Attacks Against the Hungarian Minority in Serbia Are Increasing

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Sep 16 17:09:05 UTC 2004

>>From the NYTimes, September 16, 2004

Attacks Against the Hungarian Minority in Serbia Are Increasing

SUBOTICA, Serbia, Sept. 15 - When the Setets family set off this morning
to take their 13-year-old daughter to school, they got a shock. As they
left their small, two-room house on the outskirts of Subotica, in northern
Serbia, they found a 15-inch kitchen knife imbedded in their front door.
Alongside it, someone had sprayed the Serbian word for "death" in red.
Further to the right was "Drop dead, Hungarians."

Such ethnically motivated attacks by Serbs against people like the Setets
(pronounced sheh-tets), members of this country's 300,000-strong Hungarian
minority, have become rife, souring relations between Serbia and
neighboring Hungary. The Hungarian government has urged Serbia to do more
to protect the Hungarians, most of whom live in Vojvodina Province

The discovery of the graffiti at the Setets house came just 12 hours
before a visit by President Ferenc Madl of Hungary to Subotica as part of
a state visit to Serbia and Montenegro.

Local Hungarian politicians say that incidents like the desecration of
graveyards, assaults and racist graffiti, have increased in the last six
months. The Setets's 19-year-old son, Denis, was beaten up by Serbs last
month as he cycled home from a nightclub.

Hungary's foreign minister, Laszlo Kovacs, last week described such
attacks as "atrocities" but toned down his language on Monday after a
meeting of European foreign ministers in Brussels. He also said he did not
believe that the Serbian government was behind the attacks.

Serbia has until now played down the incidents in Vojvodina. A report last
week by the Serbian Interior Ministry on 67 incidents of violence this
year concluded that none were ethnically motivated. But President Boris
Tadic called for a full police investigation of the tensions in Vojvodina
after meeting President Madl on Tuesday in Belgrade.

Hungarian politicians here acknowledge that the incidents in Vojvodina
pale into significance when compared the ethnic violence that tore
Yugoslavia apart, leaving at least 300,000 people dead. They also stress
that Hungarians managed to co-exist with Serbs throughout the Balkans wars
of the 1990's.

But they also fear that unless the government takes the current tensions
more seriously, the violence could quickly increase.

"You have to bear in mind, this is how the war in Croatia, Bosnia and
Kosovo began," said Jozsef Kasza, leader of the Vojvodina Alliance of
Hungarians, the main ethnic Hungarian party in Serbia. He has called on
Serbia to increase the number of ethnic Hungarians in the police.

Serbia's deputy minister for minority rights, Jelena Markovic, accused
Hungarian politicians, including Mr. Kasza, of exaggerating the problem to
gain more votes when Serbia holds municipal elections this Sunday.

"The Hungarians are using these incidents for political gain," she said in
a telephone interview.

She added that Mr. Kasza's party appeared to have adopted its stance after
failing to gain any parliamentary seats in elections last December.

One former government adviser said that although the issue may be linked
the elections on Sunday, Serbia would gain by being seen to take the issue
seriously. "It's time to show that the Republic of Serbia is responding in
a different way to Milosevic's Serbia,'' said the adviser, Pedrag Simic,
now a professor of political science in Belgrade, referring to Slobodan
Milosevic, who is being tried on war-crime charges by a tribunal in The

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