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Towards a Knowledge Based Society

by Gábor Kolumbán

Not long ago the draft of a new law on "National Minorities and Self-governing Communities" was adopted in Marosvásárhely by the Council of District Representatives in the Hungarian Democratic Alliance of Romania (HDAR). Actually, this was the final step of a more than two year long theoretical debate among the competing groups, ideas and approaches concerning the issue of autonomy within the HDAR.
Being the result of a concensus, the proposed solution and the accepted version of the Bill seem to be appropriate to serve as a base of negotiations between the Hungarian side and the decisive segments of the social and political life in Romania. In my opinion, in the present situation - after adopting Romania's membership in the Council of Europe - none of the responsible political powers can avoid taking a stand on the minority issue and giving their opinion on the HDAR's proposal.

The HDAR was established in December 1989, directly after the crucial political turn in Romania. The Alliance, being the representative and protective organization of the Hungarian national minority interests in Romania, has a definite programme to defend all the rightful demands and expectations of the Hungarian community, the meeting of which could assure the assertion of the Hungarian national identity and could provide all the institutions indispensable for the community to have a healthy economic and cultural development. They demand to have the full range of public institutions that could provide education in their native language at all levels - including the reestablishment of Bolyai University - they claim to have the right to use the Hungarian language in administration and justice and desire a total financial restitution of the historical Hungarian churches and cultural institutions as well as demanding a wide-ranging political representation in Parliament and administration.

In the beginning the HDAR had a traditionally liberal policy in a sense: they raised all their issues from the point of view of general human and minority rights and they considered it to be the government's task to solve them. After long decades of the coercive paternalism of a communist dictatorship, the Hungarian politicians in Romania were shocked to experience hostility and a forceful social and political resistance from the side of the Romanians when they tried to vindicate their claims and demands and put them into practice. When we say this, we especially refer to such events as those which took place in March 1990 in Marosvásárhely, the debates in Parliament on the Hargita-Kovászna Report and the new Constitution and the constitutional statutes legitimizing the new nation-state and their practical consequences in governing the country. When nationalist Romanian parties gained power, the HDAR felt compelled to change its basic strategy. Instead of emphasising the traditional values and purposes mentioned above, they shifted the stress to more constructive forms of self-organization. The crucial moments in this respect were the following: the Kolozsvár Declaration of October 1992 and the Congress of Brassó in January 1993. The importance of these events was that it was the first time when the Hungarian community could express its political demand for autonomy and for the institutions of self-government in a clear-cut way. At the same time they gave voice to their wish to begin taking up political dialogue with the progressive elements of Romanian political life and start negotiations in accordance with the principles of the Gyulafehérvár Declaration in 1918, which promised to grant autonomy to all nations in Transylvania. We always try to do our best within the limits of legality to provide both the political and financial backgrounds and the necessary public authorities to assure the work of the institutions of autonomy.

Since this is a conference organized by a liberal party, the Free Democratic Alliance and my liberal friends from Romania are bound to respond to the same problems, I suggest the approach mentioned above to avoid a row of unfruitful debates on the superiority and preference of individual versus collective rights, which is a very artificial and unproductive contradiction and leads nowhere as far as practical solutions are concerned. At the same time I hope I can make all the participants here understand why the solution of the minority issue enjoys preference in the policy of the HDAR to the general issues of democracy and market economy and serves as an indispensable precondition to asking real questions about them, even if this approach apparently makes it more difficult to negotiate with the potential political partners in society.
In my opinion, the stand the HDAR has recently taken on this issue is in accordance with the requirements of our time. We hope it offers a solution that might be an answer to one of the most serious and tension-raising issues of our century and probably the next one as well. The main question is: how is it possible for communities with different identity to live together in peaceful co-existence in such a way that these individuals belonging to the same state may live in security as equal citizens and at the same time can assert their identity without having to feel that they are second-rate citizens and without being discriminated against for their identity. As you can see, I did not determine the identity that creates a community. I did it on purpose. In modern societies individuals have a lot of different identities and national and language identities represent only one - though in the present day East-Central European countries probably the most important - form of individuality.
It must be quite clear from the aforementioned statements that in my opinion we should - as far as possible - shift emphasis from general human and minority rights and the problems of self-determination to the questions of how different communities can live a relatively independent life governing their own issues in peaceful co-existence. This is a clearly practical approach, which instead of referring to the people's right of self-determination - might it be "natural" or "historical" - follows a more pragmatic and functionalist way of thinking and using the present situation as a starting point it puts more emphasis on questions like that of autonomy, self-administration and the institutions of self-government. I am fully convinced that the claims and demands of the Hungarian community in Romania remain unheard not because they cannot be accepted but because there is no political will to realize them. I do not wish to go into details now, I only refer to the question of Bolyai University or that of the Hungarian Consulate in Kolozsvár. At the same time we know a lot of groupings and cases of status quo - especially local or regional non-organizational forms - which though they lack any formal and legal base, have deeply rooted living traditions and have been working for centuries. In my opinion, we should try and find solutions taking the following principles into consideration:

There is another axiom that has to be taken seriously to provide all these conditions in safe circumstances, namely respect for the principles of the status quo, the principle that the existing borders are immutable.

