The Role of
the Hungarian Community in Defining Vojvodinas Autonomy
Having posited that the support from members of the
Hungarian community was crucial for defining the status of Vojvodina and
its constitution as a truly autonomous province that rests on democratic
values, neighborly relations and the idea integration into Europe, the
Helsinki Committee organized - in mid-October 2008 in Novi Sad - the
first in the series of panel discussions planned under the project "The
Role of the Hungarian Community in Serbia."
The panel, held under the title "The Role of Hungarian
Parties in Defining the Status of Vojvodina," assembled public figures
with different ideological, political and professional orientations. In
her opening address, Sonja Biserko, chairwoman of the Helsinki
Committee, reminded of the fact that the panel was organized soon after
the Provincial Assembly adopted the Draft Statute and submitted it to
the republican parliament for consideration. The Hungarian community,
she said, is an autonomous political subject concerned not only with
conventional minority position and protection but also with crucial
issues of the Serb society and state such as European integrations,
cooperation with the tribunal in The Hague, facing the past, the
Constitution, decentralization or Vojvodina's autonomy.
According to Istvan Pastor, leader of the Alliance of
Vojvodina Hungarians, the party has been perceiving Vojvodina's autonomy
a high priority ever since its establishment. Vojvodina Hungarians are
vitally interested in having inasmuch as possible issues decided on in
Vojvodina proper, he said. Pastor underlined that the Alliance had
advocated larger autonomy for Vojvodina than the one provided by the
Statute. However, the existing Constitution sets a frame that limits a
search for better and more adequate solutions, said Pastor.
Agos Agoston reminded that back in early 1990s the
Democratic Party of Vojvodina Hungarians said Vojvodina's autonomy was a
Serb-Serb concern. Therefore, he said, it is the autonomy of Vojvodina
Hungarians that should be the top priority of the community's
representatives. He also said that his party had not taken part in
drafting of the Statute because the document failed to provide the
number of guaranteed mandates for minority representatives.
"In Vojvodina, we have the tradition of ethnic
tolerance. The fact that Vojvodina is so ethnically mixed can hardly
support the argument for territorial autonomy," said Miroslav Samardzic,
politicologist. Reminding that according to the last census, 53 percent
of Hungarians and 25 percent of Serbs would inhabit this "imagined"
territorial autonomy and that the size of the Serb population has grown
since, Samardzic warned that establishment of an ethnic autonomy could
destabilize interethnic relations. He also said that Vojvodina
Hungarians were disadvantaged by the brain drain caused by the war,
violence and drafts. According to Samardzic, in a personal autonomy
ethnic elites would be in the position to totally control
identity-defining resources, particularly in the domain of education.
Some participants in the panel spoke about the role of
the Council of national communities envisaged under the Draft Statute of
Vojvodina. Whereas for some such as Andras Agoston such an institution
was quite unnecessary, the others took that its competences should be
expanded by, say, the right to veto the parliament's decisions contrary
to the interests of Vojvodina's minorities.
Political actors caring for democratization and
European integrations could have always relied on the support from the
Hungarian community, said Sonja Biserko in conclusion. She informed the
participants that the next two panels would be dealing with Hungarian
community's cultural identity and its role as a "bridge" between Serbia
and the EU.
The Helsinki Committee implements the project
"The Role of the Hungarian Community in Serbia" with the assistance of
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Hungary.