Religious aspects of the
Yugoslavia - Vojvodina Conflict
||"...the peace negotiations between the Orthodox [Christian]
Serbs, the Catholic Croats and the Muslim Bosnians had collapsed again. And there is no
doubt that the religions that are so involved here had neglected in the period of more
than forty years since the Second World War to engage in mourning, honestly confess the
crimes which had been committed by all sides in the course of the centuries, and ask one
another for mutual forgiveness....I think there can be no peace among the nations without
peace among the religions!" Hans Küng and Karl-Josef
Kuschel, commenting in 1993 on conflict within the former Yugoslavia. 1 Although
this quotation refers to Bosnia, not Vojvodina, the principle is the same: a missed
opportunity in the past and religious intolerance in the present.
A religious/ethnic conflict is escalating in Vojvodina, (Vajdaság in
Hungarian) the northern-most province of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. 350,000
inhabitants of the province are ethnic Hungarians. They are being pressured by the central
government to abandon their homes and leave the country. The conflict has not yet reached
the level of a civil war or genocide. However, if the past history of Croatia, Bosnia and
Herzegovina, and Kosovo is any indication, the destruction of the ethnic Hungarian
minority community is just a matter of time.
Maps of the Balkans, Yugoslavia and Vojvodina:
FYROM refers to the "Former Yugoslav Republic of
Is the Vojvodina crisis an ethnic conflict or a religious conflict?
The ethnic Hungarians in Vojvodina, like the citizens of Hungary, are mostly Roman
Catholic. The government of Yugoslavia is controlled by Serbs, of whom the vast majority
are members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. Although both faith groups are Christian,
religious hatreds between the two run deeply.
The situation in Vojvodina is significantly different from that in Kosovo, where a main cause of the strife is inter-religious rather
than intra-religious. The conflict in Kosovo is between the Serbian central government and
the ethnic Albanians. The Albanians are mainly Muslim, with Roman Catholic and Serbian
As in all conflicts involving ethnicity, religion, national aspirations, economics,
etc., there is no single cause of the Vojvodina conflict. However, in our opinion, it is
not much of an over-simplification to view the conflict in Vojvodina as largely a
religious conflict between:
||Serbs who overwhelmingly belong to the Serbian Orthodox Church, and
||Ethnic Hungarians who are mainly Roman Catholic.
A brief history of Yugoslavia:
The Yugoslavia which emerged from World War II was a six republic federation. From
north-west to south east, the political entities were Slovenia, Croatia,
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.
At various times during the past millennium, Yugoslavia found itself straddling the
borders of three faith groups: Islam, Orthodox Christianity, and Roman Catholicism.
Tito angered the Serbs by granting autonomy to the north-eastern province of Vojvodina
and the southern province of Kosovo in 1974.
An essay is available which describes the history of
Yugoslavia and surrounding area.
Yugoslavia has been gradually disintegrating since the death of Tito. The country lost
much of its territory and population during the 1990's as Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and
Bosnia-Herzegovina achieved independence. As of 1999-APR, Yugoslavia consists of only four
remaining provinces: Vojvodina, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo. Montenegro has a large
degree of local autonomy. The government and Serbian people of Yugoslavia are totally
opposed to losing any more territory to independence or autonomy movements.
Happenings in Vojvodina:
"The fertile, rolling flatlands of Vojvodina are a microcosm of the Balkan
region. Wars and treaties have redrawn borders that left millions of ethnic minorities
stranded and sprinkled in countries that do not share their religion, their culture or
their language." 2
By the close of World War 1, ethnic Hungarians formed 41% of the population of
Vojvodina. In late 1918, a National Assembly was held to decide whether Vojvodina should
become part of Serbia. The area was under Serbian military occupation at the time. The
vote was heavily in favor of Serb rule. This outcome was not surprising, because over 98%
of the assembly delegates were Serbs.
In 1920, control of the area was formally transferred from the Kingdom of Hungary
to Serbia with the signing of the Treaty of Trianon. The area enjoyed relative
peace, protected by treaties which guaranteed Vojvodina autonomy after both World Wars.
The autonomy of both Vojvodina and Kosovo provinces was further protected by an addition
to the Yugoslavian constitution in 1974.
