AIM - Political scene of Vojvodina

Searching for the Future

MON, 20 DEC 1999

AIM Podgorica, 9 December, 1999 (By AIM correspondent from Belgrade)
The opinion that something will happen in Voivodina (although everyone seems to have one's own answer to the question what that will be) and the almost reached consensus (of the opposition and the regime) that "turn" has come to Voivodina, mostly serves as a method of intimidation through warnings of spokesmen of the regime. The idea which is also in circulation and concerning which there is also no essential difference between the regime and the opposition is that "after Kosovo", Voivodina will also "leave". The civil faction of the opposition - and in Voivodina it is influential and mostly in favour of a broad autonomy of this province - does not accept a parallel with Kosovo and believes it is wrong to reduce the problem of Voivodina to ethnic relations, even to the position of the Hungarians as its most numerous ethnic community. This part of the political scene considers the issue of Voivodina a democratic one and as part of the process of democratisation of Serbia. But it does not deny that it exists. Noone, however, speaks of "leaving".

The recent appeal of the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina (LSV) that after consultations with all relevant political organisations of Voivodina, a strategic platform on future relations between Serbia and Voivodina should be outlined, according to the explanation given by Nenad Canak, president of this party, is not motivated by the question of the constitutional position of Voivodina, but by the need to redefine these relations, and for AIM he stresses prevention as one of the key reasons for it.

"The international community and all of us must not constantly be in the role of firemen and appear overwhelmed by good will when nothing but burnt down ruins are left on the already parched land reduced to ashes. If out of eight federal units of former SFRY seven have in some way defined their status, and the eighth - and this is Voivodina - is not even mentioned, it is clear that eventually the problems which exist in Voivodina will break out with full intensity. That is what we do not wish to wait for. We do not want any wars and tensions on the territory of Voivodina, but we want as a preventive measure to arrange relations between Voivodina and Serbia - in which Voivodina should remain - and not to wait for the relations to become so strained that any peaceful solution will become impossible". Canak mentions that this is what he had recently talked about at the meeting with Knut Wollebeck of OSCE in Oslo.

Annoouncing the invitation to talks on defining the word Voivodina, LSV mentioned that this party had its own party document titled "Republic of Voivodina - Road to Peace, Development and Stability" in which Serbia is seen as a federal state, but also that it is not good for a strategic document to be an entreaty of individual parties. The appeal to define the meaning of autonomy may be interpreted as an offer to create a political block of parties from Voivodina - and there is a big number of them which is increasing every day although most of them have not checked their actual influence on the people in the elections - but it seems that this would be the easier part of the job and that it is not the only aim.

Like when it defined the party platform on federal Serbia, it seems that LSV is pointing the "arrow" towards Belgrade again and the opposition parties seated in the capital. Concerning the thesis that by the change of the regime itself many things will change in Serbia, Nenad Canak warns that it does not mean that with the change of the regime in Serbia the status of Voivodina will change nor that much will change in Voivodina itself. He insists on "the right of Voivodina to self-definition". He juxtaposes this term to the terms of self-determination, secession and proclaiming independence: "Citizens of Voivodina must have the unalienable right to say in what kind of a state they wish to live. The assembly of Voivodina must state its opinion about it, not only as a suggestion, but as a decision".

In his explanation of the need for self-defining of Voivodina, Canak warns against the utterly wrong but widely spread delusion that Voivodina has due to circumstances "appeared" in this space and that it is therefrom a matter of choice and convention and not rights. He says that it is of no importance whether in 1918 Voivodina joined Serbia or directly Yugoslavia, but that "whatever it joined" Voivodina did it by an assembly decision: "This in itself means that the assembly of Voivodina is in charge of monitoring these relations and that it is its duty to redefine them if they are evidently harmful to Voivodina and its citizens regardless of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation".

In the extremely centralised Serbia Voivodina has the assembly of the province which has no power at all and its budget which it gets from the Republican parliament, covers the salaries of employees of the administration which administers nothing. The attempts of the opposition to raise any topic at its rare sessions end up with additional proclamation that the parliament of Voivodina - is not in charge of the issue.

In Voivodina, 95 per cent of towns and villages have ethnically mixed population. Canak links the question of defining Voivodina to the general resolution of the question of South Eastern Europe, the Stability Pact and other various international activities in this space. "This is not at all a question of separatism of any kind. It would mean secession and Voivodina has nowhere to secede. We believe that we not only do not need independence but that it would at this moment be exceptionally dangerous for Voivodina itself and all its citizens. But we will proceed with self-defining. Voivodina must be what its citizens decide it will be".

Majority of the citizens demand that Voivodina have the status of an autonomy within Serbia. To the question whether the offer for self-defining of Voivodina is a specific response to a part of the public because polls among the citizens of Voivodina show that the number is increasing of those who would like to see the independent state of Voivodina - which is a new and, all things consideredd, emotionally motivated opinion in the "northern province" - Nenad Canak says: "We are against the independent state of Voivodina for many reasons, but it depends on the regime in Serbia, and not on us, what Voivodina will look like", and he sees the reason for such demands primarily in the pressure exerted on Voivodina from Belgrade. "Voivodina will go towards independence to the extent pressure is exerted on it from Belgrade. Unfortunately, I must say that this pressure is growing".

Although invitations for the talks still have not been formally sent not has it been made public who will take part in the talks, there have been reactions from both "inside" and outside the coalition. The ideologically heterogeneous Movement for Voivodina which developed from discussions of nonpartisan Voivodina Club and a few minor parties which have never checked their rating in any elections, warns that its documents on defining the autonomous status of Voivodina and the platform on how to proceed in order to achieve it already exist. Leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) Vojislav Kostunica who immediately opposed the idea of Voivodina being a republic. Serb Revival Movement (SPO) likes to brag in Voivodina with its (party) declaration about it, but it has for a long time now been making bitter remarks whenever "Republican" ideas are even mentioned. At the same time, it is very often very difficult to distinguish statements of some of the local leaders of the Democratic Party (DS) from the radical advocates of autonomy.

It is most likely that a discussion on Voivodina will soon take place and after that a very big contribution will be clarification of stands. There is too much talk about autonomy (of the cashbox and the economy, mostly) and everyone here is (at least slightly) an autonomy-lover. However, hardly anyone speaks of mechanisms to achieve it. According to the principle - when I say autonomy, I mean the voters...
Milena Putnik - (AIM

Ethnic Issue
Out of the total of 45 municipalities in Voivodina, only seven in the north of Backa have majority Hungarian population. This is not a significant percentage. "But this does not lessen", Canak mentions, "the significance of resolving the ethnic issue of the citizens of Hungarian origin in Voivodina and their right to promote and preserve their ethnic specificity, language and culture". He insists on the fact that not only they are entitled to this right, but all citizens of Voivodina regardless of their ethnic origin. There are 29 ethnic communities living in Voivodina. The stand of LSV is that rights must not be linked to territorial organising according to the ethnic principle because this proved to be utterly wrong.