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ALEKSANDAR POPOV: Vojvodina in view of the presidential elections and the outcome of the Kosovo issue

English 04. апр 2008.
8 min čitanja

Aleksandar PopovAfter an extremely high score won by Tomislav Nikolić in the first round of the presidential elections, Vojvodina expected with a great concern the results of the second round. Two fateful questions on which depended, we may say now without exaggerating, not only the future of this but also the future generations, were Kosovo and the European perspective of Serbia.
Victory of Boris Tadić eliminated in a great measure the uncertainty related to at least one of these two issues. After Tadić’s victory even the Kosovo issue got a less dramatic dimension. Vojvodina’s population with its massive response and the highest possible support to Tadić had proved that it had been aware that resolving of each of these two questions was extremely important for Vojvodina because it would be affected more than other parts of Serbia by the results and consequences of the possible negative scenario.
Though it is an issue of autonomies, whose status is being defined by the Constitution in a singular way i.e. on the basis of their creation, the ethnical picture, a degree of development and many other things, here we have two completely different stories. In spite of everything or just because of it, whatever had been happening in the last and in this decade with Kosovo dramatically reflected on Vojvodina. The yogurt revolution from October 1988 had led the Yugoslav crisis to its dramatic end. Brutality with which then Vojvodina leadership had been overthrown had become a model of Milošević’s attitude towards other parts of then Yugoslavia and an introduction to the tragic war finale. Actually, Vojvodina hasn’t yet recovered from the yogurt-revolutionaries campaign and the subsequent abolition of autonomy. In the meantime, there appeared two, considering the address from which they had come, quite relevant concepts for the new Constitution – the concept of the President and the concept submitted by the Government of Serbia (read Serbian Democratic Party, DSS), Both these concepts foresee the decentralization of Serbia, with a high degree of real power for the autonomous provinces (the President’s concept even foresees the legislative power). Instead of choosing between these two concepts or some of the expert concepts being submitted by NGOs, in October 2006, by an oligarchic pact of parliamentary parties, Serbia got a new Constitution in which, due to consensus with the Radicals, there was no place either for decentralization or for restoring the autonomy of Vojvodina but instead, in its preamble, the autonomy was foreseen for Kosovo. Absurdity and cynicism of this situation is perhaps best expressed by an aphorism coined by the renowned aphorist Ilija Marković that reads: Why not to give Vojvodina the essential autonomy so that the Kosovo Albanians can see what they have missed.
In predicting the further destiny of decentralization and autonomy of Vojvodina, it may be useful to remember how some of the major parties treated this issue when in power and how when in opposition. Thus, for example, the Democratic Party before October 5th, 2000, as well as during the former Kostunica’s government, when it was in opposition, in its party program and in its public statements, clearly advocated the decentralization of Serbia and a high degree of autonomy for Vojvodina and Kosovo (present in the President of Serbia’s concept). However, when it came to power the party (DS) seriously modified this approach and at the end, in the campaign for a new Constitution of Serbia, a high official of DS in Vojvodina stated that the new Constitution (that foresees seven percent of the Serbian budget for Vojvodina) meets 90 percent of aspirations of Vojvodina’s population for the full autonomy!!!
If this can be taken as barometer for the future it can be presumed that in the foreseeable future Vojvodina can hardly count on any serious support from Belgrade in its claims for the full autonomy. Not unless Boris Tadić interprets rightly the votes he has won in Vojvodina, in light of the approaching local and provincial and, quite possible, also the parliamentary elections, and unless he understands the need to return to his 2005 concept and with much more strength support the process of decentralization of Serbia and restoration of the (essential) autonomy of Vojvodina. In this, he will certainly have support of not only the authentic Vojvodina’s parties but also of the Sandžak Bosniak (Bosnian) Party and of G17Plus, which until now has been absolutely consistent in its support to the autonomy of Vojvodina.
If all aforementioned is taken into consideration than one argument running already for a while really surprises – that after Kosovo it is Vojvodina’s turn. The source of this argument is unknown, but it is largely present in the public opinion not only in Vojvodina but also throughout Serbia and really incites deep concern. Nobody has as yet attempted more seriously to explain what this allegation – i.e. that now is Vojvodina’s turn – may actually mean, but it still looms like a dark shadow over an already somber political landscape of Serbia. One of possible motif for this allegation may be a hypothetical expectation that the current situation around Kosovo will be used by those advocating the autonomy of Vojvodina to attempt to secede Vojvodina from Serbia!!! Only few facts can easily show how pointless is this calculation. First, neither in the programs nor in public statements of Vojvodina’s political parties or their leaders, never, neither as an allusion, the possibility let alone any claim has been made referring to seceding Vojvodina from Serbia. After all, in difference to Kosovo, the Serbs are the absolute majority in Vojvodina.
On the other side, the election results and the strength of authentic Vojvodina’s parties clearly indicates that the total sum runs short to ensure capacity for not only secession but even to exercise a more serious pressure on Belgrade to restore the full autonomy of Vojvodina.
