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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 123-124 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 123-124

September - October 2008


New Statute of AP Vojvodina


By Dimitrije Boarov

Long before the Vojvodina Assembly adopted the draft of the province's new statute - and thus just met its obligation under the Law on the Implementation of Serbia's Constitution and the October 15 deadline - rightist political parties and forces had raised hue and cry about the document. Aware that their "Kosovo lament" has to be replaced by some other topic they seemed to warmly welcome the old story about "the looming secession of Vojvodina." They were emphasizing that the new statute restored Vojvodina's "elements of statehood:" that it "marginalizes the Serbs" by introducing the Council of National Minorities as "yet another parliament;" that under the pretext of "the bank for development" it actually constitutes a future "central bank of Vojvodina;" that it plays into the hands of the famous "national territorial autonomy" of the Hungarians in north Backa via reorganization of administrative districts; that Vojvodina's right to sign international agreements equals sovereignty and that Vojvodina's representation offices abroad leads to "Vojvodina embassies," etc. The well-known group of "national workers" led by academicians Kosta Cavoski and Vasilije Krestic (joined by the chairwoman of the company for beauty contest in Serbia, Vesna Jugovic, aghast of Vojvodina's secession) publicized an open letter, i.e. petition for the defense of "patriotic interests" in Vojvodina.

In vain was president of the Executive Council of Vojvodina Assembly, Bojan Pajtic, underlying that the legal arrangement of the provincial autonomy should be seen in the context of constitutional consolidation of Serbia and its internal reintegration resting, the same as the new Constitution of Serbia /Article 1/ on "the rule of law, social justice, principles of civil democracy, human and minority rights and freedoms and dedication to European principles and values." Pajtic was quoting the Article 1 of the Constitution mainly because of the aforementioned "European principles and values" incorporated into the new statute of Vojvodina - for, as it seemed, that bothered the crying critics the most.

Serbia's Constitution - Canak's League of Vojvodina Social Democrats was criticizing of "too many restrictions to any serious autonomy" in the process of adoption of the province's new statute - provides "the right to provincial autonomy" under Article 182. And yet, the main law-maker himself, ex-premier Vojislav Kostunica, claimed that the province's new statute "bursts the bonds of the constitutional frame." In a talk show aired by TV Vojvodina he supported his claim by the statements such as: the Serbian Constitution provides no explanation for Vojvodina's autonomy and, therefore, those reasons should not be quoted in the province's statute the more so since it is all about Serbia's territorial organization; the Constitution does not provide the term "Vojvodina government" to designate the main executive body of the Vojvodina Assembly; Novi Sad cannot be termed "the capital of Vojvodina" but just "the seat of provincial authorities;" Vojvodina is not entitled to representation offices abroad and, therefore, the statute cannot provide its mission in Brussels (though the statute explicitly quotes a representation office for economic and tourist promotion), etc.

Polemicizing with those stands in his expose about Vojvodina's new statute, Bojan Pajtic said that the right to autonomy had been deeply rooted in the collective consciousness of Vojvodianians for over two centuries - sometimes as a legal and political ideal, and sometimes as a hardly won institution with more or less competences. So, the roots of that consciousness are deep and strong, and survived because citizens of Vojvodina have been adjusting it to the spirit of times and circumstances in which they were aspiring to achieve their vital civil and national interests. Anyway, the history of the notion about Vojvodina's autonomy testifies that is has always basically coincided with the interests of the Serbs from Srem, Banat and Backa to live in Serbia as their motherland. And, today, it fully coincides with basic interests of members of other, minority communities living side by side with the Serbs in Vojvodina for centuries.

Over public debates, advocates for the new statute were also insisting on the argument that the idea of Vojvodina's autonomy has changed, as time went by, its sum and substance and institutional forms it aspired to. Occasionally, it was even changing its strategic goals but always remained in the function of fundamental, real-life interests of all people living there. In brief, though the Serbian Constitution mentions not Vojvodina's identity that underlies its autonomy, it actually recognizes it a priori as it refers to Vojvodina as an autonomous province.

And yet, the critical remarks about definition of Vojvodina as a European region forced the authors of the draft statute to omit the need for Vojvodina to integrate "into European system of regions" in the final version and added instead (at the insistence of the Liberal Democratic Party) that Vojvodina, as a region, "stands for an integral part of the unique cultural, civilizational, economic and geographic area of the Middle Europe."

Bojan Pajtic - speaking of the new statute on behalf of the Democratic Party with two-third majority in the Assembly of Vojvodina - skillfully pinpointed that the contents of the new statute was adjusted not only to the Constitution of Serbia but also to the changes that have taken place in both Serbia and Vojvodina in the past two decades - actually in the period between Serbia's old and new Constitution. He said that the authors of the draft had not aspired at revitalizing whatever was gone forever and historically changed but were guided by the pressing interests of citizens living in Vojvodina - to exercise a constitutional right to their own benefit, and to the benefit of Vojvodina and Serbia as a whole. This is why Vojvodina's autonomy has been turned more functional and less politicized.

Speaking about the novelties in the new statute, most important are "the responsibility for public property" and "responsibility for development" of Vojvodina. Those truly crucial novelties will be restricted by the law on Vojvodina's authority to be adopted in the Serbian parliament along with the statute. In this sense, the statute has already envisaged larger competences for Vojvodina in the domains of rational urban planning, well-balanced regional development, agriculture, rural development, water supply industry, forestry, hunt and fishing, tourism, tourist resorts and spas, environmental protection, industry and trades, road, river and railway traffic, fairs and development of economic and urban infrastructure as a whole.

Judging by the statements given after the recent visit of Serbian Premier Mirko Cvetkovic to his provincial and party counterpart in Novi Sad, the new statute of Vojvodina obtained the support of the ruling coalition. Cvetkovic said he would do his best "to have all competences possible transferred to Vojvodina" and that the process would be initiated in parallel with adoption of the budget for 2009. For his part, Bojan Pajtic reiterated his hope that the Serbian parliament would give a green light to the new statute of Vojvodina by the end of this year.


NO 123-124

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