THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE, THE EUROPEAN UNION, AND THE NATIONAL MINORITIES IN VOJVODINA

INTRODUCTION

Changes in inherent beliefs and traditions happen over a considerably long period of time, rather than after variations in legal codes. The purpose of this research paper is to investigate the notion that even though pressure applied by large international organizations can and will influence conduct particular to that state, external pressure alone is not capable of completely altering an existing set of practices and most importantly – inherent beliefs. The originality of this paper lies within the notion that the author is not suggesting a bottom-up approach necessarily. She is suggesting the need of an initial spark from outside, executed with the ultimate determination from within. With the focus on the case study of Vojvodina’s national minority policies and a focus on educational policies, this paper will demonstrate that without domestic conviction and belief in change, there can be no change. The international community may be able to modify or ameliorate conduct by setting strict laws and making suggestions, but eventually it will be the task of the government and the citizens to not only implement, but also embrace these proposed changes. The force that sparks initial regional intrinsic thought for change can be the withholding of “club” membership (such as EU membership). However, to ensure the endurance of widespread change, regional change stemming from within the individual level is necessary.

I will first provide an example to illustrate this argument, before I move on to the empirical portion of the paper which describes the specifics of what is requested from Serbia from the international community, and how Vojvodina’s policies on national minority education fit into this framework. In Paula Gaeta’s article on the Dayton Agreement and International Law, she describes the importance of internal belief and conviction in order to implement changes. However, the high legal status attributed to the General Framework Agreement reflects, once again, political realities. Plainly, without the political support of Croatia and the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia for a peace deal, the Bosnian Serbs and the Bosnian Croats would not have put an end to their fighting against the central authorities in Sarajevo. In other words, the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina has been able to achieve peace only by coming to terms and relying on the support of those who had until that moment denied being the very minds behind the conflict (Gaeta 156).

The Dayton Agreements indicate the lack of grand change the international community is able to impose on nations without the latter’s convictions that these changes are beneficial to them. In the case of Bosnia, the international community was not able to impose or effect change until autonomous regional peace was achieved. Regional, persisting peace can and should be sparked from outside (whether at the state or state-external level), but must be achieved from within.

In the exercise laid out in the paragraph above, we recognize the difference in nature of a legal code pertaining to “club” membership compared to the peace settlement of the Dayton Agreement. For the sake of illustrating the effects of the legal code, this imprecisely related comparison will suffice.

When we look at its ethnic background, the Autonomous Republic of Vojvodina (APV) is one of the most heterogeneous regions in Europe. “The ethnic/religious composition of today’s Voivodina is the result of a number of historic events from the past three centuries, causing substantial changes in ethnic composition caused by war, conflicts, shifts in borderlines, and migration” (Vojvodina Center for Human Rights 11). Education can be a mechanism for promoting or denying minority rights, and it can reflect wider societal values by promoting either diversity or monoculturalism” (Vojvodjanski Center). The educational system and related policies are critical not only for the development of the minority child, but also for the parent(s), the family, and the wider community. This research paper will investigate the importance of education for the horizontal and vertical spreading of knowledge among all members of the community, and for changes that the international community is requesting from Serbia and Vojvodina for entrance into the European Union. According to the European Parliament delegation, “It has been concluded that Vojvodina, thanks to its multiethnicity, should be the basis for Serbia's progress towards the European Union” (BBC). It is widely recognized that Vojvodina has historically had a more successful approach with the variety of national minorities within its territory. Empirical research has showed us that inter-ethnic conflicts, although sporadic in nature, are better dealt with in the AP Vojvodina than in the rest of Serbia. Due to historical circumstances and migrations, Vojvodina has traditionally been more exposed to outside influence than the rest of Serbia has. This has resulted in the better and faster acclimation of external requests, in this case by the European Union, to implement new policies.

