Autonomy as a Strategy for Diffusing Conflict
In recent years several conflicts, especially ethnic ones, have centered on demands for, and resistance to, autonomy. Equally, several conflicts have been resolved by the concession of autonomy. In some instances the form of dispute has been transformed by an offer of autonomy. In other cases an agreement in principle to consider autonomy has been sufficient to get the parties to the negotiating forum. The international community, particularly regional European organizations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have attached particular importance to autonomy as a conflict management device and have brought pressure on governments to concede, and on minorities to accept, autonomy as a suitable compromise. The use of autonomous or federal arrangements for dealing with ethnic conflicts is a relatively new development, although federalism was instituted in Canada as early as 1867 to manage tensions between the Anglophone and Francophone communities (Watts, 2000) and autonomy arrangements mediated the relationship between Russia and its possession of the Duchy of Finland at an even earlier period (Rae, 1997).
AUTONOMY AS A CONFLICT-RESOLVING DEVICE
Those who are concerned with the settlement of internal conflicts must explore the potential of autonomy. We need to pay attention to this device because disaffected groups frequently ask for it, it is central to negotiations over many present conflicts, and it may be emerging as an entitlement under international law to groups in certain circumstances. Sometimes autonomy may not be sufficient to satisfy the aspirations of groups; they may
want to settle for nothing less than separation (as happened in the East Timor referendum). At other times separation, rather than autonomy, may be the first choice of a group, but it is willing to opt for autonomy, realizing that independence is not realistic (as with the Tibetans or the earlier position of the East Timorese, before President Habibe’s surprise offer of separation). Other factors may also change options, such as persistent refusal to consider effective autonomy (as in Sri Lanka in the late 1970s and early 1980s) or intensification of the oppression of the group (as of the Tamils in Sri Lanka and the Albanians in Kosovo).
Because of the relative newness of the device, the variety of forms it can take, and the different historical and political contexts in which it has operated, there is inadequate knowledge of autonomy, even among those who demand it, to form a secure basis for negotiations, policy, and implementation. The growing interest in autonomy and successful (and unsuccessful) examples of its use as well as skepticism of and resistance to it suggest the need for further research to enable a more productive and realistic use of autonomy to bring parties to the negotiating table, provide a framework for negotiations, indicate when such negotiations or their outcomes are likely to be successful, and highlight processes and institutions that are likely to promote and sustain a settlement. In a modest way this is the aim of this paper.
Autonomy is a device to allow ethnic or other groups that claim a distinct identity to exercise direct control over affairs of special concern to them while allowing the larger entity to exercise those powers that cover common interests. Autonomy can be granted under different legal forms. There is no uniform use of terms for the different kinds of arrangements for autonomy (for useful discussions, see Elazar, 1987; Watts, 1994a). I use autonomy as a generic term. Specialized terms are used to designate particular types of arrangements. The best known is federalism, in which all regions enjoy equal powers and have an identical relationship to the central government. Traditionally, federalism has not been used as a way to solve problems of ethnic diversity, although two old federations, Switzerland and Canada, were adopted in part to accommodate ethnic diversity. Classical federalism, in which all regions have equal powers, may not be sufficiently sensitive to the peculiar cultural and other needs of a particular community, which may require a greater measure of self-government. Federal systems in which one or more regions are vested with special powers not granted to other provinces are known as asymmetrical (Stevens, 1977; Watts, 1994b; Agranoff, 1994; Boase, 1994; Brown-John, 1994). Most multiethnic federations are in fact asymmetrical, start-
ing with Canada and Switzerland; other examples are India, Spain, Russia, and Malaysia. Federations in which some provinces are more populous or have more resources than others have also been described as asymmetrical (Tarlton, 1965), but this is not the way I use the term here.
The federal model may be regarded as unnecessary if the need is to accommodate only one or two minority groups. In these situations, special powers may be devolved only to a part of the country where the minority constitutes a majority; these powers are exercised by regional institutions. Normally, very significant powers are devolved and the region, unlike in a federation, plays relatively little role in national government and institutions. This kind of autonomy is referred to as regional autonomy (Heintze, 1998) or federacy (Stevens, 1977; Elazar, 1987). By its nature this kind of regional autonomy is asymmetrical. Examples of autonomous regions include the Åland Islands (Finland), South Tyrol (Italy), Kosovo (the former Yugoslavia), Cordillera and Mindanao (the Philippines), Puerto Rico (United States), Zanzibar (Tanzania), Hong Kong and Macao (China), Greenland and Faroes (Denmark), New Caledonia (France), and Scotland (U.K.).
Both federalism and regional autonomy are characterized by constitutional entrenchment of autonomy. When territorial devolution of powers is not constitutionally protected or not sufficiently protected, the arrangements are sometimes referred to as regionalism (where central powers and institutions remain dominant, as in Italy) or decentralization (which is frequently a form of administrative transfer of powers, as in France). Local government can also be an effective way to give certain powers to a group since the geographical scale of local government is small and the prospects of its inhabitants being ethnically homogeneous are better. Some federations now constitutionally protect local government as a third tier of government for this very reason (Nigeria and Spain; but constitutional protection was rejected in India). When a federal-type state enters into economicopolitical regional arrangements like the European Union (EU), a third constitutional tier appears (such as in Spain, Finland, and Germany).
Reserves are a special instance of spatial organization of government first used by European settlers in America to isolate and dominate indigenous peoples and subsequently adopted in Australia, Africa, and parts of Asia. The apartheid policy of Bantustans was a modern version. However, in recent years the aspirations and historical claims of indigenous peoples have been recognized through the transformation of reserves into self-governing areas, particularly in Canada and the Philippines, although the extent to which they can opt out of national laws, which may be necessary for the preservation of their political and cultural practices, is variable.
A new but uneven element in the spatial organization of government is the emergence of international regional organizations in which national sovereignty has been traded for a share in participation and decision making in these organizations. Common policies over larger and larger matters are determined by the organization, so that a measure of control of the affairs of a national region has been transferred from national to supranational authority. The consequences are that the diminution of the salience of national sovereignty opens up possibilities of new arrangements between the state and its regions, the state feeling less threatened by regions in a multilayered structure of policy making and administration and the region more willing to accept national sovereignty, which may be the key to its participation in the wider arrangements. This trend is most developed in the EU (with its developing concept of the Europe of Regions; Bullain, 1998), where it is helping to moderate tensions between states and border regions previously intent on secession, as in Spain and Belgium (and which has facilitated the interesting spatial arrangements for policy, administration, and consultation in the two parts of Ireland, each under separate sovereignty, which underlie the new peace settlement). However, it might have different implications for Quebec, which through Ottawa has been drawn into closer economic relations with the United States and Mexico and may feel able to be an independent member of the North American trading area. Attempts to provide for unified Nordic arrangements for the Saami people (including a substantial element of autonomy), regardless of the sovereignty they live under, are another instance of similar kind (Hannum, 1990).
A major limitation of territorial devolution of power is that it is restricted to circumstances where there is a regional concentration of an ethnic group. Sometimes attempts are made to transcend this limitation by corporate autonomy, whereby an ethnic group is given forms of collective rights. There are different forms and uses of corporate autonomy. Rights or entitlements protected under such autonomy can be personal, cultural, or political. At one end is corporate autonomy or, more accurately, corporate identity as the basis of wide-ranging rights, as exemplified by the independence constitution of Cyprus (1970), which had set out in detail the role of the Greek and Turkish communities in government and administration, provided for separate seats and electoral rolls, fixed the proportion of ministries, and established communal vetoes to protect specific interests, separate municipal councils, and so forth. Contemporary examples include the Constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which combines more traditional federalism with corpo-
rate shares in power and communal vetoes. A more limited version is the application to members of a community of its personal or religious laws (covering marriage and family and occasionally land, particularly for tribal communities; see Ghai, 1998b; for its application in Israel, see Edelman, 1994; for a historical account of its use in Europe, see Eide, 1998). Sometimes group autonomy takes the shape of communal representation, whereby a person’s candidacy and voting are based on a communal electoral roll, as in Bosnia, Fiji, and proposed for Kosovo. These forms of autonomies were significant features of old and modern empires. Modern examples include provisions in the constitutions or laws of Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia, and the Russian Federation (Eide, 1998). More central reliance on group autonomy through cultural councils is found in the developing constitutional dispensation of Belgium. In 1970 separate councils were established for Dutch-, French-, and German-language speakers with competence over aspects of cultural and educational matters; their competence was considerably extended in the 1980s (Peeters, 1994; Murphy, 1995). Personal or communal autonomy is not directly dealt with in this paper for reasons of space (but it is also my view that communal autonomy is unsuitable for modern economic and social life, with its multiple and cross-cutting identities, an integrated economy, and democratic politics). However, in some new constitutions group autonomy is related to, or is part of a package of, federal or other devices for the protection of ethnic communities, frequently in consociatialist arrangements (such as in Belgium, Bosnia-Herzogovina, and the Fiji Islands) and are briefly examined here (see Chapter 11, on how electoral systems can promote consociationalism).
These different legal and political forms of autonomy cannot always be easily distinguished and frequently shade off into others. Spain is increasingly analyzed in federal and not just regional terms. Papua New Guinea, although officially a decentralized state, has marked federal features (Ghai and Regan, 2000). The choice of labels is not important for purposes of negotiations, and some deliberate fudging may indeed be beneficial, especially if the constitution seems to prohibit some options (as in China, Sri Lanka, and Spain where a unitary state is mandated) or where there is particular sensitivity about sovereignty (as in China). Labels often refer to legal status—matters such as the degree of entrenchment and the method of division of subjects/powers, which may not always be a true guide to the scope of autonomy. Even when it is possible to be specific about the labels, a legal form may not exist to the exclusion of other forms. Thus, Canada has both symmetrical (for the most part) and asymmetrical federalism (for Quebec), federacy or regional autonomy for aboriginals, and group council for Metis. Similar diversity is found in India. It is important to avoid seeing these devices as alternatives or ex-
elusive; contemporary variations in diversity, in terms of numbers, identity, and resources, in a single state, requiring differential responses, may benefit from a combination of devices.
The developments regarding federalism and autonomy outlined above have greatly increased the flexibility in devising arrangements for forms of self-government to suit widely varying circumstances and contingencies. Added to these broad categories of self-government are the variations in detailed arrangements in each category, such as in the division of powers between different layers of government, structures of government, the relationship between these structures at different levels, and the distribution of financial and other resources. While this flexibility is important in the negotiation process and facilitates compromises, there is the danger that it may lead to complex arrangements and systems, producing a lack of cohesion and the difficulties of governability. When negotiations enter a difficult phase, there is the temptation to devise some fancy scheme that may produce a temporary consensus that is hard to operationalize; thus, there is a conflict between immediate and long-term interests. Federal or autonomy arrangements are inherently hard to operate, requiring both high administrative capacity and political skills, and the embroidery on classical systems that tough negotiations may lead to would undermine long-term prospects of settlement by their sheer weight or complexity. Good examples of this experience would be the regional arrangements in Kenya’s independence constitution (Ghai and McAuslan, 1970), Papua New Guinea’s system of provincial government established in 1976 (Ghai and Regan, 1992), and even Spain’s autonomous communities (Conversi, 2000); the lack of resources is likely to render large parts of Ethiopia’s complex and complicated constitution of 1994 largely negatory (Paul, 2000).
