CRCE    Briefing Paper







Ethnic Minorities in Romania
in the Light of EU Integration




Oana-Valentina Suciu









June 2006



Price: £7.50




About the Author



Oana-Valentina Suciu is a political sociologist, educated at the University of Bucharest, University of Oxford, New York University and the Central European University. She is currently a lecturer and a HESP/AFP Scholar at the English track of the Faculty of Political Sciences, University of Bucharest in Romania, where she teaches political sociology, research methods and voting behaviour. Her main research interests are: political parties, ethnic minorities and the transition process in Central and Eastern Europe. She also works as an expert for the Romanian Cultural Institute and as an adviser on ethnic minority issues for the Institute for Public Policies in Bucharest.



The Constitution of the CRCE requires that its Trustees and Advisers dissociate themselves from the analysis contained in its publications but it is hoped that readers will find this study of value and interest.


First published June 2006



© Oana-Valentina Sociu


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This analysis will focus on the impact of EU’s policies on domestic ethnic minority policies, i.e. on the institutionalised relations between political actors representing ethnic minorities and the majority on one hand, and between the different ethnic minorities’ representatives in Romania on the other. The idea is to prove that politics are important for the status of ethnic groups because international norms of minority protection are still not fully developed and remain imprecise.


The recent (and not so recent) history of Europe has led the EU to put the emphasis on protecting ethnic minorities in Central and Eastern Europe. Approximately one in ten of the region’s population belongs to an ethnic minority; and Romania is no exception. Although it is becoming less likely that ethnic minority problems will turn violent, they continue to weigh considerably on the internal evolution of the region and on its present and future relations with the EU.


At a closer look, one could easily say that the ethnic minorities’ issue is just the effect and that the cause lies in the conception of the state in Central and Eastern Europe. Due to the history of the region, the state here is considered as belonging exclusively to the majority and, of course, from this point of view, minorities are perceived as peripheral and, sometimes, illegitimate. Regardless of the percentages of the ethnic minorities, the exclusive concept of the state is a common feature of the Eastern European countries. In countries like Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania minorities comprise up to 15% of the population and constitute an important factor in domestic and foreign politics.


European integration can be seen as part of a wider process of state transformation or decline as well as a unique process of polity building[1] in terms of: challenging the traditional doctrine of unitary and exclusive state sovereignty, undermining state competencies in matters such as market unity and the old claim that democracy can function only in nationally homogenous territories (which provide the mandatory common identity and trust) and last but not least, by separating human rights from nationality and citizenship and thus undermining state claims to be the bearers of universal rights or the only way in which they can be secured[2].


What was happening to Romania (although one can only speak about “Romania” from the second half of the 19th century) at the time that Western Europe was developing the modern territorial state, between the 16th and 19th centuries? Without exception the peoples of the area were falling under the authority of one imperial rule or another: the Habsburg Empire, the Russian Empire, the Ottoman Empire have all exercised political, economic, cultural and social hegemony over the centre and east of the continent.


Andre Liebich[3], quoting Eastern European intellectuals, such as Milan Kundera or Itsvan Bibo, whereas the English sing “there will always be an England”, Poles comfort themselves with the lyrics: Poland is not yet lost while we are alive”. One could add here that Romanians sing “Wake up Romania from the sleep of death”, as if Romania is a Sleeping Beauty who needs the Prince’s kiss to come back to life. It is proof that the history recounted here is one of domination and minorities are an upsetting reminder that, in political terms, parts of Romania were not Romanian, as Slovakia was not always Slovak, Bulgaria was not Bulgarian and so on.


In interwar Europe, one of the most dangerous fault lines was that along which domestic nationalism of ethnically heterogeneous “nationalising states” collided with the cross-border nationalism of neighbouring “homeland” states, oriented to co-ethnics living as minorities in the nationalising states[4]. Brubaker considers that even today collisions on the same fault line threaten the region. In some cases they have already led to war. Many other collisions or potential collisions “along this fault line, while they might yet not generate large scale violence, remain potentially destabilising.” For instance, in the early 1990s “the nationalising nationalism of Romania and Slovakia has clashed with the homeland nationalism of Hungary. (…)”[5].



Romania in the previous centuries


Romania has been invited initially to join the European Union in the second wave, as it was considered that it did not reach the political and economic standards necessary for the first wave, and was perceived that the level of development and the transition process had not yet led to economic success. Romania until 1989 experienced a totalitarian regime, as opposed to other Central European countries, and there was no organised opposition to communism[6]. Moreover, it is mainly an Orthodox country, whereas (with the exception of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia) the other Central and Eastern European countries are Catholic. Romania has experienced the dominance of both the Ottoman and Hapsburg empires and this is reflected in the heritage of different ethnic groups that reside on its territory, with something like 18 ethnic groups, other than Romanians. The following table illustrates this:


















Ukrainians (+Ruthenians)






Russians (Lipovans)









Serbs, Croats, Slovenes

























What is even more interesting, for example, Hungarians in the Banat region of Romania emphasize their essentially European character, drawing on the Habsburg cultural heritage and their history of interethnic harmony[7]. Across the former Habsburg domains, there was a lively debate in the 19th and early 20th centuries about the most appropriate form of managing national diversity through political authority[8].


Romania has a geographically concentrated ethnic group, which exceeds 6% of the population with a kin ethnic state across the border (Hungarians). It has been considered to be somehow "backward" even prior to the communist regime, with its agrarian economy, a high percentage of illiterates and a small elite stratum. They lacked a real civil society and state structures adopted with the help of a Western educated elite. Due to these conditions, inter-war Romania experienced the existence of approximately 19 ethnic groups, out of which Romanians represented 71.9% of the population. For example, at the end of 1930[9] Romania had a population of 18,053,000, with more than three quarters living in rural areas. There were 1,426,187 Hungarians mainly living in villages (1,023,891) and only 11.2% in cities and towns. They were the second largest ethnic group after Romanians (approximately 7.9%), followed by the Germans and the Jewish population (each approximately 4% of the total population – the latter being concentrated mainly in urban areas)[10].


