|Ethno-Territorial Identities and the Making of Regional Party Arrangement: The Case of Voivodina
An Introductory Analysis
The complex problems of a genesis of ethnic-regional political formations and processes of ethnization and regionalization of party arrangements – including their political, system-forming consequences – have not so far undergone an extensive research in the field of political science. Classical theories of political parties systems – Stein Rokkan’s works are an honourable exception – do not usually deal with an operation of party-politics actors and identity mobilizations relating to identities which are different from an over-arching national one; for the reason they do not offer suitable conceptual tools and schemes for an analysis and evaluation of the operation. An assessment of a position and role of ethnic-regional parties appears to be primarily connected with a problem of the nature of the political field being significant for the respective system. A monolithic arrangement is marked by an existence of a strong, over-arching, national-political state identity which conditions an existence of just single, “non-composed”, homogenous political field; on the other hand, it in fact eliminates an implementation of any identitary, ethnic-territorial, sub-state mobilization which is politically important, thus excluding relevant, ethnic-regional, non-state-wide parties as well. On the whole, it does not really matter whether the respective arrangement offers a valuable institutional background for regional party politics or not. The decisive point consists in a fact regional fields of party politics – if they exist at all – are nothing more than copies of nation-wide party arrangement. Within systems with composed, heterogeneous political field there is no strong, “obvious”, over-arching national identity. This kind of arrangement offers some space and capabilities for implementation and institutionalization of sub-national, identitary, and ethnic-territorial mobilizations. Understandably, this point is reflected in the nature of party arrangement, the statement being valid not only in relation to the nation-wide structure of political parties, but also to individual regional party systems and sub-state configurations. In the sphere of party politics the heterogeneity of these arrangements primarily shows up in the structural conditions of co-existence of generically different actors-political parties in the national and regional sphere and in possibility of coincidental appearance of variously diversified arenas of party politics. Under normal conditions the co-existence substantially influences the nature of interactions between participating actors, working logic, and the dynamics of the regional party arrangement development (cf. Strmiska 1999: 211-213). This fact can be successfully illustrated in a series of cases within the sphere of the developed democratic party systems; nevertheless, the same can be said about some party arrangements of transitional democratic and/or semidemocratic polities. In this respect, the contemporary Yugoslav, or Serbian Voivodina offers an extraordinarily interesting case of study.
In the course of 1990’s Voivodina was offering really fascinating picture of a country in motion. However, it would be a mistake to reduce Voivodinian party politics to a regional sector of its Serbian counterpart and place it within the context of Serbian “failed transition” to democracy (cf. Miller 1997). The point was not a transition to democracy only; it concerned a whole set of processes involving new power, cultural, and territorial boundary-building which must be looked at in a very broad sense. For instance, in 1988 the so-called counter-bureaucratic revolution, a part of these processes, meant a virtual elimination, or devaluation of Voivodinian institutional autonomy and degradation of the region to a peripheral province of Serbia. The processes also included obvious changes in the ethnic composition of Voivodinian population which resulted in imminent political and electoral consequences. During this decade the changing multi-ethnic, multi-cultural and multi-denominational environment of Voivodina was offering a very peculiar background for a genesis of political plurality and respective party politics.
