Serbs conscripting Hungarian students

August 21, 1998

Students from the Hungarian community in Serbia's Vojvodina province are being conscripted by the Serbs to fight the ethnic-Albanian Kosovo Liberation Army.

Kosovo and Vojvodina, ethnic enclaves that were autonomous provinces in Communist times, are only superficially comparable. In Kosovo, Albanians are the overwhelming majority - Albanians say they are more than 90 per cent of the population, but Serbs say they are only 77 per cent. In Vojvodina, Hungarians are the largest ethnic group but they do not constitute an overall majority.

Kosovo was cut off from Albania in the Communist era, but the Vojvodina-Hungary border had few controls. Many Hungarians from northern Vojvodina commuted daily to jobs in the south Hungarian city of Szeged. They included many non-academic staff at the renowned Szeged Biological Research Institute.

Moreover, ethnic protests in Vojvodina were mainly over low-level administrative decisions, as when some municipalities replaced bilingual signposts with one in Serbian only.

In resposne to the problem, Hungary's new foreign minister, Janos Martonyi, and prime minister Viktor Orban have raised the issue of the Vojvodina Hungarians, and a female delegation has had an (fruitless) interview with the Yugoslav president, Slobodan Milosovic.

The Vojvodina Hungarians say that they do not want to get drawn into other ethnic conflicts in the region. Though they will continue to press for "autonomy" - in language use, collective rights and equal opportunities - they will not follow the Kosovar Albanians into using force.

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