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ETBNIC CONFUCf JN CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE

Rudolf Jo

Introducton
Many studies relating to the national question in Eastern Europe confront considerable terminologica1
dilemmas. First, where exactly are the geographicallimits of Eastern Europe? Some nations such as the Poles,
Czechs, Hungarians, the Germans of the GDR or Slovenes consider themselves not Eastern European peoples,
but typical Central European ones by their history, culture, religions and geography. On the other side there
are sometimes uncertainties as to whether the European- based nationalities and ethnic groups of the Soviet
Union are to be included or not in the notion of Eastern Europe.
In order to simplify, we will use this concept of Eastern Europe, in this general introduction in a
politica1 sense, embracing alI countries of Europe with a communist one- party system and a state-owned
economic structure. We recognize however that the term 'Eastern Europe' remains confusing, contradictory and
because of the historicai and present day heterogeneity of the area, does not fit the reality of some nations there.
In addition, in most European languages, there are ambiguities and imprecisions in the use of the
concept 'nation', as well as its derivates, such as 'nationhood,' 'nationaIity,' 'nationalism,' etc. The interpretation
of the essence of 'nation;' as a major social phenomenon can differ substantially depending on the
discipline-history, political science, and sociology etc. - or on the geographical and cultural background of the
author. Reviewing the arguments and counterarguments of the conceptual debates in the light of our subject,
we can identify two basic approaches. One attaches national identity to the state or what could be called a
legal-politica1 interpretation; the other links it to certain ethnic characteristics to be found in the community's
conscousness in an ethnocultural interpretation.
The idea of a homogeneous nation-state, with a coincidence of 'citizenship' with 'nationality' is a
Western European concept Because of their very different histories, however, this cannot and will not fit the
realities of most Eastern and Central European countries. The effectiveness of each of the area's various
countries in establishing its own collective identity has been hindered by ethnic heterogeneity and by the
frequent shifting of state borders. This explains why, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,
modernizing nationalism was able to mobilize support with appeals not to a common citizenship, but to a
common language and ethnic culture. Thus, with few exceptions, it was these factors that carne to form the basis
for national self-identification and self- determination, and have to a large extent remained its basis to this day.
In this area, loyalty to the state cannot be automaticaly equated with national sentiment, There have always
been and there are today significant national minorities in Eastern Europe that relate ever so strongly to
across-the-border ethnic bodies, to 'mother nations'.
I
Noting that in the ethnically intermingled Eastern turope nations are mostly ethnic-based and not legal
political phenomena, one should not ignore however th~ existence, nor underestimate the importance of,
self-identification by citizenship. For living within the same politicai framework, common citizenship and
economic integration within the country in many cases tend to make for a genuine sense of solidarity.
In Eastern Europe most states are multilingual; multiethnic, multinational units. The Soviet Union,
Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Bulgaria are typicai examples of this. In the case of the ethnic groups