Communism imposed a rapid modernisation that replaced the slow organic process begun just after 1918, with the single effect of destroying the already weak middle class and annihilating almost any kind of social stratification. During the communist regime, minorities were subjected to a much more oppressive treatment than the majority population.


In order to understand fully this process one should know that the minority question was not entirely absent during the communist period, as sometimes alleged[11]. The communists “could ignore the existence of minorities; they could co-opt and channel minority sentiment in a non-threatening direction, or they could recognise and formalise the status of minorities by granting them autonomy of one sort or another”[12]. In the 1950s the Romanian communist authorities, under the close supervision of their Soviet ‘defenders’ and ‘brothers’, conducted an experiment similar to the Yugoslav one, but with unique features. An autonomous Hungarian Region was created in 1952 in Transylvania, where its ‘subjects’ could benefit from extensive cultural rights. Even though the region’s self-administration was accountable to the centre, the Hungarians were able to gain political representation at all levels of the party and state[13].  However, as Steffano Bottoni[14] shows “the Romanian central power used the region as an instrument of political and social integration for the Hungarian minority in the communist state”. Moreover, due to the historical heritage of the area, one extremely permeable to nationalism, the simple view of the word ‘autonomous’ introduced ethnic tension. The fact that other ethnic groups, such as the Germans and the Jews living in relatively compact communities showed interest in the question of autonomy was negatively perceived from the centre. The cultural development of the Hungarian elites (academics, professionals, artists, etc.) was not to endure – the enthusiastic reaction of the Hungarians in Romania (and indeed of many Romanians) towards the 1956 anti-communist appraisal led eventually to the autonomous Hungarian Region being dissolved by the communist authorities.


By the 1960s the situation for all ethnic minorities worsened. The state refused to accept the existence of any group other than the majority one. Living conditions became almost unbearable for the whole population, but were even harsher for the ethnic groups who no longer enjoyed the right officially to speak, read or listen to their own languages.


At the same time, in Western Europe, many ethnic movements rose to prominence[15] in the 1960s and 1970s. In many countries “the leadership coalesced around movements whose primary raison d’être was the improvement of cultural, social, economic and political conditions of their political constituencies. (…) Most of these movements developed ethno-regional political parties that adopted peaceful democratic means”[16]. A similar trend could be observed in Central and Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 1990s, in countries such as Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, Poland, Estonia, Albania or Macedonia; the region was returning to the construction of the state on one hand, and at the same time trying to play by the rules of the democratic game. The development of ethnic parties has been influenced by: the type of electoral system, the constitutional provisions, the size and dispersion of the ethnic group as well as their use of collective action. Other countries, such as Hungary, adopted different types of organisational frameworks (the Minority Self-Governments), which are viable at the regional level. According to Keating[17] the fall of communism after 1989 led in many of these countries “to the assertion of the principle of national sovereignty to match their refound independence; this was combined with a profound suspicion of federalism or any territorial recognition of minority claims”. Another topic was the one of “returning to Europe” (as if they had literally left Europe, and implying the past and future relations). “Being a European” was (and still is) one of the most often used slogans in Central and Eastern Europe.

The ‘deep-freeze’ theory of nationalism promoted by some scholars did have certain plausibility in this part of the world. After all, communist regimes had carefully counted and documented their national minorities, while at the same implying in their political ideology that internationalism, not nationalism, “was their driving force”[18]. Accounting for the outbreak of nationalism in Central and Eastern Europe in terms of age-old ethnic and religious hatreds was, according to McCrone, “closer to the world of a fairy tales than of historical processes”, and was soon replaced by a more ‘political theory’ which focused on the decline of communism and the void it left.



State responses and political representation


The Western assumption that people’s ‘national’ identity is with the territorial state in which they live and with no other (except in a residual way) is of little help for peoples who are distributed across states (i.e. Hungarians who are citizens of Romania and vice versa)[19].


In this region there still is a widespread fear of separatism and distrust of solutions using federalism; somehow it is explicable, considering that for many of these countries the fall of communism was equivalent to regaining their independence. That is why they are so afraid of loosing it again to some unknown state organisation. Yet there are some differences here too. Romania has tended to emphasise the French model of unitary citizenship (on the Romanian passports one could see the distinction “citizenship” and “nationality”) as the basis for democracy. Hungary, on the other hand, aware of the large number of Hungarians living in neighbouring states, has argued for a loose and more complex idea of nationality and citizenship (see the Law of the Hungarians living abroad). The law passed in 2001 was particularly controversial, since it came in the context in which some nationalist politicians were speaking of a reversed Trianon. Romania and Slovakia saw it as a vestige of old-fashioned ethnic nationalism, while the Hungarian Government defended it as an example of the multiple identities (political and cultural) in the new Europe. The issue necessitated the mediation of the Venice Commission (the same happened recently, with the Romanian Ethnic Minorities Status Law). Hungary’s accession to the EU meant, ironically, that the law somehow lost its essence, since it is no longer possible to discriminate among EU citizens, or among third party nationals. Because of its less than “brilliant” economic performance, Romania will probably join the EU only in 2007, whereas its neighbour, Hungary, is already a member. Thus, the Hungarians living in Romania might wish to benefit from the economic reforms implemented across the border and this wish could be reflected in the position taken by the party representatives at local and central level. For instance, even back in 1994 76% of the Hungarians in Romania considered that economic issues were more important than the ethnic ones[20] (a very similar percentage to the ones represented by Romanians: 80%).