The definitions I have adopted concentrate on divisions of powers and corresponding institutions. It is frequently said that autonomy is also, perhaps more fundamentally, a process. It is also said that federalism connotes attitudes, a spirit of mutual respect, and tolerance (Elazar, 1987). These are undoubtedly important points, but I believe that in a comparative study of this kind the more neutral definition in terms of powers and institutions serves our interests better. However, specific arrangements cannot be understood without a consideration of process and values, and I use these in my account of factors that influence the success or failure of autonomy.
Autonomy and State Structures
These developments in autonomy regimes have significantly changed the nature and organization of states. Therein lies both the positive and the negative aspects of autonomy. The positive aspect is that it helps in
restructuring the state to accommodate cultural and ethnic diversity. It is often assumed that conflicts can be prevented or mediated by restructuring the state and official policies by, for example, redistribution through affirmative policies, recognition of personal laws and other forms of pluralism, fairer electoral laws, and forms of power sharing. The negative aspect is that majority groups (and others with a vested interest in a more centralized state) resist modification to the state structure. Most contemporary conflicts are not about territory but about its political organization. They center on the role of the state in society; control over the state provides access to economic power, the state being the major means for reproduction of capital. The state is the most powerful organization in most countries, even when it is not very effective in implementing policy. Consequently, there is strong competition for control over the apparatus of the state.
The dominant model of the state derives largely from Western liberal theory. It relies heavily on the concept of citizenship, defining an individual’s relationship to the state and to other individuals, on the basis of equality (Tully, 1995; Parekh, 1993; Walker, 1997). There is also a sharp distinction between public and private spheres, although the public sphere is infused with the values and idiom of the majority and can be alienating for minorities. The exercise of power in the Western state is based on majoritarianism, and it is partly for this reason that there has been considerable resistance to multiethnic federations and asymmetry. Federations in liberal societies are meant to reflect principles of equality (symmetry) and common values (Glazer, 1977). The danger of excesses that majoritarianism may give rise to is frequently tempered by mechanisms of accountability, conventions of tolerance, and a regime of human rights. The danger is also mitigated by varying degrees of homogeneity, with many common bonds among the people acting to discourage the oppression of others. When transplanted to places with significant heterogeneity, the model rapidly lost the elements of accountability, tolerance, and rights and assumed an authoritarian, or at least an exclusionary, form. Even in the land of its origin, the model has come under attack as its population has become more diverse culturally, religiously, and ethnically, and the consciousness of these and other differences has sharpened (Tully, 1995; Kymlicka, 1989; Taylor, 1994).
THE LEGAL BASES FOR AUTONOMY
A discussion of the legal bases of autonomy is useful both in providing a sense of how the idea of autonomy has developed in recent decades, the forms of entitlements and legitimacy they offer negotiating parties, and the status of the resulting system of autonomy. Legal bases are rel-
evant to the possibilities of intervention by the international community in a dispute and its role in supervising and guaranteeing the outcome. The presence or absence of an entitlement in either international or national law to autonomy, as well as provisions limiting its scope, can play an important role in the conduct of negotiations and the relative bargaining position of parties, especially when there is international or third-party mediation. Despite increasing adoption of autonomy, its legal basis is unclear (Hannum, 1990; Thornberry, 1998). In principle, the case for autonomy rests on three principal sources: minority rights; indigenous peoples’ rights; and, more controversially, the right to self-determination.
When the United Nations (UN) began work on an international regime of rights, it emphasized individual rights and carefully avoided giving rights, particularly political rights, to groups. There are trends now, however, toward a greater recognition of cultural and ethnic bases of autonomy. Article 27 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), until recently the principal UN provision on minorities, was drafted to exclude collective rights and was narrowly interpreted. But in recent years the UN Human Rights Committee (which supervises implementation of the covenant) has adopted interpretations of Article 27 that recognize that a measure of autonomy and group rights may be necessary for the protection of the cultural rights of minorities. Efforts have also been made by that committee and others to interpret the right to self-determination to mean, where relevant, internal autonomy rather than secession. This broader approach is reflected in a UN Declaration on the Rights of Minorities adopted by the General Assembly in 1992. Unlike the ICCPR, it places positive obligations on the state to protect the identity of minorities and encourage “conditions for the promotion of that identity” (Article 1). It does not go so far as to require autonomy for minorities, but it lays the foundation for it by recognizing community rights and the importance of identity.
Several initiatives have been taken in Europe, through the OSCE, the Council of Europe, and the EU to promote the concept of autonomy, although its impact so far is restricted to Europe. This is manifested both in formal declarations and interventions to solve ethnic conflicts in Europe (such as in the Dayton Accord over Bosnia-Herzogivina or the Ram-bouilet proposals for Kosovo). Article 35 of the Copenhagen Declaration on Human Dimension of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) recognizes “appropriate local or autonomous administration as one of the possible means” for the promotion of the “ethnic, cultural, linguistic, and religious identity of certain minorities.” The princi-
pal instrument of the Council of Europe is the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1994), which protects various rights of minorities, obliges the state to facilitate the enjoyment of these rights, and recognizes many rights of identity. There is no proclamation of a right to autonomy, but the exercise of some of these rights implies a measure of autonomy. The Copenhagen Declaration and statements of principle by the Council of Europe, although not strictly binding, have been used by the OSCE High Commissioner for Minorities and other mediating bodies as a basis for compromise between contending forces and have thus influenced practice in which autonomy has been a key constituent (Bloed, 1995; Packer, 1998; Thornberry, 1998, Hopmann, Chapter 14, this volume; see also OSCE High Commissioner for Minorities, 1999).
The European Community has also used conformity with the Copenhagen Declaration as a precondition for the recognition of new states in Europe. The ability of existing states (which is relatively unregulated by international law) to confer recognition on entities, especially breakaway states, can be a powerful weapon to influence their constitutional structure. When various republics within the Federations of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union were breaking away, the European Community issued a Declaration on the Guidelines on the Recognition of New States in Eastern Europe and in the Soviet Union (December 16, 1991), although it was not applied in all cases. Among the conditions a candidate had to satisfy before it would be recognized was that its constitution contained “guarantees for the rights of ethnic and national groups and minorities in accordance with the commitments subscribed to in the framework of the CSCE” (European Community, 1991:1487). Entities requesting recognition were asked to submit evidence that their constitutions conformed to the guidelines; recognition was granted only if the evidence satisfied a European Community constitutional tribunal set up for this purpose (Rich, 1993; Weller, 1992; Rady, 1996). Similar principles have been used for admission to the Council of Europe and the EU.
The Convention on Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 1991 and representing a reversal of paternalistic and assimilationist approaches followed in the 1959 convention, recognized the “aspirations of these [indigenous] peoples to exercise control over their own institutions, ways of life and economic development and to maintain and develop their identities, languages and religions, within the framework of the States in which they live.” Their cultural and religious values, institutions, and forms of traditional social control are to be preserved (Article 4). The system of land
ownership and the rules for the transmission of land rights are to be protected (Articles 14 and 17). The Draft UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (submitted by the UN Sub-commission on Minorities, August 1994) goes even further and proclaims their right to self-determination, under which they may “freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development” (Article 3). The principle of self-determination gives them the “right to autonomy or self-government in matters relating to their internal and local affairs,” which include social, cultural, and economic activities and the right to control the entry of nonmembers (Article 31). It recognizes their collective rights (Article 7) and the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, economic, social, and cultural characteristics (Article 4). These ideas have already formed the basis of negotiations between indigenous peoples and the states in which they live, giving recognition not only to their land rights (as in Australia and New Zealand) but also to forms of autonomy (as in Canada), although Asian and African governments deny the existence of indigenous peoples in their states and the instruments have had little impact there (Brölmann and Zieck, 1993; Stavenhagen, 1998; Alfredson, 1998; Kingsbury, 1999). Indigenous people, particularly in North America, also base their claims on other legal bases: (a) their “inherent sovereignty,” which predates colonization, and (b) treaties with incoming powers (for what has been called “treaty federalism,” see Henderson, 1994).
The broadest source of autonomy is self-determination, in itself a difficult and controversial concept but one that has increasingly been analyzed in terms of the internal democratic organization of a state rather than in terms of secession or independence. The marked bias of the international community of states against the use of self-determination, other than for classical colonies, is well known (Franck, 1993). The UN General Assembly resolved many years ago that autonomy is a manifestation of self-determination. The greater involvement of the UN or consortia of states in the settlement of internal conflicts has also helped to develop the concept of self-determination as implying autonomy in appropriate circumstances, such as in Bosnia, Eastern Europe, and Kosovo (Rosas, 1993; Franck, 1993; Higgins, 1993). However, the birth of new states following the collapse of the communist order in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans, has removed some taboo against secession, and the international community seems to be inching toward some consensus that extreme oppression of a group may justify secession. This position has
served to strengthen the internal aspect of self-determination, for a state can defeat the claim of separation if it can demonstrate that it respects the political and cultural rights of minorities. A further, and far-reaching, gloss has been placed on this doctrine by the Canadian Supreme Court, which decided in 1999 that Quebec has no right under either the Canadian Constitution or international law to unilateral secession but that, if Quebec were to decide on secession through a referendum, Ottawa and other provinces would have to negotiate with Quebec on future constitutional arrangements (2 SCR 217, 1998). However, these rules or understandings are not accepted everywhere, and they are unlikely to persuade leaders in Africa or Asia.
Such a view of self-determination has some support in certain national constitutions, indicating no more than a trend at this stage. Often constitutional provisions for autonomy are adopted during periods of social and political transformation, when an autocratic regime is overthrown (when there is considerable legitimacy for autonomy), or when a crisis is reached in minority-majority conflicts, or when there is intense international pressure (in which case legitimacy is granted rather grudgingly). Propelled by these factors, a number of constitutions now recognize some entitlement to self-government, such as the Philippines in relation to two provinces, one for indigenous people and the other for a religious minority; Spain, which guarantees autonomy to three regions and invites others to negotiate with the center for autonomy; Papua New Guinea, which authorizes provinces to negotiate with the central government for substantial devolution of power; Fiji, which recognizes the right of indigenous people to their own administration at the local level; and recently Ethiopia, which gives its “nations, nationalities, and peoples” the right to seek wide-ranging powers as states within a federation and guarantees them even the right to secession. The Russian Constitution of 1993, in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union, provides for extensive autonomy to its constituent parts, whether republics or autonomous areas (Agnew, 1995; Lynn and Novikov, 1997; Smith, 1996). Chinese constitution entrenches the rights of ethnic minorities to substantial self-government, although in practice the dominance of the Communist Party negates their autonomy (Ghai, 2000). In other instances the constitution authorizes but does not require the establishment of autonomous areas, with China again an interesting example (Article 31), in order to provide a constitutional basis for “one country, two systems” for the reunification of Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. On the other hand, it should also be noted that some constitutions prohibit or restrict the scope of autonomy by requiring that the state be unitary or some similar expression; such a provision has retarded the acceptance or implementation of meaningful devolution in, for example, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, and China.
