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Joint Council of Municipalities
Joint Council of Municipalities

The Joint Council of Municipalities in Croatia (Croatian: Zajedničko vijeće općina; Serbian: Заједничко веће општина/ Zajedničko veće opština; shortly: ЗВО / ZVO) is elected consultative sui generis body which constitute a form of cultural self-government of Serbs in eastern Croatian borderland Danube region. The body was established in the initial aftermath of the Croatian War of Independence as a part of international community' efforts to peacefully settle the conflict in self-proclaimed Eastern Slavonia, Baranya and Western Syrmia. Establishment of the ZVO was one of explicit provisions of the Erdut Agreement which called upon the United Nations to establish it's UNTAES transitional mission.

The Joint Council of Municipalities is not an autonomous administrative unit but a form of cultural autonomy in conformity with relevant Croatian law including provisions on local government cooperation. The body and some of its partners are actively pushing for formal legal recognition of ZVO legal personality within the Constructional Act on the Rights of National Minorities with limited success. The aim of the proposed change is to transform its current standing of an free association into more transparently institutionalized one.

The Joint Council of Municipalities is the founding member of the Serb National Council, national coordination of the Serbs in Croatia.

History


During the Croatian War of Independence, a self-proclaimed Serb Autonomous Region SAO Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia (Eastern Slavonia) was formed in along the Danube river in eastern Croatia. SAO Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia was ethnically cleansed of its non-Serb population and it became part of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina. Within the Republic of Serbian Krajina Eastern Slavonia was geographically separated from the rest of the entity, preserved certain institutional specificity and contrary to the rest of Krajina which aligned itself with Republika Srpska, Eastern Slavonia closely aligned its policy with the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Several Serb military and political officials, including Milošević, were later indicted and in some cases jailed for war crimes committed during and after the conflict in Eastern Slavonia.[10][11]

In summer of 1995 Croatian military took control of the Republic of Serbian Krajina in operations Flash and Storm. The only area of Croatia that remained under Serb control was Eastern Slavonia.[12] Contrary to Krajina, international community under the United States leadership opposed military solution in Eastern Slavonia and insisted on reintegration on the basis of preservation of multi-ethnic character of the region. Opposition to military solution was fueled by need not to undermine peace efforts in Bosnia and by humanitarian consequences of previous two operations. Contrary to Krajina it was expected that Federal Republic of Yugoslavia would get involved in the conflict in Eastern Croatia potentially leading to further escalation.

After Croatian expression of readiness to intervene militarily, international community efforts and agreement of government in Belgrade local Serb leaders concluded that an agreement is necessity if they do not want to face the same fate as those in the western parts of the Krajina. Meanwhile, Slobodan Milošević and Franjo Tuđman reached a consensus via the Dayton Agreement and on 12 November, the Erdut Agreement ended the war in eastern Croatia.[12] Transitional period was initiated in which the region was reintegrated and directly governed by the United Nations Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Sirmium. It was one of the rare cases in which UN created an protectorate and directly governed the region in question. As an ultimate arbiter in 1997 the UNTAES established predominantly Serb municipalities in the region.[13]

The Erdut agreement guaranteed the Serbs "the highest level of internationally recognized human rights and fundamental freedoms". The Serb community was given the right to "appoint a joint Council of Municipalities" on the basis of which the body was formed.[12] The Council was established in 1997[2][14] The Council is one of the founding members of the Serb National Council.[15][16]

Forms of state organized or free municipal organization were known in the Croatian legal system since the time of the Socialist Republic of Croatia within the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The so-called communities of municipalities were established in the 1974 constitution as a first level administrative units within the republic. From 1986 their self-governing rights were partially limited. The concept of free municipal association was used by Serb nationalists in Croatia at an early stage of conflict in the formation of the self-proclaimed Republic of Serbian Krajina. At that time Croatian Serb politician Jovan Rašković argued for the creation of the "integral region" via establishment of an Association of Municipalities.[17] While Croatian legal system at the time formally permitted such form of municipal organization the move was perceived as highly controversial and led to some of the first clashes.[17]

Idea of Serb municipal cooperation reappeared in Eastern Slavonia after the collapse of the Republic of Serbian Krajina. Croatian Government unequivocally refused some of the initial comments and proposals by the United States President Bill Clinton and Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith which included references to previous Z-4 Plan proposal. This led to the abandonment of the idea of Serb territorial autonomy in the region. This limited future cooperation to inter-municipal forms of cooperation. As any such cooperation might have been perceived as antagonistic and controversial and therefore prevented, right to establish a joint council of municipalities was explicitly included in the Erdut Agreement. In June of 1996 civil society organizations from the region collected 50,000 signatures and on 28 July that same year they organized demonstrations "For the Just Peace" in Vukovar in which they requested that the region remain one territorial unit with autonomous executive, legislative and judicial powers.[18] In the second half of the year they asked Transitional Administrator Jacques Paul Klein to keep the region as an Association of Serb Municipalities with executive powers.[18]

