National laws on the use of language and script of national minorities guarantee the right of national minorities to equal official use of language and script used by members of national minorities. This right is exercised in the areas of local self-government (municipalities and towns) where members of a particular minority make up at least one third of the population, as well as when this is stipulated by international agreements and/or by local self-government units’ statutes. The Law (Law on Use of Languages and Scripts of National Minorities in the Republic of Croatia) prescribes among other that in municipalities and towns where a language and script of a particular national minority is in equal official use, written traffic signs and other written signs used in traffic, as well as names of settlements and geographical localities, are written in two (or more) languages in letters of the same size.
According to the 2011 census, Serbs make up more than one third of the population in 23 self-government units (2 cities and 21 municipalities), including 17 municipalities where they make up more than half of the population. To this day, the legally guaranteed right to bilingual writing on traffic signs, (in Croatian language and Latin script and Serb language and Cyrillic script) i.e. of names of settlements in municipalities in which Serbs make up at least one third of the population and where exercising this right is regulated by local statutes, has been achieved only in one municipality (Municipality of Donji Lapac where Serbs make up 80.64% of population.
Exercising the right to bilingual writing of traffic signs is in practice not under the jurisdiction of municipalities but of the state, i.e. of a company in charge of traffic (road) signalisation (Hrvatske ceste d.o.o.)
In 2012, seven municipalities in the eastern part of Croatia (Erdut, Negoslavci, Markušica, Trpinja, Borovo, Šodolovci and Jagodnjak), which are traditionally populated by Serbs and where Serbs make up more than half of the population (between 54.65 and 96.86%) submitted to the relevant ministry their requests to change the existing traffic signalisation, i.e. to introduce bilingual traffic signs in line with the appropriate national regulations and stipulations of the local statutes. To this day these requests have not been met.
Unlike municipalities with a significant share of Serbs, with the exception of the Donji Lapac municipality, in municipalities with a significant share of other national minorities where the right to equal official use of minority language and script is guaranteed by national regulations and local statutes, the right to display bilingual names of settlements is recognized and implemented in practice (this refers to e.g. exercising the rights of Italian, Hungarian and Czech national minorities).
The Croatian legal framework, provides, from the Constitution downwards, in several provisions the right to bilingual topographical signs in areas where national minorities make up at least one third of the population.
In detail Article 12 (2) of the Croatian Constitution provides that in individual local entities, under the conditions prescribed by law, another language or script may be introduced for official use together with the Croatian language and the Latin script, with explicit reference being made to Cyrillic.
Furthermore, Article 15 of the Constitution grants national minorities the right to express their language and script in both private and public use.
Article 12 (2) of the Croatian Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities provides that the official use of a minority language and script is practised in those areas of a self-governing unit where the members of a national minority make up at least one third of the population
The Law on the Use of Languages and the Script of National Minorities in the Republic of Croatia also provides in Article 10 (1) that in municipalities and towns where a national minority language and script is used officially in the same way, the same font size shall be used in two or more languages:
Written traffic signs and other written signs in traffic.
2. names of streets and squares, 3. names of places and geographical places.
Furthermore, paragraph 2 of the same provision provides that the statutes of the municipalities concerned may determine whether these rights are to be exercised throughout the territory or only in specific places and whether and in which places the traditional names of places and sites are to be used.
OPINIONS OF THE RESPECTIVE MONITORING BODIES OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE
The relevant provisions of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and the European Language Charter for Regional or Minority Languages are also legally binding on the state of Croatia due to their ratification by the country.
The following Recommendation of the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities was issued to implement Art 11 (3) of the FCNM, which is relevant for bilingual topography:
In its 4th opinion on Croatia adopted on 18 November 2015 the Advisory Committee urges the authorities to raise awareness amongst the public of Croatia’s international and national legal obligations towards national minorities, and to promote close consultations among local authorities with representatives of minorities and the majority regarding the display of bilingual or trilingual signposts as a demonstration of the diverse character of the region, traditionally and at present.
RECOMMENDATION OF THE COMMITTEE OF MINISTERS OF THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE ON THE APPLICATION OF THE CHARTER BY CROATIA
The Committee of Ministers recommends in its 5th opinion on Croatia that the Croatian authorities take account of all the observations and recommendations of the Committee of Experts and, as a matter of priority:
continue these efforts to promote awareness and tolerance vis-à-vis the minority languages, in all aspects, including usage of signs and traditional local names with inscriptions in Cyrillic script, based on the conclusions of the Committee of Experts in it’s 5th opinion on Croatia. (see paragraphs 398 and 410.)
MINORITY MONITOR RECOMMENDATIONS
The Serb National Council invites the Croatian authorities to
Act without delay on the request of the seven municipalities from eastern part of Croatia which, in line with the relevant national regulations and stipulations of the local statutes, submitted in 2012 requests for bilingual traffic signs (in Croatian language and Latin script and Serb language and Cyrillic script) and names of the settlements in their area.
In line with national regulations and stipulations of the local statutes, without delay consider exercising of rights to bilingual writing (in Croatian language and Latin script and Serb language and Cyrillic script) of traffic signs with the names of settlements in the area of other municipalities with significant number of Serb population and where they have expressed a wish to exercise the said right.
Actively and systematically promote and facilitate practical exercising of all language-related rights of Serbs, in line with the national regulations and obligations taken by signing relevant international agreements.