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The Model of Decentralization

by Mihály Szecsei

Being an economist I might be expected to give you a definite picture of the financial base of the self-governments we are planning to establish in Voivodina. You might want me to give you exact amounts and percentages and compare these to the figures concerning the area where we live now, that is Voivodina, which was an autonomous territory for decades with its own constitution and quite a developed network of institutions for self-government. Obviously, in the present economic situation, it is very difficult to predict the exact amount of the GDP that can serve as a financial base of future autonomies. When we talk about autonomy we imagine a society with perfect conditions of free market economy where everybody will take part in production and management according to their ability and competence. But it will not be easy because in Yugoslavia the redistribution of revenues is too centralized, 76 per cent of the GDP is redistributed by the state. We know very well unfortunately that the territory of our would-be autonomy is discriminated against, especially because the sources of income mobilized by the population in Voivodina are overestimated: they simply take the income by cadastral acres as basis of assessment. It is 3.5-4 times higher than in similar territories in Serbia. This method of taxation is a perfect means to neutralize and disguise the differences of efficiency in different parts of the country by withdrawing larger amounts of money from more developed regions. That is why we try to propose more independence and authority for the future self-governments to control financial resources. Let me give an example of how the state withdraws incomes: while in Serbia the payable tax is between 18 and 50 per cent (Belgrade is an exception), in Zombor and Szabadka the same duty is 84 and 81 per cent respectively. When I speak about the neutralization of differences in efficiency I mean that here in Voivodina for example calculations in food production are made according to the fact that we can count on an average of 18 porkers per sow. The correspondent number in other areas in Serbia is 8.5, which makes a big difference as far as profit is concerned as well. To disguise and neutralize these differences the state "adjusts" tax requirements as we have seen above or overestimates the cadastral revenues, etc. thus gaining a higher percentage of tax from more developed regions and then it is called "fair" taxation. We do not think it is. We claim that this overcentralized system of redistribution should be restricted. I am not one hundred per cent sure that it is exactly those seven new self-governments that will bring Paradise for the Hungarian national minority, but we have a real chance to do better even with the present structure of ownership. We were extremely shocked by nationalization and we still are.

Last year the Serbian Parliament renationalized 270, 000 acres of land which were actually public - and not state or cooperative assets. Since then it has been the government's right to appoint all the leaders and managers and to decide on the goods produced. The structure of ownership in Voivodina is very different from that of the other parts of Serbia. In Voivodina, in the territory of our would-be autonomy, 60% of the cultivated area is private, and 40% is state property. In other parts of Serbia 95% of the land is privately owned and only 5% is state property. We are not afraid of losing positions with the changes of economy and the ownership; we do not want privileges during the process of privatization, we only want a fair competition with equal conditions and opportunities. Nowadays it is not the case at all. For example in Serbia people can buy petrol for dinar, while in Voivodina we have to barter goods for gasoline. (1 litre petrol equals 7 kgs of wheat or 1 kg of heifer.) We have to go on fighting so that this highly developed region and its people should not be humiliated and exploited by forcing barter economy on it for example. Ultimately we aim at restricting and decentralizing the authority of a unitary state. That is why we believe that while fighting our ways towards autonomy we are building up the whole mechanism of the defence of minority rights. This fight involves the right to use our native language, to have our own educational institutions, etc. Since most of the inhabitants in the area live in villages, we must put special emphasis on working out mechanisms on how to develop and keep this culture and population alive. We cannot and we must not differentiate between a Hungarian and a Serbian farmer's pigs, but we need equal chances. As soon as we can enjoy equal chances in a free market economy, we will be able to create the necessary financial base to prosper and we will introduce a more fair system of redistribution. A person who is well-informed is a citizen, but the one who is not, is only a servant. Language and economy are two different things. On the one hand we fight for the laws of economy to prevail in the fields of economy, irrespective of the language, while on the other hand we demand equality for all the languages, may they use Cyrillic or Latin scripts.