In January 1997 expanded session of the regional Executive Council responded to Croatian Letter of Intent by requesting creation of a new Serb county and demilitarization of the region.[18] Vojislav Stanimirović told to media from Belgrade that by dividing Serbs into two counties Croatia is trying to dilute political initiatives by Serb community.[18] This division led to demonstrations which reached its peak on 11 February when 12,000 gathered in Vukovar.[18] Regional Assembly called referendum on the territorial integrity of the region on 5 March 1997 with reported turnout of 100,275 voters or 77.40% out of which 99.01% voted for the region to stay undivided within Croatia.[18] UNTAES officials stated that the question asked in the referendum was never one option recognized in the Erdut Agreement.[18] Later on Vojislav Stanimirović met with Croatian president Franjo Tuđman where Stanimirović stated that "the best option would be a Serb country, but if neither Croatia or international community is willing to accept it then the formation of the council of Serb municipalities as planned in Erdut Agreement is the second best option".[18]

Legal basis for the establishment of the Joint Council of Municipalities was provided in the article 12 of the Basic Agreement on the Region of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia more commonly known as the Erdut Agreement. Signing of the agreement led to the establishment of the UN led transitional administration in the region. Signing of the agreement was welcomed in the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1023 and the process it initiated was further elaborated in resolutions number 1025, 1037 and 1043.

Towards the end of the transitional administration Croatian Government addressed members of the United Nations Security Council on 13 January 1997 in the Letter of Intent of the Government of the Republic of Croatia in Regard to Finalization of Reintegration of Areas Under the Transitional Administration in local context more commonly known simply as the Letter of Intent. This letter was perceived as a precondition for successful end of the UNTAES mission's mandate and it was signed by then Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Kostović. In it Croatian Government reassured the United Nations Security Council of its intention to organize free and fair local elections in which Serbs and other ethnic communities in the region will be enabled to participate. Article 4 of the letter provided guarantees of proportional Serb participation in political life in Vukovar-Srijem and Osijek-Baranja counties on the basis of the Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities in the Republic of Croatia (the first version of the act adopted in 1991) and the Law on Local Government and Self-Government. Article 4 state that the Serb community in the areas which were under the UNTAES administration will form the Joint Council of Municipalities. The letter state the intention to hold regular meeting between Council's representatives and the President of Croatia each four months.

The founding Charter was signed on 15 July 1997 at the Osijek Airport in the presence of UNTAES Head Jacques Paul Klein. In early August the president of Committee for Civic, Human and Minority Rights, Branko Jurišić, complained to representatives of the European Union Monitoring Mission that the Council had not been registered in Zagreb although it had already begun to carry out most of its tasks on the ground. This condition would last until the end of UNTAES mission in 1998.

31st Plenary Meeting Venice Commission on 20-21 June 1997 adopted its Memorandum on the revision of the Croatian constitutional law of Human Rights and Rights of Minorities in which it recommended "inclusion of elements of the "Letter of intent of the Government of the Republic of Croatia on the peaceful reintegration of the region under transitional administration" in the Revised Constitutional Law".[19] Commission expressed its opinion that revised Constitutional Act should:

Already before the end of the UNTAES mission on 15 January 1998 Croatian Parliament suspended implementation of certain elements of the Constitutional Law on Human Rights and Freedoms and Rights of National and Ethnic Communities or Minorities in the Republic of Croatia related to territorial autonomy of the Autonomous Districts of Knin and Glina. In that respect the law was not fully in force and both the Government and the Venice Commission favored introduction of a new constitutional act whereby the commission recommended that “The rights of national minorities acquired by international agreements before the date this constitutional act takes effect may not be restricted or changed by this Constitutional Act”.[20]

Number of meetings took place between the 1997 Government's decision on establishment of the Joint Council of Municipalities and 1999 registration in which Serb political representatives and members of Croatian Government negotiated the appropriate format of registration of the new entity.[21] Representatives of the council requested that together with its sui-generis nature it should have properties of public-legal entity.[21] Members of Croatian Government were divided whether to support the request for this type of registration or not which blocked the council from participation in some forms of official communication and standards and fixed streamlines of public funding.[21]

