Gret Haller
The Individual and the State Institutions
Contribution to the Conference "Democratic Institutions and Civil Society in South-Eastern Europe" organised by the EUROPEAN COMMISSION FOR DEMOCRACY THROUGH LAW in co-operation with the INSTITUTE OF INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS, Panteion University in Athens and the Hellenic Ministry of Foreign Affairs, May 5 - 6, 1998, Palais de l'Europe, Strasbourg

I was asked to speak about the relations between the individual and the state institutions. I will address this in correlation with this colloquium's topic: "Democratic Institutions and Civil Society in South-Eastern Europe" .

When I compared the title of my speech with the colloquium's, I asked myself one thing: Are the terms "democratic institutions" and "state institutions" describing the same thing ? I do believe so. "State" has a clear definition. If it functions in a democratic way, it is a democracy, if it does not, it is a dictatorship. In both, democracy and dictatorship, there are state institutions. In a democracy they are under democratic control, while in a dictatorship they are obviously not. I would not like it, nevertheless, to always have to call institutions of a democratic state "democratic institutions" . The term "state institution" would then get the negative implication of being an institution of a non-democratic state. I will thus consciously use the term "state institution" . When using this term, I mean to include the whole range of governmental and administrative, parliamentary and judiciary institutions. I also include the ones on regional and municipal level.

Of what nature is the relation between an individual and a state institution on one hand, and the organisations of civil society on the other? I would like to compare three elements of state structures with the ones of civil society: the individual's affiliation, the use of force and finally the basic values.

First, let me say a word about affiliation, about belonging. I always belong to a state. The question could only be which state, or how many states. But once that question is answered, I cannot be excluded from a state, at least not in a civilised system. Even if I never took part in elections, I can still participate in the next ones. I will also have to pay taxes, a situation we do not always appreciate, but one we have to accept. In civil society this is all very different. If I do not want to pay membership fees in an association any longer, or if I do not like an organisation's activities any longer I can always withdraw my membership. I can resign from civil society. I can also feel excluded from it. Civil society has a right to exclude, a right that the state has not. The state, by definition, bears responsibility for everyone.

On the next point, the use of force, I would like to be very plain. The use of force, be it military or police, always has to remain in the hands of the state. The division between civil society and the state must never be vague. Private armies are the beginning of the end of a functioning state. The state has to set up rules for civil society in order for this not to happen. I will come back to this.

Now, let me come to the last point of comparison between civil society and the state: the basic values. There are no limits as to what values an organisation of civil society can pursue. And that is exactly where the problem lies: an organisation of civil society can advocate very questionable ideas. Who prevents such an organisation from being racist ? Or who hinders a religious group from preaching intolerance and to rigorously force it upon their members ? The answer is simple: only the state can. The state is built upon a constitution where every citizen's basic rights are clearly defined. Civil society does not have a constitution. Therefore, again the state has to integrate civil society by law. Because only the state can guarantee and implement values and basic rights. Because only the state has the monopoly on justice and the use of force.

Now let me explain why I think it is so important to be clear about definitions, especially when looking at the situation in south-eastern Europe.

In this context we will have to look at the question of the individual's identity. Any individual should have many identities. These can be freely chosen identities such as cultural, professional or political ones; but also identities one is born with, such as family or ethnic origin. As I am formed by the ideals of the French revolution, I would like to consider religious identification to be a freely chosen one. In south-eastern Europe however, most people think about religion as something you are born into. In addition to all these identities there must also be a civic identity. Be it a freely chosen one, or one an individual is born with. But even civic identity can have several levels. It concerns not only the state, but can be regional or even communal. Being European, finally, is an additional civic identity.

The most important task for civil society is it to guarantee the individual's many identities. Individuals with many identities are an enrichment for society and for the state. These persons are in fact the pillars a state is built upon. They are the ones that ensure peace in society. Because none of their different identities can ever totally absorb them.

It is very dangerous, if people develop mono-identities. The implications of such a development can be observed in sects and cults that demand total identification, complete absorption that excludes all other identities. This brings us to the central issue of the conflicts that took place in south-eastern Europe in the last couple of years. In these situations of conflict, ethnicity started to completely dominate over all other forms of identification including civic identity. Such development bears pathological features.

Who defines himself only by ethnicity – who only accepts one mono-identity – does not see anymore that one of the functions of the state's institutions must be to provide political mechanisms to balance differing interests, be they political, economic, ethnic or of other origin. People who are infected with this kind of thinking accept statehood only as a cover for a single and ethnically clean group. Just how dangerous this notion is, has been sufficiently demonstrated by the recent wars in former Yugoslavia.

The effects of not accepting state institutions can presently still be observed in Bosnia. Unfortunately it is still possible in today's Bosnia that the state as such is rejected. For example if governments refuse to take responsibility for police actions claiming that they have no authority over the police in a certain area or because certain police organs are not under their control. Or if judicial decisions are simply not enforced if in favour of a person with another ethnic origin than preferred by the authorities. Or if parliaments have difficulties to function, because this would be accepting inter-ethnic co-operation, which is exactly what certain members of parliament decidedly do not want.

But still some people elect these same politicians. And this will not change as long as ethnicity – ethnically defined identity – dictates everything. It will not change as long as civic identity does not take its place again in the consciousness of the people. It will stay this way until the notion of being protected by one's own ethnic group is replaced by trust in the state's capacity of protection. It will stay this way until ethnically motivated violence is replaced by the state monopoly on the use of force.

Before I come to my conclusion, let me add a brief historical remark. The Council of Europe was established as an answer to the Second World War. For many years after the end of the war nobody spoke about Civil Society. It was during the Cold War that this term appeared. Then the idea was to strengthen the dissidents against the totalitarian states in Central and Eastern Europe. Today we are confronted with a different problem. We are facing state structures that do not or not yet function. Is this situation it would be inappropriate to make people think that Civil Society could in any way replace state structures.

So let me come to the following simple conclusion: Efforts to promote civil society in the sense of a renewal of private interest groups and networks do make sense. The most important task for civil society is to guarantee the individual's many identities. If, however, parallel or even previous efforts to strengthen civic consciousness and functioning state institutions lag behind, any promotion of civil society may well be without success.