Friday, October 14, 2005

Is decentralization of state power part of the acquis of the European Community? The example of Vojvodina

On 13th of October 2005, European Parliament (EP) held a Public Hearing on the Situation of minorities in Vojvodina. This hearing presented one in the series of events related to this Northern Serbian Province, organized by the European Parliament. Even before the hearing, EP adopted a resolution that expressed concern about violations of the rights of minorities in Vojvodina.

The representatives of the European Commission present at the hearing, warned against the over-dramatization of the situation in the Province, in view of much more serious problems elsewhere in the region (e.g. Kosovo, South Serbia and Montenegro). The representatives of the Serbian and Vojvodina governments, also attending the hearing, rejected the accusations and underlined the improvement in the living condition of minorities since the last fact finding mission of the EP. EMPs from Hungary, human rights activists from Serbia, as well as minority representatives, in dramatic tone, pointed out to the violation of minority rights. It is important to point out that no-one accused the government of directly contributing to such a situation. Nevertheless, they pointed out to the lack of effectiveness of courts who are processing cases of inter-ethnic intolerance and violence. The response of the Serbian government in this regard was that court system in Serbia is generally inefficient and slow (due to the lack of resources and often human capital) and that thus, court cases against perpetrators of violent acts against minorities are also progressing slowly.

Not to say that there is certain amount of inter-ethnic tension in Vojvodina, but it seems rather surprising, that the EP is organizing an event on human rights violations in Vojvodina and does not do the same for Kosovo where the treatment of minorities is far worse than in Vojvodina. Seemingly, the aforementioned resolution and the parliamentary hearings on these topics are strongly pushed by the Hungarian nationalist EMPs who want to improve their public image in Hungary in the light of next year’s general elections in this country. Interestingly the hearing was directly broadcasted on of the biggest Hungarian televisions.

Most of the critics of the Sebrian government argued that the slow return of authority to Vojvodina’s autonomy causes inability of the Province’s institutions to protect minorities (to remind the readers Vojvodina enjoyed great territorial autonomy under the Communist Constitution of 1974, this autonomy was almost completely de facto abolished by Milosevic’s regime, the democratic governments after 2000 managed to return some formal power to Province’s institutions). Some Hungarian, German and UK EMPs added that if Serbia wants to continue its path towards EU integration, it needs to give back Vojvodina the autonomy it enjoyed before. After the intervention of certain participants in the panel, arguing that decentralization is not an institutional must, so to speak, in Europe, invoking the example of France of the example of recent Portuguese referendum, where the people decided for the country not to go in this direction, the representatives of the European Commission confirmed that decentralization is not crucial. As long as minority rights are secured, the country is in line with the best standards of the EU. Regardless of whether institutional structure for minority protection is individually, collectively or territorially based.

No comments: