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

The Background of the Soviet Union's Involvement in the Establishment of the European Minority Rights Regime in the Late 1980s

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

The Background of the Soviet Union's Involvement in the Establishment of the European Minority Rights Regime in the Late 1980s

Article excerpt

Introduction

Four significant turns are closely associated with ethnic politics in Europe in late 1980s. These are the start of ethnic conflicts in the European East and South-East; the departure of the socialist multi-ethnic federations in the direction of their dissolution that followed later; revision in the approaches practiced by communist or by that time already transitional governments in the East toward diversity management; and the emergence of the European minority regime, which manifested itself primarily in the activities of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE). These four areas of public politics are interrelated in a complex way; one may state that so far a simplistic analysis of this mosaic and causal links between its components still prevails in academic literature. The emerging international regimes are routinely explained as derivatives of security concerns of that time striking the leading players - governments and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). In turn, the said concerns are deemed to be an obvious outcome of ethnic conflicts and the threats to the territorial integrity of individual states. The reaction to the latter was the elaboration of the liberal democratic approach to minority issues in order to tame both the destructive nationalist aspirations and minority concerns and the subsequent transfer of these innovative ideas eastwards. For example, Will Kymlicka attributes the emergence of the modern minority regime to the convergence of two factors, fear and hope: 'fear of the spread of ethnic conflict after the collapse of Communism, and a hope for the possibility of a viable liberal-democratic form of multiculturalism' (Kymlicka 2007: 48).

I am not going to say that these perceptions are totally wrong in themselves; my point is that they offer an inaccurate and incomplete picture. First, the suggested timeframe is questionable. The critical turn in international minority-related politics was the Copenhagen Document of the CSCE Summit (Document of the Copenhagen Meeting 1990), which in fact set up the guidelines for the subsequent minority framework in Europe currently employed by all major European organizations. The Copenhagen Summit took place in June 1990; the preparatory process started much earlier, and at that time it would be premature to talk about real threats of large scale ethnic conflicts in Europe or to predict flows of refugees from the Caucasus or other already violence-torn regions. It is likely that some experts anticipated such unfortunate developments, but they were hardly a central part of the international agenda. Second, knowledge transfer from the West to the East, or broader, ideological patronage of the developed democracies over the transit countries started later, in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia dissolved and full-fledged civil wars actually began. By the turn of the 1980s, these two multinational countries, although both experienced turbulence in domestic politics and economics, demonstrated vitality, and the USSR still was one of the superpowers and major actors in Europe and the world.

On top of this is the fact that the Soviet Union as it was between 1988 and 1991 is by default regarded in the limbo of a failed state on a fast track to breakdown. The fact that the USSR could not cope with domestic disintegration and collapsed surprisingly quickly prevents most scholars from taking the changes in the Soviet nationalities policy seriously. The country's rapid erosion and ultimate disappearance seem to justify by default the almost common negative judgements of Michael Gorbachov's policies as slow in response, inadequate and erroneous (Beissinger 2002; Bilinsky 1991; Karklins 1994); this attitude causes people to overlook the transformations in the Soviet ethnic policies and their consequences, both in the international arena and in further evolutions of the post-Soviet states.

The fact is that in 1990 the Soviet Union and other socialist countries took active part in the CSCE activities and particularly in the drafting of the 1990 Copenhagen Document as well as in facilitating the subsequent initiatives (Inder Singh 2001: xiv-xv; Eide 2005; Coakley 2016: 15). …

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