|Vilmos Ágoston - AUTONOMY - Challenge and/or Solution|
We have known about several plans concerning the autonomy of Sub-Carpathia in the twentieth century. It all started in 1918, during the time of the newly established Hungarian Republic, when in compliance with the so-called X People's Act, the Károlyi government gave autonomy to the region of Ruszka-krajina, which would have guaranteed national autonomy for the Ruthenians in the North-Eastern part of the region. As a result of later events, partly because in the meantime Czechoslovakian and Romanian armies intervened in the region, the territory became part of Czechoslovakia in accordance with the Trianon Treaty. Although there had been an earlier political agreement between the members of the Ruthenian emigration of the time and the Czechoslovakian government, it was not in effect till the events in Munich. Then there was a very short period again when the Czechoslovakian government more or less already in power gave autonomy to the Ruthenian minority. Meanwhile, those territories where the inhabitants were Hungarian became a part of Hungary again. The rest of the area had become an Ukrainian-oriented state, called Carpathian Ukraine. In 1939 Hungarian authorities reintroduced Hungarian administration into the whole area of Sub-Carpathia. During the long period of Soviet superiority any possibility of autonomy was out of the question, of course. In spite of all the demands for autonomy, Sub-Carpathia was integrated into the then Ukrainian-Soviet Socialist Republic as a common administrative unit. The constant movement of this territory between the peripheries of the East and the West, which was mainly due to the special characteristics of the local Slavic inhabitants, definitely helped a lot to strengthen a kind of separatism and the idea of independence and self-government.
The next important turning point was the collapse of the Soviet Union. The decisive referendum was held on December 1, 1991 and its main concern for the Ukrainians was the creation of their nationhood. At the same time there was another referendum in the whole territory of Sub-Carpathia and in Beregszász County about forming an autonomous national district. The result and the validity of this latter election is unquestionable. As soon as we have doubts about it, we question the validity and the legality of the whole referendum that legitimized the independence of the Ukraine. In spite of this, I think we cannot avoid examining the touchy question of whether the Ukraine can be considered to be united - not in an administrative sense of course. Irrespective of the whole problem of Sub-Carpathia, the question is very important, because during its long history the territory of the present Ukraine belonged to different authorities. The other thing that makes the whole problem even more complicated is that it gained new territories - mainly in the west - which traditionally did not belong to the Ukraine and were especially the results of Russian expansion. The problems mentioned above have a very strong influence on the decision-makers' attitude and their fears and worries about the future of the Ukraine. If we take a closer look of the territory, we can see three different regions, a western, an eastern and a southern part. The West-Ukraine traditionally lived under Polish authority and was Greek-Catholic, which was a very important characteristic. On the contrary, the East-Ukraine was Russian-oriented and most of the time lived under the authority of the Russian Empire and the inhabitants, most of whom were Russians, belonged to the Greek Orthodox Church. The South-Ukraine was a special bumper area with a lot of people resettled during the Russian Empire. The Polish Kingdom, the Russian Empire and the Tartars of Crimea had long fights for the territory, which is well reflected in the ethnic complexity of the area and which makes it a bit different from the other two parts.
The political group which most unambiguously represents the interests of the Ukrainian nationhood and identity has a West-Ukrainian background and is concentrated in the area of the former so-called Galitia. I do not mean to dispute the true loyalty to the state of the Ukrainians and non-Ukrainians living in the eastern part of the country, but the demand for a Ukrainian nationhood has always been stronger and more explicit here, than anywhere else. The eastern parts seem to be less definite in this respect, partly because of the fact that they belonged to the Russian Empire, then to the Soviet Union for a long time and partly because they have a considerably large community of Russian origin.