PROS AND CONS OF AUTONOMY: AN OVERVIEW OF EXPERIENCE AND SOME ARGUMENTS
The record of the success of autonomy to resolve or manage ethnic conflicts is mixed. There are many instances when its use has defused tensions, reorganized the state, and provided the basis for the existence of ethnic groups. There are also numerous occasions when autonomy has been unacceptable to a party in conflict, either the central government or the ethnic group. There are examples of the abrupt withdrawal of autonomy because the central government rejects pluralism or considers that its continued operation is a threat to state integrity through secession (as in southern Sudan and Kosovo).
There are several other attractions of autonomy. Autonomy can comprise a wide variety of arrangements regarding structure and powers. The flexibility of the federal device in terms of the division of powers and the structure of institutions enables various kinds of accommodations to be made; it is more hospitable to compromises than other kinds of minority protection. It can also allow for a gradually increasing transfer of powers. As far as minorities are concerned, it ensures them a measure of state power—executive, legislative, and fiscal powers, not merely parliamentary representation, which offers little prospect of a share in policy making or distribution of resources. It ensures better prospects for preserving their culture (language, religion, etc.) and resisting state homogenizing policies and practices. It is a device to control local physical and natural resources. The problem of natural and other resources is not so easily resolved, but state control over national revenue enables other regions to be compensated in other ways to maintain a measure of equity necessary for national unity. From the viewpoint of the central authorities, such arrangements may forestall or terminate demands for secession.
Autonomy has been used for different purposes. Most importantly, it has been used for long-term accommodation of linguistic or ethnic diversity. The first important example of federalism for this purpose was the division of Canada into the two provinces of the largely Anglophonic Ontario and Francophone Quebec in 1867. Although the Canadian federation has now come under pressure due to secessionist claims in Quebec, the federal solution provided a satisfactory basis for the accommodation of Francophonie for over a hundred years (Watts, 2000). Federalism was adopted by India on independence, largely for administrative reasons, and it was not until 1956 that the federation was transformed to serve as a device to accommodate linguistic diversity. Controversies over linguistic policies and demands for the linguistic reorganization of states led to a great deal of violence and threatened India’s unity (Harrison, 1960). It is widely recognized that this reorganization brought consider-
able stability to India (Gupta, 1975), even if it has required further reorganizations of state boundaries. In Nigeria it was the federal device, as reorganized after the Biafara war, that helped maintain the country’s unity and provide security to most of its ethnic communities. A striking example of the successful use of federal-type autonomy is Spain after Franco’s death (Heywood, 1995; Moreno, 1994; Conversi, 2000). Various cultural and linguistic communities or nations in Spain, prominently the Catalans and the Basque, resisting centralization of the state started in the late nineteenth century, had been seeking separation through violence. The 1978 constitution recognized these historical and other communities and guaranteed them autonomy.
An outstanding example of the successful use of regional autonomy is Åland, where a predominantly Swedish-speaking population under Finnish sovereignty has enjoyed a large measure of cultural and political autonomy since 1921. Åland had been administered by Sweden as part of Finland; when Russia acquired Finland, Åland went with it. On the grant of independence to Finland in 1917, the inhabitants of Åland demanded reunification with Sweden, which backed their claims. The dispute was referred to the newly established League of Nations, which recommended that Åland remain under Finnish sovereignty but with a high degree of autonomy, under international guarantee, designed to protect the linguistic, cultural, and property rights of Ålanders. Over time Åland has come to value its autonomy as well as its links with Finland (Hannikainen, 1997).
Åland’s experience has been a model of regional autonomy and inspired arrangements for the autonomy of Greenland and Faroes under Danish sovereignty. Other examples of regional autonomy include the Italian South Tyrol, for the protection of cultural and political rights of its substantial German-speaking population, the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua for the protection of its indigenous people, and Chittagong Tract Hills in Bangladesh. Its imaginative use by China for the reunification of Hong Kong and Macau helped to resolve differences between China on the one hand and the United Kingdom and Portugal on the other; but its potential for the resolution of the Taiwan question has yet to be tested (Ghai, 1997, 1998a, 2000). The agreement by Israel to grant autonomy to Palestinians brought most hostilities to an end and set a promising stage for negotiations on self-government and eventual statehood. In the Philippines Muslim secessionist activity in Mindanao, lasting for a quarter of a century, has abated due to an agreement in 1996 between the Moro National Liberation Front and the government (Stankovitch, 1999). There are many lesser-known examples from the South Pacific where autonomy helped bring disputes to some settlement (prominently the 1975 differences between Papua New Guinea and Bougainville and the Francophone claims
in Vanuatu; Ghai, 1996). The use of regional autonomy in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia has been well documented.
Autonomy often facilitates a compromise as it is a midpoint of competing claims—that of a separate statehood/sovereignty and a unitary state. Autonomy can provide the basis for a long-term resolution because it can fudge the thorny issue of sovereignty, which has been so troublesome in several conflicts. Self-government and self-determination can be accommodated within the confines of autonomy (with substantial devolution of powers and the paraphernalia of statehood such as a flag, postal stamps, and even an anthem) while retaining intact the boundaries of the state.
Autonomy has also been used as a transitional or interim device to postpone the more difficult issue of the ultimate resolution of a dispute or conflict to provide a cooling-off period to examine other alternatives. Autonomy can serve this purpose because both parties can reserve their position, although it is hard for the government then to offer anything less. The relations of autonomy may provide a better basis for negotiating the ultimate resolution by generating trust and a framework for discussions. This was envisaged as an essential purpose of the Israeli-Palestinian agreement for autonomy for Gaza and the West Bank. While the course of subsequent negotiations has not been smooth, the concession of autonomy undoubtedly eased tensions and helped the longer-term process of finding a definitive status for a Palestinian state. In Hong Kong autonomy is also seen as transitional—it is guaranteed only for 50 years. But unlike Palestine, the ultimate destination is full integration into China, the transitional period facilitating political and psychological adjustments. The conflict between the indigenous people of New Caledonia and the French government and French settlers on the future status of New Caledonia has also been overcome through an agreement that gives the colony wide-ranging autonomy and postpones the final decision that is to be reached through a referendum. The Bougainville separatists proposed a similar method to the Papua New Guinea government in November 1999. In these situations the expectation of governments is that the experience of autonomy in which the local group is able to determine most matters of concern to it may counsel against separation, especially as it is possible to increase autonomy during further negotiations.
Third, the offer to consider autonomy has served to bring hostilities to an end. Bougainville was persuaded to bring its rebellion to an end by the Papua New Guinea government in early 1976 by the offer to consider significant autonomy or other options. Truces in many other conflicts have been made for similar reasons (including such difficult customers as the Tamil Tigers, the southern Sudanese, and secessionists in Catalonia
and the Basque Country). The promise or grant of autonomy can transform the nature of dispute—from territorial claims to the nature of government, as in Åland, Mindanao, and New Caledonia.
Autonomy has enabled a region to exercise substantial self-government without assuming all functions of state or losing the benefits of metropolitan nationality (as with associated states such as the Cook Islands, which opted for a link with New Zealand after decolonization but assumed most functions of self-government). On the other hand, autonomy has also been used when a region of a state does not want to join a bigger union (e.g., in Greenland and Faroes when Denmark joined EU; and special provisions could be negotiated for Åland when Finland joined the EU because of its preexisting autonomy).
Autonomy has been used as a complement to other conflict-resolving devices or packages. Various forms of autonomy (personal, corporate, or territorial) have been linked to consociationalism, which has been gaining popularity in recent years, as in Bosnia, Belgium, and Fiji.
Territorial autonomy can increase the political integration of ethnic groups with the rest of the country by accentuating intragroup differences and leading to the fragmentation of previously monolithic ethnic parties. The proliferation of parties enables coalitions of similarly situated ethnic parties (Nigeria, India) across the state. Local problems that might otherwise have created a national crisis are dealt with by the locality itself. Territorial asymmetrical arrangements encourage demands for similar arrangements by other groups (India, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, China). The proliferation of these arrangements increases the prospects of national unity as it diffuses state power and enables central authorities to balance regional interests with national interests.
Autonomy arrangements also contribute to constitutionalism in that they divide power. The guarantees for autonomy and the modalities for their enforcement emphasis the rule of law and the roles of independent institutions. The operation of the arrangements, particularly those parts governing the relationship between the center and the region, being dependent on discussions, mutual respect, and compromise, frequently serve to strengthen these qualities. They help break up the hegemony of the dominant group and give the minority some influence at the center, depending on the precise institutional arrangements, and integrates it in the state. This justification is offered by current Ethiopian leaders who were instrumental in adopting the most ethnic-oriented constitution of recent decades, which gives any “nationality” or “people” the right to a federal state or secession (Paul, 2000; Tronvoll, 2000).
A particular advantage of territorial autonomy, being based on the territorial principle, is that it enables ethnic problems to be solved without entrenching ethnicity. However, some forms of autonomy may in-
deed entrench ethnicity, as with reservations or tribal areas where cultural dimensions and the need to preserve the identity of the group may serve to sharpen boundaries against outsiders.
Objections to Autonomy
Despite the theoretical and practical advantages of autonomy, there has been considerable resistance to it by governments. It has proved impossible to muster enough political support for significant autonomy in Sri Lanka despite years of negotiations and waves of violence. The Sudanese government has strenuously resisted autonomy for southern Sudan. In the South African postapartheid constitutional negotiations, the majority party was able to evade autonomy and was strongly backed by whites and the Zulu-dominated Inkatha Party, although a form of regionalism was conceded (Klug, 2000). Even when autonomy is established, it may be repealed by the government; examples of this abound. Federalism, established only upon independence in Indonesia, was abolished shortly thereafter. Likewise, regionalism, as part of independence packages, was repealed in Uganda and Kenya soon after independence; Ethiopia swallowed Eriteria in 1962, although it was united with Ethiopia under UN auspices through a highly autonomous relationship in 1952; and the elaborate Cyprus independent constitution that created federalism based on group rather than territorial principles was short lived. China did not long honor its promises of autonomy to Tibet, nor did Sudan to its southern province. The union between Malaya and Singapore on federal principles was soon terminated, effectively by mutual agreement. In some cases where the facade of autonomy has been preserved, the reality of pluralism and diversity has not, as in Malaysia or communist federations (Ghai, 1998b). Many federations or autonomous systems have suffered acute tensions or crises (Pakistan, Nigeria, and even such a well-established federation as Canada). We have seen in recent years the disintegration of federations into a multiplicity of states—the secession of Bangladesh from Pakistan, the breakup of Czechoslovakia, and the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In many contemporary conflicts a settlement on autonomy has eluded negotiators for long periods or at all, as in the Philippines or over Kosovo, or one party has escalated its demands beyond autonomy (Sudan and Sri Lanka are obvious examples). The UN has had a singular lack of success in persuading the Cypriot Greeks and Turks to try cohabitation again, this time in the form of a territorial federation, facilitated now by the transfers of population following the breakdown of the republic. In the eyes of many policy makers and scholars, autonomy has been truly discredited.
