Peer-reviewed articles MINORITY Legislation in two successor states A comparison through the lens of EU enlargement

In this essay there is a discussion whether the recent developments in the Serbian and Croatian legislations on minority rights represent one occasion on which the EU’s informal engagement has exerted a beneficial influence. It is also noted that, throughout the last decade, the roles of Serbia and Croatia as kin states to ethnic Serbs in Croatia and ethnic Croats in Serbia has been constructive.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 1 2012 pages 31-35
Published on on April 10, 2012

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Last summer, Croatia successfully concluded its accession negotiations with the European Commission. Serbia submitted its official application to the EU in December 2009 but has not yet been granted the status of an accession country. Apart from their “European aspirations”, Serbia and Croatia share the political heritage of the old Yugoslav federation and were both embroiled in the latest conflict. Therefore, clarifying how minority legislation in Serbia and in Croatia compares, and how legislation in the two countries measures up to European standards, is of great significance. Attention should also be paid to regional mechanisms for the management of ethnic relations. This touches on institutional provisions under the umbrella of provincial autonomy for Vojvodina in Serbia (Map 1 and Table 1) and certain bodies operating in ethnically mixed Croatian regions such as Istria (Map 2 and Table 2).1 The main questions here are: What has been the actual impact of the EU accession process upon legislation on minority rights in Serbia and Croatia? Which country has gone furthest in establishing an efficient framework for the protection of minority rights? What I demonstrate here is that both states have made significant progress in harmonizing their legislation with the acquis communitaire. In addition, this paper illustrates how a more sustainable framework, as well as regional mechanisms, have been articulated to a greater extent in Serbia.

Table 1

The ethnic structure of the autonomous province of Vojvodina, according to the 2002 national census

Serbs 1,321,807             65.05 percent
Montenegrins      35,513               1.75 percent
Yugoslavs      49,881               2.45 percent
Albanians        1,695               0.08 percent
Bosniaks           417               0.02 percent
Bulgarians        1,658               0.08 percent
Bunjevaks      19,766                0.97 percent
Vlachs           101               0.00 percent
Goranci           606               0.03 percent
Hungarians    290,207             14.28 percent
Macedonians      11,785               0.58 percent
Muslims        3,634               0.18 percent
Germans        3,154               0.16 percent
Roma      29,057               1.43 percent
Romanians      30,419               1.50 percent
Russians           940               0.05 percent
Slovaks      56,637               2.79 percent
Slovenes        2,005               0.10 percent
Ukrainians        4,635                0.23 percent
Croats      56,546               2.78 percent
Czechs        1,648               0.08 percent
Ruthenes      15,626               0.77 percent
Others        5,311               0.26 percent
Non-declared      55,016               2.71 percent
Regional affiliation      10,154               0.50 percent
Unknown      23,774               1.17 percent
Total 2,031,992           100.00 percent
SOURCE: Konačni rezultati popisa 2002, Saopštenje, broj 295, god. LII, Republika Srbija, Republički Zavod za Statistiku, Beograd 24.12.2002


Table 2

Istria’s ethnic structure in accordance with first tongue, 2001

First tongue No. %
Croatian 179,945 87.21
Italian 15,867 7.69
Slovenian 1,894 0.92
Albanian 1,877 0.91
Serbian 1,808 0.88
Bosnjak 1,244 0.60
Romany 575 0.28
Serbo-Croat 506 0.25
Hungarian 430 0.21
Macedonian 387 0.19
German 249 0.12
Slovak 155 0.08
Czech 102 0.05
Romanian 94 0.05
Croato-Serbian 86 0.04
Turkish 64 0.03
Russian 56 0.03
Montenegrin 47 0.02
Polish 40 0.02
Ukrainian 29 0.01
Bulgarian 25 0.01
Ruthenian 17 0.01
Istro-Romanian (Vlach)* 1 0.00
Unkown 655 0.32
Other 191 0.09
Total 206,344 100
*It is very likely that speakers of Istro-Romanian have been grouped under ‘Romanian’.
SOURCE: Croatian Governmental Bureau for Statistics, Census 2001 (


