gora plewa bild

Illustration Ragni Svensson.

Peer-reviewed articles The EU as a Normative Success for National Minorities Before and after the EU enlargement

The main reason why we have not seen more severe conflicts between majorities and minorities in the new EU member states is, in the authors view, the EU’s success as a normative power. The pressure that the EU put on the candidates for membership to adapt to norms on minority protection and to solve their potential border conflicts had a positive effect.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds Baltic Worlds 4 2014, pp 39-50
Published on balticworlds.com on januari 21, 2015

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In the early 1990s, the EU concluded Association Agreements with a number of CEE countries which had been isolated for decades behind the Iron Curtain: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia. The early 1990s were not only a “time of hope” in CEE, however: they were also a time of anxiety during which a number of long–submerged ethnic and national conflicts surfaced. Czechoslovakia divided. So too did Yugoslavia, and long and bloody wars ensued. These events warned the political elite in the West that a possible EU enlargement might entail the risk of importing ethnic trouble spots and border conflicts into a wider EU. The Western European countries had long traditions of stabilizing relations in the CEE region. After each World War, the Western powers were involved in reestablishing order in this part of Europe.1 The great powers were also interested in protecting minorities in the region, especially in the aftermath of WWI.2 However, 1989 brought new actors to the stage, namely the EU and NATO. European integration made new modes of cooperation much more attractive than earlier propositions. The offer of association with the EU was perceived as a strategic attempt to stabilize relations not only between Western European states and the newly independent states in the CEE region, but also between the countries emerging from the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The conviction was widespread at that time that the situation in CEE might follow the infamous pattern of the Yugoslav war. The fear of such a “Balkanization” of CEE had already been stressed by the Polish intellectual and former dissident Adam Michnik, who wrote:

This European mosaic of nationalities could be swept by a conflagration of border conflicts. These are unhappy nations, nations that have lived for years in bondage and humiliation. Complexes and resentments can easily explode. Hatred breeds hatred, force breeds force. And that way lies the path of Balkanization of our “native Europe”.3

Fortunately, that dark scenario did not occur. How can we explain this peaceful development in CEE? In the present article, we would like to contribute to the discussion of this question by highlighting the role played by the EU, and to some extent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe (CoE). We will focus on the EU’s impact on the situation of national minorities in those CEE countries that became members of the EU as a result of the enlargements of 2004 and 2007. Our aim is to describe and analyze how the EU approached and influenced the protection of national minorities in CEE during the process of European enlargement, and to evaluate the durability of the changes during the decade since the enlargement. Much has already been written on national minorities in specific CEE countries, not only in connection with the enlargement, the quality of democracy, and human rights. However, there have been relatively few comparative, theoretically driven analyses.4 We would like to contribute to this body of scholarly literature, since we find that there is a need for a general assessment of the EU’s influence on CEE, especially now that the ten years that have passed since the enlargement allow us to assess the durability of that influence. In order to measure the influence of the international actors, and of the EU in particular, on minority issues in CEE, we will first map the situation of the minorities in the region, and provide a brief explanation of the various factors that shape the current situation. We will employ Roger Brubaker’s model of a triadic nexus to explain the dynamics of the minority situation in CEE. In the second part, we will analyze the influence of the EU on the situation of minorities in CEE using Albert, Diez, and Stetter’s concept of the EU’s impact as composed of four pathways: compulsory, enabling, connective, and constructive.5 In each case we will compare the EU’s mechanisms for influencing the minority situation in the CEE before and after enlargement.

National minorities in Central and Eastern Europe

CEE is not a homogeneous and coherent region. Its major characteristic is its location on the edges of civilizations, and definitions of the region often refer to it as a borderland.6 This part of Europe is characterized by several crucial traits, including the instability of statehood; ever-changing and permeable borders; a variety of political systems over the course of history, from totalitarian to democratic constructions; the legacy of communism; and finally, a diversity of religions, languages, and cultures that transcends borders.7

A deeply rooted Western European stereotype notwithstanding, the minority populations of the Eastern Central European states that became EU members in 2004 and 2007 are not massive.8 Only the Baltic states and Bulgaria are truly multinational polities: minorities comprise about 20% of the total population in Lithuania and Bulgaria, and more than 30% in Estonia and Latvia. In Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, and Hungary, minorities do not exceed 10% of the population; in Romania they are just about 10%, and in Slovakia about 15%.9 In the EU27 overall, the proportion of minorities, according to official statistics, has risen to 8.8% of the total population, from 6.1% in the EU15. It is not the size of the minority groups that created the interethnic problems in CEE. A characteristic of CEE, however, is that most of the minorities have a connection with neighboring kin-states. This causes significant tensions with regard to possible interference between neighboring countries, and raises the risk of the interstate conflicts.

Although the constitutions of all new member countries contain guarantees of national minorities’ rights, the situation of national minorities in CEE differs from country to country. Germans and Jews have relatively good standing, thanks to the support of the West, although resentments still exist.10 Those minorities that can generally count on backing from their kin-states, such as Hungarians in Romania and Slovakia, or Poles in the Ukraine, Belorussia, and Lithuania, have the advantage of a certain political weight. The politically weak are those minorities that are small, like the Ruthenians in Poland and Slovakia, and/or lack the protection of a kin-state, like the Roma. The Roma in CEE are both the largest minority and the most exposed to discrimination. Their problems remain unsolved in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, where they comprise major groups.11 The status of the Roma is a politically and socially sensitive issue which poses challenges to the fragile democracies in CEE.

