Vojvodina and Serbia
by Nenad Canak, with accompanying extract from Djordje Buric
During the past five months the Vojvodina assembly has taken a number of legal initiatives, but we lack the instruments for their realization. We can realize them in two ways only: with the permission of the republican [Serbian, national] assembly or without it. If we do it without such permission, we shall be accused of a coup d’état. If the national assembly gave us its agreement this would make everything legal, but it has so far refused to do so.
We have, for example, ensured the supply of fertilizers; but the republican minister says he will not give us the money. Vojvodina, however, is not some local municipality. It is an area with one third of the country’s population which contributes one half of its gross revenue. If it is not treated well, we could go hungry next year. The national assembly and the Serbian government simply do not understand this.
They should remember that Slobodan Milosevic, acting at the height of his fame and power, tried to destroy the autonomy of Vojvodina, but succeeded only in this: whereas before no one supported the idea of a Vojvodina Republic, today 16% do so; whereas not a single person supported the idea of an independent Vojvodina, 17% do so today. At that time the 1974 federal constitution was treated as a monstrosity which had to be crushed at all costs. Today we have a situation in which over 75% of the public support either a wholly independent Vojvodina, or a republic of Vojvodina within a federal Serbia, or the return of Vojvodina’s former rights. That is the result of the suspension of autonomy.
Your insistence that the Vojvodina issue be solved as soon as possible and your intention to hold a referendum are interpreted as a lack of solidarity with the problems of the country as a whole. There is shooting in Serbia’s south and even in Belgrade. Could you not wait for the situation to stabilize itself, for the country to recover a little?
This is what we used to be told in the 1980s: that we must remain patient until the situation improves - until the Kosovo problem is solved, or the strikes end. W e were told that Vojvodina’s autonomy had to be cancelled, in order to impose law and order on Kosovo. But what actually happened? We lost our autonomy, while Kosovo is gone. Nothing has been solved and everything has got worse. It was not the 1974 constitution, however, which destroyed the country. On the contrary, the country was destroyed when that constitution ceased to function. One must not forget this.
It is nevertheless the case that the Socialists and the Radicals, i.e. parties hostile to Vojvodina’s autonomy in any form, used to win all the elections in Vojvodina. The Radicals, indeed, are the largest single party. This, surely, indicates that the issue of Vojvodina’s autonomy is not quite so urgent as you suggest.
The only thing that interests the people is where the money is. I keep trying to explain that we want our money and they [in Belgrade] want it too, and that on this we cannot agree. The basic question is: to whom does our money belong? Does it belong to those who have produced it, or should it be centralized and gone from our reach? The question of Vojvodina is not a Magyar question or whatever - it is a Serb question. The autonomist movement in Vojvodina is led by Serbs. They want their rights.
You have been elected to your position as president of the Vojvodina assembly by DOS votes. Do you express the interests of DOS or of your own party?
My support for a Vojvodina republic within a federal Serbia is not of recent date. It is part of our party’s programme, which was endorsed by our congress in January 2000, i.e. well before DOS came into being. Yet when I talk about this, everyone appears shocked, as if I have blasphemed. On the other hand it is considered quite normal to advocate the introduction of religious instruction in schools, even though nothing was said about this during the electoral campaign.
There is a difference between the two. What you demand affects the state constitution.
The other is also a question of the state constitution, since the state’s character is altered by the joining of church and state. You think the way you do because there exists a conceptual discourse, particularly in Belgrade, which is largely responsible for creating a centrally organized national state of Serbia on the French model. The idea is that since we are all Serbs we have a common interest, with small variations. This attitude is very present in Belgrade political and intellectual circles. The fact that we are all Serbs, however, does not mean we have the same interests. Everything that Milosevic has done must be declared illegal, since otherwise we will find ourselves in a situation in which what he has taken from Vojvodina will be treated as a fait accompli. If he is a criminal, then his deeds are criminal and should be erased.