Croatia submitted its application to the EU in 2003. The European Commission granted Croatia the status of a candidate country in mid-2004 and the accession negotiations commenced in October 2005. The first decade since the year 2000 saw remarkable progress in the field of minority legislation. However, in order to comprehend and assess the significance of this progress, a short overview of minority policies during the 1990s is needed. Article 15 of the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia (1990) formally endorsed the equality of members of all national minorities before the law. Nevertheless, the realities “on the ground” were different. Since the declaration of Croatian independence, Franjo Tuđman initiated a nationalization process. His government proceeded to purge employees, mostly those with an ethnic Serb background. This affected the administrative bureaucracy, the police, the judiciary, the media, and education. Even as late as July 2000, government statistics demonstrated that only 2.8 percent of state administration employees belonged to the Serbian minority.2 Furthermore, in 1995, the UN expressed concern about the state authorities’ failure to take action over the propagation of ethnic hatred against Serbs by the media and the press. The landscape became fuzzier because of indications that Croatian society had been hugely scarred by the war and that ethnic cleavages were indeed pronounced. Consequently, the situation with regard to minority rights remained static until the end of the 1990s.

The year 2000 saw radical changes in Croatian politics. The voters’ change of mood resulted in Stipe Mesić’s victory in the presidential elections (January 24 and February 7, 2000), and the Social Democrats’ (SDP) victory in the parliamentary elections (January 3, 2000). The new government promoted an agenda of alleviation of ethnic cleavages within Croatia and the establishment of better relations with the leadership of neighboring states. Most important, the new leadership demonstrated great interest in Croatia’s accession to the EU, as well as eagerness to comply with the recommendations of EU advisers. A series of bilateral talks were held between EU advisers and representatives of the Croatian government. In the course of these negotiations, the former outlined to the latter a number of reforms that had to be undertaken in order for Croatia to tread the path of democratization more effectively. As part of the constitutional revision (2000—2001), Article 15 was amended to add a clause saying that the special right of the members of national minorities to elect their representatives to the Sabor (parliament) may be provided by law (this is in addition to the general electoral right).3 This was an explicit stipulation of positive discrimination in favor of national minorities.

The culmination of the entire process came about with the inauguration of the new Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, CLRNM (December 19, 2002). A key aspect of the new law was the national minorities’ authorization to elect advisory councils in local administrations and their proportional representation in the Sabor (Article 7, Articles 19—20, 24, 25—31, and 32—33). This new law is of particular significance for the more ethnically mixed općine (municipalities) in that it has encouraged the application of regional mechanisms for the accommodation of the minority communities’ demands. An appropriate example is the coordination among the national minorities’ councils in the municipality of Rijeka in the multiethnic region of Istria.4 In Istria, the proper operation of such institutions and mechanisms has also relied upon the longstanding tradition of harmonious multiethnic cohabitation. Last but not least, the laws on education and the use of the national minorities’ languages (2001) additionally safeguard the status of minority languages in public information and the education system.

These developments at   the legislative level did not fully correspond to the realities of implementation, for certain deficiencies persisted. First, a lack of competence or eagerness has been observed on the part of certain bodies in the state administration in the implementation of the
CLRNM. Similar symptoms have also been detected at the local government level. Another obstacle has been the varying degrees of apathy or insufficient motivation among the national minorities’ elites to take full advantage of the new legal framework. To these one might add that the Council for National Minorities functions as an advisory body and not as a full-fledged legal entity, empowered to represent national minorities before the Croatian government. Lastly, the persistence of ethnic intolerance in the society has often emerged as a factor that obstructs the timely implementation of the novel provisions. In particular, the picture remains rather blurred with regard to the collective status of the Serbian minority. Two urgent tasks for the Croatian government, as prescribed by the European Commission, have been the facilitation of the Serbian refugees’ return to their homes and the resolution of their civic status and property restitution.

