Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My message at the conference on the Positive-Active Role of Vojvodina-Serbian Minorities in the Serbian EU Integration Process”, in Vrsac (Serbia), on 29th October 2011

First of all I would like to say that I am honored and it is a pleasure to be at this important conference about “The positive-active role of Vojvodina-Serbian minorities in the Serbian EU integration process”.  It is great that the conference is taking place in the beautiful city of the “little top”, in Vrsac. The chosen theme is a very important and relevant one. Therefore let's split the title “The positive-active role of Vojvodina Serbian minorities in the Serbian EU integration process” in three parts, followed by a conclusion with some recommendations.

1)      Vojvodina-Serbian Minorities
First of all, I would like to discuss about the part regarding “Vojvodina-Serbian minorities”. As far as I know, Vojvodina is built up on many different communities: people of many different nationalities: Serbs, Hungarians, Slovaks, Croats, Yugoslavs, Montenegrins, Romanians, Roma, Bunjevcis, Rusyns, Macedonians and so on. But there are also different languages and different religions and cultures. 

The European Christian Political Movement (ECPM) strongly believes in the power and importance of a society that is built on communities. We do not believe that a society is built on a socialist system, but we also do not see it as a collection of individuals. We believe that we are created not to be alone, but to live in communities with the family as the cornerstone of the society. We then define “community” as “a group that is organized around common values and is attributed with social cohesion within a shared geographical location, generally in social units larger than a household: a business community, church community. 

However, community also can refer to a local community, regional community or even a global community. A human being is not created to be alone, but to live with and amongst others: a community can give you assurance, identity and safety.  Your identity is not individual but it is constructed within a field of social values, norms, behavior and collective symbols. People are associated in groups, communities which form your social identity. Social groups reflect ways that people identify themselves with others in this group. But a social identity cannot be seen different from the individual identity. The State is the collection of these groups. 

Your personal identity is formed based on social values and norms, worldviews, beliefs and collective symbols, expectations, attitude and behavior and actions.  Therefore it is good to have diversity: every culture has its own advantages and disadvantages. People who are open for other cultures will be able to develop themselves better, more internationally oriented and understand more about life and even enjoy life better.  Also people who are open to other cultures could have a considerably better position in the global community; diversity could be a great base for diplomacy. Communication between different communities creates bridges between communities and collaboration which will create more prosperity. Therefore it is good to sit here together with so many different communities, different groups. I think it is important to sit here all together and think and learn together from our differences which can enrich our lives. Too often prejudices or mental models are formed about each other and we are discussing about the other but not with each other.

2) The positive role
When I speak with different minorities in different countries, I see that a lot of times a negative or even a fighting attitude is chosen against the majority. Often this has many destructive effects and is not good to work against each others. 

The best ways to change the situation of minorities are the following positions:

  1. Take advantage of the political positions.  In the political spectrum minority groups often can be well-positioned. The minority groups in Vojvodina are small on the national level. Therefore they often display a less imposing political threat but are well-positioned to serve as bridges between political forces. It is good if the minority groups are organizing themselves and look into how they can act as a glue to unite political forces. In Romania for example the Hungarian party was in almost all the political coalitions since 1994 and therefore gained quite some political influence even when they are small.
  2. Work with the majority. Social change rarely happens as a result of a minority group toppling the majority. It is good if the minority groups can work and negotiate with majority parties. The theme about the constructive and active role regarding EU integration is an interesting one. Many minorities have contacts with parties in countries that are already members of the EU. I mention: the Hungarians, Romanians, Slovaks and probably also the Croats very soon. The different communities could act as bridge builders for the countries of their origin. For example, I just heard that President Basescu from Romania will visit Belgrade this week. He will visit the Romanian Council and also Ms. Lenuca. Also by supporting Serbia to enter the European Union will make it better for all. The negotiation chapters will focus on reforms in State and justice and also certain funds will be available for several projects. It is good to negotiate concretely with the majority and try to work together in a win-win situation.
  3. Build a diverse, inclusive movement. It is generally not effective to build just an ethically or racially defined movement. It would be good if the different groups in Vojvodina would come together and focus on targets and goals for the development of the whole province or even for all Serbia. Therefore such meetings should be the beginning of developing a common strategy for Vojvodina that will be a voice for all the different minorities and not only for a certain minority. Collaboration between different communities means to step over prejudices and to go for the common good of the province and the country.
  4. Focus on manageable, concrete issues. It is good that this group of minorities always focuses on manageable, concrete goals. Martin Luther King did not tackle all of the Jim Crow discrimination laws at once. He focused on smaller issues first (e.g. the boycott of public transportation and slowly built towards his ultimate goal). Develop alternative forums like this one. Try to be good examples in the society. Lebanese evangelicals constitute a tiny proportion of the population in Lebanon. However, they made an enormous impact during the 19th and 20th centuries because they focused on building excellent educational and health institutions. Because of their concrete focus on long-term institutions, their influence has remained over the course of these years.