Moreover, in a number of CEE states, the norms for minority rights formulated by the CoE and formally accepted by CEE countries lack broad support.12 Instead, there is support for assimilation policies. Minorities are often perceived as a potential threat to the identity of the majority population. There is no sign that the accession states wish to promote multiculturalism. The national minorities have individual rights — that is, each individual has the right to maintain and develop his or her language and culture — but there is a general unwillingness to discuss minorities’ collective rights, such as that of positive discrimination in favor of all who belong to a given ethnic group, extended language rights, or regional autonomy, to say nothing of ideas about transforming national states with large minorities into federative states. In this respect there is a profound difference between the EU’s old member states and its new members in the CEE region. Most of the old EU member states have multilingualism inscribed in their laws (four have more than one official language throughout the country and four are multilingual at the regional or provincial level), but none of the EU’s CEE members does. Furthermore, all CEE members of the EU are unitary states, while three of the EU15 — Austria, Belgium, and Germany — are federative states, and seven of the old EU members — Italy, Spain, Finland, Portugal, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and most recently France — include autonomous regions.13

What are the reasons for such profound differences between the Western and Eastern members of the EU? To understand them, we must go back in history and examine the roots of today’s political behavior. In the following discussion, we will indicate the historically grounded factors that have influenced the processes of nation-building and nationalism in CEE and shaped the region’s specific development in relation to Western Europe.

In Western Europe, the long-standing nation-states are an accepted political reality, and it is common to equate the concepts of state and nation. In CEE, however, there is a profound awareness of the distinction between the two. That is because the emergence of most nations in CEE preceded the emergence of the region’s modern states, whereas in Western Europe the state often preceded the nation. The modern nations in CEE were created not through integration within existing states, but through the disintegration of states into smaller units based on separate ethnic and cultural communities. Processes of state-building in CEE were discontinuous and the states underwent radical territorial changes. When the modern nation-states finally came into being, they found themselves under constant threat for long periods. The existence of the nation-state has therefore never been taken for granted in CEE in the way that it has in the West. On the contrary, the nation-state is seen as desirable, but still fragile, weak, and exposed, a goal and a value in itself which requires protection.

Until the early 20th century, the social and economic divisions in CEE largely coincided with linguistic, ethnic, and religious differences. Because democratization and the elimination of inequalities in the long antiquated empires in CEE were late and slow, ethno-nationalism became a weapon in the struggle for social, economic, and political emancipation. National ideologues were able to reinterpret social and economic conflict as national antagonism. That allowed nationalist movements to draw force from the strong sentiments resulting from injustice and economic oppression.

These sentiments facilitated the demarcation between different groups. In the mid-19th century, when the ideology of equality and democracy took root in CEE, assimilation into the culture of the dominant group (“gentry culture”) became an ever less attractive alternative, even if it could rationally be expected to provide an easier path to social advancement. Instead, many ethnic groups found it important to make their language and culture equal in status with the language and culture of the dominant group. By according a higher value to the culture and language of the common people, national ideologues offered their people a feeling of pride and a new self-respect based on the newly created national identity.14 A great need for self-assertion arose. In these circumstances, the well-established national groups which sought to assimilate various ethnic groups were felt to be a threat to the relatively new ethno-national identities, while at the same time these newly created ethno-national communities were perceived as a threat to the status and power of the previously dominant national groups. The feelings of insecurity grew stronger and gave rise to defensive attitudes and suspicion towards others. These negative attitudes and emotions became still more pronounced during the first half of the 20th century, after the empires had fallen and during the struggles between different ethnic groups over territories and states. To cool these inflamed nationalistic emotions, the states and nations in CEE would have needed a longer period of democratic development free from security-policy threats, but that was denied them until the last decade of the 20th century.

Finally, a well-known phenomenon called the “demonstration effect” explains some patterns in CEE. Johansson points out that nations in the process of formation spurred one another on and adopted models of action from one another.15 Even those that had been opponents during the nation-building process could serve as ideological prototypes and action models. The German notion of the nation as a community based on language and culture was especially influential in CEE: the Czechs in particular were fascinated by the German example and made use of it in competition with German culture in Bohemia. But the German model was also attractive to the Poles, especially after it had led to the emergence of a unified German state.

The political and national dividing lines in CEE did not arise from the state as the point of departure, but from a basis of ethnic cultures. Culture became a store of national markers and symbols used in the construction of national identities. Culture took on the function of creating and preserving national identity, defining what is “ours” and what is “theirs”. As a result, culture became highly politicized. The national cultures of CEE developed in circumstances that were interpreted as threatening, and as a result they were imbued with a sense of the impending threat. These cultures, which have a bias towards creating cohesion within an ethnic group, tend to be excluding. Groups and individuals who do not share a dominant national culture risk becoming undesirable minorities whom the dominant group regards with suspicion.

