The documents of the Holy See are an underexploited source on majority-minority relations
Transnational actor by definition, the Church could not afford ignoring minority questions in interwar Europe. There are at least two reasons why documents held at the Vatican Archives are a privileged source on majority-minority relations in interwar Europe: linguistic politics and the double nature of the Catholic Church as, at once, a transnational organisation devoted to the spiritual welfare of worshippers and a state keeping diplomatic relations with foreign governments.
In interwar Europe local priests and the Church hierarchy confronted nationalising states increasingly willing to assimilate populations that spoke a different language from that promoted by state institutions. In such minority regions, the lower clergy often identified with the minority population and defended Church practice (also reflected in the Church’s Code of Canon Law) whereby religious teaching had to be given in the mother tongue of the local population. Yet this position put the clergy in direct confrontation with state officials willing to homogenise minority areas. As a consequence, state nationalisers frequently associated the local clergy as a bastion of minority nationalism. The fact that some priests did participate in minority nationalist movements, sometimes even within radical fringes, did not contribute to dispelling suspicions of the clergy’s disloyalty to the state. Be it in democratic Belgium or authoritarian fascist Italy, many of these priests and, although more rarely, also some bishops were expelled from the state territory, accused of being dangerous agitators paid by foreign powers to bring about chaos in minority areas.
State pressure to have the lower clergy abide by laws of linguistic assimilation that imposed monolingualism throughout the state territory was felt not only in minority regions, but also in Rome. The Vatican Apostolic Archives brim with exchanges in which diplomats of states dealing with minority populations urged the Holy See to have priests stay out of politics and provide religious teaching in state, instead of minority, language. In more extreme but not unfrequent cases, the Vatican received requests of removal of bishops deemed to engage with minority nationalism.
In April, Emmanuel spent two weeks at the Vatican Archives gathering material on minority questions in interwar Belgium, Italy and Spain. The documents confirm that Church authorities had to walk a tight rope between the need not to disaffect local populations seeking protection against linguistic homogenisation and keeping favourable diplomatic relations with important European states. Caught between the hammer and the anvil, Church authorities tried to defend their autonomy and religious practice, but in the radicalising age of the 1930s, it became ever harder to protect the linguistic rights of minorities, especially in authoritarian state like fascist Italy or in the extremely polarised context of the Spanish Civil War and the ensuing onset of Franco’s dictatorship.
The Vatican records constitute an invaluable source that would nourish the academic output of the Myth of Homogeneity project.
Complutense University will host the project from 15 February 2022 thanks to a Marie Curie grant from from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme
In summer 2021 the EU-funded Una4Career programme granted funding to Emmanuel to continue the project at the Department of Political History, Theory and Geography of Complutense University in Madrid. The grant will mostly be devoted to finalising the outcomes of the projects, notably the drafting of a monograph on majority-minority relations in interwar Western Europe, along with the finalisation of some articles.
Emmanuel will benefit from the broad and in-depth expertise in Spanish, European and transnational history of the members of the Department, as well as from the many relevant archives held in Madrid. In 2023, he will also spend three months at the Centre for Political History of the University of Antwerp, where he will collaborate with Maarten van Ginderachter and other researchers on the Flemish part of the project. He will of course also take advantage of being in Belgium to consult archives in Brussels, Antwerp and Ghent.
Elaborating upon ideas first presented at the 2018 international symposium The Universal Declaration of Human Rights at 70: Historical and Legal Perspectives, Emmanuel and Mona argues that most of the human rights historiography has postulated a clear break between the collective rights tradition of interwar minority protection and the ensuing age of individual human rights. By contrast, they propose a more nuanced account of the transition from the League of Nations’ to the United Nations’ rights system.
The paper builds its arguments in two steps. First it suggests that the minority treaties were a hybrid system containing a mix of individual and collective rights provisions that enabled interwar rights advocates to use the minority treaties as a model for the adoption of human rights instruments proposed at different moments throughout the interwar period. In other words, the minority protection regime of the League of Nations was less based on collective rights than most of the literature has suggested. Furthermore, at the end of WWII, several delegations at the UN strongly defended the inclusion of elements of interwar minority protection within the Genocide Convention (GC) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Although these efforts were eventually unsuccessful, they show that there was no consensus in favour of a pre-eminently individualist conception of human rights at the UN in the second half of the 1940s.
Second, the paper emphasises how, during the negotiations for the GC and the UDHR, opposition to the inclusion of minority protection clauses essentially came from Western diplomats who defended their governments’ prerogative to promote the assimilation of the people inhabiting their territory into the majority culture of the state. To cite just two delegates who were prominent in these discussions, the Brazilian envoy Gilberto Amado resisted the inclusion of an article on cultural genocide within the GC because he believed that ‘sometimes through differentiation, sometimes through the amalgamation of local cultures, a State might be justified in its endeavour to achieve by legal means a certain degree of homogeneity and culture within its boundaries‘. Similarly, the French representative within the Commission on Human Rights motivated his rejection of the inclusion of an article on protection against assimilation in the UDHR with the following words: ‘the historical development of France into a homogenous State had resulted from the extensive and rigorous application of universal human rights to all sections of the population‘. Ordenneau implicitly suggested that human rights and cultural homogenisation went hand in hand.
Emmanuel and Mona concludes that what prevailed during the drafting process of the GC and the UDHR was an assimilationist interpretation of human rights. Rather than being the dawn of an individualist understanding of human rights, the adoption of the GC and the UDHR inaugurated an new international rights regime that in a context of national heterogeneity promised to favour the rights of some groups (national majorities) over those of others (national minorities).
Emmanuel presented a paper co-authored with Alessandro entitled Victims of their own Rhetoric: The 1939 Option Agreement and the Consistent Ambivalence of Fascist Homogenisation Policy in the Italian New Provinces. The paper provides a re-reading of the 1939 Option Agreement between Italy and Germany in light of about two decades of fascist attempts at homogenising the border regions of South Tyrol and Venezia Giulia. It argues that although the behaviour of fascist authorities in the crucial months when 1939 drew to a close were ambivalent indeed, as many authors have already pointed out, that ambivalence was very much in line with the pattern followed by the regime throughout the interwar period. It thus concludes that such ‘consistent ambivalence’ was a key feature of fascist policy in the new provinces (as South Tyrol and Venezia Giulia were called at the time) and explains the bizarre behaviour of Italian officers in the second half of 1939.
