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Balkan Academic News Book Review  5/2003

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Alain-G. Gagnon & James Tully (eds), Multinational Democracies,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. xvi+411 pp., USD, ISBN
(softback)

Reviewed by Dusan Pavlovic (G17 Institute, Belgrade), Email:
pavlovic@policy.hu
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This book is one of the two most recent attempts to examine the problem
of political stability in multiethnic societies. The first one under the
title Can Liberal Pluralism be Exported? edited by Will Kymlicka and
Magda Opalski looks at the problem of ethnic minorities in the context
of East-Central Europe. While the Kymlicka book suggests the restricted
scope of inquiry, drawing on the experience from Western democracies,
Multinational Democracies suggests a universal validity, analyzing
multinational societies in general. Yet, after having read the case
studies discussed in this book, one sees that its scope is restricted
largely to the Western democracies. The case studies that most
frequently turn up in the book are the cases of Canada, Belgium, Spain,
and the UK.

Multinational Democracies begins with a short foreword written by
Charles Taylor, followed a longer introduction written by James Tully,
and 14 articles divided up in three parts. Part I consists of four
articles written by Michael Keating, Dominique Ariel, Wayne Norman, and
Ferran Requejo. Part II consists of six articles written by Dimitros
Karmis & Alain-G. Gagnon, Francois Rocher & Christian Rouillard & Andre
Lecours, Luis Moreno, Shane O’Neill, Pierre Coulombe, and Michael
Burgess. Part III is composed of another four articles written by Alan
Patten, David Miller, Alain-G. Gagnon, and Richard Simeon &
Daniel-Patrick Conway.

The purpose of this book was to offer a ‘collaborative, multiperspective
and critical survey of a new distinctive type of political association
that is coming into existence at the dawn of the twenty first
centurymultinational democracy.’ To this purpose, each of three parts
deals with different aspects of the same question. Part I examines
philosophical and normative foundations of the idea of multinational
democracy. Other two parts are oriented more toward empirical matters.
Part II discusses the reasons for the struggles for recognition of
different identities, whereas Part III looks at the institutional
arrangements that are claimed to insure political stability in
ethnically mixed societies.

As said, multinational democracy is a recent phenomenon. The notion is
defined in this book as a type of ‘constitutional democracy that
contains two or more nations or peoples.’ What makes the defining
feature of this type of democracy is that all the component parts
(ethnic groups) require to be recognized by other side as having the
right to national self-determination that might include the right to
secede. Thus, a multinational democracy would appear to be a quasi
nation-state composed of two or more nations equal in status. Whether
this type of society is better in securing just society and stable
political situation is the subject matter of this book.

As almost every recent study that entertains multicultural ideas,
Multinational Democracies also begins with the critique of the Rawlsian
liberalism. There are two ideas defended by the Rawlsian liberalism that
most frequently came under the attack of the advocates of
multiculturalism. First, the principles of justice that regulate the
basic structure of society are universal in that they should apply to
every country in the world. (Rawls himself never followed through this
idea.) Second, since, as Rawls claims, these principles are an outcome
of an original position in which all the parties were treated with equal
respect, these principles ought not to be seen as subject to political
bargaining. According to most multiculturalist thinkers (but also to
some thinkers of deliberative democracy), the institutions of
multiethnic society cannot derive from such a theoretical construction.
As opposed to a liberal democracy, in a multiethnic democracy there are
no principles which should be absolutely unchallenged. Rather,
principles are subject to incessant deliberation and examination. This
is so because the struggle for recognition of cultural identity is
enduring. We do not have to ask ‘what is the just and stable form of
recognition that will end the struggle.’ It is rather an open-ended
series of questions of who we are. In this sense, in multiethnic society
the crucial question is not that of recognition, identity or difference
but of freedom: ‘the freedom of the members of an open society to change
the constitutional rules of mutual recognition and association from time
to time as their identity change.’

Two questions suggest themselves as the dominant ones in this book. The
first concerns the manner in how some values and principles are changed.
The second concerns the institutional arrangement that is best for such
a kind of political activity. In his introductory article, James Tully
advocates four characteristics of the free and democratic activity for
struggling over the recognition of the national identity. One of them is
that procedures for discussing, negotiating and altering the rules of
the political game cannot be reserved only for the largest nation.
Second, it is important that ‘each member must possess the right to
initiate the rule change and the correlative duty to acknowledge and
answer […] Any rule of recognition is thus in principle open to dissent,
discussion, consideration and, if necessary, alteration.’

All subjects in multinational societies must be allowed to take part in
changing the founding legal act that determines the rules of political
gamenamely, constitution. Liberals like Rawls who spoke of constitutions
(of constitutional essentials, to be exact), thought that constitution
cannot be the subject matter of political debate because it embodies the
essential values of a society. But one of the reasons why constitutional
essentials are not the subject of political debate is that they are
constructed by reason, not by living people. This was first impugned by
Michael Walzer who advocated democratic view according to which ‘it is
right that [people] make lawseven if they make them wrongly.’ The idea
is reiterated in this book when it is said that ‘it is no longer assumed
that the forms of recognition of members of constitutional democracy can
be determined outside the political process itself, by theoretical
reason discovering the a priori forms of universal membership. […] It is
now widely argued in theory and practice that the identities worthy of
recognition must be worked out and decided on by the members of the
association themselves.’