The Regional Party Landscape: An Introductory Note
If we look upon Voivodinian political scene as a specific regional sector of Serbian politics, or as a part of the political arena in the federal Yugoslavia (“New Yugoslavia”), it is necessary to stress Voivodina has never been a reliable bastion of Milošević’s socialist and authoritarian establishment. It is true Serbian and Yugoslav election during 1990’s cannot be considered fully free; however, this reserve concerning an interpretation of election results being involved, we can say the prevailing election trends in Voivodina slightly favoured – when compared with a Serbian average – parties standing apart from their post-communist successor counterparts, represented primarily by Milošević’s Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) and by the Yugoslav United Left (JUL). If we in this connection look apart from the local and regional election, in Voivodina the election results of Milošević’s socialists in republican parliamentary elections and in federal ones oscillated about 30 per cents of the vote.1 Nevertheless, it is necessary to take into account that an absence of total predominance of the Socialist Party did not automatically result in a distinct advantage for democratic parties aimed against authoritarianism – for the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) was the second greatest party in Voivodina. In the Voivodinian context it is not easy to identify the second major pole of the regional party landscape. It was just SRS that cannot under any circumstances be regarded as a democratic alternative to the socialist establishment which was within the closest reach to this position until now. Democratic parties have not either individually or in occasional election alliances succeeded in gaining such an electoral strength that would enable them to claim they have reached a position of an undisputed major pole in Voivodinian party politics. Undoubtedly, the fragmentation and heterogeneity of the Voivodinian democratic opposition played a certain role as well. If the Socialist Party (SPS) and the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) can be considered as representatives of the post-communist political sector, and if the Serbian Radical Party (SRS) embodies a clear-cut nationalistic Serbian tendency or camp (“Lager”), the democratic opposition in Voivodina consists of at least three distinct sectors: the Voivodinian branches of the Serbian civic-democratic – or, in the worst, relatively democratic – parties (the Serbian Renewal Movement, SPO; the Civic Alliance of Serbia, GSS; the Democratic Center, DC; the Democratic Party, DP etc.), an ethnic circle primarily represented by ethnic Hungarian parties (the Alliance of Voivodinian Hungarians, SVM; the Democratic Community of Voivodinian Hungarians, DZVM etc.)2, and regional Voivodinian, civic, autonomistic formations (the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina, LSV; the Reform Democratic Party of Voivodina, RDSV) which in fact are especially connected with the electorate of the Serbian origin. On top of it, the first of these sectors is strongly differentiated in itself.
In recent years it turned out a co-operation among representatives of these mutually different sectors was possible and profitable (with regard to the election system discriminating against parties with a little electoral potential) but uneasily reproducible as well. The drawbacks of this co-operation cannot be found exclusively in theoretically conflicting ambitions of individual leaders and leadership groups; we must also recognize an operation of several important factors, determined structurally and conjuncturally, which make a strategic convergence of these parties harder. The parties are sure to have a common enemy – the centralistic, authoritarian, socialist establishment. This point put them together; on the other hand, it does not assure a permanent and effective homology of their strategic and tactical preferences and their behaviour. These parties can form an alliance; nevertheless, it would be an illusion to hold a creation of such an alliance will eliminate an influence of the heterogeneity of the sources of political legitimacy and electoral mobilization of the allied parties.
As I have already suggested, a characterization of the Voivodinian party politics as a specific sector of the Serbian party landscape is incomplete. The point needs a brief commentary, for in this connection it is necessary to distinguish between two levels: the first is the aforementioned level of the regional arena of the Serbian party politics, the second is to be characterized as a specific regional party arrangement. The latter of these levels cannot be degraded to the background for description and explanation of processes operating within the former, even when in terms of the power politics these processes might seem as the relatively most important ones. It is clear the Voivodinian party landscape is not an exact, nevertheless lesser copy of its Serbian counterpart, just as the Voivodinian “periphery” is not an exact copy of the Serbian “core”. It is also clear nor differentiation among the suggested five party camps, nor differences in the electoral behaviour of Voivodinian population can be adequately understood and explained if we look upon them in terms of the national centre of power. Here it is necessary to initiate a view from “inside” as well and to evaluate the Voivodinian party landscape as a phenomenon with roots of its own. Within this context it means we must assess roles of those elements and actors that in a decisive manner determine the nature of the Voivodinian party landscape as a specific regional and/or sub-state party arrangement – that is to say, we must primarily assess roles of the Voivodinian ethnic and autonomistic parties.
