April 1-2, 2004

Hungarian Human Rights Foundation, New York

Positive experiences of autonomous regions as a source of inspiration for conflict resolution in Europe
Report: Political Affairs Committee (CoE)
(PDF-document, 60 p. - Explorer-Browser recomanded)

Link zur Debatte

Autonomy and Integration -
International Conference on the Future
of Self-Governance

Hungarian Human Rights Foundation
Post Office Box J, Gracie Station
New York, NY 10028

Organized by
the Hungarian National Council of Transylvania and
Pro Minoritate Foundation
Szováta/Sovata, Romania

Presentation by Andreas Gross, Council of Europe Rapporteur

Ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to thank my colleague for this kind introduction. I am very happy to be able to discuss with you autonomy, because I know that you know something about it, that you like the concept and that you are engaged. I will not bother you with summing up the report, because I noted that you are familiar with it. Also, it is too long.

But I would like to show that we, together, have a specific reading of this report. You have a special perspective which is in the general perspective of democracybuilding and strengthening democracy in Europe. Being engaged in autonomy and decentralization at home is an element of democracybuilding and strengthening democracy in Europe. The most challenging point of today's political work is to bring the democratic institutions closer to the people, to bring the democratic policy closer to the variety of society.

I think this is a very important step in the ongoing process of building democracy. You never have perfect democracies, you always have a process of democratization. In every country you can improve democracy. I think, in Romania, as in other countries, the engagement for autonomy is one element of this improving and strengthening of the democratic structure, and bringing people closer to democracy and to the state, in order to integrate the people behind, and with, the state.

I will focus on this in the second part of my contribution. In the first part I will stress why I think there are two different readings of my report and two different perspectives. I will show you the other one, which is perhaps a little bit less important for you, but which was very important for the Council of Europe.

The reason I prepared the report was not exactly to focus on your problems. The reason for this report requested by colleagues was that we had the idea that with autonomy you can integrate the unity of the state with the diversity of societies. Because this has not been done in many countries, we face violent conflicts, even wars in some nationstates. Wars, like in Kosovo, for instance, where the Albanian minority has not been integrated with the Serbian majority of the state.

What we now also face is that the Serbian minority is not integrated with the Albanian majority in Kosovo. That is a classic problem of minority rights and the integration of minorities and majorities. We also have a war -- the biggest wound in Europe -- in Chechnya. We have a so called "frozen" war in Abkhazia, that is the Western part of Georgia, where I have observed the elections. We have a peace agreement, which is not certain how long it will last, between Serbia and Montenegro. There, also, we thought about using the concept of autonomy to really integrate the state which is not so perfect yet, I think. It is also interesting for you that we have in Moldova, Transnistria -- in what I think is perhaps the most probable of all of these five cases I've just mentioned -- where we will use autonomy experiences to bring in Transnistria without doing harm to the local community of Transnistria when they will be part of the Moldovan state.

I did, as you know, study the successful experiences of autonomy especially in Holland, where my big friend -- Gunnar Jansson, truly is Mr. Autonomy. I am only a modest scholar next to him. Although he was a police chief, he is still a good democrat. There is something the Romanian police could learn from Mr. Jansson in this sense as well. (Not only the Romanian police, but also the Swiss police.) And the other good example, the other fantastic example, is South Tyrol. I will not speak about these two examples, because Mr. Pan and Mr. Jansson are much more able to do so. But I tried to develop 25 factors which can be seen as factors which made autonomy successful in these two countries. And then you can look if these 25 factors apply to Moldova, to Kosovo, to Chechnya, to Abkhazia, to Montenegro, for instance, and to others. And then you can draw lessons, so to say. You can learn from these cases when you want to apply autonomy to the resolution and prevention of conflict, and to integrate diverse society in one state.

Now, in the second part of my contribution, I would like to emphasize nine of these elements, which you can learn when you want to use autonomy, because this was also a specific subtle point of the report. I did not say that you have to do autonomy, you have to use it -- this is up to the people to decide. But I said, when you use autonomy, you have to pay attention to these and these points. And now I, will try very briefly to tell you these 9 points. You find them also in your files, but these are the most important lessons to be learned.

The first point is a basic one, and I am happy that at the conference in Budapest in December this was very much emphasized. Autonomy is an agreement between the central state and the region. It is not an imposition, and in this sense it shows you that you can become autonomous by discussing, by negotiating, by interrelating with the others. So the others are your partners and not your enemies. This is very important.