As fascist Italy and Nazi Germany drew closer in the late 1930s, the Anschluss realised the Italian nightmare of a Greater Germany at its doors and Italian attempts to assimilate the population of South Tyrol continued to be disappointing (from the fascist perspective), finding a diplomatic solution to the question of South Tyrol grew ever more important. By mid-1939, the two countries came to an agreement whereby the population of the region would have to decide whether it wanted to remain in Italy or adopt German nationality and move north of the Brenner border. The Option Agreement, as it was called, was a strange hybrid between an option procedure, a plebiscite and a population transfer. It also created serious dilemmas for the two countries. Should they push for the transfer of all South Tyroleans or for as few as possible? The Nazi government needed men for the war effort. It was thus clearly in favour of a clean sweep solution. The Italian position was much more nuanced: while some were in favour of a total resettlement, many within the regime, especially at the local level were not. Furthermore, the Italian behaviour does not suggest a support for radical options. Nazi officers immediately began to spread propaganda in favour of resettlement (or to scare those South Tyroleans who wanted to stay, which actually were a majority). Italian authorities, in contrast, first remained silent. Then, when they realised that most people were inclined to vote for Germany, they tried to convince locals to stay. However, their propaganda was hampered by the strictures that their previous rhetoric and their fundamental distrust of the South Tyroleans imposed to their discourses.
The paper argues that this ambivalent approach was surprisingly consistent with fascist thinking about and treatment of Italy’s minorities. The ambivalence at the core of fascist policy in the new provinces stemmed from the combination of a naive belief that assimilation was inevitable – that the German-speakers of South Tyrol and the Slovenian and Croatian speakers of Venezia Giulia could not but assimilate to the great Italian civilisation – and a profound mistrust of the allogeni (as members of these two minorities were called at the time). Hence, the allogeni were simultaneously included by force in the Italian nation and marginalised in a liminal state of latent segregation.
The paper received positive comments and led to an interesting discussion about the differences between South Tyrol and Venezia Giulia, the precedent of the option procedure and the difficulties of co-writing an article.
Thanks to the recent improvement of the sanitary situation in Europe, the team of the Myth of Homogeneity is again presenting research results at international conferences. The ‘awakening’, after more than a year of forced inaction, began already in May 2021, when the team organised a panel at the Annual Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN). This year, the event, which usually takes place at Columbia University in New York, was held online. The panel, entitled Minorities after Versailles in Europe and the Middle East: A Comparative Perspective, explored interwar majority-minority relations in a broad comparative framework fostering dialogue between experts specialised in different geographical areas and political contexts.
The three contributors to this panel explored the contradictions and intricacies of the new international order ushered in at the Paris Peace Conference, an order based on population politics and a lingering tendency to seek national homogeneity. Sarah Shield (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) argued that, after the Great War, the Great Powers mobilised ‘self-government’ in the Middle East to legitimise foreign rule (through the mandate system), to excuse violence (for instance in the French Syria), and to alienate territory (as in Palestine). Building on the cases of Alsace-Lorraine and Asia Minor, Volker Prott (Aston University Birmingham) inquired into the factors that explain differences in patterns of conflict and violence between these two areas. Finally, Chris R. Davis (Lone Star College-Kingwood) shifted the focus from minorities to majorities and dissected how transnational networks of ethnologists in Romania and Hungary shaped notions of belonging relating to the respective majorities and minorities in either country. Overall, the three papers emphasised to the need to expand the comparative study of minorities in Europe and the Middle East, and, especially, to connect the largely self-contained literatures on minority protection, on the one hand, and the mandate system, on the other.
In August, the team will be presenting a paper at the Annual Pierre Du Bois Conference, which will take place at the Graduate Institute in Geneva. The event, organised by the Pierre du Bois Foundation and Professor Michael Goebel, will feature distinguished speakers from universities across the globe. The team’s contribution will examine fascist policies of assimilation in interwar Italy. Taking as a starting point the 1939 Option Agreement between Italy and Germany on the ‘voluntary’ resettlement to the German Reich of the inhabitants of the German-speaking Italian area of South Tyrol, the paper argues that the ambiguities inherent in the agreement and in the fascist approach to the Option reflects the larger history of attempts at assimilating minorities in Italy (both in South Tyrol and Venetia Giulia, the other minority region annexed by the Italian Kingdom at the end of the Great War). More specifically, the paper shows that fascist policies of assimilation were characterised by three main features: a naïve belief that the assimilation of these minorities would be an easy task; the lack of means to carry out radical solutions; and a deep-seated distrust of the allogeni (as Italian citizens of non-Italian origin were called at the time), even of those who willingly assimilated to Italian culture and who enthusiastically joined the Fascist Party. As a result, the ambivalent policy pursued by fascist authorities during the period of the Option was consistent with previous attempts at assimilating the German-speaking populations of South Tyrol.
Our Minorities in Contemporary and Historical Perspective Series will go on holidays until the beginning of the next academic year. In September, we will resume posting content on topics related to majorities and minorities in collaboration with the Centre on Constitutional Change based at the University of Edinburgh.
H-Nationalism is proud to publish here the seventh post of its “Minorities in Contemporary and Historical Perspectives” series, which looks at majority-minority relations from a multi-disciplinary and diachronic angle. Today’s contribution, by Brian Girvin (University of Glasgow), takes a look at a hundred years of majority-minority relations in Northern Ireland.The series is a collaboration with H-Nationalism.
It is 100 years since Northern Ireland was established as a devolved region of the United Kingdom under the terms of the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. It was never an independent state, but was able to act like one because the British government refused to intervene in its internal affairs. Britain retained sovereign rights but choose not to apply them. Thus, despite the long-term stability of Britain, Northern Ireland has been a zone of confrontation, conflict and violence throughout that period. The Northern Ireland experience provides an important comparative case study of how a majority addresses the ‘minority question’ within its territory. Why was the situation so intractable?
At face value there is little difference between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. However, religion, national identity and the constitutional future of the region have been the main features of political conflict and competition since 1920. Protestant unionists comprised two thirds of the population, while Catholic nationalists accounted for one third. Irish nationalism considers Irish unionists to be part of the Irish nation, while unionists insist that their primary loyalty is to Britain and that their identity is British. Polling has consistently found that Protestants consider their national identity to be British, while Catholics identify most closely with an Irish identity. Furthermore, Protestants vote overwhelmingly for unionist parties while Catholics provide similar levels of support for Irish nationalist parties. There has been little middle ground for moderate parties at any time over the past 100 years, though the Alliance Party and the Green Party have more recently offered non-confessional options.
Governments have a wide range of options available to address ‘minority’ issues, ranging from accommodationist and conciliatory policies to active repression of minorities. What is surprising is how few governments seek out accommodationist policies, especially when addressing national minorities. Northern Ireland was born in violence and conflict. While the unionist leadership promised to govern in an even-handed fashion, the reality was radically different. The nationalist minority refused to recognise the new government and abstained from parliament at first in protest at the partition of the island. The Unionist party used its political success to exclude nationalists from political influence. Northern Ireland was never a ‘normal’ democratic polity nor was it liberal. Unionists won every election and successfully maintained its vote within the unionist block, despite occasional left-wing and progressive challenges. In effect, Northern Ireland became an ethnic democracy on majoritarian grounds, with one-party rule and permanent exclusion of the minority.
