SEPTEMBER 17 2012 22:38h

Croatian Serb refugees call for criminal prosecution of Split mayor

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BELGRADE, Sept 17 (Hina) - A coalition of associations of Croatian Serb refugees issued a statement on Monday condemning the statement made by the mayor of the Croatian coastal city of Split, Zeljko Kerum, that "Serbs are the source of all problems in Croatia" and urged the Croatian government to condemn hate speech and initiate his criminal prosecution.

"We also condemn Kerum's statement that Serbs have the biggest influence on the media and banks in Croatia and that most people think the same. We think that these statements contain elements of the crime of racial and other discrimination," the coalition said.

It recalled that Kerum had said on the same television programme three years ago that he would not want "a Serb as my son in law," that "Serbs should know their place" and that he was against Serbian capital coming to Croatia because "Serbs never brought anything good."

"We demand that the Croatian government condemn the hate speech by Zeljko Kerum and request his criminal prosecution. We also demand that the Croatian Parliament approve the launch of criminal proceedings against Zeljko Kerum because he has parliamentary immunity," the statement said, adding that after that the Zagreb County Prosecutor's Office should bring charges against Kerum in accordance with the Croatian Criminal Code under which anyone who spreads ethnic, religious, racial or other hatred faces a prison sentence of between three months and three years.

The coalition appealed to the European Union to demand of Croatia to prosecute Kerum's hate speech in accordance with its constitution and law and thus show in practice that it honoured fundamental European values.

Belgrade tabloids quoted Kerum as saying in a Croatian Television current affairs talk show on Sunday that "Serbs are the source of all problems in Croatia" and that "the whole country shares that opinion but most people never had a chance to say that because no one asked them for their opinion."

At a meeting of the Croatian Parliament's Committee on the Constitution on Monday, the vice-president of the Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS), Milorad Pupovac, asked Parliament and the Committee to condemn the statement by the Mayor of Split and HGS (Croatian Civic Party) member of Parliament, Zeljko Kerum, that his business problems began after he said that "Serbs should know their place."

Pupovac described Kerum's statement as an incitement to ethnic discrimination, comparing it to anti-Semitic statements in which Jews were portrayed as rich people with powerful influence, which had had tragic consequences in central and southeastern Europe.

Pupovac appealed to Parliament to "start taking such statements seriously, especially when they come from high-level officials in Croatia."

The chairman of the Committee on the Constitution, Josip Leko, also condemned Kerum's statement.