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Transnational Communities Programme

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Expatriate Voting Rights in Hungary and the Czech Republic

The issue of dual citizenship and voting rights for expatriates was discussed among Hungarians and Czechs at home and abroad.

In April the presidium and board of the World Federation of Hungarians made an announcement to members of the Hungarian diaspora in 52 countries. The message appealed to overseas Hungarians to consider themselves part of the nation. It also called for foreign Hungarians to be given certain rights of Hungarian citizenship, including the freedom to travel to Hungary.

The Forum’s proposal for dual citizenship was initially rejected by the leadership of the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR), on the grounds that the 1.6-million strong Hungarian-Romanian community was too large. But regional representatives of UDMR in Cluj-Napoca declared that dual citizenship would be welcome.

In 1996 Romania and Hungary signed a friendship treaty governing border issues and the rights of the Hungarian minority. The governing coalition of President Constantinescu includes representatives from ethnic Hungarian political parties. In 1997 the government passed laws enabling Hungarians to use their language in local government, schools and street signs – undoing many of the discriminatory measures of the communist regime. But the country’s upper house of parliament attempted to block further reforms, while local politicians in Cluj continue to resist the extension of minority language rights.

The chairman of Coexistence, the largest ethnic Hungarian party in Slovakia, supported the principle of dual citizenship for the country’s Hungarian minority. He stated that, should Hungary join the Schengen countries and/or the European Union, it would pose problems for ethnic Hungarians in other countries. In May, Hungary’s Foreign Minister warned Slovakia not to enforce an amendment of education law that would restrict the rights of the country’s Hungarian minority.

In March, the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, voiced his support for Czech expatriates to be allowed to vote in June’s national elections. The Chamber of Deputies threw out the government’s proposed changes to electoral law, which would have introduced a measure of dual citizenship. The right to vote would affect around 30,000 expatriates. Other issues of concern to overseas Czechs include restitution payments and care for poorer members of the community.

Relations between the Czech government and Czechs abroad have been strained since the return of democracy in 1989. But in July, at a conference of overseas Czechs held in Prague, the Foreign Minister Jaroslay Sedivy praised the work of expatriate Czechs. He recognised the significant role played by Czech-Americans in lobbying for NATO membership for the Czech Republic.

Romanian ethnic Hungarian leader rejects dual citizenship idea, Hungarian radio – BBC monitoring service 10.4.98; Hungarian world forum appeals to voters to consider diaspora part of the nation, Hungarian radio – BBC monitoring service 28.4.98; Horn writes to leaders of Hungarian coalition in Slovakia, Hungary News Agency 22.5.98; Romanian Cluj branch opposes ethnic Hungarian party head on dual citizenship, Radio Timisoara – BBC monitoring service 27.4.98; Ethnic Hungarians want dual citizenship to bypass EU visa regime, Hungarian radio – BBC monitoring service 3.4.98; Magyar blues, The Economist 20.12.97; Havel supports suffrage for expatriates, Czech News Agency, 25.3.98; Czech expatriates welcome extremists’ election failure, Czech News Agency 21.6.98; Foreign Minister praises activities of Czechs abroad, Czech News Agency 2.7.98.


East Timor: Diaspora Meets in Portugal

In April a meeting of the East Timorese National Convention in Diaspora was held in Lisbon, Portugal. Addressing the delegates, a representative of Portugal’s government called on the USA to support a referendum in East Timor. Timorese from New Jersey drafted the resolution. Portugal’s government sponsored the convention and its parliament committed itself to lobbying Washington on the issue.

The convention approved a flag and anthem for East Timor, authorised by the National Council of the Timorese Resistance (CNRT). Jose Ramos Horta (Nobel peace laureate in 1996) was elected leader of the resistance outside the territory. The convention included representatives of various Timorese bodies, including the Timorese Democratic Union and the Fretilin (Revolutionary Front for an Independent East Timor). There were delegates from Macao and Australia. The various parties present stressed the need for solidarity.

The Convention was criticised by pro-integration Timorese inside Indonesia, who support the All-Inclusive East Timor Dialog (AIETD) organised by the United Nations.

In June, Indonesia’s new President, B.J. Habibie met with the Bishop Carlos Belo, Nobel peace laureate and prominent in East Timor’s quest for independence. Former President Suharto had not met any of the disputed territory’s leaders in over two decades. Habibie struck a conciliatory tone, offering to withdraw troops. He arranged for 16 East Timorese prisoners to be released and offered to release resistance leader Xanana Gusmao in return for the recognition of Indonesia’s sovereign rights over the territory. But East Timorese leaders are still demanding a UN-supervised referendum on the future of the territory. The UN recognises Portugal, not Indonesia, as the sovereign authority.

Portuguese parliament wants US support for referendum in Timor, Renascena radio – BBC monitoring service 23.4.98; Diaspora talks upset Timorese, Jakarta Post 26.4.98; Timorese resistance spokesman elected top leader abroad, Antena 1 radio – BBC monitoring service 27.4.98; Prospects brighter for East Timorese, John Manthorpe, Vancouver Sun 25.6.98.


Tibetan Exiles in India

Divisions among the Tibetan exile community in India between the Dalai Lama and the more radical Tibetan Youth Congress intensified following the self-immolation of a Tibetan man and India’s attempt to break up a hunger strike protest.

There are six million Tibetans in India, including 100,000 refugees from Tibet and the government-in-exile of the Dalai Lama, whose residence is in the northern town of Dharamsala.

