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    Copyright: The following text is for personal information only. Any professional use or publication in written or electronic form is subject to an agreement with AIM, 17 rue Rebeval, F-75019 Paris, France

    SAT, 18 NOV 1995 00:21:05 GMT

    MANIFESTO FOR AUTONOMOUS VOJVODINA

    Appeal for instigating a procedure for amendment of the Constitution of Serbia and Yugoslavia

    Jan Briza - Novi Sad

    In the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina which is a part of the Republic of Serbia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, demands for amendements of the statute of the Province have reappeared in the past several days. A group of citizens gathered in a non-party organization called Vojvodina Club and the Group of Independent Deputies in the Assembly of Vojvodina addressed the public with a "Manifesto for Autonomous Vojvodina". In it, they demanded urgent instigation of a procedure for amendment of the republican and the federal Constitution in order to constitute Vojvodina within Serbia and Yugoslavia "as a social community based on the rule of the citizens, full democracy, local self-administration, private ownership and market economy". This document also demands that Vojvodina gets its "autonomous legislative, judicial and executive authorities" in the areas which are now regulated pursuant the republican and the federal Constitution.

    The authors of the "Manifesto" have invited all political parties, citizens' associations, movements and organizations in Vojvodina to join them in order to address assemblies of Vojvodina, Serbia and Yugoslavia jointly and simultaneously with the demand to instigate the procedure for amending the republican and the federal Constitution. They primarily expect support from the local political parties and movements, but also liberal ones in Belgrade. They also referred to certain European and other international institutions with a request to help them with effectuation of the autonomous status of Vojvodina, which is, according to what they say, "an indispensable condition for a lasting resolution of the crisis in the former Yugoslav space".

    However, probabilities are small that the initiators of this action will be more successful than their numerous predecessors. Reasons are very simple. Political forces in Vojvodina and Serbia which may be gathered around their project are nowadays practically negligible.

    The civic layer which they are actually referring to with their concept of autonomous Vojvodina, is too "thin" and pushed too far to the margins to be able to lead any sort of political action with prospects to succeed. On the other hand, the wave of nationalism and populism which was set in motion when Slobodan Milosevic came to power in Serbia, is still predominant on the local political scene.

    The issue of autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo came to the surface with that very wave. In Vojvodina, it was resolved by the so-called "anti-bureaucratic revolution" which was organized and patronized by Milosevic's at the time still communist regime. Accomplishments of this "revolution" exported from Belgrade were legitimized on September 28, 1990 by the Constitution of the Republic of Serbia. Autonomy of Vojvodina was reduced down to mere formality in the Constitution, and by subsequent laws and political practice it was almost completely abolished. Consequences of this act for the political, economic and cultural life of the citizens of Vojvodina were disastrous.

    Centralization of power in Serbia, after armed conflicts had broken out in the former Yugoslav space, enabled use of Vojvodina as some kind of a "war commissariat service", since it is the greatest food manufacturer in the region. Its role of a cheap food manufacturer is equally irreplaceable concerning maintenance of social peace in the country. Therefore, the regime will by all possible means try to prevent "autonomous" trends in Vojvodina.

    To make things worse, the issue of autonomy of Vojvodina is inevitably linked to the same issue in Kosovo by the regime. Allegedly, autonomy of Vojvodina was sacrificed for the sake of abolishing the latter, and thereby overcoming the Albanian separatism.

    The war in the former Yugoslav space and the arrival of an enormous number of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina (it is assessed that about two million of native inhabitants of Vojvodina have offered refuge to at least 200 thousand of newly arrived Serbs), drastically changed its ethnic composition. According to the 1991 census, that is before the war, there were 16 different ethnic groups in Vojvodina. In the total population, the Serbs participated with 56.79 per cent, the Hungarians with 16.86, the Yugoslavs with 8.65, the Croats with 3.71, and the others with a considerably lower percentage.

    The arrival of refugees considerably changed the social and political structure of the population of Vojvodina too. This change was also in no way in favour of the project of restoration of its autonomy. On the contrary.

    Finally, not even all those who advocate the autonomy of Vojvodina are doing it with the same motivation. There are quite large differences between them. The greatest and most influential local political party, the Reformist Democratic Party of Vojvodina, in its "Declaration on Vojvodina" (publicized on October 1, 1992) sees Vojvodina as a "modern European region" with the status of an "autonomous province forming part of of the Republic of Serbia and a future Yugoslav association". The league of Social Democrats of Vojvodina, in a document of its own titled "Memorandun on Vojvodina" (December 23, 1991) has the highest aspirations concerning autonomy and advocates Vojvodina as a "confederate unit, equal to other units within a confederate Serbis". If Serbia is not ready to accept such Vojvodina, the "Memorandum" prescribes "independent Vopjvodina, as a neutral and open territory with an adequate international status and guarantees.

    For the Democratic Community of Vojvodina Hungarians, the concept of the autonomy is a framework for preservation of their ethnic identity in Vojvodina. A document of this party titled "Hungarian Autonomy" was made public on March 11, 1995 in Subotica. In an interview given to the weekly Nezavisni (Independent), the President of the party, Andrasz Agoston, declared: "We do not seek a change of the borders, but we seek autonomy both from the FR Yugoslavia and from Serbia, but possibly even from Vojvodina".

    Finally, with a "Proclamation for Modern Autonomy of Vojvodina" in August 1994, the Vojvodina Club as a non-party organization also made its view public.

    There were also a few party and scientific conferences in the past several years with autonomy of Vojvodina on their agenda. The most important among them was certainly the round table discussion titled "Autonomy of Vojvodina Today", which was organized by the All-Nation Front of Vojvodina in January 1993. Scientific authorities in the field of constitutional law such as members of the Academy of Sciences and Arts, Prof. Dr Aleksandar Fira and Prof. Dr Najdan Pasic participated, but also the famous historian of literature and former President of the central cultural institution Matica Srpska, Zivan Milisavac, as well.

    Jan Briza is a journalist in the privately-owned news agency BETA in Belgrade, and weekly Nezavisni in Novi Sad Address: Dimitrija Avramovica 8 21000 Novi Sad tel: (021) 623-094