The effectiveness of minority self-governance in Central and South Eastern Europe

Principal incestigator: Balázs Dobos

Period: 2019-2022

Grant, funding agency: János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 2019-2022, ÚNKP Bolyai+ New National Excellence Program of the Ministry for Innovation and Technology, 2019-2020

Research questions and objectives:

In post-Communist Central and South Eastern Europe, several countries refer to non-territorial or national-cultural autonomy in their minority-related policies and legislation, which is organized in several countries in the form of minority self-governments or councils elected at different levels by pre-registered voters. In addition to the Hungarian system of minority self-governments, such a system has also been in place in Slovenia since the mid-1990s and in Croatia and Serbia since the early 2000s. Their tasks and powers usually extend to representing the political interests of minorities, and mainly to commenting on, deciding on linguistic, educational and cultural matters, or even to establishing and maintaining their own institutions. However, in addition to the relevant literature findings, there has been relatively few existing empirical and, above all, comparative research on the extent to which these policies can help to manage diversity, empower minorities to participate equally and effectively in public life, and ultimately develop more inclusive policies and societies. Or, conversely, to what extent are they tools for a high degree of state control over minority affairs? In general, how can the objectives of these minority autonomies be formulated and, in this context, how and by what criteria can their practical effectiveness in the four countries in question be assessed?

Research history:

The project builds on the Central European Minority Law Database available on the website of the Library of Parliament, the already published and forthcoming results of the completed postdoctoral NKFIH research (2015-2019) examining the role of minority self-government/council elections, including the minority election database (in Hungarian). Utilizing these previous results and databases, the project intends to evaluate the effectiveness of these non-territorial autonomous systems in a comparative way by setting up analysis criteria and indicators.

Research methods:

The first area to be examined is the internal capacity of minorities and autonomies, by which we mean the comparison of registration and participation data for minority elections at the municipal level with census and other election results (e.g., votes cast for ethnic parties). Thereby addressing the extent to which these non-territorial cultural autonomies are able to unite and mobilize the mostly territorially dispersed group members, whether there are and which characteristics in this respect by minorities and regions, how to conceptualize potential abuse of group boundaries and affiliations (ethnobusiness), whether and how the existence and operation of self-governments affect the changes in the local number of group members, and further, whether they can contribute to the revitalization of certain communities.

Its second area of ​​research is the comparative exploration and evaluation of their institutional structures, external possibilities and capacities to influence key decisions, including the development of a methodology for evaluating practice and effectiveness. In this respect, the first step is to identify the characteristics of the broader minority policy regimes, the changes in the status of the minorities concerned, and the comparative analysis of the institutional possibilities of minority recognition, participation and representation in the countries studied. In the following, a comparative analysis of the legal provisions concerning the tasks and powers, possibilities of action and financing background of the autonomous bodies will be carried out, followed by the definition of the indicators necessary for the evaluation of their implementation and practical operation. In addition, domestic and international literature and other sources (e. g. country reports, government websites, ombudsman and NGO reports, media reports) on the examined autonomies are explored. Mapping the structures and contexts of the autonomies are essential, as structures and policies that are fundamentally similarly structured can lead to different outcomes and strategies in different situations. The definition of the analytical criteria is facilitated by the variables set up by the European Center for Minority Issues (ECMI) related to minority cultural policies (2006) and the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of Minorities (2015). On the other hand, the Regional Authority Index (Hooghe, Marks, Schakel 2008) serves also as an analogy, which measures the degree of institutionalization, the scope of policy powers, financial and representative autonomy, and representation at the central level, among others.

Research results (publications):

  • Dobos Balázs: Német nemzetiségi önkormányzatiság Magyarországon (1994–2014). In: Eiler, Ferenc; Tóth, Ágnes (szerk.) A magyarországi németek elmúlt 100 éve : Nemzetiségpolitika és helyi közösségek. Budapest: Társadalomtudományi Kutatóközpont, Argumentum Kiadó, (2020) pp. 272-295., 25 p.

  • Molnár Sansum Judit; Dobos Balázs: Cultural Autonomy in Hungary: Inward or Outward Looking? NATIONALITIES PAPERS 48: Special Issue 2, pp. 251-266., 16 p. (2020). DOI:
  • Dobos Balázs: The Elections to Nonterritorial Autonomies of Central and South Eastern Europe. NATIONALITIES PAPERS 48:2 pp. 289-306., 18 p. (2020). DOI:
  • Dobos Balázs: A nemzetiségi önkormányzati rendszer nemzetközi összehasonlításban: Személyi elvű autonómiák Közép- és Délkelet-Európában. In: Kovács, Kálmán Árpád (szerk.): Nemzetiségek és törvényhozás Magyarországon. Budapest: Országház Könyvkiadó, (2019) pp. 299-315., 17 p.