The political demands of minorities are based on one fundamental concern: the desire to preserve their identity and protection against discrimination. In addition, access to resources managed or controlled by the state is a great concern to many ethnic minorities.


The way in which ethnic minorities try to achieve their political goals depends largely on the political structure and traditions of the state in which they live. With few exceptions, ethnic parties play according to the political rules set by the state similar to other political organisations in the state. Many of them have been part of the democratic political system for decades. Sometimes they are even among the oldest parties within those systems. Many ethnic parties participate in local, regional or national elections. Ethnic groups try to achieve their aspirations through the respective political fora at these levels. In states where municipalities are relatively autonomous, minorities may achieve some of their political goals at the local level, as is the case of the Hungarian representation in Romania’s legislative and executive bodies. This is the most prominent though. Other best-practice examples include the German representatives at local and regional level and, according to geographic concentration, of other ethnic groups, including very small ones.


Ethnic parties give assurances to their voters that they are doing something on a local, regional or national parliamentary level about the causes of discontent. Drawing on Műller-Rommel[21], we could say that, by making themselves the representatives of these voters, ethnic parties affect political issues and the tone of political life. Several ethnic parties in the region, including Romania’s UDMR, have brought controversial issues before the public (the question of the “national state”, language rights, the issue of mother tongue education at all levels, organisation of local public administration, the ethnic minorities’ media, etc). As such, ethnic parties have at times had an impact on national policy-making without necessarily being permanently in government. This has also kept their voters support.


The Democratic Alliance of Hungarians in Romania - UDMR founded in December 1989, more as an alliance than a political party, and although open to all Romanian citizens, it is principally a Hungarian movement. It includes sixteen different parties and associations; each party is able to preserve an independent statute inside the Union. The Alliance’s statutes grant territorial organisations wide latitude in local decision-making.


The UDMR’s objectives are twofold: ethnic and national. The Alliance supports demands for “cultural and regional” autonomy, including separate ethnic educational institutions and self-governing churches. It demands that Hungarian civil servants be appointed in the counties with a majority Hungarian population, but it conceives these moves in the context of the local government reform, rather than in terms of specific minority issues. At the national level, UDMR aims at "the development of a democratic Romanian society, the establishment of the rule of law, the modernisation of economic structures and the establishment of a market economy and Romania's integration in the European community"[22]. Moreover, within the Parliament, "the alliance does not limit its activity to the representation of specific interests, although this aspect is considered to be the primary one. UDMR continues to argue that the laws adopted by the Parliament should serve the democratisation of the entire society and be fashioned after the modern European principles and standards"[23].


For instance, an ELTE—Babeş-Bolyai survey[24] revealed that only 8% of the Hungarians in Romania believe that UDMR contributes to the increase of the conflict between the two ethnic groups. The survey also proves UDMR’s success in mobilising an impressive portion of their ethnic population (83% of the Hungarian respondents said that they had voted for UDMR in 1996; 12% did not vote, whereas only 4% voted for other parties). In the spring of 2000[25] 80.6% of Hungarian subjects considered that UDMR’s governing activity is characterised by concrete results. UDMR’s political efficiency has been evaluated as follows:


TABLE 3: Support for UDMR’s policies


Mostly agree

Mostly disagree

UDMR maintained a general good policy until now



The rights of the Hungarian minority in Romania could be promoted, even if this happened slowly



UDMR’s leadership should try to join the government again in the future, because this how they could do something for the Hungarians



UDMR’s politicians managed very frequently to promote the interests of the Hungarians



UDMR’s politicians only made promises, but did not accomplish much for the Hungarians




Although it has repeatedly expressed commitment, the 1996-2000 Romanian leadership has at times found it difficult to meet the Hungarian Party’s demands. One of the major points for dissent was the use of the minority language, a question settled only at the end of 1999. However, the presence of UDMR in the governing coalition added a new twist to the level of ethnic political contention in Romania[26].


One of the aspects of the relationship of the ethnic parties with the state and with other parties refers to the level of representation, i.e. that at local/regional level as opposed to national level. There are analysts who claim that ethnic parties prefer to be successful at the local/regional level. If ethnic parties gain representation at national level, and manage to surpass other parties, they are faced with a problem of surpassing the relative dominance of the parties who continue to receive support outside the region – and this is exactly the case for UDMR. Moreover, the Hungarian party might also have to face the problem of being accused by the other parties and political actors that it challenges the legitimacy of the state.  For instance, after the tragic events in Kosovo in 1999, the Romanian majority government was still reluctant to address concepts such as “autonomy” or “collective rights”[27].


Ethnic minorities’ situation in post-communist Romania: Induced Consociationalism?


Immediately after the Romanian appraisal in December 1989, the position of the ethnic minorities visibly improved[28]. However, many gains were considered reversible because they lacked firm legal safeguards. Leaders of ethnic minorities were concerned over certain articles in Romania’s new Constitution (adopted in 1991), which defined the country as a “unitary national state” with prohibitions on activities deemed to be “separatist”. They feared that this could provide a constitutional underpinning for a possible future ban on ethnic political parties.


In the 1990 general election, political parties and movements representing three of the country’s ethnic minorities[29] received sufficient votes to be represented in the Parliament’s Lower Chamber (UDMR, the German Democratic Union, the Democratic Union of Roma).  While thirteen other ethnic groups each acquired 1 seat, according to the electoral law: “the organisations representing the national minorities (…) which fail to gather the necessary number of votes in order to get a mandate to the Chamber of Deputies, are entitled to one deputy mandate". UDMR became the main opposition party, with a higher number of seats than the historical parties. Although voices claimed that such a fact was ‘strange’ or ‘un-natural’, a simple look at the percentages obtained by the Hungarian Party in the 1930s proves that the political representation of the ethnic Hungarians is not something new in Romania (see Table 2), when ethnic minorities were represented in the Lower Chamber, sometimes exceeding the seats won by political parties which claim to represent larger strata of the population.


