($4,100) – on Simunic for inciting ethnic hatred and public disturbance. The International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) also suspended Simunic for 10 official matches, fined him $33,800, and barred him from participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
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 the Romani population was between 30,000 and 40,000. Roma faced discriminatory obstacles, including in citizenship, documentation, education, housing, and employment (see section 7.d.). According to the Council of Europe, only 6.5 percent of Roma in the country held permanent jobs. A UN Development Program survey indicated 76 percent of Roma and 20 percent of non-Roma who lived in or near Romani settlements lived in poverty. In conjunction with civil society and independent experts, the government adopted a national action plan in April 2013 to improve Romani access to education, employment, housing, legal services, and health care, and address discrimination. The State Office for Human Rights engaged Romani community leaders to improve opportunities for Roma in the country.
While education was 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. In April the Ministry of Science, Education, and Sports reported 5,470 Romani children were enrolled in primary school, 428 of whom were repeat students. The government sought to improve Romani knowledge of Croatian language by increasing preschool education. There were 769 Romani children enrolled in preschools and kindergartens for the 2013-14 school year. The high rate of Romani dropouts remained a problem. At the beginning of 2013-14 school year, 413 Romani students were in eighth grade, far fewer than the number of Roma enrolled in first grade seven years earlier.
The government awarded 580 high school and 23 university level scholarships to Romani high school and university students to cover fees, transportation, and housing allowances. For the 2013-14 school year, the education ministry reported funding preschool education for 390 Romani children. The government promoted the employment of Roma by reimbursing two years’ salary to employers who hired Romani workers. Romani community organizations received support from the National Minority Council, which included Romani community representatives. The National Minority Council contributed approximately 38 million kunas ($6.2 million) in 2013 and 2014, a portion of which benefited the Romani community.