Anna-Mária Bíró

An international human and minority rights organization based in Budapest (Hungary), the Tom Lantos Institute (TLI) is honoured to launch the first volume of the series International Studies in Human Rights and Identity. The initial idea for the series emerged from the desire to share TLI’s research on minority issues and to situate our regional activities and thinking in a global perspective through a collection of invited contributions. In our research and educational activities, we filter the analysis of local minority politics through the normative prism of international human and minority rights, most often in the context of comparable, sometimes counterintuitive, global cases. This practice prompted recurring questions and dilemmas about the problem-solving capacity of the current international minority protection regime and, more generally, about just, peaceful and sustainable ways of accommodating ethno-cultural diversity in our age. The purpose of this series is to explore systematically some of the critical issues of local, regional and global scope that we have encountered and identified in our work. Combined with our educational activities, we see our research as a tool for social transformation that gives voice to denigrated, disadvantaged and excluded minorities.1

The first volume of the series aims to introduce TLI’s work in terms of its mandated issue areas of research and the methodologies it employs and to cast light on some of the distinctive characteristics of its approach to the study of minority issues and related normative frameworks. As an institution established in Hungary, TLI focuses on minority issues of historical importance in Hungary and Central and Eastern Europe, including Roma rights and citizenship, Jewish life and antisemitism, and Hungarian and other national minorities.

An integral part of European society for centuries, Roma are the largest ethnic minority group in Europe and here suffered slavery, expulsions and genocide. Today, the discrimination of the Roma continues in the form of geographical and educational segregation, racial hostility, cultural subordination, extreme poverty and exclusion from public and political affairs.2 There are around 10–12 million Roma living in the 28 member states of the European Union, with the highest numbers in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, where they account for more than 5–10% of the population. According to a 2011 census, Roma amounted to 3.16% of Hungary’s population, making them the largest minority group. However, various estimates put their number as high as 5–10% of the total population.3 Despite marginal improvements, rampant discrimination and racial abuse, as well as severe poverty, including segregated housing and education and poor health standards, continue to plague the everyday lives of Roma.4 This deeply-rooted and widespread discriminatory pattern permeates knowledge-production about the Roma in Europe, where for decades the vast majority of research on them was conducted without their input, inadvertently silencing, missing or misrepresenting some of their issues, memories and values.5 For instance, the history of the Roma Holocaust has only recently and partially been recognized as a field of study in its own right by leading academic journals and publishing houses, and the involvement of Roma academics and researchers in its study has only been sporadic.6TLI is committed to the inclusion of Roma in the generation of knowledge about their own history and issues that affect them. The section on Roma Rights and Citizenship in this volume reflects this approach, since it was written by Roma authors who have defined and explored themes of critical importance for achieving social justice for the Roma in Hungary and beyond.7 Their contributions include a critical review of the nature and effectiveness of the integration of Roma in Europe; an essay on (breaking) the silence on the history of Roma in mainstream historiography in Hungary and Europe; the life story of Ágnes Daróczi, a prominent Hungarian Roma activist and scholar; and an empirical study on (the lack of) local public participation of Roma women in Hungary.

The history of the Holocaust in Hungary is relatively well-established.8 Out of a Jewish population of around 780,000 in the interwar years, approximately half a million were exterminated during the Shoah, with the eager assistance of the Hungarian state under German occupation. Hungarian Jewry outside the capital was annihilated almost completely, while a relatively large group survived in Budapest, where the majority of the Jewish population was ultimately not deported. Given their historic aversion to being counted and listed, today the number of those who formally identify their religion as Judaism is rather small, amounting to around 11,000.9 However, informal estimates suggest a considerably larger number, ranging from 80,000 to 150,000, representing 0.8–1.5% of the Hungarian population.10 This would make the Hungarian Jewish community the largest Jewish group in Central and Eastern Europe. By some estimates, it is the third largest Jewish population in Europe, after France and the United Kingdom. As elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe, Jews have been an integral part of Hungarian society, contributing significantly to its cultural, economic and political advancement. However, even in times of reasonably harmonious coexistence, antisemitism in Hungary has been considerable.11 In this volume, besides a review essay by György Csepeli on home-grown antisemitism (and philosemitism), the dominant thematic focus is on the politics of memory, collective remembrance and memory construction in the region and in contemporary Hungary.12 Public debates and disputes induced by the present politics of memory direct attention to the difficulties surrounding the unambiguous admission of responsibility for past wrongs by both states and societies. Arie Nadler’s study on the conditions for intergroup reconciliation maps out some of these difficulties from a social-psychological perspective, highlighting the destructive role of competitive victimhood in intergroup conflict and possible ways to alleviate its impact. Situating his analysis in the theoretical framework outlined by Nadler, Gergely Romsics assesses Hungary’s present potential for intergroup reconciliation against the background of the historical trajectories taken by Hungary’s wartime allies, Germany and Austria. With this choice of themes in the section on Jewish Life and Antisemitism, TLI intends to connect studies of reconciliation and transitional justice to the normative framework of minority rights, raising questions about its effectiveness when intergroup tensions and mistrust persist due to a lack of reconciliation.13