As far as existing standards of minority rights are part of human rights, the starting point of the consultations was to presume compliance by states with all other human rights obligations including, in particular, freedom from discrimination. Education that abides by international standards has the potential to effectively facilitate and strengthen mutual respect and understanding between the various communities. It was also presumed that the ultimate object of all human rights is the full and free development of the individual human personality in conditions of equality (OSCE The Hague). There have been several documents stating the importance of educational opportunities for national minorities in heterogeneous communities. The Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and Explanatory Report (FCNM) states that, “a pluralist and genuinely democratic society should not only respect the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious identity of each person belonging to a national minority, but also create appropriate conditions enabling them to express, preserve and develop this identity” (Council of Europe 4). The FCNM also stressed the importance of education as an extremely important element for the preservation and the deepening of the identity of persons belonging to a national minority (Council of Europe).

The OSCE Hague Recommendations regarding the education rights of national minorities expressed in its recommendation report that the proper knowledge of the mother tongue is exceptionally important for the creation of identity of the minority child. However, the report also recognizes the importance of acceptance into wider society by the acquisition of proper knowledge of the official state language(s). It is important to note that all OSCE states are bound by United Nations obligations relating to human rights, including minority rights, and that the great majority of OSCE States are bound by the standards of the Council of Europe (OSCE The Hague). I will examine these official obligations and the increasing levels of their implementation.

INTERNATIONAL LAW

Serbia and the European Union

The European Union (EU) is an economic and political entity, encompassing 28 states located in Europe. Through EU institutions, decisions are negotiated among member states. The executive body, with important legislative and administrative tasks, is the European Commission. The signing, ratification, and most importantly, the application of EU resolutions are at the basis of an EU membership acceptance.

The European Commission issued a progress report about tightening relations between Serbia and the European Union. The Commission recognizes the efforts that Serbia, and in particular Vojvodina, have achieved concerning the implementation of international standards of national minorities. The report states that, “there was progress in making the education system more socially inclusive and in introducing quality assurance standards in elementary education” (Serbia 2012 Report). The Commission is urging for a better implementation of higher education reforms, financial management and financial control in view of Serbia’s participation in the future Education, Youth and Sport program (Serbia 2012 Report).

Serbia and the Council of Europe: The Framework Convention on National Minorities

The Council of Europe (CoE) is an international body separate from the European Union, and distinct in its nature. Its membership includes nearly all countries on the European continent (except for countries with human rights concerns, states with limited recognition, and the Vatican because of its theocratic government), while the European Union has 28 members. Secondly, unlike the decisions of the European Union, the laws of the Council of Europe are not binding laws. Established in 1948, the CoE is concerned with promoting co-operation between all countries of Europe in the areas of legal standards and the rule of law, human rights, democratic development, and cultural co-operation. I will further analyze the body of the Council of Europe in conjunction with our case study of Vojvodina, the European Convention on Human Rights, and the Framework Convention on the Protection of Human Rights.

The Council of Europe’s Ad Hoc committee for the Protection of National Minorities (CAHMIN) drew up the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1995. The principles and obligations that are defined within the charter have as their aim ensuring, for the member states and other states that become parties to the document, the effective protection of the rights and freedoms of national minorities within the rule of law, and respecting the territorial integrity and national sovereignty of states.

In 2001, Yugoslavia became a Contracting Party to the Framework Convention. As a result, bound by Article 25 paragraph 1, Yugoslavia is obliged annually to inform the Secretary General of the Council of Europe of any legislative or other measures undertaken. As discussed previously, the Republic of Serbia had become a member of the Council of Europe as a continuation of Serbia and Montenegro with effect from 5 June 2006 (Council of Europe).

a. Human Rights

Serbia has signed and ratified all significant international human rights instruments that are relevant for the protection of human rights. As discussed previously in greater length, Serbia became the official successor state after its dissolution from the state of Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, and took over its obligations and commitments. Serbia has signed and ratified a comprehensive Anti-discrimination Law prohibiting any kind of discrimination in March 2009, and a Commissioner for the Protection of Equality was appointed in May 2010.

