Monday, September 23, 2013

Slovene E.U. Diplomat’s Words on Vojvodina’s Status Ruffle Serb Feathers

Vojvodine nationalists rallying in Novi Sad, the provincial capital
Jelko Kacin, a Slovenian diplomat who is the European Union’s “rapporteur” for the Republic of Serbiastepped on a landmine in the European Parliament last week by calling for a clarification of the status of Vojvodina, an autonomous—but not really—province within Serbia.  Then his remarks were interpreted with great alarm, putting the Serbian foreign ministry into damage-control mode.

Jelko Kacin
While speaking on a panel on Vojvodina at the E.U. legislature in Brussels, Belgium, Kacin said, “Having in mind upcoming negotiations on Serbia’s membership in the E.U., I believe this is the right moment to raise the question of the constitutional and statutory regulation of the autonomy of Vojvodina.  The present framework for autonomy is uncertain and vague, which prevents Vojvodina, and therefore Serbia, from developing its capacities.”

Map showing Vojvodina within the former Yugoslavia (the green countries)
Vojvodina, in the north of Serbia and forming the only Serbian borders with Hungary and Croatia, is historically and potentially one of the most multi-ethnic and contentious portions of the former Yugoslavia, but it largely stayed out of the fray of the Wars of Yugoslav Secession in the early 1990s.  Vojvodina was an ethnically-Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but when the empire was dismantled after losing the First World War the newly created independent Hungarian Republic set Vojvodina, including a portion of what is now western Romania, as a Hungarian-dominated Banat Republic.  Serbian and Romanian forces invaded the fledgling Banatia, as it was also known, and divvied it up: Romania got what is now its western Transylvania region, while Serbia absorbed the rest and made it the autonomous province of Danube Banovina within the Serbian part of the new Kingdom of Yugoslavia.  (For a discussion of separatism in Transylvania, see a recent article from this blog.)

During the Second World War, the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet state, and Hungary, then an Axis power, took over the province and tried to revive the Banat Republic, with ethnic Germans and Hungarians in charge.  It failed, and after the war Yugoslavia filled its vacant Nazi concentration camps with Vojvodina’s Germans, who were subsequently cleansed from the province, and Danube Banovina was renamed Vojvodina.

As the “Banat Republic,” Vojvodina (dark green, at center) almost achieved independence
in the aftermath of the First World War.
Yugoslavia’s Communist dictator, Josip Broz Tito, granted Vojvodina some genuine, but limited, autonomy in 1974, but then Vojvodina’s hopes of further loosening ties to Belgrade after the fall of the Berlin Wall were dashed when Serbia’s president, Slobodan Milošević, revoked its autonomy in 1990.  It has never been restored, so it is the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina in name only.  Ethnically, the region is two-thirds Serb, but the 13% Magyar (ethnic Hungarian) minority feels that, with the de facto independence of Kosovo—once Serbia’s other “autonomous province”—they are the last colonized people in the Serb mini-empire.  Belgrade is ever alert to the possibility of the province flaring up in rebellion.

Vojvodina’s autonomy: Tito giveth, and Slobo taketh away
In Brussels, Mr. Kacin—a former independence leader during Slovenia’s “Ten-Day War” of secession from Belgrade in 1990—was not being inflammatory.  He merely pointed out that if Serbia is to get its bureaucratic house in order in preparation for E.U. candidacy, then it must sort out Vojvodina’s financial relationship to the central government.  If it is an autonomous unit, then it is eligible for special E.U. funds after accession, but if so, the implication went, it would have to start being treated autonomously, and its role in the levying and spending of tax funds must be clarified.  Pending resolution of the conflict over Kosovo, Serbia is considered close to the front of the line for E.U. enlargement, along with Macedonia, Montenegro, and Kosovo itself.

Aleksandar Vučić
Serbia was furious at this interest in its internal structure, however, and by September 19th, Serbia’s first deputy prime minister, Aleksandar Vučić, had bullied Kacin into appearing alongside him at a special press conference, where he intoned sternly that Kacin’s statement was liable to misinterpretation, adding, “I can say this in Kacin’s presence, because I know he also believes that Vojvodina cannot be separated from Serbia.”

One wonders if Kacin, during this, thought to himself, “Where have I heard those words before?  Oh, yes—Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo ...”

[You can read more about Vojvodina, Kosovo, other sovereignty and independence movements both famous and obscure in my new book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas just published by Litwin Books under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements and Aspirant Nations, from Abkhazia to Zanzibar.  The book, which contains 46 maps and 554 flags (or, more accurately, 554 flag images), is available for order now on Amazon.  Meanwhile, please “like” the book (even if you haven’t read it yet) on Facebook and see this interview for more information on the book.]


  1. Majority (more than 70%) in Vojvodina are Serbs, autonomy was declared by comunist party and comunist leader Tito after WII, so it is deprecated. Greetings from Novi Sad (north Serbia or Vojvodina), Milan

    1. (besides the fact that this site talks about secessions in general)the Serbs must understand one thing: European union is a Union of regions not of countries, this way to defuse the border wars between nations that took place in the past centuries. by joining EU borders begin to fade away, and people don't seem to mind it anymore. about the statement the Sloven guy had was if a region joins Eu it has to have its own leadership responsible for taxation and responsible for handling the money received from EU. as far as I know, like in Transilvania, also in Voivodina, the central government collects the money, takes it to Belgrade and from there it distributes them all acroos the country "where its needed". people in Transilvania and Banat are fed up with the fact that the central government takes the money and gives it to the poorer regions in the east and south and only gives back crumbs. even though we entered EU Romanian government negotiates with EU not the regions. the regions are just on paper. nobody resonates with them because they are made up with counties that don't have anything in common and are not the historical regions that have a cohesion and that existed for centuries like Banat Crisana Maramures Transilvania Silvania, Chioar, Motilor, Fagaras/Saxon Land, Secuiesc /Sekler Landoltenia Dobrogea, Bucovina, Moldova, Muntenia, Basarabia, Bugeac

  2. Deprecated is the thinking that everything must be governed from Belgrade. Vojvodina had not belonged to Serbia for a thousand years. When in 1918 Vojvodina Serbs (less than one third of the population then) declared their wish to join Serbia, they conveniently did not invite representatives of the other two thirds of Vojvodina's population (30% of which were Hungarians, the other 30% Germans). If you can't stand the diversity of Vojvodina, there are more homogenous Serbian krajevi to live in.


Subscribe Now: Feed Icon