Autonomy is often defined as a form of separatism. Hungarian readers had access to the book by a famous economist, Kosta Mihalovic, who is a member of the Serbian Academy of Science and who is a most important theorist and adviser of the government on economic issues. In his opinion autonomy equals separatism and as such, it is anti-socialist. He has his own arguments to prove that efforts for autonomy in economic life are antisocial as well. At least that was the reason when Voivodina was deprived of its old, traditional regional autonomy, and unfortunately the Serbian public believed this reasoning. We have long traditions of regional self-governments in Voivodina even from centuries ago. I do not say we will solve all our problems overnight if we have autonomy, but obviously we would be able to work out and realize a more fair and efficient system of production and distribution. We firmly believe that decentralization tendencies in economy help us realize our dreams and plans as far as autonomy is concerned as well.

The Unaccomplished State

by Alpár Losoncz

Let me start with a short, general overview of the main aspects of the minority issue:

How does the forced historical development of a majority nation determine the concept of autonomy for a minority?

In what ways, if any, can the concept of autonomy influence the possible processes of democratization within the majority community?

Is it true, and how much, that the autonomy tendencies of a minority group always develop in the shadow of a majority community's struggles for establishing a nation state? What is more, is it sure that these tendencies develop in the shadow of the majority nation's tendencies at all?

I think the autonomy tendencies of any minority group, and thus those of the Hungarian national minority in Voivodina, in a way are reactions of defence. How should we judge a situation whose main element is defence? Can it be beneficial for the community? Are there any possibilities to translate this defensive position into a more creative offensive position? Is it possible that by thinking this issue over and over again we can force politicians in the East-Central European region to establish a new relationship between the idea of liberalism and that of collective rights.

I have already mentioned the phrase of "unaccomplished state," which I think is a basic category to understand the history of Yugoslavia from the very beginning. Yugoslavia has been struggling with the same problem and the frustrations resulting from it for a long time and its twentieth century history is actually nothing else but a series of different responses to this question. The notion of the "unaccomplished state" describes the period between the two world wars just as well as the Yugoslavia existing till the end of the eighties or the present day "third Yugoslavia." Despite all the political differences these states have something in common, namely that the actual form of government could always be kept only by force. And it is very likely that a system which can be kept only by force is counter-productive.

There is a metaphor often used in connection with the so-called post-communist regimes, and that is the metaphor of a "refrigerator". Communism functioned as a "refrigerator" all over East-Central Europe, which means it "deep-froze" and "preserved" all the important problems, contradictions and national conflicts typical of the region, without solving them. In the post-communist period this refrigerator stopped working and all the goods kept in it proved to be rotten. This metaphor is true for the present Yugoslavia as well. The problems that remained unsolved for two generations of governments are still problems, even if the conditions are very different now. The crucial problem in Yugoslavia is the relationship between the constitutional elements of the state. This question is not even asked in Yugoslavia. They do not even hint to the fact that there is a government which is not recognized by the International Community, that there is a set of institutions which is not able to stabilize its political practice.

I think we should make a difference between an ethnic- state and a nation-state. The former one is a depoliticized form of state, which means a community kept together by their common fate and history, their language and traditions. An ethnic-state is organized along the line of a politically structured set of institutions, while a nation-state is more than that and cannot be considered politically structured any longer. I think the whole twentieth century history of Yugoslavia can be described by this dual category. It is striking that any time a Southern Slavic nation - Serbian or Croatian - mentioned the problem of nation-state it always led to extreme violence. Unfortunately it is not very difficult to see continuity in the twentieth century history of Yugoslavia. This might sound strange since even five years ago Yugoslavia seemed to be a consolidated and stable state, where national conflicts were subdued and economic life was apparently more prosperous; in a word, it seemed to represent a higher level of development in every respect compared to other East-Central European countries. But now we have to admit that the (Bolshevik type) political leadership of the time could not solve a single national problem, or to be exact, they were experimenting with a very special solution, that is, they tried to form nation-type oligarchies. It is these oligarchies that are the participating leaders in the present war.

