Not Done Yet

One of the many absurdities of Imperial policy in the Balkans is the notion of "integrations," a cute euphemism for the expansion of EU and NATO southward and eastward. If Brussels and Washington are so eager to integrate, why have they consistently supported disintegration – first of Yugoslavia, then of Serbia? In 1992, the nascent EU murdered Yugoslavia by declaring that the country had simply ceased to exist, and recognizing several separatist governments as independent states (e.g. Croatia, Bosnia). Then it explicitly ruled out secession from those states, and insisted on their territorial integrity. Unless, that is, the state in question was Serbia – in which case secession was not only approved, but encouraged (Kosovo).

In February 2008, the Albanian provisional government in NATO-occupied Kosovo declared independence, contrary to international law. They were immediately recognized by the U.S. and its client regimes, and most of the EU. The expected resistance from Serbia failed to materialize; a massive media campaign that took far more money than was officially reported helped re-elect president Boris Tadic, a steadfast supporter of the Empire. By the summer of 2008, Tadic held near-absolute power in Serbia, through a coalition government secretly engineered after the general elections. Though he has continued to talk tough about Kosovo and defending Serbia, Tadic’s regime has effected a complete and total capitulation to Imperial interests.

However, it appears that not even that will be enough to save Serbia from further dismemberment.

Never Small Enough

Several years back, one Serbian writer asked, only half in jest, "How small should Serbia be before it’s not considered too big?" For almost two decades, propaganda in the West has clamored about "Greater Serbia," allegedly the secret goal of a conspiracy centered on Slobodan Milosevic. The entire case the Hague Inquisition made against Milosevic rested on this myth. Not surprisingly, Milosevic demolished it in the courtroom. Only his unexplained death before the trial’s conclusion saved the Inquisitors from further embarrassment.

The myth of "Greater Serbia" has survived, though, along with the obsession with solving the "Serbian Question" by reducing Serbia to borders from 1878.

In April 2007, German ambassador to Belgrade Andreas Zobel tried to argue for an independent Kosovo by claiming that leaving it unresolved could open Serbia up to separatism in Vojvodina. Kosovo, Zobel argued, only became a part of Serbia in 1912, and Vojvodina only in 1918. If Serbia were destabilized, "Hungary could insist on Vojvodina," he said (translation here). "This is not a threat, it’s an analysis," he tried to qualify.

Zobel was not expelled. Belgrade didn’t so much as send a protest note to Berlin. The whole thing was shrugged off after letting some government and opposition officials vent in the media.

Recent events, however, compel one to wonder whether Zobel’s words were a lapse in judgment, or a slip of the tongue, an inadvertent announcement of what was to come.

Statute for Statehood

Zobel was wrong in two important details. First, even though the government in Belgrade is about as stable and obedient as a client regime could be, the issue of Vojvodina was raised anyway. Secondly, it wasn’t Hungary that raised it, but the homegrown Serbophobic separatists – within the president’s own party, in fact.

It seems incongruous for a country dealing with a brutal land grab endorsed by its "partners" (EU) and "friends" (U.S.) to encourage separatism. Yet that is precisely what President Tadic’s government has done, by drafting a Statute for the northern province of Vojvodina.

The current Serbian Constitution, adopted in late 2006, provides a somewhat ambiguous framework for local and regional autonomy. However, nowhere does it allow for a possibility of a pseudo-state within Serbian borders – yet that is precisely what this new Statute would establish.

From Hapsburgs to Communism

Vojvodina and Kosovo are both a legacy of the Communist obsession with "Greater Serbian bourgeois imperialism" and their belief that effective control of Yugoslavia was only possible if Serbia were partitioned and weak.

Yet from its inception, Vojvodina was fundamentally Serbian in character. Following the Ottoman defeat at the gates of Vienna in 1683, Serbs rebelled against Ottoman occupation and sought Austrian help. As the Austrian expeditionary force was defeated, however, tens of thousands of Serbs sought refuge across the Danube. Emperor Leopold issued a declaration welcoming them to the Hapsburg Empire, and granted them lands along the border, in exchange for military service. The precedent for this was the Military Frontier, already settled by numerous Serb refugees over the previous centuries.

