by Bosko MIJATOVIC
Therefore, what does the League advocate? That is hard to say, at least judging by the party documents. In one, named Principles of program: our vision of autonomy, the LSV states that it advocates - autonomy. True, the idea of autonomy is immediately extended with the statement that citizens of Vojvodina have the sovereign right to decide about its status, which has nothing to do with the idea of autonomy. In another document, named Initiative for Federalization (proposal), the League openly advocates federalization of Serbia and creation of "United States of Serbia" in which every unit (state) "would be responsible for its development" (this formulation has been copied from the 1970s former Yugoslav Communist legislation). The document states that autonomy is not enough, as it is flexible and impermanent. The document Vojvodina Republic: path of peace, development and stability also advocates statehood for Vojvodina. Therefore, autonomy or statehood? It seems both. In public statements Canak supported both views, and in the end, as can be seen from the draft of the Basic law [constitution for Vojvodina] he opted for the word autonomy, but the competencies of that autonomy are essentially that of a sovereign state. The idea is, in my opinion, to exploit the term autonomy, much more acceptable to a majority of citizens and politicians in Serbia, while the actual goal is full statehood for a republic that would maintain only lose links with the rest of Serbia.
It is interesting that people from the League have such a hard time saying that Vojvodina is a part of Serbia, but go to extreme lengths just to avoid saying that. "The constitution of Vojvodina would define links with the state of Serbia"; or, they mention "cooperation or participation in a union with other regions, states and nations in Europe, Yugoslavia or Serbia at equal basis"; finally, we get the following formulation: "Vojvodina has legal and state links with Serbia".
Abovementioned documents, and definitely others as well, mention numerous unique characteristics of Vojvodina that separate her from the rest of Serbia: historical, cultural, geographic, democratic and economic. Let us take a close look at given unique characteristics! Also, we'll dedicate more space to the latter, [economic aspect], because the League mostly insists on it.
Even if political individuality of Vojvodina did exist in the past centuries, that would not be sufficient reason for its maintenance in the future. Numerous regions or states existed for a while in history, but they are now gone: Walachia, Galicia, Transylvania, Dalmatia, Burgundy, Flandres, Navarra, Sardinia, Silesia, Moravia, Prussia... Why Vojvodina? There is the period after WWII, when province of Vojvodina did exist, with changing status. The existence of something created by our great men Broz, Kardelj, Rankovic and Djilas [most prominent Yugoslav Communist leaders] with their collaborators from Vojvodina, Zarko, Stevo, and Zivan [Berisavljevic] [Communist leaders in Vojvodina between 1974 and 1989], is really not enough to justify the existence of the province in the future. New times and the 21st century bring new views, which do not agree with dusty and incorrect historical argumentation. Certain continuity between the current ruling class in Vojvodina and the former Communist rulers of the province under Broz (Canak, Isakov, Fira, Berisavljevic) is definitely not sufficient. Something stronger is needed.
They also say, there are unique cultural characteristics. In other words, Vojvodina has a separate cultural heritage that differs from that from south of the rivers Sava and Danube. Wrong! Jovan Rajic, Orfelin, Zefarovic, Dositej [Obradovic], [Jovan] Sterija [Popovic], Branko [Radicevic], Djura [Jaksic], [Jovan Jovanovic] Zmaj, Stevan Sremac, Isidor Bajic, Paja Jovanovic, Veljko Petrovic, Petar Konjovic, Vasko Popa, [Milos] Crnjanski and many others are definitely not only Vojvodina artists but above all Serb and Serbian artists. Most of them have surpassed their narrow local framework and now belong to all Serbs. The same applies to important non-Serb artists from Vojvodina. Provincial possessiveness and attempt to fence off great artists is senseless, worthy of tiny provincial spirits.
