PAVEL DOMONJI: Without Vojvodina in the media

The issue of autonomy does encroach on the territorial organization of state. This is the issue of citizens and not the i…

02. apr 2008

pavel.JPGThe issue of autonomy does encroach on the territorial organization of state. This is the issue of citizens and not the issue of Serbs, Hungarians, Slovakians, whichever. State belongs to citizens and not to Serbs not to Hungarians not to Slovakians but it belongs to citizens, naturally on the condition that we are care for the civic equality and the principle of non-discrimination

Thank you. Thus, as you have heard, I am Pavel Domonji, a slave and servant of the Helsinki Committee. When Nedim told me that I should take part in this seminar I was slightly skeptical. Why so? Due to several reasons. First, in difference to Teofil Pančić I am not a media addict. Hence, I don’t follow, I don’t read nor I listen to everything that can be followed, read or listened to – that’s my privilege in relation to him. Secondly, I belong to a more conservative part of the public, which means that I favor more printed media than other forms of the media, but I don’t even follow all printed media. For instance, I don’t follow what I call gun-media. The role of the media is to provide their audience with timely, accurate, objective information in order that we, their readers, the consumers of these media, can form our own opinion, to bring our own judgment, to take a certain attitude. The gun-media have not the role to inform the public but to settle accounts politically with their political opponents i.e. to disqualify and discredit them morally, politically and as individuals. They don’t help readers to orient themselves in reality but, simply, they try to disorientate them, to bring them into situation to think that, look, by mistake they get brain, that it is failure in evolution, that it would be best to take their brain out, salt and store it into pantry with ham and bacon, for example. And the third reason is – I am handicapped when speaking on the topic of reporting on Vojvodina because I hardly speak even my maternal language, let alone other minority languages, so I cannot follow what the media in the Hungarian, the Slovakian, the Ruthenian, the Romanian write; I can follow let’s say “Hrvatska Riječ” /Croatian Word/ because I understand it, but I cannot follow these other media and can not judge about their reporting on Vojvodina. However, in spite of all that I have just said, it is my impression (there, I speak only at the level of impression) that the media don’t cover Vojvodina as much as they should do. Why so? Simply because the issue of Vojvodina is not the issue about which the political class of this country is trying to achieve consensus, the issue of Vojvodina is not the pivotal issue, therefore it is not the key and important issue, such issue at this moment is the issue of Kosovo.
I don’t know if any of you read Koštunica’s Christmas epistle at the beginning of this year, which “Politika” brought on January 6th or 7th (Koštunica’s address to the citizens of Serbia). To remind you, he said in it: – We don’t give Kosovo, Kosovo is another name for Serbia, the name of Prince Lazar is another name for truth and justice, in defending Kosovo we have faith in God, justice, truth, the international law, the world order and UN charter, – only to end his address to the citizens of Serbia with words: – No Serb has been yet born to say that Kosovo is not ours.
And now, you see, though his address begins with this, with the “citizens of Serbia”, it is clear that his addressee is ethnically very determined and definitive and that he, actually, addresses the Serbs. What fascinates me in this Koštunica’s address is that universalization of appeal. To wit, Serbia doesn’t act in her own name but she acts in the name of international law, international order, even some metaphysical ethnicity like God, counting both on the earthly and divine justice. Thus, in this sort of an essentialist, fundamentalist rhetoric, you have no reality, there is no life, no realism. There is only one ideological construction of reality, a sort of myth-poetic construction and, an another thing, mind you, if you say that Kosovo is Serbian and who cares for Albanians as they are not Serbs, then it is a sort of rhetoric you can not question because it is simply senseless. And other thing, this is therefore that kind of ethno-nationalism which is always present. And now, this ethno-nationalism is also present when Vojvodina is the issue, as you have certainly noticed that Vojvodina is being ethnically usurped, so it is said that Vojvodina is Serbian but, in difference to Kosovo, this is not the end of listing but this listing continues and it is said that Vojvodina is Serbian, that Vojvodina is Slovakian, Hungarian, Romanian and I don’t know whose else, but I have never heard that, for instance, somebody says that Vojvodina is also Romany; this I have never heard although politicians often stress this, but I have never heard that anyone mentions the Roma. Here you have another question, namely what to do with people who have no ethnical identity or, for instance, don’t expose their ethnical identity, don’t declare their nationality. Do they also own Vojvodina, does Vojvodina belong or doesn’t belong to them? However, what is important is that we are, as in the case of Kosovo so in the case of Vojvodina, faced with ‘ethnization’. What is ‘ethnization’? By ‘ethnizating’ one group it is granted more rights than another one. When one says that Vojvodina is Serbian, this means that the key questions in Vojvodina should be decided, hence, by members of the Serbian nation. What is unbelievable is that in Vojvodina there are political leaders that adopt, you see, this ethno-political logic and agree that the issue of Vojvodina is Serbian issue. The issue of autonomy is the issue encroaching on the territorial organization of state. However, this is the issue of citizens and not the issue of Serbs, Hungarian, Slovakians, etc. State belongs to citizens and it doesn’t belong either to Serbs or Hungarians or Slovakians but it belongs to citizens, naturally on condition that we care for civic equality and the principle of non-discrimination.