Various reasons for resisting or for objections to autonomy can be
identified. Some of them relate to resistance to autonomy by those who have a vested interest in a more centralized regime; others relate to its inadequacies (and are more directly relevant to us). For a long time autonomy was seen to undermine the process of nation and state building that underlay much modernization theory—and with the ambitions of nationalist leaders. Autonomy is resisted because it is feared that it would consolidate ethnic solidarity and divisiveness or entrench what might be a passing fad in this volatile age of identity. The concept of autonomy upsets long-held views of the sacredness of territory and the unity of the motherland. From a more narrow ethnic view, which sees the state as a way of consolidating the domination of one group, the reorganization of the state and the reallocation of resources entailed in autonomy is unacceptable. Sometimes, as in postapartheid South African constitutional negotiations, there may be suspicions about the real motive in the claim for autonomy. The claim may be merely a way of perpetuating the group’s privileged position and refusal to share resources with less developed areas; similar motives were ascribed to white settlers who lobbied for regionalism in Kenya at its independence. Secessionist groups or those demanding internal autonomy are frequently accused of greed and unwillingness to share their resources with others, as in Katanga, Biafra, and Bougainville. Even if persuaded of the value of autonomy, leaders of the majority community may be reluctant to concede it, fearing the loss of electoral support among its own community (a problem that has bedeviled Sri Lanka). They may not have the confidence that they would be able to implement the autonomy agreement especially if it requires an amendment to the constitution, a referendum, or even merely new legislation.
Government leaders fear that autonomy would inhibit the performance of key state functions. Autonomy may jeopardize economic and administrative efficiency due to the complexity and duplication of administrative institutions. Autonomy inevitably adds to the costs of government (even if there are in fact efficiency gains, as much theory of decentralization claims). Autonomy may also affect the operation of the economy, especially as there may be regional taxes and restrictions on the mobility of labor or preferences for local capital. Autonomy may retard the state’s function of redistribution of resources and thus place in jeopardy the very legitimacy of autonomy.
Another objection to territorially based solutions is that a complete identity of ethnicity and territory is impossible without a infinite fragmentation of the state (and even not then since some groups are dispersed throughout the state). The discrimination against groups that do not qualify for or are not granted autonomy may be unfair. There is another way in which certain groups may be treated unfairly. Ethnically based
autonomy will create new minorities, and the position of these minorities will be worse than in a nonethnic state since they may be subjected to discrimination or have to acknowledge the symbols and cultures of the group enjoying the autonomy (the partition of Ireland in 1921 produced minorities on both sides of the border; the more substantial Catholic minority in Northern Ireland was then subjected to institutionalized discrimination). One has only to examine the position of minorities in the Soviet republics with their titular dominant groups or of blacks in apartheid South Africa who were deprived of South African citizenship because they were deemed to belong to territorial homelands outside that state to see the force of this argument. These kinds of discrimination may trigger demands for autonomy by the new minorities and lead to further fragmentation of the state. Connected with the preceding point is the fear that, if autonomy can be justified on ethnic grounds, the rules justifying the grant of autonomy (identity, a sense of discrimination/injustice) may encourage the mobilization of other communities along ethnic lines, indeed to manufacture ethnic communities.
There may also be anxiety that the fundamental values of the state may be compromised by the recognition through autonomy of different cultural or religious values or that these differences will work against the smooth operation of autonomous systems. A classic although simplified case of this was the civil war in the United States (when Abraham Lincoln justified the stance of the northern states by saying that “this country cannot endure permanently half slave and half free”). In more modern times this was one (although not the fundamental) reason for the rejection of a federal solution to the Jewish-Arab problem in Palestine under mandate or UN schemes (O’Brien, 1986). The Muslim League in colonial India rejected a federal solution for Muslims for the same reason, and it has been claimed that an Ethiopian-Eritrean federation was impossible for the same reason (Tekle, 1991). The position of the French in Quebec is not dissimilar. Some of the problems that arise in Hong Kong, and are likely to arise in a more acute form in Taiwan if it is unified with the Peoples Republic of China, are due to very different values and practices in mainland China. Indeed, Taiwan’s position on reunification is that it cannot take place unless the mainland starts to respect human rights and practice democracy.
A specific objection to autonomy regimes comes from those who espouse an individual-oriented view of human rights. Autonomy frequently relies on group rights (such as that of indigenous peoples or in the Quebecois version), and group rights involve discrimination against both those inside and outside the group. But even those who are less committed to an individualist conception of rights have problems with some kinds of autonomy systems. Steiner (1991), valuing the diversity and richness of
ethnic groups, has cautioned against autonomy regimes that hermetically divide one community from another. He writes: “Rights given ethnic minorities by human rights law to internal self-determination through autonomy regimes could amount to authorisation to them to exclude ‘others’…. Enforced ethnic separation both inhibits intercourse among groups, and creative development within the isolated communities themselves. It impoverishes cultures and peoples” (pp. 1551–1554). Some autonomy regimes have indeed raised these difficulties, but in most states fundamental rights are protected against regional violations (Spain, India, United States).
Finally, and perhaps more fundamentally, there are widely shared fears that autonomy will be merely a springboard to secession. This is seen to be a serious problem when the group demanding autonomy is related and contiguous to a neighboring kin state (as with Indian reluctance about autonomy in Kashmir, Sri Lankan resistance to autonomy for northern Tamils, and the fear in Kuala Lumpur that Malaysian Borneo states may get too close to Indonesia). Autonomy granted to a minority in its “homeland” may in turn create new minorities (as with Muslims in northeastern Sri Lanka, which the Tamil Tigers want under their control, or Christians in Mindanao).
The mixed picture of success and the denial of autonomy suggests that it is difficult to say a priori that autonomy is an effective device. It is necessary to examine circumstances in which autonomy is likely to be negotiated and in which it is likely to be successful and the consequences of the denial of autonomy. I examine the experiences of autonomy with a view to providing some hypotheses for answering these questions. I do not necessarily assess all of the arguments for and against autonomy outlined above; instead, I focus on the feasibility and utility of autonomy from the standards of the concept and criteria of success, which is elaborated on in the next section.
CRITERIA FOR JUDGING THE SUCCESS OF AUTONOMY
Ethnicity raises complex problems of social harmony, identity, security, and equity, while autonomy itself seeks to balance various, sometimes conflicting, considerations. Success must be judged with reference to the purposes of autonomy, the primary purpose being to ensure a significant measure of self-government to a group, acknowledge its identity, promote diversity, and facilitate harmonious, or at least conflict-free relations, with other communities and the central government. The motivating factor is to bring a dispute to an end and to maintain the unity of the state. These goals frequently override other objectives of national policy, such as an efficient or fair allocation of resources, integrated eco-
nomic planning, and the equal rights of all. Even within these overriding goals there may be different priorities. When a civil war is raging, attention is focused on bringing the killing to an end, rather than the long-term consequences of the settlement. It is also useful to refer to the process by which future differences are resolved; fairness and justice are also important. As Young (1998:5) has stated: “Conflict—class, interest, and ethnic— is a natural aspect of social existence; the heart of the matter is that it be conducted by civil process, by equitable rules, through dialogue and bargaining, in a framework facilitating cooperation and reconciliation.”
The criteria for judging success, within these overall goals, will depend on the circumstances of the case. Gurr and Khosla (forthcoming) propose two criteria in the case of armed conflict. First, do the arrangements lead to some degree of accommodation between the interests of the parties? Each party must attain some of its objectives over the dispute. They say that in the case of communal challengers this usually means some mix of recognition, participation in governance, and material benefits; in the case of states it usually means an end to armed resistance by communal rebels and acceptance of the state’s authority. The second criterion is a substantial and sustained shift away from armed conflict (a short-term shift being one that lasts less than one year). A related but more specific criterion is the durability of autonomy (Nordquist, 1998). According to Nordquist, a solution is likely to be durable, that is, an operative political solution, when it reflects and meets the needs and interests of the parties. He proposes a qualitative way of measuring durability based on a combination of two factors. A high level of durability is one in which the conflict has subsided militarily after the initiation of the autonomy and the autonomy has continued to exist on the basis of an operative political document after at least one constitutional change of government/head of government in the central state. A low level of durability is one in which one of these conditions is missing. As Nordquist makes clear, this is not a test of longevity, although the time factor does enter into it.
A key criterion is the manner in which the concession of autonomy transforms the previous situation. When the previous situation is marked by bloody battles, peace or the cessation of fighting itself is success. When there are differences of opinion that threaten the constitutional and political system, as in Canada, a test is whether negotiations on autonomy or alternative arrangements help to overcome extreme positions and produce a framework for a solution. Indeed, in some circumstances autonomy that ultimately leads to separation may be a good solution, as in the disintegration of empires, where there may be no credible moral, political, or economic reasons for continuation of common sovereignty.
But the success of an autonomy arrangement must also be judged by its long-term consequences. Does it lead to an improvement of ethnic relations, rehabilitation of rebels and their participation in national affairs, settlement of emerging problems through dialogue rather than the use of force, and ultimately the strengthening of national unity? Does an autonomy arrangement lead to fragmentation of the political community, with the carving of separate political spaces and the provision of mutual vetoes, based on the assumption of persistent hostilities?
It is necessary to notice some methodological problems in assessing the effectiveness of autonomy. How are we to assess the usefulness of autonomy when autonomy is abolished soon after its inauguration, as in the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and Ethiopia-Eriteria? On what basis can we say that the problems faced by these countries stem from that abolition? Another difficulty is that different parties have different expectations from autonomy arrangements, precluding a common measure of performance. There are frequently diverse objectives of autonomy, so that there may be a tradeoff between them. Even regarding ethnicity there are different objectives—those of separate coexistence and integration; autonomy may enhance the former at the expense of the latter. It is hard to isolate the effect of autonomy on ethnic groups from other factors that influence ethnic relations.
The end of tensions or hostilities through autonomy does not mean that tensions will not resurface. Autonomy is not purely instrumental, acting on social and political forces. It is a set of institutions and arrangements as well as process. Similar provisions have produced quite different results in different countries. Just by providing a framework for interethnic relations and negotiations, autonomy affects and shapes these relations. They may fashion new forms of identity or reinforce old ones. They may enhance or decrease the capacity of particular groups to extract resources from the state. They may provide new forms of contention and dispute. They may reduce the salience of specific problems and issues (e.g., by making them intra- rather than intercommunal). These remarks illustrate no more than that ethnic situations do not stand still and need constant readjustments. They also demonstrate that the reason for and the impact of these arrangements must be understood in specific historical and national contexts. Moreover, autonomy comes in different forms. These factors also make generalizations on the adoption or utility of these arrangements problematic. For these reasons it is necessary to avoid judging success in dichotomous terms but to locate it along a spectrum, “like a balance sheet” in Young’s expression (1998:5).
