Course date

1 July - 12 July, 2002
Application deadline:
15 February, 2002
Course Director(s): 

Maria M. Kovacs

Nationalism Studies Program, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
Course Faculty: 

Erica Benner

London School of Economics, International Relations, London, United Kingdom

Andras Kovacs

Nationalism Studies, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary

Will Kymlicka

Department of Philosophy, Queen's University at Kingston, Canada

The purpose of the course is to explore how western models of dealing with ethnocultural diversity can be adopted in Eastern Europe. From the point of view of Eastern European countries interested in European integration, Western European countries are not simply offering such models for possible consideration, but rather are pressuring Eastern Europe to respect pan-European standards. The decision of Western European organizations to insist on respect for pan-European standards is a serious test-case for the feasibility and desirability of "exporting" western standards to the rest of Europe. Given this background, the course will focus on three important topics. First, it will attempt to clarify the theoretical basis of Western models of dealing with ethnocultural diversity so as to distinguish the underlying principles from the myriad of local variations in the way that these principles are institutionalized. The course will distinguish the fundamental principles from the contingent practices and ask questions about the extent to which those principles are applicable elsewhere. Second, the course will attempt to involve participants, scholars, advanced students and practitioners, in a transnational and intercultural dialogue on problems of self-determination, federalism and minority rights and on how these problems are linked to democratization. Third, the course will offer an overview of methodological approaches to research on ethnicity, ethnic conflict and identity politics.

The specific topics addressed in the course are: 

  1. Can new Western models of liberal pluralism assist in the democratization and stabilization of post-Communist Europe?
  2. Democratic transitions and ethnicity.
  3. The theoretical basis of Western models of minority rights.
  4. Fundamental principles and contingent practices.
  5. Relationship between the problems of self-determination and minority protection.
  6. Methodological approaches to empirical research on ethnicity.

Course level

The course is offered to students and junior faculty (mainly in the social sciences and international relations) interested in nationalism studies. Participants are requested to read papers prior to the course.

Course format

The course offers a combination of lectures and seminars, including participant (student) presentations, some prepared in advance.

Course content

he purpose of the course is to explore how western models of dealing with ethnocultural diversity can be adopted in Eastern Europe. From the point of view of Eastern European countries interested in European integration, Western European countries are not simply offering such models for possible consideration, but rather are pressuring Eastern Europe to respect pan-European standards. The decision of Western European organizations to insist on respect for pan-European standards is a serious test-case for the feasibility and desirability of "exporting" western standards to the rest of Europe. Given this background, the course will focus on three important topics. First, it will attempt to clarify the theoretical basis of Western models of dealing with ethnocultural diversity so as to distinguish the underlying principles from the myriad of local variations in the way that these principles are institutionalized. The course will distinguish the fundamental principles from the contingent practices and ask questions about the extent to which those principles are applicable elsewhere. Second, the course will attempt to involve participants, scholars, advanced students and practitioners, in a transnational and intercultural dialogue on problems of self-determination, federalism and minority rights and on how these problems are linked to democratization. Third, the course will offer an overview of methodological approaches to research on ethnicity, ethnic conflict and identity politics.

The aim of the courses in the first week is to explore whether recent work by Western liberal theorists on issues of pluralism and minority rights is useful to understanding and evaluating ethnic conflicts in the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. There has been a great deal of important work done recently by Western political theorists on the importance of accommodating ethnocultural, linguistic and religious pluralism in democratic societies - eg., works by Charles Taylor, Will Kymlicka, Yael Tamir, David Miller, Jeff Spinner, Allen Buchanan, Rainer Baubock, James Tully, Michael Walzer, and Iris Marion Young. These and other theorists have helped to define a new approach to ethnocultural diversity that argues that justice requires the public recognition and accommodation of diversity. This new position (we will call it the "liberal pluralist" approach) differs significantly from the standard post-war liberal view (we will call it the "orthodox liberal" view) that ethnocultural diversity should be relegated to the private sphere and not publicly supported in the form of minority rights or multiculturalism.

According to liberal pluralists, learning to live with the public expression and institutionalization of ethnocultural diversity is a key precondition for a stable and just democracy. This raises the obvious question: can the new Western models of liberal pluralism assist in the democratization and stabilization of post-Communist Europe?

