Serbia, Vojvodina need dialogue, officials say

22/04/2013

A draft declaration by Vojvodina officials has heightened tensions between the country and the autonomous province.

By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 22/04/13

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"We do not want to secede from Serbia," Vojvodina Prime Minister Bojan Pajtic told SETimes. [Facebook.com/Bojan Pajtic]

The growing tensions between the autonomous province of Vojvodina and Serbia need to be settled through dialogue, officials and analysts said.

"I think Vojvodina indeed needs a different policy, but the issue of Vojvodina's autonomy should not be brought into question; it should be resolved through dialogue rather than on the streets," Mladjan Dinkic, leader of the United Regions of Serbia (URS), said last week.

At issue is a draft declaration by Vojvodina officials to "protect the constitutional and legal rights of the autonomous province," which states that the Serbian government is violating the rights and responsibilities of provincial authorities.

"The republican government, without consultation with provincial authorities, started ... to dispose of provincial assets," the draft declaration reads, noting that the Serbian government has substantial assets in the province's city of Novi Sad.

"At our request, to protect the constitutional and legal rights of Vojvodina, Belgrade authorities responded with accusations that we want secession of the province from Serbia," Prime Minister of Vojvodina Bojan Pajtic told SETimes.

He said that through the gradual elimination of the province's jurisdiction, Belgrade is trying to end the autonomy of Vojvodina.

"We do not want to secede from Serbia, these are meaningless accusations that Belgrade [is using] conceal their intention to take away autonomy," Pajtić, the vice president of the Democratic Party, said.

Vojvodina is the agricultural breadbasket of Serbia and home to a large minority of Hungarians. Its level of autonomy has varied over the past several decades, and has come under renewed scrutiny since power changed hands in Serbia last year.

The province, which is controlled by a coalition headed by Serbia's opposition Democratic Party, has been at odds with Belgrade for months over the distribution of public and fiscal revenues and the powers of Vojvodina authorities.

In March, three former officials of the Development Bank of Vojvodina were arrested on suspicion of incurring damages of more than 25 million euros to the bank. “They are suspected of approving loans against the law and the bank's procedures,” Serbian Police Director Milorad Veljović told Radio B92.

In early April, Serbia's Postal Savings Bank took control of the Development Bank of Vojvodina.

Thousands protested in Novi Sad earlier this month to support the SNS, demand the resignation of Pajtic and call for early elections.

The draft declaration was sent to the provincial assembly for adoption, but Parliament President Istvan Pasztor called on the provincial government to withdraw the proposal. The SNS sharply reacted to the publication of the draft declaration.

"We will ask for Pajtic's resignation because he destroying province property and [is calling] for secessionism, threatening peaceful life of the citizens," Igor Mirovic, the president of the SNS Council for Vojvodina, told SETimes.

He accuses Pajtic of being complicit in the illegal activities of the Development Bank of Vojvodina and other financial deals.

Serbia's Deputy Prime Minister and SNS leader Aleksandar Vučić said the party respects Vojvodina's autonomy, and said the constitution would not allow anyone to "play separatist games."

On April 16th, Vojvodina Assembly President Ištvan Pastor said on Monday that he will call early provincial elections if the necessary legal prerequisites for this are met.

Marko Blagojevic, programme director of the Centre for Free Elections and Democracy, said that the request of the SNS for early elections in the province is political pressure to change the electoral will of the citizens of Vojvodina.

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"Serbian Progressive Party ... wants to take over the government in Vojvodina," Blagojevic told SETimes.

Citizens have different opinions about the government's proposed declaration. Some believe that Vojvodina should have more rights, while others fear that the attempted secession of the province will lead to civil conflict.

"Everything should be resolved through peaceful means, we must not allow Vojvodina to become a new Kosovo," Vitomir Grcic, a Novi Sad resident, told SETimes.

Should Belgrade open talks with Vojvodina? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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