The Subotica City Council on Thursday decided to amend the City Statute to allow for the introduction of the language of the Bunjevci as an official language in this city in northern Serbia. The decision was opposed by the representatives of the Democratic Alliance of Croats in Vojvodina (DSHV).
The first step in introducing the language of the Bunjevci as the fourth official language in the city in the northern province of Vojvodina, along with Serbian, Hungarian and Croatian, will be the formation of a commission to draft a bill amending the Statute. The bill will be put to a vote in the City Council and then referred to the City Assembly for adoption.
The proposal was put forward by Mayor Stevan Bakic on 23 February at the initiative of the Bunjevci National Council. It was adopted by the City Assembly by a 58-2 vote.
The initiative is strongly opposed by the DSHV, the Croatian National Council and Croatia’s Institute for the Croatian Language and Linguistics. According to Croatian Ambassador to Belgrade Hidajet Biscevic, the proposal is legally unfounded.
Councillor Mirko Bajic, who heads the Association of Bunjevci of Backa, said that by introducing the language of the Bunjevci the Bunjevci ethnic minority would finally become recognised and equal to other ethnic groups in Subotica and Serbia. He said that the Bunjevci are “an indigenous people, an ethnic minority, with equal rights as all other ethnic minorities in Serbia, with their own culture, tradition and language.”
DSHV leader Tomislav Zigmanov said that “this is clearly a case of state interventionism in identity disputes within the Croatian community.” He said that it is an example of positive discrimination against the Bunjevci, because 9.5 percent of people in Subotica identify themselves as Bunjevci and the law provides for the introduction of an official language only if a particular ethnic group accounts for at least 15 percent of the population.
Zigmanov said that, if the decision is adopted by the City Assembly, the Croatian National Council will launch an initiative for the recognition of Croatian as an official language in towns where ethnic Croats account for less than 15 percent, such as Bac, Apatin, and Sombor, as well as at provincial level.