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Copyright (c) 2000 Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence
The Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence

ARTICLE: Federalism and Secession: At Home and Abroad

July, 2000

13 Can. J.L. & Juris. 207


Will Kymlicka


The history of ethnic relations in Western democracies contains many examples of injustice, oppression, coercion, discrimination and prejudice. Yet over the past thirty years, Western democracies have developed a number of interesting, and I believe effective, models for accommodating ethnocultural diversity. One of these models involves the use of federal or quasi-federal forms of territorial autonomy to enable self-government for national minorities and indigenous peoples. I believe that these forms of territorial autonomy are in general a success, and contain potential lessons for other countries around the world struggling with issues of minority nationalism.

The merits of these models have often been under-estimated, in part because many people measure success by what I believe is an inappropriate criterion: namely, the absence of secessionist mobilization. Many people believe that any reform of the state can only be declared a success if it removes secession from the political agenda, and indeed makes the very idea of secession unthinkable. By this standard, many Western countries which have adopted territorial autonomy are far from successful, since they contain active and influential secessionist movements.

However, I believe that this cannot be the standard for evaluating democratic multination states. In this paper, I will try to explain why. I will begin by explaining what I take to be the main outlines of a common Western approach to territorial autonomy (section 1). There are of course many differences amongst the Western nations, but I will try to show that there have been several important ...
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