Ethnic Studies Repon, Vol.VIIl, No.!, January 1990

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living in the area there are various levels and forms of collective identity. A wide range of historical, cultural,
political, economic and other factors have influenced their characteristics, values and behaviour.
The non-coincidence of ethnic community with the civic community or community of citizens has
resulted in the dal affiliation and the double identity of the concerned group. Their's is a Serb conscience and
a Yugoslavone; one can be ethnic German and a Hungarian citizen, and being German one can belong to
various regional or linguistic sub-groups within Hungary.
Some of the national minorities e.g. Hungarians in Czechoslovakia or Slovaks in Hungary live in the
sphere of influence of two cultures. This duality can be relatively short- lived in 'historical terms, Le. a
transitional period preceding the complete linguistic and cultural assimilation of the minority by the majority,
in short, preceding the group's disappearance as a minority. Cultural duality of this sort, however can be a more
permanent state, one typical of a number of generations.
The different kinds of identities sometimes are complementary or even mutually reinforcing. But in
Eastern Europe in the past, very often, the state proved fiercely antagonistic toward the non-dominant
ethno-national culture or cultures, and continues to be hostile to it or them to this day. In a number of
countries in the region, the intolerant nation- state will not suffer the pluralloyalty of the minorities, and leaves
them no choice but assimilation or engration.
This is a long term historical tendency in the area The 19th century Eastern Europe was controlled
by three multinational empires: Tzarist Russia, Ottoman Turkey and the Habsburg Monarchy. The three
multiethnic states tried to remain supranational in the age of modern nationalism. It was generallybelieved that
the Balkan problems and the Polish question were satisfactorily settled and the issue of nationalities and
minorities would cease to be a source of conflict in the course of time as a result of speedy technical progress
and social development The historical events of the past one hundred years demonstrated the failure of these
rational and optimistic assumptions: both world wars broke out in Central and Southeastern Europe under the
claim that the national.mnorities were oppressed.
The destruction of the Austro-Hungarian and the Turkish Empires, the numerous shifts of frontiers
and the creation of new political entities like Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia did not solve the nationality
problems. Parallel with the barder changes new forms of domination took the place of the previous imperial
order. While the defeated Austria and Hungary became ethnically almost homogeneous, the Serb dominated
Yugoslavia, the Czech ruled Czechoslovakia and the enlarged Rumanian Kingdom annexed territories with large
minority populations. In Yugoslavia - Serbs, Croats and Slovenes united in the hope of Slav solidarity together they constituted 83% of the total population. In Czechoslovakia the Czechs and Slovaks made up 70%
. of the population. In the Greater Rumania after World War I only 72% of the population was ethnically
Rumanian. This was also the case with Poland and, to a lesser degree, with Bulgaria
The 'Balkanisation' process, the breakup of large empires into smaller political units did not bring the
expected result: the liberation of the peoples of these large empires, and their equality within the new states on
the basis of democracy. Instead, a renaissance of ethnic rivalry, old fashioned nationalistic oppression and
irredentist activity started once more and set off processes of destabilisation. The smalI disunited countries of
East-Central Europe became extremely vulnerable when they had to face the expansionism of Nazi Germany
and the Stalinist Soviet Union during World War II.
The horrible devastations of war were followed by the repeated redrawing of the frontiers, hardly
coineiding again with the ethnic divisions. Fifteen million people, Germans, Poles, Hungarians, Ukrainians,
South Slavs and ltalians, were resettled or expelled, and those who managed to remain in their forefathers' land
were generally weakened in numbers and consciousness, deprived of their political and intellectual leaders.
The second half of the 1940's was also a period when the Soviet Union consolidated its political,
ideological and military influence throughout Eastern Europe. This process coincided with a takeover of power
by the communist parties in various countries of the region, and the establishment of a state-controlled
econonc system.

Ethnic Conflict: Central and Eastern Europe

'Ethnicity' under Communist rule


The new regimes everywhere asserted that national tensions and interstate conflicts were a matter of
the 'bourgeois past'. An over-optimistic and simplistic view prevalled from Poland to Bulgaria, namely that in
conditions of bullding socialism the problems of national and religious minorities have less and less importance
and will be solved automatically in the foreseeable future. In almost every country of the area the :,::'.y1: .:~:;:~::-:!
constitutions stipulated, the complete equality of all national and ethnic groups, the free use of al1 mother
-tongues at all levels of education and in public life.
However in many cases these fundamental gaps appeared between ideotogical-Iegaljcnoas and political
ethnic communities within the Eastern European countries has
varied considerably from state to state, and within individual states has also varied over time; but the
over-centralized party-state system as a whole has failed to cope with the problem.

