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Human Rights in Serbia 2000


VIII - National Minorities



In the past decade there was no public debate on issues having a bearing on democratisation of multi-ethnic Serbia. Thus any mention of status of minorities was qualified as ingratitude of those who enjoyed 'the internationally recognised minority rights." Due to its pariah state status and its self-imposed isolation Serbia missed out on the globalisation process, new trends in international relations and in international law, notably in the field of minorities-related standards. Consequently both the regime and the then opposition took an obsolete stand on minorities. Unitary concept is treated as something obsolete in the modern world, as best indicated by current European processes. The issue of Corsica is being resolved in a peaceful way and through public discussion, although France is considered a highly centralised state. But in our country, any attempt to decentralise Vojvodina or define its autonomy is immediately labelled as a "treacherous act." In other words there is no understanding for modern trends in the field of minorities, or tackling of minority-related issues.

In the light of such an obsolete tack of the Serbian political and intellectual elite we must view all the minorities-related developments in the past decade. Implementation of the Serbian nationalistic project was based on key thesis of the nationalistic elite that ethnic homogenisation of Serbia, and not its democratisation, should be the uppermost priority of the country. This led to the exclusion of national minorities from the political life of Serbia and later to their soft ethnic cleansing.

The thesis that Serbs were at risk sparked off the media war in former Yugoslavia. That war began by coverage of Kosovo developments, stories about exploitation of Serbia by other republics, Ustashi-led genocide of Serbs in the WW2. Those were the topics of both the print and electronic media. As such they aimed to homogenise the Serb people and prepare them for the future events, that is, to turn them into a victim and lay the groundwork for all the things later masterminded by Belgrade. The goal of the"Greater Serbia" was to change internal borders of Serbia and create an ethnically pure state. Ethnic cleaning was a basic instrument in implementation of that project both in Serbia proper and in neighbouring countries, in view of great mixture of the Balkan peoples. That project was gradually defeated, but never relinquished. The latter is best proved by the 2000 election campaign which mentioned "rounding of ethnically pure state of Serbia" and hinted at "recovery of the 'lost' territories," as well as the fact that a large number of ethnic minorities members left Serbia in the past decade.

The 1989 amendments to the FRY Constitution drastically changed the status of Albanians. They were placed in an apartheid-like situation which ultimately led to the NATO military intervention and exclusion of province from Serbia's jurisdiction. The beginning of the war worsened the status of the Croat minority. Consequently in 1991 and 1992 the Croat population massively emigrated from Serbia. The most drastic example of the aforementioned is village Hrtkovci from which all Croats had fled. By extension the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina seriously affected the Bosniak minority in Sandzak. Currently Priboj and the neighbouring villages are under a special regime, and the local population is not allowed to return there. NATO intervention in Kosovo led to drastic changes in the status of Albanians in Serbia, and of Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo

It also bears stressing that Croats and Muslims are not mentioned as minorities in the Serbian Constitution, contrary to the status they enjoyed under the Constitution of former Yugoslavia. The impending population census should provide the exact demographic picture of Serbia, despite possible 'retouching.' Bosniaks are demanding that the census form contains the column "nationality-Bosniak," since in recent past both the regime and opposition denied Muslims as a nation and viewed them as a religious minority.

Despite the loss of Kosovo and massive emigration of members of minorities, Serbia is still a markedly multi-ethnic society. Ethnic homogenisation has not led to the loss of multi-ethnic character of Serbia. In fact it made a very large number of Serb refugees settle in- Serbia. A large number of refugees were intentionally re-settled in ethnically mixed milieus, notably in Vojvodina. This logically led to their interaction with the native minorities. In view of aggressive attitude of refugees and their animosity towards minority locals, the minorities situation worsened.

But status of minorities differs. According to their status and size there are three categories of minorities in Serbia. The largest minorities are Croats, Bosniaks, Hungarians and Albanians. They were pressured so much that many members of their elite and younger people emigrated. The second minority grouping is made up of Ruthenians, Slovaks, Romanians, Vlahs, and Bulgarians. Only Bulgarians were intimidated and harassed to leave because they lived in border areas. Roma belong to the third, very specific group. They were always an ethnically distanced and socially subjugated group.

Albanians in the Southern Serbia municipalities still bear the brunt of repression in this potential flashpoint. Their status is further exacerbated by a xenophobic mood and a large-scale outflow of Albanians from Medvedja. Once a majority in Medvedja, now they constitute only 5% of local population. Added to that about 1,000 Albanians are imprisoned in Central Serbia prisons, while 3,000 Albanians are reported missing. This and the very status of Serbs and other minorities in Kosovo are main obstacles to easing of inter-ethnic tensions and normaliaztion of ethnic relations. Neither Serbs nor Albanians are ready to provide for measures enabling the return of displaced persons and peaceful life of minorities. Hence both sides seemed to be bent on finalising the concept of ethnically pure states.

In Serbia ethno-nationalistic mood has evolved into pure racism. Massive violations of human rights and threatened personal safety and property of Albanians in Vojvodina and in Belgrade during the NATO intervention led to the exodus of many local Albanians.

Repression against Bosniaks is less evident than in the first half of the Nineties. During the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina Sandzak was treated as a "green transversal" linking the Balkans Muslims to Turkey. In that period it was accorded a 'special treatment' and was a scene of numerous murders, abductions and the exodus of Bosniak population. The notorious "Strpci" case is yet to be solved. There are indications that it might be dealt with by the Hague Tribunal. Abduction and disappearance of 19 Bosniak passengers was obviously an intimidating and ethnic-cleansing measure. During the NATO intervention about 20,000 Bosniaks from Sandzak left for Bosnia, and 2,000 of them were sacked on alleged malingering. At the same time 200 Serbs kept their jobs despite their 5-day absence from workplaces.