When we speak about the Ukraine today, we must not forget about the events in Crimea. Crimea plays a very important part in our discussion, because the Republic of Crimea is the only legitimate regional autonomy with its own administrative authorities already existing and working in the Ukrainian region. Parallel to the events in Sub-Carpathia - though in many respects in a very different way - Crimea as well succeeded in achieving a kind of regional autonomy. Although there are a lot of differences between these two attempts, we must be careful not to overestimate and overemphasize the exclusively Russian characteristics of this movement and attribute its success only to its Russian background. It is true, of course, that the Russian population has an emphatic role in the region - they are the largest in number (12.5 million, which means 25 % of the whole population in the Ukraine) - and it has its effect on political life as well, which might have added a lot to the success of the Crimeans. But as Mihály Tóth has mentioned before, it was not the only factor that led to victory.
Crimea became an administrative unit of the Ukraine in the 1850s, so in a way it is a strong symbol of successful Russian expansions during the Czarist era. On the other hand, we must not forget about the fact, that Crimea played an important economic and political role for the Russian nomenclature during the Communist regime as well. It was the scene of numerous important political meetings or that of the fall of prominent politicians, etc. Thus, when in the summer of 1992 the Crimeans decided to take a radical step and under the leadership of the so-called republic movement they were on the verge of demanding a referendum in August and claim for secession, all these factors must have influenced the process beneficially and helped them to succeed, including the inertia of the government in Kiev, which though reluctantly agreed to give autonomy to Crimea - but only within the Ukraine. With the exception of Sub-Carpathia there is no other example in the Ukraine of attempts to gain regional autonomy, though there are some signs of similar movements attempting to attain a kind of national and cultural autonomy in the vicinity of Odessa.
This leads us to the following question: what is the legal situation like in the Ukraine at present? What are the possibilities and chances for asserting national identities and minority rights? How can the different autonomy conceptions be put into practice - if they can?
The most important problem is that the new state does not have a constitution. The constitution in force was born in 1977, during the Soviet era. The Ukrainian Parliament has been performing some constitutional jobs, but up till now without any results. They have not had too many Bills as far as regional autonomy is concerned. With the exception of Crimea there are no other final versions of autonomy known. This makes it more difficult to try and incorporate national and minority rights in the constitution as well.
Nevertheless, it does not mean there are no legal results at all. One of them is for example the language act of the Ukrainian Socialist Republic, which was born within the framework of the previous Soviet regime and which together with similar language acts of other republics represents the first steps of a process towards national sovereignty. These acts were primarily aimed at restricting the official usage of Russian but did not mean too much restriction as far as different minority languages were concerned.
The other important legal result, which is quite exceptional in the region, is the national minority law. If we examine it thoroughly, we can find a lot of elements of the most important international documents on the issue, namely those of the UN, the European Security and Coordinating Assembly and the Council of Europe. Although it is not as elaborate as the minority law adopted by the Hungarian Parliament, which carefully covers a wide range of problems, it gives a lot of possibilities for the minorities to use their rights in a lot of issues, not only in language. It is true that it does not mention regional autonomy, but it provides good possibilities for cultural autonomy. There was a kind of relationship between Hungary and the Ukraine in this question during the preliminary work on the bill: they signed an agreement called Declaration on the Rights of National Minorities in 1991. One of the sources of this agreement was the Copenhagen document of the ESCA, a lot of points of which were well adapted. Nevertheless, I would like the emphasise again, there is no mention about regional autonomy in this law.
To summarize: as we can see, there are two possible approaches of examining the events today: one from the point of view of Sub-Carpathia and another one from that of Kiev. The stake for Kiev - and I do not think I am exaggerating - is the survival of its statehood and the existence of the state in the long run might depend on its territorial status. There is a fact which was given less publicity during the election campaigns, which also ended on December 1, namely that the main opposition movement, the RUH, which is deeply rooted in Ukrainian traditions, had a proposal on federalism. After the elections this proposal remained unheard of for a while because it did not fit into the political plans and ideas of the new political elite. Recently these proposals have been taken up again and there have been talks about a kind of federal system, in which all of the regions would enjoy more or less the same rights as the Republic of Crimea does now and Crimea would get more authority.
