Past weekend two important examples of the universal right to self-determination were put into practice. On the other side of the globe The Kanaky showed the world their wish to be independent. Although they didn’t win the referendum over independence, the support for an independent New Caledonia is stronger than expected and the self-determination process isn’t over. The Matignon agreement foresees the possibility for two more referenda before 2022.
Closer to home a referendum process was concluded in the Sorbian community, a Slavic minority living in Germany. A majority decided to create a Sorbian parliament, so the community can democratically decide over cultural and linguistic matters that will allow them to see their culture and their community survive and thrive.
1) Referendum in New Caledonia: Caledonians want to decide for themselves!
After years of struggle by the Kanak people, sometimes tragic, which led to the Nouméa Agreements just twenty years ago, New Caledonia's first self-determination referendum has just taken place. With a turnout of 80.63%, New Caledonians have shown their desire to decide for themselves their future. It is a victory of democracy.
Despite surveys that gave the "no to the full sovereignty of New Caledonia” to largely win with 70% or more, the result of the polls is much tighter: the camp of the "no", with 56.40% of the vote wins, it is indisputable, but the result is not final.
However, this victory of the "no" hides great disparities:
· The South Province with the city of Nouméa concentrates the wealth and the employment (5.8% of unemployed). It is also the province where Kanak presence is the lowest (only 26%). Here 73.71% voted against independence.
· The North Province and that of the islands which are populated mainly by Kanaks (94% for the Loyalty Islands and 70% for the Northern Province) are the poorest of New Caledonia (almost 20% of unemployment on the Loyalty Islands and up to at 21% in some villages of the east coast of the North Province). They voted mainly for independence: 82.18% for the Province of Islands and 75.82% in the North Province.
The Kanak people, first people of New Caledonia, are, despite the very large autonomy of the archipelago, the most forgotten nation by France. Although their desire for emancipation was expressed legitimately and in a peaceful and democratic way, the colonization by France, at work for decades, has produced its effects: only 39% of the inhabitants of New Caledonia are still Kanaks today. The increasing presence of non-native New Caledonia populations (the proportion of natives has fallen by 3 points in 25 years) has turned the poll on the “no” side to independence.
European Free Alliance (EFA), in solidarity with the Kanak people, defends the right of peoples to self-determination. EFA invites France to continue the roadmap drawn by the Nouméa agreements. The process of decolonization of New Caledonia which is irreversible must be completed. Autonomy needs to be expanded to allow more space for Kanaks, their culture and an economy that benefits them. Further consultations on self-determination will have to be organized in the coming years. The path to emancipation for Kanaky is ahead. It is the logic of this territory and their people, nearly 17,000 km from Paris, that they who live there will have to prepare together the different communities.
EFA president François Alfonsi concludes that for the Kanaky, the history is not over. “They can ask for a second referendum, according to the agreement with France and in case that referendum would be won a third and conclusive referendum needs to be organised before end 2022.”
2) The Lusatian Sorbs and Wends elected their first Parliament
Lusatia is the home region of the ethnic group of Sorbs and Wends, a small Western Slavic nation in Central Europe. The great part of the territory of Lusatia is today located within the German states of Saxony and Brandenburg. In this territory that currently belongs to Germany the Sorbs and Wends exercised their right to self-determination: they were asking for a democratically legitimized parliament -the Serbski Sejm- and on last Sunday November 4th, they voted for on this in a voluntary referendum. The aim of the Sorbs and Wends is to enable self-determination in cultural and educational issues, the will to take responsibility for themselves, and thus to take their destiny into their own hands.
The elections were held under international supervision by a total of eight election observers. In their statement they explain that the referendum to create the Serbski Sejm was concluded without any problems: there has been no distortion of the electoral result and the election process and the counting of votes was in accordance with the international standards of a free and secret ballot.
On November 17, the constituting session of the first democratically free and secretly elected Parliament of the Wends and Sorbs will take place in the city of Schleife. The next steps of the Parliament will be the start of negotiations and to initiate an application for the recognition of the parliament as a public body and to propose new treaties on cultural and educational autonomy.
EFA celebrates the birth of the Sorbian Parliament and we will continue united in the defence of all forms of self-determination!