The gradual unraveling of Yugoslavia and Vojvodina started in the 1980s:
||1980's: Tito died. He had rigidly controlled Yugoslavia since the end
of World War II. The 30 ethnic groups in Vojvodina coexisted with little friction except
for some discrimination by the Serbs against the Hungarians and Croats.|
||1987: While investigating allegations that the minority Serbs in Kosovo
were being attacked by the ethnic Albanian majority, Slobodan Milosevic had promised his
fellow Serbs that "No one will ever beat you again." Milosevic quickly
became a Serbian hero.|
||1988: The government of Yugoslavia incited mass demonstrations in
Vojvodina. Members of the ethnically and religiously diverse provincial assembly resigned
and were replaced by Serbs who were "loyal to Slobodan Milosevic's vision of a
Greater Serbia." 2 The use of the Hungarian language
was phased out. Media leaders were replaced. 4|
||1989: Milosevic was able to force changes to the Yugoslav constitution
through its Parliament. 3 This terminated the autonomous
status of the provinces of both Vojvodina and the southern province of Kosovo.|
||1990: The Democratic Community of Vojvodinan Hungarians
was organized to promote autonomy for the province. The central government has refused to
even discuss the matter.|
||1991-1995: One byproduct of the Croatian civil war
(1991-1992) and of the Bosnian civil war (1992-1995) was the displacement
of hundreds of thousands of Serbs. 130,000 to 200,000 were settled in
Vojvodina. The Hungarian
Human Rights Monitor claimed on 1996-JUL-7 that: "In many cases the settlers
from Krajina have moved in by force into Hungarian homes while the Serb authorities failed
to intervene. The Serb settlers from Krajina region are placed above the law and they
receive preferential treatment over the indigenous Hungarian population in the areas of
employment, housing and social assistance." 5 The
European Parliament urged Yugoslavia to stop the resettlement; they were ignored.|
||The Serbian government started to pressure ethnic Hungarians to leave
have left in recent years; most have gone to Hungary.
||In its 1998 world report, the Human Rights Watch commented: "The large
influx of refugees - ethnic Serbs from Bosnia, and Croatia - into Vojvodina, especially
since 1995, continued to have a deleterious impact on the local minorities, with cases of
coerced land swaps and state-sponsored seizures of homes." 8
||The Hungarian government has attempted to discuss the problems of ethnic Hungarians in
the province with the Yugoslavian government. The latter refuses to talk.
||Human Rights Watch reports that the emigrants experienced heavy intimidation,
and beatings. Some were forced to leave at gunpoint. "Most of the human rights
abuses in Vojvodina have been committed by Serbian paramilitary organizations and armed
civilians with the acquiescence of local authorities..." The paramilitary groups
"with the active assistance of the [Milosevic] regime...terrorized non-Serbs and
children of mixed marriages in a systematic campaign to drive them from their homes."
||Some Hungarian language schools have been closed down. 7
||The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed voting fraud by
Serbian authorities against Vojvodina Hungarian parties during the recent Yugoslav
parliamentary elections. 7
||Slogans have appeared on homes and public buildings in the province saying: "Hungarians:
Your God is dead and doesn't care for you anymore."
||The Democratic Community of Hungarians in Vojvodina (DCHV) issued a statement
referring to a "sinister plan for the final solution of purging Vojvodina of its
non-Serb ethnic population."
||Today, only about 17% of the province's population of 2 million are ethnic Hungarians.
Hans Küng and Karl-Josef Kuschel, "A Global Ethic: The Declaration of the
Parliament of the World's Religions", pp. 43-44)
Umi Schmetzer, "Hungary gets new ethnic exodus," The Toronto Star,
James Hooper, "Albanians feel betrayed by Americans," Current
"The Conflict in the former Yugoslavia and autonomous region of Vojvodina, and
the need for a more coherent U.S. foreign policy," The Stanton Group,
Peter Kaslik, "Urgent appeal by Hungarian Human Rights Monitor"
1996-JUL-7, at: http://www.newforce.ca/huncor/organ/HHRM/mission.htm
- Human Rights Watch/Helsinki, P. 5; cited in reference 7.
T Carpenter & P. Kislitsyn, "NATO expansion flashpoint #2: The border
between Hungary and Serbia," Cato Institute, 1997-NOV-24.
Human Rights Watch, "World Report 1998: Federal Republic of Yugoslavia,"
"World Report 1998, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Human Rights Developments"
"World Report 1999, Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Human Rights Developments,"
Maps courtesy of ITA's Quick Maps.
Essay author: B.A. Robinson
Originally published: 1999-APR-7
Latest update: 1999-APR-19