Vreme, Belgrade, Serbia, Serbia-Montenegro, June 18, 2003 I am having a hard time getting used to the mode of debate imposed by my opponents from Vojvodina. I don't know where I draw my hope, but I keep expecting a serious reaction to my assertions and arguments, but it still hasn't showed up. Instead, I am receiving offensive reactions, of which Mr. Djordje Subotic's one is probably the best example. To make sure that someone, God forbid, does not make a mistake of thinking that he agrees with me he has inserted in literally every paragraph of his lengthy text published in Vreme at least one defamation. The most convincing ones are that my article is "garbage" and that I am a "Nazi". Am I exaggerating? Let me list just the key words from the first two paragraphs: "Unserious", "Asian centralism", "deliberately misinterpreted statistics", "clear example of ignorance", "unprovoked maliciousness".
The most important problem with this discussion is that my opponents are low ranking politicians. If we look more closely into their true professions, we find a surgeon-accordion player, a mature student (still diligently working on his Bachelor's degree at the age of 39), a former journalist and an amateur photographer. Perhaps it is too much to expect civilized discourse from our politicians, but they could definitely do with a bit more education in social sciences.
In this reply I will only consider responses by Mrs. Fejzulahi and Subotic, because Messrs. Putnik and Milutinovic offered in their responses only their political beliefs (or attempts at defamation), and these cannot be discussed, or at least I am not interested in such an endeavor.
To my assertions that the lack of existence of political autonomy of Vojvodina during Austrian-Hungarian rule demonstrates that current radical pro-autonomy programs cannot be based on historical arguments, the response was that the non-existence of a separate administration in Vojvodina is irrelevant and that political separateness was provided by religious and ethnic privileges provided by emperor Leopold I and his heirs. That is not true. First, privileges granted by Austrian emperors are not equivalents of political and territorial autonomy, because they are personal, not territorial. Evidence of the importance of these differences can be found in the fact that at that time Serbs were fighting for territorial autonomy, as a higher degree of autonomy, which they were never granted. Further, religious and ethnic privileges were in force at a wider territory than that of modern Vojvodina, i.e. everywhere in Hungary or Austria-Hungary, and consequently cannot be used as a foundation of separate Vojvodina identity. For example, privileges granted by Leopold I applied to Serbs in Lika [current Croatia], and Budapest [Hungary] and Timisoara [Romania]. Religious and ethnic privileges went well with the idea of separate Serb ethnic and Eastern Orthodox religious identity and had nothing with supposedly national Vojvodina-based awareness. Therefore, it cannot be said that Vojvodina is an ancient separate land that should be given back its historical rights.
Responding to my assertion that cultural differences between Vojvodina and the rest of Serbia, which to a certain extent do exist, do not justify the attempt to turn Serbia into a (con)federation, my opponents avoid a straight reply and instead focus on demonstrating that certain cultural differences do exist, talking about local string instrument tambura and different color on maps, which is simply silly. Naturally they decided to ignore the most important point raised by me: it is contradictory to base the Vojvodina "nationhood" on multiculturality (i.e. merger of cultures of different nations) and then reject the very same concept and call for separation of Vojvodina from the rest of Serbia basing that call on precisely alleged large cultural differences. That really does not make sense.
Since I demonstrated that data about tax exploitation of Vojvodina before WWII publicized by the League of Vojvodina Social-democrats (LSV) were fake, Mr. Fejzulahu responds that he is not aware of my sources. Obviously, he failed to recognize the abbreviation SZS, which stands for the Federal Statistics Institute (Savezni Zavod za Statistiku). Fejzulahu's attempt to imply that following Milosevic's instructions the SZS forged data referring to the 1920's speaks for itself. However, to remove all doubts I consulted the original editions of annual publications of General State Statistics [Opsta Drzavna Statistika] from the 1920's and confirmed that the SZS correctly reprinted taxation data.
I also claimed that Canak and Veselinov lied when claiming that in the recent past less than one percent of all revenue collected in Vojvodina was returned to Vojvodina, since that one percent refers only to the payment from the Serbian budget for the administration of the Vojvodina Assembly and Government and does not include social security payments, health insurance payments, education, military, economic subsidies... Final annual accounts published in the "Official herald" [Sluzbeni glasnik] clearly demonstrate that I was right. Mr. Subotic's response is that my example only demonstrates that Vojvodina has jurisdiction in very few areas. We may discuss the distribution of jurisdiction between different levels of government, but Canak's and Veselinov's lie remains a lie and no obfuscation can hide that fact.
