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East European Perspectives: January 9, 2002

9 January 2002, Volume 4, Number 1

By Gabriel Andreescu

This study provides an analysis of the issue of national minorities in Romania within the context of "multiculturalism." To this purpose, "multiculturalism" is redefined in a normative sense, as "a necessity on the part of national minorities to enjoy both a degree of integration and one of separation." Since the idea of "separation" is ambiguous and has negative connotations, my suggestion is to redefine it as "group privacy" (of the respective minority). Viewed from this perspective, multiculturalism acknowledges both the need to integrate the particular ethnocultural communities and the need to secure their community privacy.

Not every society is multicultural in the sense outlined above. Where there are groups for which community privacy prevails over integration, it is more accurate to speak of POLICULTURALISM. There are one or two such communities in Romania (the Kurds and the Arabs), yet thus far these two communities are a marginal issue for Romanian society. The larger Romanian society remains multicultural. The two major national minorities, the Hungarians and the Roma, approach the issue of integration and group privacy differently. The Magyar minority views community privacy as primary, while the Roma stress integration.

Conceptually speaking, "integration" and "community privacy" presume clearly defined "actors." Within the nation-states of this region, these actors are the national minorities, other ethnocultural groups, the majority, and the self-governed society that established the national state. As of late, one witnesses in Central Europe an attempt to introduce in the realm of international relations the concept of the "ethnic nation." This attempt puts all above-mentioned actors under a certain amount of pressure. The recent Act on Hungarians Living in Neighboring Countries, also known as the Status Law, which established public law relations between the Hungarian state and Hungarians living in neighboring countries, is a good illustration of this new type of pressure. This study will also examine the impact of the Act on the idea of multiculturalism and on its evolution in Romania and in Hungary's neighbor countries.

1. The Diversity Of Ethnocultural Groups

Putting it in a nutshell, multiculturalism, which nowadays is a semi-canonized concept, refers to either encouraging immigrants to affirm their ethnic identity (the Canadian meaning), or to the sharing of power among various national communities (the European meaning), or, finally, to the inclusion of marginal groups in the polity (the American view). It is an attempt striving to not only do away with ethno-political crises but also to insure equity and correctness in ethno-political relations. Viewed from the multicultural perspective, the resolution of ethno-political conflicts is therefore not only a matter of achieving stability, but also one of achieving fairness and justice (Salat, 2001). According to Will Kymlicka, a well-known supporter of multiculturalism, this should be the founding principle of a liberal theory transcending the shortsightedness of liberalism when facing ethnocultural pluralism (Salat, 2001, p. 13).

Multiculturalism was originally invoked in order to legitimize some forms of interethnic co-existence, and in particular those forms that challenged or left behind the classical liberal paradigm, such as the demand for collective rights of groups or ethnic communities. Eventually, the debate on collective rights and the relevance of multiculturalism has expanded and has been further refined. Several distinctions related to the nature of communities entering socio-cultural and political relations within the modern nation have been established. Nowadays, the distinction between indigenous peoples, national minorities, and ethnocultural groups -- usually including the immigrants -- is well-established. According to a recently adopted document of the Liberal International, ("The Rights of Minorities," 2000) these communities are differentiated as follows: "national minorities: historically settled communities which have a distinct language and/or culture of their own"; "indigenous peoples: all the characteristics of national minorities apply, but their additional and distinguishing characteristic consists in their having been settled on the land prior to the majority, and having become a minority by conquest and/or colonization"; "ethnocultural minorities: consist mainly in immigrants and refugees and their descendants who are living, on a more than merely transitional basis, in another country than that of their origin."

Multicultural issues are inseparable from the specificity of minority communities as defined above. In Central Europe, and especially in Romania, national minorities and ethnocultural groups vary to a large degree, both ethnoculturally and numerically. There are, however, no indigenous peoples.

2. Multiculturality: Multicultural Integration And Privacy

The necessity to manage interethnic relations is explained using at least two arguments: (a) the need to overcome interethnic conflict; and (b) the necessity of treating ethnic minorities equitably. The two dimensions are, of course, interconnected. Fairness in ethno-political relations is a strategic asset for achieving interethnic peace. In the past few years, an ever-increasing attention is being paid to the fairness of interethnic relations, after a long period of time during which the experts' attention had traditionally focused on conflicts.