The fortunes of Serbs under Austrian rule varied with political exigencies of the times. Whenever their arms were needed to fight off the Turks or suppress Hungarian revolts, they would receive charters of rights and privileges – which would be revoked as soon as the danger abated. During the revolution of 1848, the frontier Serbs proclaimed their duchy – Srpska Vojvodina. The following year, it was transformed by imperial decree into a crown province of "Serbian Duchy and Banat of Tamish" (Die serbische Wojwodschaft und das temeser Banat), ruled by the Emperor himself as the Grand Duke (Großwoiwode). The Duchy was abolished in 1860 and turned over to Hungary, as part of a process that culminated in the Ausgleich of 1867.

In 1918, much of the territory of the Duchy joined the Kingdom of Serbia; the border with Hungary was settled by the 1920 Treaty of Trianon. Following the Nazi-led invasion in 1941, the Banat region was administered by Germany, Backa and Baranja were annexed to Hungary, and Srem was given to the "Independent State of Croatia." The occupiers committed numerous atrocities against the local Serbs and Jews. With the Communist victory in 1945, local Germans were expelled in droves. Vojvodina was established as an autonomous province and, like Kosovo, gained de facto statehood with the 1974 Constitution.

A Sinister Agent

Simmering dissatisfaction with this crippling arrangement propelled to power a maverick Communist named Slobodan Milosevic. In 1988, the separatist regimes in Vojvodina and Kosovo were forced out by popular revolts, and in 1990 a new Serbian constitution restored Serbia’s sovereignty over the provinces. Of course, this was described in the West as "stripping of autonomy" and "Serbian imperialism."

Milosevic was deposed in 2000, in a coup that presented itself as popular revolt, but was organized and managed by the CIA and the National Endowment for Democracy. Among the twenty parties cobbled together into the Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) were several that advocated "greater autonomy" for Vojvodina.

Hungarian parties have taken a back seat on the autonomy bus, however. At the wheel is Nenad Canak, a porcine politician of Serb ancestry – though it may be just a matter of time before he declares himself a "Vojvodinian" or some such. He’s a consummate rabble-rouser, styling himself an intrepid opponent of "fascism" (to the point of inventing it) and stoking the fires of hatred towards Belgrade and Serbia as "thems that take our money." Canak has also cynically spun tales of ethnic violence in Vojvodina, helping some supporters of Kosovo separation in Washington to blow them out of proportion.

Canak’s party has in the past printed "Vojvodinian" passports (!) and this Christmas they published a calendar with a map of "Republic of Vojvodina." Both times Canak claimed that this was "just some youths fooling around" and that it was just an innocent marketing stunt. There was nothing innocent about it, though.

Even now, Canak is positioning himself as an opponent of the new Statute, claiming it does concede enough to his pet project. Nothing short of an "Independent State of Vajdasag" would.

Backdoor Secession

Canak and his minuscule party may be the extremist fringe, but like many other pocket parties, NGOs and "independent unions" of professional defenders of human rights, he enjoys disproportionate and favorable media coverage (most media in Serbia are pro-government, and almost all are foreign-funded). While Canak and other, even more marginal and militant separatists make noise and coerce the public opinion to see things their way, the government does their work quietly, in the mainstream. After all, it was the Democrats, not Canak, who wrote the new Statute – which experts and analysts already call a return to 1974.

Premier Serbian political analyst Slobodan Antonic published a lengthy investigative report in mid-December, warning that the autonomists were forging a "Vojvodinian" identity, "not as a sense of regional belonging but as a non-Serb, even anti-Serb, quasi-national identity." It is the same kind of incremental sundering, he says, that was used to manufacture a separate "Montenegrin" nation. Antonic has also pointed out that the work of the most militant autonomists is funded by U.S. taxpayers, through the National Endowment for Democracy. He specifically mentions the so-called "Independent union of Vojvodina journalists," which maintains the openly secessionist site Sure enough, the site is headlined "Vojvodinian Identity" and the NED logo is prominently displayed at top right.

All too many pieces fit together entirely too neatly for this to be simple coincidence. It really does appear that Andreas Zobel spoke the truth; that the Empire is not done dismembering Serbia just yet, and that "Republic of Vojvodina" (or something else, since Vojvodina is such a Serb word) is intended to follow in the footsteps of the "Independent state of Kosovo."

True, this is an existential problem primarily for the remaining Serbian patriots. But given the present economic crisis and demands on U.S. taxpayers that are already spiraling out of control – a billion here, a trillion there, and soon we’re talking about a real bailout – it is worth wondering if it really makes sense to bankroll another banana republic, another new "nation," another useless client regime in an already-conquered and completely irrelevant part of the world.  Does the Obama administration have nothing better to do than build a sandbox for Nenad Canak and call it a state?

We’ll find out soon enough.

Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for debuted in November 2000.