The Situation of Vojvodina

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Mon Jan 24 14:25:34 UTC 2005

The Eurasian Politician - Issue 3 (February 2001)

The Situation of Vojvodina
By: Marco Pribilla, 5th Feb. 2001

Translation by Anssi Kullberg

In the recent years the worlds attention in observing the situation in
former Yugoslavia has been understandably paid mainly on Kosova and the
situation of the Albanian minority. At the same time, however, it seems to
have been forgotten that Kosova is only one of the two regions of Serbia,
which were deprived from their former autonomous status by Slobodan
Miloevics regime in 1988. The other one is Vojvodina, by its Hungarian
name Vajdasg, situated in the northern part of the country, and inhabited
by a significant Hungarian minority.

The region presently known as Vojvodina has been part of the southern area
of Hungarian settlement since the arrival of Hungarians in 896, that is,
for more than thousand years. During the Turkish wars, the ethnic
composition of Southern Hungary started to change. Serbs, who were fleeing
from the way of Turks, started to move to the area from south in 1300s.
When Southern and Central Hungary became occupied by the Turks in 1500s
and 1600s, Hungarian population decreased dramatically as a result of
fighting and persecution, and instead, more Serbs and Wallachians
(Romanians) moved to the area.

When Hungary was liberated from the Turkish power in 1686, the immigration
of Serbs and Wallachs continued, because the original homelands of these
peoples remained under the Turkish Empire, and the regime in Vienna
favoured the Serbs as "border guards" against Turkey. Also Germans were
settled to this so-called military border (Militrgrenze). Hungarians could
no longer influence the local affairs, and they were even prohibited from
moving there. Only in late 1700s the situation was normalised by abolition
of the military border, and peaceful multicultural economic and political
development could emerge. The city of jvidk (in Serbian Novi Sad, in
German Neusatz), which was by now mainly inhabited by Serbs and Germans,
became the centre of the region.

Peaceful development of Vojvodina was broken during the Hungarian
liberation struggle in 1848-49, when the Serbs were the only nation of the
region to fight against the Hungarian government on the Austrian emperors
side. A heavily armed Serbian voluntary grouping of more than 2000 men was
terrorising villages and towns inhabited by Hungarians, Germans and
Romanians, burning Hungarian parish registers and other official
documents, and committing banditry and murder in numerous places. The Serb
troops were demanding linguistic autonomy, official status as a nation and
annexation of the region to Croatia-Slavonia. Kossuths government was
ready to agree with the two first demands, but not the third one. The
Hungarian and German troops mobilised to fight the Serbs could, however,
not resist the advancing Serbian army, and so the whole area that later
became Vojvodina remained several months in Serbian control, until the end
of the war and the overthrow of Hungarian liberation struggle. After this
the Austrians took over control.

The era of double monarchy up until the World War I (1867-1914) brought
again prosperity and strong development for Vojvodina. The area had became
a granary of the monarchy and belonged to the wealthiest parts of Hungary,
having modern network of transportation and city system. The proportion of
Hungarians of the population was slowly growing due to both natural
increase and to the gradual Hungarianisation of Germans and Jews. The
tendency of Hungarianisation did not, however, touch the Orthodox Serbs,
whose proportion was slowly growing, too, due to higher birth rate than
that of the Hungarians. Apart from other parts of Hungary, the middle
class of countryside in Hungary consisted of non-Hungarians. Besides the
small class of great landowners, the Hungarians were also dominant among
tiny farmers, landless field workers and servants.

In the World War I, thousands of Hungarys Serbs volunteered in the Entente
troops. In November 1918, the Serbian troops occupied all Southern Hungary
stretching as far as Temesvr (Timisoara) and Pcs. By the Trianon Treaty in
1920, Hungary had to cede 21000 km2 land and 1,5 million inhabitants to
Serbia. About one third-part of the population of the area annexed to
Serbia were Hungarians, another third-part were Southern Slavs (Serbs,
Croats etc.) and the rest were Germans, Slovaks, Romanians and Ruthenes.
In later Vojvodina, the combined share of Hungarians and Germans was still
more than half of the population in 1920s.

Under the Yugoslav regime, powerful Slavification started in Vojvodina.
About 100000 immigrants from other parts of Serbia were resettled in the
area, and non-Slavs were discriminated for example in the land reform and
in jobs. The bad living conditions made thousands of Hungarians,
especially members of intelligentsia, to emigrate. The remaining half
million Hungarian population was deprived of Hungarian-speaking teachers,
doctors, priests and experts. Hungarian teaching was strictly limited, and
the activity of a Hungarian party was only temporarily allowed.

When Yugoslavia disintegrated in the chaos of the World War II, in 1941,
part of Vojvodina was re-annexed to Hungary. The organised partisan
activity of the Yugoslavs led to "cleansing" policies in revenge by the
Hungarian side, resulting more than 3000 victims. More than two
third-parts of these were Serbs. The wartime Hungarian governance improved
the living conditions of the Hungarians of Vojvodina, especially in
education, although the Serbo-Croatian language remained an obligatory
subject in all schools. The Hungarians were, however, disappointed at the
fact that a new, more just, land reform was not made.