EXPERIENCES OF AUTONOMY: PROPOSITIONS
From the above analysis it is evident that autonomy arrangements, appropriately arrived at and operated, can defuse and make more peaceful identity-based conflicts in states. The classical literature on federalism and autonomy is of limited utility, being based on different assumptions to those of multiethnic federalism or regional autonomy. As the analysis in this paper shows, multiethnic federations are different from other federations in their aims, structures, and operations. Moreover, while many nonethnic federations are the result of aggregation, that is, of independent and separate states or territorial units coming together, ethnic federations or regional autonomy are frequently achieved through disaggregation, that is, by devolution from the central government. The dynamics of these two methods are different; for example, in the former there is a stronger sense of the previous sovereignty of the territorial units, with the result that central powers are likely to be more limited than in the latter and there is likely to be stronger constitutional provisions for their autonomy. Aggregation tends to provide the possibility of compact and contractual federalism and so gives some kind of a moral status to the joining communities. Disaggregation tends to end up with a strong center; Jay (1989:221) says that “the very existence of an operational central heart made it difficult to contemplate a new ‘bargain’ or ‘social contract’ between the nationalities which might reconstruct the nature of center-periphery relations.” Likewise, the dynamics of federalism, whether asymmetrical or not, are different from those of regional autonomy, where historically there has been a greater tolerance for diversity.
In the propositions discussed below I try to indicate the circumstances in which the grant of autonomy is feasible, the structuring of arrangements that may enhance the prospects of its success, and the social and political consequences of autonomy arrangements. The propositions do not of course fit neatly into these categories. Nor can they do more than provide a guide to policy; it is necessary to examine them in the specific context of actual conflict and its history. I pay particular attention to two factors that have dominated discussions on autonomy—the viability of asymmetrical arrangements and the tendency of autonomy toward secession.
Propositions About Circumstances When the Concession of Autonomy Is Likely
The prospects of establishing autonomy arrangements are strongest when the state undergoes a regime change. The establishment of autonomy involves a major reorganization of the state. Those who enjoy positions of power in the apparatus of the state are unlikely to give up their control of
power willingly. They may of course be compelled to renegotiate the structure of the state if irresistible or strong pressures build up for reform or their own position becomes weaker (as when autonomy was provided for southern Sudan).
Times of regime change provide opportunities for autonomy for a variety of reasons. Those who are in charge of the transition may have been opposed to the previous centralized system. The framers of the 1994 Ethiopian Constitution had fought against the centralization of both Emperor Selassie and his communist successors, which had denied recognition to the ethnic diversity of the Ethiopian people and thus stifled them (Nahum, 1997). The end of an old regime may usher in a new balance of forces that may necessitate or facilitate restructuring of the state (as in Spain). The new or aspiring leaders may need to find allies, to be secured by the promise of autonomy (as with the rise of the communist regimes in the Soviet Union and China; Connor, 1984; Mackerras, 1994). After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia tried to maintain its territorial integrity by promising autonomy to its constituent parts (Smith, 1996; Lynn and Novikov, 1997). The Philippines conceded the principle of autonomy for the indigenous people and the southern Muslims after the overthrow of Marcos both because autonomy was more consistent with notions of people power and because the new regime needed to consolidate its hold on power.
The weakness of a new regime may be seized on by groups wanting secession or autonomy by pushing their demands. There was considerable optimism in East Timor in 1998 that the crisis of the Indonesian state would facilitate its independence or at least a high degree of autonomy. Similarly, Tibetan leaders considered that the end of the Cultural Revolution was propitious for its own autonomy and for a time the prospects looked promising. However, experience does not suggest that a change in regime will always lead to autonomy when a group is demanding it.
Change in a regime has commonly come with the independence of a state (largely with decolonization), which provides an opportunity for a fresh look at the apparatus of the state and a structure to accommodate new social and political forces. Imperial rule produced many multiethnic colonies; centralized rule established during colonial rule was unacceptable to many communities upon independence. A large number of autonomy arrangements were established upon independence (e.g., India, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Indonesia). The end of British sovereignty over Hong Kong was facilitated by extensive autonomy under Chinese sovereignty. Sometimes autonomy is established following a compromise among local groups; sometimes it is forced by the colonial power. The latter has been more common. It is less likely to ensure the successful implementation of autonomy because
the majority resents the imposition (as in Cyprus). For that reason few autonomy regimes in Africa have survived for any length of time after independence.
Autonomy arrangements are likely to be established if the international community becomes involved in conflict resolution. At both the international and the regional levels there has been considerable support for autonomy, as reflected in emerging international norms. The increasing involvement of the international community in national conflicts has facilitated the application of these norms to the settlement of conflicts. The League of Nations showed a particular preference for autonomy, and a number of treaties for minority protection were based on autonomy, of which Åland’s autonomy survives to this day. Contemporary examples include Bosnia Herzogovina, the Rambouillet proposals for Kosovo, Crimea, Palestine, and the continuing involvement of the UN in a search for a federal solution in Cyprus. The Organisation of Islamic States brought considerable pressure on the Philippine Muslims to accept autonomy; in Sri Lanka the Indian government intervened to secure autonomy for the Tamils; and the UN oversaw the development of autonomy proposals for East Timor. It is not surprising that the international community, consisting of states, is reluctant to see the dismemberment of states; autonomy seems a suitable compromise. Pressures to accept autonomy are facilitated by the willingness of the international community to guarantee it and to provide material and other incentives (such as for the EU and the OSCE to offer greater integration into the European system).
However, once autonomy is established, the international community is less willing to provide continuing support. It is reluctant to make long-term commitments, particularly as they involve continuing intervention in the affairs of a state and are likely to require police or military maneuvers and considerable sums of money. Yet international involvement for a substantial period of time is frequently necessary as strong-arm tactics may have been required to impose autonomy. The Cyprus independence settlement broke down because the United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey were not willing to abide by the guarantees they had given, and India withdrew from its participation in the Sri Lankan scheme for autonomy because of pressure on its military. However, the EU and NATO now appear to accept that they are in Bosnia and Kosovo for the long haul.
Autonomy arrangements are most likely to succeed in states that have established traditions of democracy and the rule of law. Of autonomy arrangements in liberal societies, communist states, and third world states, most successful examples are in liberal societies (Ghai, 1998a). The record is worst
in communist states, where provisions for autonomy for areas dominated by a titular nationality were negated by the overall control of the Communist Party, with little commitment to pluralism. The record in the third world is mixed, with some successful examples but also some spectacular failures. The reason that liberal societies have the best record is that they have established traditions of democracy and the rule of law. On the whole, pluralism is valued and there is respect for cultural and religious differences. Autonomy arrangements require give and take; they depend on frequent negotiations for adjustments of relationships or the implementation of law. Elected representatives at the center and regions enjoy the support of their people and are respected as such. The law provides the framework for relations between the center and regions and defines the powers of the respective governments. Disputes on the meaning of the law are resolved ultimately by the courts, whose decisions must be respected by all parties concerned. These conclusions are borne out by Nordquist’s (1998) research, who found a strong relationship between the level of democracy at the center and the durability of autonomy. He concluded that democratic countries were most hospitable to autonomy and that Europe was the most successful region in the practice of autonomy.
Autonomy has a better chance of success if the autonomous area is small, has limited resources, and is marginal to the state. A state finds it easier to accommodate the aspirations of small communities for autonomy. Small communities may not be strong enough to pose the threat of secession. Autonomy may not involve a substantial reorganization of the state. Indeed, it may involve hardly any reorganization, as forms of local government can be used for their self-government. The impact of small communities or the territories they inhabit on the larger political or economic system is often negligible. Typically, these autonomies also exist on the geographical peripheries of the state—another factor that might minimize their impact on the state. Some of the most successful autonomies fall into this category: Åland, Faroes, and Greenland (Denmark); Azores and Madeira (Portugal); the Channel Islands (Britain); Saami (various Nordic states); and Corsica (France). The form that this kind of autonomy takes is often that of regional autonomy or federacy.
These uncontroversial autonomies can be compared with, for example, the autonomies of Buganda and southern Sudan. Both of these regions were central to the politics of their states. Buganda was also physically central. Both had rich resources that were then or are potentially of great significance to the economic well-being and development of the state. In neither case could the authority of the central government be effectively consolidated as long as these autonomous areas were not brought under a greater measure of national hegemony. The experi-
ences of the autonomy of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea serve to remind us that an island, although geographically separated from the other parts of Papua New Guinea and containing only a small proportion of the national population, can be caught up in the maelstrom of national politics if it is rich in resources. The mineral wealth of Bougainville meant that national politics would always impact on policies of the island and that there would be serious limits on its autonomy. The larger territories that had happier experiences with autonomy, as in Spain, have nevertheless profound impact on national policies and institutions, and the negotiation and establishment of autonomy have been difficult and complex.
Autonomy is easier to concede and is likely to succeed when there is no dispute about sovereignty. Autonomy has been a cause of great contention because it is associated with assertions of or qualifications on state sovereignty. Autonomy becomes less problematic if it can be disassociated from sovereignty. China’s official position is that it would be prepared to discuss autonomy for Tibet if the Dalai Lama acknowledged that Tibet was an inalienable part of China. China was able to accept autonomy for Hong Kong in part because its leaders realized that it was inconceivable that the residents would ever try to secede. Franco’s followers were prepared to discuss regional autonomy in Spain only when agreement was reached on what is now Article 2 of the 1978 constitution: “The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible country of all Spaniards.” In some countries preemptive steps are taken against the concession of large measures of autonomy by declaring the unitary nature of the state or the inalienability of the legislative supremacy of the national parliament (e.g., Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea, respectively).
Autonomy is easier either because the autonomists are not claiming independence or because the national government is not concerned with maintaining sovereignty. The classic example of the latter situation is the attitude of a metropolitan state to its associated states. The decolonization of the Cook Islands and Niue was accomplished by their transformation as associated states of New Zealand. The Cook Islands enjoy a considerable amount of autonomy; over the years their autonomy has increased, under encouragement from New Zealand. New Zealand would not be upset if the Cook Islands wanted to break off the association. In fact, links to that sovereignty are more important to the Cook Islands for they entitle Cook Islanders the right to enter and reside in New Zealand (and derivatively Australia). Relations between Åland and Finland are relaxed and cordial because Finland is not now overly concerned with the maintenance of its sovereignty over Åland, whereas the Ålanders see significant benefits from their
connection with Finland. Italy was able to contemplate significant autonomy for South Tyrol with a substantial majority of Austro-Germans once the proportion of Italian-speaking residents had increased (principally with its merger with Trentino). The autonomy of linguistic provinces in India, which have no separatist ambitions, has been much less problematic than in Kashmir, whose status has been more controversial. Regional autonomy in Sri Lanka has become difficult because of the secessionist claims of the Tamil Tigers. It also reflects a situation in which autonomy is rejected by its potential beneficiaries precisely because the acceptance of autonomy is seen to compromise their grander design of independence.
The success of autonomy negotiations may therefore depend on diffusing, fragmenting, or fudging sovereignty. One method lies in the use of terminology; federation may imply splitting sovereignty, and so the labels devolution, autonomy, or decentralization can be used to obscure the extent of autonomy (as in Spain or Papua New Guinea). The Ethiopian constitution finesses sovereignty by declaring that all sovereignty lies among its many diverse “Nations, Nationalities and Peoples.” This approach was foreshadowed in the 1974 Yugoslav constitution that defined the units of the federation as “states based on the sovereignty of the people” (a provision that also held the federation hostage to the “people” of the different republics). In a more practical way the sovereignty of Northern Ireland has been fudged through a kind of condominium arrangement. Jay (1989) had anticipated the Good Friday agreement when he said that an opening lay in recognizing Northern Ireland’s location at the interstices of two sovereign powers, a border area for which both might assume responsibility, focusing on federalism not as a constitutional process but as a broad process of building institutional links across exclusive areas of sovereignty.