As we can see, there are only long processes and no overnight solutions. Taking the special situation in Romania as a starting point, the proposal of the HDAR makes a functional difference between the various national minorities according to the degree of organization and considering how much demand and competence they have to manage their own issues. The principle of internal self-determination is actually the extension of the principle of subsidiarity to other forms of communities, which was originally used in connection with the autonomy of different local communities and which is a well-known and accepted idea in European thinking. The principle of subsidiarity - as it was laid down in the European Charter of Local Self-Governments, an agreement adopted by the Council of Europe in 1985 - is a functional principle that makes it possible to distribute powers and abilities according to the principles of democracy and the decentralization of power. Under article 3 in Chapter 4 of the Charter we can read the following: "As a rule, matters of public interests must be decided on at a level of administration most available for the citizens. Devolution of these tasks upon other administrative authorities fully depends on the nature of the issue and might be possible for economic and other reasons of efficiency."

Article 4 lays down the following: "As a rule, local authorities have full and exclusive power in these issues. These rights can be restricted by other, central or regional authorities only by force of law."
Obviously, local communities consist of the inhabitants of a given area. The coherence of a local community is based on the local citizens' common interests and identity. Local communities are actually autonomous ones and in each case they exercise their autonomy according to the principle of subsidiarity. The authority of a local self-government stems from two different sources: on the one hand, central authorities devolve a part of their responsibility on the authorities of local or regional autonomous communities; on the other hand, there are numerous local issues that must belong to the competence of these local authorities because the nature of the matters at hand require so.

The questions of devolution and decentralization of power have always been and will always be sore political points in every society throughout history, especially in societies like the present Romania, where the nation-state has an extremely strong central power. Unitary systems are apt to interpret decentralization tendencies as hostile attacks against the state or as a restriction or offence of its sovereignty and they will never see them as a means to manage different public issues in a more efficient and economical way, which better serve the interests of the citizens. Unfortunately, recent "administration wars" between the newly established local and regional self-governments and the central powers, especially the central government in Romania - and all the other countries of East-Central Europe I suppose - painfully demonstrate the truth of my statements. The main difficulty in decentralizing power lies in the fact that stemming from the very nature of autonomy itself, these autonomous communities and their self-governing institutions must have a co-ordinate and never a subordinate relationship with each other. There is no other way to make the system of autonomy work.

The principle of subsidiarity is of crucial importance because it can serve as a perfect means to separate and decentralize power and build up a dynamic hierarchy of authorities according to competence and the nature of the problems. The principle of subsidiarity is a deconstructive principle which makes it possible to break down the centralized system of administration. It distributes vertically organized competencies into horizontal ones in a way that at the same time preserves the level of integrity in the whole system. If we apply this principle in a consequential way, we can control the system changing processes necessary for our times in a way that the increase of the internal complexity of the social system will involve the increase of the level of social integrity and as a result this process will lead to a dynamic stability and to the falling apart of the whole system. There are several deplorable political consequences of the fact that here in the East-Central European region our politicians - unlike the ones in the democratic societies of the West - did not realize how important this principle was. They could not recognize that the principle of subsidiary was one of the greatest intellectual achievements of political thinking in our time, which could help to lead us peacefully from our industrialized society to a post-industrialized social system based on knowledge.
The survival of old, nineteenth century political structures and mechanisms have pushed our region to the periphery in the strong competition of modernization. Is it possible that the big loser at the turn of the century will be the same again, that is East-Central Europe?
Communities, especially the autonomous ones play a basic role in determining the security and the chances of modernization for the citizens of a given country. Autonomous communities are needed because their institutions are the most available for the local people and they give the best opportunity for citizens to control authority in a direct way. Another great advantage is that they provide a fertile environment for culture to blossom and for local human resources to use their energies very efficiently.