About 60000 Hungarians of Vojvodina were killed in the WW II. Besides,
after the war 20000 Hungarians  among whom there were lots of priests and
authorities  were executed without trial, falsely accused of collaboration
with the fascists. Hungarians and Germans were also gathered to forced
labour camps, where mortality was high due to the severe conditions,
diseases and malnutrition. The purpose of this genocide was to revenge to
the Hungarians, frighten them, and to eliminate their leaders.

At the same time there was also another genocide going on in Yugoslavia.
It targeted the about 600000 Germans of Yugoslavia. About one quarter
million of the Germans were killed on the front or in the post-war
Yugoslav revenge attrocities and in concentration camps. Most of those who
survived, about 330000 people, fled to West Germany. The fate of the
Germans also strongly depressed the position and attitudes of Vojvodinas
Hungarians. It was part of the tragedy that nothing could be spoken about
the post-war horrors in Yugoslavia for many decades.

In 1943 Yugoslavia decided to grant Vojvodina an autonomous status within
the state of Serbia. After the war, 385000 hectares of land in Vojvodina
and Slavonia were redistributed to about 40000 households. Only one
tenth-part of the land was given to Hungarian families. Constant
immigration from the poor southern parts of Serbia to wealthy Vojvodina
has made the proportion of Hungarians in the province drop from the
post-war one third-part into the present less than a sixth-part. Besides,
Hungarians have throughout the period slowly emigrated to Hungary,
although no actual forced displacement of population has taken part, like
in the case of Yugoslavias Germans.

In 1950s, the autonomous institutions of Hungarians were abolished, when
foreign political benefits no longer demanded Yugoslavia to continue its
former liberal minority policy. By limiting the activity of Hungarian
schools and by supporting bilingual cultural associations Belgrade aimed
at increased assimilation of Hungarian youth into Serbs, especially in
areas of mixed population. At the same time, however, Vojvodinas
Hungarians managed to create a network of cultural and information
institutions which was unique in the scale of contemporary Eastern Central
Europe. In result, the best Hungarian newspapers and magazines as well as
radio programmes of the world in 1960s and 1970s were published in

The new constitution of the Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia from 1974
confirmed the model of autonomy that had developed both in Kosova and in
Vojvodina since 1950s due to decentralisation. Both these autonomous
regions, Kosova and Vojvodina, were the next one and half decades in very
similar position with the actual states of Yugoslavia [Serbia, Croatia,
Slovenia, Macedonia and Montenegro]. The Serb government in Vojvodina
aspired to increase local economic interests on one hand, but on the other
hand it struggled against the demands of democracy by the intellectuals
and the ethnic minorities (Hungarians and Croats). Serbian regime
prevented formation of national-inspired "vertical" organisations,
discouraged connections to the motherland, and tried to oppress religious
activity. Also an elite that was mentally alien to the area was born in
Vojvodina, when lots of students from other parts of Yugoslavia came to
study in Vojvodinas colleges and remained there after graduation, thereby
undermining the options of locals, especially those representing ethnic
minorities, to gain scholarship or job.

In mid-1980s, Greater-Serbian ideas started to gain strength in Serbia.
For Serbian nationalists, the autonomy of Kosova and Vojvodina was a pain
in their ass. The ambitions to abolish the autonomy of Kosova and
Vojvodina got their champion when Slobodan Miloevic became president of
Serbia. In October 1988, the Serb-dominated regime of Yugoslavia arranged
a "spontaneous" mass demonstration against autonomy in Novi Sad (jvidk).
People were transported by special trains and buses from the southern
edges of the country to demonstrate in Vojvodina. The demonstrators were
awarded for their services with bread, beverage and yoghurt, for which
reason the case is also known as the "yoghurt revolution". Due to the
demonstration, the "autonomist" Serb government of the province had to
quit and in the next year the struggle for Greater Serbia led, instead of
democratisation, to the abolition of autonomy in both Kosova and

According to the census of 1991, 345000 (3,9 %) of the population of
10000000 people in Serbia, are Hungarians. Only 4000 of these Hungarians
live outside Vojvodina. Of the 2 million peoples population of the
province, the Hungarians constitute 16,9 %. Hungarian settlement is
concentrated to the vicinity of the Hungarian border, where the Hungarians
usually constitute absolute or proportional majority. However, there are
Hungarians in almost every village, town and city of Vojvodina. Yet their
statistical proportion of the population has constantly decreased due to
low birth-rate, aggressive Serbianisation, emigration of Hungarians,
immigration of Serbs, and even due to statistical tricks.