My opponents keep trying to prove the theory about exploitation of Vojvodina through taxation with figures of claims that in Vojvodina more taxes per capita or even per kilometer square are collected than in other parts of Serbia. That line of argument is totally wrong and senseless. Precisely the opposite is true: it is just that those who make more money pay more in taxes. Consequently, it makes sense that more taxes are collected in wealthier regions than in poorer regions. The taxation system in which territories with different degree of development would pay the same tax per capita would be highly unjust (and correspond to long ago abandoned and primitive poll tax). Consequently, no one anywhere in the world, even in federal countries complains that his province, region, or federal state has been exploited by taxation because it pays taxes proportionally to its income. Therefore, it is true that Vojvodina pays more taxes per capita than the south of Serbia, but that it just and it should stay that way. Or do my opponents propose a return to medieval times and reintroduction of the poll tax as the only means of taxation?
The response of my opponents to my data regarding the economic development of Vojvodina and Serbia after WWII, which I believe disprove the assertion that Vojvodina has been exploited and looted, is to direct me to read the sources they prefer. A mistake. They need to either show that my data is wrong or that my conclusions made on the basis of that data are wrong. References to authors they prefer are a wrong approach, especially since many of these authors are far from being unquestionable authorities in their chosen area of expertise. The comment by Mr. Dimitrije Boarov on my article, published in Dnevnik, essentially consists of verbal gymnastics and offers no new facts, as I believe to have shown in my response to his comments.
In the former Yugoslavia we had a system in which all parts of the country felt both endangered and exploited since their chief industries were neglected: In Vojvodina farming, in Serbia-proper farming and heavy industry, in Bosnia-Hercegovina heavy industry, in Croatia looting of foreign currency earned in tourism, in Slovenia because of the fund for development of underdeveloped regions etc. Modern whining in Vojvodina is only a reflection of the bad practice in which someone else is always to blame for our troubles.
The issue of movement of factories and production facilities after WWII is a very complex and insufficiently researched topic (I am very well aware of this because I worked with Dr. Zivota Djordjevic on the study Movement of industry in Serbia between 1948 and 1953, published in 1990 by the Institute for Economy, page 212). In no way is it sufficient to list, as Mr. Subotic does, several small factories that were moved from Vojvodina to Serbia-proper and conclude that the assertion about exploitation has been proven. I can list a number of factories that traveled in the opposite direction, from Serbia-proper to Vojvodina: textile factory Hadzi Boskovic to Stari Becej, I. Milisic's textile factory to Backa Palanka, machinery from Nebojsa, Boston and Mira to Ruma, Pancevo and Subotica, and one production line from Sartid to Macvanska Mitrovica. Therefore, it is not true that factories were "only taken" from Vojvodina as Mr. Subotic claims.
Regarding his question whether anything had been moved from Serbia-proper, the answer is yes. For example aircraft industry was moved from Belgrade to Mostar in Bosnia-Hercegovina, manufacture of guns and mortars from Kragujevac to Kasapovici in Bosnia-Hercegovina, manufacture of tanks from Mladenovac to Hrasnica in Bosnia-Hercegovina, optical industry from Belgrade to Sarajevo etc. Therefore, somewhat larger industries than a small hat factory. But, more importantly, comparison of short lists is a bad method for discussion - perhaps suitable for newspapers and politicians, but definitively not for serious discussion.
Factories and machinery were moved during that period due to several reasons: military and strategic, jump starting development of poor or in war devastated regions, concentration of small factories in one spot in order to create large industrial systems beloved by socialism and so on. But even that is not the end of the story. During WWII Germans stole and shipped machinery to Germany. Thus, for example the Zavod in Kragujevac, the industrial giant of the pre-WWII Yugoslavia was almost stripped bare during the war. Next, we should consider the mass of reparations machinery obtained from Germany after WWII, some of which literally wondered all over Yugoslavia seeking a final destination (one big storage house was in Novi Sad in Vojvodina). All in all, a lot was carted away, a lot brought back and it is practically impossible to figure out who gained and who lost in the process. I personally believe that in that process both Vojvodina and Serbia-proper fared badly but incomplete although voluminous material does not make it possible to draw a definite conclusion (obviously, I am not Djordje Subotic).
My opponents are obviously troubled by the fact that I am arguing against the autonomy of Vojvodina from the liberal point of view and these days it is not advisable to criticize liberalism. So what is their response? That liberal-democratic order dose not rule in Serbia and that none of the political parties with centers in Belgrade advocates liberal-democratic values. It is true that Serbia is today not an exemplary democratic country. However, political parties represented by my opponents are actually contributing to such a situation. Let us have elections and let democracy defeat an administration based on personal interests of bosses and officials of insignificant political parties.