After the Second World War there appeared a special ideology in Yugoslavia, the so-called "Yugoslavianism", which claimed to be an above-national ideology. That was meant to serve as a means to prevent national conflicts; they expected all the nations, nationalities and national minorities to assert their national identities through this ideology. From the Hungarian national minority's point of view this above-all-nation ideology proved to be quite a tragic solution, because their assimilation after the Second World War reached an extremely high level. If I had to describe post-war Yugoslavia in a word, I would say it was the socialism of the threatened. There existed equality, but it was the equality created by threat. Obviously, when the real base of peaceful co-existence is fear of each other, it cannot be maintained for a long time. These are the circumstances in which different national minorities' autonomy conceptions came into life at the end of the eighties. If we think back on the dual category of ethnic-state and nation-state and the distinction I made between them, I suppose it is the nation-state which can be a real partner for a minority autonomy. Minority autonomies are real challenges for the nation-state. What does it involve to establish minority autonomies? Does it mean wedging a mini-state into the body of a nation-state and then these two more or less competent authorities will be rivals? It would be beneficial if the self-governments could show some self-restriction from the very beginning. It would require a certain amount of pluralism within the institutions of the minority itself. There is another form of pluralism that I would like to see realized in connection with minority autonomies. I think it is of crucial interest for any minority community to stimulate and support non-national civil organizations. Each of us here in this region has some experience of assimilation. The ideologized version of that non-national, above-all-nation approach had its very subtle means to manipulate all of us. Now we have to think of the self-defence mechanisms that can prevent us from being assimilated and help us communicate with the majority community while preserving our own identity at the same time. Usually we have negative criteria to describe this process. We generally claim that we have to trust in our identity lest we should lose it. It is really important but only as a starting point. In the course of inter-ethnic communication we need positive standards to make it possible for us to take part in the aspects of the everyday life we have to share with the majority society. It is the prime interest of any minority community to support different formations of civil society because just on their own they undoubtedly cannot compete successfully with the much stronger majority society. The majority community of a nation sate will always have means to force assimilation in one way or another. It is all very true of Serbia because owing to the war the Serbian state has such means that might result in large waves of migration.

Plans and Facts in SubCarpathia

by Mihály Tóth

Attaining autonomy have a long tradition in Sub-Carpathia and these tendencies have become stronger again. This process started during the Gorbachev era when the empire was collapsing and they tried to introduce a more liberal economic policy, (perestroika) and that was the time when the state of the Ukraine was established.

There are several plans in Sub-Carpathia concerning the autonomy of the region:

The tendencies mentioned above are very different from any other similar tendencies in other regions or countries in one respect, namely that they have reached a certain level of legality. As a Bill, it has been adopted at different levels of local authorities (district and county levels) and has been submitted to the Supreme Council and the Ukrainian Parliament.
The territorial autonomy in Sub-Carpathia can be approached from two different points of view: we can analyse the problem from the point of view of the different national minorities and we might have an economic approach.
On December 1, 1991 there was a general election in Sub-Carpathia concerning its territorial status and another one held in Beregszász County about forming a national district.

The overwhelming majority of the population - 78 per cent in the first case and 82 per cent in the second - supported autonomy and voted for establishing a national district, respectively. In spite of having no clear-cut principals laid down before the election, the results showed a very unambiguous standpoint and a strong wish and demand for self-government. Although the native population in the county of Sub-Carpathia - irrespective of their national affiliation - lives in normal, consolidated and peaceful conditions without any national clashes or any traditional conflicts and confrontations from the past, the election has divided the natives, especially those of Slavic origin. But the degree of division has not reached a level that could have led to the secession of the Ukrainian and the Ruthenian population. Seeking new possibilities and separate, independent ways of development stems more from the historical past and the negative experiences after the Second World War. There is a strong feeling of threat on the part of the national minorities that Ukrainian nationalism might gain power again.

The Russian population settled in during the past decades and the Russian-oriented Greek Orthodox Church, which tried to do its best to gain more scope in the newly established state of the Ukraine, played an important part in helping to attain autonomy.

