World Bank Institute
and Swiss Develop-
ment Coorporation
Closed Expert
Federalism and Development

The forgotten cultural conditions
of federalism and democracy

Remarks of Andreas Gross at the workshop of the SDC and WBI in Bern 9th December 1999

1. Two preliminary remarks

I would like to start with two preliminary remarks: The first concerns the background of my knowledge. For 25 years 1 have worked as a political scientist, as a researcher and a practitioner, specialized in direct democracy in Switzerland. During the past five years I have acquired similar knowledge about a number of European countries: politically as representative of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and scientifically as lecturer. These experiences outside Switzerland have helped me to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Swiss system just as much as my work within Switzerland. If you look at a system from outside you sometimes may see more than if you look from the inside only.

The second remark concerns the fact that since 1992 I was fortunate to make valuable experiences in eastern European countries such as Albania, Rumania, Bosnia, the Baltic states and Russia. Therefore my following hypotheses may be influenced by this background.

2. Three hypotheses concerning
the philosophical conditions of federalism

When you ask about the common basis of the two concepts 'federalism' and 'democracy' you may find it in the fact that both concepts are based on the idea of sharing power. In a democracy everybody has to share his power with other citizens and institutions. In federalism you have to share power horizontally (parliament, courts, government, citizens, administration) as well as vertically (communal, provincial, national and transnational). This may be well known. But less known is the importance of the question: Are there so to speak cultural conditions favorable for the readiness of citizens to share power? I think there are. And the main one is trust. To be ready to share power you must trust the other citizens as well as the institutions, the state and politics in general.

But all theoretical and practical observations and studies of totalitarism show what total itarian states destruct most is trust between citizens and human beings. The authoritarian control of totalitarian states have the consequence that people totally loose the trust in every compatriote whom they don't know personally.

A Lituanian fellow parlamentarian told me recently, that in totalitarian societies the individual human being has no value and no estimation. But where individuals don't estimate each other, where they don't feel estimated themselves, they cannot even trust themselves: and this is another condition to trust the other, whom you even know less then yourselves. And where there is no trust there cannot be a democratic sharing of values; the key human value, - the value of the individual -is missing.

Such a deep destruction of perceptions, views and relations of and with the other cant be reconstructed in just a few years. Even to realize it in perhaps one or two generations, you need an extraordinary effort in cultural and social education and formation - similar, but probably even greater than what the western allies have done after the last war in Germany.

Accountability of the state institutions and decisions, responsibility of the authorities and people in charge of official duties, are both based and have to be rooted in a culture of fundamental inter-individual trust. That's why good governance is impossible without social and cultural development of a society which has to be more than a market - although even a market needs some basic cultural conditions - or an assembly of human beings. Equal opportunities between regions, social classes and ethnic groups - one of the basic elements of a well functioning federalism - is a difficult and never ending process - but it can never be approached without transparency and accountability of institutions and without the responsibility of state actors. Therefore, both deserve the trust which so few people in post totalitarian societies have. But where should these state actors come from when such people are so rare in a society?

As a prerequisite for good governance post totalitarian societies need to enact, organize, support and stimulate gigantic collective, social and political-culture learning processes in view of stability and economic growth. These learning processes have to be established in all parts of societies, not only within the so called elite. The elite acts only responsible, if they know that the less privileged people want this, that they will evaluate their behavior and are capable to punish them if they do not do so.

That means in all sectors of the society - unions as entrepreneurs organizations, parties, NGOs, neighborhood communities as well as parliamentary groups, women organizations and Sports clubs etc. we have to organize workshops, seminars and weekends, which are not shows for the organizers, but islands of a common future society for those who have never ever known anything but the world in which they cant trust anybody and in which nobody really deserves their trust.

Such workshops and "learning- weeks" have to be a number one priority for all cooperation agencies and international bodies who are interested in peace and development of the former communist countries. Such efforts are the way to build up in a long term perspective a new political culture in which not only democrats but also business people have to have an interest because it's also the condition for safe investments and returns.

3. No federalism without integrative powers

Usually the link between federalism and democracy is underestimated, especially the complementarity between Federalism and Direct Democracy (DD), for instance in the Swiss case. There are scholars who try to show that the Swiss DD was even a product of federalism because when every big issue has to be voted on by the people as in DD every issue has to find it's own majority; and that this is well because not every time the same social, regional or ethnic group is in the minority and looses the vote.

One may also show the important link between federalism and DD in are more modern and conceptual way:

By means of its intensive processes of political debate and communication before every popular vote DD becomes the driving force producing those integrative elements which federalism1 needs in the common interest of all.

DD produces the glue which holds the parts together which federalism strengthens. This communicative theory of DD is rather new, but it fits well into historical dimensions as well as sociologically: in terms of the integration of different classes, regions and ethnic groups. Of course such political processes again cannot function in a society where individuals do not trust each other and themselves.

Andreas Gross


Anmerkung 1

which basically shows desintegrative tendencies

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