When I mention that various listing i.e. whose is Vojvodina, I do this in order to turn your attention to a very particular kind of culturalism which it contains. In theory, this kind of multiculturalism is called the cooperative or segregationist multiculturalism. You see, this presumes that society consists of different ethnic groups, it is formally insisted on their equality, but these ethnic groups don’t mix much, there is no communication between them. If sometimes even in this kind of multiculturalism – and mind you, nationalists are the greatest multiculturalists – if sometimes, at one moment, occurs a certain mixing, let’s say in the form of mixed marriage, then nationalists say that mixed marriages are a sort of fine, subtle assimilation of the members of minority communities. So now, what is important in such cases is, mind you, when you say that the outcome of mixed marriages is assimilation of the members of minority, this is an extremely anti-liberal position because it says that the choice of your marital partner is, a priori, determined in advance by your ethnicity. Now, the key question we have here is whether you are ready, for the sake of preserving one group or its cultural identity, to give up your own life. This is the question to which each of us should answer and bring own judgment. The similar case will be also if, for instance, you enroll your child in school in which education is in the language that is not your maternal language, therefore the same kind of objection also applies here as well, from the fact that, I don’t know, let’s say, someone may be ashamed to be a member of this or that minority or that this may lead to weakening your own community demographically, culturally, politically or whatever.
Neither situation is different when there is the question of elections. I will only remind you that at the last elections, for example, the Hungarian leaders reproached the Democratic Party because it allegedly entered into their electorate and that a great number of Hungarians voted for the Democratic Party and not for the Alliance of Vojvodina’s Hungarians, as would be logical, natural to expect, because it was the Hungarian party. I mention these examples to stress more this liberal position I care about. You see, the liberal position defends the right on an autonomous choice of each individual. You can decide to participate in reproduction and preservation of one group and its cultural identity and you can also decide to get out of that story and not to partake in it. But what is important is, that if you decide not to partake in it – I, for instance, can say: ‘I don’t give a damn for Slovakians, I am not interested for the Slovakian minority or preservation of the Slovakian language, Slovakian literature, tradition, culture, all this is phooey to me, I don’t want to take part in that, I simply want to get out of that story’ – from the viewpoint of this liberal position it is quite OK. What is important is that I, as an individual, shouldn’t suffer any consequences. To wit, the members of my group shouldn’t despise me, shouldn’t scorn or stigmatize me or use some more drastic measures of condemnation. Why? Because, if I can get out of that story without consequences, their presence in that story of participating in the reproduction of culture, obtains the character of being voluntary. There will be no such voluntary character if I am attacked, stigmatized, beaten, insulted, spit upon or whatever. Hence, I feel close to this kind of liberal multiculturalism. This liberal multiculturalism insists on the central position of an individual in relation to his group. It insists also on the strict separating line between the private and public spheres. It places culture in this private sphere as an expression of particularity, whilst the public or the political spheres are ruled by universalistic principles.
Which is the key universalistic principle in politics? Now, with elections approaching us, which is that key principle? The key principle is one man – one vote. Now, nationalists say or the members of minorities say that the principle one man – one vote doesn’t give the opportunity to members of minorities to be elected and get seat in the parliament. Why? Because their number is too small, they cannot pass the election threshold if it is too high. Hence they ask correction of this crucial liberal universalistic principle. Now, you have different mechanisms for correction. It can be either a lower threshold, or quotes, or granted mandates, but it also can be that, let’s say, big parties open their lists for members of minorities, so that they can put the members of minorities on their lists and thus enable them to get a seat in the parliament. Here again you get a sort of objection as expressed by nationalists as they deny the right of members of minorities who are, for example, on the list of Democratic Party (you know that the Democratic Party opened for this election its lists so that among candidates for representatives are the Slovakians, the Bulgarians, the Croats and I don’t know who else), they deny the right and their objection is that they cannot in the parliament represent interests of their minorities because they are bound by the party discipline to represent the interest of that party. What is arguable here is that you never hear this same kind of objection when, for example, a Croat or a Hungarian, whichever, got elected to the parliament from the list of their national parties. Hence, you never have this kind of objection, that he represents interests of his party but, furthermore, it is said that he represents the interest of minority but not only of his minority but interests of all minorities. Hence, like in the case of Kosovo, you have a kind of an ideological construction, totalizing universalization. Here, the party identifies itself with nation, which is extremely wrong, and one of consequences includes these accusations for the national betrayal.
