Sandzak - Last Chance of the Serbian Statehood Jan 28, 2010 22:57:22 GMT -5
Post by Bozur on Jan 28, 2010 22:57:22 GMT -5
Sandzak - Last Chance of the Serbian Statehood
Can Karpat, AIA Balkanian section
Montenegro seceded from Serbia. Kosovo’s independence is more or less obvious
Some analysts began to speculate about the
Sandzak region. With the independence of Montenegro on 21st May, Sandzak is definitely divided between the two former partners. Since 1913, Sandzak had always demanded autonomy in crucial turning points of the Balkan history. As the Balkans goes definitely through a historic turning point nowadays, will the year 2006 be the year of Sandzak to define its status within Serbia once for all...
21st May: Sandzak divided
Nowadays Bosnians of the Sandzak region in Serbia are somewhat resentful at their brethren from the Sandzak region in Montenegro. Before the Montenegro independence referendum, there were turbulent discussions among the Bosnian community of Sandzak whether to vote for or against the independence. Bosnians of Serbian Sandzak did not want the region to be divided by an international border. Sulejman Ugljanin, chair of the Bosniak National Council in Serbia and 2 Montenegro and mayor of Novi Pazar warned: "The creation of two independent states will have a detrimental effect on Bosnians".
However the situation was more complicated for Bosnians of Montenegrin Sandzak. First of all, these Bosnians look to Podgorica, not to Novi Pazar, as their capital. Secondly, they consider Montenegro as a politically more tolerant state than Serbia. Thirdly, they were convinced that an independent Montenegro would be EU member much quicker than Serbia. And finally, as Zuvdija Hodzic, an eminent Montenegrin intellectual already pointed out, "within the Serbia-Montenegro, the Bosnian population represents an insignificant minority. However in Montenegro we are more than 10 percent".
On the 21st May, these pragmatic reasons prevailed for the Bosnians of Montenegro. Bosnians of Serbia now must cross an international border in order to visit their relatives or to go to their works in Montenegro.
In Montenegro, the pro-independence bloc triumphed with 55.5 percent - just half a percentage point above the threshold. Some Bosnian politicians of Serbian Sandzak think that the Bosnian vote decided on the outcome of the referendum, and thus the fate of Sandzak. According to the Sandzak People’s Movement chairman Cemal Suljevic: "This is the Muslim Bosniak vote, which made Montenegro independent. Without their vote, they would never have been independent. Muslim Bosniak, who made Montenegro independent, did also divide the Sandzak region. The sole responsible for this is other Sandzak parties. Because of the political quarrel among themselves, they could not obtain the right for autonomy just after Yugoslavia collapsed".
The population of Serbian Sandzak being 235.567 people, Bosnians and Muslims altogether make up about 65 percent of the population (2002/2003 est.). As a whole, they make up about 72 percent of Sandzak (over a total population of 426.044).
1917, 1943, 1991, 2002 and … 2006?
In the Middle Ages, the region was part of the Serb state of Raska. The region was later part of the subsequent Serb states, until it was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century. Under the Ottoman Empire, the "Sandzak of Novi Pazar" was one of the seven administrative districts (sancak in Turkish), which formed altogether the province of Bosnia (a very large entity from Sarajevo to Novi Pazar). Today Serbs are keen to call the region by its medieval name, Raska. However, Sandzak continues to be its most popular name.
In the Berlin Congress of 1878, Bosnia was divided up and Sandzak became an autonomous entity. However, after the Balkan Wars, Serbia and Montenegro annexed Sandzak.
Since 1913, despite numerous efforts, Sandzak always remained divided between Serbia and Montenegro.
In 1917, Sandzak politicians demanded independence in Sjenica. With the establishment of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, however, Sandzak was incorporated into the new kingdom without being granted any special status.
In November 1943, a National Liberation Council was established in Pljevlja, whose goal, among others, was to obtain autonomy for the Sandzak region. After the war, however, the Council was abolished under Serbian pressure and Sandzak was incorporated into the Republic of Serbia without autonomous status. During the existence of former Yugoslavia, some Bosnian politicians from Sandzak pleaded for territorial autonomy for the region. Some of them even advocated that Sandzak should become one of the republics of Serbia and Montenegro, created from both, Serbian and Montenegrin parts of Sandzak.
