sealPurdue News

February 7, 2003

Serbia building bridge to West

Charles Ingrao


Since the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic, Serbian voters and the international community have been forced to choose between supporting the country's ardent nationalist president, Vojislav Kostunica, or the pragmatic, but reputedly corrupt Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. That may change on Feb. 11, when the Assembly of Vojvodina introduces a resolution calling for the delivery of all indicted war criminals to The Hague Tribunal.

Over the past year parliamentary leaders in the province of Vojvodina, have been encouraged to offer an alternative vision for Serbia's future that is based on its long traditions of liberalism and ethnic tolerance. Despite being the country's largest and wealthiest province, multiethnic Vojvodina has always been overshadowed by the capital, which reflects the national agenda of the country's ethnic Serb majority. Yet Vojvodina's emergence as a third force in Serbian politics could help the international community and Serbia.

The resolution could be a major step for Vojvodina, which has never enjoyed political influence commensurate with its contribution to the country's economy and tax revenue. Vojvodina has been Serbia's milk cow for decades, and it has become even more important to the country's survival as Belgrade has lost control over the rest of Yugoslavia and Serbia's own province of Kosovo.

Vojvodina's emergence as a political force would be good for Serbia. The province represents the country's best bridge to the West. Like the former Yugoslav republics of Slovenia and Croatia, the province was once part of the Habsburg empire and prides itself in being more western-oriented than the rest of Serbia. Led by Assembly President Nenad Canak, many in Vojvodina's Serb majority see themselves as "Euroserbs" who never signed on to the politics of ethnic division. They are supported in this view by the large group of Hungarians and other minorities that comprise a third of the province's 2 million people.

Next week's resolution would underline that distinction and offer the rest of Serbia and the international community an alternative to Kostunica and Djindjic, who are presently locked in an electoral struggle to see which one is the most ardent nationalist. The resolution would certainly be bad news for the dozen on more indictees currently residing in Serbia. Most notable among them is Ratko Mladic, the Bosnian-Serb general believed responsible for the execution of more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys after the capture of the UN "Safe Haven" of Srebrenica in July 1995.

Anyone who is a friend of Serbia wants to see it move forward from a past marred by ethnic conflict. Serbia's future is with the New Europe, and the road to integration goes through Vojvodina.