Unfortunately, not long after being submitted to Parliament, the self-government law was modified and the counties were deprived of the right to initiate bills. Nothing essential has happened in this case since then.
The draft bill uses the following arguments to support its reasoning:

Sub-Carpathia is situated in the middle of East-Central Europe in a relatively small area and it has four neighbouring countries.

The economic structure of the area can only develop in a normal way in the future if the district can integrate into international economic life.

Its ethnic and national minorities, the Hungarians, Romanians and Slovakians live in separate but homogeneous blocks close to the border of their nation-states. The fact that a part of the Ruthenian population refuses to identify themselves as Ukrainian makes the situation even more complicated.

According to the proposal Sub-Carpathia would be a specific administrative unit with a special right to autonomy and self-determination within the Ukraine and would be vested with special rights and licences to control economic life within the territory. All these rights would be confirmed by the Constitution and a particular law guaranteeing territorial integrity for Sub-Carpathia as a part of the Ukraine as an unquestionable and unalterable right. Sub-Carpathia cannot be a part of any other state or administrative unit. The proposal demands that all the individual and collective human rights be guaranteed, as well as the right to establish autonomies based on different territorial, minority or personal rights. Separation of powers, namely the power of central administration and that of the counties is another issue of great importance. The draft bill declares that all the minority languages are to be given equal status with the official language of the state and it is the inalienable right of the local authorities to determine the official language of the territory. It would also be the inalienable right of the local authorities to decide on further territorial divisions within a local area; different nationality and territorial autonomies would be established by plebiscites or referenda. The proposal demands that territorial authorities have an exclusive right equal to that of the state to control local resources. Territorial authorities should have the right to establish and modify their own statutes and work out and set up the institutions of self-government. The proposal would make it possible to establish administrative territorial units on a nationality and minority basis and adopt them as legal entities. According to the draft territorial authorities would have the right to organize and control referenda and censuses as well as to determine the status of economic and social unions and associations. Matters of dispute between the state and the self-governing body must be decided on in court.
The plans concerning the would-be territorial autonomy, based in Beregszász County, consist of three distinctive parts:

The first part concerns language. The proposal demands that within the territory of this special minority autonomy the Hungarian language should be granted equal status with the official language of the state and that the use of language as a right should be devolved to the local self-government.

The second part speaks about the possibilities of establishing and maintaining Hungarian cultural institutions in the area.

The third part deals with the economy and mainly concerns the idea of setting up an independent economic district.

There have been several versions of this plan since 1990, and it is practically the only proposal the central authorities in Kiev showed any willingness to deal with. Since all government offices competent in the issue had adopted the plan it was submitted to the Supreme Council whose committee discussed the matter at a plenary session. Although only a few votes short, unfortunately the proposal was refused.

Establishing an independent economic zone could be a solution to many problems. Owing to its special geographical features, the territory might be able to use its economic resources more efficiently as an independent unit and could find remedies to all those unresolved problems the previous regime had got stuck with. We should try and introduce market economy and work out all the infrastructural and financial background necessary for healthy regional relationships, transit traffic and trade as soon as possible.

The proposal that we all hope to be adopted sooner or later, plans to introduce special regulations concerning taxation, duties and other financial matters. Local authorities would have an exclusive right to control local resources. According to the plan the top managing organization responsible for all matters of the economy would be independent of all state and local-government authorities. As far as duty regulations are concerned, the territory would be a duty-free area, which means that all the transit goods would be exempt from duty obligations. Taxes imposed on entrepreneurs have to comply with the present system of taxation, that is, it cannot be higher than fifty per cent. There should be a free exchange of currencies in the country as far as bank and other financial transactions are concerned. Entrepreneurs should be given special guarantees to compensate for their losses.

As we can see, these endeavours and tendencies are much too far-reaching and comprehensive to be simply called an issue of minority autonomy. Efforts to gain regional autonomy are a good example of this. Nevertheless, unless some form of international codification concerning autonomies has been laid down we cannot do too much, since all the aims mentioned above are interpreted as separatism in this region - and unfortunately certain political leaders in Kiev are not free from all these biases either.

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