The triadic nexus and drama in CEE

Historic development in CEE has resulted in a lack of congruence between ethnic nations and states. At the same time, the peoples in the area see such congruence as an ideal. This is a source of frustration. The majority populations feel that their states are not completely developed nation-states, and that they are therefore weak and exposed. This is a conflict-generating situation. Drawing on Roger Brubaker’s model of a triadic nexus,16 we may describe it as a triangle drama played out between a nationalizing state, a national minority in that state, and that minority’s external homeland or kin-state. Nationalizing states are those which see themselves as incomplete nation-states and strive to become complete. National minorities seek the majority population’s recognition of their separate ethno-cultural identity, together with particular cultural and political rights founded on that identity. At the same time, they seek recognition as full members of the ethno-nation that forms the core of their respective external homelands; they seek the protection of their kin-states, and in some cases dual citizenship. The minorities’ external homelands tend to assume responsibility for their people in the neighboring countries and to treat them as a part of their own nation. They support the minorities’ organizations and their claims to rights, and protest when those rights are infringed. According to Brubaker, what happens in relations between these actors is a confrontation between nationalisms that creates a breeding-ground for conflict. The minority finds itself between two rival parties: the nationalizing states in which they live and their external homelands. This type of relationship can be found in many places in CEE. The Baltic states, for example, are nationalizing states, while the external homeland of their large Russian minorities is their powerful neighbor Russia, which constantly signals its readiness to protect all Russians abroad. Another external homeland is Hungary, which espouses the cause of the Hungarian minorities in all neighboring states. Even relations between Poland and Germany can be seen in this way, although the German minority in today’s Poland is much smaller than it was in the past.17 Still, Germany acts as that minority’s external homeland and Poland as the nationalizing state, as demonstrated by the treatment of the Silesian minority.18 Poland in turn finds itself in the role of external homeland for the Polish minority in Lithuania.

The majority populations in the CEE countries tend to regard the states they live in as exclusively their own. This exclusive concept of the state, and sensitivity and insecurity about the strength of their own national identities, makes the majority reluctant to accept the existence of the minorities. The presence of the minorities often constitutes a painful reminder of past oppression and of possible current or future threats. The minorities’ cultural rights are intimately connected with the question of security. That is clear in Estonia and Latvia’s attitude to their Russian minorities, for example: they felt threatened by the Russians’ rights to language, education, and possible dual citizenship. Security was a consideration even in regard to the rules under which Russians received Estonian or Latvian citizenship in the first place, which were a major point of contention in the 1990s. Dual citizenship can be discussed with little emotion throughout much of Europe, but in the Baltic context it evokes great anxiety. The Russian minorities’ demand for the right to dual citizenship, supported by their external homeland Russia, is wholly unacceptable in the eyes of the Balts. It is seen as a direct and serious threat to the independence of the Baltic states in view of the considerable size of the Russian minorities, the fresh memories of the Soviet occupation, and Russia’s nonchalant attitude towards Baltic sovereignty.19 The Russians regard the Baltic states as “near-abroad”, a concept of Russian foreign policy that stresses the importance of neighboring regions to Russian security and claims a sphere of influence over certain territories.

The conflict potential inherent in the “triadic nexus” complicates relations between states in CEE, and between CEE states on the one hand and Russia and Germany on the other. However, despite the majorities’ problematic attitudes towards minorities in CEE, the new EU member countries in this region did not experience any outbreak of violent conflict since the early 1990s. Relations between majorities and minorities developed relatively well in spite of some confrontations. How can we explain this development?

External actors and the minority situation in CEE

One of the specific characteristics of the transformation in CEE in the late 20th and early 21st centuries was the unprecedented role of external actors. After 1989, many actors, including the EU, became more closely engaged in national minority issues. At the summit in Copenhagen in 1993, the European Council formulated political, economic, and legal conditions, known as the Copenhagen criteria, that the applicant countries would have to meet in order to become EU members. Respect for human rights and the protection of national minorities were among them. Solving border and inter-state conflicts was also assumed to be a precondition for membership in the EU.20 In 1995, the Balladur Plan put pressure on the CEE states seeking EU membership to solve their border and national minority problems by concluding bilateral treaties with their neighbors.21 As in 1993, high standards of minority protection were perceived as a main indicator of the maturity of a democratic system. Yet, as the EU developed its criteria, the question arose as to models from which the CEE countries could emulate solutions and templates of high protection of minority rights. At that time, the EU did not have legislation of its own, except for regulations prohibiting discrimination in access to the labor market. At first, the CoE became the main organization to provide a minority rights standard for these countries. Membership in the CoE became the initial goal of the CEE countries, and it was achieved rather quickly once they had fulfilled the basic criteria of the democratic rule of law. In 1992, the CoE adopted the European Charter of Regional and Minority Languages, and in 1995 the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. These conventions were incorporated into the legal systems of all members of the CoE, including the new member states in CEE. The important problem of minority rights was also solved in bilateral relations between CEE countries and between CEE countries and EU member states, including in particular the issue of German minorities in Polish and Czech relations with the newly united Germany.

NATO was also involved in CEE relations from the early 1990s on, promoting democratization through the NATO-led institutions such as the North Atlantic Cooperation Council and the Partnership for Peace. The OSCE established the special post of High Commissioner on National Minorities, whose task is to watch over the rights of national minorities in Europe. Moreover, the states in CEE felt a need for cooperation and common platforms of communication if they were to become members of Western structures. In addition to the external actors mentioned above, the institutionalization of cooperation in the region created a dense institutional network between the countries, including such organizations as the Central European Initiative, CEFTA, and the Visegrad Group.22

All of the international organizations in Europe were involved to some extent in fostering the democratization of CEE and promoting standards of minority rights protection. However, the present article focuses on the involvement of the EU, which became one of the most important actors in CEE due to the conditions it imposed, especially after 1994/1995, when most of the on the CEE countries became official candidates for EU membership.

A matrix of the EU’s influence in CEE

The EU’s influence on the candidate countries involves the use of a complex set of instruments to achieve desired changes in the domestic context. The literature on the topic proposes several explanations of the function and mechanisms of that influence. Studies on the role of external actors in democratization stress an unintended effect of contagion with regard to the acceptance of the desired norms.23 At the same time, authors studying democratization state that external actors have a set of tools to influence targeted states, mainly through leverage and linkage.24 This external-actors model has been adapted to explain the EU’s success in influencing CEE countries.25 Leverage is at work where conditions are attached to political goals, such as high standards of minority protection as a condition for EU membership. Linkage is seen in the diffusion of norms through formal and informal contacts.