The legal aspects of the Serbian refugee question in Croatia bear the scars of the recent conflict. Unlike Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Section VII of the Dayton Agreement enabled Serbian refugees to obtain citizenship and regain their abandoned property, the international element in Croatia was not very active during the 1990s. It was not until to the “changing of the guard” in Croatian politics that the Croatian authorities, in coordination with EU advisers, demonstrated a greater decisiveness towards resolving the Serbian refugee question. Since 2000, a greater number of Serbian refugees have been enabled to obtain Croatian citizenship and regain their property.5 A series of amendments to the Law on Areas of Special State Concern (2002) recognized the former owners’ right to bring a case for restitution of their property and provided for compensation. In spite of the frequent lack of willingness on the part of the local authorities to cooperate in the implementation of these provisions, the new framework has enabled a considerable number of Serbian refugees to reclaim their property or be granted alternative housing options. Moreover, no serious instances of discrimination against the Serbian Orthodox Church have been witnessed lately. In an overall assessment, the more effective coordination between Zagreb and the EU sub-bodies has, since 2000, resulted in the formulation of a more adequate framework for the management of ethnic relations. The CLRNM and the other legal documents have provided a good basis for the harmonization of the Croatian legislation with the acquis communitaire and the improvement of the position of national minorities in Croatia. It is therefore up to the Croatian authorities to adhere to the proper implementation of the new legal framework.


As in Croatia, the period since the year 2000 saw considerable progress in Serbia’s minority legislation. Once again, in order to comprehend the extent of this progress, a brief overview of Serbian minority policies during the 1990s is required. The rights of the national minorities in Serbia and FR Yugoslavia were to be regulated by a variety of documents. Certain provisions were included in the Yugoslav Constitution (1992) and the Serbian Constitution (1990). Nevertheless, as long as neither FR Yugoslavia nor Serbia had a separate law on national minorities, the constitutional rights of national minorities were also codified in Serbian statutes. Still, the realities in the implementation were different. In Vojvodina, the new Serbian elites promoted a series of subtle policies with the objective of renationalizing the province. Since the termination of Vojvodina’s autonomy (1989), the nationalizing dimension became manifest in irregularities in the implementation of the provisions on education and the public use of minority languages, as well as in alleged cases of discrimination against minorities in employment.

The end of Slobodan Milošević’s rule was accompanied by rapid developments in the field of minority legislation. The post-Milošević elites manifested great interest in recovering the lost ground in Serbia’s path towards the EU. A number of documents came into force under the umbrella of the Serbian-Montenegrin Constitutional Charter (March 2003), including the Federal Law for the Protection of the Rights and Freedoms of National Minorities (LRFNM, February 27, 2002). This law guarantees the public use of minority languages in those municipalities where a minority forms at least 15 percent of the population (Article 11). It also provides for education in minority languages, at all levels, in the same municipalities (Article 13). The most notable innovation of this law was the establishment of the “National Minorities’ Council” at the former Federal Assembly (Articles 18—20). As in Croatia, this is a body tasked with supervising the implementation of the minority legislation6. However, on this occasion, Article 19 clearly designates this body as a “pravno lice” (i.e. “legal entity”). After the dissolution of the Serbian-Montenegrin state union (June 2006), the “National Minorities’ Council” and the LRFNM were incorporated into the legal system of the Serbian republic.

In July 2008,   a new institution was assigned the aforementioned tasks and a fully-fledged legal entity came into existence: The Ministry of Human and Minority Rights. Most importantly, the new Serbian Constitution (2006) summarized a number of fundamental provisions for national minorities (e.g. the public use of minority languages, prohibition of discrimination and relations with kin states — Articles 75—80). Last but not least, the laws on local self-government (2002), the official use of minority languages (amended in 2005) and prohibition of discrimination (2009) also contributed to the arrangement of an articulate infrastructure for the protection of minority rights. One more factor that facilitated the arrangement of the new legal framework is the state of fragmentation in Serbian elite politics and the formation of government coalitions in which minority parties have participated (e.g. Vojvodina’s ethnic Hungarian parties). This granted minority elites the opportunity to promote their demands from within the power structures. Minority entrepreneurs have seen Serbia’s “European aspirations” as an “ethnically neutral” terrain on which they can voice their demands and serve their interests more effectively.

