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Autonomy in Kabylia : breaking a taboo

from Le Matin, 15 October 2001
translated by WAAC

In this article, Professor Salem Chaker explains how the prickly question of autonomy for Kabylia in the current political context can be applied.

en français

The Construction
Democracy is not a preconstructed entity, a universal panacea which, automatically, would resolve the contradictions existing in a society and which, mechanically, would impose its law from the top and regulate, as if by magic, the problems and contradictions of that society. It is only a device for the functioning of society, permitting a peaceful resolution of contradictions that exist and preexist and should be expressly formulated, carried out, and organized. As a recent example, let us remember that democratic France of the Third Republic set up and maintained the colonial system in Algeria. That democratic France, "homeland of human rights," has led a secular policy of eradication of its regional languages and has always refused them any form of legal recognition.

In fact, these "democratic" critics, are generally recovered from a centralist and\or Stalinist political culture, which does not imagine that the society can dominate the State; belonging to circles that are convinced that with them in power, democracy and happiness will impose itself quite naturally. One knows where this leads, everywhere; fundamentally, these positions are very close relatives of those of the FLN of yesterday and today: "independence first, the rest will follow"; "Insure the development of the country first, the rest will come later"; and now, one would like to hoodwink us with: "Democracy first, the linguistic and identity question later." All is not in everything, and all the fights for rights, for the rights of minorities, women, employees, are justifiable and should be able to express themselves and receive their answer in the here and now. The true builders of democracy are those that formulate and clarify contradictions and not those that deny them, minimize them, or put them on the back-burner, suggesting they wait for "future harmonies."

Similarly, the question of articulation between the autonomy of Kabylia and the global political system should be neither evaded nor used as an argument to block the thoughts and debate on the future of Kabylia itself. I consider, for my part, that it is not up to to the Kabyles alone to define, nor even to propose, a global political system for Algeria; it is their thoughts, their fight for the autonomy of their region that will contribute to build a new configuration for Algeria, by making the rest of Algeria aware that other forms of organization and management can be conceived for the entire country. Although it can be a possible solution, it does not seem realistic to propose, in the form of a debate, a federalist system generalized for Algeria: No other region demonstrated, which such force and constancy, its uniqueness; no other region has known a mobilization so broad and durable for its right to exist. And, at the objective level, no other region seems to join so many historical, sociological, political, and cultural parameters, based on a strong collective identity. It is not so certain that the solution of autonomy defended by Kabylia can be automatically spread to the entire territory; but it seems evident, even if the forms are not inevitably the same everywhere, that all of Algeria will gain a very wide decentralization and an intensification of regional legitimacy.

The territorial seat
The territorial "mangling" of Kabylia is an old tradition, and, in this regard, independent Algeria has, in accentuating it, merely brought back again the practice of colonial France. France, which obviously had, since hte nineteenth century, the possibility of creating in Kabylia a linguistically homogeneous administrative and territorial entity, neither did so or even contemplated it. On the contrary, one preferred to artificially slice Kabylia in two: Grand Kabylia, connected to Algiers, and Small Kabylia, integrated into the Department of Constantine, and, thus, tear apart a region, in which the uprising of 1871 had well-demonstrated the political, human, and cultural unity. As for independent Algeria, she slices, and slices again, with constancy, the berberophone zones, particularly Kabylia, presently split among six artificial wilayas. The objective always remains the same: prevent the emergence or consolidation of Amazigh geocultural entities and dilute Tamazight-speakers in non-homogenous territorial units.

It will be a question of gathering together a geographic and human group, united by language, culture, a network of solidarities, and a collective memory: Kabylia--tamurt n Leqbayel--, which all the administrative manipulations has not managed to break and dilute, and which lives daily in the consciousness and culture of her inhabitants.

An autonomous Kabyle region should include all its berberophone municipalities (i.e., majority berberophones), currently the wilayas of Bejaia (Bgayet), Tizi Ouzou, Bouira, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Setif, and Boumerdes, roughly the territory of the former Wilaya III of the war of liberation. In the bilingual bordering zones, the local populations should be able to freely determine their union through local referendums. Boundary changes for the territory of the current municipalities can also be considered when the linguistic distribution inside a municipality is clearly geographic.