Although this did not happen, the phrasing could still be found in the new shape of the fundamental law, adopted through a referendum in October 2003. According to the Constitution: “each of the organisations of citizens belonging to national minorities, taking part in elections and gaining the number of votes required for parliament, any representation have the right to one deputy seat according to the electoral law. The citizens of a national minority can be represented only by one organisation”. But as far as ethnic minorities are concerned, the Electoral Law has a restrictive, even discriminatory, character. Art 4;1, stipulates that “under the present law, by an ethnic minority we understand the ethnic group represented in the National Minority Council”[30]. Hence the article drastically limits the possibility for an ethnic based formation, which is not represented in the Council, to run in elections, as if only this organism was entitled to accredit the membership to a certain ethnic group. The law also mentions in Art 4;2, that “according to Art 62;2 of the republished Constitution of Romania, legally founded ethnic minority organisations, defined according to align. 1, which did not obtain a deputy or a senator mandate, have the right to a deputy mandate, if they have obtained a number of votes equal to at least 10% of the average country number of valid votes for the election of one deputy”[31]. The ethnic parties/formations (except UDMR) represent politically 2.17% of the country’s population (stressing that, due to the electoral law, 0.71 of the individuals belonging to an ethnic minority group are represented in parliament)[32].


By accepting a lower electoral threshold of votes[33] for the minority organisations in parliamentary elections, one promotes a form of positive discrimination. Although the provision favours the small ethnic groups, it encourages competition rather than co-operation among these groups. Moreover, only one of the minority organisations (or parties) officially recognised has the right to obtain funding from the National Minority Council. The representation system starts from the false presumption that ethnic parties are unitary political actors. For example, Art 4;3 stipulates that “the ethnic minority organisations that are represented in the parliament can run in elections”, whereas similar organisations, but not represented are subjected to much harsher conditions – they have to gather signatures from at least 15% of the citizens listed in the most recent census (2002) as belonging to that particular ethnic group. But this reference does not take into account an aspect of individual rights, that is the fact that each citizen of a country can declare himself or herself in the census as belonging to a certain ethnic group (the majority one, most of the time), even if he/she actually belongs to another ethnic group. It is a strictly personal matter, and a law in this regard only restricts both individual and collective rights[34].


Since 1990 the ethnic parties have become more professional, together with those working in these organisations: they run in elections as normal parties – due to the proportional representation system they can present the same list in several constituencies, since the Electoral Law allows that “organisations belonging to national minorities can submit the same candidates list for the Chamber of Deputies in several constituencies” [35].


According to the same law, elections are organised by the Central Electoral Bureau. In the case of the 2004 elections, this institution represented one of the cornerstones for the ethnic minority organisations that intended to run. A view of the documents released, starting in mid-October 2004, would show that the Central Electoral Bureau set the basis for two trends that marked the electoral campaign: by refusing the right of certain organisations to run in elections it has generated what the central media labelled as the”Hungarian-Hungarian conflict”, and on the other hand it sharpened the internal conflicts with the organisations of other ethnic minority groups.



2004 Parliamentary Elections in Romania: The”Minoritarul” Case


The most frequent excuse used by the Central Electoral Bureau for rejecting candidateship was the unsuitability or of the lack of originality of the electoral signs: this is the situation for organisations such as the Cultural Albanians’ League, the Szeklers’ Union, the Civic Hungarian Union or the Ukrainians’ Democrat Union. Other organisations that were denied entry to the electoral game in 2004 are the Cultural Union of Ethnic Poles, the Russians’ Association and the Italians’ Association in Romania. In the latter case, random checks cross-verified with the census information proved that the Suceava and Iaşi counties, where the Association had gathered around 500 signatures (according to the Electoral Law this is sufficient), are inhabited by fewer than 100 Italians. The Szeklers’ Union and the Russians’ Association were excluded because they are not members in the National Minority Council, whereas the Cultural Union of Ethnic Poles was investigated by the prosecutor’s office for the very simple reason that the signatures were Romanian names.


UDMR’s slogan is “Together for Autonomy”, and the organisation’s candidate to the presidency of Romania based his electoral programme on three main slogans: EU integration, autonomy and wealth (or well being). A new element in the electoral supply of UDMR was the proposal to modify the list of developing regions and speed up the decentralisation process, (the target group for these issues representing the Hungarian electorate in the counties of Harghita, Covasna and Mureş). UDMR’s political programme was an extremely specific one[36], being co-ordinated by the MPs from the parliamentary committees according to interest. In the file on the economy, UDMR’s programme is liberal in orientation[37]; further, it also speaks about the importance of civil society keeping state institutions under its control, and in their turn maintaining these institutions robustly independent. UDMR is an organisation with two-objectives, ethnic and national ones. The main ethnic objective refers to the elimination of discrimination and changing the anti-Hungarian feeling in Romania. It also supports the requests for “cultural and regional autonomy”, including separate educational institutions and autonomous churches. It asks for the local autonomy of prefects and civil servants from the Transylvanian counties with a Hungarian majority, and is careful to present these claims more in the context of reforming local public administration, rather than as specific questions dealing with the ethnic minorities. Moreover, the electoral battle in 2004 was for better access and control of the state resources. An illustration is the vote for the Constitution in 2003, when all political parties, and the ethnic minorities cartelised in a relatively homogenous political class and voted for a Constitution that guaranteed their long-term interests[38].