The reverse side of the coin is to make autonomy acceptable to the recipients by attaching the indicia of sovereignty to it—in the form, for example, of regional flags, distinct passports, regional stamps, and grand titles like republics and premiers.
Autonomy is more likely to be negotiated and to succeed if there are several ethnic groups rather than two. Autonomy arrangements that bring together two communities have a poor record. They are, to start with, hard to negotiate. Negotiations between the Cypriot Greeks and Turks for a federation have led nowhere after more than 20 years. Autonomy discussions in Sri Lanka have been bedeviled by the Sinhala-Tamil polarity. The problem in Cyprus is that the Greeks want a strong center and the Turks want strong regions; the former would enhance the role of the Greek community in the affairs of Cyprus, and the latter would grant greater autonomy to the Turks. Similar dialetics have obstructed agreement in Sri
Lanka, and the government has effectively subordinated the present devolution arrangements to its policy objectives. The collapse of the Czechoslovakian federation occurred due to similar differences as to its role; the Slovaks, as a minority, wanted a weak center with Slovakia as the main arena of its activities, while the Czechs saw the federal authorities as the main avenue of policy and administration (Pithart, 1994). The collapse of the Ethiopia-Eriterian and Pakistan federations is attributed to the desire of the Ethiopian emperor and the West Pakistanis to use federal institutions to rule Eriteria and what is now Bangladesh, respectively. (If the need is to accommodate one or two small geographically based minorities, regional autonomy rather than federalism may be a better solution.)
Even when agreement may be forthcoming, the federation may be hard to operate when there are basically two communities (or when, as in Canada now, the founding assumption of the federation of two communities has been outlived). Biracial federations with about equal-sized communities have larger possibilities of conflict and limited scope for tradeoffs. When the communities are unequal, the federal arrangements become merely a form for supplication by the smaller community to the larger—in patent negation of the federal principle (as the Francophones in Canada often claim). Tripolarity, while an improvement, is still fraught with problems, as in the original Nigerian federation (Watts, 1994a). A larger number of groups allows for flexibility in arrangements and the establishment of a certain kind of balance and has the capacity to diffuse what are essentially bilateral disputes. A bigger constellation of interests have a stake in the success of the federal arrangements and the clout to achieve this (well demonstrated by the Indian experience, where there are numerous linguistic, religious, and regional groups, although the Papua New Guinea-Bougainville experience shows that multipolarity cannot always diffuse bilateral problems).
Consequently, ways should be found to transform bipolarity into multipolarity. Nigeria achieved multipolarity (and some equality among the new regions) by dividing existing regions, particularly the dominant north, into several regions. Papua New Guinea based its regions neither on the Papua New Guinea divide nor the highland-coastal-island divide but on the more numerous districts. Spain achieved multipolarity by extending the offer of autonomy to communities defined as “nonhistoric” and Sri Lanka tried to make autonomy more palatable to the Sinhala by dividing the Sinhala-dominated area into districts and generalizing autonomy. Belgium has tried to overcome bipolarity by a combination of regional and cultural councils, providing some cross-cutting cleavages.
Multipolarity is helpful if all territorial units are to be equal partners. Sometimes multipolarity cannot be achieved in this way. Canada has
become multipolar in recent years, with the claims of the aboriginals and recent immigrants but has served merely to complicate Canada’s problems. If multipolarity leads to differential or competing claims, implying asymmetry, negotiating agreement on autonomy can be very difficult (see below).
Autonomy is more likely to be conceded and to succeed in being conceded and in operation where it is not explicitly based on ethnicity. Ethnically based claims to autonomy provoke resentment among the majority community. For that reason it is harder to persuade the majority community to concede it. Autonomies based on ethnicity may also be harder to operate, for if the autonomous regions are separated by ethnic differences, there may be more antagonism than cooperation. The relative success of autonomy in Switzerland, India, and until recently in Canada is explained on the basis of cross-cutting identities. In Switzerland, for example, there are three principal languages (German, French, and Italian) and one subsidiary (Romansch), of which the dominant one is German, being spoken by 65 percent of the people, followed by the French, with nearly 44 percent. It also has two major religions (Catholics constitute just over 47 percent of the population and Protestants just over 44 percent). In addition, the communities that make up the country have strong local traditions and loyalties, fostered by the topography. Although each of the cantons has a majority of one or other linguistic communities, there is no direct relationship between territory and religion or between religion and language. This provides for a measure of flexibility without detracting from the distinctive linguistic orientation of a canton. Autonomy in Indian federalism is based primarily on language, but different linguistic groups have many cross-cutting identities in religion, caste, and traditions. The current problems in Canada perhaps spring from an exclusive emphasis on one criterion at the expense of cross-cutting identities that would reduce its salience. From the Francophones’ point of view, the emergence of claims based on other ethnicities might well turn out to be a blessing, allowing for a more balanced federation, but it is not perceived in this way by them.
Many modern autonomy systems are based on ethnicity, for even in territories with mixed populations, ethnicity is reintroduced through consociatialist arrangements (as in Bosnia and Kosovo). Such arrangements bring in all the complicated rules of consociatialism, like separate electorates and blocking mechanisms, which put an enormous strain on autonomy.
Propositions About Actions that Can Increase the Likelihood that an Autonomy Arrangement Will Succeed
Autonomy arrangements that have been negotiated in a democratic and participatory way have better chances of success than those that in effect are imposed. The process of negotiating autonomy affects its success. Many systems of autonomy that were established in the dying days of colonialism were imposed rather than negotiated—the price that nationalist leaders had to pay for independence. Those leaders resented the systems of autonomy and took early opportunities to dismantle them. In most instances, members of the groups for whose benefit autonomies were established had little understanding of the mechanisms. At best the arrangements were interelite bargains. Some contemporary settlements may suffer from the same difficulties—agreements produced in the hothouses of hegemonic powers.
Participatory and negotiated settlements are more likely to have dealt with pressing problems, avoiding the superficiality of settlements produced under heavy external pressure. They are likely to represent a balance of interests. The parties have a stake in their success. The least successful of India’s autonomies is Kashmir, which was not negotiated but provided for in response to a complex international situation, with Kashmiris not having been involved, and the other Indians resenting what they regard as unfair privileges for Kashmir. A negotiated settlement may also convince the party sceptical of autonomy of its value; for example, in Nicaragua the Sandistas were impressed, during negotiations, with the advantages of autonomy for peace and unity that modified their class-based analysis of political organizations (Gabriel, 1996). Negotiated settlements may also help develop understandings among contesting parties, facilitating the implementation of autonomy.
Participation, however, is not a sine non quo of success. Ålanders were not only not involved in the negotiations for their autonomy but were initially opposed to it (as representing a lesser degree of recognition than they wanted). However, subsequent changes to the system of autonomy involved their full participation, and now Ålanders have a strong sense of ownership of autonomy. Hong Kong’s autonomy also owes little to the participation of its residents, being an agreement between the incoming and departing sovereigns. However, Hong Kong’s autonomy is valued greatly by its residents because they realize that the alternative would be complete assimilation into the Chinese political and economic system. Contemporary examples of autonomy, like Bosnia-Herzogovina, Crimea, and the NATO proposal for Kosovo, have been secured under considerable external pressure and negotiated at best through elites, not the people.
The last statement raises the question of the role of referenda or plebi-
scites on autonomy—on which there seems to be no standard practice. The peace proposals in Northern Ireland, the autonomy arrangements for Scotland and Wales, the various constitutional accords in Canada, and the choice between autonomy and independence in New Caledonia and East Timor have been put to the people. On the other hand, there were no referenda in Bosnia, Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, or Mindanao. It is hard to generalize about the role of the referendum. First, there are technical problems to overcome—the form of choice put to the people and who votes in such referenda (e.g., all of the people or only those in the proposed autonomy area). The Canadian experience of recent decades shows the destabilizing effect of referenda, although arrangements that do not enjoy popular support may also be hard to implement. If there is substantial public support for autonomy, a referendum can consolidate the agreement and isolate politicians who may be opposed to it (as in Northern Ireland). But equally, a referendum, under the influence of extremists, may thwart an agreement that has been carefully negotiated to satisfy different, including minority, groups when unpopular concessions may have been necessary. Sometimes political leaders are ahead of the people; at times they are behind. This consideration affects the role of the referendum.
Systems that provide for consultation and mechanisms for renegotiation are more likely to succeed. In any system of devolution of power there are likely to be disputes about the proper relationship between different levels of government. Modern systems are more cooperative than coordinate; that is, they require or facilitate cooperation between different levels. In such instances it is extremely important to have mechanisms through which cooperation can be pursued and disputes resolved. Ultimately, as shown below, these disputes may have to be resolved by the judiciary, but it is sensible to try to resolve them by political means first. Some disputes are unsuitable for judicial resolution and are best dealt with through political settlements. A spirit of consultation and good-faith negotiations are vital for autonomy systems. Both are also vital to a democratic system, a point on which the Canadian Supreme Court placed a particular emphasis in its August 1998 decision on whether Quebec had a right to secede from Canada (2 SCR 217, 1998). Indeed, Canada has pursued this strategy for several years now in its search for a constitutional settlement that would satisfy the aspirations of the Francophones and First Nations—and a host of other special interests. They have not solved all of the problems (see criticisms by Russell, 1993) but have kept Canada from falling apart and have lent to the participants a sense of common enterprise. Switzerland’s success is often attributed to habits of consultations and negotiations. The integrity of India as a state can also be attributed to the willingness to
negotiate differences: so often when a region has been on the brink of breaking away, negotiations have been initiated and disaster averted.
As the Canadian Supreme Court has pointed out, it is important that negotiations be conducted in good faith. If they are not, negotiations can be counterproductive. This point is well illustrated by the experience of Papua New Guinea. The relevant constitutional instruments provided for various mechanisms for consultation and mediation, particularly important as they also provided for the phased transfer of powers to the provinces. Meetings were indeed held regularly, but the central government regularly disregarded agreements reached or recommendations made. This created great resentment in the provinces, particularly in the eastern island provinces, including Bougainville (Ghai and Regan, 1992).
The South African experience shows the importance of negotiating seriously claims of autonomy and in that process to changed perspectives of the parties. In January 1994 the South African legislature adopted a new constitution that was negotiated between various political groups, principally the African National Congress and the National Party. The Inkatha Freedom Party (largely Zulu) and some white groups stayed out of the settlement that had produced the 1994 constitution, until the principle of provincial autonomy and provision for a Volkstaat Council to pursue further proposals for self-government were accepted. This recognition by itself defused ethnic tensions and enabled subsequent agreement on a system of regionalism in which the provincial authorities participate in national law making (Klug, 2000).
Successful arrangements are likely to have built inflexibility to deal with an evolving situation. Ethnic relations/situations are both fluid and dynamic. They are affected by changing economic circumstances, international developments, changing expectations of groups, and manipulation of ethnic sentiments by political or religious leaders. Solutions that may have been acceptable at one time may no longer be acceptable at a later date. Also, not all groups desire the same solutions; some groups may want greater autonomy than would satisfy other groups. It is therefore useful to have arrangements for autonomy that can respond to changing situations.
