Mobility and Inclusion in Multilingual Europe (MIME)

Funding: European Commission   
Duration: March 1, 2014 – August 31, 2018 (54 months)

The language we speak tells us who we are: it’s part of our identities. In a globalized Europe, with its 24 official languages and dozens of other minority ones, how governments understand this determines whether we are a part of society or if we are left aside. Language is one thing that allows mobility and inclusion to coexist. Yet, if it were up to international law, many peoples’ language would be unacknowledged, according to Balazs Vizi, since international law largely respects state sovereignty in this aspect and states enjoy a great room of discretion in recognizing minority languages and the public use of languages. This means that under international law the right to language has not been recognized as a fundamental human right.

The finding is an alarming result of an ambitious European project. The “Mobility and Inclusion in Multilingual Europe (MIME)” project sought to investigate the conflicting goals of mobility and inclusion in a multilingual and globalized Europe. That’s key in the current European landscape because mobility and inclusion are conditioned by language, and are performed, for example, by employment and political participation. Thus, MIME tried to identify, assess, and recommend policies that foster inclusion and the respect for multilingualism.

An ambitious goal involved an extensive network of 21 partners from 16 countries all over Europe. The idea was to design a practice-oriented project by evoking different academic disciplines. That included experts from political science to history, from economics to psychology, and others. MTA TK led, with Balazs Vizi, the task of studying language and minority rights. Vizi’s method comprised reviewing and doing a comparative analysis of key policy papers, legal documents, and recommendations from institutional bodies such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, or the Council of Europe. He devoted attention to the treatment of languages in the constitutional set-up of different European countries (for example, Belgium, Serbia, Finland, France, and Switzerland). The comparative review of political and institutional experiences in linguistically diverse countries was vital for identifying best resolutions for the mobility-inclusion trade-off. And it allowed MIME’s team to form a typology of language policies aimed at multilingualism in EU.

As a part of the project Vizi published an article on territoriality and language rights and edited a special issue of the International Journal of Minority and Group Rights (Brill), Noémi Nagy published an article overviewing recent international developments in language rights in the European Yearbook on Minority Issues and  researcher Edgár Dobos has presented his research Language Use in Border Areas—the case of Vojvodina at the conference “Interdisciplinarity and the Future of Multilingualism Research”, at the Humboldt University of Berlin on the 28th of August.

A Vademecum is already out and gives the reader a set of policy articles with the most relevant cross-contextual recommendations on inclusive language policies. This puts the concept of “language rights” in the broader context of globalization, and how it affects language diversity in societies. In one of his articles, Vizi points directions to which neighboring states should cooperate to manage diversity. In Europe, it’s common that a minority community from one country lives in a neighboring state, and that this neighboring state has a minority of its own settled in the first country. Vizi’s research shows that state reciprocity (let’s say, when state A sets a language minority protection for minorities from state B living in its territory, which in turn makes state B respond with a similar policy for minorities of state A living in its own lands) works only where minority communities living on both sides of the border are of similar demographic sizes. In many situations that’s not the case. For example, there is a small assimilated Croat minority living in Italy, while there is a sizeable Italian minority living in Croatia. Following the collapse of Yugoslavia, Italy signed a treaty with Croatia concerning minority rights (1996), where the lack of reciprocity is visible: most treaty provisions refer to Croatia’s duties toward its Italian minority.

His findings are key to helping break this societal deadlock. As in all inter-state relations, the balance of power, the wider international community’s approach, and other non-legal elements may be vital for bilateral cooperation on minority rights. Most of the daily minority struggles concern language use in public spaces. Policy-wise, states should tailor their policies considering specific minority communities’ needs—and reject automatic reciprocity. One of Vizi’s simplest recommendations may be one of the most effective ones in that direction: public signage and online public services in minority languages is relevant for inclusion in mobility societies and at feasible costs.

Not only do these articles foster policy debates in Europe. They are likely to make it more inclusive.

Selected publications:

2016/4 International Journal on Minority and Group Rights Special Issue (guest editor B. Vizi)

Szerbhorváth György: Kisebbségi nyelvi jogok a Vajdaságban, Pro Minoritate 2015/3, 118-143.

"Language Rights and Multilingualism in Kosovo” World Convention, Association for the Study of Nationalities – University of Columbia, New York, 24/04/2015 

"Language Rights: International Standards and Failed Multilingualism in Kosovo" - Patterns of Integration of Old and New Minorities in a Europe of Complex Diversity – Kolozsvár/Cluj, Sapientia Erdélyi Magyar Tudományegyetem 9/10/2015 

"Challenges of inclusion and mobility in a multilingual region: the case of Vojvodina.” Final MIME conference on Interdisciplinarity and the Future of Multilingualism Research (panel: Language, Politics and Society). Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 28-29 August, 2018

"Language rights and multilingualism in Vojvodina.” 10th ECPR General Conference (panel: European Multilingualism between Territorial and Personal Arrangements). Charles University, Prague, 7-10 September 2016

"Diverging routes of multilingualism: language usage in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Vojvodina.” Patterns of Integration of Old and New Minorities in a Europe of Complex Diversity. Sapientia Erdélyi Magyar Tudományegyetem, Cluj/Kolozsvár/Klausenburg, 8-9 October 2015 

"Multilingualism and the equality/uniformity friction in an asymmetrically decentralized unitary state: minority language use in Vojvodina.” IPSA Conference on Rethinking Territoriality: Between Independence and Interdependence (panel: Interethnic and Minority Politics between Territorial and Personal Arrangements in a Multilingual Europe). University of Edinburgh, 16-18 September 2015 

Principal investigator (PI):

Balázs Vizi 
Senior Research Fellow  
Researcher profile page  

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