Introduction - National Minorities between Protection and Empowerment

By Prina, Federica | Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE, April 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

Introduction - National Minorities between Protection and Empowerment


Prina, Federica, Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE


This special issue examines some of the complexities intrinsic to the journey from the protection of national minorities to their empowerment, both at the theoretical level, and through the analysis of empirical data from three case studies. The special issue was compiled following the workshop 'National Minorities between Protection and Empowerment: Contemporary Minority Politics in Europe', at the 41st Joint Sessions of Workshops of the European Consortium for Political Research (Mainz, 2013).1 The workshop was chaired and co-organized by Tove Malloy (Director, European Centre for Minorities Issues) and David J. Galbreath (Professor in International Security, University of Bath). It explored the relationship between European approaches to minorities in a post-Cold War environment, and how European governments and institutions are moving (or could move) beyond management and protection of minorities towards their empowerment.

Twenty-three excellent papers were presented during the workshop. The papers that were selected for inclusion in this special issue are: a theoretical paper offering the conceptualization of a theory of empowerment; and papers analysing three case studies: the Autonomous Province of Trento, the German-Danish border region and the Hungarian minority in Romania. The authors of the papers not only analyse different situations but also adopt varied approaches to empowerment, revealing the multi-faceted nature of the notion, as well as the ample opportunities for future research.

1. A paradigm shift?

The 2013 workshop and the present special issue reflect an impetus to revisit the original approach to majority-minority relations. The traditional literature on minority rights-whether from the point of view of the European Union (EU) conditionality, participation and power-sharing, and European minority rights law-has generally treated minorities as objects of law and state policies, with an emphasis on the protection of their individual rights (particularly through anti-discrimination legislation). Moreover, the minority rights regime has been seen as instrumental in preventing the escalation of tensions that can lead to conflict-as well as an aspect of democratic governance and of European integration (Malloy 2005). The main focus has been conflict prevention and/or conflict resolution, particularly at the end of the Cold War and as a response to ethnic-motivated conflict in the Western Balkans. Galbreath and McEvoy (2012: 265) argue that the European minority rights regime still maintains a focus on the containment of regional instability, while minimizing the role of minorities. It has led to a choice of "protection over empowerment" in resolving the complexities posed by diversity in Europe.

Enhancing minority protection, without necessarily enabling minorities themselves to claim their own rights, positions them primarily as objects (recipients of protection or victims) rather than subjects. A near-exclusive focus on security and conflict prevention, or on anti-discrimination measures, is myopic; it is far from reflecting the complexities of majority-minority relations, or addressing the multiple needs of minorities. Similarly, expressions such as "diversity management" reveal a tendency towards a top-down process of integration, a majority-centred approach to the co-existence of members of various groups-where minorities can be effectively relegated to the margins of society. Genuine minority empowerment would require the majority to relinquish some of its own power, so as to create favourable conditions for minorities to claim their own rights, actively participate in the development of public policy, and in its implementation. Enabling minorities to become "actors" places them in a position in which they might decide, and act, upon their own destiny and their own approach to their own cultural distinctiveness.

The workshop implied a shift in the configuration of minority-majority relations that is agency-centred, treating minorities as subjects, rather than as "the other" in its various manifestations, and often positioned antagonistically with regard to the majority. …

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