[acts. The treatment accorded to non-dominant

Experience has shown that Marxist states are not incompatible with phenomena such as nationalism.
ethnie inequality and forced assimilation.
Communist parties, which declared themselves citadels of
interntionalism, became seriously infected by nationalism. The real state of affairs in the inter-ethnic and
international relations of several countries of the area is very far from the Marxist- Leninist prophecies. As a
consequence of this fact, the resurgence of ethno-national conflicts constitute major political problems
throughout Eastern Europe. National minorities and ethnic groups living along the state borders of the area
tend to divide rather than to unite these countries, confirming that 'The line between the internal and
international conflict, in relation to cases of minorities, is frequently very thin', The examples are numerous,
from the Macedonian problem between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in the south, to the Baltic nations'
self-determination claim in the north of Western Europe. We find the most typical national minority conflicts
in the Balkans and in the Carpathian Basin.
The population of Yugoslavia is about 23 million with roughly 10% ethnic Albanians. This is a national
group living main1y in the southern Kosovo province, where it constitutes over 80 percent of the population.
The birth rate of Albanians - both in Yugoslavia and Albania - is the highest in Europe: their natural growth
is about 1.7 per annum. The demographic dynarnism of native Albanians and the continuous emigration of
non- Albanians from Kosovo into other parts of Yugoslavia, resulted in the growing ethnic homogenisation of
this province neighbouring with AIbania.
Nearly a11the Albanians in Yugoslavia are Moslem. This means that the barrier between the Albanians
and all the other nations and nationalities of the country is twofoId: nationaI-linguistic and religious, in a much
stronger connotation, embracing an entire ly different mentality and way of life.
The ethnic differences are heavily accentuated by differences in cultural and ecofiernic levels. In the
1970's, the illiteracy rate was around 1 percent in Slovenia, the most developed republic of the Yugoslav
federation, but it was 30 percent in the predominantly Albanian inhabited Kosovo. The latter province still has
the highest unempIoyment rate and thelowest per capita national income in the country. Despite the fact that
the ethnic policy of Yugoslavia is relative ly pluralistic e.g. in education, in the media, and regional autonomy
was granted to the main1yAlbanian inhabited Kosovo, foUowingthe World War II; a growing dissatisfaction can
be observed among Albanians, which is based essentially on economic and social considerations. There is a
militant nationalist upheaval in the rninority intelligentsia, demandingan ethnically pure Kosovo republic; the
enlargement of the self-government of the province, or even the secession of this region from YugosIavia.
This tendency stimulated a counter-natonalism, on the part of Serbians and Bosnians, striving to lirnit
the ethnic rights of the Albanian minority, especiaIly to undermine the constitutional foundations and the
political guarantees of their territorial autonomy.
The competing nationalist tendencies accentuated by the co11apsingeconomy and the overall crisis of
the one-party politicai system constitute centrifugaI forces which are threatening the territorial integrity of the
Yugoslav state. The situation of the Albanian minority in Kosovo and the increased irredentist activity on both
sides of the Albanian- YugosIav border paralyzed the inter-state reIations and remains a heated topic between
the two neighbouring states, which a decade ago had positive relationship, mainly because of their peculiar nonaligned status within the communist world.

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The aggravating situation of the Turkish Moslems in Bulgaria constitute another conflict situation on
the Balkan peninsula This one million strong and rapidly increasing minority is the subject of an open, forced
assimilationist policy. There is no education in Turkish, their cultural and religious activities are suppressed,
with schools and newspapers elosed down. Recently the members of thiscommunity were compelled to change .
their Turkish-Moslem names for Bulgarian sounding ones. The restrictions and retaIiatory measures resulted
in an accelerated exodus of the Turkish population to Turkey; in the spring 1989 more than 80 thousand people
left Bulgaria for Turkey. Many Of them were declared as 'irredentists' by the Bulgarian authorities, and were
forcibly expelled. Turkey tries to mobilze the international fora and the world Moslem community to stop the
Bulgarian anti-minority policy and to slow the mass exodus of ethnic Turks from their home country.

Rumania and its minority problcms


The sitnation is quite similar on the Rumanian- Hungarian border. Rumania had by far the toughest
communist regime in Europe. I~ overcentralzed politicai and economic system, grappling with an ever more
serious crisis, disregarded basic human rights and political freedoms in general. The national and ethnic
minories of Rumana: the Hungarians, Germans, Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and Ukrainians lived in particularly
difficult circumstances. Deprived of fundamental freedoms which alI citzens ought to enjoy, they were also hard
hit by policies of discrimination and forced cultural assimilation.
The primary target of the .Rumanian homogenisation policy is the more than two million strong
Hungarian- Magyar ethnic community, one of the largest national minority groups in an Eastern European state.
The Hungarians, as most of the non- Rumanian ethnic groups in the country, live in Transylvania, a region
which formerly belonged to historic Hungary. In some territorial administrative units of this province the ethnic
Hungarians constitute the majority of the population.
Transylvana the most diversified region in Rumania has been the common homeland of several peoples
- Hungarians, Rumanians, Saxons and other nationalities - for a nearly a thousand years now. In this area
border changes resulting partly from the great historical migrations partly from cataclysmic wars created
minorities.
The Hungarians, Getmans - Saxons and Schwabians - Serbs, Slovaks and other nationalities living in
the region are characterzed by a historical continuity in their settlement, distinct linguistic and other
ethnocuitural features and an institutional network mostJy established prior to the annexation of the territory
to the Rumanian state. Many of these national minorities, - this is especially so in the case of Hungarians of
Transylvania - consider the neighbouring nations as 'mother nations'; and this gives a specific international
dimension to the problem.
Rumania did not guarantee its citzens the right to freely choose their places of work and residence,
The strictly centralized system of work assignment, the centrally controlled geographicallocation of industrial
investments, the home- building and flat-allocation policy give the authorities far reaching powers of
manpulation which were used to change drastically the traditional settlement patterns of the ethnc communties.
The government had a dual strategy: on the one hand, it sought to ensure a Rumanian majority in all areas,
and on the other simultaneously dispersed the minority population, particularly the intelligentsia, throughout
the country.
In 1988 the Rumanian government announced a programme called 'systematisation of settlements'.
Only a brief summary of the possibJe consequences of this project, without parallel in Europe at the end of the
20th century, can be attempted in this article. If the scheme had been implemented in full, the dispersal of
cohesive communities would have had direct and destructive impact on the way of life of millions of peoples,
irrespective of nationality. In the field of ethnicity it will have further amalgamating effect, eliminating even the
memory of the existence of smaller nationalities, like Serbs and SIovaks, and dealing an irreparable blow to the
historicai and cultural identity of the larger communities, such as the Hungarians and the Germans.
As a consequence of restrictions, mother-tongue teaching is confined almost exclusively to the level
of primary and secondary education. But even there, its possibilities have been drastically reduced in the last
few years, Similar or identical restrictionscould be observed in other institutions of the minority cultural