Hungarian minority is one of the best organised minorities in view of its 50 year long minority experience. The Belgrade regime tried to exclude the Hungarian minority from the Vojvodina context, although it simultaneously accommodated a large number of refugees in milieus exclusively inhabited by Hungarians. Refugees were appointed to top local self-rule positions, for example in Subotica, which sidelined the Croats and brought pressure to bear on local Hungarians. In fact Hungarians are running local administration in Subotica for the second consecutive mandate and Mayor of Subotica is of Hungarian descent. Three leading parties of Vojvodina Hungarians, the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, Democratic Community of Hungarians and Civil Movement of Hungarian in 2000 set up an Interim National Council of Vojvodina Hungarians as the highest body of personal self-rule of Hungarians pending the election of a permanent national council. This was in fact the first practical step towards the resolution of status of this national minority, in line with the new model of self-rule outlined last year by the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians in the document "Agreement on Political and Legal Framework of Self-Management in Vojvodina and of National Communities living in Vojvodina." This project of Vojvodina Hungarians self-rule, which presupposes both cultural and territorial autonomy in the Vojvodina Hungarians majority municipalities, was backed by the Hungarian government and some Western countries, while being assessed by the then Belgrade regime and opposition parties as a new attempt at "carving up" Serbia in the post-NATO intervention period.

Lately there has been no escalation of repression against the Croat minority, notably in Vojvodina. But it bears stressing that the younger generations and the elite left for Croatia. The same holds true of Hungarians. This objectively means that the number of members of the two minorities is steadily declining. It can be said that the border with Croatia was in fact cleansed of Croats. The same holds true of adjoining municipalities.

Besides objectively worsened economic conditions, all national minorities have seen their cultural, political and economical rights derogated. Members of minorities were by and large removed from the local administration; their participation in privatisation, which unfolded secretly, had been minimised; minority language media were heavily underfunded; classes in minority languages had been reduced due to exodus of younger generations. Minority language classes can no longer be set up under the pre-war criteria. All the border zone minorities-Croats, Hungarians, Bulgarians, Albanians and Bosniaks-were subjected to forcible repression with a view to creating ethnically pure borders zones. Small minority groups are pressured to assimilate. Worsened status of minorities and ethnic groups has an impact on their size. For example Vlashs maintain that over 700,000 of them live in Yugoslavia, while the officials put their figure at barely 15,000.

Decade-long wars led to massive re-settlement and migrations. Hence only the impending census shall provide a clear picture of the current population structure. The majority nationalism led to the minority radicalization. For the first time the issue of identity of those forcibly assimilated is being tackled in Serbia.

Current status of minorities in Serbia is essentially determined by results of the recent implementation of the Serbian national program. Demographic and mental homogenisation of the ethnic majority, followed by social panic and xenophobia, outlines the milieu in which the entire population of Serbia lives (Serbs and all other nationalities). Added to all the objective troubles minority population is under constant pressure and is considered, by definition, as "hostile towards Serbia." Continuing monitoring of the status of minorities is necessary in view of negative trends in the country and "narrowing down" of number of enemies.

Constitution of Serbia proclaims and guarantees the protection of national minorities. But those proclaimed rights should be operationalised and concretised by legal norms honouring the most recent standards and conventions, notably the Framework European Convention on Minority Protection. The more so because the phenomenon of national minorities in Serbia is a very complex one and in fact exacts a very elaborated legislation. In view of the aforementioned Helsinki Committee for Human Rights urges a swift adoption of the Minority Act fully honouring specific traits of each ethnic group.


2. Overview of status of national minorities

Post-election developments in Serbia, namely the resolve of citizens to defend the electoral victory of DOS presidential candidate, re-admission of the country to international organisations (the UN, the OSCE and the Stability Pact for South East Europe), as well as establishment of diplomatic ties with the newly-emerged states in the Balkans, make possible a radical break with the policy which has plunged Serbia into isolation from and confrontation with its neighbours and the international community.

Although desirable, such a break shall be very difficult to achieve. Serbia is still in the phase of initial political constituting, and answers to the salient question "What is Serbia and which are her borders?"( in the light of recent developments in Southern Serbia) shall help nationalism survive in the public scene. Although nationalism cannot mobilise masses any longer, it is still undefeated. Moreover the society has not showed substantial readiness to face all consequences of nationalism, notably regarding the national minorities rights. Instead of using this issue to pave the way for implementation of contemporary minority standards and inclusion in basic civilised achievements of modern society, continues to be perceived from an obsolete nationalistic standpoint as " a factor of disturbance" and "lethal and dangerous form of interference in internal affairs of our country."

The Helsinki Committee round-table on minorities, staged in the early September in Novi Sad, indicated the need for a consistent implementation of constitutional norms determining Serbia as a state of equitable citizens which guarantees the exercise of minority rights. Unfortunately in the society with negligible tradition of constitutionalism (on the top of everything long-contaminated with the virus of ethnic nationalism) constitutional norms did not provide for consolidation of democratic community, but rather to an authoritarian division of power which arrogantly rejected and ignored minorities' demands or labelled them as "ingratitude" or "covert separatism." Thus a model of autonomy suggested by the Vojvodina Hungarians was assessed as a "separatism-minded one," that is as an aspiration towards creation of a parastate. Consequently no pertinent talks were held with representatives of this minority. All proposals made by Croats and Bosniaks met the same fate. Moreover such proposals were all accompanied by cynical comments that "minorities in our country enjoy rights and freedoms in line with the highest international minority standards."

The fact that disintegration of Yugoslavia has not yet ended has a bearing on the process of disintegration of former Yugoslavia. Disintegration of the second Yugoslavia drastically influenced the minority status by limiting and making extremely difficult possibilities for the exercise of their rights. Moreover "new minorities" were created and many minorities were subjected to violence and persecution.

