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Novi Sad, September 26, 2007

Conclusions and recommendations of the second brainstorming session

Political representation of minorities is among key issues facing every multiethnic community. Addressing the topic "Political Representation of Minorities and the Safeguard of Vojvodina's Multiethnic Identity" the participants in the second brainstorming in the series (planned under the project "Fostering Vojvodina's Multiethnic Identity") underlined the importance of the issue for the overall legitimacy of representative bodies, stability of the society, the safeguard of the province's multiethnic character and, finally, for Serbia's movement towards European partnership.

Having agreed that the issue of representation has a double significance for the members of minority communities - as it is not only reflected in the composition of representative bodies at provincial and local level but also within minority communities themselves, the participants underlied the absence of systematic and well-thought-out measures for the improvement of minority situation. As a rule, the problem is referred to only under the pressure of major poltical events such as elections, they said. Even then, the entire problematic is simplified and reduced to political party bargaining. With a view to detecting the optimal model (for resolution of the issue) the participants put forth the following:
- The principle of positive discrimination should be a starting point; the measures already taken (such as natural threshold, less signatures on minority electoral lists, etc.) should be upgraded by the new ones such as guaranteed mandates;
- The ballots-mandates calculation should follow the formulas that are more advantageous for minority communities (e.g., preference should be given to Niemeyer's formula rather than to Donte's);
- The so-called big political parties should open their ranks to minority communities and include their representatives on their electoral lists (parliamentary seats set aside for minorities); and
- Budgets for election campaigns should plan special benefits for minority lists.

Speaking of the representation realized through national councils, the participants in the session advocated:
- Direct elections for national councils;
- Competence of national councils defined by a law on national councils;
- Regular subsidies to national councils; and
- Transparency

The participants also emphasized the following:
- Serbia's decision-makers should put an end to the policy of marginalizing the minority issue and develop a minority strategy instead;
- The general minority related public discourse should be changed through continual efforts. Instead of demanding loyalty from the members of minority communities, decision-makers should pinpoint that they are citizens who, apart from being equal in rights with others, necessitate special protective measures (ranging from education to elections) so as to be able to protect their collective identities.



Serbia should pay much more attention to the issue of political representation of minorities if it wants to get constituted as a stable, well-balanced democratic community. This is the bottom line of the debate the Helsinki Committee organized in Novi Sad in late September 2007.

According to the participants, the issue of minority representation mirrors a community's maturity and commitment to democratic values. Besides, the issue is significant from the angles of the society's political cohesion and stability, and the safeguard of Vojvodina's identity. For, appropriate minority representation meets minorities' interest for being recognized, while Vojvodina's identity is inasmuch protected as the number of minority representatives in provincial bodies is bigger. Last but not least, the issue itself is a major one when it comes to European partnership that presupposes minority representation in elected bodies.



Bearing in mind the factors influencing minority representation - those related to the election system as well as those related to minorities themselves (their political capacity, sizes, territorial concentration, etc.), the participants underlined the following:

First, development of an appropriate model of minority representation should rely on an appropriate political culture. The present-day political culture is not only undemocratic but also insensible of minorities as it treats them as "a burden" and "nuisance." The political elite's commitment to democratic principles is disputable considering its readiness to change election rules in the election year, advocate its own (i.e. group or partisan) interests under the pretext of protecting minorities on the one hand, and unreadiness to meet the obligations deriving from bilateral agreements (e.g., with the Republic of Croatia) on minority representation in legislative and executive branches on the other.

Second, the election system of complex, multiethnic societies should comply with several criteria: it should mirror the electoral vote, be as simple as possible, have stabilizing effect on inter-ethnic relations and enable forming of stable institutions.

Third, taking into consideration huge asymmetries not only in the majority-minority relations but also between minority communities, different tools should be applied to different minorities so as to make it possible for them to be represented in the parliament. The idea of having the problem solved via a mutual representative would not be a good one as it raises the question of such representative's duty to stand for the interests of the minorities with basic values (such language, culture, religion, etc.) other than his or her. On the other hand it is disputable whether or not every minority community should have its own representative in the parliament. Last but not least, the Article 180 of Serbia's new Constitution adds confusion by providing that "the autonomous provinces and the units of local self-government with ethnically mixed population shall be enabled to have proportional representation of national minorities in assemblies, as regulated under law." According to some participants, the term "enable" refers not to electoral results but to equal opportunities.

Speaking of "guaranteed mandates," the participants agreed that was a possible and legitimate solution, but applicable to the communities with not that many minority communities such as Vojvodina. The communities with minorities differing in terms of size, organizational capability and readiness to partake in elections necessitate some previous answers - e.g. what would be the criteria for a minority's right to have its own representative or how would the institute of guaranteed mandates affect the overall interethnic relations? In some participants' view, guaranteed mandates could lead to deterioration of interethnic relations and assaults at minority communities by the political actors whose intention to make up the parliamentary majority has been thwarted because of guaranteed mandates.

The proportional system with natural threshold for minority communities is the most optimal solution, said some participants. The advantages of such solution are that it a) meets minorities' justifiable demand for political representation; b) secures the individual right to vote, as it makes it possible for the people from minority communities to vote either for their national parties or other civic parties that might better stand for their interest; c) does not require voters to declare their ethnic origin and, therefore d) enables the people from the majority community to vote for minority parties, and, finally, e) does not imply separate electoral rolls (necessary for the institute of guaranteed mandates).

Fourth, the participants emphasized that the issue of minority representation - apart from local, provincial or republican governance - affects the representation "within" the minority communities themselves.

The participants were rather critical about the manner in which national councils were constituted and functioning.

The existing electoral system for national councils was labeled faulty from the standpoint of democracy. "It more resembles a feudal curia than a democratic process," as one of the participants put it. Councils meet infrequently and, as a rule, the absence of transparency in the functioning of their executive bodies leads to bureaucratization, which, in turn, abolishes them in terms of accountability. Besides, in their decision making that affects minority communities the state bodies do not always meet the obligation to consult national councils and include them in the process.

While the terms of some national councils had expired the new ones have not been elected because the Serbian parliament has not passed yet the relevant act. The fact that those national councils continue to function produces adverse consequences: firstly, it discredits the institution of national councils; secondly, it compromises their commitment to the rule of law, and, thirdly, it testifies of the absence of principles and universality in Serbian politics. According to the participants, the state authorities and minority elites are to blame alike for such situation.



All the invited figures confirmed their participation. However, on the eve of the brainstorming session the invitee from Zrenjanin excused himself for professional reasons and said he would most probably not be in the position to partake in the remaining two sessions as well. Another participant - from Novi Sad - offered an excuse on the very day of the brainstorming session.

The organizers had asked Professor Marijana Pajvancic, expert in electoral law, to act as a keynote speaker. Due to her previously made arrangements Prof. Pajvancic could not have taken upon herself to deliver the keynote address but submitted her paper to be distributed to the participants and eventually included in the book of proceedings instead.



The brainstorming session was followed by a press conference. Sonja Biserko, chairwoman of the Helsinki Committee, Slaven Bacic, lawyer and publicist from Subotica, and Mirko Djordjevic, publicist from Simanovci, addressed the press.

The following news agencies and media outlets covered the event: Beta, Deutche Welle, Dnevnik, Radio Novi Sad, TV Panonija and TV Delta. Next day the Roma Desk of the TV Novi Sad interviewed the project coordinator.


The brainstorming session was organized as a part of the project "Fostering Vojvodina's Multiethnic Identity" that is being realized with the assistance of the European Union within the EuropeAid program.



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