Serbia, Hungary take steps toward national reconciliation


A declaration by the Serbian parliament and a dedication of monuments acknowledges World War II-era killings in Vojvodina, paving the way for improved relations.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 13/07/13


Hungary President Janos Ader (left) shakes hands with Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic during monument dedication ceremonies on June 26th in Curug. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]

When Legvari Sandor was a young boy, his father and other ethnic Hungarians were killed in the Vojvodina village of Curug.

It was 1944, and Partizans, Serbia's ruling party at the end of World War II, killed about 3,000 Hungarians in acts of vengeance for Hungarian crimes against Serbs, Roma and Jews in Vojvodina during the war.

Seven decades later, the healing process has begun in Serbia's northern province.

A joint initiative between the Alliance of Vojvodina Hungarians and the Serbian Progressive Party led the Serbian parliament to adopt a declaration condemning acts against Hungarian civilians in Curug in 1944 and 1945. The declaration is seen as a crucial step toward reconciliation between Serbia and Hungary, especially in Vojvodina, where 13 percent of citizens are Hungarian.

Sandor, 80, said Hungarians have built memorials only to see them vandalised. On June 26th, two monuments were dedicated in Curug, one built by Hungarians to honour Serbians killed in a 1942 Hungarian raid at the Topalov Warehouse, and the other built by Serbs in memory of Hungarians who were killed in retaliation after World War II.

"We thought this will never happen and we have never expected that this will be done by these authorities," Sandor told SETimes. "Now, after 70 years of waiting, and after decades of rebuilding destroyed symbols of the deaths here, we can just have a nice feeling and hope that this will bring a better future and new values to some new generations."

Hungary President Janos Ader and Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic spoke of the importance of national reconciliation during a joint visit to Curug to participate in the monument dedication ceremonies.

"Today we turn to each other, we look each other in the eye and say that what we leave behind to future generations does make a difference, and we say that we can only leave behind mutual respect and the truth," Ader said.

"Serbia is committed to basing its present and future on the principles of freedom, equality, respect of human rights and good neighbourly relations," Nikolic said. "As members of an old European nation, which has suffered on multiple occasions throughout its history, we are aware of our responsibility and fully committed to giving our contribution to further development of the European family of nations."


A monument to Hungarians killed after World War II by Serbia's Partizans ruling party now stands in Curug. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]

Nebojsa Stefanovic, president of the Serbian parliament, told SETimes that the declaration condemning the violence against Hungarians "is proof that reconciliation is achievable and the only right path toward the EU community, which all of us is striving for. Serbia is ready to continue its path toward the EU, as well as to improve its relations with its neighbours and to contribute to the whole region's prosperity."

Oszkar Nikowitz, Hungary's ambassador to Serbia, expressed hope that Serbia will continue to play a key role in strengthening regional relations.

"It is a feasible pattern on how one can get over the painful past. If Serbia applies the same method with its other neighbours it has had historical disputes with, I am convinced it will improve the general atmosphere in the region, it will do a lot of good to the reputation of the country and bring it closer the its objective: European integration," Nikowitz told SETimes.

He added that national reconciliation will be important for the Hungarian minority in Serbia. Nikowitz drew a parallel between improving Hungary-Serbia relations and the 1963 Elysées Treaty, which ushered in a new era of peace between France and Germany.

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"One can only compare these events to the Elysées Treaty 50 years ago when Germany and France pledged to leave behind the history, or rather the interpretation of the history, in their political affairs. Two central European countries have decided to do something similar here. The readiness to face the past and the condemnation of [each country's] crimes means that our governments will turn to the future and work on opening up and intensifying our good-neighbourly relations, with no mistrust anymore," Nikowitz said.

Citizens say reconciliation will create a stronger connection between the two countries.

"This is Vojvodina, we're used to living together and understanding each other in several languages, but in order to have an even better future we should have some memories about the past," Slave Stankovski, 59, a resident of Zrenjanin, told SETimes. "We should know what some of us did as well as what was done to us. This is the purpose of these monuments, as well as to warn us to not repeat such things ever again. It is always nice to say and hear 'sorry'."

Will reconciliation between Hungary and Serbia serve as an example for the rest of the region? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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