Literature on change in the CEE countries states that domestic factors are crucial, and that the external actors merely facilitate change. Schimmelfennig and Sedelmeier propose additional models to explain change besides the external incentives model, namely the social learning and lesson-drawing models. In the social learning model, the perception of norms by elites and social groups in the targeted countries influences the degree to which those countries identify with the norms and perceive them as legitimate.26 The lesson-drawing model stresses that domestic elites can transfer norms voluntarily — that is, without elements of coercion — particularly when there is a need to find effective solutions. The literature on the situation of minorities in the CEE also stresses the role of domestic factors, which make change much more sustainable, so that it lasts even if external pressure decreases. With reference to the protection of minorities, Schwellnus, Balázs, and Mikalayeva find that three factors are essential: the first is the position of government towards the protection of minorities; the second is the presence of actors in the domestic political scene who have veto power and a strong position on the protection of minorities; the third is the size of the minorities in question, which correlates both with the salience of the issue and with the potential costs of introducing minority protection.27 Yet, as many authors stress, it remains unclear how sustainable the changes so effected are. In their research, Schwellnus, Balázs, and Mikalayeva conclude that, in general, “the separate analysis of pre- and post-accession cases reveals a marked decline in positive developments after accession, but no revocation of minority protection rules. After accession only the domestic explanation remains, despite external incentives still being present in one issue area, namely non-discrimination”.28 They also find that domestic factors are very important for minority protection both before and after the EU’s conditional and compulsory influence decreases. One reason for the absence of major national conflicts in the new EU member states is that no minority in any of the new member states was given a chance to become a major political player. Politics was wholly dominated by majorities, either because of the small size of the minorities, as in Poland, or because the majority kept total control over the state. This explanation is put forward especially by Estonian researchers, who argue that Estonia and Latvia did not share the fate of Moldova or other former Soviet republics with large Russian-speaking minorities because Estonians and Latvians excluded the Russians from political power, at least for the crucial period of transformation and integration into European institutions.29 They did so by restrictive citizenship legislation that isolated many Russians from political power for at least a decade. Control over the Russian minorities was maintained by the tactics of segmentation, dependence, and gradual co-optation of those Russians who met the citizenship requirements. These were policies of assimilation. The EU criticized them as bordering on discrimination, but Estonia and Latvia were able to defend them using the discourse of legal restoration as a legitimizing argument. As important as internal factors are in explaining the situation of minorities in CEE, the present paper focuses mainly on the influence of external actors. Accordingly, we turn now to the EU’s influence.

In their attempt to determine the EU’s impact on border conflicts, Thomas Diez, Stephen Stetter, and Mathias Albert distinguish four ways in which the EU influences such conflicts.30 This matrix is the result of a reflection on possible conceptions of power in the contemporary world.31

Table 1: The EU’s influence on candidate countries

The EU’s approach
Actor-driven Integration process
Target of influence Policy (1) Compulsory influence (2) Enabling
influence
Society (3) Connective influence (4) Constructive influence
Source: Diez, Stetter, and Albert, “The European Union and Border Conflicts”, 572.


The EU has a compulsory influence through its conditionality policy. This influence is actor-driven and aimed at the policy-making level. The EU also has an enabling influence through political and financial mechanisms which strengthen the social actors who support the desired change in the candidate countries. Third, the EU has a connective influence by its use of mechanisms to increase the interconnections between countries and societies, bringing them closer together in border regions. This path of influence is much more strongly oriented towards the societies in question than the first two mentioned. Finally, the EU has a constructive influence which is designed to foster deep changes in identification. In the following analysis of these four paths of EU influence in the CEE countries, we will compare the period before the new members’ accession with the years after the EU enlargement. The main aim of our analysis will be to discern how the EU’s various instruments mitigate the possible conflicts in CEE that arise from the triangle drama, Brubaker’s triadic nexus. We have adapted the four-path model to map the EU’s various influences on the situation of minorities and on minority-related conflicts in CEE.