When we had elections, in 2003 or 2004? Then, you know, the Hungarian parties came out to elections in two separate columns, Agošton and Pal Šandor were in one coalition. Kasza was in another, and there was one press conference in Novi Sad at which Jozsef Kasza accused Agošton for the national betrayal. But mind you, regardless of the way in which the representative of one minority entered the parliament, we should make things fully clear: the presence of minorities in the parliament has essentially no impact on decisions passed by this parliament. The presence of minorities has a strong, not political, but symbolic meaning, because it enables the members of minorities to get seats in the parliament, the society sends the message that it respects its minorities: on the other side, this in return gives also the higher legitimacy of the parliament and decisions it passes because they are then accepted in a greater measure.
But two more things are here clear or important. Namely, regardless which of these instruments of positive discrimination you employ you violate the universalistic rule, one man – one vote. And another thing, there is the question whether the violation of this principle can be tolerated and justified. The answer is yes, in affirmative, the principle can be violated if its correction enables achieving the higher value than the one which is being violated. To wit, in this case this would be to preserve the ethnical peace in the society, to pacify conflicts, to downgrade eruption of conflicts, to contribute to de-radicalization of relations, etc.
And now, as Vojvodina is one truly pluralistic community, a very important question is how in such a society to achieve cohesion of its culturally different segments, If in one society you have domination of ethno-nationalism, as you still have in Serbia, hardly that you can achieve the higher level of cohesion from one you already have. But what is also important is that some crucial documents of such society don’t support the violation of cohesion.
Now you see, Serbia has recently got its new Constitution and this Constitution defines Serbia as the state of Serbian people and other citizens. Now, if we wish to apply a bit of logic gymnastics we could say that Serbs are not citizens namely that citizens are not Serbs, and as one article of the Constitution stipulates that sovereignty belongs to citizens, then here we can also apply logic and say that Serbs are not sovereign, that only citizens are sovereign. What does it mean? This means that the authors of this Constitution haven’t succeeded in finding a common characteristic for all citizens of Serbia regardless of their ethnicity. And now, nationalists argue that the Constitution had to define that Serbia is the state of Serbian people and other citizens because in Serbia lives the majority of Serbs and because the Serbs are one that contributed most in founding the state of Serbia. What is arguable questionable in this argument? What do you think, what is questionable here?
All in former Yugoslavia wanted to have their own states, Serbia had so much insisted on sovereignty but was the only one that hadn’t brought decision to confirm, at referendum or in some other way, this so we’ve got an unwanted sovereignty. We were constantly talking about it and did nothing to obtain it, namely we were engaged in it in a very perfidious way. Montenegro brought the decision about Serbia’s sovereignty.
At one time, I suggested that we should form a committee for independence of Montenegro but nobody listened to me, but well, the events were leading to it. But you see, the problem with this assertion is that you cannot define the constitutional principles on the principle of accidental. None selects nation in which to be born. If we were born as Serbian, Hungarians, Chinese, Martians or whatever, this would be accidental, not dependable on our will but you can not define the state on the principle of accidental. Now, why do people form states? The answer to this question is thousands years old and still unchanged. From the ancient Greece onward people form states in order to have a good life. And what is a good life? Probably such in which your human rights are respected and not violated.
Now, if you begin with human rights, there is no point of putting on instantly a ‘šajkača’/Serbian cap/ and ‘opanak’/peasant shoes/, you don’t have to divide citizens to Serbs and no-Serbs. The state, hence, belongs to citizens, regardless if they are the Serbs, the Hungarians, big, small, thin, fat, beautiful, ugly, men, women, homosexual, heterosexual or whatever special definition you use. Hence, it is very important that some key documents of society, documents that, let’s say, constitute community don’t bring into question cohesion of the ethno-cultural-pluralistic community.
