|Vilmos Ágoston - AUTONOMY - Challenge and/or Solution|
In Slovakia, the concept of autonomy has been worked out by two minority groups, the Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement of Slovakia and the Political Movement for Coexistence. After the changing of the regime the situation in Slovakia was very similar to that of the other East-Central European countries. Our illusions convinced us that after the fall of the dictatorships all our economic, social and minority problems would be solved overnight. Instead, we have deteriorating economies and increasing nationalism. In our country we experience both in an extreme way, mainly because of the separation of the two parts of the country.
Slovakia has become an independent nation as a result of a delayed development, so it is not a surprise that those in power are thinking in terms of a nation-state. It is not an accident that the constitution of Slovakia does not say: "We, the citizens of Slovakia" but it starts instead with the following words: "We, the Slovakian nation" - in spite of the fact that 15 per cent of the population is not of Slovakian origin. Considering the factors that help to preserve a nation's identity, we can find the following things in Slovakia: minorities have restricted rights to use their national language, there is a kind of discriminative law in force in this respect; the educational system is centralized. During the period of dictatorship there was a Hungarian Department at the Ministry of Education, which was responsible for the Hungarian schools, but sadly we no longer have it. We have to face the danger of having alternative education introduced in our schools, which would mean that only Hungarian language, literature and history could be taught in Hungarian. Hungarian teachers' training colleges will be closed down, because though Act 34 of the Slovakian Constitution guarantees all minorities the right to get proper education in their own language, In Nyitra, for example, Hungarian education is permitted only in the first four classes of primary school.
In 1960 there was a "territorial arrangement" in Slovakia. Whereas before this arrangement there used to be nine districts where Hungarians lived as the majority, as a result of these measures there remained only two, Dunaszerdahely and Kom_rom. As a result of a new territorial arrangement in the pipeline, which would divide the country in a North-South direction, there might not be any Hungarian majority county or district left in Slovakia. No wonder the Hungarian autonomy proposals have been refused saying that it was no longer a feasible plan with 1.2 million Slovakians living in the territory. No hint is made, of course, about the fact that we are in this situation only because of the territorial arrangements.
Another "trick" often used today to distort facts is that they always speak about "mixed areas" and never a mention is made about Hungarian inhabited areas. Since there are national majorities in every single district - if not Hungarians, Romanians or gypsies at least - all the territory of Slovakia can be considered to be a "mixed area". It is enough just to mention the word "autonomy" and authorities suspect separatism and an attack against the integrity of the country. At the same time, unfortunately, common Slovakian citizens are suspicious and hostile as well.
Nowadays democracy is a privilege of the majority in Slovakia and there is no political will to solve even the basic problems of minority rights, let alone autonomy.
There are 523 villages altogether is Slovakia where we can find Hungarian inhabitants. In 429 cases Hungarians are in an absolute majority, which means their ratio is above 50 per cent. There are 8 more villages where they are in a relative majority. We speak about a relative majority when there are several different ethnic communities in a settlement and none of them are in an absolute majority. As far as the eight villages mentioned above are concerned, the ratio of the Hungarian inhabitants is 47 per cent there. I deny the proposition therefore, that there are no cities with Hungarian majority at all. It is true there are not too many, but in Dunaszerdahely and Somorja, for example, their ratio is around 80 per cent. In Nagymegyer (Csallóköz) the ratio of the Hungarian nationality is very high, 97-98 per cent. We all know the reason why towns and cities have such low ratios; the previous regimes tried to solve the minority issue by industrializing Hungarian areas and settling Slovakians there. That is why we have Slovakians in a majority in places like Nyitra for example. But even Nyitra is surrounded by villages with a definite Hungarian majority and I am sure that the name of Gerencsér, for example, sounds familiar to all those who know Hungarian folk songs. This case is a typical example of geographically scattered and interspersed areas. The conception of autonomy in the Movement for Coexistence is based on the postulate that there is a definite strip in the south of the country inhabited mostly by Hungarians. There is only one clear break in this strip, which is unambiguously the result of the territorial and settlement policies of the previous regimes. If we compare present maps with those from 1910, the differences are striking. Considering all these facts, we think in the terms of territorial autonomy and are proposing to establish small nationality districts in the area. Presumably the fact that this strip is very long cannot be an obstacle to territorial autonomy, since there are examples of similar administration units in Burgenland for example. That is why the Movement for Coexistence - unlike the Hungarian Bourgeois Party for example - considers territorial autonomy as a key to the problem and wishes to follow the example of the South Tyrol or Catalania. We do not believe cultural autonomy alone can bring a final, reassuring solution. The strip I mentioned before could be established using the previous district system as a base. In case of a territorial system - and there are already plans for such a system - we could have two Hungarian provinces. The latest plans refer to a county or regional system. In that case we could count on three or four counties. Actually, the laws on self-governments make it possible for settlements to unite and form a common administrative unit. We already have such units, or regions as legal entities in Csallóköz and Bodrogköz, which are actually associations of towns and villages.