While many Romanian parties might not consider themselves as representing the majority ethnic group, they do not support the consociational model in this sense. However, we could see that domestic Romanian circumstances could account for the rise of this model. Since 1990 none of the political parties attained an absolute majority in Parliament and thus required the support of the ethnic minorities, from Hungarians to Armenians. These coalitions have been facilitated by the proportional electoral system of the country.


The Romanian case is very striking, due to its type of representation and competition structure. The fact that UDMR managed to obtain not only significant parliamentary representation, but also to play a pivotal role between PSD and the D.A. Alliance, granted the leadership of this party a great deal of influence (much more, for instance, than the one enjoyed by a similar party in Slovakia). The interests of the ethnic representatives are mainly linked to offers by the Government (e.g. linguistic and educational rights), but also to the negotiations regarding autonomy and decentralisation (a task left to UDMR mainly by the other ethnic parties and explained by the relatively large dimension of the group compared to the rest of the minorities).


However, there are reasons to believe that the EU and the integration process have also brought an important contribution[39]:

1.      Since the majority of Romanians support EU integration, they also expect political parties to reflect European values and meet normative EU expectations. Ethnic parties, as well as the other parties, have an incentive to prove their “European value orientation” to their voters by taking moderate political positions and finding compromises regarding European norms of co-existence.

2.      Ethnic parties share an interest in EU membership with the rest of the parties. Ethnic minority representatives believe that their constituencies will benefit from permeable borders, and a wide-range of contacts with the neighbouring kin countries. On the other hand, the majority representatives (the representatives of the “nation”) consider that, once accession has taken place, the EU institutions will stop interfering in the state’s approach to the ethnic minorities’ issue.

3.      Ethnic majority representatives know that treating the minorities well is appreciated by the EU institutions; by the same token, the ethnic minority representatives know that it is better to take a milder position than to be criticised by Brussels, thus reducing their influence. “On the other hand, the normative ambiguity and vagueness of EU statements leaves both sides uncertain as whether a rights-based policy, even if it appears convincing and legitimate, will be backed by the EU”[40]. This is the case for the Ethnic Minorities Status Law in Romania, a bill which has been debated many times with no clear solution.



What Minority Protection Policy Does the EU Have in the Accession Process


EU institutions that deal with this issue are the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. They have five main ‘reference’ points to define policy and to assess whether accession countries fulfill the minority criterion” or effectively protect national minorities.

1.      The existence of anti-discrimination policies, a legal reference framework containing anti-discrimination provisions in the Treaty of European Communities (TEC, Art. 13), which is expected to be transposed into domestic legislation and put into practice.

2.      EU institutions have been able to specify the minority criterion if a general policy consensus existed among EU member states. It is the case of the EU policies aiming good-neighbourly relations between states with national minorities and the ethnic kin states of these minorities on one hand, and the social integration of the Roma minority on the other. It is under these circumstances that the Commission criticised the Hungarian Status Law. However, the scope of the policies is not very clear, with standards imposed by the Council of Europe through the Framework Convention on the Protection of Ethnic minorities and though the European Charter of Regional Minority Languages. The recommendations from these international policies can be found in domestic pieces of legislation in Romania, such as the Education Law and Local Administration Law. The first grants the right of education in the mother tongues, the second allows bilingual (or multilingual) plates, the right to use the mother tongue in the administration, etc.

3.      The so-called “Progress Reports” made by the candidate countries in meeting EU accession criteria. These reports can be found on the web pages of institutions such as the Department for Inter-ethnic Relations of the Romanian Government or the National Council for Fighting Discrimination.

4.      Norms developed by OSCE and the High Commissioner on National Minorities (HCNM).

5.      The Commission and the Parliament have taken domestic constitutional and legislation as points of reference. According to Brusis[41] “they have interpreted these domestic rules of self-commitments of an accession country and addressed implementation deficits or called for compliance with these rules. An example is the 2002 Progress Report on Romania, which stated that the Law on Public administration, which regulated the official use of minority languages, had been “successfully applied despite the reticence of some prefectures and local authorities’. Relying on domestic rules and agreements is advantageous as it enables the EU institutions to focus their policy on the specific local situation, but it risks the parameters of the situation to determine the standards (normative assumptions) underlying EU policies”. The Romanian case, in which the use of the mother tongue other than Romanian is permitted in settlements with minorities that exceed 15% of the population. The HCNM and other international standards do not specify this threshold share, so who decides on the size of these thresholds? Which is the point of reference?


By connecting their evaluation to the domestic context, EU institutions tend to replace a justice-based evaluation with a security-based approach targeting a consensual conflict settlement. There is no clear distinction between group rights and individual rights, as well as between minority protection policies on one hand and the anti-discrimination laws on the other. Seen from this point of view, Romania has two bodies dealing with the issues, both governmental, which sometimes overlap in their responsibilities. It is also true that the National Council for Fighting Discrimination has the right to act automatically in cases of discrimination (e.g. one of the most recent measures taken by CNCD is denouncing and bringing into justice the individuals who organised racist demonstration in sports stadiums in October last year).


In practice the EU spreads diffuse and sometimes ambigous minority rights, which have been imposed on the governments of the accession countries. These were expected to align themselves to the fundamental orientations of the EU policies irrespective of their coherence or otherwise. The best example is the Ethnic Minorities Status Law in Romania, which has been put forward by the Department for Inter-Ethnic Relations under the pretence that it has been insisted on by the EU institutions. The Bill went through a countless number of forms, eventually being rejected by the Chamber of Deputies. It should be mentioned that there are absolutely no documents or public EU statement requiring such an act. There were problems with the Bill from the beginning, starting with the definition of what a “national minority” is and the identification group. It is not a Romanian fault though – the same goes for the competence of other states, without the EU intervening in issues of domestic layout.