As the name of this seminar “Reporting on Vojvodina” the question arises whether reporting contributes to this cohesion or not. At the beginning I said that I don’t follow all media and that it is my impression, mind you an impression, that Vojvodina is not present as much as it should be in the media and now I shall try to support this impression with some data obtained through monitoring carried out by Novi Sad School of Journalism in the period September 2006 – January 2007, in relation to transformation of TV Vojvodina and subsequently published in a book, so I shall now present only part of results from this research published in the book. Well, according to research carried out by Novi Sad School of Journalism, TV Vojvodina covers more events in the world than what is going on in Vojvodina. Thus, it informs more its audience about events occurring in the international community, no matter how it is defined, than about things going on in Vojvodina. TV Vojvodina, apart from this, reports more about other parts of Serbia than about Vojvodina.
TV Vojvodina offers more information connected with Belgrade than with Novi Sad. Information about activities of the government bodies i.e. the republic central bodies are much more presented by TV Vojvodina than are information dealing with the activities of the province’s bodies. Not to mention that TV Vojvodina totally ignores and marginalizes the activities of citizens, their associations and NGO-s in Vojvodina. This is an absolutely neglected theme. And now, when you have these data, it leads one to ask an ordinary, simple and logical question – why is there the Radio Diffusion Service, why is there Radio Television Vojvodina if not to report about things that happen in Vojvodina, which is its primary objective. However, besides this objective TV Vojvodina has also a task to provide the media coverage of all differences that exist in Vojvodina which are, as you know, not only political, not only social, not only economic but also ethnical and cultural. So, these differences should have the media coverage, but the problem is that, as in the first case, TV Vojvodina fails in this task, because the theme of multiculturalism on the programs broadcast by the Radio Television Vojvodina is poorly presented. I shall mention only some figures, I wouldn’t burden you with figures, but mind you, in all news, and news in the monitored period covered 775 themes – of these 775 themes, the theme of multiculturalism was presented only in nine cases i.e. nine times. These are data related to television. When we speak about radio, only six times of in total 738 themes, only six times. On programs broadcast by the Radio Television Serbia dominate solely the subjects of Serbian nationality, hence it is all about their activities. And what one expects when there is one pluralistic society as in Vojvodina it is the sufficient amount of programs about inter-ethnical tolerance. However, this theme is totally neglected. I recently met Dubravka Valić Nedeljković who works at the Novi Sad School of Journalism and she told me that after the results of research were published a small step forward was observed on TV Novi Sad i.e. Vojvodina, because now it pays more attention to these themes.
But mind you, apart from this, the Novi Sad School of Journalism in the recent years carried out some other researches and these researches also confirm what I have already told you, but here more attention was paid to print media, like “Magyar Szóu”, “Hlas L’udu”, “Libertatei”, “Hrvatska Riječ” /Croation Word/, I think that of other media in Serbian the only one monitored was daily “Vojvodina”, which is not published any more. It was noticed that all media, including both the Serbian and the media in minority languages, were closed within their own ethnical group, that they had no interest for things happening outside, for instance the Slovakian media had no interest for things going on in the Hungarian community, the Croats or some other even if occasionally reported on such events this was mostly of a manifest character i.e. the media coverage of some important manifestation, or it was about some incidents, but there were no any systematic, serious, comprehensive, analytical approaches. When we speak, let’s say about the media in Serbian, you have no journalists who are specialized to cover either the topic of multiculturalism or the topic of minorities, who have documentation, who are specialized for such issues. So, editorial policies reproduce that kind of multiculturalism that at the beginning I named as being segregative or as some call it the cooperative multiculturalism, within which different ethnical groups exist one next to other, it is insisted on their equality, but they are not too open for various forms of cooperation or communication. This means, then, that we are faced with segmentation and fragmentation of the public along their ethnical seams or applying ethnical criteria that don’t contribute to cohesion of Vojvodina as the pluralistic community nor in sensitizing the public to these ethnical differences nor encouraging them to adopt some of them.
Agency Scan carried several years ago a research and found that only one in ten secondary school pupils in Vojvodina expressed any interest for culture of their co-citizens of another nationality, I repeat only one in ten. Politicians often say that multiculturalism is Vojvodina’s advantage, value, wealth, but I don’t know any high positioned politician in Vojvodina, with exception of Pajtić, who speaks a language of any minority. I only know that Pajtić speaks Hungarian, but I don’t know for any other, if they speak any and, as they insist that multiculturalism is a sort of symbolical asset, perhaps it would be useful to carry out a research and bring them to a sort of competition as is broadcast by TV Novi Sad and then to see how much they know about culture of their co-citizens of different nationality.