Upon the insistence from Serb representatives and the Venice Commission temporary solution was reached until the enactment of the new Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities in the Republic of Croatia in 2003.[21] Based on it Joint Council of Municipalities was registered on the basis of the Government of Croatia formal decision published in official gazette Narodne novine (NN 137/1998, document number 1673) while Serb National Council was registered on the basis of the Law on Non-government Organizatons.[21] While the Government of Croatia formal decision defines the Joint Council of Municipalities as a public-legal entity in practice it enjoyed the rights and obligations of non-governmental organization making both organizations just one among many entities instead of legally recognized umbrella organizations in Eastern Slavonia and Croatia respectively.[21]

From the end of the war until 2010 the Council functioned as an association of municipalities. In this period, the Government was required to fund its work,[22][23] but the Council's legal position was below the level anticipated by the Croatian Government.[24] In 2010, Croatian parliament amended to the Constitutional Act on the Rights of National Minorities.[25] According to the proposal, the Council was to become a special administrative unit of Croatia that would be located in the territory of two counties.[26] The proposed article of the constitutional law was

This decision provoked a heated Parliamentary debate. Opponents argued that this created a kind of local government with no parallel in the rest of the country. Milorad Pupovac, MP of the Serbian national minority condemned the MPs who were willing to recognise the full independence of Kosovo, while objecting to the autonomy of the local Serbian community.[27] President of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party Vojislav Stanimirović attacked MP Vesna Pusić (then-President of the National Committee for Monitoring Accession Negotiations with EU).[28]

At an emergency Council meeting the day after the constitutional changes, President Dragan Crnogorac condemned statements by Pusić, Ingrid Antičević-Marinović, Josip Leko and Zoran Vinković.[29] He also said, We are not autonomists or separatists, we are legally elected representatives in local government and members of Council.[29] Pusić explained her attitude later in weekly Novosti where she said she believed that the Council should definitely exist but that it did not need constitutional protection.[26] Eventually a compromise was reached that the Council would receive preferred status, ensured by an ordinary, not constitutional law.[30]

JCM is the target of sharp criticism of Croatian right-wing groups. The Croatian Party of Rights[31] claims that the council represents a continuation and continuity of Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia.[32]

Structure


The Council consists of an elected Council Assembly, the Commission for Election and Appointment, the Secretariat, the Office of the President and two Offices of Vice-Presidents who are the Vice-Presidents of the two counties.[4] Four committees are an integral part of the Council:[33]

  • Committee for Civic, Human and Minority Rights
  • Committee for Education, Culture and Sport
  • Committee for Media, Information and Faith Issues
  • Television Production Council

At least once every four months, the Council delegation meets with the President.[34]

[35]

The Council has established contacts with the Republic of Serbia.[36][37][38][39] The Council takes part in projects with the EU and the Ministry of Diaspora of Republic of Serbia.[6]

Assembly of the Joint Council of Municipalities is the representative body for the Serb community in Eastern Slavonia. The Assembly is made up of elected members of the Serbian ethnic community from Eastern Slavonia regardless of their party affiliation. They are elected in parts of Vukovar-Srijem and Osijek-Baranja counties. The election procedure and umber of Councillors is defined in the Statute of the Joint Council of Municipalities.[40]

The municipal councils in which the Serbian community constitute majority, appoints 2 Councillors to the Assembly of the Joint Council of Municipalities.

The statute provides regulation for city councils in which Serb community constitute majority or minority of the population. If Serbs are majority is certain town in Eastern Slavonia they appoint the following number of Councillors:

  • cities with population over 30,000- 6 Councillors
  • cities with population from 10,000 to 30,000- 4 Councillors
  • cities with population up to 10,000- 3 Councillors

The municipal or city councils in which the Serbian community is a minority, appoint half these numbers.

Most members of Council Assembly of Joint Council of Municipalities are members of Independent Democratic Serb Party. In 2017 VI Convocation was formed by 24 delegates, 2 from each of Beli Manastir, Borovo, Markušica, Trpinja, Negoslavaci, Šodolovaci, Jagodnjak and Erdut and 1 from each of Stari Jankovci, Nijemci, Darda, Kneževi Vinogradi, Popovac and Tompojevci.[41] Deputies of Vukovar-Srijem and Osijek-Baranja are appointed members of the Assembly. 2 delegates for Vukovar were not appointed in 2017 and their appointment was postponed for a short period.[41]

The third JCM President is Dragan Crnogorac from Independent Democratic Serb Party.