At the aforementioned round-table representatives of "new minorities"-Croats, Bosniaks, and Macedonians-clearly indicated their problems and demanded an urgent, no-strings-attached resolution of their status. This particularly holds true of Croats, whose position, judging by all appearances is tied to the resolution of status of Serbs in Croatia. Although the FRY in 1996 signed the Agreement on Normalisation of Relations with the Republic of Croatia, status of Croats in the FRY has not improved. Croats are yet to be recognised as a national minority, and to be accorded the right to have their educational and cultural institutions. There are some amateurish cultural institutions, but regular ones are needed. Relevant initiatives are met with great difficulties. Recently the Constitutional Court had to deal with registration of the Croat Cultural Centre in Sremska Mitrovica.

Consequences of unsolved constitutional-legal status of so called new minorities can be seen in many areas. For example Bosniaks, their history and culture are omitted form the school curricula and programs. Cultural habits of this minority are often derided. For example in the collection of mathematical tasks for the first-grade of secondary schools there is a sentence: "Selim bought a pig from Sulja and fed his friends with it." This is insulting for Bosniaks as they don't eat pork meat.

Other, officially recognised minorities, also face difficulties. Textbook for the fourth grade pupils of Bulgarian minority contains a poem "Surname for September," which extols only surnames ending in -ic. The October-November 2000 report of the Helsinki Committee for Protection of Human Rights and Freedoms of Bulgarians in Yugoslavia quotes that in the same textbook on page 16 there is a story "First Pay of Wooden Maria" in which Bulgarians are portrayed as occupiers and enemies.

Albanian pupils for example are taught more Serb literature than their own, while their music culture textbook for primary school has 139 poems in Serb language and only 3 in Albanian. In the fifth grade of 36 history lessons only 1 is dedicated to Illyrians There are many similar examples.

All the above examples indicate that educational programs and curricula impose the history and culture of the majority people to minorities members. It is quite understandable that minorities underscore their problems in exercising their cultural rights , for culture, alike education in mother tongue has a key importance in preservation of national identity and offers protection from assimilation (as was the case of Macedonian minority.)

Surrounded by the Serb minority Macedonians in Serbia gradually forget their mother tongue and national culture. In Pancevo in municipalities with the highest percentage of Macedonians in Serbia, there is no Macedonian language medium, and in Jabuka, a locality in the south of Banat, there are no Macedonian language classes although Macedonians constitute 80% of local population. Lack of interest for preservation of national identity can be explained not by regime's repression, but rather by assessment of very Macedonians that their children stand better educational and labour chances if they speak Serbian.

Contrary to Macedonians, members of Bulgarian minority were faced both with direct pressures of the regime and denial of their own identity through creation of so-called Shopi minority. Institutions of this minority, cultural-informative centre "Caribrod" and Democratic Alliance of Bulgarians in Yugoslavia were taken to task for an alleged pursuit of "anti-state policy" and "aspirations to annex parts of South East Serbia to Bulgaria." Bulgarians on the other hand criticised activities of cultural centre "Caribrod", that is its public lectures which "aim to divert attention from problems with which members of Bulgarian minority are faced." Sotir Sotirov, President of Assembly of Municipality of Bosilegrad, said that "Caribrod" pursued a blatant anti-state policy" The regime tried to obstruct the work of this centre by compelling it to carry out its cultural activities in inadequate places, in courtyards or even streets, instead in the municipal Cultural Centre.

Status of Bulgarian minority is very precarious. They face a host of problems. Bulgarians in Serbia don't have their schools, and pupils have only two weekly classes of their mother tongue. Although the Municipal Statute envisages official use of both Serbian and Bulgarian language, Bulgarian is very rarely used. Bulgarian minority is also in a very precarious financial position: Municipality of Dimitrovgrad has the worst pays in Serbia (it occupies the 161st position.) While all municipalities from Central Serbia co-operated with some municipalities in Bulgaria, Bosilegrad and Dimitrovgrad were thwarted from establishing such inter-municipal co-operation. Due to administrative division ties between the two municipalities are very weak.. Economic, administrative and regional links between Dimitrovgrad and Pirot and Nis on the one hand and between Bosilegrad and Surdulica and Vranje on the other hand were not seen as a good solution for they fragmented the Bulgarian minority and favoured its assimilation. In the past thirty years this minority lost 30% of its members. At the aforementioned Helsinki Committee round-table representatives of Bulgarians indicated the danger of disappearance of this minority from the ethnic map of Serbia and Yugoslavia.

Special problem are relations with the Serbian Orthodox Church which refuses to recognise priests from this area, graduates of the Theology Faculty in Sofia. Since 1918 the Bulgarian minority was under the jurisdiction of the Serbian Orthodox Church, although such a jurisdiction was not regulated by any inter-state, international or inter-church agreement.

Socially stigmatised Roma in recent years were exposed to various kinds of discrimination and violence. In the first half of 2000 skin-heads attempted to kill a 15-year boy Dragisa Ajdarevic from Nis. Eye-witnesses, alike in the case of murder of Dusan Jovanovic in 1997, did not intervene to protect the boy. But Dragisa was saved by his father, who was thereafter arrested and kept four hours in the police station without any justification. After this attack the Roma Information Centre called on the republican officials to condemn ever-increasing attacks on Roma. Instead of officials, skin-heads 'spoke out again'. In the mid- May a 13-year old girl was attacked. She was stabbed 18 times. In the course of 2000 Roma were victims of over 100 violations of human rights.

Roma are often either harassed or insufficiently protected by the police. Fund for Humanitarian Law filed charges against 9 policemen for unlawful harassment and detention of Roma. Racial segregation charges were filed against several owners of night clubs in Belgrade and Cedomir Vasiljevic, former SRS official, former republican minister without portfolio, owner and director of the Sabac-based company "Jugoagent."