In my opinion, Sub-Carpathia will have to face two important challenges in the near future: can it keep up the idea of autonomy till the Ukrainian state consolidates itself and there might be some possibilities to realize this idea? Or, if this hope fails, how will the future form of federalism integrate Sub-Carpathia as an administrative unit, and how will it influence the history of the region and the people' s life there?
It is a well-known fact that the Ukraine is struggling with a serious economic crises, which is probably one of the most serious ones among the former republics of the Soviet Union. The country has experienced a sharp fall of the GDP, which means that the economy has suffered such an extreme "contraction" for the last few years that is unusual even in this region. The Ukraine has by far the highest consumer price index among the former republics of the Soviet Union and the inflation rate is rocketing up much faster than in Russia or any other states of the former Soviet Union. As a result, the economic position of the Ukraine is getting worse and worse compared to that of Russia. Let me mention only one symptom, namely the appalling devaluation of the Ukrainian currency-substitute in relation to the ruble. Considering the Russian-Ukrainian economic relations, the Ukraine tends to be more and more dependent on Russian economy and bilateral trade relationships, which have always been very distorted and asymmetric, have not changed either, or if they have, even for the worse. Experts usually emphasise two things: first, Ukrainian economy is extremely dependent on Russian fuel. They succeeded in diversifying their buying a bit, but their demands for oil and natural gas are basically met by Russia. The volume of fuel Russia sends to the Ukraine is steadily decreasing and this tendency can be expected to be stronger in the future. At the same time, Russia is trying to bring its prices closer to the world market prices and get more for its fuel - and in hard currency, if it is possible. If we examine the 1992 balance of trade regarding Russia and the Ukraine, we can see that the latter had a trade deficit equal to 6.6 per cent of the GDP and this ratio was even worse for 1993. The country is in big financial troubles, on the verge of insolvency and totally unable to pay its bills. As a result, in the summer of 1993 Russia cancelled its oil import to the Ukraine. Ukrainian industry does not have enough capacity to produce consumer goods for export and the country cannot discharge its export liabilities determined in different bilateral trade agreements and in spite of all the contracts it had to stop taking part in different common investments. Russian raw material bills remain unpaid in an increasing number and it is quite understandable that Russia is trying to decrease or cease its exports and making the conditions more and more difficult. The Ukrainian leadership would have liked to believe that they would be supplied with abundant quantities of Russian oil and natural gas at a very good price and was surprised to realize it was not so and there was a radical change. They would have liked to take advantage of the fact that 95 per cent of Russian deliveries go through their territory and claimed an unrealistically high price for transit traffic, which went well beyond the highest world market prices. But their efforts did not bring them any results and it left them in a much worse bargaining position.
The Russian economic policy has two choices in relation with the Ukraine: first, it might be ready to take political aspects into consideration and bear more unfavourable conditions and prices in trade with the Ukraine, including a rescheduling of Ukrainian debts. The other possibility is to trade on normal terms, which would mean a much more unfavorable, almost impossible position for the Ukraine. What can the Ukraine do in such difficult circumstances, how can it discharge its debts with such a serious foreign trade deficit as far as Russia is concerned? The word is, the Ukraine is trying to offer capital assets to counterbalance its deficit. It uses a part of the country's national wealth to discharge its debts, for instance it is said to have offered some gas-distributing equipment to some Russian gas producing companies. The question is, how far Russia is ready to go to take responsibility for its former republics and take steps to prevent inter-republic trade from collapsing? It is a well-known fact that the Russian national bank used to provide huge amounts of credit to keep up this trade and this unbelievable amount of credit was in large part responsible for the Russian hyperinflation.
