Persistent Discrimination: Challenges Faced by Croatia’s Roma and Serbian Minority
The Roma community in Croatia faces significant challenges, including ghettoisation and discrimination in schools, while the Serbian minority continues to experience employment discrimination, even three decades after the civil war.
In a recent incident, a nine-member Roma family attempted to purchase a home in the village of Hlebine in northern Croatia but faced opposition solely due to their ethnicity. Villagers in Hlebine even threatened to protest outside the mayor’s house in a neighbouring municipality, suspecting that the family had been persuaded to leave the area. The situation reflects the broader challenges Croatia’s Roma population faces, particularly in Medjimurje, which hosts the largest Roma community in the country.
In another distressing incident, several families who had evacuated their homes during floods returned to find their properties vandalised. Such acts of discrimination and hostility are not uncommon in this region.
A United Nations report issued in August highlighted the plight of both the Roma and Serbian minority communities in Croatia. The report revealed that both groups face stigmatisation, undermining their rights to education and employment. The Roma community, in particular, experiences ghettoisation.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called on Croatia to take specific measures to eliminate structural discrimination against both communities and to ensure their economic, social, and cultural rights are upheld.
The executive director of the Centre for Peace, Nonviolence, and Human Rights emphasised that approximately 92.3% of Roma in Croatia are classified as poor, with around 70% living in extreme poverty. She stressed that the state must fulfil its obligations to protect its citizens and groups.
The discrimination faced by the Serbian minority in Croatia has deep roots in the 1991-95 Croatian war. The UN report expressed concerns over racial discrimination, especially in employment and education. Public sector employment for Serbs remains a significant challenge, with severe underrepresentation in key ministries.
The lack of Serbian-language primary schools, inadequate teacher training for minority communities, and issues related to hate speech and refugee returns are further concerns. Street names and public institutions in many areas are yet to be written in Cyrillic script, causing further frustration.
Moreover, the prosecution of war crimes and the recognition of civilian victims of the conflict have been criticised for being discriminatory. The UN report has shed light on these issues, urging Croatia to address these longstanding challenges.
In contrast, there are some positive examples of integration efforts, such as a school in Baranja where Roma children are integrated into classes. Encouragingly, more Roma children are enrolling in high school and even pursuing higher education.
Despite these bright spots, much work remains to ensure equality, inclusion, and the protection of minority rights in Croatia. Efforts to address discrimination and promote integration are essential for building a more equitable society for all citizens.