My present situation is a bit strange for me, because here and now I am supposed to represent an opinion that at home I would not be able to give voice to; that is, the opinion of a Slovakian nationalist. For the sake of the debate I will try to show empathy in my approach. One thing is certain; in the fifties, sixties and seventies there was always unity and agreement in Slovakia as far as Hungarian-Slovakian relations were concerned, and there is still unity and agreement on the Slovakian side. Emigrants, communists, dissidents, democrats - almost everybody agreed on the so-called Hungarian question. Nothing has changed in this respect so far, not even in the past few years or months. The new independent state of Slovakia was not prepared for the changes in any respect - neither in a psychological nor in a practical sense, let alone the legal consequences - and could not offer any new solution to the minority issue. Unfortunately, it is now a fact. When a Slovakian politician (irrespective of his or her political beliefs and affiliations) hears the word "autonomy" he or she automatically suspects a source of danger. In a way this fear is understandable, since there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding around the concept itself even in the literature.
I have consulted some textbooks on the legal aspects of the problem and I was compelled to realize that even in the thirties - let alone the following communist era - they could not distinguish between the concepts of autonomy and self-government. Not long ago there was a television programme in the course of which I had the opportunity to ask Miklós Duray about autonomy. When I asked him to define the concept of autonomy he answered it was self-government. When I asked him whether he supported autonomy or not, he answered yes, he was a fervent supporter of the idea of self-government and a fervent supporter of autonomy. This terminological confusion has fatal consequences. We cannot solve this problem because for Slovakian politicians and for the public as well autonomy equals territorial autonomy. It causes a lot of dangerous problems and misunderstanding in both home and foreign affairs. Autonomy - irrespective of its concrete forms - is certainly a sign of political decentralization. This is an easy question from a theoretical point of view, but unfortunately reality makes this problem much more complicated. I am deeply sorry but I have to ask everybody here: what kind of autonomy do you have in mind when you speak about autonomy - cultural, educational or territorial autonomy? If they are talking about territorial autonomy in the south of Slovakia for example, they should be more exact about the form of autonomy they would have liked to achieve when they refer to the political situation in 1910, when there was, in my opinion, an aggressive nationalistic tendency on the side of the Hungarians. These historical prejudices are still very strong and cannot be ignored completely. If we refer back to the situation during the last century or the Trianon Treaty and the demographic changes, we get tangled up in an infinite debate and can never find a solution.
We have to consider the present demographical situation as a fact: there are about 900,000 people of Slovakian origin living in the south of the country. We have to find political and not historical solutions and it is very difficult of course because both sides are quite steadfast in their stands. I have to take the liberty to confront not only the Slovakian government and the Slovakian nationalists but also the Hungarian politicians because I have some experience of their policies as well. The question of borders is another sore issue and it is not only a matter of minority but of international importance. It would be essential to find a solution that could be reassuring for both sides. I do not think we should treat the minority issue and the border issue as one single question, but unfortunately they cannot be completely separated. If we could solve the border issue in a reassuring way, in accordance with the international agreements in force, I am sure we could have greater prospects of finding a better solution in the minority issue as well.
Act 29 of the Lithuanian Constitution makes it possible for everybody to belong to a national minority. Acts 1, 2 and 8 of the Minority Law consider the same problem. It is laid down very clearly in Act 2 that all minority groups have the right to represent themselves at all levels of administration, which must be the result of general, equal and direct elections and that any member of a minority community can be a candidate for any post in state and government administration, and they can apply for any job at any company, institution or organization. The Minority Law admits it is a duty of the state to guarantee equal political, economic, social and human rights for all citizens. Besides this, the state is obliged to prevent all racial, national or linguistic discrimination and to punish any signs of them. It is also said in the same law that it is forbidden to force anybody to prove his or her national identity against their will.