The second point is that every agreement needs to be dynamic. This is perhaps the biggest lesson of Aaland Island. They did it in the perfect way. It needs to be a process. Like democracy, autonomy is also an ongoing process. And in this agreement, you have to define clearly what competencies go to the region and what competencies stay with the central power, and where they act together.

The third point is that the separation -- this is an important message -- has to be put into the constitution, because a change in the constitution is more difficult to avoid than a change in the law. When it is enshrined in the constitution, when it is rooted in the constitution, the confidence of the people that this will be stable is higher than when it is only a law, which can be changed easily.

The fourth point you can learn from these experiences when you want to use autonomy is that the region also has to have an effective representation and participation at the central level. The region is a part of the state, and in this sense the region has to be an element of the decision-making process at the central level. You can also say at the national level, at the federal level, as you wish. On the other hand, the competencies that were transferred to the region have to be managed in a democratic way at the local and the regional level. And the democratic way means that every citizen has the right to be respected by all, and especially the minority in the majority has special rights.

So you can judge the quality of decentralization and the quality of autonomy also by the way the regional majority treats the minority in its own region. This is, I think, the fifth point one should stress.

The sixth is that when you have autonomy, you have to have funds. You have to have a budget at your own disposal. What I also very much liked in the Aaland case, that these funds are, to a certain percentage, counted in proportion to the production of the nation as a whole. Which means when a nation state does well, the region also does better. This is a means of linking the interest of the region to the interest of the state. And this is one element of strengthening integration and shows that autonomy helps integration and does not threaten the unity of the nation-state, so to say.

Then, very important are the seventh or the eighth but last point -- that conflicts are totally normal in free societies, and conflicts have nothing to do with violence. The better the policy of conflict resolution, the less conflicts become violent. In this sense, in Aaland and in other countries you have common bodies where the central state and the region are represented and they are the bodies which resolve disputes over interpretation of the agreement, and over new challenges the state and the region face.

The last point which has been very interesting in both cases -- Aaland and South Tyrol -- is that they would not have been such success stories if the international community had not been engaged. I think Mr. Pan would also agree that were Austria and Italy as states not committed, were Great Britain, Sweden and Finland not committed, were the United nations not committed in the case of South Tyrol, and were the League of Nations not committed in the case of Aaland, both would not exist, so to say.

To say something very difficult for democrats, nobody liked the ruling of the League of Nations in 1920 in the case of Aaland. The Swedes were very unhappy that they lost Aaland, the Finns were very unhappy that they had to give so much power to Aaland, and the islanders were not happy that they had to become part of Finland, because they wanted to remain in Sweden. So, nobody liked it. If they had to vote, it would have been 5%, or something like that. But today, everybody is very happy. This is a big contradiction, which is not resolvable for democrats, because I would never accept such a decision-making process. But it happened in 1920, and it went fantastically well, because the wisdom of the League of Nations was larger than the perspective of each party. No party alone was able to solve the question, but the wisdom of the League of Nations did.

So, I think those who engage for autonomy have to look for help and support abroad, and they have, perhaps, at some point to invite other people to mediate, to build bridges, which are not so easy to build when you are part of the dispute.

Now, I would like to come back to my introduction. I would like to show you that you have a slightly different approach to the issue, because I think -- and I hope that I'm correct -- that we do not have to solve a war here, and we do not even have to prevent a war. But we have to bring the future together with history. We have to bring a diverse society together with a unitary state. We have to bring together people with their own culture, together in a state which has, until now, been so alienated unto itself.

In this sense, engaging for autonomy is engaging to strengthen democracy. Or you can also say that building autonomy is building and strengthening democracy. And you can show this in six elements.

The first point is that each autonomy is about sharing power, the sharing of sovereignty. Democracy is also about power sharing, the sharing of sovereignty.

Second is that autonomy is about the decentralization of power. You can also say that it is about multipolarization of power, multicentralization of power. Which means, as you deepen democracy, you make the political hierarchy flatter. This is very important. When democracy is flattened, the hierarchy is flattened. When democracy is decentralized, no one has so much power that he has the privilege not to learn. This is very important.

Third, democracy enables the people in society to learn from one another, and when some people have too much, power they have the "privilege" not to learn. This is dangerous for society. The better democracy is built, the less people have this ambiguous privilege not to have to learn. This is very important.

Fourth, autonomy is a way to bring power closer to the people, to respect the specificity of the people, and to acknowledge that conflicts, as I said, are natural in free societies. They are the children of freedom, really. But the better democracy is built up, the less violence is used as a medium of socalled conflict resolution. I would even say that in this sense autonomy is not only part of a liberal state, of a liberal democracy, but also an element of the republican notion of democracy. Because power in a republican liberal democracy should be exercised not only by the few, but by all citizens. The decentralization of power should bring the power back to the citizens, because the citizens are the real source of power. There is no other source of legitimate power than the majority of the citizens.