Moreover, the process of enlargement brought along the question of the overlapping of several institutions: the Council of Europe, the OSCE and lately, the EU. Voices have been raised regarding the EU’s currently very limited legal competences, on the shortcomings of the implementation of minority norms within the new member states, regardless of the effects produced in the candidate countries. The EU has stepped into this area timidly and indirectly, by way of “Plan Balladur” (1995), formally put forward by the OSCE, which advised candidate countries to settle among themselves frontier and related issues, such as minorities, before proceeding to the accession process[42].


Also of interest is that in the Romanian case EU policy has shaped a milieu nurturing consociational power-sharing arrangements. The question is, will these arrangements be stable after the integration process is over?  If the EU has been able successfully to proceed to bring in diffuse and ambiguous minority rights policies conditional to accession, will its policy succeed when this conditionality ceases? Does the EU need to develop and clarify its own normative standards? Let us think of the constraints applied to the national governments by the supranational bodies of the EU from above and by regions crossing borders from below[43]. The states now have a network of suprastate organisations and they enforce sets of rules, practices, procedures which would not otherwise be available to single states. In this way important sources of destabilising behaviour might fade away and many ethnic groups in the region will be left out of the nation-building process. It could also be a reason for the expansion of the ethno-regionalist parties “diminishing the sovereignty of the national state and therefore the ambition of some historic regions to become new states in the 19th century sense may appear anachronistic”[44].


After integration the EU institutions will no longer be in a position to monitor the protection of minorities, which could be mirrored in a lesser incentive of developing consociational arrangements. With the Treaty of Nice, and in view of the experience with Austria[45], the EU now has a stronger legal instrument in the EU Treaty to intervene (Art. 7), if member states violate principles of liberty, democracy, human rights, fundamental freedoms, or the rule of law. The question that might arise here is if the post-communist democracy is treated as being of lower quality than the systems of the West[46]. Comments were made that such a result could have happened in any Central Eastern European country, within twenty-four hours of the arrival of an OSCE mission. It also left room for a question of double standards, without actually being answered in the political realms.





Let us suppose, for the sake of the argument, that five years or so from now all the East Central European countries will become members of the European Union. What then will be the situation for ethnic minorities in this great Europe?


According to Liebich[47], one could presume that the minority factor would become more salient to EU politics than at present. This might happen because trends and realities from all parts of the Union will come together in a highly dynamic association. The Union will contain a significant number of new members with important but sometimes marginalised minorities. But it will be also composed of old members where less numerous but more integrated minorities live and where a culture of minority promotion and minority rights has been developing (often in terms of regionalisation and autonomy). Western European ethnic minorities will find themselves reinforced, perhaps reinvigorated, and will intensify their strategies aiming at European-wide recognition. At the same time, it is plausible that in the new members of the Union existing minorities will invoke Western European precedents and norms to pursue their case in favour of an improved status, including greater cultural autonomy and, in some cases, territorial autonomy. It is a clear case with the Ethnic Minorities Status Law that has a whole chapter dedicated to the “cultural autonomy”. Moreover, there are Hungarian leaders who also consider territorial autonomy. In these circumstances it is difficult to imagine the indefinite continuation of what Bruno de Witte has aptly called the EU's "agnosticism" towards minorities residing within its member states[48].


In this case, tensions might be reduced by the new element of an increased mobility. In the first wave of those taking the opportunity to cross borders freely will most probably be ethnic minority members who will gravitate towards the countries of their language or ethnic kin to take up jobs and, in the long run, to settle down (provided that the kin states are willing). However, this factor may, just as easily, function in the opposite direction. This is a two-way street. Diaspora communities have always been important to the development of nationalism and today's case of communications means that they can play an even greater role in the politics of the land they have left[49]. Economic rights will prove to be of great importance in the context of cross-border mobility. The EU will provide financial resources to a vast variety of policy fields such as cultural policies, language policies, social policies, etc. For example at the beginning of 2006 the Romanian Government created 8,500 civil service positions dealing with EU integration issues; including ethnic minorities.


Moreover, mobility will eventually force a reformulation of the very term minority. “..such restrictions will no longer be tenable in a Union where everyone shares European citizenship. This does not mean, however, that members of the Union will cease to intervene on behalf of their own nationals abroad, along the patterns of earlier interventions on behalf of minorities. In fact, the opposite will probably be the case”[50]. International co-ordination will require the enlarged EU to substantially improve its co-operation with the Council of Europe, with OSCE, with the Human Rights Court in the form of an institutionalised dialogue and know-how transfer between these entities[51].


A possible development in the enlarged EU could be pressure towards an increased number of euro regions and other similar trans-border arrangements. For the time being, euro regions and autonomy requests are not trusted by the states of East Central Europe, since they are seen as pretexts for outside interference and manipulating borders. “This is why Poland has been unenthusiastic about creating any such arrangements in Silesia; Slovakia has refused to consider them for Ruthenia (with Ukraine), and there is nothing of this sort between Hungary and Romania.[52]” That is why Romania refuses, at least for the time being, to use regions as an administrative framework – for the fear of federalisation and autonomy.


If such resistance could be overcome it would be extremely promising, an accomplishment by both majorities and minorities realising that trans-border co-operation, especially involving ethnic minorities, can be mutually beneficial; this could also alter views in a positive way. This of course, is a less controversial project than that of using territorial autonomy or regionalist structures which will continue to produce anxiety and fear.