Since early 1990’s the structurizing process of the Voivodinian party arrangement has been highly influenced by an existence of a relevant ethnic party advocating interests of Hungarian population in Voivodina. Unlike Kosovar Albanians or Muslim-Bosniak population in Sanjak the Voivodinian Hungarians, or their political representation respectively, in a high degree accepted the existing political framework and regularly participated in the process of institutional politics (Lutovac 1997) which made an institutionalization of their political representation easier. In early 1990’s a role of Hungarian “catch-all” ethnic party was played by the Democratic Community of Voivodinian Hungarians (DZVM). The programme of DZVM was remarkable for its promotion of the concept of so-called triple, or three-pronged autonomy of the Hungarian population in Voivodina which included elements of personal and territorial autonomies and local self-administration in respective enclaves (DCVH 1992; Ágoston 1993). In political terms it was an ambiguous, ethnocentrist concept seeking maximum political profit for Voivodinian Hungarians regardless of whether they were a majority, minority, or isolated and localized majority within given sub-region. It was not an expression of an orthodox regionalism; the principle of territoriality was not given any special preferences and the project as such was pervaded with obviously heterogeneous elements. The claim for territorial autonomy did not relate to Voivodina as the whole; in fact it was aimed only at the sub-region of the Northern Bačka with more or less compact Hungarian majority which formed approximately a half of the population of Voivodinian Hungarians. Within political environment in Serbia (at least until 1999) such a project had no chance to reach an institutional realization. Of course, a goal of this kind necessarily was not either fundamental, or immediate. An advocacy of the concept of triple autonomy represented an important source of DZVM’s political legitimacy in relation to its electorate. In this respect the ambiguousness of the concept was an advantage for DZVM since it suited its role of ethnic “catch-all” party. Moreover, the concept appeared to be a sufficiently consistent and in a way radical advocacy of the interests of Voivodinian Hungarians. At the same time, its proponents did not risk an accusation of open separatism and thus an actual confrontation with Serbian and Yugoslav establishment. It seems this ambiguousness of the concept of triple autonomy assured it had been re-used in the late 1990’s. However, this time DZVM was not its most important party and political advocate any more.
The Democratic Community of Voivodinian Hungarians was at its best in the early 1990’s. Its biggest success came in 1992 when about 50 per cents of the registered voters belonging to the ethnic Hungarians in Voivodina cast their votes for it. Almost 141.000 votes meant DZVM had had nine representatives in Serbian parliament; furthermore, in the Provincial Assembly of Voivodina and in the executive bodies of the local self-administration it had a relatively strong position as well (cf. Poulton 1992; Lutovac 1997). However, for different reasons this success was not to be repeated. Demographic structure was changing to the disadvantage of Hungarian population. While the process of emigration of Voivodinian Hungarians acquired a fresh dynamics, Serbian refugees from other regions of the former Yugoslavia were flowing into Voivodina where they increased an electoral potential of parties representing centralistic, socialist establishment, and of radical Serbian nationalists as well. Voivodinian Hungarians increasingly proved lesser willingness to participate in elections. Furthermore, it turned out DZVM was not – in the long term – able to successfully reproduce its position of ethnic “catch-all” party. The signs of the weakening position of DZVM could have been seen by the end of 1993; this trend was ratified by the development in the years to have come.3 In its early years DZVM was a chief beneficiary of the process of “political ethnification” of Voivodinian Hungarian population. However, intrinsically primitive “political ethnification” was within existing, unstable environment very insecure assurance of an effective, ethnic-political hegemony which was endangered by virtually any differentiation process of the political representation of Hungarian minority. In fact, the DZVM hegemony was eliminated by an internal division leading into foundation of a new ethnic party in 1994 – Alliance of Voivodinian Hungarians (SVM). The point was not there would be a clash between “hawks” and “doves”. In the beginning, there in fact were no fundamental strategic divisions, rather we can speak about escalation of different views on tactical preferences and the best way to advocate interests of Voivodinian Hungarians. In principle it was a conflict which could have remained one between the wings within the party; nevertheless, it was intensified by a resistance