Autonomy is a way of restoring this power back to citizens. Therefore, it is the citizens, the people, you have to enable to realize their own power. But when you want the citizens, the people, to realize their own political potential, then they have to feel at home where they live. They can only feel at home when they are able to speak their own language, when they can live their own culture and when they can build the neighborhood context in the way they agree. When somebody is not able to speak his own language, he cannot realize the potential he or she has as a citizen. He cannot act as a citizen.

In this sense, enabling people, different people with different languages, to use their language is an element of strengthening citizenship. And strengthening citizenship is a way of strengthening democracy. In this sense, power is shared not only territorially, by conferring power to different territorial entities (horizontal decentralization). It is also a vertical dispersal in that you distribute power to everybody, you give power back to the people.

It is important that in this sense autonomy strengthens the original idea of freedom. We face today a reality where freedom as a notion -- everybody wants to be free -- is banalized. Freedom is not a choice between Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola. Freedom is not the right to choose between different elites every four years. Freedom is the right to act together with other people on your own existence. Freedom is the right to realize, to organize your existence. Freedom means that life is not bound by destiny. But, in order to have freedom, you need to have power, and you need to be able to use this power. When you do not feel at home in your region, you cannot realize your power.

In this sense, the republican notion of freedom and democracy is strengthened by an autonomy concept, as we developed following the successes of Aaland and South Tyrol. This is very important, as I think that this will be the key to the success of your efforts.

You can show that autonomy does not contradict the concepts of European policy. It does not contradict the fact that we live in a global age, where you need to globalize democracy. The Europeanization of democracy is only one step toward global democracy. Here, we can highlight three points that you can show to your partners, who, I think, make here a big intellectual error, a conceptual error.

First, 20 years ago Mr. Whittaker -- one of the most intelligent European politicians -- said that «The nation state is too big for the small things, and too small for the big things.» Which means that to really cope with the life of the people, you have to build sub national units, you have to strengthen the subnational elements. I come from Switzerland. As Mr. Komlóssy will show, no other country has delegated so much power to the subnational level as Switzerland has. This is good for strengthening citizenship, but you also need to build supranational structures, because the globalized economy, global markets, cannot be faced with national democracies if you want to civilize the market, and make it socially and ecologically respectful.

The second point is that multicultural societies need to be symmetric. You need to decentralize power when you want to bring the state together with multicultural societies. And no society today is not multicultural. This is also something that is very important. The way we live, the way we grow, the way we work together in economics also makes societies multicultural. And here you already have multiculturalism as the historic heritage, which so enriched the history of this region.

The point is that you need to empower the citizens if you want to motivate them to build a transnational democracy. When citizens are already disappointed and frustrated with politics at the regional and local level, they will never have the will to do something at the European level. When you do not do something, you will never get democracy, because -- this is something you can be sure of -- politicians will never share their power when they do not have to share it. They may share power in order not to lose all of it. When they can save some elements for themselves by sharing it, they will do so. But this will happen only when they feel pressure. And every advance of democracy in this sense was the achievement of democratic movements, of peoples' movements, where people acted together to do something that no one person could achieve alone.

This is also something which is very important in today's business-oriented mindset. You can become rich on your own, but politically you can never do anything alone. You can despair alone, but when you want to achieve more political democracy, you have to be able to act together. This is one element of the crisis of democracy in the East, in the West and in the Middle. People tend to forget that they have to be able to act together in order to achieve things they will never get done alone.

In this sense, the strengthening of citizenship and the strengthening of the local and regional level, are preconditions for European democracy-building. You will never be able to integrate a democracy in the European Union if the minorities and the regions do not feel at home in your state. In this sense the movements for autonomy in Romania, for instance, are a parallel path, in support of the European integration of Romania. I am sure that the European Union will also look at it in this way, because they are not stupid, they know it. Gunnar and László can tell you, because Finland and Holland are in the Union already. (Switzerland will join after Romania, perhaps.)

To conclude, I think we have to be aware that there are two ways of looking at autonomy. You are interested in one aspect which has not been at the center of discussions in the Council of Europe, but I personally am engaged in your approach. Your point is perhaps even more important, because it shows a way of acting together without having to face violence. Violence is always the last sign that something is not right with democracy. And the better you build democracy, the less you will face violence. In this sense it is very important that you go on with your work, and I am ready to support you.

Andreas Gross

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