Towards 'Consociationalism Light'? the EU's, the Council of Europe's and the High Commissioner on National Minorities' Policies regarding the Hungarian Minorities in Romania and Slovakia

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This paper concerns how three organisations, namely the Council of Europe, the European Union and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) including its High Commissioner on National Minorities, have addressed the issue of the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Slovakia. The organisations have issued recommendations to the governments of Hungary, Romania and Slovakia regarding how to treat these sizeable minorities, and paper looks into these recommendations to see what the 'ideal minority policies' of the three organisations have looked like. It is argued that the organisations started from rather different perspectives, but during the 1990s increasingly converged in their views. This was due to a large degree to the process of EU enlargement, which started in 1997. As the EU held relatively little expertise on the question of national minorities, it relied extensively on the positions of the other two organisations. The advent of the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities drafted by the Council of Europe also provided a common standard for the three organisations.


The end of the Cold War was followed by an upsurge in the interest in nationalism and especially ethnic conflict. The criss-crossing of ethnic and state boundaries in the old East Bloc led many, particularly Western governments, the EU and NATO, to fear that other countries may end up with the same fate as Yugoslavia. The three million Hungarians living in neighbouring countries, for the most part in Romania and Slovakia, seemed to constitute a potential cause of such conflict. At the same time, there was a renewed interest in ethnic politics and democracy also in the West, largely due to the (re-)emergence of ethnic movements in states such as Canada, Spain and the UK (Kymlicka 2001). Therefore the Hungarian minorities became subject of much interest from Western and pan-European organisations, including the Council of Europe, the EU and the newly created OSCE and its High Commissioner on National Minorities (the HCNM).

I will argue that the attempts of these three organisations, the Council of Europe, the EU and the HCNM, to regulate the issue of the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Slovakia were not created out of the blue, but to a large degree inspired by the theories of ethnic conflict and multiethnic democracies. This paper is based on my research on how the three organisations have reacted to the situation of the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Slovakia. I have analysed the various documents from the three organisations addressing the situation of the Hungarian minority in the country. The texts have all been addressed to the governments of the two countries and have criticised or approved actions as well as suggested changes. The period covered starts in 1993 when the office of the High Commissioner was established and Romania's and Slovakia's accession processes to the Council of Europe began. The period ends with Slovakia's and Hungary's entry into the EU in May 2004. It is important to keep in mind that I do not address the reasons of the organisations for arguing what they have argued, but rather look at their arguments themselves. In other words, what is interesting is which kind of argument that is being made, not why it is being made (Skinner 2002: 98). Thus, the interesting issue is whether an organisation recommends a specific policy in its recommendation, not whether the leaders of the organisation actually think that this policy is commendable.

Whereas there have been many attempts to look at the overall policies and discourses on national minorities of these organisations in order to understand their underlying perspectives,2 this paper intends to look at the discourse employed in the practice of the organisations regarding the specific case of the Hungarian minorities in Romania and Slovakia. The intention is to provide an understanding into which norms can be extracted from the arguments of the three organisations, and ascertain how these norms are increasingly converging. …


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