The new government abolished proportional representation in local government elections in 1922 and gerrymandered constituencies where nationalists were in the majority. Proportional representation was also abolished in elections to the Northern Ireland parliament, reinforcing the majoritarian message that the government would not share power. The new government remained deeply suspicious of nationalists and Catholics. Indeed, it has been said of Sir Richard Dawson Bates, the Minister for Home Affairs (1921-43), that he considered all Catholics to be nationalists and all nationalists as traitors and not simply political enemies. While unionism should not be seen as an undifferentiated movement, fears concerning the nationalist minority and insecurities in respect of the irredentist demands of the Irish state allowed hard line positions to be maintained.
Equilibrium was established during the 1920s between the majority and minority in Northern Ireland, but it was one that reinforced and perpetuated the political divisions between unionists and nationalists. Northern Ireland was not a normal democracy in terms of policing or judicial matters. The Royal Ulster Constabulary was a para-military armed force, dominated by Protestants; it was supplemented by a paramilitary reserve force, the B-Specials who were seen by nationalists as particularly sectarian in their operations. The primary focus of policing was the defence of the constitutional status quo. This focus was reinforced by special emergency legislation, which at first was renewed annually but later made permanent. The legislation was permissive and repressive. Emergency rule became the norm, reflecting the majority view that Northern Ireland was always under ‘siege’.
The judiciary and the civil service were also dominated by Protestants and the labour market was deeply segmented. Indeed unionist leaders encouraged employers to hire Protestants rather than Catholics in their firms. These and other features created two distinct communities (nations?), which were accordingly ‘socialized into conflict’ as Rose put it. Majority and minority have very different historic memories and in Northern Ireland they have been conflictual. Successive generations have been socialised by inter-community conflict, political violence and repression. The two communities also inhabit distinct residential spheres, work separately and engage with different media outlets. Inter-community marriage has been rare, the communities are educated separately and they worship in different churches.
This status quo remained in place for fifty years. Unionists were convinced that successive UK governments would not intervene and they could ignore pressure to reform what had become a deeply divided sectarian society. Sharing power was never considered an option by unionists. A poll in 1978 reported that two thirds of Protestants agreed that ‘since Protestants are a majority, they should have the last word in how Northern Ireland is governed’, whereas Catholics were far less likely to adopt this position.
As a consequence the unionist government was ill prepared for the challenge to its dominance that the Civil Rights movement posed in the 1960s. By concentrating on reform and equality issues, the Civil Rights movement sought to by-pass the constitutional question. This appealed to liberal elements within unionism, who favoured reform and accommodation. These efforts were thwarted by hard-line unionists who perceived the challenge as an existential threat to the existence of Northern Ireland.
The protests and violence of the late 1960s brought the UK state directly back into Northern Ireland for the first time since 1920, deploying the British army in 1969 and taking increased responsibility for governing the area. During the crucial three years after 1969, the unionist leadership failed to address the demands for inclusion made by moderate nationalist leaders. They maintained that reforms had been put in place and that what remained were security issues to be dealt with as previously. Successive investigations and commissions revealed the deep sectarian disparities in the society and the one sided nature of the regime, undermining any residual unionist legitimacy.
The violence and intransigence of a significant section of unionism also provided the impetus for a new and extremely successful military campaign by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. It was to take nearly thirty years and over 3,000 deaths in the conflict that followed to achieve an outcome that was satisfactory to nationalists and tolerable to a majority of unionists. The British and Irish governments sought to establish a political framework for reconciling majority and minority interests within Northern Ireland. The power-sharing executive established in 1973 and the Sunningdale Agreement (December 1973) appeared to achieve this. However, a majority of unionists became disillusioned with the Agreement and the Ulster Workers Council strike in May 1974 led to the collapse of the executive. Notwithstanding this, the British government acknowledged that its commitment to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland was conditional, urging the unionist majority to compromise.
Yet unionists remained in the majority electorally and demographically into the 1990s. Moreover, their interests could not be ignored, but neither could they have a majoritarian veto over possible agreements. Negotiations to achieve a settlement had to achieve agreement between the two sovereign governments, between the two communities in Northern Ireland and within each of the communities. The Good Friday Agreement (1998) achieved the first and second of these objectives, but the unionist community split on the issue. In a referendum to ratify the agreement in May 1998, seventy-one per cent voted in favour, while twenty-nine per cent voted against. It is estimated that ninety-nine per cent of Catholics voted in favour, while just fifty-one per cent of Protestants did so. In elections to the new Northern Ireland Assembly, parties that supported the Agreement received seventy-five per cent of the vote. This was also the first election when a nationalist party became the largest party.
The Good Friday Agreement is a sophisticated arrangement to achieve consensus and cooperation between the two communities in Northern Ireland. It effectively undermines the concept of majority and minority for the purposes of governing, by providing a consociational model for power sharing, political cooperation and conflict resolution. The two nationalities are considered equal; eschewing majoritarianism to decide outcomes. Each nationality has an effective veto over legislation and outcomes. Consent and consensus building is at the heart of the Agreement, while power sharing at the executive level is mandatory. Decisions within the Assembly must reflect cross-community agreement. There must be a majority among both nationalist and unionist members for a simple majority to apply. Otherwise, a decision can be taken with the support of forty per cent of both unionists and nationalists, but only if the overall vote equals sixty per cent. All parties to the Agreement recognise Northern Ireland’s existing constitutional status, but the agreement also provides for a referendum on this question under specified circumstances. Other important features include a strong North-South Ministerial Council, improved human rights and legislation to enhance equality between the two communities. Institutions were also established to address issues related to policing, the judiciary and related matters.
The Agreement and its subsequent iterations have had a profound impact on Northern Irish politics and the relationships between majority and minority. The most immediate impact was the decline in violence and the ‘normalisation’ of policing and security. Co-operation between the unionist and nationalist parties at the Assembly and in the Executive, though often difficult, provided an opportunity for political and social change without violence. Ironically, one unintended consequence of the Agreement was that the more intransigent Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein now dominate the Assembly and the Executive due to their electoral success. However, this has shown the strength of the Agreement rather than its weakness, as cooperation between these two parties would have been considered unthinkable without the institutions in place. Critics have emphasised that the Agreement institutionalises the divisions between unionists and nationalists, privileging their interests over those of others. There is some truth in this, but it ignores the continuing importance of the division itself and the Agreement’s success in managing the relationship.