And now, what would be necessary to do in order to increase this cohesion? Naturally, a different model of information, different cultural and political model, actually some open concept of the media that would be double-open – open, let’s say, in relation to other ethnical communities and also open to pluralism within its own community. Nationalists often have that myth and stereotype that all others are homogenous but only the Serbs are disunited, divided, antagonized, whilst all others act in unity, but this is not true at all. However, it would be good if, let’s say, TV Vojvodina has the media coverage of all this pluralism that exists within minority communities, their different orientations, options, different regional interests existing within minority communities. As, you see, these segments would then tend more to establish an inter-ethnical cooperation and overcome these ethnical boundaries than it is in one differently formatted reality. Naturally, to an improved cohesion can also contribute this higher level of cooperation between news offices, joint programs or introducing subtitles – the driver who took me here told me that on Super TV in Subotica they have subtitles so when somebody speaks for example Hungarian, his maternal language, there runs subtitle and vice versa, which is very good and it is simply hard to believe that TV Vojvodina has not such a good thing, for a rather long time. This is certainly something one would normally expect … Well, I do occasionally watch TV Vojvodina, not because I want to or have some interest for it, I mean there are much more interesting media, but when the Helsinki Committee organizes something in Novi Sad, and the Hungarian TV and Hungarian newspapers have the media coverage of it, I am quite interested how they will present everything in their program if they decide to report on it at all, but mind you, I can only watch pictures but I understand nothing.
To me, therefore, as someone who partakes in all that, it is very interesting to see how they comment and how they report about the event they cover as journalists. Naturally, the editorial policies should be changed but these editorial policies only reproduce what is going on within the sphere of global society and in the sphere of global politics. If programs in Serbian don’t broadcast reports about events in the minority communities this can mean only two things – either these events are not interesting nor relevant and thus not covered or they, regardless if they are interesting, important, relevant and so on, are being ignored. Then this means that minorities, that their existence is tolerated, that a sort of formal-legal equality is granted to them, that they also have information in their maternal language, but that essentially they are not accepted. Because, statistically, you have a large number of the media in minority languages, but in respect of their contents there is no any inter-cultural comprehensive approach. On the other side, minorities then don’t accept values of ethnical majority, they are closed within their own frames, within their own limits and they step across them only in the measure in which it is necessary in order to prove, to dispel doubts about their loyalty. You see, researches carried out in Serbia, often show that members of ethnical majority distrust the loyalty of minorities and usually, topping this list are the Albanians, then follow the Croats, the Bosnians and all others.
In research carried out by the Novi Sad School of Journalism there is another fascinating data and this is what a colleague here has already mentioned – namely when one turns TV on, the first five reports are about Kosovo. Hence, some minority news-offices and programs in the minority languages are more reporting on the theme of Kosovo than the programs in Serbian language do. For instance, the news programs in Slovakian, Romanian and Ruthenian languages are dealing more with the issue of Kosovo then those in the Serbian language. This is very wrong way to prove loyalty. Actually, here we deal with minorities’ fear that they may be exposed to repression and violence if Kosovo becomes independent i.e. if the issue of Kosovo is resolved differently than the Serbian political elite advocates.
Now, can we have a different model of multiculturalism then we have currently? Certainly, these two models I have mentioned, they are pure, ideal models and you can hardly assume that they are fully realized in reality, but they are interesting, they have that hermeneutical value of being used at, let’s say, this kind of meetings. Is it possible to have a different model of multiculturalism? I think that it is not possible. That sort of segregation … when you have in mind that we were in war, that we were under sanctions, that country collapsed economically, that the issue of state borders is open, that process of that primary political constituting is not completed, that political actors constantly discuss whether to respect the Constitution or not, always with reference to Kosovo, if you have in mind that some vital institutions for protection of human rights have not been established, then hardly that you can have a different kind of multiculturalism than one we have now. Of course, this is a very poor model of multiculturalism, but at this moment it appears that we not capable for something else and something better. Perhaps we shall get this for some ten or 20 years.

Transcript of the speech delivered at the seminar “Reporting On Vojvodina” in organization of the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vojvodina. The seminar was organized in Hotel Božić, in Beška, on December 21st, 22nd and 23rd, 2007, with support of the National Endowment for Democracy Fund.

Pavel Domonji is the head of the Novi Sad Office of the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights

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