Classical federations provided for one model for its constituents. Changes in their relationship with the center required constitutional amendments. India has created several new states since independence, but they have to fit into one model (with a major exception for Kashmir and minor exceptions for a few other states). In recent years, however, constitutional arrangements have provided considerable flexibility. Spain and Papua New Guinea essentially set up a framework for negotiations for autonomy. Provinces desiring autonomy can request it, subject to procedures in the province to ensure that the request has the support of the
majority of its people. There is also flexibility about the powers that a province may acquire; a province can make requests from a menu of powers but must satisfy certain tests before it can get more than a prescribed minimum. Powers can be phased in over a period of time, as the province demonstrates its ability to take on additional responsibilities. The arrangements under the Charlottetown Accord in Canada would have provided for negotiations by various groups for their autonomy or rights.
While this flexibility (and the habits of negotiations it generates) has positive consequences, it is not without its critics. From the point of view of a group wanting autonomy, there is an advantage in getting what it wants in one go; there are critical moments in history when the group is in a strong negotiating position, such as when it is willing to end a revolt or there are international pressures on the central government. If the province does not capitalize on that moment, it may be unable to secure transfers of further power. This is very much the experience in Papua New Guinea; no province has been able to secure further powers than were conceded upon the establishment of autonomy.
There are other reasons as well that militate against flexibility. Too much time can be spent on negotiations. Negotiations can become acrimonious. The center can drag its feet or impose additional preconditions for transfers of new powers. This was the experience in Spain; it seemed at one point as if the whole scheme might collapse. Negotiations require good faith on the side of all parties. But if this good faith is forthcoming, there is much to be said for flexibility.
An independent dispute settlement mechanism is essential to long-term operation. Autonomy is based on constitutional and legal provisions. The enforcement of these provisions through what we might call the principle of legality, is essential to the maintenance of autonomy. Disputes can and do arise as to the scope and meaning of provisions. The persistence of autonomy depends crucially on how these disputes are resolved. The most common form for this is judicial; courts are traditionally concerned with solving constitutional disputes. They are qualified for this task because of their well-established independence and competence and the rules of due process that ensure a fair hearing of all parties. Courts also enjoy considerable public respect and are thus well placed to provide authoritative and binding decisions.
Courts provide protection for a party with limited or no political clout (compare tiny Åland with the Finnish state). Papua New Guinea provided a limited and residual role for courts in intergovernmental relations. But the political processes it envisaged did not produce harmony or progress because the center had little interest in autonomy. When the
existing autonomy was invaded by the center, it was the judiciary that came to the assistance of provinces, although courts have not already supported provincial autonomy (Ghai and Regan, 1992). In India the more recent interventionist stand of the judiciary has helped curb the arbitrary suspension of regional governments by the national government. Experience in Spain has been somewhat similar; a key decision of the Constitutional Court was necessary to overcome legislative and bureaucratic obstacles to constitutionally guaranteed autonomy. In South Africa the Constitutional Court has played a valuable role in adjudicating disputes between the center and the provinces and in maintaining a balance between them. In the former Yugoslavia, the only communist federation to provide for a constitutional court, the court was unable to stem the disintegration despite its rulings on legislative and administrative competence of state institutions geared to the maintenance of the federation—political forces were firmly in control by then. In Hong Kong the absence of secure guarantees of autonomy that can be enforced through independent courts is a major weakness. The final powers of interpretation vested in the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, a political body under the control of the Communist Party, have effectively negated the autonomy.
It is not necessary, and indeed may not be desirable, that courts should be the first port of call when a dispute arises. A political settlement of disputes can strengthen autonomy (and the consensus on autonomy) more effectively than a court decision. Also, there are some kinds of disputes (e.g., regarding the allocation of funds or forms of intergovernmental cooperations) that cannot be regulated through rules; a bargaining and negotiating process is more suitable. Unfortunately, experience shows that this process cannot always be relied on, for the center may disregard representations of weak regions. Therefore, the ultimate authority of courts should be provided. Judicial decisions need not curb political bargaining; their function is to maintain constitutional parameters and when necessary provide authoritative rulings to break political deadlocks (as the Canadian Supreme Court has tried to do, in contrast with the more authoritarian style of its predecessor, the Privy Council). A balance between political and judicial processes is necessary to ensure the successful operation of autonomy.
A careful design of institutional structures is essential for the success of autonomy. On the whole, international and regional norms say little about the content and structure of autonomy (although the OSCE has produced some guidelines), and there is inadequate knowledge of various technical points in the drafting of autonomy arrangements. There is frequently such pressure for agreement on broad political principles that institutional details are paid insufficient attention. It is not possible here to ex-
pand on what would be useful structures; instead I draw attention to some key considerations. The system for settlement of disputes and the procedures for flexibility and ongoing negotiations have already been discussed.
Autonomy arrangements should be properly guaranteed. Sometimes they can be guaranteed through treaties; experience has shown, though, that these are seldom effective. They should be entrenched in the domestic constitutional order. This is common for federalism but not always for regional autonomy. It is best to entrench autonomy in such a way that the consent of the region is necessary for change.
In federations by disaggregation and in regional autonomy, provision is often made for the center to issue directives to the regional government in specified areas. The central government also has the power to suspend regional government for prescribed reasons. These provisions can sour center-regional relations and limit the exercise of regional autonomy. Such provisions should be avoided if possible; where they are considered necessary, adequate safeguards against the abuse of the power of suspension should be inscribed in the law.
Democratic structures are necessary for the exercise and protection of autonomy. Democratic politics in the region both compel regional leaders to protect autonomy and empower them to do so. The failure of autonomy in the former Yugoslavia is often explained by the absence of democratic politics (Malesevic, 2000). The weakening of autonomy in Hong Kong is the result of having a China-appointed executive and a nondemocratic legislature (Ghai, 1997, 1998).
Agreement on autonomy is easier if guarantees of the rights of minorities, which are created by autonomy arrangements, can be secured. In Canada provision was made from the very beginning of the federation for provincial minorities to appeal to the center against discrimination, but this power was seldom used and is unlikely to be used now. Considerable attention has been paid to devices for regional protection of minorities. Most constitutions now include bills of rights that preclude discrimination and other forms of oppression. Local government structures and powers can be entrenched (as in Nigeria). There can be special representation for minorities on local councils; this is often linked to forms of power sharing (as in Sri Lanka). There can be cultural councils for minorities, as in Estonia and Hungary. The most elaborate schemes have been established in Bosnia and Herzogovina and in the proposals for Kosovo, inspired by Lijphartian consociatialism. China provides autonomy whenever there is a concentration of a minority, so that in autonomous regions there may be autonomous townships controlled by minorities.
Of particular importance in ethnic autonomy is the method for the division of legislative and executive competence. There are different meth-
ods of division, depending on whether or not relations between the center and regions are seen as cooperative. Cooperative federalism, in which governments at different levels coordinate policies, is more fashionable now given the complexity of economic and social life, but for ethnic autonomy there may be considerable desire for separate policy making, so that regional autonomy for cultural and other policies can be exercised without regard to central directions of legislative powers. It is important to avoid divisions and institutional arrangements that rely heavily on cooperation. It is easier to provide for separate policy making in regional rather than federal autonomy.
Propositions About the Social and Political Consequences of Autonomy Arrangements
Asymmetric arrangements are a characteristic feature of ethnic autonomy, but they tend toward symmetry. A major factor that distinguishes ethnic autonomy from classical federations is its asymmetrical features. Just as in liberal theory all individuals must be treated equally, so must regions in a federation. This approach is not very constructive when autonomy is used to acknowledge and manage ethnic differences. Asymmetry acknowledges the unevenness of diversities. It opens up additional possibilities of awarding recognition to specific groups whose needs or capacities may be different from other groups, such as indigenous peoples whose traditional culture is central to their way of life or a minority linguistic group (both are present in Canada). Examples of asymmetry abound; China has at least four types of autonomy (economic zones, metropolitan cities, ethnic minorities, and special administrative regions) responding to different imperatives (Ghai, 2000). So has India, with its “standard” provinces, special arrangements for Kashmir, and provinces in the northeast, tribal areas, and union territories, each enjoying a different relationship with the center.
Asymmetry arises in various ways. Regional autonomy is, by definition, asymmetrical. Sometimes the constitution enables a region to negotiate with the center for autonomy and establishes a menu from which powers may be devolved (Spain, Papua New Guinea, Russia). This can result in only some regions having autonomy and those with autonomy having different degrees of autonomy. A region may be free to legislate on a list of powers, in default of which central laws apply; some regions may make more use of this facility than others. Regions may be endowed with the power of determining their own structures for the exercise of autonomy, leading to differences in constitutional arrangements. National laws may apply differentially for other reasons, the outstanding example being the “notwithstanding” clause in Canada that enables a province to
opt out of most provisions of the Charter of Rights under prescribed conditions and another provision that limits the application of the charter in aboriginal areas by the supremacy of treaties between indigenous groups and the Crown. Asymmetry can also be used as a general technique for opting out of a scheme or for a phased entry to full membership, as has happened frequently with the EU. Other forms of asymmetry include special representation for a region at the center (Quebec’s entitlements to seats in the Senate and the Supreme Court) or special voting power given to the region at the center (double voting or vetoes). On a corporate basis, asymmetry arises out of the application of special bodies of laws, including personal laws. Residents of a region may have special rights, at least in the region, that are not available to other citizens (as in the concept of a permanent resident of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region; Ghai, 2000). Asymmetry enables different degrees of assimilation or integration into the state. In these ways asymmetry opens up possibilities of accommodating the special concerns of a group or region. Questions about the feasibility of negotiating and sustaining asymmetry are therefore fundamental to the design and operation of ethnic autonomy. The viability of the Russian federation depends on the acceptance and successful operation of asymmetry; 88 units have different relationships with Moscow.
In recent decades there has been increasing use of asymmetry, although its feasibility was noted by Mill as early as 1861 (Mill, 1972). Perhaps it is not surprising that asymmetry has also become controversial; concerns about it have, for example, prevented a satisfactory resolution of Canada’s constitutional problems. It is in Canada that the issue has been most extensively debated, in politics as well as academia. Canadian academics have argued that differences over asymmetry may be the undoing of ethnic or multinational federations. Milne (1994:159) noted an “overwhelmingly” hostile attitude toward proposals for asymmetry in Canada (see also Kymlicka, 1998a, 1998b). There is resentment in India toward the privileged position of Kashmir (Kashyap, 1990), although it has not emerged as a major political issue, perhaps because of Indo-Pakistani conflict over Kashmir. It is said that President Habibe offered independence to East Timor because he was afraid that the UN proposals for autonomy would set a precedent for other provinces of Indonesia and that it would be politically difficult to restrict the high degree of substantive and institutional autonomy to East Timor.
One objection to asymmetry is that it is administratively and politically difficult to manage. The center has to deal with regions with varying degrees of devolution and different institutional structures. This can pose problems in states as well developed as Spain; it can be a nightmare in states with less efficient bureaucracies or politicians not given to political
compromises (as in Papua New Guinea and Ethiopia). A consultancy firm that advised Papua New Guinea on the implementation of decentralization, expected to be asymmetrical under negotiated constitutional provisions, recommended the equal devolution of powers to all provinces, regardless of their capacity or willingness to assume these powers. If this proposal avoided one bureaucratic nightmare, it created another—poorly equipped provinces struggling to carry out new responsibilities, which they neither understood or wanted. The result was continuing domination by central bureaucrats and a not inconsiderable degree of inefficiency (Ghai and Regan, 1992).