As Romania will probably enter the European Union quite soon, it will experience a series of changes affecting its sovereignty and its effective powers. Whatever the gains in other areas, it will be weakened in many others, and therefore the balance of power between the majority and minorities within Romania, as well as within the EU as a whole, will modify. How all these parties will react to these changes is a matter for speculation particularly if the Ethnic Minority Status Law is not adopted.


In conclusion, let us remember that minorities exist by reason of majorities and that Central and Eastern Europe both assume the nation-state as the norm for political organisation. Emperor Franz Josef spoke of his "peoples" rather than of "minorities" within Austria-Hungary and the Swiss today do not refer to the French-speaking or Italian-speaking population as minorities[53]. In the meantime, we have to manage the issue of minorities within the existing state framework. Relations could be friendly on one hand (adopting the Ethnic Minorities Status and other bills in a system of positive discrimination) and less friendly on the other (in the sense of the Constitution and the public structures). Moreover, one has to keep in mind that the EU will often continue to be invoked either as a scarecrow or as a Prince Charming coming to the rescue.







The Roots of Islamist Ideology

By Robert R Reilly

February 2006


How the East was Won:
What Next for NATO and EU One Year after Enlargement?

by Sebestyén v. Gorka, Richard North & Helen Szamuely

September 2005


Power and Property

by Ljubo Sirc CBE

December 2003


Portrait of a Political Policeman

by Ljubo Sirc, CBE

November 2003


Communists Favour World Disorder

by Ljubo Sirc CBE

May 2003


Communist Ideas and Influence after 1989

by Dr Ljubo Sirc CBE

July 2002


Transition: Privatisation and Private Property

by Ljubo Sirc CBE

July 2001


Communism in Aphorism (with the transition thrown in)
 by Zarko Petan.  Presented by Ljubo Sirc

June 2001

The Nice Treaty and The Case for Enlargement

by Helen Szamuely

February 2001


The Russian Elections

by Iain Elliott

May 2000


No End to History in the Balkans

by Ljubo Sirc CBE

February 2000


All available at £7 50 each



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[1] Michael Keating, “European Integration and the Nationalities Question”, European University Institute, Florence, paper presented and the International Political Science Association Conference, Durban, 29 June-4 July, 2003

[2] ibid., p. 2

[3] Andre Liebich, “Ethnic Minorities and Long-term Implications of the EU Enlargement”, European University Institute, Florence, December 1998, WP RSC no. 98/49, pp. 2-3

[4] Rogers Brubaker, “Nationalism Reframed. Nationhood and the national question in the New Europe”, Cambridge University Press, 1996, p. 107

[5] At this point, we should define the terns. For Brubakers, “Nationalizing nationalism” is directed “inward” by the states toward their own territory and citizenries, while the “homeland nationalism” is directed “outward” by neighboring states, across the boundaries of territory and citizenship, toward members of “their own ethnic nationality, that is toward persons who belong (or can be claimed to belong) to the external national homeland by ethnonational affinity, although they reside in and are (ordinarily) citizens of other states” (p. 11). Since the latter states are ordinarily nationalizing states (or are at least so represented by the external homeland), homeland and nationalizing nationalism typically collide head-on. Ibid. p. 108

[6] Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, "Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America and Post-communist Europe", Baltimore, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

[7] Keating, ibid., p.5

[8] Keating, ibid., p.6

[9] Data extracted from “Enciclopedia României – Volumul 1”, Dimitrie Gusti (ed.), 1939

[10] The political representation of ethnic groups is not something new in the Romanian case – the Hungarians and the Jews had parliamentarian representation staring with the late 1920s for a decade. However, it was a time when voting was not universal – less than a quarter of the population had this right and almost half of these were choosing not to use it. The following data are illustrative in this regard:


TABLE 2: Political representation of Hungarians in Romania in the interwar period

Year 1928 – Chamber of Deputies

Total no. of enlisted voters: 3,671,352

Valid expressed votes: 2,787,431

Number of votes

Percentages  (out of the valid expressed votes)

National Peasant Party (PNŢ)



National Liberal Party (PNL)



Hungarian Party (3rd party)






Year 1931 – Chamber of Deputies

Total no. of enlisted voters: 4,038,464

Valid expressed votes: 2,844,554



National Union Group



National Peasant Party (PNŢ)



National Liberal Party (PNL)



People’s Party



Hungarian Party (5th party)






Year 1933 – Chamber of Deputies

Total no. of enlisted voters: 4,308,354

      Valid expressed votes: 2,919,793



National Liberal Party (PNL)



National Peasant Party (PNŢ)



Hungarian Party (7th party)




For instance, during the 1932 elections if the National Peasant Party was obtaining, due to the absolute majority rule, 273 mandates out of 387, whereas the Hungarian Party and the Jewish Party were obtaining 14, respectively 5 mandates. In the case of the former, the result was better than the one of the social democrats or the nationalists.

[11] Liebich, op. cit.,  p.3

[12] ibid., p. 2

[13] Janusz Bugajski, “Ethnic Politics in Eastern Europe: A Guide to Nationality Policies, Organizations and Parties”, Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe

[14] Stefano Bottoni, “The Creation of the Hungarian Autonomous Region in Romania (1952): Premises and Consequences, in REGIO, a Review of Studies on Minorities, Politics and Society, 2003,  Budapest, p. 71.

[15] Out of these, we mention the ones that have been analyzed by Muller-Rommel and Pridham (1991): Volksunie (VU), Rassamblement Wallon (RW), and Front Democratique des Francophones Bruxellors (FDF) in Belgium, Slesvigsk Part (SP) in Denmark, Svenska Folkpartiet (SP) in Finland, Calmm na Poblachta and Sinn Fein in Ireland, Südtiroler Volkspartei (SVP) and Union Valdôtaine (UV) and Lega Nord in Italy, Fryske Nasjonale Partij in the Netherlands, Partido Nacionalista Vasco (PNV), Enzkadiko Ezquerra (EE), Herri Batasuna (HB) in Spain, Scottish National Party (SNP) and Plaid Cymru (PC) in the United Kingdom.