The existence and the development of a community and the assertion of its individual characteristics is of essential importance from the individuals' point of view as well. Actually, it is a basic individual interest of everybody. On the other hand, the right of all citizens to form efficient local communities to meet their basic demands is a basic human right. In a knowledge based society cultural and informational demands will be the most determining. Opposing the idea of community rights, a lot of liberal thinkers in the region support the extremely popular idea of a minimal state, but actually they do not follow through and cannot judge the consequences. It is a fact, that a unitary state usually cannot manage public affairs in an efficient and economical way, but we have to admit that this is partly because the number and the complexity of these issues are increasing. When we restrict the state we have to find institutions that can take these responsibilities. We cannot restrict the state just for the sake of restriction; these tasks must be executed somehow. The existence of local communities is of vital importance in this respect, since these institutions can shoulder the responsibilities and solve the problems in an efficient way in their areas.

Going back to the HDAR's proposal, it is quite clear now that it is actually a political question that while the Romanian authorities do not question the autonomy of different religious and local communities, they are vehemently against any signs of autonomy as far as language, culture or ethnic identity are concerned. They do not accept the national minorities' right to use their own language in education and in administration. The main reason of this strict refusal is that with these rights minorities could gain more knowledge and information, which is obviously not desirable. I do not think I am mistaken when I predict that we can expect a long struggle and not only for rights but also for culture-specific resources. The institutional system of a given community is always quite a reliable index for judging the level of integrity and organization. Provided a community intends to arrange its own matters autonomously it needs special public authorities to set up its own institutional system to execute these tasks. Actually, a community can gain autonomy through the institution of self-government, or at least we can say that self-government is a minimal requirement and an indispensable precondition of autonomy.
Article 3 of the Local Autonomy Charter determines the notion of self-government in the following way:

After the definition, let us have a closer look at the characteristics of self-government:

Self-governing is a democratic way of organization, decision-makers are elected by general, direct and secret elections. Decision making and executive powers are separated and are directly subordinated to the community. This way the institutional interests of a self-government are dependent on the interests of the community in a direct way.

Considering the characteristics mentioned above the self-government of an autonomous community can be placed somewhere between the institutions of the state and the civil society. Being a public power with different administrative authorities it is closer to the state, but its autonomy, close and organic relations with the community and its local character makes it more similar to the institutions of civil society. According to Savelsberg, locality means a system of special interests and values fighting against outer influences. It always involves a special system of symbols that help to lead the community's life, as well as a kind of constellation of people and groups whose special local values and political interests strongly influence the community and who rely on specific local material resources and exchange values. Locality, if it is associated with autonomy, provides a strong feeling of security for the individuals.

The criteria mentioned above can be applied easily to describe other kinds of communities (language, ethnic, religious), which - similar to local communities - express a special kind of affiliation. Thus, we can use a unified conceptual framework to describe the whole group of phenomena, we can have a common denominator to discuss different communal self-governments and their relations and co-operation.
The great advantage of the HDAR's minority proposals is that they regulate the concept of communal autonomy in a legally coherent way.

Let me describe the concept of regional autonomy in a few words, because it illustrates very well how self-governments with different identities can co-operate with each other. Since the proposal is careful enough not to claim that in territories where national minority communities are greater in number, the institutions of regional autonomy equal to the representation of special minority interests, it can easily avoid a futile debate about autonomy. Minority interests should infiltrate through the institutions of regional autonomy: it means bilinguality, communication and discussions with the ethnic self-governments, the right to veto, etc. This solution is remarkable because it avoids restricting the inner sovereignty of the nation-state within the country and by involving all the ethnic groups in the territory according to the principle of ethnicity and by taking a common responsibility, it strengthens the stability of the state. Self-governments with special status can achieve regional autonomy as a result of democratic elections at local level and are free to associate and co-operate with other (ethnic or non-ethnic) autonomous communities' self-governments to assert and represent their interests. It provides a large scope to arrange public affairs in an autonomous way with large liberty taking all the differences and special characteristics into account.

Finally, let me express my conviction that this attempt to solve the main problems of national and other types of minorities through the institutions of communal self-governments and regional autonomies is an organic part of the whole process of the quick and steady development of self-help organizations. These attempts reflect a strong wish to take a direct and active part in our own life and govern it, to determine our own selves, to emancipate ourselves and to take responsibility for our actions and our future and autonomy can add a lot to it. The realization of the proposals mentioned above is greatly dependent on the whole restructuring process of society, which involves accepting the concept of self-government and establishing the institutions of autonomy parallel to those of the constitutional state and democracy. Owing exactly to the weakness and underdevelopment of the constitutional state as an institution, demands for communal self-governments appear much stronger and intensely in East-Central Europe than in the West.

As we can see, as a result of this process there might develop a special network of relationships in the region, at least in places where there are a substantial number of ethnic minorities and they determine themselves as autonomous communities.
Provided new nation-states in the region can accept this challenge and try to use these creative energies to modernize, they will build up a kind of non-territorial democracy.

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