From the perspective of competitive victimhood, Hungary’s role in intergroup reconciliation is further complicated by the fact that, in much of mainstream Hungarian historiography and collective memory, the country is portrayed as a victim of the 1920 Trianon Peace Treaty that formally concluded World War I. As a result of this treaty, Hungary lost nearly two-thirds of its territory and one-third of its Hungarian speaking population, which, with the exception of a short interlude during the interwar period, became national minorities in neighbouring countries and were subsequently exposed to policies of assimilation, marginalization and discrimination. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, Hungary has embarked upon a kin-state policy, thereby influencing the political mobilization of Hungarian minorities to varying degrees. It is in the triadic nexus of nationalisms unfolding among the host-state, kin-state and the national minority in question that the policies of Hungarian minorities are analyzed in articles by Tamás Kiss and Gergely István Székely, two Hungarian minority scholars from Romania. Both articles point out that some of the well-established theories explaining kin- and host-state behaviour, as well as competitive minority party politics, should be revisited in the light of empirical studies. The section on Hungarian Minorities illustrates TLI’s commitment to multidisciplinary empirical research in the field of minority protection and politics, emphasizing the need for empirically-driven research in order to test systems design in the study of international minority rights where the legal interpretation of norms has so far been preponderant. Lessons from empirical research could better inform the implementation and increase the effectiveness of the extant minority protection regime and contribute to its further development.14

Hungarian historian Ferenc Eiler’s study on the interwar Congress of European Nationalities discusses the little-known history and operation of what was probably Europe’s first transnational minority rights advocacy platform. Eiler’s article provides an insight into the early history and politics of international norm-making by analyzing the mobilization, resources and tactical repertoires of minority norm-entrepreneurs who set out to use the political opportunities that had emerged as a result of the establishment of the League of Nations to their advantage – albeit with little success.15 This study, which highlights some of the Central and East European origins of transnational minority rights activism, introduces the section on General Issues, which links regional particularities to themes of universal scope in the context of international minority protection.

In this section, in the ambivalent nexus of human rights law and group identities, Gaetano Pentassuglia addresses one of the key persisting dilemmas of international minority protection, namely the legal status of ethno-cultural groups and their associated rights. Assessing the continuities and discontinuities in relevant legal narratives on the concept of ethno-cultural group identity, he points out the hybridity of human rights practice on minority/indigenous identities and argues in favour of more coherent justifications for the legitimacy of group claims. Discussing the right to freedom of religion in Europe, Kathleen Cavanaugh’s article explores another crucial contemporary theme in human rights law impacting religious minorities. She points out that due to significant demographic changes in Europe, with the exception of the United Kingdom, Muslims account for the largest religious immigration bloc and that, whenever questions of freedom of religion arise at either the national or European level, the protection of religion is relegated strictly to the private sphere. Cavanaugh argues that Europe has moved to secularize the public square in the name of an illiberal secularism that reproduces a hegemonic knowledge regime deeply rooted in Christianity.

Joshua Castellino’s article and Fiona McConnell’s note continue the discussion of contentious contemporary themes, this time with a focus on the global rise of exclusionary populism that adversely impacts scapegoated minorities, a political trend robustly present in Hungary.16 Castellino points out that this trend in politics is partly due to the failure of democratically elected governments to answer legitimate questions facing their populations, including increased structural inequalities within societies. He emphasizes the need for pragmatic answers that are guided by the context rather than the approach and include all who are affected. In her note, McConnell emphasizes the importance of minority agency in countering exclusionary populism. She argues that by setting up the framework of “pure people” versus a “corrupt elite”, populists deny the legitimacy of a multiplicity of different groups. McConnell shows that minorities and indigenous peoples who join transnational human and minority rights advocacy coalitions reconceptualize causes that are conventionally seen in terms of ethnic nationalism. By constructing frames that transcend geographical and cultural boundaries and negotiate difference, minorities become the promoters of solidarity and internationalism from below.

The section on General Issues reflects TLI’s interest in the nexus between the particular and the universal in human and minority rights17 and how local political phenomena impacting minorities relate to (enabling or sanctioning) regional and global political and normative trends. In the Central and East European context, national minority issues have historically been regarded as being of a transboundary nature, thereby requiring local minority politics to navigate the tensions arising from inter-state (kin- and host-state) relations and, simultaneously, to become active agents in shaping international norms directly affecting them. Hence, the struggle for justice by ethno-cultural minorities has been strategically located at the intersection of domestic and global politics, where they seek to overcome local limitations by using regionally and globally available opportunities and gaining access to relevant international fora via transnational activism. Future volumes in this series will explore and analyze crucial themes and issues of local identity politics and minority norm-entrepreneurship at the intersection of domestic and global politics.

Reiterating TLI’s commitment to engage in research oriented towards social change, the volume concludes with a report on human rights education in the Visegrád countries18 by Louise Métrich. The report points out the significant shortcomings in the socialization of human rights as standards of behaviour in Hungary and the region, which is a central concern in TLI’s work. By situating struggles for liberal multiculturalism in the broader framework of human rights19 in our research, we highlight and address the incomplete and insufficient integration of the minority protection regime in the global governance of human rights, including the structures of the United Nations and the work of major international human rights NGOs.20

The idea for this publication was first raised by Gudmundur Alfredsson, a member of TLI’s Advisory Board, and was brought to fruition under the firm guidance of our publishing consultant, Alan Stephens. We are immensely grateful for their trust and cooperation. Lindy Melman and Bea Timmer of Brill/Nijhoff Publishers helped us in the planning, editorial and production process with much needed practical advice, for which we are extremely thankful. Evelin Verhás, the Managing Editor of this book, contributed greatly to the editorial process with professionalism, attention to detail and characteristic dedication. We would like to thank the contributing authors for the many interesting and inspiring conversations we had with them throughout the editorial process and for submitting their manuscripts on time. We would also like to extend our appreciation to the members of the Editorial Board, who reinforced our work with their advice and guidance and as contributing authors. We feel honoured by the trust and support shown to us by the members of the Advisory Board, who encouraged the launch of this series. Finally, we would like to thank the Hungarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade for supporting this project financially.

Populism, Memory and Minority Rights

Central and Eastern European Issues in Global Perspective


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