As the Bishop of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the Dalmatian Eparchy, I express my deepest resignation and condemnation regarding the recent, I would say bizarre events in the Municipality of Vrsi near Zadar, related to the request of the director of the local communal company to remove the Cyrillic inscription from the tombstone of a Serbian family in the cemetery in Poljice within 15 days.
According to his interpretation, in this municipality, there are not more than a third of residents of Serbian nationality, which is a condition for their legal right to use their own script, i.e. Cyrillic in this case. To be honest, I did not understand, since we are talking about a cemetery, whether he means the living or the dead, because in the case of those who lie in that cemetery, waiting for the Resurrection and Eternal Life, there are certainly more than a third of Serbs.
There is no point in proving the inaccuracy of the director’s claim, since the mentioned legal provision applies exclusively to the official use of Cyrillic or any other script in the Republic of Croatia, as the director himself clearly states in his letter, citing Article 12 of the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, which states: “Equal official use of language and script used by members of national minorities is realized in the area of a local self-government unit when members of a particular national minority constitute at least one-third of the population of such unit.” It is not, in fact, a rare case that Serbs are an absolute majority on Orthodox cemeteries in Croatia.
I still need to emphasize that it is unclear in what way and how the respected director came to the conclusion that the inscription on a tombstone is the same as official language usage. To be honest again, I am most interested in who the respected director of the municipal company in the Municipality of Vrsi corresponds with in such a liberal interpretation of legal acts. And even more so, I am interested in why the respected director of the municipal company in the Municipality of Vrsi is bothered by deceased Serbs. Maybe he is bothered by the living, so he is trying to confront them through the dead, “thinking he is serving God” (John 16:2), but I still don’t understand why he is bothered by Cyrillic inscriptions that have adorned Serbian Orthodox cemeteries in Dalmatia for centuries and whether he planned to remove Cyrillic inscriptions from graves from, for example, 1891, in the next phase.
As far as I know, this is the first case where an official, public, and therefore state institution requests the removal of a Cyrillic inscription from a tombstone in a Serbian cemetery on the territory of the Republic of Croatia. It doesn’t make sense in this context to develop a narrative about the cultural aspects of cemeteries, about anyone’s customary and ritual and religious rights, and especially the rights of national minorities, which are, as is well known, regulated by the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, the Constitution of the Republic of Croatia, the Constitutional Law on the Rights of National Minorities, and even the Cemetery Law.
I emphasize that in this case it is precisely about the violation of the mentioned rights and freedoms and their arbitrary and malicious interpretation, especially since such repressive measures are applied to holy places such as cemeteries for us Christians.
Furthermore, I add that desecrating graves and memorials for the deceased – and the Cyrillic inscription is part of that memorial – is a criminal offense in Croatia punishable by up to one year in prison. Hiding behind the Law on the Rights of National Minorities and the use of Cyrillic in public spaces is equally as absurd as invoking the Sports Law when introducing the euro.
In this regard, I consider this case bizarre, which is the mildest expression I use to express my condemnation, astonishment, and sadness. In times of global crisis, bloody wars, and the destruction of cities and human lives, this clumsy attempt to impose individual will demonstrates the senselessness of such intentions. It is terrifying that even the souls at rest and their resting places are not exempt from such bad intentions and desecration.
In that sense, I raise my voice with the intention of urgently putting an end to such intentions, consciously avoiding provocative words, because I want to believe that this is an atypical case that does not contribute to coexistence, community, and better establishment of both neighborly and interstate relations.
Serbian Orthodox Bishop of Dalmatia,