Staff writer Asia can learn from Europe’s experiences in tackling ethnic minority problems in order to reduce potential conflict, according to a senior European official in charge of ethnic minority issues in the region. “It is possible to find ways that would avoid splitting up a state and satisfy the basic needs of minorities at the same time,” said Max Van Der Stoel, 75, high commissioner on national minorities at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “You can do this through decentralization and a variety of ways.” Van Der Stoel, a former Dutch foreign minister, was in Japan from Sunday through Thursday to participate in a study on the prevention of ethnic conflicts by the government-affiliated National Institute for Research Advancement. Asian and European countries should jointly study the creation of what he calls “bodies for dialogue” and “instruments of coalition” based on their experiences of ethnic conflicts, Van Der Stoel said in an interview. Since becoming OSCE high commissioner in 1993, Van Der Stoel has visited several European countries embroiled in ethnic wars and made specific recommendations to the governments to resolve the strife. Complex political considerations, however, have prompted governments representing the interest of certain ethnic groups to ignore or reject the OSCE recommendations, he said. “I have tried to get involved in Kosovo, but the difficulty is that (Yugoslav President Slobodan) Milosevic has constantly refused me a visa,” he said. Touching on ethnic minority issues in Asia, including East Timor and Tibet, Van Der Stoel said, “The main problem is excessive nationalism that respects the interest of one group and ignores the interests of others.” Van Der Stoel, who has been engaged in ethnic language education in Romania and Macedonia, said Asian countries troubled with ethnic minority problems should promote ethnic rights through education. By enhancing ethnic language education, these countries will be able to preserve the identity of minority groups and foster governments that can accommodate their various perspectives, he said.
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