If so, what else could be the reason for this argument? Far more realistic basis for this speculation may be found in a totally other concept present in Serbia that is related with the future not only of Serbia but also its closest neighborhood. Namely, the populist part of Serbia still cherishes hope for, to them, more acceptable finale of the “big bang” i.e. possible pre-composing of these bordering regions into the ethnically clean territories as it had been launched at the break-up of former Yugoslavia and the ensuing bloodshed. In this variant, which more or less mildly or strongly is being hint by the actual Prime Minister and his associates, the departure of Kosovo can be compensated by the possible unity with the Republika Srpska, which would round off the territories with predominantly Serbian population. Such calculations not only have never been categorically denied or refused but, on the contrary, have got a new meaning due to RS threats to organize the referendum on separating from B&H. All this culminated in a deep crisis so that at the end of last year Miroslav Lajčak was forced to implement measures in order to transform B&H into a functional state and not a sum of ethnicities. On the very top of this crisis, the Prime Minister said in his statement that B&H couldn’t have interpreted such call as the open pretension on the part of its territory, which in turn prompted a non-diplomatic message from Sarajevo that the Prime Minister should have kept away from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Why this story is important for Vojvodina and the thesis that after Kosovo it is its turn? Rounding off the territories on the ethnical principle logically brings into question the survival of Vojvodina as it is because, with Istria, it is the only genuine multiethnic area in the wider region. This may not be the correct answer but may be a possible answer to thesis that it is Vojvodina’s turn. What provokes anxiety is that in the era of predominant ethnocentrism this variant is not in the sphere of science fiction.
The above hypothesis is closely tied with attacks on members of minorities, which were intensified at the mid-decade. Although the long and active nationalism has left its consequences, Vojvodina still manages to preserve in the greater measure its multi-ethnical nature and relatively high degree of inter-ethnical tolerance.
Naturally, Vojvodina for a long time wasn’t nor it will be what it once used to be, but even as such it is a torn in the eye of those who hasn’t learned to observe anything outside national coordinates. Indeed, how it can be multi-ethnical and tolerant in the ocean of ethnically pure territories and inter-ethnical intolerance? This is simply an optical obstruction. And here again there is a crucial reflection of events in Kosovo on Vojvodina. Violence that on March 17th, 2004, erupted in Kosovo, overflowed the streets of cities in Serbia, but it left the deepest consequences in Vojvodina with the long-term effects. Nearly two full years with an undiminished intensity, incidents on the national basis were erupting and their targets were mostly the Vojvodina Hungarians. Owing to a mild and inadequate reaction of authorities, they led to two serious warnings by the European institutions. The Commission founded by the SCG Council of Ministers had made inquiries related to these incidents (the author of this text was a member of the Commission) and came to a conclusion that neither the police nor courts in many cases reacted by having taken legal actions against the culprits for their offences and by this additionally encouraged them. In one moment these incidents took place in such an alarming atmosphere that some could begin to believe that argument about Vojvodina’s turn was reality. Repeated incidents and nationalism of the majority population resulted in the counter-reaction i.e. nationalism of the minorities, primarily through activities of the Youth Movement of 64 districts and the frequent gatherings of the former veterans of the Hungarian army in Vojvodina during the Second World War. Long-term consequences of these events is deepening inter-ethnical gap and the fact that in some places in Vojvodina, communications between the Hungarian and Serbian communities is almost non-existent and that in many places for rather a long time there are strictly ethnical cafes. In such circumstances fear that the decision on the status of Kosovo will be followed by inter-ethnical clashes is justified and, in Vojvodina, we may expect repeated incidents against members of minorities only this time with increased intensity and even more tragic consequences.
Another deep concern of people in Vojvodina (partly reduced after election of Boris Tadić for president) relates to the possible delay of signing SAA (the EU Stabilization and Association Agreement) – either because of the anti-European attitude expressed by the part of ruling establishment or because some members of the European Union are against it. As the most European part of Serbia, Vojvodina is the most vulnerable to negative scenario regarding this issue. For Vojvodina population it is already frustrating that Schengen zone begins some hundred kilometers from Novi Sad to north and east, and that in a very foreseeable time they will border with another Schengen zone about 40 kilometers west. For an ordinary Novi Sad’s citizen it used to be normal to go with family by car to the nearest neighborhood, to Szeged, for shopping and for treat in the famous sweet shop “Virág”. Now, because of the visa regime and other reasons, for many citizens it is only an abstract idea. Further hermetism of Serbia will have only an additional depressing effect on the population of Vojvodina. This would mark the end for the Euro-regional cooperation of Vojvodina, which through it opened also the path for Serbia to enter Europe. Vojvodina for the whole decade participates actively in Euro-regional integration called DKMT and currently is also working on establishing a new Euro-region EUROPANON that, besides Vojvodina, will include the bordering parts of B&H and Croatia with Vojvodina. Slowing down or delaying on a long run the Serbian integration into EU would impede and render senseless such Euro-regional cooperation of Vojvodina. New isolation of Serbia would especially cause problems for the members of minorities because they would feel cut off from their mother state but will also have an impact on all citizens of Vojvodina that through the EU membership see their chance to restore to Province its once high degree of development also accompanied with a high living standard of citizens still remembered by the older and middle-aged inhabitants.
Though elections with us have not for a long time been just a routine democratic practice, something that once in a while politically animates citizens, this year’s presidential elections, especially their second, crucial round, were something that would essentially determine the position of Serbia in a greater part of this century. Vojvodina’s population had understood that very well and that’s why Vojvodina had recorded the highest response of voters, and thus ensured victory for Boris Tadić. The votes of Vojvodina’s inhabitants he and all other should interpret as the vote for Europe, for the peaceful end of the Kosovo issue, the vote for peace, stability and against returning to the nineties. Boris Tadić should appreciate this and at the beginning of his new term start fulfilling what he has promised to all citizens of Serbia, but also his promises to Vojvodina’s inhabitants in his earlier political promises.