against “totalitarianism of the party leaders” (Inic 1995). However, once there appeared an “external” rival endangering an exclusive position of the Democratic Community of Voivodinian Hungarians, the conflict as such immediately acquired an important new dimension of a fight for legitimacy of Hungarian constituency’s political representation. Simultaneously, some additional programme differentiation was established. DZVM insisted on the principle of personal autonomy, while SVM tended to prefer relatively mild version of civic-territorial autonomy, favoured an autonomy for Voivodina as the whole, and within this territorially defined autonomy opted for cultural and political pluralization (cf. Inic 1995). Being more pragmatic, SVM willed to co-operate with DZVM, while Ágoston’s leadership in DZVM – supposing in this way it can assure itself enough legitimacy to represent its own programme of autonomy and privileged political roles that were connected with it – decided to clash with SVM. With regard to election results – primarily but not exclusively – in 1995 and 1996 this confrontation ended up in a clear victory of the Alliance of Voivodinian Hungarians which thus became the leader of Hungarian movement; this time, of course, within differentiated and/or pluralized environment of ethnic-regional Hungarian party politics (Lutovac 1997). Consequently, the Alliance of Voivodinian Hungarians (SVM) incorporated within its own programme nearly all elements formerly advocated by the Democratic Community of Voivodinian Hungarians and formally took over its “catch-all” role.4 The failure of DZVM resulted in another division which subsequently brought into life another Hungarian ethnic formation – the Hungarian Democratic Party of Voivodina. Since 1995 a new party, the Civic Movement of Hungarians in Vojvodina, has operated in the Voivodinian political scene; and, in a limited scope, two other small, ethnic-political Hungarian groupings have also asserted themselves within this space.5 Only the Alliance of Voivodinian Hungarians thus acquired a status of a strong, relevant regional political party. In the framework of the institutional politics other ethnic parties of Voivodinian Hungarians were left with a limited scope to operate – primarily at the level of local politics. That’s the reason these parties highly appreciated they were proportionally represented in the Interim National Council of Hungarians, established in August 1999 and seeking to represent the interests of the minority in all matters.6
Pragmatic views of SVM were also expressed in its willingness to co-operate with non-Hungarian, anticentralistic Voivodinian parties – e. g. with the Reform Democratic Party of Voivodina (RDSV). The flexible policy of co-operation before elections and contingent contacts and alliances after elections contributed to the consolidation of the SVM position in the local sphere. Furthermore, simultaneously with the contraction of the scope for an election expansion of “perfect” ethnic parties, caused by the demographic changes, the question of ethnically heterogeneous alliances was becoming increasingly important. Of course, this was not the case of Hungarian parties in Voivodina only. It appeared the less numerous and therefore electorally and politically less influential ethnic minorities should have furthered Serbian autonomists in Voivodina and have occasionally operated as pressure groups, rather than – under these circumstances – individually seek an ethnic-political institutionalized representation of their own. In principle, the Democratic Union of Croats in Voivodina (DSHV) was the only relevant exception; however, its electoral potential was strongly limited and, consequently, forced the party to willy nilly recognize the value of the policy of entering into alliances.7 Of course, in this connection I dismiss a possibility of a dramatic change caused by an operation of exogenous factors which would make an ethnic-identitary polarization profitable as a way to destroy an institutional arrangement and as an overture to secession. At the same time, I also dismiss a possibility of a positive discrimination in favour of minorities which is connected with an elimination of impediments and/or with decrease of electoral quotas for their parliamentary representation.
The Autonomist Civic Parties in Voivodina
In the process of characterization of the autonomistic and/or regionalistic civic parties in Voivodina it is in principle possible to focus oneself on two relevant formations: the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina (LSV) and the Reform Democratic Party of Voivodina (RDSV). Even when the autonomistic and regionalistic spectrum in Voivodina involves broader range of small parties and some semi-party groupings, their importance for institutional politics and their impact in relation to the development of Voivodinian party arrangement has still been negligible – although some local parties can be considered an exception in terms of their local sphere of operation.