The EU’s compulsory influence

The first path of the EU’s involvement is compulsory influence. In keeping with the external incentives model, this influence is based on the assumption that a candidate country “adopts EU rules if the benefits of EU rewards exceed the domestic adoption costs”.32 As the literature on the policy of conditionality shows, the stronger and more credible the incentive, the more likely the actor is to comply.33 The promise of membership was the strongest possible incentive in the hands of the EU. For the CEE countries, that prospect was clearly spelled out as early as 1991 and included in the preambles to the association agreements, and it was constantly repeated by the member states’ politicians and the EU institutions’ representatives. It was implemented by the European Commission (EC), which was invested by the member states with the capacity to conduct negotiations. The first document stating the fundamental conditions for cooperation and a future EU enlargement was the “Europe Agreement” signed in 1991 with three Visegrad countries, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. A political dialogue would consolidate friendly relations between the parties and prepare the introduction of the CEE countries into “the community of democratic nations”.34As for all of the CEE countries, EU enlargement was a goal of utmost importance. This was evident in the unique unanimity of political elites, which were otherwise deeply divided, in pursuing the EU enlargement. The unanimous agreement to fulfill the requirements set by the EU may be explained using a concept of security and securitization. Security was one of the dominant motivations for the enlargement of the EU, as spelled out at the time by many European leaders as well as the European institutions.35 That motivation becomes more clearly understandable when security is defined broadly. For the Copenhagen School, “security is about survival. It is when an issue is presented as posing an existential threat to a designated referent object (traditionally, but not necessarily, the state, incorporating government, territory and society). The special nature of security threats justifies the use of extraordinary measures to handle them.”36 In this model, security threats are used in a mobilizing rhetoric, initiating the process of “securitization”. “Securitizing moves”, in the form of speech acts, are directed to the audience in the context of a social construction of security.37 In other words, “securitization can be defined as the positioning through speech acts (usually by a political leader) of a particular issue as a threat to survival, which in turn (with the consent of the relevant constituency) enables emergency measures and the suspension of ‘normal politics’ in dealing with that issue”.38 The important condition is that a securitizing move must be accepted by its audience, otherwise it will fail.39 Conversely, desecuritization means reaching normality in politics and overcoming a dichotomy of security/insecurity. The concepts of securitization and desecuritization are useful in studying the situation in CEE during the EU enlargement.40 Following Atsuko Higashino’s argument, the enlargement in CEE countries was securitized for the sake of further desecuritization.41 To paraphrase McDonald, the logic was as follows: a failure or delay of the enlargement process was positioned as a threat to survival. The societies’ agreement to this proposition enabled leaders to take emergency measures and suspend “normal politics” in dealing with enlargement.42 An interesting effect of this logic occurs in connection with the issue of minority rights. As noted above, one of the preconditions of enlargement was solving the border conflicts and normalizing relations between CEE states. From the Balladur Plan on, the main aim of the EU was to stabilize relations in CEE. Some authors have written that the EU’s primary role in regard to the situation of minorities in CEE was to desecuritize ethnically motivated conflicts.43 In this way, the mechanism of securitization mitigated the effects of Brubaker’s triangle drama.

The EC exerted a compulsory influence when it initiated — on behalf of the Council — the procedure of verifying the fulfillment of the Copenhagen criteria. The procedure culminated in the Commission’s positive recommendation on enlargement.44 From the start of negotiations in spring of 1998, the EC regularly evaluated the situation in the candidate countries until the Accession Treaty was finally signed. The main issue raised frequently by the EC was connected with the treatment of minority issues, and especially with the requirement that “these countries must have achieved ‘stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities’”.45 To meet this condition — and to achieve the goal of membership — most of the candidate countries in CEE were trying during the pre-enlargement period to settle their past conflicts and to introduce minority protection regimes. This also explains why most of the CEE countries suppressed movements interested in raising minority issues in domestic politics on the eve of the NATO and EU enlargements.

The evidence from the Polish-Lithuanian conflict over the treatment of the Polish minority in Lithuania shows how the EU’s involvement worked along in the compulsory path. During the interwar period, these two countries had quarreled about their border and the territories inhabited by the two nationalities. Immediately after the First World War, Poles forcibly attached the Vilnius region to the newly independent Poland. The Polish-Lithuanian conflict was deep and involved military operations and violence, and as a result the two states had no diplomatic relations until 1938.46 The dispute was only partially solved afterwards, even though the border was redrawn in 1945 and the controversial territories were attached to the Lithuanian Soviet Republic. Most of the Poles living in Lithuania were forcibly encouraged to move to Poland, and a small community remained. Lithuania’s regaining of independence in 1990 brought public attention the topic of the Polish minority for a while. However, attempts to mobilize public opinion against Lithuania were immediately suppressed by the government and in fact attracted only limited interest in Poland.47 In general, the renewed relations between the two states at the official level were friendly and peaceful; the institutionalization of bilateral relations was progressing. Poles favored Lithuanian membership in NATO and in the EU, and actively supported this thrust of Lithuanian foreign policy.48 However, the issue of the treatment of the Polish minority in Lithuania — the country’s largest minority group — was never fully approached, solved, or reconciled.49 Moreover, disputes continued about the historical understanding of the conflicts that had taken place before and during the Second World War.50 Yet both states wanted to join the Western structures, and this was far too important to allow any securitizing moves in bilateral relations. Where membership was at stake, the controversial issues were secondary, although still present in public debates. Moreover, the European Commission closely monitored the candidates’ progress in implementing the required legal instruments and practices between 1998 and 2004, just as it did in regard to minorities’ rights. The targeted candidate countries made an effort to solve problems, or abstained from certain actions, in order to satisfy the EU’s requirements.

However, some authors claim that the EU’s aim was not to enforce the implementation of minority protection and that the assessment was concerned mostly with formal changes, not practice.51 Once the candidates obtained membership, the problems returned. The Slovak-Hungarian conflict over the Hungarian minority, originating with the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, is an example. Its potential to disturb cooperation in Europe became visible in 2010, when relations between Slovakia and Hungary were almost frozen. Similarly, alleged mistreatments of the Polish minority in Lithuania caused rising tension in bilateral relations.

Another mechanism used by the EU institutions, especially the European Parliament, is the strategy of “naming and shaming”. In its regular reviews of human rights, including minority rights, the parliament and its members can put pressure on governments by voicing certain issues. It also provides a useful forum for minorities themselves to draw attention to discrimination.