Ukrainian leadership should do much more in such a situation. They should try and establish favourable conditions for market economy as soon as possible, they should stimulate export, restructure the industry, relieve their dependence on Russia and most of all, they should take urgent steps to stabilize the country by decreasing the extremely high inflation. Taken the present situation there seems to be very little chance of their being able to take such steps. At present there are no concrete plans to struggle and try to beat inflation. Let me give an example: in 1993 the Ukrainian economic policy ploughed huge amounts of credit into agriculture, which increased the already high inflation to an extremely high degree. Since the Ukrainian economic policy does not seem to have any means or possibilities to stabilize the country and introduce market economy in the near future and since the economic circumstances are quite chaotic they are very likely to resort to a non-market type of means alien to market economy again, such as centralization and state intervention. There are some elements in the central redistribution of goods reintroduced into the economy again, there are some steps taken backwards in the liberalization of foreign trade and as a result of an artificial price control the state can offer the companies an extremely low price for the compulsory quota of their export incomes. This administrative, non-market type of leadership cannot do any good to the economy, just the opposite: instead of improving the economic situation it probably deepens the crisis and deteriorates the country's conditions. I completely understand Sub-Carpathia when it claims to have a special economic belt within the Ukraine. This kind of decentralization would be desirable and beneficial of course, but I do not think the phrase "special autonomous belt" is the best term to describe their demands and it has some political overtones, which I do not consider appropriate either. It is simply economic decentralization. Decentralization has its own dangers of course. When central authorities devolve a part of economic responsibilities on local authorities, it is unavoidable that these local administrative units gain more economic power as a result. In this case it is a real danger that the bureaucratic, administrative methods typical of the central powers will gain more ground at local levels as well.
It is not a surprise that the Ukrainian leadership interprets its economic difficulties and the increase of Russian dominance as a restriction of its sovereignty. And basically they are right. Being in such a vulnerable situation I do not think the Ukrainian leadership could be open to hail the idea of economic decentralization and let any region gain more authorities. From pure economic reasons it would be logical to try and get as far as possible from the sinking ship of the Ukrainian economy and board our own lifeboats. But there is still the question whether it is possible at all to get out of the whirlpool of this big ship and if so, is it possible to row these boats at a higher speed than the ship sails.
In 1989, and later when we were working out our conceptions on autonomy, the most important principle we tried to keep in mind was that our self-government must not have a destabilizing effect on the developing bourgeois democracy in Czechoslovakia. Minority autonomy must not restrain any democratic tendencies in the country as a whole. On the contrary, we must support all the efforts to enhance the democratization and modernization of all institutions especially those that can help us develop the institutions of national autonomies and the ones that might be in close relations with the new institutions of these autonomies. Minority autonomies must not exert a destabilizing effect on the country, because it weakens democracy, which can endanger autonomies themselves, since democracy is an indispensable precondition for their existence and efficient working.
The other important criterion we had to take into account was that any existing form of minority autonomy should be able to meet all the demands of a given community - in our case those of the Hungarian national minority in Czechoslovakia - especially those that are in connection with their national identity. Minority autonomies should be flexible enough to be able to present and represent all the important cultural, educational, linguistic, economic and other interests of a minority community in a successful and efficient way in the whole of a given country.
The third principle is that the concept of autonomy should not mainly function as an emotional political program which stirs up national feelings, but that it should rather be a workable plan. That is, it must not contain contradictory and overlapping elements; elements that are in contradiction with the working mechanisms of an existing state or that might result in situations where decision-making can be made very difficult because of the presence of overlapping fields. This plan - if it really wants to be feasible - should be based on the special characteristics of the given nation, which means in our case for example that these plans should take all the cultural, economic, geographical and other characteristics of the Hungarian national minority in Slovakia into consideration.
The group I was lucky to work with on the topic of Hungarian minority autonomy in Slovakia tried to work out a concept of autonomy which had four important elements.
