Jewish Communities in the Political and Legal Systems of Post-Yugoslav Countries

By Vukicevic, Boris | Trames, September 2017 | Go to article overview

Jewish Communities in the Political and Legal Systems of Post-Yugoslav Countries


Vukicevic, Boris, Trames


Abstract After the dissolution of Yugoslavia, the Jewish community within Yugoslavia was also split up, and now various Jewish communities exist in the seven post-Yugoslav countries. Although all of these communities are relatively small, their size, influence, and activity vary. The political and legal status of Jewish communities, normatively speaking, differs across the former Yugoslav republics. Sometimes Jews or Jewish communities are mentioned in constitutions, signed agreements with governments, or are recognized in laws that regulate religious communities. Despite normative differences, they share most of the same problems--a slow process of return of property, diminishing numbers due to emigration and assimilation, and, although on a much lower scale than in many other countries, creeping anti-Semitism. They also share the same opportunities--a push for more minority rights as part of 'Europeanization' and the perception of Jewish communities as a link to influential investors and politicians from the Jewish diaspora and Israel.

Keywords: Jewish communities, minority rights, post-communism, former Yugoslavia

1. Introduction

In 1948, the first postwar census in Yugoslavia counted 6,538 people of Jewish nationality, although many Jews identified as other nationalities (e.g. Croat, Serb) in the census while identifying religiously as Jewish, as seen by the fact that Jewish municipalities (or communities) across Yugoslavia had 11,934 members (Boeckh 2006:427). The number of Jews in Yugoslavia decreased in the following years after the foundation of the State of Israel. Unlike most other socialist countries, Yugoslavia (who played a role in the foundation of Israel and was one of the first countries to recognize it) allowed its Jews to move there if they wanted to. While in the Eastern bloc there were waves of anti-Semitism, and Yugoslavia was not an exception, since the 1950s anti-Semitism remained at a low level, even after Yugoslavia forged close alliances with Egypt and other Arab countries and ceased relations with Israel immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967 (Boeckh, 427). In Yugoslavia, the Jewish community enjoyed freedom with regard to the organization of communal life, the conduct of religious and cultural activities, and most notably the community's ties with international Jewish organizations (Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 21, 2007:417).

While the number of Jews in Yugoslavia was small (and it remains even smaller in the newly independent countries in the region), like in other countries, Jews have played an active role in society, and there have been many Jewish people who made an impact and were or are influential. Among this remarkable number of people are communist politician and painter Mosa Pijade, composers Vatroslav Lisinski and Enriko Josif, composers and conductors Oskar Danon and Alfi Kabiljo, writers Isak Samokovlija, Danilo Kis, Ivan Goran Kovacic, Slavko Goldstein, Stanislav Vinaver, Oskar Davico, David Albahari, Judita Salgo, Filip David, Aleksandar Tisma and Berta Bojetu, explorer Tibor Sekelj, art collector Erich Slomovic, film director Rajko Grlic, film producer and Oscar winner Branko Lustig, historian and diplomat Ivo Goldstein, actresses Rahela Ferari, Mira Furlan, Eva Ras and Seka Sablic, actor Predrag Ejdus, architect Hinko Bauer, publisher Geca Kon, physicist and theatre director Hugo Klajn, linguist Ivan Klajn, diplomat Sven Alkalaj, translator and writer Eugen Verber, journalist and TV-host Mira Adanja Polak, and many others. Many of those people, to this day, are household names in former Yugoslavia. It should also be mentioned that Theodor Herzl's father was originally from Zemun, now part of Belgrade in Serbia, and that Tomy Lapid (born Tomislav Lampel), the Israeli politician who was a leader of the once-influential Shinui party, was born in Novi Sad, capital of the Serbian province Vojvodina (his son, Yair Lapid, born after his father made aliyah, is the current leader of the opposition party, Yeish Atid). …

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