Criticism of domestic ethnopolitics by international organizations will always have a limited effect

Criticism of domestic ethnopolitics by international organizations will always have a limited effect

The system of minority protection in a wider European context goes hand in hand with the issue of ethnonationalism in the region. Being strongly connected by their nature, these two issues are detached from each other. Based on his significant practical experience, Vadim Poleshchuk, an expert in ethnic policies, citizenship and non-discrimination, discusses the approaches of international organizations towards the correlation between ethnonationalism and minority issues.

Vadim Poleshchuk: ethnonationalism has become a distinctive feature of the Eastern European countries for several reasons. The “German” understanding of nationhood as “particularist, organic, differentialist, and Volk-centred” (Brubaker) dominates the region and therefore requires special mention. In addition, with the fall of the communist regimes, ethnic nationalism became a ready-to-use basis for political mobilization. In the Baltic countries and the republics of ex-Yugoslavia, this ideology was needed to substantiate the recognition of independent statehood. Paradoxically, an appeal to ethnic instincts went hand in hand with the popular demand for democratization and even Westernization of political life. This puts the main European institutions in a difficult situation. On the one hand, they were eager to support the transition towards a liberal democracy of the Western type. On the other hand, it meant cooperation with ethnonationalists, since the idea of a political nation (in the form of internationalism, class solidarity, Sovietness, etc.) was privatized by their political opponents. An example of the EU relations with today’s Ukraine shows that no solution to this contradiction has been found.

One should also consider the great desire of the leadership of some “transit” countries to solve their problems with national minorities as harshly as it was done in Western Europe in the recent past – they considered themselves late for the ship of modernization because of the “damned Soviet domination.” Today it has a manifestation, for example, in amusing attempts to justify an aggressive anti-minority policy with references to the French republican model. In such circumstances, organizations like the Council of Europe or the OSCE (and also the European Union at the stage of the candidate countries accession) rely on certain standards for minority protection. This is perceived in the capitals throughout “New Europe” as a great injustice and as an example of double standards.

At the same time, the criticism of ethnonationalism has never been too radical, since the line separating ethnic and political nationalism, especially in its outward manifestations, is subtle enough, and all European states (perhaps, except Russia and the Holy See) are nation states. This also applies to those countries which consider themselves beacons of human and minority rights. There is a well-founded opinion, once clearly stated by John Packer, that “the nationalist project of the “nation state” is incompatible with respect for human rights since it favors one cultural association (core nation) over all others: a regime of human rights virtually presumes one pluralist state.” Therefore, any criticism of the ethnopolitics of any nation state on the part of organizations created by nation states will have a limited effect.

Certainly, the specific recommendations of international organizations may differ depending on whether they are made by politicians or experts. Criticism of excesses of ethnopolitics can also be based on different motives. In the logic of human rights, this is necessary to protect the dignity and human rights of persons belonging to minorities. In terms of Realpolitik, less pressure on minority groups is necessary to prevent internal and international conflicts. When ethnonationalism begins to spill over national boundaries (such as diaspora policies, etc.), it becomes a matter of international relations and regional or even international security. Sometimes the desire to extinguish the conflict can be so strong that it leads the international community to unprecedentedly progressive steps, such as the Ohrid Agreement (2001). Conflict situations involving the participation of large and important states do not always lead to the solution of the problems of minority groups, but in any case, they normally stay in the focus of international organizations’ attention. Numerous minority groups are deprived of this privilege.

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