[Editor’s note: I’m often asked why Natural Earth has units between admin-0 and admin-1 and this week the Economist has the perfect map showing why. Vojvodina is a semi-independent region within the sovereign state and country of Serbia. It has a regional capital and is formed of admin-1 units (“states” in the US) and the “region” of Serbia proper is also formed of admin-1 units. Together they form the “country” of Serbia. You’ll find these type of sub-national polygons in Natural Earth’s admin-0 “details” units and map-subunits.]
Republished from the Economist.
Dec 30th 2009 | BACKA TOPOLA AND NOVI SAD
A Serbian province wins greater self-governance
SERBIAN nationalists are outraged over a new autonomy statute for Vojvodina, their northern province. Their country has in effect been shrinking for two decades, and this may be the thin end of a wedge leading to Vojvodina’s independence. After all, Kosovo and Vojvodina had equally extensive autonomy until Slobodan Milosevic scrapped it in 1989. And in February 2008 Kosovo, whose population is overwhelmingly Albanian, declared independence.
Such scaremongering is nonsense, says Bojan Pajtic, Vojvodina’s prime minister. So are comparisons with Catalonia and Scotland, where autonomy is based on language or history. Some 65% of Vojvodina’s 2m people are Serbs who have no wish for independence. Moreover, compared with the autonomy the province had between 1974 and 1989, the powers now being devolved look modest. Indeed, sceptics say what is really at stake is a battle for party power, influence and money between Mr Pajtic and Serbia’s president, Boris Tadic.
Mr Pajtic rejects such claims. What Vojvodina has gained, he says, is the ability to develop just like other European regions. But Relja Drazic, a publisher based in Novi Sad, the region’s capital, who otherwise welcomes more autonomy, sees this as grandstanding.
Most locals seem not to care much, partly because they do not know what more autonomy will mean in practice. In the past Vojvodina has seen devastating wars and big migrations that have made it one of the most ethnically mixed places in the Balkans. After the second world war, ethnic Germans were driven out and their empty villages repopulated, mainly by Bosnian Serbs. The Balkan wars of the 1990s led to more migration. Vojvodina has six official languages, including Ruthenian and Slovak.
Hungarians (some 14% of the population) comprise the biggest minority. But over the past two decades younger Hungarians have drifted back to Hungary. In the small town of Backa Topola, whose population is mostly Hungarian, Janos Hadzsy, a journalist, laments that anyone with enough brains runs away. Yet though much of Vojvodina remains poor, some parts have done well. Much of the province is flat and fertile farmland, and there is some thriving small industry as well.
Vojvodina is also home to Serbia’s most successful brand: the Exit music festival, created in 2000, which has done more than anything else to improve Serbia’s post-war image. Its manager, Bojan Boskovic, talks of turning Novi Sad into the Edinburgh of the Balkans. He is speaking of culture, not politics.