In Vojvodina, the protection of minority rights became entangled with the concession of administrative competence to the province. Vojvodina returned to the fore with its new statute (December 14, 2009). A major “external factor” behind the approval of this document was Belgrade bureaucrats’ desire to demonstrate that Serbia conformed to the European standards for regionalization. The preamble upgrades the status of national minorities to that of national communities (nacionalne zajednice). Articles 6 and 7 reaffirm Vojvodina’s multiethnic physiognomy and the equality of ethnic groups. They also provide for the implementation of positive discrimination with the aim of safeguarding minority identities. Article 23 reaffirms the dual dimension of minority rights, while Article 26 safeguards the use of minority languages in education and public information. An institutional provision of major importance is the establishment of a Council for National Communities at the provincial assembly (Article 40). These clauses supplement the relevant provisions in the LRFNM with a more regionalized focus towards the regulation of ethnic issues locally.

Overall, the endeavor by Serbian policy makers to comply with European standards has resulted in the arrangement of an efficient framework for the protection of minority rights, both at the state level and at Vojvodina’s provincial level. As in Croatia, a problem that has to be dealt with is the frequent lack of coordination among state, provincial, and local authorities towards the implementation of these provisions, as well as their weak motivation to do so. To these might be added the conscious assimilation process among certain minorities (e.g. Vojvodina’s Ruthenes and Romanians).

Serbia, Croatia, and European standards

The Copenhagen criteria (1993) have set as one of the conditions for the acceptance of post-communist states into the EU the adequate protection of the rights and freedoms of national minorities, in accordance with the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (FCNM). In principle, both the Croatian CLRNM and the Serbian LRFNM are consistent with the FCNM. For a start, both affirm the individual and collective dimensions of minority rights. The prohibition of acts of discrimination, forcible assimilation, or alteration of the ethnic structure in ethnically mixed localities is consistent with FCNM Articles 4.1, 5.2, and 6.2. Both countries allow media and press institutions in minority languages (Article 9.3). The provisions for the public use of minority languages (e.g. in signposting) in the areas where minorities form dense concentrations comply with Article 11.1–2. Other conforming clauses concern the provision of education in minority languages at all levels; the teaching of subjects relevant to the minorities’ culture, language, history, and religion; and the establishment of private educational institutions by minority entrepreneurs (Articles 12.1—2, 13.1, 14.2). The authorization of minorities to maintain relations with legal subjects based in their external homelands is consistent with Article 17.1. Some clauses, such as the Serbian LRFNM’s provision on offering financial breaks for the establishment of private educational institutions, even go a step beyond the FCNM. In addition to these specific laws, the relevant provisions in the Serbian and Croatian constitutions, as well as the other Serbian and Croatian laws, are all consistent with the FCNM. The Serbian and Croatian laws on the official use of languages and their alphabets, in particular, are also consistent with Articles 8.1 (on education), 9.1 (on judicial authorities), 10.1 and 10.2 (on public services and administration), 11.1 (on media) and 14 (on cross-border cooperation) of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (COE, 1992).

At this moment, it seems that Serbia’s legal framework for minority rights is somewhat better articulated than Croatia’s, particularly with regard to its enforcing mechanisms and institutional provisions — most notably the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights. Moreover, the LRFNM explicitly designates the National Minorities’ Council as a legal subject before the Serbian government. In Croatia the Council for National Minorities remains an advisory body with no legal status before the Sabor. In addition the Croatian CLRNM contains some ambiguities and minor deficiencies with regard to the system of election of minority representatives to the Sabor. First of all, Article 19 does not make it entirely clear whether the number of seats to which minorities are entitled may be determined by the outcome of the election by universal and equal suffrage. What causes the confusion is wording such us “at least five representatives and at most eight” (19.1), “at least one representative and at most three” (19.2) and “at least four representatives” (19.3), with reference to the size of each minority group. This wording creates the impression that the number of seats to be reserved for minority representatives cannot be fixed in advance. In this case, Article 19 could potentially come into conflict with the constitutional provision that fixes the total number of the Sabor’s seats beforehand (Croatian Constitution, Article 71). This potential discrepancy must therefore be clarified. Moreover, the special voting system for members of minority groups requires that both voters and candidates reveal that they belong to a national minority in the election of the national minority councils. However, persons belonging to certain minorities may feel reluctant to do so out of fear of discrimination. Therefore, it is essential that the Croatian authorities create mechanisms for the more effective safeguarding of confidentiality. Equal respect for the principle of confidentiality must be shown in the special elections for minorities that are held in Serbia, too. These include the elections of the national minority councils at both the Serbian parliament and Vojvodina’s assembly.