[16] Saul Newman, “Ethnoregional Conflict in Democracies. Mostly Ballots, Rarely Bullets”, Greenwood Press, Westpoint, Connecticut London, 1996, p. 2.

[17] Ibid., p. 6

[18] David McCrone, “The Sociology of Nationalism”, Routledge, 1998, p. 151

[19] Ibid., p. 157.

[20] Thomas Gallagher, Democratie şi Naţionalism în România, 1989-1998, Editura ALL 1999, p.205.

[21] Ferdinand Műller-Rommel, “Small Parties in Comparative Perspective. The State of Art”, in Ferdinand Műller-Rommmel & Geoffrey Pridham (eds.), Small Parties in Western Europe. Comparative and Perspectives, Sage Publications, London, 1991, p. 22

[22] Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania,  Documents no. 4, Cluj, 1995, p. 4

[23] ibid., p. 8

[24] Data extracted from Sherrill Stroschein, “Measuring Ethnic Party Success in Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine”, in Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 48, no. 4, July-August 2001, p. 62

[25] Data extracted from Kantor, Zoltan, and Bardi, Nandor, "UDMR şi coaliţia guvernamentală (1996-2000)", in Sfera Politicii nr. 97-98/2001, pp. 12-13

[26] Sherrill Stroschein, “Measuring Ethnic Party Success in Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine”, in Problems of Post-Communism, vol. 48, no. 4, July-August 2001, p. 61.

[27] Zsuzsa Csergő, “Beyond Ethnic Division:  Majority-Minority Debate About the Post-Communist State in Romania and Slovakia”, in East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 16, No. 1, 2002, pp. 23-24

[28] Bugajski, op. cit., p. 203.,

[29] The main ethnic minority in Romania is the Hungarian one (1.431.807 people, representing 6.60% of the population); the rest of the minorities count around 4% of the population (see Table1).

[30] Legislaţie privind alegerile parlamentare şi prezidenţiale 2004 (The Electoral Law), Editura Regia Autonomă Monitorul Oficial, Bucureşti, p. 6.

[31] Ibidem, p. 6.

[32] Oana-Valentina Suciu, Political Representation of Ethnic Minorities in Romania. Elections 2004, in Studia Politica, Vol. pp. 143-166, in Studia Politica, vol. IV, no.1, 2005

[33] While a deputy needs 70,000 votes, the representative of an ethnic party only needs approximately 6,000 votes to be elected in the Parliament. The problem lies with the ethnic minorities that do not exceed 5-6,000 members (for more details, see Table 2). In this case, the candidates try to target the majority population as well and in some cases they even manage to obtain votes – the most interesting cases are represented by the Albanians, Armenians, Macedonians and Ruthenians, who obtained 10, sometimes even 15 times more votes than the figures indicated by the censuses.

[34] Suciu, op. cit., p. 151

[35] The Electoral Law. cit. in Suciu, p. 150.

[36] During an interview with Mr. Anton Niculescu, executive deputy-chair of UDMR and state secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I asked him if UDMR had taken into account the amount of patience that is required of the sympathizers willing to read this programme, considering that the published version exceeds 30 pages. He responded that: “No one really reads programmes. What I want to stress here is that, starting with 1996, the economic aspects became stronger, more important than before. There are much more social issues; there are many promises, plans related to less specific issues. We had the same programme in 1996 and in 2000, there are very many experts. This year’s novelty is the fact that we have received a lot of inputs on our website from people who thought that they had something important to say, and we have included a lot of suggestions. The coordinators of the programme were the deputies and senators from those specific committees”.

[37] N.B.”Liberal” in the classical sense, i.e. on a left-right spectrum heading towards the right.

[38] Daniel Barbu, Republica absentă. Politică şi societate în România postcomunistă, Nemira, Bucureşti, 2004, pp. 273-274.

[39] Martin Brusis, The European Union and Interethnic Power-sharing Arrangements in Accession Countries, Center for Applied Policy Research, University of Munich, Germany, in Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe, Issues 1/2003, p. 11

[40] ibid., p. 12

[41] Ibid., p. 4

[42] Enciclopedia Uniunii Europene, Luciana Alexandra Ghica (ed.), Editura Meronia, 2005

[43] Janos Kis, Nation Building and Beyond, in “Can Liberalism Be Exported”, Will Kymlicka and Magda Opalski (eds.), Oxford University Press, 2001, p.230

[44] Lieven de Winter, The Impact of European Integration on Ethnoregionalist Parties, WP. Num. 195, Instutut de Ciènces Polítiques I Socials, Barcelona, 2001

[45] The elections were won in 2000 with more than 25% by the ultra-nationalist leader Jorg Haider and his Freiheitliche Partei, which stands well to the right of the Western European mainstream.

[46] George Scopflin,  Liberal Pluralism and Post-Communism, in “Can Liberalism Be Exported”, Will Kymlicka and Magda Opalski (eds.), Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 123

[47] Liebich, op. cit., pp. 8-9

[48] De Witte, Bruno, Politics versus Law in the EU’s approach to Ethnic Minorities, in “Europe Unbound, Jan Zielonka (ed.), New York: Routledge, p. 137, 2002, quoted in Andre Liebich, op. cit., p. 8

[49] Ibid., p. 9

[50] Ibid. p. 9

[51] Gabriel N. Toggenburg, Minority Protection in a Supranational Context: Limits and Opportunities

[52] Liebich, op. cit., p. 8

[53] Ibid. pp. 8-9