Croatia Urged to Ease Path for Wronged Serbs to Gain Citizenship

The legal amendments address the problems of around 5,000 people whose parents were Croatian Serbs but were living in Serbia when they were born, when both Serbia and Croatia were part of Yugoslavia.

The newborns were wrongly registered in the citizens' register of the then Socialist Republic of Serbia, rather than the Socialist Republic of Croatia. When Croatia became independent from Yugoslavia, they had no rights to a Croatian passport or other essential documents entitling them to the benefits of citizenship such as education, healthcare, voting and employment rights.

One of them was Rade Lalic, who was born in 1982 to Croatian Serb parents who had Croatian citizenship but were living in Serbia at the time. At birth, he was mistakenly registered a citizen of the Socialist Republic of Serbia.

Lalic first applied for Croatian citizenship in 2007 but was rejected the following year. He filed a lawsuit against the Croatian administrative court, but it was dismissed in 2011. "I tried both in Serbia and Croatia, but everything was unsuccessful," he said.

He finally managed to get Croatian citizenship last year. "Now after all this is over, I finally feel free," he said.

The amendments to Croatian law came into force in January 2020 and gave people a two-year deadline to apply to apply for citizenship. The deadline expires at the end of this year.

But experts told BIRN that the paperwork involved is too laborious and the whole process is still too slow, suggesting that the deadline should be extended or dropped altogether.

Some also claimed that the law discriminates against some applicants, mostly Serbs, as it is easier to obtain citizenship for descendants of ethnic Croat emigrants.


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