In the twenty years since the Agreement was signed, Northern Ireland has changed in many ways. Nevertheless, politics continues to reflect the deeply segmented nature of the society. Denomination and national identity continue to determine how people vote. The unionist and nationalist blocks attract over eighty per cent of the votes at each election, while non-aligned parties remain marginal to this division. Furthermore, each denomination/nationality remains loyal to its respective national block. What has changed is the balance between the two blocks. At the 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly elections, each block captured the same number of seats, though unionists received more votes. Furthermore the question of majority or minority has not gone away but the context has changed. For the past hundred years Protestants were in the majority but this has been eroded. There is evidence that Catholics will be in the majority for the first time after the 2021 census and may already be so. Demographic change may already be having a political impact. In a 2019 poll the united Ireland option was favoured by forty-six per cent over forty-five for staying in the UK. This opens up the prospect of new majorities and minorities within the island of Ireland.
Brian Girvin is Professor of Comparative Politics (Emeritus) and Honorary Professor in Politics at the University of Glasgow. Brian’s research interests focus on the inter-relationship between democracy, nationalism and religion in a comparative context. He has published on conservatism in the twentieth century, majority nationalism in India and Ireland, the history of reproductive politics in Ireland and on political culture and modernization in the 19th and 20th centuries. Brian is completing a book length study, ‘Political Independence, Nationalism and Democracy since the French Revolution’.
The Minorities in Contemporary and Historical Perspective series is organized by the Myth of Homogeneity Research Project at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.
 There is a considerable literature on Northern Ireland, partition and ethnic conflict in Ireland: Paul Bew, Ireland: The Politics of Enmity 1789-2006 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007); David W. Miller, Queen’s Rebels: Ulster Loyalism in Historical Perspective (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1978); Brendan O’Leary, A Treatise on Northern Ireland: Volume I-III, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019) provide different perspectives on the complex issues involved.
We are proud to publish here the sixth post of our “Minorities in Contemporary and Historical Perspectives” series, which looks at majority-minority relations from a multi-disciplinary and diachronic angle. Today’s contribution, by R. Chris Davis (Lone Star College–Kingwood), examines the efforts of Romanian nation-builders to make Romanians during the interwar period. The series is a collaboration with H-Nationalism.
Heterogeneity in Interwar Romania
While the situation of ethnic minorities in Romania has been examined extensively within the scholarship on the interwar period, far too little consideration is given into the making of the Romanian ethnic majority itself. My reframing of the “minority question” into its corollary, the “majority question,” in this blogpost draws on my recently published book examining the contested identity of the Moldavian Csangos, an ethnically fluid community of Romanian- and Hungarian-speaking Roman Catholics in eastern Romania. While investigating this case study of a putative ethnic, linguistic, and religious minority, I was constantly reminded that not only minorities but also majorities are socially constructed, crafted from regional, religious, and linguistic bodies and identities. Transylvanians, Bessarabians, and Bănățeni (people from the Banat region) and Regațeni (inhabitants of Romania’s Old Kingdom), for example, were rendered into something more broadly and collectively dubbed “Romanian.” What also became clear is that definitions and dynamics of majoritarian identities could be contested as much as minority ones, especially when we consider that the very concept of minorities (and thus majorities) is the relatively recent invention of the nation state.
What became the Romanian majority by the 1920s and 30s emerged not only from the inhabitants of the newly appended territories but also from a heterogeneous mix of ethnic and national communities long present in the Romanian national space. Greater Romania during the interwar period was formed from newly unified territories that were home to large populations that were either non-Romanian-speaking or non-Romanian Orthodox or both. From these new frontiers emerged large, complex multi-ethnic border zones: in the Banat region lived Swabians, Hungarians, Serbians, Catholic Bulgarians and Krashovani, and Czechs; in Transylvania were Hungarians, Szeklers, Saxons, Swabians, Jews, Ruthenians, Ukrainians, Slovaks, and Armenians; in Bukovina were Poles and more Germans, Hungarians, and Ukrainians; in Moldova and Bessarabia, still more Germans, Jews, and Ukrainians, as well as Csangos and Russians; and in Dobrudja and Muntenia dwelt Greeks, Turks, Tatars, Gagauz, Aromanians, and Lipovans. Spread throughout the country was Europe’s largest contingent of Roma. The capital Bucharest was also home to many of these same communities, including relatively large numbers of Albanians, Macedonians, Italians, and French. After World War I, the city became the destination for thousands of Hungarians emigrating from eastern Transylvania. Historically, many of Romania’s national elites came from these groups, be they Greek Phanariots in the Old Kingdom (or Regat), Armenian and Aromanian merchants in Moldova and Transylvania, or Hungarian and German noblemen in Transylvania.
The monumental task of Romania’s nation builders (i.e. its majority makers) during the interwar period was, therefore, to break down the country’s regionalisms and local identities and to instill a semblance of ethno-national identity, one easily professed as well as measured, however ill-defined it might be. Eager to take stock of the new territories – and the presumptive ethnic Romanians inhabiting them – historians, ethnographers, anthropologists, sociographers, and demographers from urban centers such as Bucharest and Iași journeyed to the country’s periphery, especially to Transylvania. For Romanian historians and social scientists from Transylvania, new avenues for research and publication were opened in a Greater Romanian nation eager to document the character and plight of ethnic Romanians who had long survived foreign dominion. Romania’s foremost geographer Gheorghe Vâlsan called on a new generation of professional and amateur historians, scientists, and writers to take stock of the nation:
In every corner of the Romanian land there needs to be found a priest, a teacher, an enlightened man, to attempt to draw upon the unknown ways distinctive to the life of his region. Gradually, research on the regions will multiply and fill gaps. We are at the most significant moment of our national history, and a faithful image of the land and people of Romania in this epoch will be uniquely documented. For our efforts, future researchers will acknowledge us.
A vanguard of Romanian historians and scientists, including those of the famed Gusti School of Sociology, now sought to locate, quantify, and record the varieties of Romanian-ness within the newly enlarged country. What they discovered in the Romanian countryside often shocked them.
Romanianize the Romanians
These majority makers soon realized that the Romanians were, in many areas of the country, actually a hodgepodge of languages, patois, cultures, customs, and religions, with little sense of the national identity being debated and refined in Bucharest, Iași, and Cluj. Allegiances in rural Romania were principally to family, Church, neighbor, and village, and not to some modern notion of a larger ethno-national community. In this respect, the Romanian peasantry – especially in the heterogeneous borderlands in Transylvania and Moldova – was no different than the vast majority of the rural, disparate communities that populated the rest of central and eastern Europe. As Kate Brown has discussed in her influential work on the multi-ethnic Kresy region in Ukraine – a region that could just as easily stand for Transylvania, Bukovina, or Dobrudja – the peasantries who eked out lives for themselves naturally incorporated the complexities of the hybrid cultures in which they lived; their identities were tied to locality, class, profession, and social status rather than to nationality, a designation few villagers in such a milieu would have understood. To the extent that they did characterize something akin to a national identity, it was, for them, something mutable – something that could change with marriage, education, or military service.