Both Serbian and Croatian   state authorities must combat symptoms of weak coordination, incompetence, or unwillingness to implement the new legal frameworks on the part of regional and/or local authorities. In particular, allegations of ethnic discrimination in employment must be investigated and combated. This can be facilitated through the accumulation of reliable data on the employment of persons belonging to national minorities in the public sector. Moreover, the Serbian and Croatian organs responsible must make sure that the use of minority languages in education and public information is provided as dictated by the relevant legislation. This also entails the satisfactory arrangement of programs in the minority languages on the state radio and television. Lastly, authorities in both countries must ensure that persons belonging to national minorities are granted the right to full participation in Serbian and/or Croatian political life.

At this point, it should be noted that a number of resolutions and measures have been taken recently towards the correct implementation of the new legal norms. In Croatia, the “Action Plan for the Implementation of the CLRNM” (June 2008) aims at ensuring the quick and efficient application of the law. A series of periodic reports, focusing on the adequate implementation of the minority legislation in Vojvodina and other ethnically diverse areas, is also being prepared in Serbia under the aegis of the Ministry for Human and Minority Rights. Apart from governmental policies, the minority groups themselves are expected to demonstrate a greater interest in taking full advantage of the new provisions. In particular, it is up to political and intellectual entrepreneurs among minorities to reverse instances of conscious assimilation within certain groups. Despite possible shortcomings, Serbia and Croatia are currently endowed with sustainable and efficient frameworks for the protection of minority rights. This is also evident in the positive remarks in the latest EU and COE reports over the progress made by the two countries in the course of their accession to the EU.7

What needs to   be pointed out, among other things, is that both Serbian and Croatian legal experts and policy-makers have made proper use of certain mechanisms for the management of inter-group relations during the communist era. As components of the multifaceted and hazy constitutional and legal framework of SFR Yugoslavia, these provisions turned out to be disastrous in the long run. Nevertheless, within the process of European integration, legal experts and policy-makers from both states modified certain mechanisms employed in SFR Yugoslavia and adapted them to the European standards for the protection of minority rights. For instance, the Constitution of the Socialist Republic of Croatia (Articles 219 and 380) granted minorities the right to participate in representative bodies at all levels of state administration. SR Croatia’s 26 multiethnic municipalities were granted extensive autonomy in managing intergroup relations with regard to a variety of areas (i.e. education, the public use of minority languages, and public information). In the context of independent Croatia’s legal infrastructure for the management of ethnic relations, these provisions “correspond” to the national minorities’ advisory councils at the local self-government level; although their powers more restricted than that of the multiethnic općine during the communist era.

Nevertheless, a specific feature distinguishes the Serbian from the Croatian legal framework — namely, the application of more regionalized mechanisms for the management of ethnic relations in Serbia’s most multiethnic region, Vojvodina. The main driving force behind the formulation of these mechanisms has been the popular demand for the restitution of certain powers (i.e. administrative and fiscal) to Vojvodina’s assembly. Provisions such as the new statute for Vojvodina endow Vojvodina’s assembly with an array of mechanisms for the more efficient accommodation of minority demands locally. Closer communication between the provincial organs and minority representatives can ensure that the former respond more quickly to the demands of the latter. Article 40 of the new statute and its authorization for the formation of the minority council at Vojvodina’s assembly can bring about fruitful results if this body coordinates its activities properly with larger institutions at the national level (i.e. the Ministry of Human and Minority Rights, or the National Minorities’ Council at the Serbian parliament).