The issue of protection of the Roma human rights should be tackled both from legal, and cultural standpoint of fight against prejudices. Such prejudices are a form of covert racism and the basis of anti-Roma violence and hatred. Added to that Roma refugees are deprived of humanitarian assistance, for they allegedly do not need any help "being a nomadic people, used to living in penury."

In the face of prejudices and violence Roma try to emancipate and change their status in the society through activities of their different organisations and civil associations, and those of their own political parties. For several years now the Roma organisations, recently joined by the Alliance of Roma of Serbia, have been demanding that the FRY recognise their minority status, that is accord them the status similar to the one enjoyed by Roma in Romania and Hungary. According to Dragoljub Ackovic, one of the leaders of the Roma community, constitutional treatment of Roma as an "ethnic group" is a more blatant violation of human rights than broken heads, broken fingers and anti-Roma graffiti. It bears stressing that NGOs rallying Roma actively participated in the pre-election campaign "Exit 2000," but aspirants to MP positions have not been very successful.

On the other hand in the aftermath of September elections many members of nationalities were appointed to local self-rule positions. Several Ruthenians were named top officials even in municipalities in which they constituted a minority. Rafail Ruskovski was for example elected Provincial Information Secretary and President of the Assembly of Municipality of Vrbas, inhabited by over 4,000 Ruthenians. Good electoral results were scored by political parties of the Croat minority and the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians, the strongest party of Vojvodina Hungarians. The latter won one seat in both chambers/houses of the Federal Parliament and 17 seats in the provincial assembly. Vice Presidents of the provincial assembly, vice prime ministers, and provincial Education and Minorities Rights Secretaries of are also members of the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians. In nine Vojvodina municipalities (Ada, Backa Topola, Becej, Coka, Mali Idjos, Nova Crnja, Kanjiza, Senta and Subotica) parties of Vojvodina Hungarians have a comfortable majority or share power with other parties.

During the election race there were pressures on many minorities. In Sandzak, notably in Pester, the army and police tried to change the election results through intimidation and harassment, and in the early September in Novi Pazar Rasim Ljajic, the current Federal Minister for National Minorities and Ethnic Communities, was detained. In Subotica, for example, the left-block parties threatened to take civil lawsuits against Catholic priests of Croat ethnicity for alleged "agitation for certain parties." Also in Subotica "Otpor" activists affixing AVH (Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarains) posters were attacked by a group of unidentified youngsters who told them: "Unless you return to Hungary, you shall be slaughtered." Members of Slovak minority in Backi Petrovac, DOS activists, were also harassed. Armed policemen raided houses of "Otpor" members and disco clubs in Backi Petrovac, threatened and interrogated pupils and teachers. All this gave rise to fear of inter-ethic conflicts.

After local elections in Kosovo and notably after federal elections in Serbia and Yugoslavia and opening up of the country, tension grew in Southern Serbia, in municipalities of Presevo, Medvedja and Bujanovac. After attacks on the police and murders and wounding of some policemen in the buffer zone adjoining Kosovo border the federal authorities took a more offensive tack and demanded that the international community allow the return of Serb forces to Kosovo. Internally those developments were used as a pretext to launch accusations against former regime and discredit former president of the FRY and his party.

But it bears stressing that the new crisis prompted the authorities to show more interest in the status of Albanians. Hence the region was visited by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, Rasim Ljajic, the Federal Minister for National Minorities, Nebojsa Covic, Vice Prime Minister of Serbia, Zoran DJindjic, DOS candidate for the republican Prime Minister and Biserka Matic, the Republican Information Minister. A joint session of the federal and interim republican government was held in Bujanovac. It was then decided to set up the Information Centre. According to Biserka Matic "the press centre has to be opened if we want to win the media war and avoid bloodshed." Obviously the Serbian officials judged that it was wiser to opt for a political initiative and action, instead of the police-military intervention. The former also provided them with a better opportunity to represent in a more adequate way the interests of Serbia in the future search for a comprehensive settlement of the Kosovo issue. Added to that in case of any police-army intervention the Western public opinion would be compelled to put an equal sign between the old regime and the new authorities. However the new authorities missed out on the opportunity to distance themselves completely from Milosevic regime. In other words they should have ensured at least one parliamentary seat for the Albanians from this region on the eve of December elections.

On the election day in December a large number of polling stations in the aforementioned three municipalities in Southern Serbia (in Bujanovac 12 and Presevo 21) remained closed due to the Albanian boycott. According to the Party for Democratic Action over 20,000 Albanians by the end of November 2000 left the region. In municipality Medvedja this party could not call on citizens to take part in September elections, for of 6,000 pre-war Albanians, only several hundred remained in the area. The same situation was reported in a number of mountain villages in Presevo and Bujanovac municipalities. Due to manipulations in a large number of constituencies elections were repeated several times. Moreover constituencies were set up in such a way to favour voters of Serb nationality. For example in constituency no. 14 (Srpska kuca) one MP was chosen by about 300 voters, while in constituency no. 1 (V. Trnovac) one MP was elected by about 2,200 voters. One of the consequencies of this electoral engineering was underrepresentation of Albanians in local self-rule bodies, which in turn had a negative impact on normalisation of relations between the two communities.

Coffi Annan's proposal on constitutional re-arrangement of the FRY and creation of confederation of Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo, was assessed as unrealistic by representatives of the two confronted sides (Vojislav Kostunica, the FRY President, Zoran Zizic, the Federal Prime Minister and Kolj Berisa, Vice President of the Democratic Alliance of Kosovo). Although out of sync with Albanian aspirations, that proposal was nonetheless assessed by Hasim Tachi, President of the Party of Democratic Action, as "a step forward in deliberations on possible settlements of the Kosovo issue." On the other hand Miodrag Kovac, Federal Health, Labour and Social Policy Minister assessed the proposal of the UN Secretary general as "an open support for separatists and terrorists in the southern province."