The Yugoslav civil war, which broke out in 1992, has radically influenced
also Vojvodinas population structure, although the actual military
operations did not target the province, except NATOs air bombings. Due to
the chaotic state of the country, no exact information is available
concerning Vojvodinas present population proportions. According to various
estimations, about 40000-100000 Hungarians have left the region because of
economic and political uncertaintly. During the Bosnian and Kosovar wars,
especially young well-educated Hungarian males often preferred to emigrate
in fear of being sent to the front. This fear was partly well founded, as
the Yugoslav army drafted Hungarians to the service in disproportionally
large amounts, compared with the size of population. Another factor that
has influenced the population structure of Vojvodina is the immigration of
about quarter million "Serb refugees" from Croatia and Bosnia. They have
been settled mainly in the areas with Hungarian majority in order to
destroy the ethnic unity of these areas.

The fears of the Hungarians have been increased by the rising popularity
of Vojislav eeljs ultra-nationalist Serb Party SRS during the last five
years. The party has collected lots of votes also in Vojvodina, and
wherever it has reached the power, the Serb refugees have been given land,
often for free, from exactly the Hungarian-inhabited areas. The refugees
have also committed even armed provocations against the Hungarian and
Croatian original inhabitants. The Hungarians and Croatians have also been
continuously reminded that the Serbs will not avoid use of violent means
in order to expel them permanently.

Anti-Hungarian attacks and provocations have continued and they have even
been increased after last autumns democratic election in Yugoslavia. The
Belgrade newspapers have recently been alarming of "Hungarian peril", and
numerous wall-paintings demand Hungarians to leave the country. In
mid-January, Jzsef Kasza, mayor of Szabadka (Subotica) and the chairman of
the most eminent Hungarian party, VMSZ, received an e-mail threat upon his
life from an organisation identifying itself as "Serbian liberation
movement". In addition, the letter threatened to "expel all Hungarians
from the city and slaughter all Croats into a pile".

Meanwhile, the SRS party has spread among people a baseless rumour that
the Hungarians of Vojvodina would attempt to create a "Pannonian Republic"
to the area and to annex it to Hungary later. In fact, the only party that
has suggested the annexation of Yugoslavias Hungarian areas into Hungary
has been the extreme right-wing "Truth and Life" party (MIP) during the
Kosova War in spring 1999. Even then, no significant power in Hungary,
Vojvodina or elsewhere has supported the idea.

Also representatives of the present government parties of Yugoslavia have
given anti-Hungarian statements, despite the fact that the VMSZ supported
Vojislav Kotunica during his presidential campaign. Despite all this
trouble, the situation of the Hungarians seems lighter now, as at least in
its official statements the leadership of Yugoslavia and Serbia has showed
gratefulness at the VMSZs role in the recent democratic development of the
country. Good relations to Hungary and to Hungarians lie in the Serbian
interests also for the reason that Hungary now constitutes the most
potential channel for Yugoslavia toward the European Union. To show
willingness of co-operation, the new prime minister of Serbia, Zoran
Djindjic, appointed Kasza to one of his vice premiers in January. Kaszas
responsibility covers economy, foreign trade, agriculture and autonomy

The question of arranging the official status of Vojvodina has not yet
popped out after the autumn elections. Most parties in Vojvodina support
large autonomy, but no proper law initiative on the issue has not yet
entered even the provincial parliaments process. VMSZ naturally supports
autonomy, yet it finds arranging the rights of minorities the matter of
primary importance at the moment. According to Kasza the first things to
be guaranteed are the preservation of minority mother language, culture
and national identity, which presuppose adequate network of schooling,
media and education institutions.

Kasza has had successful bilateral negotiations with both Djindjic and
Kotunica, concerning the position of Hungarians. Both Serbian leaders
assure they support prompt arrangement of the minority issues so that the
representatives of minority groups could live as equal and satisfied
citizens and give their contribution to the construction of a new,
democratic, Yugoslavia. Kotunica has promised to maintain in all European
standards when creating a new minority legislation for the country, as
despite all the secessions, Yugoslavia is still a multiethnic state and
according to the new president, it should stay so. In the near future the
parliament expects first change in the language law, and then sooner or
later also a new law on minority rights. This law would also give the
long-awaited wide autonomy to Vojvodinas Hungarians.

However, not all are satisfied with the autonomy plans even within the
presidents own party, the DSS. Gordana Vukovic, a member of the federal
parliament and a professor of Serbian language in the University of Novi
Sad, branded the VMSZs demand of official confirmation for the use of
minority languages as separatism. According to Vukovic, even bilingual
street signs and such things should not be returned to use, as she
considers such practise "disgusting". In contrast she demands that all
even foreign names should be written in the Russian way with Cyrillic
alphabets. As another example, Miroljub Ljesnjak, vice chairman of the
DSS, protested by demonstratively leaving the first session of the fresh
Vojvodina parliament, when a Hungarian representative gave his speech in
his own mother language. Besides, the nationalist DSS has accused some
other Serbian parties in Vojvodina of being "anti-Serbian". ++++

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