To be sure, no liberal would claim that the identity of an association
or ethnic group must be determined by anyone else but by the members of
the ethnic group. No liberal will also dispute the right to pursue
public policy which is an outcome of a public deliberation. Neither
would the liberal reject the idea that constituent nations as people
with the right of self-determination should have the right to initiate
constitutional change. What the liberal disputes is that the people are
at complete and unrestrained freedom to determine what are the just
principles that regulate the basic structure of the society. That all
people are entitled to equal set of human rights is one such principle.
A liberal would, thus, defend the idea that no reference to cultural
peculiarities or an ethnic identity that is incompatible with equal
human rights has the capacity to overturn this principle.

What institutional arrangement is most appropriate for a multiethnic
society? The arrangement defended by most authors in this book is that
it is a kind of federalism. Federalism is appropriate here because it
gives the minorities the right to self-determination with which they can
separate themselves from the majority. But the question of greater
rights always implies the question of secession. Viewed in this way,
even in this book it is recognized that the concept of multinational
federation may create as many problems as it solves.

The main advantage of federalism could be seen if it is analyzed what is
usually the major problem in multiethnic societies. In his excellent
article, Dominique Arel establishes that Flemish, Quebecois and
Catalonian nationalisms share one thing in common: they all emerged as a
response against the domination of the language of the center. Fear of
minorization is crucial to understanding the minority nationalism.
Minorization was here primarily seen as a language attack. Since
‘cultural insecurity can be a potent factor of political instability,’
giving national minorities greater rights and autonomy that will enable
them with protecting their cultural identity is possible only in a
federation. Greater autonomy can bring about security in national
minorities in that it reduces the fear of assimilation. This has
relatively proven to be the case in Quebec and Catalonia. Since the
public policy that was given to the local government ‘forced’ people
into accepting local identities, one could safely argue that the fear of
assimilation would disappear. Once a politically critical mass of
Catalans and Quebecois internalizes the fact that a stable equilibrium
has been reached on language, the matter of secession will lose its
saliency.

Another look at whether federalist constitutional arrangement is
suitable for a multiethnic society is discussed in Simeon & Conway’s
article on federalism and the management of conflict. The dual question
they consider is again: ‘when, and under what conditions, does
federalism constitute a stable, enduring solution, rather than a
transitional phase on the way either towards secession or
centralization?’ The countries under considerations are the four best
known cases of western federalisms: Canada, Belgium, Spain, and the UK.

Federalism certainly protects minorities from the invasion of the
majority. But the task is to examine whether federalism in such case
does something more than only protecting minority cultures. The Canadian
federalism recognized Quebec as a Distinct Society within Canada, but it
seems that this type of federalism created ‘competitive rather than
cooperative patterns of relationships.’ Belgium was transformed into a
federation in 1993 but it is still unclear how much this structure
soothed the cultural conflict between French-speaking Walloons and
Dutch-speaking Flemish. Language and economic differences remain the
obstacles for achieving an enduring settlements between the two
constitutive nations. Authors conclude that Belgium is actually in the
process of ‘disbuilding’, and that Belgians could not constitute
themselves as a nation. The Spanish federalism and British
quasi-federalism were somewhat more successful than the previous two,
but only if we realize that at this moment it is not possible to
establish which way the countries will go. Since it is likely that there
exists something like British and Spanish nation, one could argue that
these two federal systems might be in the process of stabilizing.

Taking into account the four cases, it is impossible to say precisely
into which direction a multinational federation will head. The universal
generalizations must not be made simply because they will be of no help.
What we must do is to examine case by case and see what federalist
structure brought about in each of them. Another important conclusion is
that in the cases of ethnic tensions or conflicts institutional
structure in no panacea. Federalism depends on the willingness of the
cultural elites to take each other’s demands seriously. The minority
must be prepared to retain some identity and loyalty to the larger
group, whereas the majority must be prepared to give up institutional
design that favors majority rule.

As said in the beginning, this book does not consider the case of
East-Central Europe, on which soil in the 1990s several wars were waged
in the name of blood, territory, and nation. Yet, some conclusions
mentioned in the previous paragraph are instructive for East European
context. The most known case of East European federalism is Bosnia and
Herzegovina. The federal structure of Bosnia was not a result of
negotiations of the ethnic elites, which were in conflict for three
years, but was rather imposed to them by the international community.
Eight years after the introduction of the federal structure (the Dayton
agreement was signed in 1995), Bosnia is still under international
protectorate with about 20,000 troops on its ground. Economically, it is
one of the least developed countries in the region. The federal
structure did not settle ethnic tensions among Moslems, Serbs and
Croats, and did not improve on the economic situation in the country.
One could argue rather that federal structure, the way it was
implemented in Bosnia, works towards maintaining the ethnic conflict,
and that the better solution for Bosnia would be to dismantle Bosnian
federalism.

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This an earlier book reviews are available at: www.seep.ceu.hu/balkans

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© 2002 Balkan Academic News. This review may be distributed and
reproduced electronically, if credit is given to Balkan Academic News
and the author. For permission for re-printing, contact Balkan Academic
News. 
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