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NO 131-132

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INFO   :::  Helsinki Charter - PAGE 2 > Helsinki Charter No. 131-132 > Text


Helsinki Charter No. 131-132

September - October 2009

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Statute of Vojvodina and Law on Transfer of Authority

Incendiary Soap-Epopee

By Dimitrije Boarov


After a protracted bargain within the ruling coalition, the Draft Statute of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina - the provincial parliament adopted way back on October 14, 2008 - had to be amended by the same assembly on November 7, 2009. And, after all "technical"mishmash and adjustments made by the Committee for Regulations of the Assembly of Vojvodina, it was on November 10 that, at long last, the Serbian parliament had it on its agenda. A plenary debate on this act, as well as on the Draft Law on Transfer of Authority, begun on November 24. Six days later, both acts were adopted - they were voted in by MPs from the ruling coalition and the Liberal Democratic Party /LDP/. So, the curtain came down on the first act of an incendiary soap-epopee about "the Vojvodina issue. " Regardless of all serious shortcomings and compromises making Vojvodina's autonomy almost senseless, could be "a political breakthrough"in Serbia's course towards true decentralization in keeping with EU standards.

Despite the fact that the Democratic Party's main representative in Vojvodina and president of the Executive Committee of Vojvodina's Assembly, Dr. Bojan Pajtic, kept underlining that an already adopted statute could be subject of radical amendments but only "adjusted"to subsequent Law on Transfer of Authority, the statute underwent major amendments in the night of November 7, 2009 - and mostly under the pressure from the Socialist Party of Serbia /SPS/. The amendments were made not only to its declarative provisions but also to operative ones.

When it comes to declarative-political provisions, the latest version of the statute defines Vojvodina as a region "committed to European values"- this wording has replaced the term "a European region. " Then, instead of the right to sign "international agreements, "Vojvodina is now entitled just to "regional agreements. " Further, the section titled "Capital of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina /APV/" now details, "The City of Novi Sad is a main administrative center of APV."

Two days after the amendments were adopted at the session of APV Assembly, its Committee for Regulations changed yet another six statutory provisions - under the pretext of a legal-technical review. So, "historical right"of citizens of Vojvodina to a provincial autonomy was erased from the preamble. The same happened to Vojvodina's right to decide on decorations. Further, the provision on the territory of the province now states that this territory includes the territories of local self-governments as "laid down by law. " The Vojvodina Assembly's right to determine emblems and their use was restricted by the phrase "in keeping with the Constitution and the Statute. " In addition to all this, the Committee for Regulations amended the section on the provinces basic financing by adding the phrase that relevant provisions shall be "in keeping with the law regulating financing of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina."

The Draft Law on Transfer of Authority allegedly provides over 130 "new competences"with which provincial authorities will be invested, as President of the Provincial Executive Council Bojan Pajtic said on many occasions. However, the catch 22 of the Draft is that it is ambiguous about competences that are "transferred" and those "entrusted" to the province. Hence, the advocates of autonomy interpret the entire concept as "new centralization" rather than "decentralization," while the advocates of centralism claim the said ambiguity is meant to veil the unconstitutional "establishment of a state within the state." The latter posit that the "entrusted"powers will be lasting ones.

Another major catch is that the said draft avoids detailing the frame of the province's constitutional right to property. Namely, the only thing that can be taken for certain under the draft is that the property used by the provincial bodies will make a part of the province's overall property, whereas it seems that the status of the property of Vojvodina-founded public companies will be ambivalent. Actually, a special law on public property, announced for mid-2010, is expected to partially "decentralize"the state property by transferring it to municipalities and provinces. However, judging by the statements by highest officials of the Republican Directorate for Property the biggest part of the state property will probably remain "centralized" - and, when it comes to Vojvodina, it will have some kind of "a branch" of the said Directorate (an obvious trick, indeed).

The afore-mentioned information and prognoses indicate that the very procedure of passing the statute of Vojvodina was thorny and legally blurred. The statute itself makes little difference when it comes to redistribution of social power - from center to regions. Last but not least, the Law on Transfer of Authority upholds centralistic approach to all of Vojvodina's major resources and actually inclines to the concept of "an autonomous province without autonomous decision-making." Hence, one cannot but conclude that all the fuss over the statute and the law was politically by nature rather than legal.

For opposition parties the motion by the Democratic Party and the ruling coalition to decides, this way or another, on Vojvodina's autonomy was an opportunity to strengthen their political rating. Actually, they believe the issue would enable them to profit from the decades-long demonization of any autonomy within Serbia (and demonization of any federalization) based on the theory that autonomies unavoidably lead to disintegration of Serbia and any other state for that matter. And yet, some nuances in opposition parties' assaults against Vojvodina and its autonomy are obvious. The key word for the Serb Radical Party /SRS/ is secession, for the Democratic Party of Serbia /DSS/ "a state within the state, "whereas the Serb Progressive Party /SNS/ insists that the legislature in question is "contrary to Serbia's interests"- actually, that it is "anti-Serb. " These nuances are of secondary importance since all these parties have a major common denominator in mind - to use the issue of Vojvodina for renewal of the "energy of hatred"that keeps their nationalism alive. The only exception among opposition parties was LDP that kept advocating for "European solutions"for Vojvodina's status.

Some differences in the approach to the issue are visible among ruling parties, too. The attitude taken by Nenad Canak's League of Vojvodina's Social Democrats /LSV/ was predictable: Canak managed not to annoy much the leader of the ruling coalition, Boris Tadic (ultimately, he gave his vote to the whole legislative package) and simultaneously to preserve his party's political space: he kept emphasizing that all the troubles with Vojvodina's autonomy were stemming from the 2006 Constitution. SPS had obstructed the action for legalization of Vojvodina's autonomy for rather long time (given that Milosevic had turned it senseless back in 1990) but realized in the final analysis that it was in its interest only to "slash" declarative provisions, the more so since those operative did not make much difference. The Democratic Party, directing the entire political show, is obviously divided over the issue of Vojvodina. It used its officials in Vojvodina as spokespersons all the time. This indicates that DS wavers over President Tadic's initiative for constitutional reforms that would lead to genuine regionalization of Serbia.


NO 131-132

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