But the political problems with asymmetry are even more decisive. I have already referred to the difficulty of conceding autonomy on a purely ethnic basis. The difficulty is greater if only one or two groups are to enjoy autonomy. If the national government is inclined to support autonomy, it may have to generalize conditions for the granting of autonomy. In Papua New Guinea in 1976, negotiations for autonomy were conducted between the national government and representatives of Bougainville. The assumption was that the arrangements under negotiations were for Bougainville only, and in fact Bougainville leaders insisted that only their province was to be entitled to them (to recognize their distinctiveness). However, the government realized that parliamentary support for these arrangements could not be guaranteed unless all provinces were given similar options. Similar developments took place in Spain, where all provinces or groupings of provinces were given roughly the same options as the “historic territories.” Increasingly, Spain takes on the appearance of a federation and a symmetrical one at that. The devolution to provincial councils in Sri Lanka followed a similar trajectory, diluting the special claims of Tamils to autonomy. Asymmetry has come under considerable attack in Canada. In Britain, following autonomies for Scotland and Wales, there is agitation for officially defined English regions. The tendency toward symmetry is, however, not universal; sometimes there may be a recognition of the historical claims of a community or the clear distinctiveness, and vulnerability, of its culture (as in Greenland, Faroes, Åland, Corsica, and Cordilleras). Sometimes a community may desire a greater measure of political integration than asymmetry would permit; for example, the Swedish-speaking community on the Finnish mainland rejected the offer of an Åland type of autonomy.
Asymmetry is particularly controversial when the region benefiting from it wants equal or even superior representation in central institutions. Logically, the region should not participate in decisions at the national level on areas that are within its autonomy, for then it would be making decisions for other regions, especially when the votes of its representatives hold the balance. When there is substantial asymmetrical autonomy,
the moral or political right of the representatives of an autonomous region to count toward a parliamentary majority and thus determine the formation of the central government group can be questioned. Claims might be made by the rest of the country that representatives from that region should be excluded from holding ministries whose portfolios cover areas within asymmetrical autonomy or indeed that the number of ministries given to them should be severely restricted. If there is equal representation for the autonomous region, other provinces would resent it; if the representation is less favorable, the region would tend to look inward, political parties would tend to become regional and the region’s integration with the state would weaken.
The conversion of asymmetry into symmetry is not necessarily against the interests of the original claimants of autonomy. They would cease to be the object of envy and resentment. A greater number of beneficiaries would produce a more balanced state. It would also increase the capacity of regions to negotiate with the center and extract higher benefits. But for many groups the exact amount of devolved power is less important than they alone should enjoy some special powers, as a way to mark their status. If the powers they have are generalized, they increase their own demands for more, leading not only to a higher level of general devolution than is desirable or desired but also pushing the special groups toward confederal solutions. They regard asymmetry as a proper recognition of their “distinctive society” status (to use the Canadian parlance). This conflict, rather than bureaucratic problems of managing institutional diversity, is the real problem besetting asymmetry. Kymlicka (1998a, 1989b) has pointed to a number of problems about asymmetry in Canada that may make it unsustainable. If a group insists on asymmetry and others do not concede it, the stalemate may result in attempts at secession (as some Quebecois are threatening). On the other hand, the concession of asymmetry merely encourages the demand for further powers and emboldens the group, having already won and operating with a large measure of autonomy, to go to the logical next step, that of separate statehood. It is said that Chamberlain considered the asymmetrical home rule proposals for Ireland to have such a potential for the breakup of the British Empire that he even contemplated a symmetrically constituted British federation (Jay, 1989).
The future feasibility and viability of multiethnic autonomy thus depend greatly on how asymmetry is negotiated. While the utility of asymmetry may be acknowledged, political and bureaucratic difficulties may limit its application. On the other hand, it must be noted that outside Canada the difficulties are more theoretical than practical. The Indian experience and that of other federations shows that groups claiming or enjoying autonomy do not see themselves as nations alienated from oth-
ers. They are strongly bonded to the wider nation and their representatives, through regional or national parties, and play a full part in national institutions. But equally one must not underestimate the ability of politicians to erect these theoretical difficulties into real barriers to asymmetrical autonomy.
Autonomy does not promote secession; true autonomy prevents it. I have already discussed examples where the concession of autonomy has reconciled ethnic minorities to the state and diluted the appeal of secession. The concession of autonomy reduces the level of the stridency of minorities and the consciousness of their ethnic identity. Such concession strengthens the hands of the moderates in the ethnic group. Equally the denial or removal of autonomy aggravates ethnic discontent and sentiments of separatism and enables those least interested in a peaceful solution to exploit the sense of grievance of the group. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that territorial autonomy will lead to secession and that corporate autonomy will impede national integration.
Autonomy increases the resources and strengthens the identities of regional minorities, frequently justifying a claim of secession under the principles of self-determination. Moreover, Kymlicka (1989) argues, the members of one ethnic group are indifferent to the rights and interests of the other groups and are unwilling to make sacrifices for them, particularly since they do not expect reciprocity (Kymlicka, 1989). He considers that multinational federations are inflexible and prone to deadlocks and instability, particularly in the ways that boundaries are drawn or powers divided. Kymlicka draws attention to what he claims is a paradox—that the more the federation is successful in promoting the interest of national minorities, “the more it will strengthen the sense that these minorities are a separate people with inherent rights of self-government, whose participation in the larger country is conditional and revocable” (p. 140).
In practice the situation is quite different. Few instances of the granting of autonomy have led to secession. What it has led to is a demand by other groups for similar treatment, leading to a kind of dispersal of authority. What this often does is strengthen national unity; the Indian and Papua New Guinean experiences with their linguistic communities are evidence. Secession frequently arises when autonomy is denied or abolished.
In discussing secession it may be important to make a distinction between federations by aggregation and disaggregation. In the first case the federation is based on mutual consent and voluntariness, and it is on the whole forwarding looking. It is in the second case that there is a particular worry about secession, as federal arrangements are often a concession to overwhelming pressures or threats (it is interesting that of the examples of voluntary federalism, as in Canada and Switzerland, the
attempted secession by a province or canton is unlikely to be resisted militarily by the others).
Instances of secession or attempted secession from a federation reveal on closer investigation that they are not the logical result of autonomy. If we take first the case of Bangladesh’s breakaway from Pakistan, it is clear that the central authorities in Islamabad had in fact refused to treat East Pakistan as an equal partner (despite its larger population) (Young, 1976; Ahmed, 1991). It tried to impose Urdu upon a Bengali-speaking people; banned the broadcast of the songs of the leading Bengali poet, Tagore; drained off economic resources to the West; discriminated against Bengalis in state services (particularly in the armed forces); and in the end denied its major party, the Awami League, the fruits of its electoral victory. So East Pakistan not only ruled the country as a unitary state but also discriminated heavily against a part of it. The crisis was precipitated by the refusal of the center to accept Mujib Rahman’s proposals for a genuine and equal federation.
The breakups of the federations in the USSR and Yugoslavia were also the result of the failure to implement a genuine federation. This is less true of Yugoslavia; the federation there had tried to bring together people who had a long history of enmity but provided relatively little opportunities for the development of a real Yugoslavian identity. Both federations relied heavily on the Communist Party to hold them together, preventing an organic unity. Also the central authorities used ethnicities in opportunistic ways, not calculated to promote good interethnic relations. In any case the situations in the USSR and Yugoslavia are more correctly analyzed less as secessions than as implosions of the federations. Perhaps less so in Yugoslavia, the separation of constituent parts followed rather than caused the breakdown of the central authorities. The breakup of Czechoslovakia is different. It was consensual (at least elite consensual) and therefore not secession. It does not appear to have been connected with the nature and operation of the federation, for this was negated by the dominance of the Communist Party. After the “velvet” revolution, there appears to have been a vague feeling on the part of each community that it was getting less than the other from the federation and that it would be better off without the other (Musil, 1995; Seroka, 1994). But fundamentally, the federation became a prey to the general salience of ethnicity elsewhere in the wake of the collapse of communist regimes.
I turn finally to Papua New Guinea, where parts of Bougainville are in rebellion and want secession. The settlement of 1976, which established a wide-ranging decentralization, solved the problems of Bougainville. An elected provincial government was established, responsible to an elected local assembly. With its human and physical resources, it quickly built an
enviable reputation for efficiency and was assessed by various enquiries as the most effective and accountable of provincial governments. Regular elections were held, and its leaders played a full role in national politics. The troubles of 1989 had a common source—the inequitable distribution of income from the copper mine—but this time it was not a provincial-wide protest but had its origins in disputes among the community that owned the land on which the mine was located and concerned the internal distribution of royalties (Ghai and Regan, 2000). The local democratic forces to which autonomy gave rise were as much the victims of the anger and violence of the rebels as the central authorities. The granting of autonomy to Bougainville had helped to strengthen its links to the rest of the country, for it eliminated some genuine grievances and established a democratic order internally connected to the national system. There is little doubt that without the 1977 autonomy the rebellion of 1989 would have garnered more support in Bougainville—so autonomy prevented rather than promoted secession.
These case studies point to the need to distinguish secession from the termination of a federation. There may be little to mourn in the second case; it suggests that ethnic communities have decided, mutually, to lead separate lives. Autonomy is important for ethnicity because it represents a compromise, a balance between those who want a tight unitary system of government and those who may prefer separation. It loses that function if the wish to separate is mutual and the separation is achieved without strife or recrimination.
The question of autonomy is central to many conflicts today. Autonomy can play an important constructive role in mediating relations between different communities in multiethnic states. It can defuse conflicts. It is a particularly appropriate mechanism for the protection and promotion of culture and the values of a community, but it is not an easy device to operate. Great political and technical skills are required to structure and make it work. Given the difficulties of managing multiethnic states, autonomy is a valuable option, notwithstanding its own difficulties.
But autonomy can also be fragmenting, pigeon-holing and dividing communities. Sometimes in an attempt to preserve the integuments of a state, autonomy is so structured that it is difficult to find the common ground on which communities can find a moral or political basis for coexistence. Autonomy, particularly federal autonomy, is built around the notion that the people of a state are best served through a balance between the common and the particular. If the emphasis is so much on the particular, separation may be the better option, notwithstanding the pro-
liferation of states. The secret of autonomy is the recognition of the common; certainly it seems to be the condition for its success. Perhaps about 30 years ago too much emphasis was placed on the common, and for this reason autonomy was narrow and contingent. Today we may be placing too much emphasis on the particular. It may be necessary to consider devices that stress common bonds and construct institutions that hold people together, as Nigeria did with the principles to federalize the center in the 1979 constitution, as in election of a president, the composition of the federal executive, or the registration of parties, to promote broad interregional support, to counter the tendency toward disassociating that comes with disaggregating ethnic autonomy (Kirke-Green, 1983). Autonomy should be chosen not because of some notion of preserving sovereignty but in order to enable different groups to live together, to define a common public space.
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