By Aleksej Kišjuhas
“German Chancellor Angela Merkel once caused an outrage by quoting Nietzsche and saying that “multiculturalism is dead.”
If we look at the results of several previous population censuses in the Republic of Serbia, Merkel may have been right – at least when it comes to Serbia, or more precisely, its region of Vojvodina. Simply put, Vojvodina is becoming increasingly less multicultural.
How so? The 2022 census showed a dramatic decrease in the number of inhabitants in our country. If the enumerators are to be believed, around 6.6 million people live in Serbia today, which is around 540,000 (Vojvodina 180,000) fewer people compared to 2011. “More and more people, fewer and fewer Serbs,” read the headline of the Večernje Novosti article. As if Serbs are not people.
Indeed, only in the previous ten years, when the planet’s population reached 8 billion, the number of Serbs in our country decreased by as much as 10.5 percent, which worried demographers, politicians and on-call blood cell counters.
However, how are things with the non-Serbs? Let’s tackle that computational operation and thankless discipline ourselves because the population decline is even more dramatic when it comes to other or non-Serb ethnic groups, especially in Vojvodina. The so-called “national minorities” in the previous decade recorded a demographic decline ranging between 20 to 50 percent, or twice and three times more than the majority population, which puts our autonomous province, which is proud of its 28 ethnic communities, into the category of monocultural and monoethnic regions.
Let’s first focus on the post-WWII census (1948), the census before the 1990s civil war and the last two censuses (2011 and 2022) or the period of the SNS era.
The number of Hungarians in Vojvodina stood at 428,932 (in 1948), then 343,942 (1991), 253,899 (2011), and 184,442 (2022). Therefore, only in the previous ten years, the number of Hungarians decreased by an incredible 27.36 percent. Then, the number of Slovaks stood at 72,032 (in 1948), 66,798 (1991), 52,750 (2011) and 41,730 (2022). In ten years, there are now 21 percent fewer Slovaks. Let’s move on.
The number of Croats in Vojvodina was 134,232 (in 1948), 105,406 (1991), then only 57,900 (2011) and 39,107 (2022), which is also a worrying drop of as much as 32.5 percent in the previous decade. What about Vojvodina Romanians? There were 59,263 of them in 1948, 42,331 (1991), 29,332 (2011) and 23,044 (2022). The ten-year decline is 21.4 percent.
Finally, the Ruthenians – 22,083 in 1948, 18,073 (1991), 14,246 (2011) and 11,483 (in 2022), a 19.4 percent decline over the previous ten years of the “golden age.”
If these (absolute) numbers are too tedious for the readers, here’s a summary – in the previous ten years (2011-2022), Vojvodina lost 32.5% Croats, 27.4% Hungarians, 21.4% Romanians, 21% Slovaks and 19.4% Ruthenians.
And that there are only ethnic communities whose languages are in official use in Vojvodina. Demographically, the even “smaller” minorities from Vojvodina were hardest hit: Ukrainians (20% drop), Bunjevci (33% drop), Macedonians (35% drop) and Germans (37% drop). Finally, the number of Serbian citizens who identify themselves as Montenegrins has decreased by half or 47.5% in the previous ten years.
By the way, the Montenegrin language is in official use in the municipality of Mali Iđoš in Vojvodina, whose Official Gazette is published in three languages (Serbian, Hungarian and Montenegrin). The only ethnic groups in Serbia that recorded an increase in population from 2011 to 2022 are Bosniaks (5.9%), Yugoslavs (16.5) and Russians (222.9%). There could be more Albanians too, but they boycotted the 2011 census, so we can’t be sure.
So, in just ten years, Vojvodina’s Croats and Hungarians lost a third, and Vojvodina’s Slovaks, Romanians and Ruthenians a fifth of their population.
Germans and Macedonians lost two-fifths, and Montenegrins almost half. And for already relatively small ethnic groups, five or ten thousand people fewer means a lot.
As the director of the Institute of Social Sciences, Goran Bašić, points out, by 2050, most of the so-called of traditional minority communities will become marginal. Serbia is one of the few countries in the world that is losing its population the fastest which means that ethnic minorities are even more vulnerable and disappear faster than the majority population.
Do we sometimes consider the social and cultural wealth that we are losing, or are we only interested in natural resources? On the other hand, the authorities in Belgrade have been complaining for days about the natural devastation of Vojvodina and Novi Sad after these storms.
In Serbia, excluding Kosovo (by the way, why do we count the population like this?), the most numerous minority community is the Hungarians. But even then we are talking about a share of only 2.8 percent of the population of Serbia, compared to 3.5 percent of Hungarians ten years ago. Considering all of the above, can we really claim that our country is multicultural?
Today, almost every (half) million-strong city in Europe is incomparably more multicultural than Vojvodina (population 1.75 million) like London, Paris or Berlin, which is normal, but also Birmingham, Lyon, Munich, Dublin, Copenhagen, Krakow or Pécs. While for years we have been enrolling only a few students in the Hungarian, Romanian, Slovak and Ruthenian language and literature departments at the Faculty of Philosophy in Novi Sad, the population of Serbia has been rapidly ageing and dying. We can even say that Vojvodina’s multiculturalism is dying out even faster.
What happened? In the first place, this is the consequence of the relatively low birth rate. This is a feature of all developed societies and let’s not forget that Vojvodina was once the most developed part of Serbia.
Secondly, in almost all societies, processes of acculturation or silent assimilation are at work. And our multiculturalism was often segregative rather than integrative.
But you might argue that there are multilingual road signs and street names, native languages used in documents and schools, and a couple of folklore, local food and folk music festivals. What more could you want?
Thirdly, and this has been particularly obvious in the last ten years, there is the mass emigration of Vojvodina people to the EU countries. Whether they have obtained a new citizenship ornot, the citizens of Vojvodina are rapidly immigrating to the countries of their ethnicity: Hungarians to Hungary, Slovaks to Slovakia, Romanians to Romania, and Ruthenians (without a national state) to Canada.
Ethnic Croats, as well as Serbs who fled Croatia to escape the civil war and settled in Vojvodina, are chasing Croatian citizenships, i.e. EU passport. Today, people are leaving en masse from the once desirable migratory area, rich and fertile Vojvodina. In a society where there is less and less understanding of differences, languages and diversity, multiculturalism is dying out.
This is how multicultural Vojvodina becomes just a memory. It survives only in isolated and segregated pockets of several municipalities in Vojvodina, with a mostly elderly population, and without true intercultural contact…
At the same time, both majority and minority nations in Vojvodina are romanticized today and reduced to folklore and tourist curiosity. In other words, the whole of Vojvodina was reduced to string music, granges, Slovakian cured sausages and Hungarian goulash, and nothing more than that.
It seems that classical music and jazz, as well as modern literature, painting, architecture, theatre and film, were never here – let’s not forget Danilo Kiš, Dragiša Brašovan, Milan Konjović, Aleksandar Tišma, Radomir Konstantinović, Želimir Žilnik, Boris Kovač, Vojislav Despotov and Katalin Ladik. Let’s also not forget powerful industries, canal and railway grids, science, education and developed urban centres.
This is how Vojvodina, once the most industrialized part of Serbia (and the largest part of Yugoslavia), is being re-traditionalized and provincialized. Ethnically, linguistically and culturally, it was reduced to just being the northern Serbian province. Back in the day, it was much more.”
This post is also available in: Italiano