But perhaps they were not referring to highbrow culture, but to simple folk customs - clean clothes, civility, better schools, more "Europeanness"? There are some differences in that sense, I admit (although Belgrade is not that bad and can compare with Vojvodina). But such differences are considered to be normal in the rest of the world. That is, it is completely normal that in one state there are regions that are doing better "culturally" than others, and it still hasn't occurred to anyone to say "we are 300ercent more civilized than you and therefore demand statehood". Sicily is rather different "culturally" from Lombardy, just like Dalmatia differs from Slavonia, but they - what intelligent people! - do not take it as basis for political struggle for (con)federalization.
In the end, certain cultural differences between different regions only enrich a country, based on the principle of multiculturalism, don't they? What sort of modernity would it be to demand separate territory based on cultural differences with the rest of Serbia, and define that separate territory precisely on the basis of multiculturalism? That would not be modern, and would not make mush sense either.
Then, they say, there are geographic reasons. Vojvodina, according to them, is a clear, separate geographic unit, since it lies between rivers Sava, Danube and borders with neighboring states. Wrong! Most borders of Vojvodina are unclear, obviously artificial, definitely not terribly natural. After WWI it took a while to draw borders with Hungary and Romania, because there were no valid landmarks, neither natural nor ethnic, so that borders were drawn pretty randomly, cutting villages in two, separating families, relatives. The border along the Danube with Croatia is disputed until today, because that mischievous river has moved with time to the west. Border with Croatia in Srem was drawn by Djilas and company after WWII, also without much thought, because there were no good markers, so that even today many, both in Croatia and Serbia, are convinced that the border is unjust. The southern border of Vojvodina with the rest of Serbia also isn't any better. Thus Vojvodina crosses to the southern bank of the river Sava in Macva, which is commonly not known, because of another significant change in the river bed. On the other hand, Belgrade, i.e. the rest of Serbia, crosses to the left bank of Sava and the Danube taking a big chink of Vojvodina. Thus, it cannot be true that Vojvodina is a well defined geographic whole.
They also say - the people of Vojvodina wants (disguised) statehood, and if people want something, that must be done. Wrong! The people of Vojvodina does not want statehood. There has been no referendum on this topic, so that the only way to judge support for statehood is through support for political parties advocating statehood. The parties that more or less advocate the idea of statehood - Canak's LSV, Veselinov's Coalition Vojvodina, Isakov's Reformists and Kasza's Association, together enjoy support of between 10 and 15 percent of voters in Vojvodina, according to all public opinion polls. And 15 percent is not people, but a small minority. The recent proposal of a minister in the Serbian government to hold a referendum on the statehood of Vojvodina was angrily rejected by the supporters of the autonomy as they knew very well that they would lose that referendum. They do not want democracy, but would prefer to make behind the scenes deals with central authorities and blackmail with votes in the parliament.
Well, in that case, how come about one half of representatives in the parliament of Vojvodina advocate radical solutions and attempt to win a solution that does not enjoy majority support among the voters? There is no mystery. In negotiations that led to compilation of lists of candidates for office in the year 2000 elections, small "Vojvodina" parties, led by Canak, were sly and demanded and obtained as many as fifty percent of spots on DOS' lists for the provincial parliament, in order to make concessions on lists for the Serbian parliament. It seems that Kostunica and Djindjic, busy dealing with the overthrow of Milosevic, underestimated importance of the Vojvodina parliament and troubles that such a deal would create later. And that's what happened. Parties that lack support in the electorate now control half of seats in the provincial parliament and now boast with purported political legitimacy. Political barter, therefore, resulted in the composition of the parliament of Vojvodina that does not even closely reflect the actual mood of the electorate and is now causing trouble.
And even if a majority of citizens in Vojvodina wanted a radical solution, it does not mean it would be unavoidable. A part of a country cannot be sovereign in the sense that it can on its own decide about its statehood and status. The rest of the country also must give its opinion. For example, in order for a part of a canton in Switzerland to become a separate canton, four successful referenda are needed, including one referendum in all of the canton whose part is trying to separate and one on the level of the country, Switzerland. Serious countries seriously work on their inner organizations.
