Funding for Vojvodina’s science academy under threat

Vojvodina’s science academy, VANU, has published a letter to the public, both Serbian and international, calling on them to defend its existence as a regional academy dealing with issues that are neglected on the national level.

This regional academy is in danger of being shut down for the second time since it was established as part of a decentralisation drive of the former Yugoslavia in 1979. When the Balkan wars began, VANU was closed in 1992 (together with Kosovo’s science academy), a casualty of Serbia’s centralisation drive.

VANU bounced back in 2004, following a decision of the Vojvodina county parliament in 2003, which also promised to provide funding. The re-establishment of the academy was controversial in Serbia, especially among the members of its national Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts.

But a recent ruling (10 July) by the Serbian constitutional court (coinciding with the election of a nationalistic government under which VANU was originally cancelled) stripped Vojvodina of its jurisdiction over several areas, including the funding of its own science academy.

VANU says there have been “controversies and unacceptable trends” resulting from that ruling.

“Members of VANU are primarily warning against the destructive consequences that are already on the horizon as a result of political pressures aimed to re-centralise the country,” the letter says.

According to the letter, following the court’s decision the county’s politicians have yet to propose “clear and well-articulated programmes for improving Vojvodina’s culture and science”.

This means that while the court ruling does not forbid VANU’s existence, it does forbid the county’s government funding the academy through its science budget.

The letter says that VANU should have strategic and practical support from Vojvodina’s political bodies.

VANU sees particular danger in the escalation of “conservative, ethnocentric, political campaigns to dissolve the autonomous county of Vojvodina” which are based on “untruths, prejudice and manipulation of fears”.

It says that the reference to ‘Vojvodina’ in the title of VANU is not and cannot be understood as a “nationalistic” or “state-building”; instead it draws on the region’s multicultural and multiethnic history.

The letter further notes that VANU’s work deals with issues that are neglected in Serbia but nonetheless relevant to the county.

The academy claims that its members are vetted and elected based on recommendations from research institutions or three academic peers. Elections also take into consideration the candidates’ citations and the number and nature of their scientific or artistic achievements.

The letter says that VANU has collaborated with academies and research institutions in Hungary, Austria, Slovakia, Germany, Poland, Romania, Montenegro, and Ukraine.

“It is an elementary human right to congregate for education, science, culture and arts, so attempts to cancel VANU represent not only political violence but also an act against civilisation,” it says.

Mićo Tatalović

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