Council of Europe observes "nationalism surge" in Croatia

Croatia should systematically and promptly "condemn all instances of nationalist and anti-minority rhetoric in political discourse and the media."

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This is a recommendation contained in a new opinion of the Council of Europe (CoE) Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

Another recommendation is to launch "effective investigations and sanctioning of all cases of hate crime and hate speech," as well as provide "targeted investments in infrastructure and employment opportunities to develop and revitalize marginalized areas that are mainly inhabited by disadvantaged persons belonging to national minorities, in particular returnees and Roma."

"A surge in nationalism and political radicalization is having a negative impact on minority rights, especially in those areas that were heavily affected by the 1990s conflict," the committee found, according to a statement posted on the CoE website.

The document "praises a favorable legislative framework for national minorities in Croatia – and steps taken to promote access to rights of persons belonging to national minorities at national and local levels," but notes that "the existing laws are often not implemented."

"Too few representatives of national minorities are employed in public services, and the right to use minority languages and scripts is not implemented in some localities," the CoE committee said, and reported, as an example, "increased incidents of hate speech that has become more acceptable in the media and in political discourse."

"Anti-minority rhetoric and prejudice dominates much of the public debate on national minorities, resulting in many individuals refraining from accessing their rights for fear of negative repercussions, according to the opinion," the statement noted.

The committee also highlighted hurdles for economic integration of returnees from the 1991-1995 conflict, including obstacles towards claiming citizenship.

"The committee visited Serb return areas where basic public services such as electricity, gas and water were intermittent and where no investment into severely damaged infrastructure appears to have been made since the end of the conflict," the CoE said on its website.

Croatia has made positive steps to promote Roma integration, the committee said, criticizing at the same time "continued discrimination against Roma."

"In schools for example, Roma children are still segregated in some cases, and often not encouraged by teachers to do their homework or apply themselves academically, the committee found. Despite that, an increasing number of Roma students has entered higher education establishments," the document stated.

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