Ethnic Conflict: Central and Eastern Europe

network, like book publishing, the theater, amateur groups and in the activity of the mass media as well. In
1984 the Hungarian and German programs of the Rumanian television, and broadcasts in these ianguages from
regional radio stations were halted. The reason given to the public was: 'energy saving measures'. The radio,
the television and the press are important for the minorities not only from the point of view of the mother
tongue communication but because of the expression of specific triinority rights and interests as weil. In recent
years the minority press in German, Hungarian and Serb languages has published more and more articles
translated from Rumanian, and there are some papers that are literal translations of their Rumanian counterpart.
Rumania, in line with its internal policy of ethnic assimilation tries to isolate the. minorities from the
outside world, above alI the ethnic Hungarians from Hungary. Its policy generally restricts external contacts on
the part of the citizens, through a multitude of administrative and financial obstacles especially in regard to their
mdividual travels abroad
Visits to Rumania by people from Hungary and other foreigners have been made extremely difficult
m the last decade. With respect to customs, the routine method of customs examination is the body search,
applied lqainIY against Hungarian, Yugoslav and Western travelers. It is virtuaily prohibited to take to Rumania
any kind of Hungarian language books, periodicals, records or tape cassettes. A ban is imposed on the
mportaton of religious ceremonial objects and printed matter of all sorts, the latter regardless of the language
trivolved. The Rumaniari authorities strive to bar ethnic Hungarians III Rumania from access to printed
Hungarian materials lld from personalcontacts, forbidding Rumanian citizens to offer lodging to any foreigner,
except their closest relatives.
While the culture of the Hungarian minority faced severe restrictions within the country the television
and radio programs coming from Hungary assumed increasing importance as a source of information in the
mother tongue and in catering to the cultural needs of the minority. Possibilities for receiving such broadcasts,
however are limited in a lot of places and those viewing or listening to them are branded as disloyal citizens by
official authorities. In recent years there were official effarts to black breadeasts-by the removal of the aerials
capable of receiving television transmissions from Budapest
The Rumanian government used the Hungarian minority in Rumania as hostages, as a means of
blackmail in Hungarian Rumanian inter state relations. The character and timing of each anti-minority measure
left no doubt that it was intended as an unfriendly gesture towards Hungary. Worthy of note is also the fact
that the last few years the state-cwned Hungarian language press in Rumania was forced to join in the press
polemics between Hungary and Rumania by unilaterally advocating the official Rumanian stand point.
After the introduction of the Soviet-type system in East Central Europe, a discussion of the question
of Hungarians living in the neighbouring countries, including Rumania, was declared taboo by Hungary's
political leaders. Unti! very reeent times the official position was that Hungary has nothing to do with the
Hungarian minorities beyond its borders. Accordingly, press and educational establishments also remained silent
about the issue. The unwillingness of the Hungarian politicians to confront and challenge Rumania's human
rights and minority rights abuses was explained by the Warsaw Pact discipline of that time and a peculiar
mterpretation of the 'proletarian internationalist' principle.
It was only in 1988 that Hungary officially condemned Rumania's anti-discriminatory policy, for the
first time. The change of the Hungarian government's attitude was motivated by the unprecedented Rumanian
village-raizing project, by the increasing number of ethnic Hungarian refugees fleeing from Rumania across the
border. and by the growing pressure of the Hungarian society, claiming more democracy at home and elsewhere
III the area.
Today the destruction of the Hungarians' ethnic identity in Rumania is subject of an open discussion
between Hungary and Rumania, two members of the Eastern European military-political alliance. The tension
in bilateral relations, coupled with other politicai and economic problems can have a spill-over effect and can
become a permanent source of conflict spreading on a wider region. Anyeffort to prevent the further
deterioration is a matter of international concern and not one limited merely to Hungarians and Rumanians.
For most of the new political forces appearing on the Hungarian political scene today, the minority
issue in Rumania is first of all a question of human rights and of political freedoms, Any solution of the