Convincing these Romanian peasants – at the very least, those who spoke Romanian and were Orthodox – they were actually something called “Romanian” was no small feat. In many ways, Romania’s nation builders had to Romanianize the Romanians. This is not to say that the majority of the Romanian-speaking peasantry did not intuit or even profess a sense of Romanian national belonging; only that most would not have articulated or actualized it as did Romania’s nation builders in interwar years. A modern national consciousness – one that could be mobilized and enacted for nation-building – had to be impressed upon the vast rural population. It probably rarely occurred to the Romanian-speaking peasants from the marshes of the Danbue Delta that they shared a common origin, homeland, and destiny with, say, the highlanders around the Western Carpathian’s Bihor Massif, nearly 1000km away.
One way to achieve this was to fix nationality and ethnicity in space. Censuses and especially ethnographic and demographic maps affixed identities to particular territories, making visible (or invisible) one community or another and creating national taxonomies into which peoples could be neatly segregated. Beginning in April 1924, a series of statutes under the rubric The Regulations on Establishing Romanian Nationality aimed not only to establish the procedure for acquiring Romanian nationality but also to facilitate the recording and cataloging of the various populations in the new Romanian territories. Thus was created an inventory and topology of the Romanian nation using nationality lists, nationality registers, and nationality certificates (certificate de naţionalitate). In the process, not only minority but also a majoritarian national identity became codified and then inscribed in the legitimizing documents of state bureaucracies. Homogenizing projects and legislation generated an epistemological knowledge of the nation – quantifying and objectifying the nation, from something abstract to something real, something living – with the aim, ultimately, to create a nation-state that was unitary, stable. The Romanian equivalent of Germany’s Ostforschung created a veritable database of the nation’s people, utilizing statisticians, demographers, sociologists, historians, cartographers, and, by the 1930s, racial anthropologists and eugenicists. Research on Romania’s vast populations was coordinated by ominous-sounding centers or bureaucracies such as the Institute of Biopolitics, the Institute of Hygiene and Social Hygiene, and later the State Undersecretariat of Romanianization, Colonization, and Inventory. By the late 1930s, the policy of Romanianizaiton (românizare) became an organizing policy of the Romanian state, a policy that segued into deportations, resettlements, repatriations, and ultimately genocide.
If you can’t beat ‘em… force ‘em to join you
The inherent difficulty of segregating large swathes of the country’s population into neat ethnic categories, especially into categories that would show a preponderance of ethnic Romanians (and thus an indominable ethnic majority) circumscribed by state borders, led to the targeting of particular minorities for redefinition as majorities. Looming over this entire enterprise remained the “Hungarian problem” in Transylvania, namely that within Romania’s new borders there were too many Hungarians, living too close together, in a region far too important; conversely, we could historicize the situation as a “majority problem,” namely that there were too few Romanians, living too far apart, in a region far too important. It was therefore no coincidence that Romanian historians and scientists who undertook research in eastern Transylvania began to question the ethnic composition of the region and the ethnic origins of its Hungarian-speaking Calvinist and Roman-Catholic inhabitants, known as the Szeklers, who had lived there for centuries. Throughout the interwar period and into the 1940s, a number of studies and monographs promoted the idea that most if not all of the Szeklers possessed a separate ethnic genealogy or “ethnogenesis” from the body of Hungarians who entered Europe from Asia. According to this reinterpretation of the settlement and presence of Hungarian speakers in eastern Transylvania, the modern-day Szeklers were in point of fact denationalized Romanians from Transylvania, having been subjected to centuries of forced assimilation by Hungarian overlords, Hungarian administrative policies, and especially the Hungarian churches.
Geographer Sabin Opreanu, a mentee of the aforementioned Vâlsan, was among the first to suggest that the mass of Szeklers were none other than denationalized Romanians. He characterized the Szekler land as a “stratified space of confessions,” in which younger Hungarian ethnic and religious elements lay atop much older Romanian Orthodox ones. These older Romanian elements formed the basis of this population, making it Romanian, not Hungarian. By peeling away these linguistic and confessional layers, he claimed, one could uncover the latent existence of a Romanian ethnic and racial continuity within the region. Noted Romanian philologist and classicist Gheorghe Popa-Lisseanu subsequently claimed that the bloc of Szeklers was created through systematic Hungarianization policies directed from Budapest since the 18th century. The Szekler was simply a “stray Romanian,” on the wrong path of history:
Those who will come voluntarily back to the bosom of their mother are welcome; for those who will linger in their situation of today, we consider them rightfully consanguineous with us but of Hungarian language and law. We seek to show them in every way their true ethnic origin and to convince them of this.
Eventually, “denationalization” (desnaționalizare) theories speculated that the entire body of Hungarians in eastern Transylvania possessed a Romanian ethnogenesis. These theories helped solve a statistical dilemma that had bedeviled Romania’s nation builders since the country’s postwar acquisition of Transylvania. Romania’s majority makers used many of these theories – and extensive, state-sponsored research and fieldwork conducted in Romania’s new territories – to deconstruct the ethnic genealogy of minority communities, attempting to prove that a lost Romanian ethnos lay buried beneath their otherwise foreign customs, languages, and history. Other communities in peripheral regions such as the Timoc valley, Bukovina, parts of Moldavia, and Bessarabia soon became the object of similar questions and studies. As the threat of denationalization became part of a national cause linked to the very health and survival of the nation, the theories and discourses on the problem soon became invested with racial and biopolitical tropes. Denationalization theories, supported by serological work undertaken by Romanian racial anthropologists, proved useful tools for the recovery of populations that could now be labeled “lost Romanians.” By the late 1930s and early 40s, the growing body of studies on the Transylvanian Hungarians and Szeklers would provide a template for new studies on other ethnic minority communities, such as the Hungarian-speaking Csangos of Moldova. In the case of the Csangos, such works proved to have significant, lasting impacts both on and within the community, leading to new, alternative historical narratives based in no small part on the purported scientific demonstrability of ethnic origins.
