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,
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
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
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
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
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
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.