Rights of minorities


Doc. 6558

29 January 1992

Rapporteur:  Mr CUCÓ, Spain, Socialist

1.         When I attended the colloquy on the rights of minorities, held by the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights in Paris on 13 and 14 November 1991, I asked myself two questions at the outset of the proceedings:

-           first, why was such a colloquy being held at that time?

-           next, what role should the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography play at such a colloquy?

2.         It must be acknowledged that the question of minorities is a very long-standing problem, even though the Assembly scarcely concerned itself with it for many years.

3.         I do not wish to include in this opinion any over-erudite references to the origins of the problem.  It should nevertheless be recalled that, in Western Europe, even in the 16th century the latin motto "cujus regio, ejus religio", which may be translated as "like king, like religion", as well as its corollory "cujus regio, ejus lingua", ie "like king, like language", reflected a dialectic between authorities and minorities which has continued up to the present day.

4.         It should also be acknowledged that not only did late 18th-century France bring us freedom but it also imposed uniformity on us.  When Abbé Grégoire wanted "to destroy provincial dialects" (that is to say Dutch and Catalan, Breton and Basque, German and Corsican), he was creating a model which, fortunately, did not succeed in many European countries.

5.         On the other hand, when, in another geographical framework, Otto Bauer and Karl Renner, two old Austrian socialists, introduced such political elements as "the federative principle" and "extraterritorial cultural autonomy", they were in fact providing the old Austro-Hungarian empire with stabilising factors. 

6.         Despite appearances, moreover, Leninism, whose consequences are only just beginning to become apparent, was in fact but a totalitarian reaction to the reasonable assumptions of Bauer and Renner.  The crisis of the Leninist model of the state has highlighted the reality that existed under the layer of ice: a deep-frozen, stagnant world that is now emerging in all its complexity.

7.         In this context, to paraphrase Jean-Paul Sartre's dictum "Hell is others", it may be said that there are many who maintain that "minorities are always others" or, even more plainly, that "the minorities to be protected are always those of others". 

8.         In my view, the question of minorities should be approached from an objective point of view.  That is mainly the task, in their capacity as lawyers, of the rapporteurs of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.

9.         For his part, the Rapporteur of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography has a duty to approach the question of the rights of minorities from a somewhat different viewpoint.

10.       Such a viewpoint results not only from the legal vacuum at present existing but also from the consequences of the "realpolitik".  I have personally witnessed this in south-east Anatolia, in the Kurdish refugee camps, a problem that is now shamefully forgotten.  I have also witnessed it in the Austrian refugee camp at Traiskirchen, where hundreds of Yugoslav refugees arrive each day.

11.       To hear Ukrainian tunes being played by itinerant musicians in the streets of Vienna is today an exotic experience.  Tomorrow that might form part of the urban scene. Although North-African or coloured immigrants already form part of the urban scene in many European countries, they arrived in a quite different context, but with the same common denominator: a desire to escape from the geography of fear and suffering.

12.       This reality is perhaps the biggest challenge at present facing European society.  

13.       To define the legal framework enabling the rights of minorities to be protected and all minorities to be identified and recognised over and beyond all "realpolitik" considerations is one of the main tasks which a parliamentary assembly like ours can set itself. 

14.       If we prove unable to define such a legal framework, we shall be confronted with the consequences of our failure.  On the one hand, there are migrants, displaced persons and refugees; on the other, within our own societies, our own body politic, there are xenophobia, racism and ultra-right extremism.  That is the challenge our Assembly must face up to.

Reporting committee:  Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights (Doc. 6556).

Committee for opinion:  Committee on Migration, Refugees and Demography (and competent committees).

Origin:  Order No. 456 (1990) of 1 October 1990.

Draft opinion:  approved by the committee on 21 January 1992 by 19 votes to 0 and 1 abstention.

Secretaries to the committee:  Mr Sorinas and Mrs Ruotanen.