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problem worthy of the latetwentieth century would require above aU, the easing of border barriers - in both
the physical aridSpiritualsens~the
term - their elimination as politica1 constraints and the full guarantee of
fundamentalfreedoms to the individuals:and comm.unities concerned. Thus the seeking of asatisfactory solution
is closely related to efforts ardemocratsaton, gaining strength in several countries of Central and Eastern
Europe and to the growing need for emancipation of smalier nations of the region in the international arena

'Retrospeet
In the long run the resolution of the sitnation of national minorities in Europe iS ultimately to be found
in the socio-historical processes effectively contributing to breaking down state boundaries dividing nations and
ethnic communities. The direct and multifold inter-people cooperation would transform the problem of frontiers
as it is hcped into an academic question without any real politica1 significance.
In this respect the 'inter-regional cross-border cooperation in areas of mixed ethnicity, areas which
are cmplementary culturally as well as economically, deserves special attention. The Hungarian - Austrian
- Yugoslav border region e.g. presents a kind of new approach to state borders, which involves also the
recognition of theminorities' right to contacts with 'mother nations'. This cooperation - in sharp contrast with
the isolationist tendency in the. Rumanian border area - embraces a wide spectrum of relations from economic
to cultural or educational The examples of the latter fields are contacts between schools, seminars for pupils
and teachers, exchange of textbooks, reciprocal scholarships for students etc in order to preserve and develop
the ethnic heritage in the neighbouring regions.
Recently the problem of minorities has been also included in a larger Central European inter-regional
cooperation calledAlpe-Adria, in which 14 regions or republics of Austria, Hungary, Italy, Yugoslavia and West
Germany participate.
The multiplication of cross-border contacts of individuals, local communities and enterprises based in
the Western frontier areas of Hungary and Yugoslavia is contributing to making these societies more open.
Unfortunately in Eastern Europe such openness is more often the exception than the rule. At the end of the
1980's Eastern Europe is geographically the largest crisis zone in the world. The internal and international
components of the crisis situation, the ethnic and non-ethnic aspects of the crisis are closely interrelated.
There is first of ali the crisis of the monolithic political system, which eliminated the forces of
autonomy, of pluralism and power counter-weight, In an overcentralized structure, where the influence of the
individuals and their various groups on the public affairs is insignificant, the minorities find themselves in a
particularly vulnerable position,
There is an obvious interrelationship between specific minority rights and general civil rights and
freedoms. This fact finds its expression also in international relations. The cooperation between the minority
and the 'mother nation' is influenced first of alI by the degree of democracy of the politica1 system, where the
minorities live. The degree of tolerance and the politicai culture of the social environment also play an
outstanding role.
Where the minorities are considered to be 'foreign bodies', that the state must eliminate by assimilation
or expulsion, they became against their will and interest the 'human dynamite' of international relations. In such
conditions it is easy to manipulate them, to use these communities as 'fifth columns', or subjects of the 'divide
and rule' tactics.
A very recent development is the realization that the linguistic and cultural values of minorities can not
only enrich the country of which they are part, but they can also take part in the rapprochement between
nations. National rninorities as 'cultural bridges' and integrative factors in international relations - is much more
a long term program than a present day reality in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless the political changes taking
place in some countries of the area could promote this process.

Rudolf J06 is Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Hungarian Studies, Budapest, Hungary.

Ethnic Conflict: Central and Eastern Europe

This article is a slightly revised version OC a papcr read at the ICES workshop on Intemationalization of Ethnic Conflict held in
Colombo in August 1989, a few weeks before the political situation in Central and Eastern Europe changed so dramatically.

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* compiled by the ICES.

without HIStory, The

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