To acknowledge the phenomenon of denationalization was the first step toward legitimizing Romanianization projects as renationalization projects, especially in regions where putative non-Romanians represented statistical majorities. The emphasis on ethnic origins was crucial: Romanian political and scientific elites decried the forced assimilation of ethnic Romanians in the past yet simultaneously introduced a series of homogenization projects targeting the country’s ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities. Rebranding Romanianization as a process of national recovery also mitigated the country’s obligation to ensure minority rights, which the Romanian government had agreed to as part of the post–World War I settlement. In other words, the rights of minorities need not be upheld if those communities were, in essence, members of the ethnic Romanian majority, unwittingly and unjustly concealed as ethnic minorities. This process of national induction would have major implications for the ethnic majority-minority dynamic in Greater Romania, determining cultural and education policies, redrawing county and regional lines, influencing land reform and appropriation of churches, and recategorizing populations in national censuses. Majority-making contributed to the political radicalization of the interwar period and informed the thinking and policies that would lead to some of the worst atrocities perpetrated against minorities in wartime Romania. This was certainly the case with the influence that race-based conceptions of the nation had on Antonescu’s population policies – including sterilization, deportations, internal colonization, and population transfers – enacted during World War II.
Like race, ethnicity, and nationality, the terms “minority” and “majority” are fluid concepts with a tendency to reify. One is necessarily constructed against the other. When modified by adjectives ethnic, national, religious, or linguistic, these terms become overlapping and even more reflexive. Postulating the “majority question,” retrospectively, is yet another way to examine national and ethnic imagining as a multi-way process and to challenge the “myth of homogeneity” in east-central Europe.
R. Chris Davis is Professor of History at Lone Star College–Kingwood, where he is founder and coordinator of the LSC Center for Local & Oral History. He teaches US, European, and World History, as well as oral history and film studies. Chris researches and writes on minorities and religion in twentieth century east-central Europe. Currently, he serves as a book-reviews editor for H-Romania and as a board member for the Society for Romanian Studies. He recently published his first book, Hungarian Religion, Romanian Blood: A Minority’s Struggle for National Belonging (The University of Wisconsin Press, 2019).
The Minorities in Contemporary and Historical Perspective series is organized by the Myth of Homogeneity Research Project at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.
Scholars interested in contributing to the series can contact:
 R. Chris Davis, Hungarian Religion, Romanian Blood: A Minority’s Struggle for National Belonging (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2019)
 See Eric D. Weitz, A World Divided: The Global Struggle for Human Rights in the Age of Nation-States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019),160–163.
 Gheorghe Vâlsan, forward to Sabin Opreanu, Săcuizarea Românilor prin religie (Cluj: Institutul de Arte Grafice “Ardealul,” 1927), ii.
 Kate Brown, A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2003), 40. See also Tara Zahra, Kidnapped Souls: National Indifference and the Battle for Children in the Bohemian Lands, 1900-1948 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2008).
 Szekler(s) (Hu. székely [sing.]/székelyek [ pl.]; Ro. secui) is the Anglicized (via German) ethnonym for the Catholic and Protestant ethnolinguistic subgroup of Hungarians in eastern Transylvania, a region historically part of the Kingdom of Hungary but part of Romania since World War I (Northern Transylvania, including the Szekler-inhabited region, was ceded back to Hungary from 1940 to 1944). It is generally held that the Szeklers colonized the area around the eleventh century, though some theories place them in the Carpathian basin much earlier. Historically, the Szeklers were among the ruling nations of Transylvania, the Unio trium nationum, alongside the Saxons and Hungarians (and excluding the Romanians).
 Opreanu, Săcuizarea Românilor prin religie (Cluj: Institutul de Arte Grafice Ardealul, 1927), 16–17.
We are proud to publish here the fifth post of our “Minorities in Contemporary and Historical Perspectives” series, which looks at majority-minority relations in a multi-disciplinary and diachronic perspective. Today’s contribution, by Ferran Requejo (Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), examines the reasons for the rise of demands for independence in Catalonia in the last decade. The series is a collaboration with H-Nationalism.
History matters. Current political conflicts display historical roots. Perhaps with history we do not explain everything, but without history we do not explain anything.
Having lived through a bloody civil war in the 1930s followed by four decades of General Franco’s dictatorship, the Spanish state carried out a transition to a democratic system at the end of the 1970s. The 1978 Constitution was the legal outcome of this transition process. Among other things, it established a territorial model – the so-called “Estado de las Autonomías” (State of Autonomous Communities) – which was in principle designed to satisfy the historical demands for recognition and self-government of, above all, the citizens and institutions of two minority nations: Catalonia and the Basque Country. This territorial model occupies an intermediate position between the classic federal and regional models of comparative politics, but has more regional than federal features. Forty years later, many Catalan and Basque citizens and political and social actors show a deep disappointment regarding the development of this territorial model in terms of collective rights, political recognition and self-government.
In recent years support for independence has increased in Catalonia. Different indicators show that pro-independence demands are endorsed by a majority of its citizens, political parties and civil society organizations. This is a new phenomenon. Those in favour of independence had been in the minority throughout the 20th century. Nowadays, however, demands of a pro-autonomy and pro-federalist nature, which until recently had been dominant, have gradually lost public support in favour of demands for self-determination and secession
What has happened?
The reasons for this change are to be found in Catalonia’s political evolution over the past fifteen years, especially in the shortcomings with regard to constitutional recognition and political and economic accommodation displayed by the Spanish political system. The latter have been exacerbated by the reform process of Catalonia’s Statute of Autonomy (Constitutional Law) (2006) and the subsequent judgement of Spain’s Constitutional Court regarding this Law (2010).
Before going into this case study, it is important to point out two theoretical elements that are behind the current political debates about secessionist processes in current liberal democracies:
Like Canada, Belgium or the UK, Spain is a plurinational country. At the beginning of this century, the United Nations clearly established that a politics of recognition is an integral part of the struggle for human dignity (Human Development Report, 2004). Moreover, it established that national and cultural freedoms, which include both individual and collective dimensions, are an essential part of the democratic quality of a plurinational society. As a result, values such as dignity, freedom, equality and pluralism become more complex in plurinational contexts than in those of a uninational nature. In this sense, the overall challenge of plurinational democracies can be summed up in the phrase “one polity, several demoi”
An established academic typology divides theories of secession into two basic groups: Remedial Right Theories, which link secession with a “just cause”, in other words, they regard secession as a remedy for specific “injustices”; and Primary Right Theories, which regard secession as a right belonging to certain collectives that fulfil a number of conditions. These latter theories are subdivided into those of an adscriptive or nationalist nature and those of an associative or plebiscitary nature. A third group of theories consist of a revision of traditional political liberalism that tries to establish a formal and deep recognition of national minorities and their accommodation in the constitutional and political rules of present-day democracies.
