VOJVODINA AND POLICIES OF
MULTICULTURALISM: EXPERIENCES AND PROSPECTS
Novi Sad, May 30, 2008
Even before the concept of multiculturalism was formally introduced in
Serbia, authorities started belittling it, concluded the participants in the fourth
brainstorming session in the series that was realized under the project "Fostering
Vojvodina's Multiethnic Identity."
Deliberating Vojvodina's experiences, the participants indicated the
stumbling blocs both in the way of affirmation of multiculturalism and implementation of
the policy of multiculturalism - the identity crisis of the majority nation, nationalism
as the ideology that still dominates the society, unfinished state, deeply rooted legacy
of 1990s, treatment of minorities as "a security issue," and absence of
well-thought-out and coherent minority policies.
The discussion pinpointed unfavorable social atmosphere in which
minorities are mostly perceived as "a burden that costs the state too much."
Besides, inadequately regulated political, legislative, institutional and legal spheres
constantly frustrate not only minority communities but also all those taking that their
cultural and ethnic differences are the values to be upheld. According to the
participants, the great majority of problems in this domain is being generated by the
central governance and "exported" to Vojvodina.
So far, the activities pursued by provincial authorities have been
directed towards: establishment of a legal and institutional frame that would more
efficiently safeguard different cultures; and, since 2005, strong affirmation of
multiculturalism and tolerance. This project initiated by the institutions in the province
itself was unique in Europe - unique by the character the public governance attributed to
it, by the number of people involved and by the budget set aside for its implementation.
And yet, despite all efforts and impressive turnout of students, the project was not
included in regular curricula and educational activities. For, officials in charge of
developing school curricula showed no understanding whatsoever for it.
In the participants' view, any serious discussion of multiculturalism
should reflect various angles. In this context, it is necessary to analyze regular
curricula so as to determine whether educational policies encourage young people to
recognize "other cultures" or - more or less indirectly - suggest distancing
from them and entrenchment in "one's own identity." Unlike formal presentation
of other cultures - that usually boils down to facts and historical overviews, and hardly
contributes to a change in "value system" - the approach that fosters local
heritage is by far more productive. Such an approach has the capacity to relativize
discrediting stereotypes and relax the atmosphere of mutual accusations.
The participants underlined that Kosovo's independence /potentially/
supports the arguments that equalize minorities with secessionism, and that the policy of
overemphasizing identities could turn into a factor of instability. Whenever some minority
communities choose "self-isolation" the reasons behind their options should be
thoroughly examined. Ghettoization, said the participants, has never been a matter of free
choice but a consequence of exclusory policies. The same as the ethnic majority minorities
have never been homogeneous communities. Borders do not only divide different cultures but
also the same ones (which is probably best mirrored in the case of refugees) given that
individuals have been adopting different patterns and value system - all of that makes
multiculturalism an extremely complex concept.
In a politically sharply divided society that moves slowly towards the
EU and brims with empty political rhetoric, such as the Serbian society, multiculturalism
is practically a manner of speaking rather than a consequent policy.
The participants agreed on the following conclusions and
- Affirmation of the policy of multiculturalism necessitates well-thought-off and
coordinated action by various factors rather than ad hoc solutions;
- The focus should be on inter-cultural ties that have contributed to "one's
own" culture, which, for its part, should be examined for the elements of
"foreign," i.e. other culture;
- Regular school curricula should be analyzed and constant pressure on public authorities
should be exerted with a view to more efficient action vis-a-vis multiculturalism;
- The topics that influence "value-oriented" affiliations of
young people should be incorporated into regular school curricula;
- Multilingualism should be more encouraged in Vojvodina;
- An institute for interethnic relations should be set up.
The brainstorming session was covered by the following media outlets:
RTV Vojvodina, Independent Production Group "Playground," Magyar Szo daily (in
Hungarian), Hlas Lludu daily (in Slovakian) and Libertatea newspaper (in Rumanian).
The project "Fostering Vojvodina's Multiethnic Identity"
is being realized with the assistance of the European Union within the EuropeAid program.