But in actual reality, one cannot have an A PRIORI comprehension of what "fair relations" between minority and majority should consist of. Will relation between Hungarians and Romanians in Romania be "fair" if the former will be entitled to cross the Schengen border after Hungary becomes a member of the EU, while the latter will not? (This was -- originally at least -- one of the Hungarian justifications for legislating the Status Law). Is it "fair" for Roma elites to ask for resource allocation from the state but not from an economically powerful group of Roma? "Fairness" in this sense can only be defined in negotiation among the groups concerned. But what is the substance of these negotiations? How and to what purpose should they be conducted? And in the terms of which paradigm?

Perceiving multiculturalism as a norm of social-political interaction that takes into consideration the driving motivations of the interacting groups; and bearing, furthermore, in mind that the purpose of submitting those motivations to a process of mutual recognition and fulfillment is the achievement of interethnic peace and fairness, it emerges as obvious that the "process of mutual recognition" is in itself a form of negotiation. What should the paradigm that makes this negotiation possible and attractive as an option look like? Below is a proposal of such a paradigm, as a chief definitional component of the idea of multiculturality:


What is the meaning of "integration" in this definition? First, integration is opposed to "assimilation," which has negative-destructive effects on collective-communal identities. As U.S. scholars John McGarry and Brendon O'Leary point out, a non-assimilative integration aims at the development of a common supra-ethnic identity, focusing on the concept of "civic identity" (McGarry, O'Leary, 1993). The goal of the integration process is to ensure equal opportunities and a nondiscriminatory treatment of persons belonging to different ethno-political groups. Integrative techniques generally comprise socialization by means of a shared language, or the creation of new jobs for a workforce made up by multiethnic employees. Cohabitation is another tool of integration.

It then becomes obvious that integration is a way of reaffirming the need for a democratic system within the respective multicultural society. Or, to be more specific, it emphasizes one of democracy's basic meanings, as "a form of which the powers of the majority are exercised within a framework of constitutional restraints designed to guarantee minorities the enjoyment of certain individual or collective rights, such as the freedom of speech and religion (constitutional democracy)" (The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1988, vol. 4, p.5).

An analysis of the discourses in the Romanian media, both by politicians and by representatives of minority communities, shows that integration is regarded almost unanimously as a positive value. This also means, however, that the issue of integration is rarely approached in a critical fashion. This situation is likely to raise concern, since "integration" was recently used by Romanian national-communist ideology to assimilate minorities and homogenize Romanian society.

What does "the separation of a community" mean in this context? The need to ensure a degree of separation among communities was often noted by analysts of ethno-political conflicts. U.S. scholar Hurst Hanum convincingly argued in favor of maintaining a degree of separation among ethnocultural groups (Hanum, 1990). Some prefer to use instead the concept of "segregation." Thus, for John McGarry and Brendon O'Leary modern ethnic entities may save their identity only by "forms of segregation," especially in the field of education and housing. Their analysis reveals that coercive policies aiming at the establishment of mixed schools and mixed populations are provocative and represent a source of violence (McGarry, O'Leary, 1993).

The term "separation" has, as already mentioned, negative connotations. It is often used by nationalist forces to deny the natural aspirations of ethnocultural minorities. The request by the party representing Hungarians in Romania, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) to re-establish in Cluj the old Hungarian University, Bolyai, closed down in 1959, was rejected in 1998 in the following terminology: "The State Secretariat for Higher Education systematically faces persistent requests for ethnic segregation, in various institutional forms, starting with the establishment of self-managed chairs and faculties according to ethnic criteria, and up to the establishment of Hungarian-language state universities". This document of the Ministry for National Education used negative idiom such as "the federalization of education," "educational enclosure," "development of education on an ethnic bases," etc. The document's title was in itself significant: "Ethnic Segregation of Higher Education in Romania Is Inappropriate" (Ministerul Educatiei Nationale, 1998).

