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Contesting Ethnicity: Emerging Regional Identity in Vojvodina

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Contesting Ethnicity: Emerging Regional Identity in Vojvodina
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  ContestingEthnicity:EmergingRegionalIdentityinVojvodina Mila Dragojevic´  Brown University Abstract This case study of the northern Serbian Province of Vojvodinaexplores the basis of regional shared group understandings inthe absence of ethnic difference between the majority in theregion and the center. It addresses the question of whether thereis an emerging regional identity in Vojvodina within the political elite discourse at the time of the passage of theOmnibus Law in 2002, which devolved part of autonomy that the Province had lost following the 1991 Constitution. Themethod of content analysis was employed to uncover thecollective sense of social purpose (i.e. desire for greater autonomy) and the shared views toward groups perceived as‘others’. The findings show that the principal supporters of autonomy are the center-based civic-oriented parties, as well asthe regional parties. On the other hand, the opposition toautonomy comes from the center-based nationalist parties. Introduction The general theme of this article is the relationship between group ethnicityand regionalism – a topic that has been addressed at length in thenationalism and ethnic conflict literature (Anderson 1983; Connor 1994;Forrest 2004; Gellner 1983; Greenfeld 1992; Hechter 2000; Herrera 2005;Hobsbawm 1996; Horowitz 2000; Safran and Ma´iz 2000; Smith 1991).The regionalist movements of Basques, Catalans, Flems, or Quebecois, for instance, have been widely cited as the cases where ethnicity, defined as‘collective proper name, myth of common ancestry, shared historicalmemories, common culture, association with a specific ‘homeland’, and asense of solidarity for significant sectors of the population’ (Smith 1991:21), overlaps with territorial or regional identity. Scholars who rely on such  Mila Dragojevic´  :  Contesting Ethnicity  290  cases may have a tendency to place excessive weight on ethnic differ-ences between the national and regional populations in explaining the riseof the regionalist or secessionist movements (Connor 1994; Horowitz2000).In Vojvodina, in contrast to these well-known cases, regionalism ariseseven though the majority population in the periphery shares the sameethnic identity (i.e. Serbian) with that of the central state. 1 As one of twoProvinces of the former Yugoslav Socialist Republic of Serbia, Vojvodinawas granted a significant degree of political autonomy in the 1974Constitution. In the 1990 Constitution of Serbia, during the presidency of Slobodan Milosˇevic´, the previous high level of political autonomy of Vojvodina was abolished. Commencing in 2000, following the overthrowof Milosˇevic´, regional and certain center-based political actors began towork toward the devolution of some of Vojvodina’s pre-1990 autonomy.As this article will show, the movement for greater autonomy of Vojvodinaemerged in the latter phase of democratic transition once an opening for a public debate on this matter was created in the media and the parliaments.One concrete outcome was the passage on the National Assembly Floor inFebruary 2002 of the Omnibus Law on the Definition of Certain Powers of the Autonomous Province (‘  Zakon o utvrdjivanju odredjenih nadle & nostiautonomne pokrajine ’ hereafter Omnibus). Using content analysis, thisarticle will analyze the debate that preceded and followed the passage of this legislation, which was the first legislation to address the status of theProvince’s autonomy in the post-communist period. The objective of thisinvestigation is to assess whether regional identity discourse is present inthis case, where the majority of the population in the periphery and in thecenter share the same ethnic identity. Conceptualising and Measuring Regional Identity In defining regional identity, I do not begin with the assumption that collective identity is formed on the basis of primordial, ethnic, or culturalcharacteristics (Connor 1994; Geertz 1973; Horowitz 2000: 55). Rather, I build on the notion that collective identity is mutable over time and is a product of ‘human action and speech’ (Abdelal  et al  . 2006; Anderson1983; Barth 1998; Brass 1991; Brubaker and Cooper 2000; Fearon andLaitin 2000: 848; Gellner 1983; Hobsbawm 1992; Weber 1968). Through-out this article, regional identity is regarded as a type of ‘social identity’.The developmentof this conceptcame after the comprehensive appraisal of different uses of the term ‘identity’ in the field of political science (Abdelal et al  . 2006). In this view, social identity is seen as a ‘social category that   Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism: Vol. 8, No. 2, 2008 291  varies along two dimensions – content and contestation’ (Abdelal  et al  .2006: 696). Content refers to the meaning of social identity. Contestation isthe degree of agreement within a group over the identity content.There are four types of identity content: (1) norms that govern behavior in a particular group, (2) shared social purpose of the group members,(3) views and beliefs about other groups (‘relational comparison’), and(4) ‘cognitive models’ (i.e. group rationalisations that form a basis for acollective identity) (Abdelal  et al  . 