Independent Democratic Serb Party   Non-party

Symbols


As an entity of cultural autonomy Joint Council of Municipalities defines official national and cultural symbols which are used in eastern Croatia. Decision on flag, coat of arms and anthem of Serbs in eastern Croatia was made on 14 November 1997.[42] Flag described in the statute of the Joint Council of Municipalities is identical to the Flag of Serbs of Croatia subsequently accepted by the Serb National Council.[42] As such it is used around the country on different minority institutions. In addition to flag council's statute define the usage of the Coat of Arms of Serbs of Croatia which is based on traditional double-headed heraldic Serbian eagle and Serbian cross on a red shield.[42] Behind the shield is a mantle whose internal side is dark blue fringed in the old-gold and with a mitre on top.[42] As the Serb National Council does not define the coat of arms it is therefore used exclusively in eastern Croatia.[42] The statute of the Joint Council of Municipalities defines Bože pravde as the anthem of Serbian national minority.[42] While majority of ethnic communities in Croatia use symbols of their mother countries it is not the case with Serbs in eastern Croatia as they accepted their symbols during the existence of Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and modern symbols of the Republic of Serbia were accepted only in 2006.[42]

International Cooperation


Over the years the council established contact with various international representatives and partners. Council officials had formal meetings with foreign officials, including with former President of Serbia Boris Tadić,[43] US Ambassador in Zagreb,[44] and President of the Government of Vojvodina, Bojan Pajtić.[45] The council is supporting its member municipalities in joint presentation at international events such as trade fairs.

Member municipalities


The municipalities part of the Council are: Trpinja, Erdut, Markušica, Borovo, Jagodnjak, Negoslavci and Šodolovci.[46] These municipalities are all located in Vukovar-Syrmia and Osijek-Baranja counties. Jagodnjak, Markušica, Šodolovci and Trpinja have a development index of less than 50% of the Croatian average,[47] among the poorest municipalities in Croatia. Borovo, Erdut and Negoslavci have an index of between 50–75%.[47] According to 2001 census, these municipalities had a population of 29,254 inhabitants and an area of 587.65 square kilometres, comparable with Isle of Man by territory and with Gibraltar by population. The Council's mandate extends to protecting the rights of all 60,500 Serbs who live in territory of the former Eastern Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia.[48] The Joint Council of Municipalities is not a body of territorial autonomy although its mandate is territorially defined.[49]

Any municipality or town in these two counties where Serbs constitute a certain percentage of the population automatically participate in its work. However, no authority of municipalities was formally transferred to the Council. The municipalities also co-operate outside the Council in matters that are not within Council jurisdiction, such as joint appearances at fairs.[50][51]

Images


Education


On the territory of JCM members, in most public schools classes are given in separate Serbian and Croatian language classes. This practice is followed in Vukovar, Beli Manastir and villages inhabited by minority communities that are located outside member municipalities. No private schools operate in the area. Secondary schools are located in Dalj (High School Dalj) and Borovo (part of Vukovar high school). No institutions of higher education operate there. The majority of students attend University of Novi Sad, University of Osijek, University of Belgrade, University of Zagreb and University of Banja Luka. The Cultural and Scientific Center "Milutin Milanković" is located in Dalj. Committee for Education, Culture and Sport of Joint Council of Municipalities conducts activities aimed at fostering the Serbian language and Serbian Cyrillic alphabet, through preservation of memories of important individuals and events from the past of Serbian state and ethnic group.[69] Joint Council of Municipalities supports the registration of Serbian language public schools in which classes.

Culture


JCM organises multiple cultural events: "Selu u pohode" (English: "Village Revisited"), "Međunarodni festival dečijeg folklora" (English: "International Festival of Child Folklore"), "Horsko duhovno veče" (English: "Choir Spiritual Night") and "Izložba likovnog stvaralaštva" (English: "The exhibition of fine art"). Veteran Football League brings together 10 soccer clubs. The Council sponsors Chess Leagues and a Shooting League. The Council also publishes a monthly magazine Izvor[4] (English: "Source") and, in co-operation with Radio Television of Serbia and Radio Television of Vojvodina, it broadcasts twice per month a TV show named "Hronika Slavonije, Baranje i zapadnog Srema" (English: "Chronicle of Slavonia, Baranja and Western Syrmia").[33] New media project named srbi.hr[70] started in April 2018 in a form of web portal. JCm collaborates with local minority media such as Radio Borovo, and has a 25% stake in Radio Dunav in Vukovar[71] and educational institutions such as Serbian Orthodox Secondary School.[72]

On 23 May 2011, JCM celebrated the "Day of the Joint Council of Municipalities". The day began by laying flowers on the grave of the first President of Council, Miloš Vojnović at a New cemetery in Vukovar.[73][74] After that, in the hotel "Lav", a ceremony took place. Council President Dragan Crnogorac stated:

See also


Further reading


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