The Constitution of Serbia guarantees the protection of national minorities. Several adopted international documents ensure that Serbia respects the international standards for the protection of human rights. Serbia ratified the framework convention for the protection of national minorities and the European Charter on Regional and Minority Languages, and the 2009 Law on National Councils of National Minorities regulates the election, powers, functioning and funding of the national minorities' councils. The 2009 Law on Political Parties provides for a smaller number of signatures for the registration of minority political parties, and as many as 45 minority parties have been registered. The 2007 Law on Local Self-Government envisions councils for the protection and promotion of ethnic equality. The official use of language and scripts of national minorities on the territory of local self-government units is provided for. Serbia has signed bilateral agreements on the protection of national minorities with Romania, Hungary, Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYRM). Commissions with Hungary, Croatia and Romania have been established and are operational.

Education for Minorities

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 broke new ground as it was the first international instrument to declare education to be a human right. The Council of Europe adopted on June 28th 1961 the article stating that:

Persons belonging to a national minority shall not be denied the right, in community with the other members of their group, and as far as compatible with public order, to enjoy their own culture, to use their own language, to establish their schools and receive teaching in the language of their choice or to profess and practice their own religion (Council of Europe).

According to several documents reporting the laws and restriction on the rights of national minorities across the world, the principle of a free and compulsory primary education has been established. This principle includes:

  • Equal access to education and equal opportunities within the educational system
  • The liberty of parents to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children according to their own religious, moral or philosophical convictions.
  • The right of individuals and legal entities to establish and direct their own educational institution.
  • The right to language education for migrant works and their families (Advisory Committee).

In its decision dated 14 June 2006, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe noted that the Republic of Serbia had become a member of the Council of Europe as a continuation of Serbia and Montenegro with effect from 5 June 2006 (Council of Europe). The FCNM is a treaty from the Council of Europe that deals with the suggestion and implementation of laws regarding national minorities within a country and entered into force in 1998 in pursuit of “stability, democratic security and peace in this continent.” Serbia has ratified and officially entered as a member state on 01/09/2001 (Council of Europe). The new text of the provision of Article 11 paragraph 1 requires that, in the territory of the unit of local self-government where the members of national minorities traditionally live, “Their language and script may be equally officially used, and it shall by all means be introduced by the unit of self-government by its statute, if the percentage of the members of the national minority concerned in the total number of population in its territory reaches 15% according to the results of the last census” (Council of Europe Second Periodical Report).

Legal Framework of EU Application

Serbia sent its application for European Union membership on 22 December 2009. Subsequently, on 25 October 2010, the Council of the European Union requested that the Commission submit its opinion on this application, in accordance with Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union, which states:

Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, which shall act by a majority of its component members. The conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account.

Article 2 states that:

The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities. These values are common to the Member States in a society in which pluralism, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity and equality between women and men prevail (Commission Analytical Report 2).

Minority Language

As traditionally the most advanced region in Serbia concerning the protection and integration of national minorities, Vojvodina has increased the importance of the language use by its national minorities. “In bodies and organizations of the AP of Vojvodina, the Serbian language and Cyrillic script shall be in the official use, as well as Hungarian, Slovak, Croatian, Romanian and Ruthenian languages and their scripts, in accordance with the law and the Provincial Assembly decision” (Official Gazette of Vojvodina).

Article 10 of the FCNM indicates that “in areas inhabited by persons belonging to national minorities traditionally or in substantial numbers, if those persons so request and where such a request corresponds to a real need, the Parties shall endeavor to ensure, as far as possible, the conditions which would make it possible to use the minority language in relations between those persons and the administrative authorities” (Council of Europe 5). Article 4 of The Hague recommendation report suggests that States should approach minority education rights in a proactive manner. “Where required, special measures should be adopted by States to actively implement minority language education rights to the maximum of their available resources, individually and through international assistance and cooperation, especially economic and technical” (OSCE The Hague).

The critique that can be bestowed on official documents referring to make suggestions about the language education of minorities is that they are quite vague and general without stipulating the levels of the first language education and by what means to do so. Terms such as “adequate opportunities” remain vague and are inherently dependent on other factors.