A group of six Tibetans began a hunger strike in March to protest the Chinese occupation of their homeland. The protestors were members of the Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC), which claims 10,000-14,000 members and is headed by Tseten Norbu. They camped out on a pavement in the capital, New Delhi. In April, in advance of the visit by a senior Chinese general, the Indian authorities detained three of the protestors in hospital. The group’s supporters accused the Indian government of caving in to Chinese diplomatic pressure. In the wake of the forced seizure, sympathisers announced that they would form a human shield around the remaining strikers.

In protest against the seizures, a Tibetan man, Thupten Ngodub, set himself on fire and died. Other protestors vowed to continue the hunger strike in place of those detained by the authorities. The Dalai Lama met with the six new protestors, but many members of the TYC are turning away from his non-violent approach. They claim that Ngodub’s death, the first such self-immolation directed against Chinese rule to take place in India, could mark a turning point in opposition. The vice-president of the Congress openly questioned whether the Dalai Lama had achieved anything since the failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959. The government-in-exile (which is not recognised by any country) called for the hunger strike to be called off. It feared that a violent and aggressive campaign against China would weaken international support for the Tibetan cause.

The body of Thupten Ngodub was taken to Dharamsala for burial. The ceremonies were attended by up to 50,000 mourners. Many were reported to agree with the TYC that non-violence was not achieving anything. The Dalai Lama was in New York for the funeral itself, meeting with Chinese dissidents.

India cracks down on Tibetan hunger strikers ahead of Chinese visit, Agence France Presse English Wire 26.4.98; Tibetan dies after self-immolation, exiles warn of bloodshed, Agence France Presse English Wire 29.4.98; Thousands gather for Tibetan's funeral in India, Agence France Presse English Wire 30.4.98; Thousands Mourn Death of New Tibetan Martyr, Dexter Filkins and Amitbah Sharma, Los Angeles Times 1.5.98.


Expatriate Cities: Shanghai and Moscow

The quality of life and the cost of living in major cities with large expatriate communities were analysed in two recent reports. In Shanghai and Moscow, North American developers are constructing luxury suburban enclaves for expatriate clients.

According to Towers Perrin, consultants who specialise in relocation, one in six Americans sent overseas returns within a year because of the problems of adjustment and family. Even those who remain can find substantial amounts of their time taken up with the problems of families in an alien environment. The quality of life of expatriate cities is therefore as significant to transnational companies as the cost of living.

The Corporate Resources Group (Geneva) calculated the cost of living in the world’s major cities. The calculations were based on the cost of 200 goods and services, taking New York as the standard (=100). These goods were chosen to reflect the tastes and consumption patterns of expatriates. Currency fluctuations against the dollar therefore affect the rankings.

The most expensive cities were Hong Kong, Tokyo and Beijing, with seven of the top ten coming from Asia. Cities in countries hit by the Asian economic crisis, such as Jakarta and Singapore, fell in relative expense. New York was ranked as the 21st most expensive city. Cities in Africa and the Middle East were deemed to be the least costly.

The ten most expensive cities were: 1) Hong Kong 2) Tokyo 3) Beijing 4) Moscow 5) Shanghai 6) Osaka 7) Guangzhou 8) Saint Petersburg 9) Dalian (China) 10) London

Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC), a consultancy with offices in Hong Kong and Singapore, published a survey on the quality of Asia’s cities for expatriates. Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan scored highest by their reckoning with South Korea, Vietnam and China the lowest. Four hundred expatriates were surveyed across the region, questioned on such matters as schooling, hospitals and recreation.

Taiwan’s improvement over 1997 was put down to the perceived decline in crime. Korea suffered from traffic, communications problems and cultural unfamiliarity. Indonesia was rated as having the worst health care, while Malaysia scored highly for affordable housing. Singapore did well for safety, cleanliness, health care and education, but was criticised by expats for poor TV and press censorship. Singapore was generally reckoned safe but boring.

Maggie Farley reported on expatriate life in Shanghai for The Los Angeles Times and Malcolm Gray described Moscow’s new suburbs for the Windsor Star. In the suburbs of both cities, North American style luxury communities have been created, complete with lawns, two-car garages, ranch-style homes and golf courses. Shanghai Links, one such development, is only six minutes from Shanghai’s new international airport. Jack Niklaus designed its golf course, and its homes have a view of the Yangtze river entering the South China Sea. Pine Forest Estates is found outside Moscow in the pine forests surrounding the capital.

In both developments, North American construction workers were flown in to build the houses. In the Moscow suburbs, the entire three-bedroom house was prefabricated in Canada.

Shanghai Links is a $500 million development, owned mainly by North American banks and pension funds. Houses are leased by multinationals for their employees. The development company plans 15 or more similar projects in ‘emerging markets’. The risk is that, as companies switch from expensive expatriate labour to cheaper, trained local managers, the demand for such sumptuous enclaves will diminish. Even in Shanghai Links, some firms are scaling back their investment.

The concern is that Shanghai’s Western enclaves will make expatriate adjustment to life in China even harder. There are local memories from the early century of how Europeans shut themselves away in their own concessions (districts) oblivious to the fate of the country outside.

In Pine Forest Estates the dwellings are mainly aimed not at Russians but at expatriates able to pay up to $160,000 a year rent. The Toronto-based company responsible for the project has lined up corporations such as Unilever and Coca Cola as potential clients. Similar to other developments around Moscow, the developers stress the security aspects of the planned suburbs. Perimeter fencing and guards are provided.

Currency crisis affects league table of costly cities, Agence France Presse English Wire 29.6.98; South Korea, China and Vietnam "worst in Asia" for expatriates, Agence France Presse English Wire, 4.5.98; Moscow embraces suburban living, Malcolm Gray, Windsor Star 31.1.98; Expatriate come home to West – in China, Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times 3.8.98


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