The Reform Democratic Party of Voivodina can be said it originally was not a genuine regional and/or regionalistic party; it could be described as Voivodinian branch of the Yugoslavian followers of Ante Marković, formerly popular post-communistic liberal reformist. These Voivodinian reformers, grouped in the Alliance of the Reform Forces of Yugoslavia (SRSJ), reaped greatest election successes in the early 1990’s when they were able to reach parliament representation of their own at the Serbian and federal, Yugoslav levels respectively, and when their representatives served as members of the cabinet headed by Milan Panić (cf. Miller 1997: 160-169). This golden era came to an end in 1993 when this formation lost its two mandates in Serbian parliament. However, RDSV managed to survive the dissolution of Marković’s movement; in consequence of its isolation as a viable regional “survivor” some its features of regional, anticentralistic party were increasingly emphasized. The demand to establish or re-establish Voivodinian autonomy formed a part of its programme from the very beginning; nevertheless, RDSV can hardly be regarded as an unambiguously autonomistic Voivodinian party, for the autonomistic demands were always subordinated to the generally reformistic orientation. However, we must acknowledge the evaluation of the problem is made difficult by necessity to distinguish between different phases of the development of RDSV which related with the changes of its strategic and tactical designs and purposes. Most precisely, we should say RDSV oscillated between the position of genuine Voivodinian autonomistic reform party and the actions of a civic reform party which coincidentally operate within specific Voivodinian environment. This ambiguity was also expressed in the performance of the party, especially in its policy of forming alliances. The Reform Democratic Party of Voivodina always favoured allies like “Belgradian” civic democratic Serbian parties, primarily the Democratic Party and the Democratic Center. On the other hand, RDSV was willing to co-operate with autonomistic Voivodinian parties (LSV) and ethnic Hungarian parties (SVM) as well. Flexibility of Voivodinian reformers reached its top in 1994: RDSV resolved to co-operate at the provincial and local levels with Milošević’s Socialist Party which, having divided with the Serbian Radical Party, kept trying to assure new coalition majority in the Provincial Assembly and in important municipalities including Novi Sad. The fact Voivodinian reformers supported regional branch of SPS cost them dearly; it caused a sudden deterioration in relations with possible allies from the circle of Voivodinian autonomists, ethnic Hungarian parties, and anticentralistic civic groupings, limited its manoeuvrability, and enhanced internal tensions within RDSV. This “unnatural” co-operation finished in 1996 and was followed by a purge in the RDSV leadership; consequently, RDSV took a new course, started co-operation with autonomistic forces, and joined the Coalition Voivodina (cf. reports of AIM 1996-1997).
The most important and dynamical part of Voivodinian autonomist movement was formed by the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina (LSV). This was a remarkable civic, social-liberal, radical anticentralistic party which increasingly asserted itself as an actual leading element of the movement for democratization and political emancipation of Voivodinian society. In contrast to Voivodinian reformers, LSV was a genuine autonomist Voivodinian party which in the early 1990’s did not meet any marked election success at the supra-regional level;8 nevertheless, within the regional framework it built an impressive grass-roots background which helped it to succeed in the expansion of its political influence in 1996 and 1997. In fact, LSV became relevant regional party in mid 1990’s only. At that time, new opportunities for co-operation of autonomistic and regionalistic groupings in Voivodina were becoming clear and LSV appeared to be – at least in the sphere of party politics – a natural core of the autonomistic alliance. In autumn 1996 initiatives which sought to develop co-operation of different parties and non-party groups subscribing to the so-called Manifesto for Autonomous Voivodina, resulted in the establishment of the electoral union called the Coalition Voivodina (KV). The Coalition Voivodina was based on the axis formed by the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina and by the People’s Peasant Party (NSS); the Alliance of the Citizens of Subotica (SGS) and Banat Forum (BF) played the roles of minor allied partners. The Reform Democratic Party of Voivodina at first hesitated and in 1996 preferred close co-operation with the Coalition Together (Zajedno). The next year RDSV joined KV; on the other hand, SGS a BF left the alliance (Koalicija “Vojvodina”, in: LSV 1998-1999; reports of the AIM 1997-1998). KV soon became an important actor within Voivodinian party and political sphere and managed to transform the nature of regional political and election agenda. This development was partially enabled by radical anticentralistic interpretation of the conditions in Voivodina which was depicted as a comparatively advanced province without any political rights and exploited by the Serbian centre. This feeling was also expressed in the main slogan of KV: “Stop plundering Voivodina!