Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Non-Territorial Autonomy during and after Communism: In the Wrong or Right Place?

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

Non-Territorial Autonomy during and after Communism: In the Wrong or Right Place?

Article excerpt

Paradoxically, the concept of non-territorial autonomy (NTA) is in relatively high demand in post-Communist countries, although it is at the same time an environment that seems hostile to it. Marxism-Leninism had rejected the idea of NTA for decades. Most countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union continue to seek to keep minorities under control. Some countries are under authoritarian rule or have institutional designs that are unfriendly to civil society activities and all forms of self-governance. Nevertheless, several national legislations contain the notions of non-territorial cultural autonomy and some countries have institutional arrangements including elements of NTA. The NTA concept is increasingly welcomed by governments, academia and minority activists. The author seeks to explain this contradiction. First, the author considers that the vision of ethnic groups as internally coherent social entities is not alien to all currents of Marxism. The Soviet and other Communist regimes resorted in practice to discourse and even institutional arrangements resembling NTA. Second, NTA turns out to be part of symbolic rather than instrumental policies that provide for ideological control over minorities. Third, in several cases (like the Baltic states), the concept of NTA fit their respective restitutional framework or return to the pre-Communist 'golden age'.

Keywords: non-territorial autonomy; minorities; Central and Eastern Europe; authoritarianism; nationalism; symbolic policies; restitution

Over the past decade, the concept of ethnicity-based non-territorial autonomy (NTA) has become popular among policy-makers and scholars, for the second time, following the heated scholarly and political debates of the early twentieth century. This is shown in the growing number of academic publications (e.g. Nimni, 2005; Smith and Cordell, 2008; Roach, 2005; Gal, 2002) concerning the theoretical implications of this notion and the opportunities that NTA can create for conflict prevention and minority protection. Several European countries have adopted legislative provisions resting on the notion of cultural or non-territorial autonomy or self-government. Politicians and civic activists repeatedly refer to NTA as a possible solution for conflict-prone situations and international organizations also respond to the emerging agenda in their comments1 and in expert conclusions.2

Generally speaking, the term NTA and similar notions encompass a broad range of institutional setups which envisage self-organization and self-administration of ethnic groups for the fulfilment of public functions in the ways other than territorial dominance and administration of a certain territory. Paradoxically, the concept of NTA is in relatively high demand in post-Communist countries, although it is at the same time an environment that seems hostile to them. This positive attitude towards NTA is not common for all post-Communist countries-some governments (like in Bulgaria and Slovakia) have already demonstrated negative positions-but nevertheless one can talk about a clear positive trend. This article does not seek to explain all existing modes of addressing NTA; it rather aims to answer the question of whether NTA was, in principle, at odds with the Communist legacies and the authoritarian trends manifesting themselves in the transition period.

1. The idea and related terminologies

NTA, as well as similar or derivative terminologies, lack a uniform and consistent application both in theoretical and practical domains. Terms related to non-territorial autonomy are different and include such notions as 'cultural', 'personal', 'exterritorial', 'corporate' and 'segmental', as well as 'autonomy' (Heintze, 1998; Lapidoth, 1997; Safran, 2000); meanwhile, 'autonomy' might be interchangeable with 'self-government' (Henrard, 2005: 134). One should not forget that the term 'national-cultural autonomy' is also widely employed in the former Soviet Union and in Central and Eastern Europe as a synonym for ethnicity-based non-territorial autonomy. …

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