By establishing the Institution of Citizenship every single citizen - Lithuanian or non-Lithuanian - is said to be equal by law. The new law of citizenship is clear evidence of the Lithuanian authorities' desire to guarantee equal rights to minorities and consider them as non-alienable members of society. The so-called "zero-version" reinforces the same idea, saying that all citizens of Lithuania, irrespective of their origin, can attain citizenship. The same idea can be found in the constitution as well. At present 87 per cent of the inhabitants are Lithuanian citizens.
The criteria for gaining Lithuanian citizenship have not changed in the middle of the country for a long time: they are practically the same as they were before the Second World War. The south-eastern part of the country is very different, having been much more sovietized.
Minority issues often play an important role in political games. It is especially true for the eastern part of the country. There have been several occasions when they tried to justify cases of discrimination. Fortunately they have always failed to do so. Nevertheless, we have to expect similar cases in the future as well, especially for political reasons, because unfortunately minority issues can always be manipulated by politicians.
Allow me to continue with another legal aspect of the minority issue, that is, let me refer to the principle that all citizens are equal by law. This law declares that every citizen has equal rights to take part in the economic, social, political and cultural life of society. The political and other organizations of different national minorities can have a seat in Parliament even below the required four per cent limit. As a consequence, the Polish Alliance of Lithuania could get two seats in Parliament. This act is of crucial importance, because it is the only law that guarantees collective rights to national minorities - the other acts concern individual rights. In the course of the 1933 Parliamentary elections the people of Lithuania had the opportunity to elect three "extra" MPs. At present there is a Polish fraction in Parliament and other nationalities have Parliamentary representatives as well, but they are elected on the "usual" party lists. After the regional council elections in Vilnius we established a self-government, most of the members of which are of Polish origin. As we know, 64 per cent of the inhabitants are of Polish origin in this region. Polish people have representatives in other regions, where their ratio is between 16 and 30 per cent.
I suppose it is quite clear from my lecture that at present the question of minority autonomy is not an issue in Parliament or in the government, but it is not a matter of discussion for the Polish Alliance of Lithuania or the Polish fraction in Parliament either.
Local self-governments in Lithuania have been organized according to the national system of administration. They have comprehensive authority and a large scope of autonomy in decision making. But it is not a matter of national minority at all. I think we have to be careful to make a distinction between the two issues. In my opinion, in most post-communist regimes minority and nationality issues can be best solved by guaranteeing individual autonomy to everybody. In this period of transition the main concern of these countries should be to discharge all the creative energies in individuals and to assure them equal chances to realize their individuality. It should be left to the individual to decide whether he or she wishes to belong to a national minority or not; it is none of the state's business. What the state must do is to make sure that all the vital conditions and rights should be provided for the minority communities to prosper. The state has numerous means to perform this duty: it can make special legal provisions and take special measures to enforce them. In my opinion, citizenship is the only way for the individuals to get integrated in the general processes of the state. In Lithuania, for example, most private properties are owned by Russians. Nevertheless, I do not think matters of business life or taxation should be connected with minority issues or the problems of national identity. I do not consider it wise to "lead" the minority card in the field of economics or politics.
When discussing minority rights we also have to mention duties. Firstly, there are duties that should be fulfilled for the state we are living in and secondly, we have duties as citizens. Social duties apply to everybody, I assume, irrespective of national affiliations; that is members of a national minority community cannot have privileges in this respect, but they must not have extra burdens either. All the members of a minority community are supposed to speak the official language of the given state; it is not only one of the most important duties, but also a means to their self-accomplishment. In Lithuania - like in any other previously occupied territory - we have to face a very unusual and complicated question. It is undoubtedly necessary for everybody to speak the language of the state and country they live in. Nowadays the situation is getting better: everybody can decide whether they stay where they live or settle somewhere else. In a word, things are happening spontaneously. In Western societies national minorities also speak the official language of the country where they live, but the state is obliged to guarantee all the institutional conditions that make it possible for these communities to learn and use their own languages so that they can foster their cultural roots and traditions and assert their national identities. In our country both the official and the minority languages are taught.
