Sunday, October 02, 2011

Kosovo's North: the Swiss and Finnish look

Swiss and Italian taxfree areas
This article drew my attention to the fact that Kosovo's North is not the only area in Europe with a tax-free status.

Of course Europe has its tax paradises, like Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco and the Channel Islands. But there are also small taxfree areas like Samnaun, Livigno and Campione d'Italia. They are just municipalities without special autonomy that for historical and geographical reasons got a tax-free status:

- Samnaun in Switzerland is on the Austrian border and could until 1905 only be reached over Austrian soil. Nowadays Swiss tourist have to pay taxes (in Martina) when they leave Samnaun for the rest of Switzerland.

- Livigno in Italy is a small municipality in the Alps at the border with Switzerland. For centuries it was a very poor place that in the winter was often isolated from the outer world. Diverse motives have been mentioned for its tax-free status: the fear that everyone might leave and the area might become uninhabited and the poverty and local resistance against tax. Nowadays it is rich - thanks to tourism - but still tax free.

- the Italian municipality Campione d'Italia on the Lugano lake is an enclave that is on all sides surrounded by Swiss territory. It has taken over many Swiss systems: the legal coin of the area is the Swiss franc - although the euro is widely accepted too; car plates are Swiss; most phones are on the Swiss network and if you send mail to the place you can both address it to Italy and use the Italian postal codes or use the Swiss equivalent.

The Åland Islands
One could also compare North Kosovo with the Åland Islands as there are a lot of similarities in the situation.

Sweden had for centuries ruled Finland and Swedish had become the language of the ruling class while Finnish was the language of the farmers. Only the last century before independence (1809-1917) was Finland ruled by Russia. In 1917 Swedes still formed 15% of the population on the mainland and they were overrepresented in the upper classes. Nowadays this has decreased to 6%. The Åland Islands are on the sea between Sweden and Finland and when Russia conquered Finland they took the islands too. When Finland declared independence the islands - that are nearly completely Swedish speaking but adjacent to Finland - wanted to join Sweden but the Finnish government objected. In contrast to the brutal politics that we see now regarding Kosovo in 1921 the case of the status of the Åland Islands was brought to the League of Nations. These ruled that the Islands should stay with Finland but get far reaching autonomy so that they should keep their Swedish character.

The League of Nations decision in the case of the Åland Islands was a close call and might just as well have gone in favor of the Swedes. But the maturity with which the case was handled stands in great contrast with the swashbuckling diplomats and generals that we see now in Kosovo. Another contrast is that while in Kosovo "freedom of movement" is taken as an excuse for a policy that is in essence one of ethnic cleansing on the Åland Islands the opposite has been done: you need special permission to settle on the islands.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good, informative post. I learned something new.