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Speeches, Interviews

18.04.2006

European Conference on Subsidiarity, Keynote Speech by Ivan Jakovcic


"Regionalisation in South-East Europe to strengthen democracy”

 

I am supposed to talk to you today about South-Eastern Europe. If one talks about South-Eastern Europe, that means one is talking about the Balkans. A new name for an old history. But what is the Balkans? As the name says, it’s a Turkish word, meaning blood and honey. And up to this very day what we have seen was blood, honey unfortunately we haven’t seen yet. As we know the last war was far there in South-Eastern Europe in the Balkans.

Why did Milosevic start that war? Well, we do know, but what did he do to make sure that he can achieve what he wanted to achieve. There are a number of concepts and I would like to stress just one fact: he started by taking away the autonomy of the Kosovo and Vojvodina regions, that was the beginning. That was how he assumed central power over Serbia in Belgrade. It is quite clear that Kosovo and Vojvodina at that time of course did not want war in South-Eastern Europe. But despite all that, we had hundreds of thousands of deaths at the end of this war. In the meantime, Milosevic has passed away, but what has he left us?

Unfortunately, the whole story isn’t finished yet. We will see what is going to happen on the 21st of April in Montenegro and we will also have to see what is going to happen to the Kosovo region in the future. Obviously, after these turbulent years of war in the South-Eastern part of Europe towards the end of the last century there is a desire for a democratisation of society. This also means efforts for regionalisation and decentralisation as opposed to the increasing centralisation which came along with the creation of the new nation states. But, this political war, centralism, regionalism also contained anti-war ideas, the demilitarisation of society. It also contained the wish that the fundamental rights of every individual be respected. There was the wish for a self-determination of citizens. They wanted to be able to fight for their right to be different, they wanted their linguistic, cultural, religious and other differences to be respected. They wanted to fight for the recognition of the right of national minorities. All these intentions are opposed to the governing concept of nationalism, the shadow of homogenous nation states. What are we supposed to suggest for today? Is regionalisation a recipe that will work?

What is the solution? Regionalisation could be one of the solutions, that’s quite sure. But, that means that we also have to ask ourselves what type of regionalisation we can suggest for these South-Eastern European states. There are of course a number of possibilities there. But, before going into those, I’d like to mention  a few principles first. The principle of balance – counterbalance. This is certainly a principle that we should use and which would balance out the concentration of power in a central state. So, it’s very important to have such a balance in all states in Europe. But I am convinced that especially for the South-Eastern part of Europe the second principle, which is also a topic of this conference, is of particular relevance; this is the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity is one of the key ideas of European democracy. Of course, this means that it has to be applied to South-Eastern Europe as well. Because if we do not have subsidiarity, we will probably never have a strong and powerful democracy in these regions either. The regions, one of the levels of power that has been selected democratically, is closest to the citizens. The regions know the problems that citizens have to content with, and they also know the problems that are particularly important to citizens. That is not enough, regions have to work with the citizens who see the regions as a competent level of power that they can turn to. My own five-year experience as governor of Istria shows that very clearly. I have to say that our small region Istria has found very good solutions for our minority problems. We have an Italian minority in Istria. We have found very good institutional solutions regarding their rights to their own language and their own culture. That doesn’t go only for the Italian minority which is autochthonous in Istria but for other minorities as well. For the Albanians, for the Serbs who live there, for the Muslims who live in Istria. We have found solutions for all of them. Obviously we don’t want to be seen as a model for everybody else but we do want to show that it is possible to establish minority rights and to solve minority problems and linguistic problems in a really and truly democratic way.

If we look at what we have achieved so far for decentralisation and regionalisation in general, in South-Eastern Europe we have to say that this is not sufficient yet. It is true that the democratic processes and values are at a much higher level than they were 20 years ago, but it is equally true that regionalisation and the handing-over of functions of the central level to the regional level has not really been passed on fully despite of the fact that we talk about it without any prejudices and all political powers are in favour of having more devolution of power. That is true for Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and all our regions. But, what we have been able to achieve is still far from what we would like to achieve. In Croatia we have a rotary administrative system which was introduced in 1993 and then amended in 2001. We finally also have a possibility under constitutional law for a regionalisation and a regional level in Croatia.

In Serbia and Montenegro, unfortunately, we still have this administrative separation into various districts which do not have powers of autonomy and which are nothing but a prolonged arm of state-bureaucracy. That is the situation that we have in Serbia at the moment. Even the autonomous province of Vojvodina does not have any real powers either. Macedonia, Bulgaria know no regional level for public administration at all, at least not in practice. We have no elected representatives at the regional level, unfortunately, neither in Macedonia nor in Bulgaria. In Romania and in Albania, as you know, we have very small provinces which have very little power. What about Bosnia and Herzegovina? What can you expect for these areas? Can things stay as they are or do we really have to look for solutions?

As far as Serbia is concerned, well, with the Serbs we have to also discuss the problem of Kosovo. Of course there might be a totally new situation for the Kosovo after the referendum in Montenegro on the 21st of April.

The solution can also be seen in integration processes of the European Union. I think that in future multi-lateral and bi-lateral cooperation, multi-regional and bi-regional cooperation will be very important. This is an excellent concept by the way. As you have heard, we are now creating a new Euro region, the Alpe-Adria region and there will be another one which will cover the whole of the Adriatic area, which will be very interesting. So, there will be an Adriatic region in Europe as well.

Let me conclude by saying that maybe Europe starts in St. Pölten, maybe in Brussels, maybe in Strasbourg, but it also starts in Sarajevo, in Belgrade, in Zagreb, in Tirana or in the Kosovo because there as well the citizens do want to have more democracy, more possibilities and they do want to be able to influence politics as well. Decentralisation and regionalisation in South-Eastern Europe is not just democracy, is not just subsidiarity, is not just growth. In South-Eastern Europe, in the Balkans, regionalisation has another name as well and that is “peace”.

Thank you very much.

 

Date: 20.04.2006