Last weekend, the Catalan flag flew not only in Barcelona, but also in Serbia. All offices of the regional party “League of Social Democrats of Vojvodina” (LSV) in the autonomous province of the EU candidate country held up the red and yellow striped banner of the “Estelada Blava” with its iconic white star. Nenad Canak, the president of LSV, even went to Barcelona this weekend to form his own impressions of the controversial referendum on Catalan independence. “This referendum will have serious political consequences,” he said. “Centralized Spain as we know it today will no longer be able to exist.”
Meanwhile, in the Croatian town of Rijeka, the local autonomous party “List for Rijeka” calls on the Croatian Prime Minister and President to break their silence and finally condemn the “brutal violence” perpetrated by the Spanish police against Catalan citizens. The party released a statement saying a country that called on the world to show solidarity on its path to independence had “no right” to look away from “Spain’s shameful intervention “.
A region of secessions
Whether out of consideration for Spain, an EU partner, or because of the ongoing debates, particularly in Serbia, about Kosovo (independent since 2008, but Belgrade refuses to recognize its sovereignty), most leaders of the successor states of the former Yugoslavia have prudently kept silent about the Catalan referendum. However, there are few places in Europe where the struggle for Catalonia is followed with as much attention as in this “region of secessions”, still marked by the Balkan wars of the 1990s.
For many people here, especially older Croats, Bosniaks and Serbs, the vote for Catalan independence revives memories of referendums in the early 1990s that heralded the violent breakup of Yugoslavia. Today, the only active separatist movements in the region are in the multi-ethnic labyrinth of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but demands for greater autonomy are also growing louder in other regions. As in Catalonia, Croatia and Serbia, it is the strongest economic regions of the country that are particularly pushing for more financial autonomy from their central governments.
Fear of redrawing borders
After the Catalan referendum, the Croatian site Index.hr already asked: “Does Istria have the right to independence from Croatia?” The relatively prosperous region of Istria pays far more to Zagreb in tax revenue than it receives in subsidies from the central government. However, even the political leaders of the regional IDS party, favorable to decentralization in Croatia, refute any desire for secession. Ivan Jakovic, who represents the IDS in the European Parliament, told Index that there were certainly people who would like to see an independent Istria: “But that has never been our policy. We want the greatest possible autonomy for Istria, but not an independent state. “
Vojvodina in Serbia was granted the status of an “autonomous province” in 1945, and this autonomy was extended in 1974. Its autonomous status was effectively repealed in 1989 by Serbian autocrat Slobodan Milosevic, then officially reintroduced in 2002, and extended with changes to the Serbian constitution in 2006 to introduce greater financial autonomy. So far, however, demands from regional politicians such as Nenad Canak for a return to the far-reaching 1975 autonomy have fallen on deaf ears in Belgrade.
Read also: The new war of words in the Balkans
Secessionist aspirations as a political calculation
Albanian nationalists’ aspirations for areas of Macedonia and southern Serbia with significant Albanian populations to be united with the motherland and Kosovo to form a “Greater Albania” are hitting a brick wall, no only in Belgrade but within the international community. , Also. There are fears that redrawing borders could trigger new conflicts in a region long marked by ethnic unrest.
Threats of secession are becoming strongest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bosnian Croats, who have until now been forced to unite in a federated state alongside Muslim Bosniaks, are demanding their own entity. Meanwhile, Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik has for years threatened, for tactical reasons, to hold a referendum on secession from the federal state of Republika Srpska (RS). Dodik is deliberately confrontational: for more than a quarter of a century, stoking long-standing ethnic tensions has proven to be the most effective way for Bosnia’s wily political caste to stay in power.
Centrifugal separatist forces in the political region of the former Yugoslavia are also hampered by the deprivations linked to their endless economic transformation. Economically, at least, the independence they fought for – or had to, unwittingly, accept – has so far not brought the successor states the better days they hoped for.
Today, only Slovenes can boast of having a significantly higher standard of living than during the Yugoslav era. Even Croatia, now an EU member, is grappling with high youth unemployment and a new exodus of immigrant workers. Poverty, unemployment and emigration remain assets, even in the jaded waiting room of the EU. EU candidate countries Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia are suspended indefinitely; the only thing keeping them alive is the faint hope of better days to come.
For Bosnia and Herzegovina, which continues to be blocked, even EU candidate status seems light years away. The outlook for Kosovo, Europe’s poor home, is also bleak. Nowadays, even Georgians, Moldovans and Ukrainians can travel to Schengen countries without a visa; Kosovars, on the other hand, still have to spend hours queuing in front of consulates. Belgrade continues to blockade their young state at every turn, and its independence, celebrated so enthusiastically in 2008, has proven to be little more than a miserable extension of the interminable post-war period.