Serbia and Montenegro
Atrocities against Voivodina Hungarians
In the northern Serbian province of Voivodina live the autochthon community of approx. 250,000-300,000 ethnic Hungarians, who are spread in a relatively compact block of territory, forming absolute majority, in the north-eastern corner of the so-called Backa region along the Hungarian border and in a band to the west of the Tisza River down to the city of Novi Sad.
Currently, the Voivodina Hungarians are the largest single national and ethnic minority in Serbia and Montenegro, following the "detachment" of Kosovo. In the last six months, the Hungarian press in Serbia and the press in Hungary have reported on an increasing number of atrocities and incidents committed against
Hungarians in the province.
Voivodina Hungarian organisations have reported on nearly 300 anti-Hungarian incidents in the province during the last six months. These have included beating up Hungarian youngsters, damaging cemeteries and monuments, desecrating Catholic and Calvinist churches. Physical atrocities are mostly concentrated against the youth. Belonging to the most mobile of generations, they are compelled the easiest to leave their homeland and flee to Hungary. Although the incidents vary in weight and characteristics, a common trait is that the police have found no perpetrators and local authorities have not made it to court trials in either of the cases. And in spite of the fact that several similar incidents had preceded the various ethnic wars in the former Yugoslavia, the Serbian press keeps on handling the cases in a low-key manner.
There is no indication that official Belgrade may be implicated in the anti-Hungarian incidents. On the contrary, the current Serbian government, democratic-oriented in comparison with those of the Milosevic-years, may count on the stable constituency of Voivodina Hungarians, a fact proven by the election of Mr Tadic as President of Serbia as opposed to the candidate of the Serbian Radical Party. Nevertheless, the handling of these incidents demonstrates that Belgrade has no influence on local events and is unable to enforce its will on local police and law enforcement which have remained virtually untouched since the Milosevic-era.
After the fall of Milosevic, Belgrade made headway on minority legislation. It was under the tenure of the Djindjic-government that the Act on National Minorities was born, which enabled the establishment of the Voivodina Hungarian National Council, the latter providing a basis for the emergence of a cultural autonomy. Serbia also signed a pioneer minority protection agreement with Hungary. Although these legal instruments came into existence also as examples referring to Serbians living abroad, they are ranked among the most serious pieces of minority protection legislation in the region. However, there have hardly been steps made as regards putting the functioning of the Hungarian National Council in practice. For instance, the lack of a functioning autonomy is proven by the fact that there are no ethnic Hungarian judges and police personnel in the Hungarian-populated areas of Voivodina. This makes it understanding easier why the police and courts are not handling the atrocities at the level of their seriousness.
Voivodina is a multi-ethnic region. In the second half of the 20th century, despite the serious historical hardships, Voivodina's Serbs, Hungarians, Croatians, Slovaks, Romanians, Ruthenians (Ukrainians) and Bulgarians have developed basic norms of peaceful co-existence. As a result of the recent wars, however, the ethnic composition of the province has significantly changed. Many Serbs refugees from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo have been settled in Voivodina. These refugees had never lived side by side with the other local national communities whereas their psyche is determined by the fact that they too had been forced to leave their homeland for ethnic reasons. The intolerance and aggressiveness of this mass of people have greatly contributed to the ethnic incidents which had, beside the Hungarians, also Croatian and Slovak victims.
Finally, one must note the fact that Serbia's current international position causes national frustration. Its European and Atlantic integration chances are meagre, and this awareness fails to stimulate a strengthening of the rule of law.
Furthermore, the Serbian democratisation process is negatively affected by the uncertainties surrounding the status of Kosovo, as well as by the instability in Bosnia-Herzegovina. These issues also have an effect on the Serbian national psyche. All this is further aggravated by the fact that the attention of international community on the Balkans continues to vain, a process well highlighted by the withdrawal of the U.S. military from the region.
Although the anti-Hungarian atrocities in Voivodina are unlikely to be centrally directed, they may easily poison relations between Serbia and its single EU-member neighbour, Hungary. The developments surrounding the Voivodina Hungarians may cause significant troubles in the democratisation process under way in Serbia and Montenegro, too. In order to prevent this, a better local enforcement of central government will is necessary. In addition, the institutional framework of minority autonomy should be filled with adequate content through the Hungarian National Council and the further disturbance of the balance of ethnic groups in the region must be stopped. The recent atrocities committed against the Voivodina Hungarians prove vividly that the unsettled issues on the Balkans (Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia-Herzegovina), despite the current relative calm, imply serious dangers and security risks for the European Union and NATO.