2006: 696). While all four types can beexamined in the same case, in this article, I concentrate on the social purpose and relational comparisons. Shared social purpose may incorpo-rate any political goals and interests of the members of an identity group(Abdelal  et al  . 2006: 698). In this study, the direction toward greater autonomy may be regarded as an appropriate indicator of the shared social purpose since this has been a central issue of contention throughout therecent history of the region, as will be illustrated below. The relationalaspect of collective identity incorporates ‘views or beliefs about other identities or groups’ (Abdelal  et al  . 2006: 698). I pay special attention tovarious definitions of ‘us’ and ‘them’ and to negative messages that aresent toward the other side of the debate. The contestation dimension of regional identity is captured by the frequency of political actors’statementsin favor of or against autonomy, as well as by the number of negativestatements of both receivers and senders.The primary sources of the data for content analysis included regional andnational newspaper articles, which were published at the time of theOmnibus Law deliberations. These articles appeared in the regional daily  Dnevnik  , national daily  Blic , and national weeklies  Nin  and  Vreme  from1 December 2001 to the date when the Law was passed, 5 February 2002,as well in the month of February of 2003, one year following itsratification. Articles were coded using the content analysis form (Table 1),which consisted of the following categories of data:  source ,  actor  ,  actor category ,  actor location ,  support of the law ,  warning against decentrali- sation ,  desire for greater autonomy ,  argument  ,  explicit negative message sent to opponents ,  perceived opponents  ( other groups ), and  argument category . Source  indicated the paper where the article appeared.  Actor   was theindividual or party that made an argument for or against the Omnibus Law.I coded actors into categories corresponding to the groups that they or their respective political parties represented. First,  actor location  was either ‘Belgrade’ (center) or ‘Vojvodina’ (region).  Mila Dragojevic´  :  Contesting Ethnicity  292  Table 1: Content analysis formCode Coding Guide Example Article Number Unique article identificationnumber 25Argument  Number Unique argument identificationnumber; there may be more thanone argument per article34Source Periodical where the article is pub-lished:  Dnevnik, Nin, Vreme , or   Blic Dnevnik  Date Date when the article is published January 24, 2002Actor Name and/or party affiliation of theactor  Nenad Cˇanak,LSV (Social-democratic Partyof Vojvodina)Actor CategoryThree actor categories are possible:1.  Ethnic majority - Serb : actor whorepresents interests of Serb majorityor one of the parties defendinginterests of the Serb majority as agroup. Those parties include Ser- bian Radical Party (SRS), SerbianSocialist Party (SPS), and Demo-cratic Party of Serbia (DSS).2.  Ethnic minority : actor who re- presents interests of specific ethnicminorities in Vojvodina, such asthe League of the Hungarians of Vojvodina (SVM)3.  Non-ethnic : actors that do not explicitly defend interests of any particular ethnic group. For exam- ple: Democratic Party (DS), Social-democratic Party of Vojvodina(LSV), Reformists of Vojvodina(RV), Movement for Vojvodina(VP), Coalition for Vojvodina(KV). Non-ethnicActor LocationLocation of the actor: Belgrade(center) or Vojvodina (Province).Vojvodina  Studies in Ethnicity and Nationalism: Vol. 8, No. 2, 2008 293  While the actor’s location was more central to this analysis, I also codedwhether the actor or his/her political party primarily represented theinterests of particular ethnic groups, such as those of majority Serbs or those of various ethnic minorities. This element was added in order to Table 1. (Continued). Code Coding Guide Example Argument SummaryDescription of the main theme of the argument.‘Passing of thisLaw is an impor-tant step forward inour struggleagainst Nazism’Argument CategoryBased on the argument summary,it is categorised into one of thethree groups: political, economic,or cultural.PoliticalSupport of the LawOnly articles where an attitude to-ward the Omnibus Law is expressedare included in the sample:1 5 actor supports the OmnibusLaw0 5 actor does not support theOmnibus Law1WarningAgainst De-centralisation1 5 actors make explicit warningagainst further decentralisation intheir argument 0 5 actors do not include this warn-ing in their argument 0Desire for Greater AutonomyBeyondOmnibus1 5 actors express that they desireeven greater autonomy than ob-tained by the passing of theOmnibus Law0 5 actors do not express desire for greater autonomy1 NegativeView of Others1 5 explicit negative view of othersis expressed in the argument 0 5 argument does not contain anegative view of others1Others Group that is identified as ‘others’in the negative context Serbian ethnically-oriented parties  Mila Dragojevic´  :  Contesting Ethnicity  294
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