THE IMPORTANCE OF EDUCATION

The first years of education are of pivotal importance in a child's development. Educational research suggests that the medium of teaching at preschool and kindergarten levels should ideally be in the child's language. Wherever possible, states should create conditions to enable the option of education in the minority’s mother tongue as an option (The Hague). Research also indicates that in primary school, the curriculum should ideally be taught in the minority language. The minority language should be taught as a subject on a regular basis. Bilingual teachers who have a good understanding of the children’s cultural and linguistic background should also teach the official state language as a subject on a regular basis preferably. Towards the end of this period, a few practical or non-theoretical subjects should be taught through the medium of the state language.

Minorities

Historically, Vojvodina has been a congenial environment for the settlement of ethnic and national minorities. This historical tradition has enabled a higher level of development at the present level, and according to the 2011 Analytical report of the Commission, “the inter-ethnic situation in the Autonomous Province of Vojvodina is good and there has already been a further decrease in the limited number of incidents” (Commission Analytical Report 30). What follows is an overview of issues several minorities face in light of domestic changes faced by external pressures. First, we will overview the most controversial minority, after which we will move to the largest in number. Finally, we will conclude with the smallest, most widely unknown minority.

Roma

The situation of the Roma in Serbia, and most particularly in Vojvodina, is distinctive in two ways. Large numbers of Roma children are placed into “special schools,” and there is an extremely high poverty rate. Poverty is widespread, and the illiteracy rate is the highest of all national minorities, reaching as high as 80% of the overall Roma population. In its first recommendation report, the Council of Europe found that Roma children are often placed in “special schools” designed for children with mental disabilities based on standardized tests that act against Roma children. The low level of proficiency in the Serbian language of Roma children is often used as an explanatory means to state why Roma children are put into “special schools.” Although no specific research has been done, the proportion of Roma students placed in “special schools” could range between 50 and 80%, according to the Council of Europe. The international community is encouraging the authorities to pursue further efforts to allow children of the Roma national minority to stay at regular schools. The practice of placing Roma children in “special schools” is a breach of Article 14 (prohibition of discrimination) read in conjunction with Article 2 of Protocol 1 (right to education) of the European Convention of Human Rights (Council of Europe).

Dropout rates are very high for Roma children. In the second and third grades, the number of children dropping out or absenting reaches its peak, according to research done by the Council of Europe (Council of Europe). Classes in which the percentage of Roma is high tend to have a lower quality of education. The discrimination and low awareness from the teaching staff and school officials is also troubling and acts as a block towards further improvement of the status of Roma. Roma children send back from countries of Western Europe are still sent to Serbian language schools without any language learning support, even though they lack basic linguistic skills. Therefore, they are unable to follow classes, they are often placed in “special schools,” and the dropout remains high.

The Ministry of Education and Sports has made an effort to enroll Roma children into schools even though they do not have complete personal documentation. Although this was not monitored in practice, NGOs working in the field of education reported that primary schools have generally been quite flexible with the personal documentation requirement (Council of Europe). There have also been efforts made in order to provide Roma children with free textbooks in primary education, and scholarship grants in secondary education. The Commission of Europe has established an “Action Plan” to take on the issues that are facing the Roma minority, as described above. This 2012-2014 Action Plan designed for the Roma as of now has not been ratified.

The autonomous province of Vojvodina finds itself in a very distinctive situation. It is the most ethnically diverse region in Europe, not to mention in the Balkans or Serbia. Rich in resources, with solidly established institutions to promote the equal interests of national and ethnic minorities, is praised for its accomplishments. However, the focus must be shifted on an equal emphasis of all minorities. Ethnicities such as the Roma, in particular, have been neglected in striving for equal treatment with respect to educational matters. By improving the educational environment throughout all grades of formal education, Vojvodina and Serbia’s achievement will be twofold. First, a much better educated population will emerge; and secondly, the educational standards set forth by the European Union and suggested by the international community will be achieved, which will enhance Serbia’s EU membership application.

