The Internal Dynamics of Non-Territorial Autonomy Regimes in Central and South-eastern Europe: a Five-Country Comparison

Funding: NKFIH (OTKA)
Duration:  September 1, 2015—February 28, 2019 (41 months)

In Estonia, a group of 500 people strive to preserve their cultural and linguistic Swedish features. In doing so, they have their own elected body, the Swedish Cultural Council. A museum and newspapers help them preserve their characteristics as a minority group. Similar forms of representation exist for some Hungarian minorities living in the post-Yugoslav space, Serbian minorities in Croatia, or Roma population inside Hungary. Sometimes these groups rule themselves through such bodies, sometimes these bodies are merely symbolic and dominated by the state. Still, they live under what is called non-territorial autonomy (NTA) regimes.

NTA is a form of diversity management, spread in Central and South-Eastern Europe after the fall of communism. Focusing strongly on individual participation, NTAs are self-rule or self-governance structures usually without a clear territorial character or sovereignty. Their goal is to represent and promote minorities’ linguistic or cultural rights. Why is it important for the Estonian or Hungarian authorities to have an elected body for such small communities?

By picking up small NTA arrangements in the region, Dr. Balázs Dobos seeks to answer this question by assessing the dynamics of NTAs; how NTA members elect their representatives themselves, and how these NTAs interact with their hosting state. He has focused on NTAs in Hungary, Estonia, Serbia, Croatia, and Slovenia. He aims at seeing how minorities and their leaders perceive and use their autonomous organizations through elections. That includes how they decide who has the power to vote or be elected. The project fills a scientific gap in our understanding of minority participation, representation, and influences on their own preservation.

Embarking on experimental research methods, Dr. Dobos has reviewed literature and media representation, analyzed legislation, policies, electoral data, and has interviewed NTAs’ representatives and experts in Estonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, and Serbia. The researcher says findings can illuminate how NTA elections translate into self-organization in minority settlements. Besides that, results may have the impact of improving minority governance systems, and of checking to what extent states use NTAs for controlling inter-ethnic relations: a legacy of the communism, which considered institutions only as properties of the titular nation.

Besides writing a book, creating country databases, and presenting his findings at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences when he finishes the project, Dr. Dobos plans to present his results to non-academic audiences likewise; he has been already invited for a panel with Hungarian minorities in Croatia.

Principal investigator (PI):

Balázs Dobos 
Research Fellow  
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