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Serbia/ 5.1 General legislation  

5.1.2 Division of jurisdiction

Autonomous Province of Vojvodina

Jurisdiction is solely the responsibility of the Parliament of Serbia. The Statute of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, which clearly defines the division of jurisdiction between the Government of Serbia and the autonomous province, was declared on 14th December 2009 (previously approved in the Parliament of Serbia on 30 November 2009), with a lot of political controversies surrounding it. It was announced as a step forward towards EU integration, as an example of decentralisation and regionalisation of Serbia, while the opposition (and even voices from some of the ruling parties) had the opinion that this was a transfer of too much jurisdiction, that could in the future lead to the independence of Vojvodina. Many have even compared the Vojvodina case with the Kosovo case, saying that Kosovo independence actually started with too much autonomy. However, it is important to notice that these comparisons are not grounded with evidence – while Serbs are a minority population in Kosovo, they have an absolute majority in Vojvodina.

Despite that, controversies surrounding the Statute have continued and claims that it is against the Constitution have finally reached the Constitutional Court. In 2013, the Court declared that two thirds of the text is not in accordance with the Constitution. At the beginning of 2014, a special group was formed to change the Statute. The process ended in the following May and Provincial delegates have voted on the new Statute.

Main changes in the Statute relate to nominal definitions and the use of words. In the first Statute, the governing body has been titled "Government of Vojvodina", now changed to "Provincial government". The "Capital City of Novi Sad" is changed to "City of Novi Sad – seat of provincial administration". Finally, another disputed phrase – "national communities" which is not recognised by the Constitution and perceived potentially disruptive – has been changed to "national minorities – national communities". It is often heard that all these in essence superficial changes are just the beginning of further erosion of provincial autonomy.

Article 2 defines the jurisdiction of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina concerning the development of the national, cultural and other attributes of this region.

Article 6 defines the equality of all citizens living in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, concerning the rights and obligations, regardless of race, gender, birth place, language, nationality, religion, political or any other belief, education, social origin, economic status or other personal characteristic.

Article 24 defines the official use of the Hungarian, Slovak, Romanian and Russian languages and their alphabets in the work of the authorities of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, parallel to the Serbian language and the Cyrillic alphabet, already defined by the Constitution.

Article 25 defines the jurisdiction of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina, including decisions and acts organising culture, education, official use of languages and alphabets of the national minorities, and public information on the languages of the national minorities.

Articles 21-24 underline once again the rights of national minorities – national communities to participate in policy, culture, education and the media.

Article 27 defines the jurisdiction concerning the development programmes in the areas of education and culture and provides the conditions for their implementation; defines the role of the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina in the protection, use, improvement and management of cultural heritage; and through its authorities and organisations secures the conditions for the development of that field. The same article gives the right to the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina to establish and finance its cultural, educational and scientific institutions.

Disputes about Vojvodina autonomy are not only related to the Statute. Even bigger clashes evolve around the question of authority and the budget. These issues are not solved in the new Statute since it is not clear enough and permits very different interpretation.

Kosovo – legal and operational controversies

The Republic of Serbia finances and supports the public cultural institutions founded by the Ministry of Culture and located in Kosovo (mostly in the northern part of Kosovo, with the northern part of Kosovska Mitrovica being the centre of all the cultural activities of the Serbian community), and the protection and preservation of all the monuments of Serbian cultural heritage (mostly monuments and religious objects), some of them on the UNESCO heritage list (Dečani Monastery, The Patriarchate of Peć Monastery, Gračanica Monastery, The Church of Holly Lady of Ljeviš). A number of cultural institutions moved their administrative centres after the Kosovo war (1999) and the violence directed towards the Serbian community (2004), either to Kosovska Mitrovica or to south-central parts of Serbia (most of them in the city of Niš). The Republic of Serbia does not recognise the declaration of independence of the Republic of Kosovo (17 February 2008), while the Albanian administration in Kosovo sees these institutions supported by the Government of Serbia as parallel and illegal. In 2012, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Serbia, Ivica Dačić, and the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Hašim Tači, met for the first time in Brussels, in the presence of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, which is seen by political analysts on all sides, as the most serious step in years towards the normalisation of relations between Serbia and Kosovo, with the mediation of the EU. There is hope that all these issues will be resolved in the years to come, with compromises from both sides during the negotiations mediated by the European Union. This could also mean more relaxed cultural cooperation between the institutions on both sides, and not only civil sector organisations in the field of culture and the arts.

National councils of national minorities

National councils of national minorities are a very important instrument in providing rights for national minorities. The councils have the legal framework and the possibility to create and implement the cultural policy of national minorities – they have a wide range of rights (especially in culture) – from founding their cultural and media institutions and transferring founding rights for existing ones, over creation of the National Strategy in Culture and financing activities, to announcing schools, public monuments, works of art as significant for their culture, and participating in the National Council for Education and the National Council for Culture. However many of these rights are not actively used by most Councils (there are 20 councils in general, but only those of larger minorities e.g. Hungarian have the capacity to exercise their rights).

Another issue of national councils of national minorities is that they are often used for other political interests, not always related to minorities. Namely, most of leaders are also proclaimed members of political parties who have disproportionally more power than any citizen of a minority that wants to take part in the Council. In this way, the national councils are just another way for political parties to gain the attention of their voters (both minority parties and others) and use minority media and funds for their parties' interest.

Elections for national councils are an area in which these problems are most visible. The first elections for the national councils of national minorities took place on 6 June 2010, and again in 2014. Unfortunately there have been serious problems and tensions since the creation of the National Bosnian Minority Council in Serbia, as during elections for the Council many political parties and the Islamic community had supported different groups. The National Bosnian Minority Council in Serbia is still not recognised by the government and by some of the political parties of the Bosnian minority that participated in the elections. There were initiatives for the new elections, but they were not held because a compromise between the two sides could not be reached. The divisions are the most intense in Sandzak and the city of Novi Pazar, the municipality in southern Serbia, where the majority of Bosnians (of Muslim religion) live. This situation is still unresolved, creating tensions between some of the officials of the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the leader of one of the two existing Islamic communities in Serbia, Muamer Zukorlić, but also creating strong polarisation inside the Bosniac Muslim community in Serbia (those who are for the religious authority from Sarajevo, and those who want that religious authority is Islamic centre based in Serbia). There is a strong diplomatic initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Turkey to resolve these tensions, in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Serbia and the Islamic communities from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, to unite the Islamic community of Serbia, stop the tensions inside the community and between the community and the government, and discontinue the interference between religion and politics. In 2012, Muamer Zukorlić, leader of one of the Islamic communities in Serbia, was a presidential candidate in the presidential elections in Republic of Serbia, drawing 1.1% of all the votes at national level. This was the first time that a religious leader in the Republic of Serbia nominated himself for the position of the President of the Republic, which Zukorlić explained as a test of tolerance for Serbia.

Chapter published: 17-08-2015

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