To sum up, the compulsory influence of the EU was very strong before the enlargement. Through the securitization of the enlargement process, it contributed to the introduction of minority protection standards. Once membership was obtained, however, this mechanism largely ceased to work. The influence of compulsion on members is much weaker than on candidates, although there are mechanisms for sanctions against members in case of severe violations of the EU’s fundamental norms, as well as the mechanism of naming and shaming as a soft version of compulsory influence. Ultimately, as Paul Roe argues, desecuritization may be very difficult in certain cases — such as minority rights — at least in the nation-state context.52 This in turn would explain the fact that, when the immediate threat of the postponement of enlargements disappeared after 2004/2007, some minority issues resurfaced. However, the normalization of relations between majorities and minorities in CEE was very largely subordinate to the CEE countries’ main priority, namely the EU and NATO enlargements.

The EU’s enabling influence

The second type of influence exerted by the EU, as spelled out by Albert, Diez, and Stetter, is an enabling influence.53 Through various mechanisms, the EU supports those actors or groups in the target countries which are involved in domestic change. Among such groups, transnational non-governmental organizations involved in improving the situation of minority groups play a special role. This influence has been particularly visible in activities undertaken to improve the situation of Roma minorities in various CEE countries. Through this mechanism, the EU reinforces those actors which promote the further integration of minorities in the domestic setting and promote a much more civic concept of citizenship and national identification. This mechanism works in part through greater access to funds provided by the EU, including both pre-accession financial instruments such as PHARE and structural funds after 2004/2007. These EU activities can also be related to Brubaker’s triadic nexus model: the activities were aimed at promoting those actors in domestic politics which did not increase tensions between majorities and minorities, and at disabling the “conflict entrepreneurs” responsible for increasing tensions.54

The EU’s connective influence

Because it lasts much longer than compulsory influence, retaining its effect after enlargement, the EU’s connective influence is particularly important for sustainable change. National minorities mostly inhabit border regions, and connective influence changes the nature of the borders that divide a minority from its kin-state. In this way, connective influence also contributes to solving the triangle drama of Brubaker’s model. This path of influence addresses the communities directly involved in the process. It is also important to note that this path of EU influence is predominantly directed at the grass-roots level of society in the targeted countries. In all of the cases discussed, the EU’s financial and institutional involvement is hard to overlook. Under the PHARE project, cross-border initiatives throughout the CEE region received a very significant proportion of the funds devoted to the development of the border regions and the facilitation of cooperation. Such initiatives also went beyond the candidate countries to affect states such as Ukraine, Moldova, and Russia. Moreover, after the enlargement, the entire CEE region was covered by initiatives aimed at reducing the negative impact of the Schengen borders in the region. After the EU enlargement, the CEE border regions benefited from programs supported by European structural funds under the Interreg III scheme, which focused on the stimulation of cross-border, transnational, and interregional cooperation. Beginning in 2007, a new system of financial support for the border regions was created. The European Territorial Cooperation Objective is intended to strengthen cross-border cooperation through joint local and regional initiatives, transnational cooperation aimed at integrated territorial development, and interregional cooperation and exchange of experience. Furthermore, the European Neighborhood Policy includes a special component for the CEE regions along the EU’s border.55 All of these programs give priority to supporting people-to-people cooperation between the regions and are aimed in part at increasing mutual understanding between various social groups, including ethnic minorities.

The EU’s policy of promoting trans-border cooperation and the construction of regional identities as a counterweight to ethnic and national identities was motivated by hopes of bringing about a cooperation between neighboring states in which minorities on both sides of a given border would be valued by both states as cultural intermediaries. With reference to Roger Brubaker’s triadic nexus, we might say that the aim was to de-dramatize the relations between nationalizing states, external homelands, and minorities, and to create a situation in which the minorities could be perceived as an asset rather than an encumbrance in relations between neighboring states.

However, this policy was largely successful not so much because of the creation of “Euroregions”,56 but because the enlargement of the EU generally resulted in a diminishing significance of the borders between the members, which allowed people to move relatively freely.57 Mobility across borders within the EU had major consequences for minority issues. The members of minorities have been more inclined to seek work and to move, temporarily or permanently, to their external homelands. In order to facilitate connections of the Hungarian minority with its kin-state, Budapest adopted a legal document in 2010 providing easier and simplified access to Hungarian citizenship. This immediately raised a controversy with Slovakia, although other countries with significant Hungarian minorities did not object. Other countries adopted other solutions. In 2007, Poland, for example, introduced the “Pole’s card”, a special document which confirmed the holder’s membership in the Polish nation without conferring citizenship rights, to facilitate the crossing of Schengen borders and entry into Poland.

High mobility between countries brought the question of dual citizenship to the fore, and the EU worked to make dual citizenship possible in the member countries. This further reduced the tensions between all parties in the triadic nexus, and proved successful except in triangles involving countries inside and outside the EU, such as the Baltic states and Russia. In that case, the EU showed flexibility by not pushing its Baltic members to adopt the law on dual citizenship. Generally, it should be noted that the EU, realizing the sensitivity of collective minority rights, did not force the candidates and members to adopt them.