Launching the reform of the Catalan Statute (2003-2006)
As laid down in the Spanish Constitution, the reform process of the Statute of Catalonia had to be carried out in three stages: it had to be passed by the Catalan parliament (majority of 2/3), by an absolute majority of the members of the Spanish parliament, and finally it had to be approved in referendum by the Catalan citizens. After a rather baroque process, finally a referendum was held (2006) to approve the new Catalan Statute in which it received the support of 73.9% of the Catalan electorate, although the turnout was really low (48,8%). Its final content disappointed many Catalan citizens. Two important parties, the secessionist Catalan Republican Left (ERC) and the Spanish People’s Party (PP) recommended the “no” vote, although for opposite reasons. This referendum should have marked the end of the reform process by closing a legislature devoted to this issue. However, the appeal of unconstitutionality lodged by the PP caused the controversy to drag on and ended up hindering the deployment of the powers contained in the new text.
The judgement of the Constitutional Court (2006-2010)
The judges of the Constitutional Court (appointed by the Spanish parliament, central Government and the General Council of the Judiciary) took nearly four years to deal with the appeal, generating constant uncertainty regarding the final outcome. Over these four years, the process became increasingly convoluted and politically convulsive. The Court’s impartiality was questioned, seriously damaging the institution’s legitimacy. Finally, the Court published its ruling in July 2010. It affected the constitutionality of 14 articles of the Catalan Statute and “interpreted” 27 others. The aspects revised by the Court can be divided into three areas:
Recognition: the judgement states that the Preamble (in which Catalonia was defined as a nation) had no legal value. Regarding the Catalan language, the wish to make it the preferred language within the administration and the media, and the duty to know it were eliminated; the linguistic rights of consumers and users and its role as the primary language in the education system were limited.
Powers: in this area the Statute’s regulation limiting the scope of “base laws” (the central government’s main way of invading Catalonia’s autonomous powers) was cancelled. Moreover, the concepts of exclusive powers, executive powers and spheres such as international relations, culture, civil law or immigration were reinterpreted.
Finance: in this area, two articles referring to the levelling of incomes taking into account similarity of fiscal effort and legislation on local taxes were declared unconstitutional. The interpretative part affected regulations regarding the ordinal principle and state investments according to GDP, among others.
In short, the process resulted in a clear watering down of the objectives of recognition, self-government and political accommodation that had been established at the beginning of the reform process. This new practical content of the Catalan Statute has never been approved by Catalan citizens in a referendum. This is a key element to understand the subsequent emergence of secessionist demands in Catalonia. First of all, the reform had demanded the legally binding recognition of the national reality of Catalonia within the framework of the Spanish Constitution. This demand had been stripped of all legal value by the end of the process. Secondly, greater depth and protection for self-government had been sought so that the Catalan government could further develop its own distinct powers, but this demand resulted in extremely modest gains. Thirdly, it was not possible to attain a finance model which ended a system regarded as unjust (quantified as between 7% and 9% of Catalonia’s GDP and described by some commentators as “fiscal despoliation” in political debates), nor respect for the “ordinal principle” once the territorial transfers have been made.
The combination of the extremely long-drawn-out process to reform the Statute (7 years) and its final disappointing outcome generated a widespread feeling in a large part of the Catalan citizenry of a lack of institutional legitimacy.
Increased support to secession (2010-2019)
Since the Constitutional Court ruling on the Catalan Statute events speeded up. Catalan elections (2012) established a new minority government (led brecognition, a center-right nationalist federation of two parties) which sought stability through a “Agreement of Government” with ERC. This Agreement included aspects connected with the economic crisis as well as three aspects pertaining to the “right to decide” the Catalan constitutional future: 1) a “Declaration of Sovereignty” (2013) in the Catalan Parliament; 2) the creation of the Advisory Council for National Transition (CATN, 2013-2014) which was tasked with advising the Catalan government on the different scenarios, procedures, legal frameworks, international experiences, institutions, etc., relating to the exercise of the right to decide and secession—most of its 14 members were university professors, mainly from the areas of political science, economics, and constitutional and international law; and 3) the calling of a referendum on the constitutional future of Catalonia which was suspended by the Spanish Constitutional Court, although a “participative process” was finally organized (November 2014). This “process” was based on civil society “volunteers” who counted on legal protection and some infrastructures of the Catalan government. It had no legal consequences, but mobilized more than 2,3 million voters and around 80% of them voted “yes” to secession.
After a new electoral period (2015-2017) a pro-independence coalition (Junts pel Sí – Together for Yes) obtained an absolute majority in the Catalan Parliament (72 seats out of 135). The main point of the programme was to call for a referendum of independence, ideally established in agreement with the Spanish central government, following the Scottish experience in the UK (September 2014) and the Quebec experience in Canada (1980, 1995). Finally, after the rejection of the Spanish Government to enter in negotiations regarding this referendum and the subsequent rulings of the Spanish Constitutional Court, a referendum was celebrated organized basically by civil society organizations. All the practical difficulties notwithstanding, which included a strong and violent repression by Spanish police forces, the referendum was held on October 1st, 2017. The results (source: Catalan Government) were as follows:
Number of Votes
With regard to the legitimising positions put forward by the different political actors, there is a clear contrast not only between the values and objectives they defend, but also between the different language and theoretical frameworks they employ. On the one hand, the central government and the main Spanish political parties put forward reasons of a legal-constitutional nature: in the Spanish case, they say, it is not legally possible to enter into a dynamic similar to that which occurred in the case of Canada or the United Kingdom (based on negotiation and bilateralism). Moreover, a number of actors have employed arguments relating to the potential economic decadence of an independent Catalonia or its automatic exclusion from the European Union (in contrast with empirical evidence and the Scottish debate). In practical terms, macroeconomic decisions remain in the hands of the central government, as do decisions relating to the management of the main taxes and fiscal transfers which enable the Catalan government to pay everything from the salaries of its employees to its suppliers. The economy is currently one of the key instruments used by the central government to put pressure on Catalan institutions.
On the other hand, the Catalan actors put forward two kinds of legitimizing argument depending on whether the aim is to justify the holding of a referendum on secession, or to defend the soundness of Catalonia becoming an independent state. The fundamental reason used to justify an independence referendum is its democratic nature. The prior assumption is that Catalonia is a specific demos that has the right to decide about its future according to liberal-democratic values and rules. The differentiating roots of this demos are of a historical and national-cultural nature (Catalonia was an independent state some centuries ago; Catalans have their own language and culture). Thus the legitimizing arguments for the right to decide usually combine the perspective of adscriptive or national theories of secession with the perspective of democratic and plebiscitary theories. Moreover, the legitimizing arguments in favour of independence add to these two avenues those associated with theories of just-cause secession. In this case, “injustice” is present both in relation to the systematic mistreatment at the economic and fiscal levels that Catalonia receives from the Spanish government—Catalonia’s fiscal deficit with regard to the state is in the order of 15,000 million euros a year, according to a number of economic and fiscal studies; lack of infrastructures, centralism with regard to Barcelona’s airport and other infrastructures, lack of recognition of the distinct national reality of Catalan society, linguistic policies (absence of linguistic pluralism in state institutions and practices, etc.), marginalization of Catalonia from the European and international spheres, shortcomings in the use of political symbols, etc.