This does not mean, however, that you should behave like him and break the rules of democratic procedure
Are you saying that the current constitution cannot be changed because Milosevic made certain that it could not?
I am saying that DOS enjoys a two-thirds majority in parliament
To insist on the existing constitution is to defend crime. It is to defend the continuity of a policy that was founded on a violently achieved legal discontinuity. If a legalist such as Vojislav Kostunica had been elected president in Germany in 1945, Jews would have continued to be gassed on the grounds that Hitler’s laws could not be changed. Things that should be changed should be changed immediately, so that we can return to the state of legality that existed before Milosevic’s arrival in power. The fact is that his 1990 constitution was introduced against the norms of the federal constitution valid at the time. It was an attack on the constitution - a constitutional coup. If law and justice had been operative at the time, and if the necessary will had existed, he and his supporters would already then have been arrested and sentenced to twenty years in prison.
Is there any difference between Hitler’s Germany and Milosevic’s Serbia?
The single most important difference between Hitler’s Germany and Milosevic’s Serbia derives from the fact that Hitler’s Germany was a well-organized state and was thus able to practise greater evil. Here the evil was practised on an ad hoc basis, so was relatively lesser. I have heard, for example, that Ratko Mladic has acquired Serbian citizenship, so that he cannot be arrested or delivered to The Hague. They say they do not know where he is, although everyone knows that he has been living in Belgrade. If he is indeed a Serbian citizen, then that implicates Serbia even more in the war in Bosnia. It would only add to the charge that, contrary to what Milosevic has been saying, the war in Bosnia was not a civil war, but an outside aggression aided by local forces. Hitler and Milosevic had identical political platforms: ethnic space, blood and soil, genocide.
What in your view should be the attributes of Vojvodina’s autonomy?
Our own budget based on our own resources. That’s all. Vojvodina used to collect its own taxes and dues and on that basis introduce a budget covering its own needs. Today, however, Vojvodina’s budget is part of the budget of the republic of Serbia. The republic of Serbia takes money from Vojvodina and returns it in small doses. We do not demand an independent educational system, defence, monetary policy, etc. We do think, however, that we should be able decide which languages should be used in our offices, or the price of our Vojvodina wheat. We believe that Vojvodina’s agricultural policy should be decided in the Vojvodina assembly. A quarter of the petrol consumed in Serbia comes from Vojvodina. Its price is so low that it is practically a gift. We simply wish to put to an end to the policy of robbery which reached its peak under Milosevic’s regime. If this plunder does not end, we shall not feel that anything has changed, in which case we shall continue our fight. I very much hope that DOS will see reason.
Nenad Canak, president of the Vojvodina assembly, interviewed in NIN (Belgrade), 1 March 2001
‘Up to the end of the 1980s Vojvodina had its own property and funds and managed its own very considerable assets: oil fields, natural gas pipelines, refineries, petrochemical industries, transport. It had built them from its own resources, while at the same time fulfilling its obligations towards the underdeveloped republics and provinces. With the nationalization enacted in the early 1990s, however, all this became the property of the Republic of Serbia. While DOS agrees that Milosevic’s policy was populist, fascistic, criminal, etc., many do not extend this view to the need to nullify the results of that policy. His great success was apparently that he united Serbia. Milosevic has gone, but his creation FRY, which is quaking and falling apart, is being oiled and repaired. There are thus those in DOS who are horrified at the very mention of autonomy for Vojvodina. Supporters of autonomy are once again being labelled "secessionists", "Magyarophiles", "lackeys of NATO", and so on.
If Vojvodina were to enter the process of privatization, however, without prior de-nationalization and before the process of property division is completed, all Vojvodina’s assets would end up in central funds from which only crumbs would be given to Vojvodina’s own enterprises.’
Djordje Buric, expert on the Vojvodina petroleum industry, speaking to NIN, 1 March 2001