National Minorities and the European Nation-States System

National Minorities and the European Nation-States System

National Minorities and the European Nation-States System

National Minorities and the European Nation-States System


The collapse of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union has resulted in a proliferation of discontented national minorities. Thus, the possibility for destabilizing ethnic conflict has become acute. National minorities have accordingly emerged as a major focus of international relations in post-Cold War Europe. Jennifer Jackson Preece's powerful new study offers an innovative analysis of these developments. Scrutinizing them within the historical context of changing practices and evolving norms, she reveals that the European national minority question is nothing new - rather its foundations extend deep into contemporary history. Moreover, the problem is intrinsically derivative of the nation-states system itself, a system which potentially intensifies minority disaffection. Examining these issues against the backdrop of relevant treaties, diplomatic negotiations, and international practices, Jackson Preece presents the definitive assessment of the fate of national minorities in the European states system.


Historical phenomena are not abstractions to be neatly tied up in the academists' definitions. They are, as I have already said, changing things and their real meaning is apparent only in their history.

(A. Cobban, 1970)

The problem of conceptual clarity

Any examination of international minority protection is immediately confronted with the problem of conceptual clarity stemming from the lack of a universally agreed upon definition of the term minority. Obviously, this controversy raises unavoidable complications; how can a discussion of minorities proceed if the primary term of reference is vague and often disputed? the aim in this chapter is to arrive at a working definition of minority that is well suited to a study focused on the tension between minority rights and sovereign state rights and written in the international society tradition.

This objective will be pursued in two ways: (1) by surveying the history of how international organizations concerned with minority questions have sought--and as of 1995 failed--to establish a common definition of the term minority; and (2) by evaluating the various meanings adopted by some of the leading academic commentators on the subject of minority rights. in particular, the analysis will pay close attention to the kind of criteria these definitions employ. Is it objective criteria such as distinctions of race, language, ethnicity, or religion? Or, alternatively, is it subjective distinctions such as group self-identification as a minority? in what way does the kind of criteria employed influence the type of groups included in the category minority, and what effect does this have on the content . . .

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