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

Decoupled Empowerment: Minority Representation and the Implementation of Language Rights in Romania

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

Decoupled Empowerment: Minority Representation and the Implementation of Language Rights in Romania

Article excerpt

Minority language rights have been regulated in Romania since 2001, yet more than ten years later implementation in this area is still patchy. This situation is especially puzzling, since officials of the Hungarian minority party, expected to be intrinsically interested in minority language protection, have held leading positions in both political and administrative decision-making relevant to the implementation of language policy. This article addresses the relationship between minority empowerment and protection. We ask to what degree empowerment, understood as representation in political and administrative decision-making, is conducive to the implementation of minority protection measures. As an example, the article analyses the implementation of legislation ensuring the use of minority languages for bilingual signs and in communication with state authorities, which is guaranteed by Romanian legislation in administrative districts with more than 20% minority population.

Theoretically, the article builds on insights from implementation research and organization theory to explain the apparent gap between successful adoption of formal minority protection measures and patchy implementation of legislation despite de facto minority empowerment through the minority party. From an agency theoretical approach, relying on principal-agent relationships of task delegation, one explanation for inconsistent implementation is 'agency loss'. Because of information asymmetries, implementing agents can gain discretion to pursue their own goals despite attempts of their principals to control their action. Thus, agency loss can lead to non-implementation even when minorities are empowered in supervising political or administrative institutions, whereas committed agents may gain leeway to implement policies against the will of anti-minority oriented principals.

In turn, in the sociological institutionalist perspective, political processes at the central level appear to be largely 'decoupled' from local administration: national level politicians are mainly concerned with gaining legitimacy by presenting formal legislation as a success, and much less interested in the actual implementation of the policies they adopted. Local implementers, on the other hand, are often involved in practical, day-to-day problem-solving. For this reason, even committed implementers refrain from institutionalizing the implementation of minority language protection and instead often resort to informal ways of implementation in order to avoid potential negative repercussions. In the absence of commitment, situations involving minority language use are dealt with in an ad hoc manner. It follows from both approaches that minority empowerment does not necessarily lead to the institutionalized implementation of minority protection measures.

The article is structured as follows: first, the argument is situated within the literature on minority empowerment and implementation. Drawing on insights from agency theory and sociological institutionalism, the following section sets out the theoretical framework of principal-agent relationships and decoupling between central policy-making and local implementation, and applies it to the implementation of minority protection legislation. The case study of minority language use legislation in Romania is then introduced, outlining the Romanian legal and institutional setting regarding minority protection. Finally, we discuss the implementation process and various strategies of actors at the central and local levels in light of the theoretical framework.

1. Minority empowerment and minority protection

In the absence of a coherent theory on the concept of minority empowerment, Rocha proposes a typology distinguishing five types of empowerment, which differ in their constitutive dimensions of locus of change (individual or community), process (from individual therapy or self-help to political representation or state-challenging political action), goal (from individual coping to institutional arrangements offering access to community services) and power experience (combination of self or other as the source and object of power). …

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