The Voting Diaspora February 24, 2013Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite , trackback
A diaspora is, of course, the citizens of a country who live outside their homeland but who still have a strong or residual loyalty to the patria. Diasporas have long mattered in history because they end up influencing the foreign policy of their adopted countries and, all too often, the domestic agendas of their countries of origin. It could be the Irish of New England leading a long drawn out and all too understandable revenge on the British. It could be Ukrainian maids and brickies of France and Germany sending their wages back to the kids in Kiev. It could be Egyptian migrants in Paris, London and Berlin sparking the fires that led to the Arab Spring. Of course, all of this is well known. But what Beach finds fascinating is the way that democracies, old and new, are increasingly trying to take their non-resident populations into account in an institutional fashion.
Let’s start with the example of Italy that, in this respect, has been something of a trailblazer. In 2001, Mirko Tremaglia, an Italian post fascist, pioneered a law which gave 6 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and 12 seats in the Senate to the Italian diaspora, i.e. Italians living in other countries. (Tremaglia was a maverick but a worthwhile and widely respected figure: for an obituary in English visit The Independent). These seats were split up into continental regions where votes are gathered by consulates and embassies and emigres ultimately elect one of their own to fly off and live in Rome for four years. How do you define an Italian living abroad though? For Italy it is a question of descent not place of birth and there are some ‘Italians’ who will stand for these special seats who have never been to Italy and in one notable case there is an ‘Italian’ who does not know Italian.
Where Italy has led other countries are now following: particularly in Africa: other examples? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com. Beach personally is confused as to the logic of allowing expatriate Italians and in some cases ‘Italians’ representation in a country about which they have so little interest that they choose not to live there: they certainly don’t pay taxes to Rome, but then relatively few Italians do that either… However, in the developing world, diasporas deserve representation. Kenyans, Algerians, Moroccans etc etc abroad send back money to their homelands and support families and, indeed, whole communities. For many the intolerable situation back home make it impossible to stay there, but there can be no doubt that they continue to materially help the places of their birth. These diasporas often prove the launching pad for campaigns against tyrannical regimes: Cuba, Iran we can but hope. And there is no need to put inverted commas around a Syrian – see ‘Italian’ above – who sends money home to his or her family and who pushes for the fall of the house of Assad with every means at their disposal.
For Beach it is an aching pain that he can no longer vote in British elections: too long spent abroad. But he would oppose any idea of special representatives in the Commons or the Lords for the British diaspora. In his naive, zero sum and practical version of nationality if you want to vote in Britain you need to pay taxes there. (Taxes are at the base of the Anglo-Saxon democratic experience from throwing tea into Boston harbour to twitting the French over the EU rebate.) However, he has been charmed by a parallel development. In Europe particularly there are now such big diaspora communities that they can start to carve out representation for themselves without any recourse to special laws. Beach recently watched a (so-far unreleased) documentary where a Scot living in southern Spain explained how he had managed to get himself elected to the local council (where he holds the balance of power between the left and right!) standing simply as a foreigner: all the non-Spaniards in the town voted for him. There was also the example of a Romanian organisation in Italy that is attempting to get a Romanian diaspora representative into the Italian parliament. This is potentially divisive but at least it means representation as well as taxation. And with the Italian elections now underway Beach must confess that a British King-God-Country candidate in Chiantishire would get his vote in a flash. Unfortunately there isn’t one.
31 March 2013: MR sends this in that somehow we missed. ‘Am now sensitized to noticing the issue, from the Economist: Many in Romania, and other countries home to ethnic Hungarians, are already unhappy that the Hungarian government has granted citizenship to almost 400,000 Hungarians ‘beyond the borders’ as they are known in Hungary. The new Hungarians citizens can vote in the next general election, scheduled for spring 2014, thus intensifying accusations of ‘dual loyalties’. Hungary rejects such claims, arguing that as the Hungarians beyond the borders are part of the Hungarian nation, they should have a say in its future. Hungary, they say, has no territorial claims on its neighbours. János Martonyi, Hungary’s foreign minister, who was himself born in Transylvania, has called for calm between the two countries, hoping that the “din of battle would subside”. Thanks MR