Bilateral Relations and Minority Protection in Central and South-Eastern Europe

Funding: NKFI (OTKA) National Research, Development and Innovation Office
Duration: October 1, 2016 - October 31, 2019 (36 months)

Italy initiated the 1996 bilateral treaty on minority protection with Croatia to tackle the impacts of the dissolution of Yugoslavia on the Italian minority community living in Istria. Although the treaty was later often criticized by Croatia and it could not offer a structured procedure for resolving minority-related disputes between the two states, it helped set the legal basis for the national legislation on minority protection in both countries. The bilateral treaty on the rights of minorities stipulated between Slovenia and Hungary in 1992 has established an intergovernmental committee in which minority representatives of both countries regularly take part. More than fostering dialogue between the two governments and the respective minorities, it has helped minority representatives to set the agenda for policies. The top-down structure has served as a bottom-up instrument, and these minorities have exerted political representation in the decision-making process since then.

How bilateral treaties have shaped minority policies in Central and South-Eastern Europe takes central stage in the research team’s  project, led by Dr. Balázs Vizi. The project approach is interdisciplinary, and the methods comprise mapping, tracking down the origins, assessing and comparing these agreements in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, and in their two-on-two relations.

One goal is to assess whether treaties may have contributed to developing customary law; in other words, if states practice and enforce specific minority protection arrangements, even if there is no written law telling them to do so. One challenge Dr. Vizi’s team faces is the mapping of these practices. International soft-law norms, like multilateral declaration on minorities at the European level, may be taken as a legal norm between Hungary and Romania if both states practiced them over time. Afterwards, Dr. Vizi aims to develop a methodological tool for analyzing similar bilateral relations.

The project's findings will foster minority understanding of structures such as an intergovernmental committee, and how they can use them. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the State Secretary for Hungarian Communities Abroad could, for example, identify the benefits and shortcomings of treaties and their impacts; and politicians involved in bilateral talks can make informed decisions. The members of the team publish regularly the results of their research, among others Dr. Vizi co-edited a book with the Slovenian Institute of Ethnic Studies on the evolution and implementation of Hungarian-Slovenian treaty on the rights of minorities. The Slovenian government supported the publication, which came out in Hungarian and Slovenian languages in January 2019.

Selected publication:

Vizi, B.: A kisebbségek védelme az olasz–horvát és az olasz–szlovén kétoldalú kapcsolatokban, Kisebbségi Szemle 2017/4, 31-45.


Vizi, B.: "Minority Rights in Bilateral Treaties Today: Experiences from Central Europe" - ASN World Convention, 03-05 May 2018, Harriman Institute Columbia University.

Principal investigator (PI):

Balázs Vizi
Senior Research Fellow  
Researcher profile page  

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