The EU’s constructive influence

The fourth path of EU influence is constructive influence.58 This is especially important in regard to minority issues in CEE countries. As we have seen, European integration can change interstate relations, and many studies on emerging European identity also argue that it changes relations between people.59 How minorities perceive the impact of EU enlargement in CEE countries varies depending on how integration influences their relation with the country they live in and their contact with their kin-state. For Germans living in Poland, for example, integration and Polish membership in the EU finally enabled them to attain a secure position in the Polish political system and good, stable contacts with Germany. All of this was due to freedom of movement in the Schengen zone. Moreover, democratization and the more pluralistic model of political life made their participation in the political processes on various levels more comfortable.60 Representatives of the Ukrainian community in Poland, on the other hand, did not assess the enlargement in such positive terms. The influence of enlargement on their lives was very limited, and they also listed several negative effects, in particular in the creation of a much less permeable, Schengen-area border between Poland and their kin-state. Such fears had already been expressed before enlargement.61 Members of the Ukrainian minority were also much less influenced by the financial benefits of structural funds directed to Poland.62

Finally, the Silesian minority in Poland, a minority which has experienced difficulty in attaining recognition,63 also benefited from the process of European integration. The democratization of political life not only contributed to the process of nationalization of the Silesian collective identity, but it also relaxed divisions and facilitated Silesians’ access to resources.64

An interesting case is that of the Polish minority in Lithuania. The enlargement triggered discussions of the Polish minority in Lithuania which in recent years have involved the Polish and Lithuanian governments. The constructive influence of the EU here was of a different nature. The EU offered new arenas for expressing concerns and new frames of reference for the search for possible solutions, such as the European Parliament and European Commission, as the motions of minority representatives show.65 The construction of a supranational polity such as the EU enabled communities that felt pressure or discrimination to bring the issue to the attention of wider world. Moreover, EU membership changes the relation between the state in which minorities live and the kin-state, and can provide new frames of reference for minority issues and detach them from purely interstate conflicts.

Finally, the constructive influence of the EU on conflicts between states and minority issues goes as far as to overcome divisions between EU member states and non-members.66 For conflicts fueled by minority issues, this might be the only possible path to reconciliation. Roe argues that desecuritization is not possible in such cases because the issues ultimately impinge on the integrity of the nation-state.67 European integration, creating a new multinational polity, may be the only solution. Cosmopolitan reflection, such as the increasing interest in the phenomenon of transnational or global memory in the age of globalization, seems to go in this direction. This idea is present in many studies on cosmopolitan democracy and international order.68

Conclusions

The EU’s multifaceted influence on the situation of minorities in CEE shows that the role of external actors in CEE has been indispensable. The EU’s compulsory influence, through securitization based on conditionality, immediately mitigated the destructive potential of Brubaker’s triangle drama. The main reason why we have not seen more severe conflicts between majorities and minorities in the new EU member states is, in our view, the EU’s success as a normative power.69 The pressure that the EU put on the candidates for membership to adapt to norms on minority protection and to solve their potential border conflicts had a positive effect. This was possible first and foremost because the CEE countries were eager to seek integration with the West in order to escape the grip of Russia and to modernize their societies and economies. Seeing the EU as a source of stability and EU membership as a way to improve their security and living standards, they were prepared to adjust. However, another ingredient in the EU’s success in regard to national minorities was the policies pursued by the EU itself and its member states, as summarized in the table of the four paths of EU influence. It was mostly the EU’s long-term enabling, connective, and constructive influence that restructured the drama. With reference to Brubaker’s triangular model, the EU became a fourth force which greatly contributed to reducing tension among the initial actors and fulfilled the role of a mediator. However, in order to be treated as a legitimate and respected source of norms, the EU has had to avoid accusations of applying double standards. Its norms and rules must apply to all members, old and new. The EU does not always fulfill this aspiration, but in regard to minority rights it made a good effort. When the EU and the CoE criticized Estonia and Latvia for their restrictive citizenship laws (with strict conditions for naturalization), the countries responded with the argument that many other European countries also have restrictive citizenship legislation, Germany among them. In order to avoid double standards, Germany took that criticism to heart and in January 2000 implemented a number of changes in its citizenship laws, making it easier, for example, for children born in Germany to foreign parents to become German citizens.

Germany’s reaction is only one example of how the discussion of minority rights prompted by the situation in CEE influenced policies on minorities in the Western European countries. Many previously silent minorities in the West discovered the value of ethnicity in politics and started to push for changes.70 As a result, Spain granted regional autonomy to Basques and Catalans, for example, and France granted regional autonomy to Corsicans. Thus politics and legislation concerning minority rights is a field that illustrates well how European integration takes place. The process deserves deeper analysis that the scope of this article allows.

To sum up, the worries and black scenarios about the eruption of border and ethnic conflicts jeopardizing European integration in the process of the EU’s eastward enlargement were not fulfilled. The potential conflicts were staved off and tensions between majorities and minorities diminished. There are still minorities who feel themselves ill-treated, but their problems are being addressed in the context of legislation that conforms to the EU norms, and with the patronage of several European organizations that monitor the minorities’ situation. The commitment of the CoE, the OSCE, and the EU to improving the situation of minorities in CEE in the 1990s has had a significant effect. The minorities are no longer in a marginalized position, and attention has been drawn to the many problems in their relations with the majority populations. Today the minority organizations know that they can count on support from highly prestigious international actors in their struggle for both cultural and political rights. Generally, contemporary policies towards national minorities in the EU are a good example of the EU’s success as a normative power. ≈