It is of vital importance here in the East-Central European region to make it possible for all minority groups to foster their own cultural traditions and values and assert their own national identities and affiliations, but at the same time every single citizen must be assured the right to integrate into the political, cultural and social life of the given country.
According to the latest census of December 1992, in Bulgaria there are 822,000 Turks, 288,000 Gypsies, 65,000 Bulgarian-speaking Muslims, 25,000 Armenians and several other smaller nationalities, such as Tartars, Gagauzes, Russians, Jews and 7,000 Macedonians. The data concerning the gypsy population must be taken with certain reservations, because an estimated fifty per cent must have identified themselves as Bulgarians and another part as Turks. Most of the Macedonians cannot have admitted their nationality either. The explanation must be found in the negative, discriminative bahaviour on the side of both the central and the local authorities.
During the previous political regime there were two serious campaigns against the Turks and the Muslims in Bulgaria, aiming to assimilate them, one at the beginning of the 1970s, and the other in the middle of the 1980s. In 1989 there was a huge flood of Turkish emigration. Besides that, another group of Turks have left the country for Turkey for economic reasons.
In theory, autonomy can be a solution, especially when a minority population is sufficiently numerous and concentrated and is in a better economic position than the majority nationality. I think it is important to make a distinction between the two basic forms of autonomy, namely between territorial and cultural autonomy. In my opinion, it is not always necessary to have them both simultaneously. I mean, territorial autonomy does not always imply cultural autonomy.
Let me give an example from Bulgaria to support my statement. Let's examine how much the concept of territorial autonomy can be applied to the Turkish nationality in Bulgaria. At present there are very few settlements where the Turks are in a majority. This situation is the result of a long process including huge floods of emigration for economic reasons (like the one in 1992) and partly for political reasons, because for the past few decades there has been quite a strong discriminative policy against them on the side of the central powers. Most of the Turks live in the economically underdeveloped mountainous areas in Bulgaria. As a result, these administrative units where there is a relatively substantial Turkish population do not really fight for territorial autonomy. Most of them need to be subsidized in all fields of life, including economic infrastructure, social benefits and education.
There is a strong feeling of fear among the Turkish population that, provided the Bulgarian national community gets stronger and larger in number in their regions, they will be exposed to more discrimination and they will be deprived of even more human rights.
In 1992 there was a nation-wide survey in Bulgaria examining the inhabitants' attitude towards national minorities. According to the results, Bulgarians living in a majority but mingled with different minority groups, are more hostile in their attitude towards national minorities than the national average. In 1991, when the teaching of the Turkish language was introduced, nationalist groups did not agree with it, saying the decision should have been made at a local level. But in that case there would not have been any decision. The truth is that the Turkish language was broadly introduced only when the central authorities took the initiative. Many are afraid that if self-governments get stronger, they will stimulate a kind of inner emigration so as to establish ethnically pure regions. Instead of mixed regions there would be a pure Turkish and a pure Bulgarian region for example. In the case of such a development the basic minority rights of the Turkish community would not be respected.
Nowadays the most difficult case of the minority issue in Bulgaria is that of the Gypsies. In their case the principles of territorial autonomy is totally out of the question because they live geographically scattered and interspersed. Allow me to make a remark before I go on: according to the law in Bulgaria each minority group is entitled to equal treatment and rights. The Bulgarian law does not make any distinction between a national or an ethnic minority, all the minority groups are referred to as ethnic. When the Turkish language was introduced into the country, they started to teach the Gypsy language as well. Since last year an estimated 30,000-40,000 Gypsy children have been able to get education in their own language. These possibilities are of course assured to other national minorities as well, such as the Armenians and the Jews, who can benefit from this possibility after normal school hours. The state gives substantial financial help for this.
I would like to emphasize the role of the government in the defence of individual human rights as well, especially in the case of the Gypsies. The Gypsies' human rights are usually offended at local levels and are only - if ever - defended at a central level.
In theory, I am not against autonomy as a kind of solution. It can be used in a lot of cases. But at the same time we always have to consider the responsibilities and the functions of the government as well. We must keep in mind that even autonomy cannot be an impeccable solution, for it also has its negative effects.
|Vilmos Ágoston - AUTONOMY - Challenge and/or Solution|