They say also, Vojvodina has always been economically exhausted in favor of the rest of Serbia through taxation, and this "tax robbery" was evident even before WWII. Evidence comes from the alleged fact that in 1925 Vojvodina paid 36.90f all taxes in the then Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Wrong!. To make this "fact" sound more convincing, the LSV provides a table with data about collection of taxes in different parts of the kingdom SHS (document published by the League Data and facts about Vojvodina), and numbers, right?, never lie. True, the LSV does not mention the source for the presented data, which immediately rises suspicion. However, even a little effort is enough to dispel all doubts and unmask a brazen lie. Namely, according to that table overall tax income of the Kingdom SHS in 1925 was 353 million dinars (Vojvodina allegedly paid 131 million dinars), while an inspection of the official data reveals that in 1925 taxes collected in the Kingdom SHS added up to as many as 4932 million dinars, or 14 times more, while the overall state revenue reached 10.8 billion dinars (source: Yugoslavia 1918-1988, Federal Statistics Institute, published in 1989). Do they know how to count in the LSV?
They say - Vojvodina was economically exploited until the 1974 Constitution (and the culprit, in this case as well, of course, is Serbia), after which prosperity reigned. Wrong! First, economic growth in Vojvodina was faster between 1953 and 1970 than in the rest of Serbia (minus Kosovo): GNP growth was 7.6% and 6.8% annually, respectively. Therefore, while it was exploited by Serbia, Vojvodina developed faster, and faster than its exploiter! Unusual, isn't it? And what happened after the constitutional changes that freed Vojvodina from Serb shackles and brought about a "turnaround"? The rate of economic growth between 1971 and 1987 falls to modest 3.1% annually, which cannot be considered a huge success of the ruling political class and the new constitutional status of Vojvodina. But, what a surprise, Serbia proper, now that she cannot exploit anyone, has a faster growing economy than Vojvodina - 3.6% annually! It seems that it is better for Vojvodina to be "exploited" by others, especially Serbia! And the drastic slowing down of economic growth in both parts of Serbia gives ammunition to the assertion that the constitutional order established in 1971-1974, so dear to Nenad [Canak] and Zivan [Berisavljevic], was harmful for everyone.
They also suggest that Serbia robbed Vojvodina by systematically moving factories from Vojvodina to the rest of Serbia between 1949 and 1952. Wrong! Since at one point I personally participated in the study of movement of industry after the split with the Communist block in 1948, I know very well that factories from Vojvodina and from Belgrade and central Serbia were moved to the mountainous parts of the former Yugoslavia to be protected from an expected invasion by the Soviet Union, since in that case guerilla resistance was expected to continue in "impenetrable hills". That was by all means stupid, but there can be no doubt that such a strategic idea could not have been imposed by anyone but Josip Broz [Tito], and definitively did not come from anyone from Serbia who wanted to rob Vojvodina. The fact that a few small factories from Vojvodina did end up in central Serbia does not change anything.
They say that Belgrade even today continues to loot Vojvodina. Both Canak (2001) and Veselinov (2000) find evidence for their claim in the "fact" that Vojvodina finances 400f the budget of Serbia while receives back only 0.10r 0.5%. Wrong! First, the two of them, and anyone else who made similar assertions, have never given a detailed breakdown describing participation of revenues collected in Vojvodina in the overall government revenue in Serbia or Yugoslavia. Therefore, they have never said, "look, Vojvodina paid this much, and the overall budget was that much". I understand why they did not do so, because such data does not exist! No statistics of state revenue collected in our country classifies revenue according to its territorial origin. This is not done because someone is desperately trying to hide a highway robbery, but because it is impossible to carry out such a classification (how should we classify revenue from import customs, or taxes paid by companies that have assets in both Vojvodina and the rest of Serbia, or taxes paid by individuals who live in Vojvodina but work or shop in Belgrade?). Lacking reliable data, it is clear that the "fact" about 40 0s simply a fabrication used to "back up" somebody's political program by numbers that, naturally, never lie.
