Serbian court ruling sparks funding scramble for Vojvodina’s science academy

Recent political wrangling in Serbia has imperilled research projects of Vojvodina’s regional science academy and its future existence as an official academy, funded though the county budget.

The Vojvodinian Academy of Sciences and Arts will form an NGO in February, as a parallel institution with a different name: Academy of Sciences, Culture and Arts of Vojvodina.

It is a feat of political acrobatics to appease the courts and the government while trying to maintain funding. The hope is that this “temporary bypass” will allow VANU to be funded through a parallel institution, giving it access to funds for culture, according to VANU’s president Julijan Tamaš.

The move follows a ruling of the Serbian constitutional court in July, which struck down a large part of a 2009 law that had granted Vojvodina, the country’s multi-ethnic northern region, autonomy over many of its affairs, including the right to govern its own science sector and fund a science academy.

In December, VANU published an open letter criticising the ruling and highlighting the resulting absence of “clear and well-articulated programmes for improving Vojvodina’s culture and science”. VANU said that there is political pressure to recentralize the country and called attempts to dissolve the academy “not only political violence, but also an act against civilised society”.

Academy officials do not know if they will keep receiving any of the funds promised to it through the Vojvodina county constitution.

Financing VANU costs the county 150,000 Euros a year, a third of which goes to paying academicians, and two thirds to administration and running costs, Tamaš says.

“All in all, these are ridiculously small amounts, but this is not about finances – it is about political rigidity and the arrogance of … nationalists who absolutely do not understand Vojvodina and the way it functions. Science and culture obviously mean nothing to them.”

By forming an NGO, VANU would be able to apply for county budget funding without breaching the court’s ruling. “Both organisations will exist in parallel until the status and existence or dissolution of VANU is resolved,” Tamaš tells Balkan Science Beat.

“If the Consitutional court or the Parliament of the autonomous county of Vojvodina, the academy’s founder, dissolve VANU, the Academy of Sciences, Cultures and Arts of Vojvodina [the NGO] will be its successor,” he adds.

VANU will also be able to apply for grants from the county’s science department which continues to exist, even though it too has been officially banned by the court’s decision, he says. It is uncertain what will happen with research projects currently funded through the department – some may survive by being transferred to the budget of Serbia’s science ministry.

“Formally, our projects have not been cancelled, but we’ll see how this will look in practice,” Tamaš says. He adds that if recent changes are “a scam aiming to extinguish VANU”, jeopardising research projects would help to achieve that goal.

The academy was first established in the former Yugoslavia in 1979. When the Balkan wars began, VANU was annexed to a newly formed branch of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SANU) in Vojvodina in 1992, a casualty of Serbia’s centralisation drive, which also saw Kosovo’s science academy dissolved. 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 (SANU). The two academies both lay claims to VANU’s former residence in Novi Sad, where SANU branch has resided since the early 1990s.

“This is fully acceptable to us,” SANU president Nikola Hajdin told Novosti newspaper earlier this month. “It is well known that we were passionately opposed to the re-establishment of the Vojvodinian parallel academy which had as its aim to push out the existing branch of SANU in Novi Sad.”

Mićo Tatalović

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