In all of this,   it seems that Serbian policymakers and legal experts also paid close attention to regionalized mechanisms for the management of ethnic relations which operated under the umbrella of Vojvodinian autonomy during the communist era. They selected certain of their elements, reformulated them and adapted them to the latest European trends in the areas of regionalization and minority legislation. A suitable example is the new statute’s authorization for the election of the national minorities’ councils at the provincial assembly. Others include the national minorities’ authorization, by the same document, to cooperate with legal subjects based in their kin states, and the ban on ethnic discrimination and the propagation of ethnic hatred. Similar provisions were in force as part of the Vojvodinian Constitution (1974) (Articles 4 and 194) and its supplementary legislation. In addition to these, the abolition of Vojvodina’s legislative and judicial powers in the 1990s did not amount to the dissolution of the formal structures of its autonomy (i.e. the provincial assembly and its executive council). This provided the soil where new and up-to-date proposals for the devolution of authority, including the authority to manage ethnic relations, to the provincial organs could take root.

In Croatia, the new legal framework has opened up new prospects for coordination among minority councils in ethnically mixed regions such as Istria. Institutional provisions such as the national minorities’ councils can promote the more adequate representation of minority communities in Istria’s local administration. The positive state of multiethnic cohabitation provides an additional incentive towards coordination among the various minority councils in the region. This, in turn, can facilitate a consensus regarding the joint communication of the minorities’ demands and issues of major concern to the local, regional, and state organs. At a first glance, Istria’s case is quite comparable to Vojvodina. Istria is another ex-Yugoslav region characterized by a high degree of ethnic plurality. As in Vojvodina, the persistence of the trans-ethnic cultural substratum of “Istrianity”, at the grass-roots level, functioned as a catalyst for the alleviation of intense ethnic cleavages and friction during the 1990s. Furthermore, Istria is home to a popular regionalist party, the Istrian Democratic Assembly (IDS). As result of coordination between the IDS and Istria’s Italian Union, the statute of the Istrian županija (“county”) stipulates that a number of posts in local administration must be reserved for members of the Italian minority.8 Moreover, a well-established supervisory infrastructure guarantees the satisfactory use of the Italian language in local administration, public information, education, and signposting throughout the region’s urban centers (e.g. Rijeka and Pula).

However, unlike Vojvodina,   Istria lacks the political heritage, from the not-so-distant past, of powerful governing institutions at the regional level. In fact, no forms of regional autonomy were established in Croatia during the communist era. Furthermore, Croatia’s regional restructuring in the first half of the 1990s was rather shortsighted and interest-driven. The main impetus behind this project was Croatian Democratic Community’s (HDZ) intention to capitalize on its high popularity back then. Therefore the 11 “associations of municipalities” were dissolved and their powers transferred to the 21 new županije. Nevertheless, this did not amount to an extension of the constituent units’ powers, and Croatian policymakers have to this day remained keen on centralization. The IDS and other regionalists must lobby for more drastic steps along the path towards Croatia’s regionalization and the management of ethnic relations at the regional level. At this moment, though, it is hard to predict the effectiveness of such an endeavor in the immediate future. To date, Serbia has been more successful than Croatia in drafting and implementing more regionalized mechanisms for the management of inter-group relations.

Finally, the status of ethnic Croats in Serbia and of ethnic Serbs in Croatia has also been upgraded. Croatian has regained its status as one of Vojvodina’s official languages and the Democratic Alliance of Vojvodina’s Croats (DSHV) participates in the current governing coalition. In Croatia, the Serbian Independent Democratic Party (SDSS) also participates with three seats in the Sabor. Meanwhile, no serious instances of harassment against the Serbian Orthodox clergy in Croatia or the Croatian Roman Catholic clergy in Serbia have been recorded lately. Nevertheless, an urgent task for the Croatian government remains the rapid and effective facilitation of the return of Croatian Serb refugees to their homes and the restitution of their property. Although a number of Croatian Serb refugees are currently dwelling in Serbia (mainly Vojvodina and Belgrade) and demonstrate no interest in returning to Croatia9, this objective could become more attainable through joint efforts between Zagreb and Belgrade. Serbian and Croatian authorities should cooperate towards estimating the exact percentage of Serbian refugees who are keen on returning to Croatia. The necessity for cooperation between Serbian and Croatian authorities, towards the facilitation of the Serbian refugees’ return to their hearths, can also form part of an agreement or memorandum of good relations between the two states.

