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Minority civil society, inter-ethnic peace and sustainable democracy

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - MINSOC (Minority civil society, inter-ethnic peace and sustainable democracy)

Reporting period: 2019-09-23 to 2021-09-22

The MINSOC project explored the role of minority civil society organizations in shaping the prospects for sustainable interethnic peace in multiethnic societies. It focused on ethnolinguistic minorities in Central, Eastern, and Southeast Europe -- namely, Turks in Bulgaria; Russophones in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; Poles in Lithuania; Albanians in Macedonia; and Hungarians in Romania, Serbia and Slovakia. The research identified institutions that minorities use for intra-ethnic "bonding" (to maintain and develop their cultures) and interethnic "bridging" (to build interethnic solidarity). The research also reveals how kin-states and European institutions influence minorities’ organizational activities.

This project is important for society, as it focuses squarely on the question of what social resources are helpful for ethnic minority actors to develop the kind of political agency that makes democratic government sustainable in multiethnic states. The comparative analysis reveals the significance of minority institutions in supporting democratic politics.

The project's main objective was to identify what combinations of bonding and bridging institutions provide resources for democratic minority agency To this end: the project developed analytical categories for bonding and bridging institutions in key domains; created a comparative index of minority institutions; collected data about the organizational activities of a large number of ethnic minorities in post-communist Europe; and drew comparative lessons about the role of minority institutions in the sustainability of democracy, and the impact of external actors (kin-states and the EU) on the process.
Despite the difficulties presented by the Covid-19 pandemic, a significant amount of material was collected and analyzed about the institutional domains of nine minority populations. I will summarize below the main results emerging from the comparative analysis.

1. Minority institutional capital (comprised of organizations sustained by ethnic minority members) is necessary for democratic inclusion in multiethnic majoritarian states. Minority actors are invested in maintaining institutions despite the high cost associated with them (regarding human resources and a continuous search for funding), because institutions create "time horizons" for minorities, and they provide possibilities for minority members to actively develop and improve their conditions, rather than merely performing the roles designed for them by dominant political actors in state centers.

2. Minorities across the region maintain a similar set of key institutional domains. Educational institutions are seen as the most important. It is the only domain sustained by guaranteed public funding, hence also the most closely controlled by governments. Yet there is great cross-regional variation in the degrees of agency that minority actors gain in designing and implementing educational policies and experiences. Other institutions are maintained in the non-governmental sphere, primarily through the unpaid work of volunteers. Cultural-recreational and religious institutions make up the largest domains, while political organizations are comparatively small.

3. The uncertainty of funding generates significant concern and reinforces minorities' motivations to seek external support. Kin-state support is generally seen as necessary (for cultural reinforcement and to complement funding from home-states). When kin-state governments attach political strings to institutional support, the democratic agency of minority actors is weakened. European integration enables transnational networking and provides access to European funding, but concerns arise about the usefulness of EU funds for institutional sustainability, and for the capacity of minority organizations to apply successfully for these funds.

4. Minorities balance bonding and bridging activities in every setting. Cultural institutions are the main bonding sphere; education is the main domain for negotiating bonding and bridging (and therefore the most contested); and politics is the main domain for bridging.

5. Strong linkages exist between minority civil society and the political organizations supported by minorities. Local governments (mayoral offices and municipal councils) play a major role as “intermediary elites” that create space for minority democratic agency and seek access to resources for sustainable minority institutions.

Due to the pandemic, the dissemination of the findings summarized above has been delayed. Results were presented at conferences, invited lectures, and virtual workshops; they informed teaching and academic mentoring activities at the University of Graz; and they were also integrated in knowledge exchange with scholars and non-academics involved in the Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN), the largest international academic organization focused on issues of nationalism and ethnicity. The ASN membership includes mostly academics and graduate students, but it's activities through the "Virtual ASN" platform reach policy-makers, civil society actors, and the general public. The exploitation and dissemination of the results continues. Several publications are in progress, among which many are co-authored with local researchers who have helped with data collection. This list includes: two monographs (one single-author, the other co-authored); two special issues; and several articles. Most publications are co-authored with local researchers who helped with data collection. The project also provides the base for an open-source comparative index of minority institutions that is currently developed and will be hosted at Queen's University.
This research pushes the boundaries of existing knowledge about minority populations in important ways. It reveals why and how members of differently situated minority populations rely on organizational activities to balance intra-ethnic bonding and inter-ethnic bridging in majoritarian states. It sheds new light on how minority organizations contribute to democratic institutional capital for minority members. It advances our understanding about why minority actors seek external support for sustaining their institutions, and what kind of kin-state support they find helpful. The significance of these findings reaches beyond the academic world. At a time when the power of ethno-nationalism is visible across Europe and in other parts of the world, and the vulnerability of democracy is observable not only in new democracies but also in long-established democratic states, the knowledge gained from these cases can contribute to better policies in state centers and European organizations, and it provides valuable information to those interested in strengthening democracy and interethnic peace.

Additionally, the project provides core material for an open-source comparative index of minority institutions (to be hosted by the Centre for the Study of Democracy and Diversity at Queen’s University, Canada), which has the potential of being expanded and deepened in the future, becoming a reliable source of knowledge about institutional resources behind sustainable democracy and peace in multiethnic states.
Lecture at Tel Aviv Univ, Political Science (title)
Lecture at Tel Aviv Univ, Political Science (role of institutional capital)
Presentation at ECMI workshop (power point slide 2: specifies lessons from MINSOC))
Presentation at ECMI workshop (power point slide 3: highlights MINSOC categories
Presentation at ECMI workshop (power point slide no.1: title)