The prerogatives of the region
If the State is of no use, it is necessary to pass over it and effectively assume (control) at the regional level. Knowing the old traditions of Kabyle community organization and solidarity, which recent events have demonstrated are still much alive, the subjects that should de raised from a regional or local decision is extremely broad: all of the sector on education and culture, the essential part of socioeconomic functions, and likewise, daily security issues. Privileges of the State should exclusively deal with questions of external security, foreign affairs, diplomatic relations, and monetary policies.

In regard to plans for culture, language and education, the region should benefit from total autonomy because: the right to one's language and culture is an indefeasible right, recognized by numerous international legal instruments; and the policy of arabization is a crime in that it tends to destroy a language, a culture, a collective memory. It is also an operation of methodical destruction of the Kabyle elites by integration into the arabo-islamist ideology and culture.

The Berber language should be recognized as the proper language of Kabylia because this regional recognition is the only one capable of insuring the perpetuity of the language in the long duration, but it does not mean that it is necessary to renounce the national objective: Tamazight should also be recognized in the Algerian Constitution as one of the national and official languages of Algeria, with the right for every citizen to use the Berber language, in all circumstances of public life, and to receive an education in this language, including outside berberophone areas.

In regard to the economic and social plan, the fiasco is such that one negatively perceives what the Kabyles could expect from the action of a central State, which was incapable to insure, in forty years, a minimum of economic development in the region. And each knows that Kabylia survives only through the external and internal contribution of its emigration and through local private investment, and not through the generosity of the central State, and that, globally, the region contributes more to than it receives from the national budget. As for the manna of hydrocarbons, the good spirits, frightened by the word 'autonomy,' could exclaim: "But Kabylia would no longer receive its share!" Do they really believe for a moment that the region has benefited from it during the last decades? And then, in a democratic system, what would forbid the region, even autonomous, to receive its share of this national wealth, in proportion to the population? To be able to lead its economic and social policy, the region will have its proper tax system; the national tax system, the collection of which will be assured by the region, will be the object of agreements of State-regional distribution, according to the principle of fair return in the region, in step with its population.

As for security and justice issues, why restore them to the central State when Kabyle youth fall under the bullets of those who are supposed to protect the population, when the gendarmes and security services behave and are perceived as troops of occupation, when the Algerian judicial mechanism has, for a long time, lost any independence? On this topic, everything is to be reconstructed on a foundation closer to the citizens and under their strict control. All dealing with security and daily justice should rise from the region.

The territorial and administrative organization of the region will be established by a regional Assembly and not by the State. The essential territorial and administrative entities of the region (municipalities and higher levels) will be defined in such a way as to respect the demographic, historic, geographic, and communicative realities as much as possible in the traditional functional entities: villages, clans, confederacies of clans.

In all domains, the action of the region and its institutions will be guided by two principles:

1. The most permanent and the most direct exercise of popular legitimacy and control;
2. Allegiance to the memory and culture of the Kabyle people.

Naturally, the existence of institutions insuring the exercise of regional autonomy is not exclusive of a representation of Kabylia in the national Parliament. This representation will be made proportionally, according to the demographic proportion of the region in relation to the global national population.

Distribution of Privileges
An articulation between the State and the region will be organized for all matters of national interest, where the action of the State can implicate the region: large works, regional development, and the national tax system. In all these sectors, the region will be the compulsory interlocutor of the State, and no decision of this latter can implicate the region or can be established in the territory of the region without the approval of the regional institutions, notably the regional Assembly. As a consequence, with the exception of issues of external security, international agreements and treaties, and the monetary policy, the regional Assembly can, in all sectors, adjust the national laws.

The regional executive will be the compulsory relay and interlocutor of the State in relevant matters of exclusive or shared privileges in order to put in place the decisions of the State on the territory of the region.

To extol the autonomy of Kabylia is to build the future of the region on the widest reappropriation of its memory, its culture, and its independence of action in all which rises from her immediate sphere. To build the autonomy of Kabylia will be also to strengthen Algeria, popular and democratic.


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