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News 26 Jun 17

Petition Seeks New Status for Cross-Border Sandzak Region

Experts say petition calling for Sandzak - which straddles Serbia and Montenegro - to become a kind of Euro-region is worth supporting, but only if all nationalities who live there back it. 

Filip Rudic
BIRN
Belgrade
Novi Pazar, largest town in Sandzak region. Photo: Almir Dzogovic/Wikimedia

Over 4,000 people have signed a petition calling for the mostly Bosniak Muslim region of Sandzak, straddling Serbia and Montenegro, to be declared a cross-border region of the type that exists in the European Union.

"Forming a Euro-region would enable all of Sandzak’s towns to draw funding from the EU funds for cross-border regions, which would greatly assist their [economic] recovery," the organizers of the petition said.

They also announced that they will send the petition to the governments of Serbia and Montenegro.

A Euroregion is a transnational co-operation structure between two or more territories located in different European countries. 

According to one of the petition’s initiators, the president of the German-based NGO Euroregio Sandzak, Zaim Celebic, the border towns in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands were also poor until they were joined into the Meuse–Rhine Euroregion.

Dusan Janjic, from the Forum for Ethnic Relations, a think tank, told BIRN that the idea makes sense as long as it is not considered a project of only one – Bosniak – ethnic group.

"It is a good idea, as long as it rests on multi-ethnic foundations. However, both Serbs and Montenegrins have given up on Sandzak and do not consider it their own, even though they live there," Janjic said.

He said that one of the main problems in establishing such a cross-border region, therefore, is the lack of support from local Montenegrins, Serbs and Roma for the idea.

The petition’s initiators, Euroregio Sandzak, an NGO, and the Rozaje Free Press news portal, insist that the motive is solely to revive the undeveloped region, stricken by poverty.

"The cross-border region of Sandzak will not change the border between Serbia and Montenegro, it is precisely that border that will enable the formation of a region based on the EU model," they said in the explanation of their petition.

The petition's initiators did not answer BIRN’s questions by the time of publication.

According to Janjic, one problem in the way of realising a cross-border region is the attention that Sandzak is getting from Turkey because of its large Muslim population.

"Sandzak has its place in the neo-Ottoman project, which is Ankara’s official policy," he said, adding that the region could be used to strengthen the influence of Turkey.

Janjic added that another problem is the division between Bosniak politicians in Serbia and Montenegro.

However, he thinks the idea warrants serious consideration, and could help the region get back on its feet.

"I see this petition as an invitation to discuss the possibilities of constituting a small Euroregion that would include Sandzak, for which there is a real need," Janjic concluded.

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