Many people in Eastern Europe are searching for (non-ideological) ways of conceptualizing their situation. There is no shortage of detailed descriptions and diagnoses of particular ethnic conflicts in particular countries, but very little in the way of general theorizing about the nature of minority rights or their relation to justice and democracy. As a result, proposals for resolving ethnic conflicts almost always appear as special pleading on behalf of this or that minority, rather than as the appropriate application of defensible moral principles. To avoid this perception that ethnic relations are nothing more than ad hoc compromises, there is interest amongst Eastern Europeans in determining whether Western theory provides useful ways to conceptualize minority rights in their region.

The importance of this topic is obvious. The ability or inability of countries in Eastern Europe to resolve their ethnic conflicts has profoundly affected the process of democratization. While most countries without significant ethnic tensions have democratized successfully (eg., Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovenia), those countries with major ethnic and linguistic cleavages are having a more difficult time consolidating democracy and civil society (eg., Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Macedonia). At worst, these ethnic conflicts have led to civil wars that have shocked the world with their levels of brutality (Serbia, Croatia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Chechnya). It is important to try to identify the relevant lessons and principles (if any) that the experience of Western democracies might offer to newly-democratizing countries struggling with these conflicts.

But the topic is urgent in another way. Several Western organizations have recently decided that respect for minority rights is one of the preconditions for post-communist countries to "rejoin Europe". Countries which fail the test of respect for minority rights will not be allowed to join NATO and the European Union, and may lose their standing in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) or the Council of Europe.

This growing movement for the international codification and monitoring of minority rights presupposes that at least some minority provisions are not simply a matter of discretionary policies or pragmatic compromises but rather are a matter of fundamental justice. It implies that minority rights are indeed basic rights. This movement has primarily been advanced by Western organizations, NGOs and scholars, together with their local allies in the rest of the world. And not surprisingly, their proposals typically involve codifying Western models as universal standards. There has been little input, and even less enthusiasm, from governments in Eastern Europe, Asia or Africa, most of which tend to be very sceptical about the whole idea of internationalizing minority rights issues.

What is happening today in Eastern Europe, therefore, may be a harbinger of things to come elsewhere in the world. The decision of Western organizations to insist on respect for minority rights in Eastern European countries will be the first serious test case for the feasibility and desirability of "exporting" Western minority rights standards to the rest of the world. For this reason, it is worthy of careful consideration by anyone interested in the issue of minority rights.

Given this background, there are two increasingly important tasks. First, we need to clarify the theoretical basis of Western models of minority rights, so as to distinguish the underlying principles from the myriad local variations in the way that these principles are institutionalized. While Western organizations have decided to demand respect for minority rights standards, there remains considerable confusion about what these standards actually are, and it is far from clear that there is any consensus yet within the West on the precise nature of these principles. We need to distinguish the fundamental principles from the contingent practices, and to think carefully about the presuppositions and preconditions of these principles, and hence about the extent to which they are applicable elsewhere.

Second, we need to promote a dialogue with intellectuals and leaders from other parts of the world about issues of minority rights. Our aim in this course is neither to support nor criticize recent moves to internationalize minority rights standards. But we do believe that any attempt to develop such international standards must be done in an inclusive way, with the active participation of non-Western countries, including representatives of both majority and minority groups. We need, in short, to start a transnational and inter-cultural dialogue on minority rights. Many intellectuals and policy-makers in Eastern Europe have no clear idea of the principles underlying these Western standards. They are told that respect for minorities is an essential part of democratization, but are not told why minority rights are linked to democracy, or how these rights relate to principles of justice or freedom. Under these circumstances, it is essential to establish a genuine dialogue on this issue.

As a second area of focus, the course will investigate the relationship between the problems of self-determination and minority protection. We will examine various theories of self-determination, the extent and actual content of self-determination rights, the extent to which self-determination is regarded as a legal right, and current initiatives to extend and redefine self-determination rights as benefiting minorities, too.

This part of the course will examine issues that remain hotly debated to our day, such as 'The gap between norms and practice', 'Minority right norms and self-determination norms: parallel commitments?', 'Normative commitments and policy decisions', etc. The course will not attempt to provide "answers" to the debated issues, but will look at the polemical arguments advanced on opposite sides. Where possible, readings are selected to introduce students to the debates. The readings are selected to provide a historical account of experiments with self-determination and international minority protection as well as a cross section of the relevant literature on contemporary debates within various disciplines.

The third part of the course will concentrate on the most influential economic, sociological and social-psychological theories of nationalism, national identity, national feeling and national conflict. After a general introduction in the sociology and social-psychology of attitudes stereotyping, prejudice and identity, lectures and discussions will deal with the theories of ethnic and national stereotypes, identities and conflicts as group conflicts. The seminars will introduce the students into the methods of empirical investigation of the subject.