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Vojvodina and Policies of Multiculturalism: Experiences and Prospects

Novi Sad, May 30, 2008

19. August 2008, HCHRS


Even before the concept of multiculturalism was formally introduced in Serbia, authorities started belittling it, concluded the participants in the fourth brainstorming session in the series that was realized under the project "Fostering Vojvodina's Multiethnic Identity."

Deliberating Vojvodina's experiences, the participants indicated the stumbling blocs both in the way of affirmation of multiculturalism and implementation of the policy of multiculturalism - the identity crisis of the majority nation, nationalism as the ideology that still dominates the society, unfinished state, deeply rooted legacy of 1990s, treatment of minorities as "a security issue," and absence of well-thought-out and coherent minority policies.

The discussion pinpointed unfavorable social atmosphere in which minorities are mostly perceived as "a burden that costs the state too much." Besides, inadequately regulated political, legislative, institutional and legal spheres constantly frustrate not only minority communities but also all those taking that their cultural and ethnic differences are the values to be upheld. According to the participants, the great majority of problems in this domain is being generated by the central governance and "exported" to Vojvodina.

So far, the activities pursued by provincial authorities have been directed towards: establishment of a legal and institutional frame that would more efficiently safeguard different cultures; and, since 2005, strong affirmation of multiculturalism and tolerance. This project initiated by the institutions in the province itself was unique in Europe - unique by the character the public governance attributed to it, by the number of people involved and by the budget set aside for its implementation. And yet, despite all efforts and impressive turnout of students, the project was not included in regular curricula and educational activities. For, officials in charge of developing school curricula showed no understanding whatsoever for it.

In the participants' view, any serious discussion of multiculturalism should reflect various angles. In this context, it is necessary to analyze regular curricula so as to determine whether educational policies encourage young people to recognize "other cultures" or - more or less indirectly - suggest distancing from them and entrenchment in "one's own identity." Unlike formal presentation of other cultures - that usually boils down to facts and historical overviews, and hardly contributes to a change in "value system" - the approach that fosters local heritage is by far more productive. Such an approach has the capacity to relativize discrediting stereotypes and relax the atmosphere of mutual accusations.

The participants underlined that Kosovo's independence /potentially/ supports the arguments that equalize minorities with secessionism, and that the policy of overemphasizing identities could turn into a factor of instability. Whenever some minority communities choose "self-isolation" the reasons behind their options should be thoroughly examined. Ghettoization, said the participants, has never been a matter of free choice but a consequence of exclusory policies. The same as the ethnic majority minorities have never been homogeneous communities. Borders do not only divide different cultures but also the same ones (which is probably best mirrored in the case of refugees) given that individuals have been adopting different patterns and value system - all of that makes multiculturalism an extremely complex concept.

In a politically sharply divided society that moves slowly towards the EU and brims with empty political rhetoric, such as the Serbian society, multiculturalism is practically a manner of speaking rather than a consequent policy.

The participants agreed on the following conclusions and recommendations:
- Affirmation of the policy of multiculturalism necessitates well-thought-off and coordinated action by various factors rather than ad hoc solutions;
- The focus should be on inter-cultural ties that have contributed to "one's own" culture, which, for its part, should be examined for the elements of "foreign," i.e. other culture;
- Regular school curricula should be analyzed and constant pressure on public authorities should be exerted with a view to more efficient action vis-a-vis multiculturalism;

- The topics that influence "value-oriented" affiliations of young people should be incorporated into regular school curricula;

- Multilingualism should be more encouraged in Vojvodina;

- An institute for interethnic relations should be set up.

The brainstorming session was covered by the following media outlets: RTV Vojvodina, Independent Production Group "Playground," Magyar Szo daily (in Hungarian), Hlas Lludu daily (in Slovakian) and Libertatea newspaper (in Rumanian).


The project "Fostering Vojvodina's Multiethnic Identity" is being realized with the assistance of the European Union within the EuropeAid program.



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