In lieu of a conclusion

Overall, the management of ethnic relations in Central and Eastern Europe has been a particularly complicated and hard task. Conflicting national narratives and the long-term democracy deficit have often resulted in non-viable combinations. In the specific case of Serbia and Croatia, the whole picture is even more battered by the legacy of the recent warfare. Even today, certain segments within the two countries’ political scenes continue to view the respective Serbian and Croatian minorities as “unreliable elements”. Nevertheless, the two countries’ “European aspirations” have alleviated the traumas of the recent past and encouraged the formulation of sustainable and effective legal frameworks that are highly compatible with European standards in the field of minority rights. One could argue that the recent developments in the Serbian and Croatian legislations on minority rights represent one occasion on which the EU’s informal engagement has exerted a beneficial influence. One should also note that, throughout the last decade, the roles of Serbia and Croatia as kin states to ethnic Serbs in Croatia and ethnic Croats in Serbia has been constructive. The leadership of both groups have watered down their rhetoric and have opted for cooperation instead of confrontation over the accommodation of their co-ethnics’ interests in each state. Therefore, it is up to the Serbian and Croatian authorities to enforce the proper implementation of the new legal provisions. ≈


  1. After Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence (2008) and recognition by a number of powerful states, my focus is primarily on Serbia’s other multiethnic region, Vojvodina. The emphasis on this region also better serves the purpose of a Serbian–Croatian comparison, since most of Serbia’s Croatian community resides in Vojvodina.
  2. See The Croatian Government Report on the Implementation of the FCNM to the COE, 1998 ( — accessed 2010-06-04).
  3. The Preamble of the Croatian Constitution grants
    “autochthonous status” to the following minority groups: Serbs, Czechs, Italians, Hungarians, Jews, Germans, Austrians, Ukrainians, and Ruthenes. For the full text, see “Ustav Republike Hrvatske”, in Narodne Novine, 28:2001.
  4. These councils are the Albanian, the Bosniak, the Montenegrin, the Hungarian, the Macedonian, the Roma, the Serbian, and the Italian.
  5. It is estimated that, by 2008–09, a total of 108,466 Serbian refugees had returned to Croatia while an additional 80,000 remained in Serbia. On this issue, see Commission of the European Communities, Croatia 2009 Progress Report, SEC (2009) 1333, pp. 14—16.
  6. This body is the aggregate of smaller councils that represent each minority separately. These councils are elected directly by members of national minorities in special elections.
  7. On Serbia, see Commission of the European Communities, Serbia 2009 Progress Report, SEC (2009) 1339, pp. 17—19; Venice Commission, Opinion on the Constitution of Serbia, Opinion No. 405/2006, 10. On Croatia, see Croatia 2009 Progress Report, pp. 14—16; Croatia 2008 Progress Report, pp. 12—14.
  8. On this issue, see Centar za Ljudska Prava/Human Rights Center, Položaj Nacionalnih Manjina u Republici Hrvatskoj-Zakonodavstvo i Praksa [The position of national minorities in the Republic of Croatia — law and practice] (prepared by Tena Erceg), Zagreb, April 2005, p. 11.
  9. On this issue, see Vassilis Petsinis, “The Refugees in Vojvodina: Prospects for Social Integration and Other Alternatives”, in Istvan Tarrosy and Susanne Milford (eds.), European Higher Education in a Changing World: A View from the Danube Region, Budapest 2007, pp. 171—174.
  • by Vassilis Petsinis

    Visiting Researcher at the Johan Skytte Institute of Political Studies (University of Tartu) courtesy of a research stipend from the Swedish Institute.

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