Next, it is not true that the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia or G17 do not advocate "liberal state and domination of an individual". I personally trust much more Kostunica and Labus, serious and civilized persons, than Canak, Isakov, Veselinov and Kasa, who, I am convinced, are a disgrace for Vojvodina.
The liberal concept implies deregulation (decrease of state functions), including the reduction of taxes, which would allow individuals to on their own make decisions about their own work and life with the least possible amount of meddling from the state administration, be that state Serbia or Vojvodina. However, the core of the program of radical advocates of the autonomy is precisely the opposite of liberalism. Actually, their ideas are very close to those espoused by the Yugoslav League of Communists in the period between 1971 and 1990, according to which the state administration of Vojvodina should control and manage economic resources of the province with the goal of economic development. It is interesting that many prominent communists from the above mentioned period are now very active in the radical pro-autonomy movement. However, the concept they advocate is hopelessly outdated and bad and clearly indicates ideological roots of those who advocate it.
Finally, Mrs. Fejzulahi and Subotic incorrectly represent my position and the object of discussion and, in my opinion, their own position.
First, they claim that I am a clear example of a supporter of centralization and an opponent of modern regionalization and autonomy of European type, which is utterly untrue. Namely, I coauthored the book Regionalization of Serbia (www.clds.org.yu), so that I can in no way be classified as a supporter of centralism. On the contrary, I am an advocate of modern European regionalization. The abovementioned book proposes that regions have significant powers (even allowing for differences between regions, so important to some in Vojvodina), the existence of a regional assembly (with some legislative powers) and a regional administration, as well as the Chamber of Regions in the Serbian parliament, etc. True, the book also envisages the survival of Serbia, but that, I assume, is not a topic of this dispute.
Secondly, in accordance with the above, both gentlemen believe and claim that the object of dispute between us is the dichotomy "centralism or autonomy", which is again utterly wrong because neither do I advocate centralization nor do they advocate autonomy within the usually understood meaning of that concept. They need to portray me as an extremist in order to deflect my criticism of their extremism.
The real object of dispute between us is whether Vojvodina is a sovereign entity that can determine its status within or without Serbia on its own and whether the demands of radical supporters of autonomy regarding (con)federal status of Vojvodina within Serbia are justified. Their answer to both of these questions is yes. Let me quote Canak: "we demand the right to, if the supreme representative body of citizens of Vojvodina decides that the status of Vojvodina is against interests of Vojvodina, unilaterally change that status"; "if Vojvodina joined a state after a decision of a parliament (1918 - BM's remark) it should have the right to leave that state following a parliamentary act". I addressed such radical views in my article and attempted, and hopefully at least partially succeeded, in proving that they are baseless.
Both gentlemen pretend not to understand the main point of my article and instead criticize all sorts of my purported views. To my argument that radical supporters of autonomy, i.e. their political parties, enjoy the support of only 10% of voters in Vojvodina, they respond by saying that a majority of voters in Vojvodina support autonomy. I am aware of that and did say myself that "significant number of voters in Vojvodina supports (moderate) autonomy" which "is definitely a fact that cannot be ignored in politics". Or, both of them instruct me to study experiences of regional states in Europe, while it is true that most likely I can lecture them on the differences between the status of those regions and their demands for Vojvodina.
Third, both gentlemen now hide their true political ideas and portray themselves as advocates of moderate autonomy. Thus, for example, Mr. Fejzulahu now promotes only one aspect of the desired Vojvodina autonomy - the fiscal autonomy (he says "let us have our money and call that whatever you want"). Unless he is a fierce opponent of the policies advocated by his own political party, and I assume he isn't since he signed himself as an official of the LSV, then I can only conclude that Mr. Fejzulahu is trying to hide both his and his party's true policies. The same applies to Mr. Subotic who not long ago said: "We envisage Vojvodina with legislative, judicial and executive branches of government that will be based on the constitution of Vojvodina. We believe that such Vojvodina would be sovereign inasmuch as no outside political body, including the government of Serbia and any other institution of the joint state or the international community would have the right to change its status or constitution. Changes in that status and constitution can be enacted solely by the citizens of Vovjodina. That is what we want". Such demands definitely have nothing to do with European regionalism.
I believe I know why Fejzulahi and Subotic now pretend and are trying to hide the ambitious project of state-legal reorganization of Serbia into a federation or confederation. Their political parties have recently changed their tactics and instead of publicly promoting their radical views regarding the status of Vojvodina, trying not to irritate the public opinion, they are hoping to realize their goals relying on backroom deals that are bound to follow the writing of the new constitution for Serbia.