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ZEF Discussion Papers on Development Policy 57
This paper addresses the issue of regionalism - as a form of identity and political mobilization - in the multiethnic northern Serbian province of Vojvodina, which has until today been spared of inter-ethnic violence that has characterized all other constitutive regions of the former socialist federative Yugoslavia. Based on a study of the development and activities of the Vojvodinian political parties and non-governmental organizations that have sought to wrest autonomy of the region vis-à-vis Serbia during both the reign of Slobodan Milosevic's regime and the rule of the democratic coalition that dethroned his party in 2000, as well as numerous surveys on the population's grievances and identities, the following questions are being asked: what is the reason that, despite the steady and rising dissatisfaction with the socio-economic standing of the Province among the ordinary people, and sentiments that manifest regional and inter-ethnic identities, Vojvodinian autonomist parties have failed to mobilize significant political support? Why do they seem to be continuously losing the battle with the Belgrade-based parties for the proclaimed goals of the new constitutional and budgetary autonomy of the Province, which includes greater regulation, and support of its ethnic minority and multiethnic institutions? Why have the autonomist political parties not been able to tie their programs of autonomous status of the Province to the growing socio-economic and cultural grievances of ordinary Vojvodinians Serbs, Hungarians, Slovaks, Croats, Ruthenians, and Rumanians alike? Why have they failed to tie together the long-standing antiwar and anti-ethnonationalist attitudes toward the former Serb-nationalist regime and its 'moderate' successors, which are shared by local elites and ordinary people, and instrumentalize them as a resource in Serbia's post-2000 transition to democracy? Here I will demonstrate that the Vojvodinian autonomist elites' political strategy has consisted primarily of the deal-making with Serbian Belgrade-based parties, where the polity access has favored the choice of horse trading and distribution of sinecures by both multiethnic and ethnic minority party leaderships. Simultaneously, they have been discouraged to organize large support in their locales. The goals of democracy, understood in this context as raising opportunities for broad political participation and advancement of regional ethnic and multiethnic practices, are thus being continuously preempted. The second question that calls for attention here is whether the theory and policies of liberal multiculturalism and liberal nationalism (much studied and praised in the region) can offer a model for construction of democratic polities in multiethnic spaces of the post-Communist East-Central Europe. The following section will briefly outline the main argument of liberal multiculturalism-nationalism and its uses for understanding the break-up and reconstructing of multi- and inter-ethic experiences in the former Yugoslavia, as well as local ZEF Discussion Papers on Development Policy 57 prospects for democratization. It will then draw attention to alternative sociological approaches to the problem of political mobilization and recognition of mass grievances and identities that serve as their background. More elaborated suggestions for a suitable theoretical model that can help understand the specific political and cultural set-up that the province of Vojvodina was and is will be presented in the concluding section. Following the section on theoretical schemes, I will present a brief overview of the position of Vojvodina in the federal Yugoslavia and its social and cultural decline after the abolition of its constitutional autonomy in 1988. In the fourth part I will draw a map of political programs and activities of the local autonomist parties. The fifth section will focus on the nongovernmental organizations, depicting their role in researching and framing the grievances, identities and solidarities of ordinary Vojvodinians in terms of evaluation of the prospects for local democratic development. Before the concluding section, I will outline some newest political developments that, in the aftermath of the 2000 elections, reveal the patterns of intense fights between the members of the Serbian coalition, where the goals of Vojvodinian autonomy and multiethnic identity may be reframed in terms of ethnic divisions and a scramble for sinecures.
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