The first element is that of educational and cultural autonomy. It requires a set of institutions with a management elected in a free and democratic way. Naturally, it has an executive apparatus and a budget and is vested with all the rights to control all the cultural and educational institutions of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, that is, it is authorized to establish or close down schools, different cultural institutions, etc. Its authority can be restricted only in one respect. Minority public schools cannot have a curriculum which is in sharp contradiction with the basic curriculum used nationwide, which means for example that mathematics cannot be taught in minority schools in a totally different way than in all the other schools in the country. The basic elements of the minority's cultural and educational autonomy must fit somehow into the main tendencies and institutional system of the majority society, but at the same time, all the important national characteristics of the minority must be asserted and reflected in these institutions.
The second element concerns the right to use the native language. In our opinion, it must be an individual human right, so it is not exactly a matter of autonomy. The best solution in this respect would be to establish a bilingual zone in Slovakia, that is, in territories where there is a large Hungarian community, both Slovakian and Hungarian must be official languages. This solution would stop the futile debate on what per cent is enough to entitle a citizen to use his or her native language in justice and administration and other official matters. There are some good examples working in Europe and we do not think it would require special, impracticable measures in administration. In that case, even those Hungarians who live in minority in a special settlement would not be deprived of the right to use their native language. Bilingualism would guarantee the same rights for the Slovakians of course, that is they would be entitled to use their native language in the future as well, even in those settlements and regions where they are in minority.
The third important element of autonomy is regionalism. In our interpretation regionalism means a free association of settlements, a means to give voice to our common local interests. In the present constitution of Slovakia there is only one sentence which mentions the right to establish regions but it does not specify their authority or their structural characteristics, etc. In spite of this, regionalism is prospering in Slovakia nowadays, including areas with mixed population and regions where either the Hungarians or the Slovakians are in the majority. These regions are organized - almost without any exception - according to economic interests. This system works exceptionally well and efficiently, especially in areas where the population is mixed, common interests might even bring people of different origin closer together. Our constitution, similar to that of several West European nations' should determine all the authorities every single region can demand if they wish to and which can be laid down in their regional statutes and in their fundamental rules. The inner structure of a region would be based on democracy as well (with inside elections, for example). Regionalism, of course, is in close connection with decentralization and devolution of central authorities. The aim is to devolve as many authorities on local and regional levels as possible, including the matters of tourism, road network, forestry and water works, agriculture, some aspects of cultural and educational life and most of the rights in connection with the basic development of the region.
The fourth element, which - although, it is not a par excellence autonomy question again - belongs to the core of the problem, is the question of medium level units of administration. It would be essential that medium level administration (the district and the zone level) be built up more or less according to the ethnic composition of a region. Naturally, this kind of administration is an organic part of the state administration and as such it is not actually a part of autonomy.
The kind of autonomy analysed above does not make it possible to centralize power at the level of minority autonomies. The institutions of cultural and educational autonomy are competent only in local issues. On the other hand, this concept of autonomy could prevent a large number of Hungarians in Slovakia from being deprived of the advantages of autonomy. A considerable part of the Hungarian national minority in Slovakia lives in a strip along the Hungarian-Slovakian border, but this strip is not continuous. Actually the Hungarian population is concentrated in three different areas, which are not really connected administratively. I would hasten to add another fact, namely that almost one third of the Hungarian national minority in Slovakia lives in a minority even within their own settlements. Most of the cities along the border or close to the border live under Slovakian majority, so city dwellers are not in a a better position at all. When planning a future autonomy, we have to find a solution which makes it possible to assert and represent the common cultural and educational interests in spite of all these difficulties stemming from scatteredness. We need a system that does not deprive anybody of his or her rights. That is why the solution mentioned above seems to be appropriate. Let me give an example: it is indeed possible that a settlement belongs to different region. The borders cannot be fixed and closed they have to be adjusted according to local and regional interests. Most of the elements of this system can fit organically into the whole process of democratization, since it is not a mere minority interest to devolve authorities to local and regional governments. It is in the interest of the whole country as well to lay down clear-cut, well-defined rules to regulate how different minority communities can use their own language in administration, and to establish a new administrative power at regional level in accordance with local and regional interests.
|Vilmos Ágoston - AUTONOMY - Challenge and/or Solution|