A formal but rather “symbolic” and non-implemented Declaration of Independence followed the referendum in the Catalan Parliament (October 27, 2017). As it is well known, the Spanish central government reacted immediately applying article 155 of the Spanish Constitution which implies the control of Catalan institutions by the Spanish central government, which also called for new elections in Catalonia (December 2017). The results did not change the previous situation, with an outright majority obtained by secessionist parties (70 out of 135 seats). This elected a new president, Joaquim Torra, who acts in accordance with former president Carles Puigdemont who lives in Belgium. In 2018, a Spanish euro order to arrest Puigdemont was refused by the Court of the German land of Schleswig-Holstein, where he was provisionally arrested. In parallel, a political trial in the Spanish Supreme Court has emerged against members of the former Catalan government and the President of the Catalan parliament that remained in Catalonia. In contrast, other members of the Catalan government and MP’s, including the president of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont, preferred to live “in exile” in different countries (Belgium, UK, Switzerland) in order to avoid being judged in Spain. Although the “autonomous government” in Catalonia has been formally reinstituted the practical situation is far from being “normalized” in political and democratic terms. In October 2019 a new central government was built by the Socialist Party (PSOE) and a leftish party born in the last decade (Podemos). A “table for dialogue” has been created in February 2020 between the Spanish and Catalan governments. However, the programme and calendar are undefined and a clear scepticism is present about its potential as a way to solve the deep historical, national and political problems that are at stake. Not to mention that the fact that Catalan leaders remain in jail or must live in “exile” is not the best framework to obtain a realistic solution. There is a deep divergence between the objectives, language, values and procedural rules shared by the different actors on either side of the “dialogue table”.
To sum up, the future prospects of Catalan and Spanish politics regarding the territorial-national question remain open. Spanish opposition to a referendum in Catalonia, in contrast with the agreement between the British and Scottish governments, leads the current political process into unknown territory. There are a number of different possible scenarios: either through agreements within the context of the Spanish state—which currently seem unlikely—, through agreements with European or international mediation (following, for example, the procedural rules established by the Canadian Supreme Court in 1998 in relation to the relationship between Quebec and Canada, or through the mobilization of Catalan citizenry in a reinforced new secessionist institutional attempt at disconnection).
The lack of national recognition and accommodation shown by the Spanish state has played a decisive role in causing the predominant Catalan demands to shift from being regionalist or pro-autonomy towards secessionism. The Catalan case constitutes a clear empirical point of reference within the sphere of comparative politics on secessionist processes in liberal democracies, and constitutes a dynamic element in the European Union in an increasingly globalized world.
Ferran Requejo is Professor of Political Science at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, where he is director of the Research Group on Political Theory. His main fields of research are theories of democracy, federalism, multinational democracies, political theory and political liberalism after World War II. In 1997 he was awarded the Rudolf Wildenmann Prize (ECPR), in 2002 he received the Ramon Trias Fargas Prize, and in 2006 the Spanish Political Science Association Prize to the best book (Multinational Federalism and Value Pluralism, Routledge 2005). He has been furthermore member of the Spanish Electoral Board (Junta Electoral Central, 2004-2008), of the executive committee of the European Consortium of Political Research and of the Comparative Federalism Research Committee (International Political Science Association). He is currently a regular contributor to the newspapers “La Vanguardia” and “Ara” (Barcelona) and other Catalan, Spanish and international media.
The Minorities in Contemporary and Historical Perspective series is organized by the Myth of Homogeneity Research Project at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.
Scholars interested in contributing to the series can contact:
On 27-28 February 2020 we organised a workshop on Sovereignty, Nationalism and Homogeneity in Europe between the Two World Wars.
For a day and a half, 18 scholars specialised in different aspects of late 19th and early 20th century European history met at the Graduate Institute Geneva to discuss intergroup relations and, more specifically, minority issues in interwar Europe. The papers presented at the event showcased the complexity of minority questions by using different approaches often emphasising varied aspects of majority-minority relations. While some participants examined majority-minority relations in different European countries from a broad comparative perspective, others looked more closely at specific cases or questioned the appropriateness of using the categories of majority and minority to refer to such groups. Others yet followed minority representatives and other individuals concerned with minority questions across borders and into interwar organisations and networks of activism.
The overall result was a rich exchange that highlighted how after Versailles, regardless of whether they lay in the ‘civilised West’ or the still ‘backward East’ (to quote some stereotypical views hegemonic at the time), European states tended to fit the populations living within their borders into neat ethno-cultural categories and, although to different degrees, promoted homogeneity through a wide range of nation-building strategies. Minority representatives and organisations vocally denounced violations of minority rights and fought for better protection of their cultural peculiarities, but, at the same time, often exaggerated the importance of group identity for the wider populations they claimed to speak for and the homogeneity of minorities themselves. At times, ordinary people followed the injunction of minority representatives; sometimes, however, they showed signs of ‘national indifference’ and based their behaviour on considerations and interests not directly linked to their purported national identity—of which in many cases they were not even aware. The rich, and sometimes contradictory, tapestry of perspectives stemming from the different panels highlighted the need for a multi-dimensional approach to interwar intergroup relations; one taking into account different actors, contexts and motivations for action.
In the evening of the first day, Eric Weitz, Distinguished Professor of History at City College and the Graduate Centre of the City University of New York, broadened the thematic contours of our workshop by presenting his wide-ranging new book, A World Divided: The Global Struggle for Human Rights in the Age of Nation-States. In the talk, Professor Weitz explored the relationship between nation-states, human rights and minority rights in the context of the ’emergence’ of minorities between the late 19th and early 20th century as well as during the process of decolonisation in Africa.
Apart from advocating the ‘multi-dimensional’ approach mentioned above, the workshop also contributed to bridging the East-West divide currently existing in the literature, whereby minority issues are still implicitly considered as a ‘Question of Eastern Europe’ (to quote the title of a famous interwar work on the subject) while the international history of majority-minority conflicts in Western Europe remains in its infancy.
The Myth of Homogeneity Team would like to thank the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Pierre du Bois Foundation, the Graduate Institute and the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy for their kind support as well as all the participants for their insightful contributions.
Below you can listen to the paper given at the workshop by our team members, Emmanuel and Mona, entitled Sovereignty and Homogeneity: A History of Majority-Minority Relations in Interwar Western Europe.