Presence of both Liberation Army of Bujanovac, Presevo and Medvedja (KLA for BMP) and the Yugoslav army units, which after withdrawal from Kosovo were deployed in the area, created a tense atmosphere. The situation was furthermore exacerbated by displaced persons from Kosovo who on several occasions attacked Albanians from Bujanovac. On the last day of July 2000, Fetah Fetahu, activist of the Party of Democratic Action was killed.

As an upshot of war and ethnic cleansing part of refugees who came to Serbia were weighted down by the war experience and disbelief that ethnic cohabitation was possible. Their unequal re-settlement (in one period there were more refugees in municipality Stara Pazova than in the whole Montenegro), was to serve the purpose of ethnic consolidation of territories. In fact displaced persons were used as the state-tolerated and encouraged 'pressure group' and a 'human incentive" for 'humane resettlement" of population as ethnic cleansing is euphemistically called.

Since 1991, the year of the last census-taking, many members of minorities left the country in the face of the SFRY disintegration, brutal pressures, ethnic discrimination and ethnic cleansing, lack of security and safety, limited prospects and fear of war and mobilisation. According to some estimates, 40,000 Hungarians left Vojvodina, while the number of Vojvodina Croats was halved (under pressure between 20,000-40,000 Croats left Srem). 80,000 Bosniaks emigrated too. Members of some other nationalities also emigrated. Massive exodus of the young and elite affected minority communities, weakened them demographically and culturally and drained them of the top intellectual stratus necessary for the preservation of national identity. But the brain drain of the young and intellectuals also affected the whole population of the FRY. It is expected that the new census shall amply indicate the consequences of the wrong policy.

The new census shall also indicate profound changes of and shifts within the ethno-demographic structure, and prevent manipulations and negative experiences from 1991 when a large number of Bosniaks was placed in the group of "others," "undecided", "Yugoslavs" and similar. The Sandzak-based political parties and NGOs, fully aware of this problem, called on the state statistical institutions and the Serbian Academy of Sciences to enable members of all nationalities and religions to state what they really are and to which church they belong. In other words, to be treated with full respect, as Serbs and Montenegrins. This means that the census form should include the historic name -Bosniak-instead of the religious denomination-"muslim". By extension this would be one of the first practical steps in the process of recognition of this group as a national minority.

In the course of the year 2000 members of national minorities have made clear their interest in swift changes of their status. The new authorities are expected to show more concern for problems of minority communities and to stop persecuting the media broadcasting in minorities mother tongue. The regime's "disciplinary measures" led to ruination of the media, self-censorship, break up of associated members network. But all those consequences can be easily removed if the new authorities stop treating the media as mere levers of power. It is feared that the authorities might try to control publishing houses and electronic media through their appointees swiftly installed in management boards of most media. Public opinion criticised the appointment of Community of Romanians, DOS members, to top positions in Libertate. The same thing happened with management board of "Forum" ( of a total of 10 members its 5 members belong to the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians ). This prompted Magyar Szo editorial board to protest against the overt party control of the medium as such influences impaired objective and unbiased coverage and reporting. Political pressures on "Forum" and "Magyar Szo" were frequent in recent years. Kalman Feher, director of the printing facilities, was beaten up in Coka and the management was told that its paper and power supply would be cut off and its editors arrested unless they stopped printing "Blic" daily. Added to that Sandzacke novine were banned during the NATO intervention, and a legal action for 'false coverage," was taken against its journalists and editor-in-chief.

Re-admission of Yugoslavia to the international community and re-establishment of ties with the newly-emerged states indicate that the FRY has relinquished authoritarianism. The country however needs to resolutely embark upon the road of democratisation. Democracy is only one of the preconditions for the attainment of minorities rights and freedoms. In other words, if democracy rests exclusively on the majority principle-it can make more difficult, instead of facilitating, the status of minorities. Hence the Declaration on Multi-Ethnic Relations in Vojvodina and Serbia, drawn up by the Novi Sad-based Centre for Multiculturality warns that it is first necessary to devise principles of positive discrimination and establish institutional structures to implement them. That Declaration moreover states that without the positive discrimination backed by the state, multiculturality is doomed to failure.


3. Decentralisation of Serbia

Issue of decentralisation is a key issue for understanding relations in former Yugoslavia and its disintegration. This also applies to the current Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and Serbia proper. The traditional political culture of Serbia (without Vojvodina) was based on the centralist concept of state order, which has always been a source of disagreements and tension in former Yugoslavia. Today when decentralisation represents a dominant process in the world, this hard-line centralist position of Belgrade can cause problems in arrangement of Serbia proper. But it also bears stressing that Serbia's amendments to the 1974 Constitution led to suspension of the autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo (1990), which consequently upset the balance on which the Yugoslav state rested. Misunderstanding of the process of decentralisation and adherence to the unitarist concept strengthens centrifugal forces in Vojvodina and Sandzak, and can negatively affect the resolution of the minority issue, notably the Vojvodina Hungarians issue.

a. Vojvodina Relations between Vojvodina and Serbia are still ambivalent, due to various traditions (Vojvodina one and the Serbian-Balkan one), social conditions, political ideals and political reality, cultural circumstances, treatment of institutions, different political orders of empires whose parts they had been in the past. All the vestiges of their diverse backgrounds are present now: they determine current relations, but also make more difficult a search for rational solutions.

Within the context of those relations, one of key issues is the constitutional issue of autonomy of Vojvodina. Belgrade always understood Vojvodina as a local issue to be resolved by an apparent, general-model decentralisation. In other words Belgrade intended to "swallow up" Vojvodina. But Vojvodina proper always treated the issue of its autonomy as a special constitutional issue. That very complex problem is present even now. Issue of Vojvodina and its status depends on three factors: the current authorities in Serbia, the international community and Vojvodina inhabitants. International community has taken a pragmatic and restrained line. It is difficult to assess how many Vojvodina inhabitants favour the autonomy. In view of all the aforementioned the proposed concepts of autonomy are still unclear.