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  19. Cf. Jeff Chinn and Lise A. Truex, “The Question of Citizenship in the Baltics”, Journal of Democracy 7, no. 1 (1996): 133—147.
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  26. Ibid.
  27. Guido Schwellnus, Lilla Balázs, and Liudmila Mikalayeva, “It Ain’t Over When It’s Over: The Adoption and Sustainability of Minority Protection Rules in New EU Member States”, in Post-accession Compliance in the EU’s New Member States, European Integration Online Papers 13 no. 2 (2008; special issue, ed. Frank Schimmelfennig and Florian Trauner).
  28. Ibid., 18.
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  30. Albert, Diez, and Stetter, “The Transformative Power of Integration: Conceptualizing Border Conflicts”; Thomas Diez, Stephen Stetter, and Mathias Albert, “The European Union and Border Conflicts: The Transformative Power of Integration”, International Organization 60, no. 3 (2006): 563–593.
  31. Michael Barnett and Raymond Duvall, “Power in International Politics”, International Organization 59, no. 1 (2005): 39–75.
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  33. Ibid.
  34. “Europe Agreement establishing an association between the European Communities and their Member States, of the one part, and the Republic of Poland, of the other part”, 1991.
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  45. Ibid., 11. For more on impact of the EU on minority protection in CEE countries, see Peter Vermeersch, “Minority Policy in Central Europe: Exploring the Impact of the EU’s Enlargement Strategy”, The Global Review of Ethnopolitics 3, no. 2 (2004): 3—19; idem, “EU Enlargement and Minority Rights Policies in Central Europe: Explaining Policy Shifts in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland”, Journal of Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe 1 (2003): 1–30.
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  52. Roe, “Securitization and Minority Rights: Conditions of Desecuritization”, 280.
  53. Albert, Diez, and Stetter, “The Transformative Power of Integration: Conceptualizing Border Conflicts”.
  54. Cathal McCall, “‘Reduce the Place to Rubble or Go and Live There Yourself’: European Union Cross-Border Cooperation and Conflict Amelioration”, Working Papers In Conflict Transformation and Social Justice (2013).
  55. The special European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument may support initiatives for border regions. As many ENP documents indicate, the improvement of cross-border cooperation with countries along the EU’s external land and maritime borders, and the prevention of deeper divisions, is an important goal of the EU. As a result, the special ENPI Cross-Border Cooperation (CBC) initiative was launched, and supports 15 CBC programs for the 2007–2013 perspective with €1.18 billion. The accepted ENPI CBC for the period 2007–2013 includes the Lithuania-Poland-Russia Program, the Poland-Belarus-Ukraine Program, the Hungary-Slovakia-Romania-Ukraine Program, and others. How these programs work and what kind of initiatives they support shall be a topic of further inquiry.
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  58. Albert, Diez, and Stetter, “The Transformative Power of Integration: Conceptualizing Border Conflicts”.
  59. Cf. Jeffrey T. Checkel and Peter J. Katzenstein, European Identity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009); Maria Green Cowles, James A. Caporaso, and Thomas Risse-Kappen, Transforming Europe: Europeanization and Domestic Change (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001); William Outhwaite, European Society (Cambridge and New York: Polity Press, 2008).
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  61. Jessica Allina-Pisano, “From Iron Curtain to Golden Curtain: Remaking Identity in the European Union Borderlands”, East European Politics and Societies 23, no. 2 (2009): 266–290; Joanna Kurczewska and Hanna Bojar, Consequences of Schengen Treaty Implementation on Poland’s Eastern Border: A Study of Local Community Leaders (Warsaw: Instytut Spraw Publicznych, 2002).
  62. Ayse Artun, “Regional Perceptions of Foreign Policy: Eastern Poland”, Perspectives on European Politics and Society 6, no. 1 (2005): 1–31; Jacek Nowak, “Ukrainian Minority in Poland: New Social Reality”, in Collective Identity Formation in Accession States, RECON Research Report WP8 (2008), http://www.reconproject.eu/main.php/ResearchReportWP8.pdf?fileitem=50405395; P. Vermeersch, “A Minority at the Border: EU Enlargement and the Ukrainian Minority in Poland”, East European Politics and Societies 21, no. 3 (2007): 475–502.
  63. See Tesser, “The Geopolitics of Tolerance”, 502–505.
  64. Dariusz Niedźwiedzki, “Regional, Ethnic, European? Complex Identity Construction of Silesians in the Context of Cultural Borderland”, RECON Online Working Paper 2011/33 (2011), http://www.reconproject.eu/main.php/RECON_wp_1133.pdf?fileitem=50512044.
  65. Arthur Dunn, “Actual Tolerance”, European Dialogue, July 26, 2010, http://eurodialogue.org/Topical-Tolerance, accessed January 14, 2014. See also the activities of Valdemar Tomasevski, MEP, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/meps/en/96697/VALDEMAR_TOMASEVSKI_activities.html, accessed January 14, 2014.
  66. Andrew Schaap, Political Reconciliation (New York and London: Routledge, 2005).
  67. Roe, “Securitization and Minority Rights: Conditions of Desecuritization”.
  68. Daniele Archibugi, The Global Commonwealth of Citizens: Toward Cosmopolitan Democracy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); Ulrich Beck and Edgar Grande, Cosmopolitan Europe (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007); Ulrich Beck, Daniel Levy, and Natan Sznaider, “Cosmopolitanization of Memory: The Politics of Forgiveness and Restitution”, in: Cosmopolitanism in Practice, ed. Magdalena Nowicka and Maria Rovisco (Ashgate, 2009).
  69. Ian Manners, “The Normative Ethics of the European Union”, International Affairs 84, no. 1 (2008): 45–60.
  70. A number of minorities in Western Europe (e.g. the Basques, the Corsicans, and the Bretons) began to make themselves heard as early as the 1970s, but in the new situation in the 1990s they had much better opportunities to win a hearing and understanding for their demands.
  • by Barbara Törnquist-Plewa & Magdalena Góra

    Barbara Törnquist-Plewa is Professor of Eastern and Central European Studies; director for the Centre for European Studies, Lund University, Sweden. Magdalena Góra is Assistant professor at the Institute of European Studies, Jagiellonian University, Cracow. PhD in political science.

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