Vojvodina’s progress and applied changes have not yet been able to foster an environment of change followed by Serbia. The province, as is it has traditionally been inhabited by peoples of different nationalities and ethnicities, has been prone to an approach of tolerance and adaptation, while the rest of Serbia, a much more homogenous region, has not been as reluctant to respond to external pressures towards change and other ideologies. Serbia is actively taking part in the Decade of Roma Inclusion 2005 –2015. A Roma Inclusion Office has been established at the level of Vojvodina Province and has been particularly active in the area of education and employment. A large number of measures in the education sector have resulted in a significant improvement in enrollment and completion of primary education, as well as initial encouraging results in higher education. Seventy-five Roma health mediators and 175 pedagogical assistants have been employed so far and a system of health cards has been put in place. The largest problem is the implementation of policies; widespread discrimination and marginalization of the Roma continue in practice.

Hungarians

The largest national minority in terms of number of people is the Hungarian national minority group. According to the latest census that was conducted, the Hungarian minority numbered almost 300,000, or about 4% of the Serbian population. Most Hungarians live in Vojvodina, and they form a majority in eight municipalities. The Hungarian language is in official use at the provincial level and at the municipal level in 27 municipalities. Hungarians are entitled to education in their language from primary school through university. Though parts of present day Vojvodina formed part of the Hungarian Kingdom in medieval times, most Hungarians currently living in Serbia are descended from migrations that began in the late 17th century when the Hapsburgs established control over these territories and continued through the 19th century.

Ruthenians

The Ruthenian minority is descended from a population who began to settle in Vojvodina 250 years ago. The origins of the Ruthenian ethnic group are disputed. While some argue that Ruthenians originate from Ukraine, others claim that they are a distinct Carpathian-Ruthenian people without a kin state. Until 1971, Ukrainians and Ruthenians were registered jointly. According to the 2002 census, there are 15,909 Ruthenians in Serbia. They live mainly in Vojvodina – in central Backa and western Srem, and do not constitute a majority in any municipality in Vojvodina. Ruthenian language is in official use in five municipalities and at the provincial level. Ruthenians are entitled to have minority education in their mother tongue up to university level.

FUTURE PROGRESS

The Council of Europe

The 2020 Benchmarks for the EU

In May 2009, the Council of Europe agreed upon an updated strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training as a basis to carry on the cooperative exchange on policies, which had been initiated in 2001 under the umbrella of the Lisbon strategy for jobs and growth. The framework for policy cooperation, known as Education and Training 2020, will also serve as the principal mechanism to feed high-level education policy messages into the European Union's Europe 2020 Strategy to mobilize policies across the board for smart, sustainable and socially inclusive growth.

Teacher Training and Textbook Availability

An issue that is of critical importance but remains an issue of worry, is the effectiveness of teacher training and textbook use. The Council of Europe called on authorities in Serbia and Vojvodina to ensure that the privatization of the production of textbooks does not harm their affordability published in minority languages. The same report by the Council of Europe suggested that additional efforts were needed to address the various shortcomings in terms of the availability of qualified teachers. Historically, there has been a dearth in objective writing in the textbooks, and a dearth of teachers who are completely proficient in the language taught to the minority. Many teachers were able to teach on a linguistic level, but lacked the necessary ethnic and cultural knowledge in order to preserve and foster the national identity of various minorities.

Measures to increase intercultural dialogue have been largely limited to the Province of Vojvodina. Even though minority language education is in general well developed, the Council has stated that teaching of some minority languages and culture remains optional in the educational system. The shortage of teachers and the availability of textbooks adapted to the Serbian curriculum constitute a major problem that needs to be addressed.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Domestic changes come with external pressures, but only at the pace and the measurements that the internal community accepts. What I am suggesting is the need of an initial spark from outside, executed with the ultimate determination from within. The international community may be able to ameliorate conduct by setting strict laws and making suggestions, but eventually it will be the task of the government and the citizens to not only implement, but also embrace these proposed changes. External pressures do cause domestic changes, but they cause them in the long-term, and at the pace of the domestic community.

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Photograph of Tea Ivanovic

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tea Ivanovic is a senior from Antwerp, Belgium. She is majoring in International Studies with a minor in Philosophy. She is currently applying to graduate schools for International Relations in the hopes of getting a doctorate.

She would like to thank Dr. Yannis Stivachtis for his help and support throughout this project.