Romania, Democracy and Minorities

By Mihas, D. E. M. | Contemporary Review, January 1997 | Go to article overview

Romania, Democracy and Minorities


Mihas, D. E. M., Contemporary Review


Almost every post-communist Balkan state has been scarred, perhaps indelibly, by the bitter legacies of Communism. Communism abolished the pre-Communist order in a far more radical and ruthless way in the Balkans than in Central Europe. With only a rudimentary industrial base, at their best, the Balkan states witnessed a total concentration of power in the hands of the newly-established Communist elites who aspired to catch up with the more advanced Central European Communist regimes. The Balkan security apparatuses (Securitate in Romania, Sigurimi in Albania) were more extensive than their Central European counterparts and more determined to crash dissent even in its milder forms. This included having the wrong hair-style in Albania or of talking to a Western tourist in Bulgaria. Finally, in most Balkan cases the Communist bureaucracy was more inflated than in Central Europe. One of its most distinctive features was an extended hierarchical network of personal dependence which now constitutes the basis of post-Communist patronage and 'clientelism'.

In the aftermath of Communist totalitarianism in East-Central Europe, relations between various communities of different ethnic, linguistic and religious backgrounds have, in most cases, been other than peaceful and harmonious. The conflict in former Yugoslavia could be classified as a typical example of such relations. However, it has been due to perhaps 'excessive' publicity that the Yugoslav crisis has come to be seen as perhaps the worst catastrophic ethnic conflict in post-war Europe. Other, less publicised ethnic conflicts, have undeniably been overshadowed by the media's 'obsession' with Bosnia. Therefore, ethnic tension in other areas of the Balkans has been virtually ignored, even though it may trigger a series of dramatic changes, with domino effect even outside the borders of East-Central Europe. These may once more take by surprise both the international community and the states concerned.

The list of sidelined cases of ethnic, linguistic and religious strife could be endless: friction involving Gypsy minorities in Slovakia and the Czech Republic; tension involving Moslem/Turkish-speaking minorities in Bulgaria; and violent clashes between the Hungarian and Romanian populations in Romanian Transylvania, would constitute major components of such a list. Irrespective of whether the states of the area are willing to acknowledge the existence of minorities within their boundaries, it would not be an exaggeration to claim that there is no country without an ethnic, linguistic or religious minority on its soil. Unlike the mid-1970s' democratisation in South Europe, problems of national boundaries and identity or minority rights are part and parcel of the East-Central European processes of democratisation.

Nationalism could be seen as a basic element of 'Balkan political culture'. Perhaps it should be pointed out right from the start that since their very inception all the Balkan states, Communist and non-Communist, have been inclined to play the so-called nationalist card. For a better understanding of the Balkan brand of nationalism, it is perhaps essential to see it as part and parcel of the region's political culture, a fundamental ingredient of which is populism.

Populism, at least within the Balkan context, has been closely associated with false or pseudo-egalitarianism and with the non-recognition of any kind of diversity. On many occasions, it has helped homogenise entire nations and galvanise a sense of unity, more often than not based on a series of misconceptions about a given country's socio-economic reality. Populism has also helped unite a whole nation of presumably 'equal' - if not 'identical' - citizens against common and real or less real enemies. In this respect it would be almost impossible to draw a demarcation line between populism and nationalism. Nationalist-populist Balkan culture has been forged, spread and preserved primarily, albeit not exclusively, by three key institutions: the State, the Army and the Orthodox Church. …

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