Myth: The government of the Republic of Croatia denied basic civil, cultural and linguistic rights to the Serbian minority in Croatia, forcing them into revolt in 1991.
Reality: On the very day it declared independence, Croatia granted extraordinary rights and privileges to Serbs and other minorities in Croatia.
By 1996, it was evident throughout the world that Serbia was the aggressor in Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Hercegovina during the break-up of Yugoslavia. The transparent endeavor of the war was the preservation of a Greater Serbian state retaining the name Yugoslavia against the expressed will of the majority of the people. Serbia's intentions were less clear to many during the early days of aggression in the Fall of 1991 and Spring of 1992.
A full-scale Serbian propaganda campaign repeated time and again that a "civil war" was being fought to "protect the Serbian minority in Croatia" despite the fact that the Serbs had lived peacefully with the Croatians for a half-century. To reinforce its case, Serbia let it be known that the new Croatian government had made no provision for the rights of Serbs in Croatia. Some in the Western media accepted the mythology as fact, and in some cases continued to repeat it well into 1996. "The Croatians wrote a new constitution, giving no special rights to Croatia's Serbs..." wrote a major daily in late 1995.
Croatian Declaration of Independence, June 25, 1991
In reality, with the very first document to emerge from the new Croatian Republic, its Declaration of Independence on June 25, 1991, the Croatian government guaranteed not only civil rights, but unique rights, to the Serbian minority. The first two articles of the Declaration established the rights of Croatia to declare independence and to defend its territorial integrity. Article III of the Declaration stated:
The Republic of Croatia is a democratic, legal and social state in which prevails the supreme values of constitutional order: freedom, equality, ethnic equality, peace, social justice, respect for human rights, pluralism and the inviolability of personal property, environmental protection, the rule of law, and a multi-party system.
The Republic of Croatia guarantees Serbs in Croatia and all national minorities who live in this territory the respect of all human and civil rights, especially the freedom to nurture their national language and culture as well as political organizations.
The Republic of Croatia protects the rights and interests of its citizens without regard to their religious, ethnic or racial belonging. In accordance with customary and positive international law, the Republic of Croatia guarantees other states and international bodies that it will completely and consciously uphold all its rights and duties as a legal successor to the previous Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to the extent that they relate to the Republic of Croatia.
In order to avoid bloodshed and insure a peaceful transition, the Croatian declaration included:
The Republic of Croatia calls upon the other republics of the former SFRY to create an alliance of sovereign states on the presumptions of mutual recognition of state sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual respect, recognition of political pluralism and democracy, pluralism of ownership and market economy, and the actual respect of human rights, rights for ethnic minorities and other civilized values of the free world.