“. According to election results the experiment with the Coalition Voivodina presented an unambiguous success: in Serbian parliament the Coalition had four representatives, in the federal one two (AIM 1997; LSV u kratkim crtama, in: LSV 1999).9 Approximately 56.000 votes in 1996 and about 113.000 votes in 1997 resulted in the strengthening of the political potential and prestige for forces that formed the Coalition Voivodina.10 However, as a consequence of conflict escalation within this alliance the potential and prestige were partially devalued. The clash formally concerned the alliance’s status and internal arrangement; nevertheless, its basis was to be found in a fight for power – for the People’s Peasant Party leadership (Dragan Veselinov) sought to exert its influence to the detriment of the strongest element in the coalition: the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina. After the suspension of NSS in 1997 the things got better only in a limited way. The NSS leadership managed to register its own, rival Coalition Voivodina and set about attacking its former allies insisting they were working against the state and Serbia. By the end of 1998 a series of successful schemes, initiated by NSS, meant all other representatives of KV including Nenad Canak, a popular leader, were divested of their mandates. However, in this way the People’s Peasant Party of Dragan Veselinov reached a Pyrrhic victory. This conflict disgusted a number of supporters of the Coalition Voivodina (at the time the alliance of LSV and RDSV) and made some factions to leave; on top of it, it proved to be even more destructive in relation to the small political and electoral strength of NSS. The League of Social Democrats of Voivodina kept the project of the Coalition Voivodina alive and during the tempestuous spring and summer 1999 (together with RDSV) renewed its political potential. At the time, LSV presented itself as one of determined, uncompromised, and democratic adversaries of Milošević’s regime. In this connection there appeared quite a new element in the strategy of LSV: the party began to stress radical federalization or confederalization of Serbia and proposed to establish the Republic of Voivodina with a far-reaching autonomy (LSV 1999). Representation of the civic and democratic Voivodina – as practised by the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina – became more connected with elements of identitary mobilization of the (ethno-)territorial community.11 In the matter of an institutional solution of the mobilization there appeared ideas reaching over the boundaries of a limited provincial autonomy.
In last three years the League of Social Democrats of Voivodina (LSV) and – in somewhat lesser degree – the Reform Democratic Party of Voivodina (RDSV) established themselves as relevant regional parties. This bloc of autonomistic parties aspired to secure position and role of effective minor pole in the Voivodinian context. A fluid character of actual political environment makes it difficult to reliably identify patterns of party interactions and to say which of them have and will have the greatest importance for the supposed and inevitable redefinition of the party arrangement in Voivodina. Nevertheless, it is possible to add the expansion of the LSV influence undoubtedly contributed to the emphasis on the comprehensive character of interactions among generically different party and political actors operating within this regional arrangement. A similar all-encompassing basis is typical for advanced, “mature” regional party systems. Paradox of the Voivodinian case consists in the fact this all-encompassing character – which is not incidental at all and whose elimination is hard to imagine – appeared in an underdeveloped institutional and political environment.
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I did not intend to formulate any definitive conclusions concerning the future development of the party and political landscape in Serbia and Voivodina. Moreover, at present such a formulation may not be possible to create. The most probable scenario seems to be “the second transition” which will include changes in the party system. Contours and impact of these changes will become clear in a time only. As for the regional party arrangement of Voivodina, I suppose it always is and will be – in terms of theory of political parties systems, but also in a broader context – an extraordinarily interesting field of study.
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