Constitutional issue of Vojvodina cannot be adequately solved without amendments to the existing Constitution of the Republic of Serbia, as the latter mirrors the 'hard-line' political tradition which always opposed the autonomy of Vojvodina. But in view of recent demographic changes in Vojvodina it is difficult to estimate how many inhabitants of Vojvodina proper would opt for autonomy. The first brutal "change" was banishment of Germans into whose houses Serbs from Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo moved. The second demographic upset was arrival of refugees from Croatia and Bosnia in the wake of recent wars. Vojvodina has embarked upon a genuine search for its identity, which puts the issue of autonomy on the back burner. But that issue will have to be handled in due course.

Ideology which 10 years ago destroyed autonomy of Vojvodina and Kosovo again blocks all attempts at revitalisation of autonomy of Vojvodina. This ideology of "unity and indivisibility of state" and "centralisation of all state functions and fate of peoples" once espoused by the Socialist Party of Serbia, is now advocated by the Democratic Party of Serbia (Vojislav Kostunica.) DPS MPs in the Vojvodina Parliament blocked 6 documents on constitutional and statutory prerogatives of Vojvodina. Arsen Kurjacki President of DSS, explained his action by stating that "the expert group" (established to study the capacity of the Serbian Constitution in place) began drawing up the Vojvodina Constitution "conferring on the province authority equal to the one conferred on the Republic of Serbia." DSS Representatives urged that within regionalisation of Vojvodina "all regions, including Vojvodina, be granted funds remaining after settlement of the republican and federal taxes." This position indicates that the DPS adhered to the principle of hard-line centaralism. Arsen Kurjacki sharply criticised attempts of "pro-autonomy parties" within DOS for allegedly trying together with the Hungarian national parties to impose the position on "inalineable rights of citizens of Vojvodina" which put an equal stop between national minorities rights and national rights of the Serb people."

Democratic Party of Zoran DJindjic which together with the League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina had earlier launched an initiative that the Vojvodina Parliament be once again invested with the right to manage its public funds (education, health, social and pension protection), now stopped that very initiative. DJindjic thinks that "the degree of Vojvodina autonomy can be changed without the constitutional amendments." The Constitution of Serbia in place foresees a referendum-holding prior to adoption of any amendments, and a two-third parliamentary majority approving any initiative for amendments. Such an initiative may be submitted by President of the Republic, government and a group of at least 50 MPs. This means that Vojvodina cannot launch any such initiative for it has less than 50 MPs in the Serbian Assembly.

b. Sandzak

Renewed preliminary hearing of 24 Bosniaks, members or followers of the Party of Democratic Action, convicted of "associating for committing hostile activities" in 1994 to a total of 80 years in prison was to be held on 10 January 2000. But due to no-show of all the accused the trial was re-scheduled for 14 February 2000. This trial also indicates in a symbolic way that restoration of normal life in Sandzak is impossible because of negative experiences from recent past, although in the past 2 or 3 years cases of inter-ethnic intolerance, conflicts between Serbs and Bosniaks, or the state pressure on Bosniaks were not reported.

24 Bosniaks were accused of undermining territorial wholeness of the FRY, under Article 116 of the Penal Code. During the trial which commenced in October 1993 the accused maintained that they faced trumped-up charges. Trial Chamber of the District Court dismissed the defence arguments, convicted the accused and sentenced them to prison terms ranging from 1 to 6 years, or a total of 80 years in prison.

In 1993 Bijelo Polje members of the PDA and their President Harun Hadzic stood trial on the same charges. The Montenegrin authorities in Bijelo Polje first condemned and then condoned the accused (one of them Rifat Veskovic, in the meantime became a member of the Montenegrin government), while Belgrade took a very odd stand. Firstly, Sulejman Ugljanin, President of the PDA, and one of the accused, never stood trial. When the trial commenced Ugljanin was in Turkey, and after his return criminal proceedings were not renewed. The Supreme Court of Serbia in March 1996 suspended the sentence of Novi Pazar court and ordered a retrial (which took place only recently). This odd treatment of "Novi Pazar" case indicates that Sandzak is an excellent arena for playing political games. Bosniaks are occasionally labelled "traitors" and occasionally "separatists" and "Jihad fighters." The red-black coalition derogated Bosniak's backing of DOS and President Kostunica at September elections. Socialists and radicals, as well as the media under their control often resorted to the following messages: "Are you going to vote for Kostunica whose backers are Suljo Ugljanin and Rasim Ljajic?" and "a pro-secession Jozef Kasa is also for Kostunica. All secessionists are for Kostunica." The SPS pre-election statements implied that the biggest vice of Kostunica was the fact that he was backed by Bosniaks. History were impassioned patriotic speeches delivered by Prime Minister Mirko Marjanovic in the aftermath of the NATO intervention. Namely he magnified "brotherhood and unity of Serbs and Muslims" and "an age-old tolerant cohabitation in those areas."

Chauvinistic vocabulary of some political circles in Serbia was not relinquished even after September and December elections. Leader of the Party of Serbian Unity Borislav Pelevic and officials of that party, founded by the late Zeljko Raznjatovic Arkan, repeatedly stressed that Rasim Ljajic, "a hardened separatist who delivered harangues against Serbia under the Turkish and Bosniak banners," should not be a Yugoslav cabinet member. By the same token they ruled out the possibility that Ljajic could become a member of both republican and federal co-ordinating committees (Rasim Ljajic is the Federal Minister for Ethnic and National Minorities.) Radical and SPS MPs, notably Ivica Dacic, levelled similar accusations against Ljajic in the Federal Parliament. Radical MPs even talked about "uprising prepared by Sandzak "mujahedins." The new authorities mildly reacted to such statements. Although presence of "mujahedin forces" was not officially denied, DOS MPs occasionally warned their political rivals that nationalistic hate-speech was -history.