3) The Serbian EU integration process
Europe was long divided by rivalry and conflicts. After the Second World War eight different countries (Belgium Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Italy) decided to stop the wars and said that this should never happen again. Therefore they created the European Coal and Steel Community. The preamble consists of the following ideas:

CONSIDERING that world peace can be safeguarded only by creative efforts commensurate with the dangers that threaten it,CONVINCED that the contribution which an organized and vital Europe can make to civilization is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations, RECOGNISING that Europe can be built only through practical achievements which will first of all create real solidarity, and through the establishment of common bases for economic development, ANXIOUS to help, by expanding their basic production, to raise the standard of living and further the works of peace, RESOLVED to substitute for age-old rivalries the merging of their essential interests; to create, by establishing an economic community, the basis for a broader and deeper community among peoples long divided by bloody conflicts; and to lay the foundations for institutions which will give direction to a destiny henceforwardshared , HAVE DECIDED to create a European Coal and Steel Community...

This is continued in the European Economic Community where it says that it should preserve and strengthen peace and liberty and calling upon the other peoples of Europe, who share their ideal to join their efforts. Not the national rivalries were the most important, but the strive for peace and reconciliation and to create an economic welfare for the people and to create solidarity based on human dignity (that we are all created in the image and likeness of God) amongst the countries that were long divided by conflicts .

Does this mean that we have to give up our identities and differences? No. Although we are for European integration, we also believe in the subsidiarity principle: not everything should be decided in Brussels. Laws that can be decided better on a local level could be better decided on a local level. Decisions that could negatively influence the cultures, identities or religious diversity should not be decided in Brussels. I am not for a super-state, but for a better and effective Europe that strives for peace based on welfare: unity through diversity. That is also how it should be in Serbia and Vojvodina. The central government should see that the diversity in Vojvodina has its great advantages and on the other hand the minorities in Vojvodina should see that they have to collaborate and discuss with the national overnment based on concrete goals: not only in a negative way but also in a constructive way.

I believe that if the discussions will be constructive and positive this can mean a new step in Vojvodina. A step of different groups and communities that are looking together in a constructive way into how a strategy can be developed to integrate into the European Union. It is good if the results of this conference will be that the national minorities in Vojvodina-Serbia will act as a promotor of a faster integration of Serbia in the EU, that there will be a better religious, cultural and political collaboration between the different minority groups in Vojvodina and between Vojvodina and Serbia, that the ethnic minorities of Vojvodina-Serbia will act as a bridge between the countries of origin that already have become EU members or are in the process of integration and that this all is based on the traditional family values based on the principles of Jesus that are shared by all the groups as a cornerstone for the society and the communities. We strive for a unity through diversity, for a better Vojvodina and a better Serbia. I wish you God’s blessings for the discussions where I also hope to learn a lot! 

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