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September 12, 1998
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 362

Warring Pacifists

by Mihal Ramac

Heavy words which were recently exchanged in the press between the President of the League of Social-Democrats of Vojvodina (LSV), Nenad Canak, and the President of the Alliance of Hungarians of Vojvodina (SVM, Jozsef Kasza, are merely fresh evidence of attempts by parties, whose bases are in the northern regions of Serbia, to find common language.  In any case, when the Serbs who comprised Coalition “Vojvodina” were unable to stick together, how can it be expected at this time of division that Serbs and Hungarians will be on the same side — or, more precisely, their leaders.

The occasion for the latest "Serbian-Hungarian" dispute were, of course, the events in Kosovo, that is to say, Jozsef Kasza's request that soldiers of Hungarian extraction be recalled from Kosovo (Kasza is also the mayor of Subotica).  Nenad Canak sharply admonished Kasza for only worrying about his compatriots, while not heeding remaining residents of Subotica and Vojvodina, and he ascribed nothing less than collaboration with the regime to the biggest Hungarian party of the three existing ones.  Why?  Because, according to him, Gorica Gajevic, SPS General Secretary, personally dictates all public announcements released by the Alliance of Hungarians of Vojvodina.  Canak also added that parties based on national divisions are working on the break-up of Vojvodina, and pointed to the fact that in the last elections SVM only got 15 percent of Hungarian votes, which, according to him, points to the conclusion that this party does not have the right to speak in the name of all Hungarians.  "All insistence on nationalists and race interests leads directly to the holocaust," announced one of the pretenders to the title of top autonomist of Vojvodina.

The long-standing Mayor of Subotica did not keep quite.  "Nenad Canak can permit himself to make statements which have nothing to do with reality, because he does not have any sense of responsibility either to his party, or the citizens of Vojvodina," he stated, going on to explain: "On the political scene the Alliance of Hungarians of Vojvodina hardly has much choice which who to 'strike deals' so that the problems of the Hungarians of Vojvodina would be solved, but is forced to negotiate with the ruling party and to seek answers to given demands.  Mr. Canak's position is quite different, for as leader of the opposition he frequently makes deals with all different types, changing his political course at will."

Thus the conflict is not a personal one, but strictly political.  Without the least desire for favoring either side, it is worth pointing out that Kasza is in a far more delicate situation.  Even though he is not the leader of all Hungarians of Vojvodina, he believes that as leader of the biggest party he has the right to speak in the name of the entire national minority and to protect its interests in front of the Government.  This attitude on his part suits the Socialists to a cue, because it is more convenient for them to speak to one, instead of to six different parties.  By the way, whoever spoke at least once to Jozsef Kasza will know that he is not the kind of guy who will take dictations from anyone, even if that someone is the General Secretary of SPS.

Kasza and many of his compatriots point out that they are completely loyal to this state, but that they do not wish to participate in the war between Serbians and Albanians.  Admittedly, reservists were not sent to Kosovo, but they rather filled military barracks of units which were transferred to southern regions.  It is said that the police in Subotica reacted quite sharply to reservists who refused to answer military summons.  Their attitude to "delinquent" military personnel visibly changed after Gorica Gajevic's visit to the capital of Northern Back Region of Vojvodina.

As far as accusation of collaboration go, national minority parties really have no choice.  Their every conflict with the regime is interpreted as conspiracy against the regime.  Regardless of whether Milosevic, Seselj or someone else is in power, minorities must always deal with that particular individual.  Forging ties with the opposition, even when it's a gut feeling, is counterproductive.  It will be remembered that Jozsef Kasza went to the demonstrations in Belgrade in January of 1997, but that did not prevent him from going into Milosevic's cabinet and submitting the demands of the Hungarians of Vojvodina.  In any case, only promises could be had from the opposition, foggy ones at that, while minorities have concrete desires and demands.  That is why SVM, just like DZVM earlier, is keeping a distance from anti-socialist and autonomist parties, and usually does not go beyond silent support of their candidates in those milieus where independence does not even stand a chance.  Namely, it is on thing to accuse Canak, Veselinov or Isakov of separatism, but it's something quite different to ascribe such intentions to Hungarians or to other minorities, which is an issue that the displaced and remaining Croats in Vojvodina could speak best on.  In any case, the pragmatic Kasza is sharing power with the Socialists even on the community level, but his supporters do not brand him a collaborator just because of that.

Having won a political leadership position among his nation in Vojvodina, the President of SVM is sticking to the principle of heading cautiously into the future.  Some are calling such behavior selfish and narrow, some are calling it nationalist, while members of minorities wish most not to play the devil's advocate and to stay out of trouble.  Canak took another path.  Instead of agitating among Serbs against the war (the previous one), he opted for going into minority communities, Slovak and Russian ones, where support for peace was heard with far more understanding than from what the Socialists were talking about.

In recent years SPS, and especially JUL, are repeating pre-war stories about equality of peoples and nationalities, but are also assuming measures (in the areas of education, culture, the media - which admittedly are subject to firm control) which indicate that they are not merely using empty words.  That is why minorities in Vojvodina today feel far more protected than they did in 1991 or 1992.  Even when they are not speaking about it, they know fully that they do not owe gratitude for this either to Canak or to Draskovic, but to those who are not very appealing to them, but who have all the power.  Of course, Milosevic and Seselj are not liked by minorities any more today than they were liked six to seven years ago.  Still, members of minorities know well where the injunction for not doubting their loyalty to Serbia came from, and they could hardly not notice the change in Seselj's rhetoric and behavior.  Even the Dnevnik daily of Novi Sad, which until several years ago saw a potential irredentist in any member of a minority, today willingly cites Bosko Prosevic's speeches on national equality, about bridges between nations, etc.

Thus, the small summer argument between Kasza and Canak was not only started over Kosovo, but resulted quite naturally.  The regime assessed that it is better to call the LSV leader a marginal figure and to ignore him, which forced Canak to fight with someone else, if only for promotional reasons.  Kasza realized that we are still far from a civil state, so that he opted for protecting only the interest of his nation, even on such a hot topic as Kosovo.  As far as the majority of Serbs of Vojvodina are concerned, the attitude which took root in previous wars has been silently accepted: that the autonomy of the region is not on the table until bigger issues get resolved.  In other words, the nationalist question is more important than the issue of democracy.  Those who support a contrary order of priorities - where Canak has been both consistent and persistent - do not stand a chance in situations like this even among majority groups, let alone the minority ones.

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