Long-standing economic crisis and poverty compelled Sandzaklians to address vital issues. This in turn helped quell the nationalistic passions. Bosniaks and their neighbours Serbs try to continue normal cohabitation, although they have not forgotten the recent wars, notably the one in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rapprochement is visible in economic and social sphere, but a wide berth is given to political issues. Not a single political party has managed to effect reconciliation between Bosniaks and Serbs. They remained political opponents, as proved by their election choices on 24 September. Bosniaks mainly voted for Kostunica and DOS list of MPs, while the majority of Serbs opted for former FRY President Slobodan Milosevic and the left-wing coalition. At the local level Bosniaks overwhelmingly voted for "Sandzak-Dr. Sulejman Ugljanin list" and Serbs for the SPS-AYL Coalition. Pre-election campaign in Sandzak passed without a hitch. However, several DOS activists were detained in Novi Pazar, and Rasim Ljajic, leader of the Sandzak Democratic Party (formerly Coalition Sandzak), a DOS member, on 8 September 2000 was detained in Nova Varos. After a two-hour delay and seizure of a part of propaganda material, Ljajic was released.

In the Montegrin part of Sandzak voters complied with recommendations of the ruling Coalition "Let us live better." In other words they massively boycotted the elections. But citizens of the majority Serb and Montenegrin municipalities in this area of Montenegro decided to massively take part in the elections. In Plevlja the turnout was 30%, while in the majority Bosniak-Muslim Rozaje, it was as low as 4%. The aforementioned figures indicate that the north of Montenegro still represents a stronghold for the policy of the Socialist Party of Montenegro. On the other hand Bosniaks persisted in their boycott. Their rather massive orientation for independent Montenegro causes new suspicions of "the other camp." All people in Serbia and Montenegro who favour the survival of the Yugoslav federal community, tend to accuse "Shiptari and Muslims" for separatist trends in Montenegro. According to them only Shiptari and Muslims back DJukanovic's separatist aspirations. In the Serbian part of Sandzak, that is, in Novi Pazar, Sjenica, and Tutin "List for Sanzak-Dr. Sulejman Ugljanin" won, while in Priboj, Prijepolje and Nova Varos the SPS-AYL coalition emerged triumphant. In Novi Pazar, the largest town in Sandzak, "List for Sandzak" won 33 seats, SPS-11, the SRS and DOS 1 seat each. In Tutin "List for Sandzak-Dr. Sulejman Ugljanin" won 32 seats and SPS 3 seats. In Sjenica Ugljanin's triumph was less convincing, but nonetheless "List of Sandzak" won a comfortable majority of 19 seats in municipal assembly, with SPS trailing behind, with 12 seats. After formation of local bodies in Novi Pazar, some high-ranking members PDA members accused Ugljanin of nepotism. Namely he appointed several of his unqualified relatives and associates to the top municipal positions. Vasvija Gusinac, head of Ugljanin cabinet and professor of English language, became President of municipal assembly and Ugljanin's brother Sadik, politicologist and educational worker, was named president of the executive committee.

In all major Serb towns the majority of voters opted for SPS candidates at local elections. DOS managed to win 11 seats in Priboj, 6 in Prijepolje and 12 in Nova Varos. As regards presidential elections, one could say that Bosniaks overwhelmingly voted against Slobodan Milosevic, that is for the DOS candidate, Kostunica. Their fellow-citizens of Serb descent (an estimated 80%) overwhelmingly voted for Milosevic. An even larger percentage of Bosniaks voted against Milosevic. At federal elections Bosniaks voted overwhelmingly for the DOS candidates, and obviously their two fellow-countrymen, Sacir Rozajac and Esad Dzudzevic (the latter was elected a federal MP.)

Prior to snap republican elections in December "List for Sandzak" failed to cobble a coalition together with DOS in exchange for placing 5 Sandzak candidates on the joint list. When DOS turned down the request of Ugljanin's political grouping, "List for Sandzak" boycotted the elections. Sulejman Ugljanin justified his decision with " 5% census being too low to enable minority parties to have their candidates elected to the parliament." On the DOS list there were three candidates of the Sandzak Democratic Party headed by Rasim Ljajic, of whom 2 made it to the parliament. Previously Sandzaklians had 3 MPs, all members of Ugljanin's party.

Since the elections representatives of Sanzak parties have not publicly demanded that the status of Sandzak and Bosniaks be tackled. Interestingly enough Mesihat of the Islamic Community of Sandzak asked the Prime Minister-elect, Zoran DJindjic, to name a member of Muslim community as a Deputy Minister for Religion, since "Muslims were the second-ranking religion in Serbia." In one of his statements Sulejman Ugljanin hinted that his party would first insist on the constitutional definition of status of his fellow-nationals (their right to declare themselves as Bosniaks), and then on the regional autonomy.

Rasim Ljajic, Federal Minister for National and Ethnic Communities thinks that " Milosevic's ouster created pre-conditions for key democratic changes in the country, within which framework the issue of national minorities in Serbia would be tackled." Ljajic believes that all the national minorities, alike population at large, under democratic conditions would be able to resolve all problems related to their national identity and rights: "Democratic ambience and democratisation provide better opportunities for settlement of minorities problems. He also announced that he would raise the issue of dual citizenship (Yugoslav and Bosniak-Herzegovian) for Bosniaks living in Sandzak. As the situation in Sandzak is peaceful it is obvious that the official Belgrade enmeshed in serious problems in South of Serbia, Kosovo and Vojvodina, shall deal later with the region. It is most likely that the issue of Sandzak would be solved within general decentralisation of Serbia, as announced by the new authorities.