During the collapse of Yugoslavia, in October 1991, the Bosniak National Council of Sandzak, the main political pressure group of the region organised a referendum where 98.9 percent of the voters opted for autonomy. The result was not recognised by Slobodan Milosevic regime.
Again in 2002, when the Constitution of the then Serbia-Montenegro state union was being drafted, Sandzak demanded to become an autonomous territorial and political unit within the common state. Yet, once again Sandzak was divided between the two powerful neighbours.
1917, 1943, 1991 and 2002. The common point of these dates is that each represents a crucial turning point in the fate of the Balkan Peninsula. So, why not 2006? After all, this year has already witnessed the secession of Montenegro from Serbia, and it will also probably see the independence of Kosovo. Cemal Suljevic warned that they will resist until the very end against the partition of Sandzak. It is indeed a dangerous warning.
A "Second Kosovo"?
However, there are four reasons why Sandzak cannot be a "second Kosovo":
- Sandzak politicians are too divided among themselves to come to a common resolution. The three main political parties of Sandzak are: Sulejman Ugljanin’s List for Sandzak, Rasim Ljacic’s Sandzak Democratic Party and Fevzija Muric’s Sandzak Party.
Ugljanin’s party advocates full autonomy and unification of the two Sandzaks. Ljajic’s party pleads for an extensive decentralisation of the public competences. And Muric’s party demands advanced autonomy and a referendum to determine the status of Sandzak. All these parties are bitter rivals since years.
Belgrade does not fail to flare up the inner political conflicts in the region. The case of Novi Pazar is significant. While Sulejman Ugljanin is the mayor of the city, the majority is held by Ljajic’s Sandzak Democratic Party and Serbian parties in the City Council. While his opponents were trying to dismiss Ugljanin, on 7th April, the Serbian government dissolved the Novi Pazar City Council. Rasim Ljacic protested this decision as an "injudicious support of Belgrade for the unwanted mayor". In mid-April, Ljajic resigned from the post of government coordinator for southern Serbia in order to protest government's decision to dissolve the city council and block the referendum on Ugljanin. The decision even provoked some violent political acts in the city. The referendum for the dismissal of the mayor, which was supposed to take place on 14th May, was postponed until 25th June. This provoked another series of protest against the Serbian authorities.
Bosnians form a majority in only three eastern municipalities of Serbian Sandzak (Novi Pazar, Tutin and Sjenica) and two eastern municipalities of Montenegrin Sandzak (Plav and Rozaje). The Serbs and Montenegrins (no less than 44 percent of the population) from the Sandzak region would oppose any autonomy idea. Therefore, an eventual autonomous Sandzak region would not include municipalities where the Serbs and Montenegrins form the majority. This would introduce an ethnic-based partition, which the international community would highly disapprove.
- Now that Sandzak is divided between two new independent states, namely Montenegro and Serbia, any future proposal for autonomy will have to respect new international borders. There will be no question of unification of the two parts. After all, Bosnians of Montenegrin Sandzak clearly showed their will on 21st May, voting for an independent Montenegro.
- The complaints of Bosnians are very similar to those of Albanians of the Presevo Valley: the social and economic everyday discrimination. Serbian Sandzak is one of the poorest regions of Serbia. Yet, the Sandzak question will probably be solved in the framework of the democratisation and decentralisation process within Serbia. As the International Crisis Group’s report of 8th April 2005 put it, "Sandzak's problems are mostly the same as those of the rest of Serbia and require national solutions". The general dissatisfaction is not enough for the international community to multiply the Kosovo example.
Sandzak never demanded independence, but autonomy. Unlike Kosovo Albanians, Sandzak Bosnians never wanted to secede from Serbia. This is a great opportunity for Belgrade to show that its policy has really changed since the Kosovo war. Instead of alienating one ethnic community Serbia should try to win them over and do away with their fears of assimilation before it is -once again- too late. Thus, Belgrade will be able to confirm its sincerity and show that it learnt from the grave mistakes of its recent history.