19 Dec 2003

Heti Válasz

Lesen Sie hier den
von Andi Gross
60 Seiten)

Lesen Sie hier die
Debatte zum Autonomie-Bericht
im CoE.

The Rapporteur of the Council of Europe
on the management of ethnic conflicts
Trusting autonomy

Zsolt Estefán

The Gross-report on European autonomies is a milestone from the perspective of the development of international law. Mr Andreas Gross had been preparing his report in the past four years on the useful lessons to be learnt from the autonomy schemes that had already come into existence in Europe on the one hand, and from minority demands for self-government on the other. The Swiss social democrat politician gave an interview to Heti Válasz at a conference on minorities held in Budapest.

Rarely exist politicians in Europe who understand the need to grant autonomous rights for minority Hungarians in order to provide for their survival. Why do you foster the expansion of minority rights?

The Council of Europe mandated me with examining what lessons we may learn from the dissolution of multiethnic states and what consequences are to be drawn from the excellently functioning autonomies in South Tyrol and the Aland Islands. The unresolved issue of minorities has generally been causing serious tensions in politics to date. Suffice it to mention the case of the former Yugoslavia, Georgia, or the Chechens who have been fighting Russia almost permanently.

Is there a general recipe for fixing this problem, how can a solution be found for these conflicts?

Having examined functioning autonomies, I drafted a list of twenty-five issues. Upon taking a look at the problems of crisis areas, one may observe that successful autonomies only exist in countries where the rule of law prevails, where people trust state institutions. These institutions respect the legal framework, and do not abuse power. However, in the countries that have just got rid of dictatorships, it is an atmosphere of totalitarianism and mistrust that prevails. Many Eastern European countries do not have a sufficient degree of democratic experience. People had felt for long that the state abused its power. This is a challenge for the European Union. The process of learning and the acquisition of democracy should be assisted much more seriously. If the rule of law solidifies, pursuing autonomy could become more successful, as well. Minority self-governments only function genuinely successfully in democracies. In dictatorships, mistrust prevails, and the state insists on hanging on to all power for itself.

The Gross-report serves as a basis of reference for Hungarian politicians for proving the legitimacy of autonomies. Are you not afraid that the countries not willing to grant this to minority Hungarians will consider you as standing on the wrong side?

No, I am not afraid of this. My report may be used by anyone in defending interests. This is only a tool not having an effect in itself and will only become important if the contents of this report is genuinely applied. By the way, I am not able to enforce my views on anyone. What this report is good for does not depend on me. I am a democrat and I want to promote the strengthening of democracy all over Europe. And democracy means sharing powers, sharing as much powers among as many actors as possible. People should not be supressed but they must know and they must be able to be free. This also implies that they can govern themselves. Autonomy is a good tool for integrating modern and multi-ethnic societies.

How expanded may be the rights granted to minorities?

Parliaments do not have a monopoly in decisionmaking. Consequently, even legislation may be decentralised without any problem. The unity of the state must be divided along the religious, linguistic and cultural cleavages of the society. For instance, when the Romanians are ready to grant the Hungarian minority the right of self-determination and autonomy, then it will also serve their own interests. Who has not learnt what democracy could solve, is distrustful. In turn, who understands what democracy, autonomy and freedom are, will also understand that my report also serves his own interests. Otherwise there is no method of integrating minorities in the society. Integration cannot be commanded to them. Priviliges must be shared with them, and the most possible rights must be granted to them. I was not surprised to find a degree of reluctance during my four-year work in Romania, where there is a long-persisting concept of a highly centralised state. However, Romania need to consider the Swiss, not only the French, example if it genuinely wants to acquire the concept of autonomy.

As a Swiss person, you must be better placed to understand the situation of minorities ...

Switzerland is the country of minorities, it is the minorities that make up the country. In the case of Switzerland, we would better speak about a federation, rather than autonomy. Switzerland is a federation. And that means a symmetrical sharing of powers. We may talk about autonomy if the sharing of powers is assymetrical, meaning that one of the groups enjoys more rights than the other. There is no majority in Switzerland enjoying extra rights as everyone belongs to minority groups which are equal.

Andreas Gross

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