4. Ethnic discrimination of officials of the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs

In April 1995 a group of 13 employees of the Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs turned to Helsinki Committee for Human Rights in Serbia for legal assistance. Namely they were transferred to other posts in the Department for property and General Affairs by the decision of the general secretary of Human resources and legal affairs department of the ministry. Surnames of those officials amply indicate the reasons for that transfer.

Namely Borislav Antoncic, Sead Begluk, Milan Franko, Branko Klepac, Radovan Krstulovic. Zlatko Potocnik, Branislav Prokic, Aleksandra Sago, Radoslav Siljanovski, Dusan Udovac, Miroslav Virovkic, Ljilja Vuleta and Josip Zorec, were not 'pure' Serbs. Seven of them declared themselves as Yugoslavs, two as Slovenians, two as Serbs, one as Slovak and one as Croat. They had to declare their nationality in a poll which covered all the FMFA employees and which queried also the descent of their parents and ancestors. Although all of them have been employed for 15 to 36 years by a highly confidential Communications Centre and had unblemished careers, they were nonetheless professionally downgraded solely on grounds of their ethnic descent. After their transfer, 13 new employees, "pure Serbs" (7 are from the republican police ranks and 4 from the ranks of the Yugoslav Army) were appointed to 'vacant' positions in the Communication Centre of the FMFA. Five years on they are yet to be tasked with important assignments.

But their appeals and complaints to various FMFA departments went unanswered.

The court case is pending, but it seems that the court intends to overlook a blatant aspect of ethnic discrimination by legally endorsing the original transfer decision.

a. Proceedings

By decisions of Zoran Janackovic, General Secretary of Human Resources and Legal Affairs Department of the FMFA and Head of that Department, Miroslav Buljancevic, and in line with authorisation of the FMFA, on 3 April 1995 the aforementioned 13 employees were transferred the Property and General Affairs Department "due to professional needs." Objections were filed that "removal from our positions was unjustified for our positions were not closed by an official act, and transfer to our new positions was an act of punishment, for the Department for Property and General Affairs did not need experts of our profile (computer experts and electrical engineers)." All the objections were dismissed by the very persons who passed the first-instance judgments. The ensuing objections were again dismissed with justification that "their transfer was of interim character, and that "their final positions shall be determined after adoption of the new rules on job requirements." Having exhausted all internal legal remedies within the FMFA, notably in the wake of the final decision taken by the Federal Foreign Secretary Vladislav Jovanovic of 15 June 1995, they took the case to the First Municipal Court in Belgrade in the last-ditch attempt to protect their rights.

In September 1995 the court ruled that 13 FMFA employees be reinstated. In reasoned opinion in writing the court stated that "the Law on the Basics of State Management System, the Federal Executive Council and Federal Administrative Bodies, foresees "transfer of employees when the professional needs arise, that is, when certain positions are vacant, or understaffed, or in case of overstaffing of their department." As the plaintiffs, computer experts and electrical engineers, were transferred to positions requiring different profiles, namely, jurists and economists, the court determined that such a transfer was not adequate and was contrary to the needs of Department, the more so because none of the contested decisions stated that professional services of the plaintiffs were no longer required in their long-held positions." In ruling on the defendants application, the FRY-FMFA, represented by the Federal Public Defence Office, the Belgrade District Court annulled the sentence and ordered a re-trial, instructing the first-instance court to establish why the plaintiffs had been transferred to the Property and General Affairs Department in the first place.

The first-instance court on 13 February 1997 ruled against the suspension of transfer decision, but determined that the plaintiff objections to relevant decisions be accepted. The judge also determined that the plaintiffs were provisionally transferred due to service requirements, and pending the adoption of the new rules of job distribution and requirements. However he failed to establish which were exactly the job requirements or whether the aforementioned rules had been adopted. On the plaintiff's appeal, the District Court in Belgrade on 17 September 1997 again suspended the first-instance court ruling and ordered a re-trial "in view of the first-instance court failure to comply with its instructions."

After two-year long proceedings on 20 October 1999 the first-instance court passed the third judgement wholly dismissive of the prosecutor's application. The court's reasoned opinion in writing stated: "challenged decisions were passed by an authorised person with a discretionary right was to assess the needs of services," "this transfer was not a result of harassment or misuse of prerogatives," "it is not within the court's competence to appraise decisions on distribution of positions."

That decision was appealed because the plaintiff's stated that "the court during its proceedings did not present any evidence, except from the testimony of witness Zoran Vasiljevic, Head of the Property and General Affairs Department, who stated that his department needed computer experts." This statement was intended to justify the transfer of once leading electrical engineering experts to department which simply needed computer-proficient people, many of whom could have been easily found in an overstaffed administrative department. It was also stated in the appeal that the court dismissed all applications of the plaintiffs to hear witnesses, employees of the Property and General Affairs Department and the Communications Centre, who would have testified that since their 1995 transfer they had not been entrusted with any task or duties, and that the 'ethnically cleansed' Communications Centre functioned. The centre employed 'only' pure Serbs, and holdovers of Serb nationality from the republics of former Yugoslavia. The court not only declined to establish the current state of affairs, but also did not want to acknowledge the presented legal evidence, that is the Rules on Internal Organisation adopted on 22 February 1996, under which the plaintiffs were not only transferred to inadequate posts, but moreover their status of 'provisionally transferred employees" was confirmed in blatant breach of Article 20 of the Rules of Labour Relations of the FMFA and Federal Administrative Bodies which lays down that the interim transfer of any employee without his/her consent can last up to 6 months, that is one year, as stipulated under Article 16 of the Act on Labour Relations in State Bodies. In mid May 2000 the Belgrade District Court judgement was pending.





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