Secondly, the story about a fraction of one percent paid back to Vojvodina from the state budget is even a bigger lie. If less than one percent of all revenue went back to Vojvodina that would truly be a highway robbery! But, that simply isn't true. What's going on here? Canak and Veselinov obtained those sad fractions of one percent by counting only the funds allocated by the central government to the provincial budget, earmarked exclusively for the administrative expenses of the Parliament and the Executive Council of Vojvodina! They forgot, what a surprise, that the central state budget and social security funds finance all state and social needs in Vojvodina, such as pensions, health care, education, police, military, infrastructure, economic subsidies and so on. Therefore, it is true that only 0.50f overall revenue was allocated for salaries of representatives in the Parliament of Vojvodina, but everything else that was spent on Vojvodina and its residents also must be included, and that is much more than 0.5%. Therefore, the statement by Dragan Veselinov that "the government of Serbia is full of worst robbers in history of Vojvodina" is a brazen lie and does not make any sense. Rudolf Bicnic did a much more serious and better job before WWII in connection with the "Croat question", although he also ultimately failed in his mission.
First, the theory of taxation states that an individual who has more, should pay more in taxes. That is the principle of equal suffering, which claims that it would not make sense to make both poor and wealthy pay the same, since poor taxpayers would be disproportionally affected by such taxation. And the purpose of the state is to increase prosperity of all individuals.
Secondly, the theory of taxation has for a while known that wealthy individuals benefit more from state services. Thus, it makes sense that they should pay more in taxes. For example, wealthy individuals benefit more from protection of property and validity of contracts (because they have more valuable property and conduct more business deals), from the educational system (because their children typically obtain more education), form good roads (because they use them more) and so on.
Therefore, the demand for equal taxation per inhabitant of wealthy and developed Vojvodina and poor and undeveloped south of Serbia challenges prudent principles of taxation theory. It is true that Vojvodina pays more in taxes per inhabitant than poor parts of Serbia, but that is just from the point of view of the principle of equal sacrifice and of principle of benefits obtained from the government.
I am convinced that the issue is in the fundamental difference in the understanding of the role of the government in the economic and social life. While Canak and company dream about overflowing government funds and firm control of politicians over economy, all supposedly in order to protect interests of their territory and its citizens, the modern liberal-democratic order brings about a radical deregulation and market control of financial flows and economic activities, based on free activities of free individuals and their companies. In the centralized, statist view, it is of crucial importance who controls the government and why, while those more experienced among us still recall the struggle for control of state funds on territorial basis and creation of the so-called national economies in the 1970s, including provincial economies, with all the negative consequences. On the other hand, in the liberal concept, the government significantly loses, while individuals gain in importance. The government is no more the manager and distributor of everybody's money. The money is no more distributed by the government according to alleged general interest and alleged justice. Instead, the government collects taxes and provides services. The statist principle is definitely becoming obsolete, so that Canak and his concept can be described as a remnant of history that will hopefully never come back.
It is not precisely known what sort of division of jurisdiction in the economic sphere is advocated by the LSV, although based on some statements, according to which the central authorities would only have jurisdiction over defense, foreign affairs, foreign trade and monetary policy, everything else would be reserved for Vojvodina, including commercial legislation, taxation policy, taxation system and so on (that's what I've been told by one deputy prime minister of Vojvodina). If that is so, than the implementation of the plans advocated by the LSV would be harmful for the economy both for Vojvodina and the rest of Serbia, as it would result in the internal division of the market and would endanger possibility for carrying out an effective macroeconomic policy.
The author is the president of the Program Council of the Center for Liberal-Democratic Studies. The article was originally published in the April issue of "Prizma", monthly journal published by the CLDS.