Obviously, "separation" was used by the Ministry of National Education in order to discredit the request itself and those who dared make it. The strategy of a study prepared a few years ago by the Bucharest-based Center for Political Studies and Comparative Analysis is also relevant in this respect, due to its anti-Hungarian bias, confirmed on several other occasions. The study falsely reinterpreted a UDMR Council of Representatives decision which requested that the Romanian state extend to the Hungarian community recognition as a "distinct political subject." The study claimed that the UDMR document had invoked the status of a "SEPARATE political subject," a formulation that was nowhere to be found in the UDMR document. The author of the study, Alina Mungiu, ended by asking the UDMR, which allegedly desired to become a "separate political subject," to formally acknowledge the Romanian Constitution so as to eliminate any suspicions concerning its separatist and secessionist intentions. In his analysis of the study published under the telling title "'Peaceful Separation' or Control Hermeneutics," philosopher and pundit Andrei Cornea noted: "I believe it is not difficult to understand that 'distinct' is not the same as 'separate.' To be 'distinct' is not opposed to the integration in the unified Romanian society, while to be 'separate' tends to be so. Thus, misquoting is not quite an innocent deed!" (Cornea, 1996).

It seems therefore clear that within societies such as the Romanian (but, of course, not only in that particular society) the "separation"/"segregation" of an ethnocultural community has an essentially negative connotation. This is why the concept of "separation" should be avoided with reference to the relations between a minority and the larger society. The substance of the concept should nevertheless be preserved, which is ultimately why authors such as Hurst Hanum emphasized the importance of the "right to separation" in interethnic relations. THIS RIGHT AMOUNTS TO THE NEED OF A COMMUNITY TO MARK THE BOUNDARIES OF ITS OWN SPACE. One could make the following analogy: an individual tends to circumscribe his/her own environment, "the 'private space,'" where he/she has the right to be with him/herself, with no outside interference. The right to private life amounts, in the case of persons, to the right to privacy. But one can also speak of a group's need to have its own "group privacy," or of a community's "right to community privacy." At the upper limit, i.e. in the case of a community representing a "people" as defined under international law, the right to community privacy is the right to self-determination.

Parallels between the needs of individuals and those of communities are common among communitarian thinkers. I would quote Michael Walzer to this effect: "When we describe individual rights, we are assigning to individuals a certain authority to shape their own lives, and we are denying that officials are authorized to interfere." "[T]he description of communal rights makes a similar assertion and a similar denial," for "in the individual case, we fix a certain area of personal choice; in the communal case, we fix a certain area for political choice" (Walzer, 1985).

However, there is no reason to deny the relevance of the concept of community privacy in the case of those who see in a community simply the expression of group-life.

The author, a dissident under the Ceausescu regime, is now director of the "Romanian Review for Human Rights."


Cornea, A., 1996 , Separatie pasnica sau hermeneutica de control," ('Peaceful Separation' or Control Hermeneutics) in "22" (Bucharest), no. 28-29.

Hanum, H., 1990, Autonomy, Sovereignty and Self-Determination: The Accommodation of Conflicting Rights, (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania Press).

McGarry, J., Brendon O'Leary (eds.), 1993, The Politics of Ethnic Conflict Regulation. Case Studies in Protracted Ethnic Conflicts, (New York: Routledge Press).

Ministerul Educatiei Nationale, 1998, "Segregarea etnica a invatamintului superior din Romania nu este oportuna" (Ethnic segregation of Higher Education in Romania Is Inappropriate), in "Buletin informativ," no. 21, August.

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1998 (Chicago: The University of Chicago), 15th edition, Vol. 4.

"The Rights of Minorities: A Declaration of Liberal Democratic Principles Concerning Ethnocultural and National Minorities and Indigenous Peoples," 2000,

Salat L., 2001, Multiculturalismul liberal (Liberal Multiculturalism) (Bucharest: Polirom).

Walzer, M., 1985, "The Moral Standing of States: a Response to Four Critics," in Charles Beitz et al.,( eds.), International Ethics, (Princeton: Princeton University Press.)