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news 12 Jul 12

Court Ruling on Vojvodina Divides Serbs

Constitutional Court ruling, that some provisions of the law on Serbia's northern province are not in line with the constitution, reveals liberal-nationalist split.

Bojana Barlovac

The court ruling has revealed sharp divides in Serbia between liberals who champion provincial autonomy and nationalists who see it as a threat to Serbian unity.

Bojan Pajtic, prime minister of the autonomous northern province, said the Constitutional Court ruling - which declared certain provisions of the law on the jurisdictions of Vojvodina unconstitutional - had more of a political than legal character to it.

On Tuesday, the Constitutional Court disputed around 20 provisions of the Law, including those naming Novi Sad as capital of the Province, and that Vojvodina can open its own representative office in Brussels.

The law on Vojvodina's competences was declared valid by a decree of Serbia's former president, Boris Tadic and implemented on January 1, 2010.

The Vojvodina assembly previously proclaimed its own statute on December 14, 2009.

Istvan Pastor, President of the Assembly of the province, said the court's interpretation of Vojvodina's powerts was more restrictive than expected and could be construed as "contrary to Vojvodina's autonomy.

"It is unacceptable for Vojvodina not to be allowed to have an office in Brussels when some cities in Serbia are; that it is forbidden to work on adopting measures to increase the birthrate while Jagodina (in central Serbia) is not, or that Novi Sad is the capital of Vojvodina," Pastor said on Wednesday.

The province opened its office in Brussels in October 2011 as a part of Serbia's broader EU mission, with the aim of enticing foreign investment and obtaining better access to European regional funds. The cities of Kragujevac and Nis also have their own offices in the EU capital.

The League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina has urged the provincial government to seek protection for the rights of Vojvodina from the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, since, the party said, the ruling violates the people's collective rights.

The Liberal Democratic Party also condemned the court ruling, saying it highlighted Serbia's need for constitutional reform.

“Vojvodina is in a serious trouble now and since the focus of the problem is the constitution, the LDP believes that this is one more reason to start constitutional reform immediately, in a serious manner,” the Liberals' Bojan Djuric said.

But nationalists are delighted with the ruling, seeing it as a blow to provincial separatism.

Vojislav Kostunica, leader of the nationalist Democratic Party of Serbia, who in 2009 asked the court to assess the constitutionality of the Vojvodina statute, welcomed the decision.

"This is a historic decision, which stops the creation of a state-within-a-state, and the further partitioning of Serbia," Kostunica said on Wednesday.

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