Keynote Speech

Keynote Speech at the Opening of the "European Centre for Minority Issues" (ECMI), Flensburg, Germany, 4 December 1996 by ECMI Director Stefan Troebst

Your Royal Highness, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Friends and Colleagues,

there is no better occasion to inform a broader public on the mandate, the activities, and the aims of a new institution than its opening. So I shall make use of this occasion to give you a rough idea what tasks the three founders have assigned to us and how the board and staff plan to realize them in the near future. You will have noticed that the very name "European Centre for Minority Issues" - abbreviated ECMI - contains already a programme. Please allow me to explain briefly how we interpret the four terms "European," "Centre," "Minority," and "Issues."

First, the geographic scope of the new institution is Europe plus in some instances adjacent areas like the Arctic, the Black Sea Region or the Caucasus. A special focus will be, of course, on Eastern Europe where in the wake of 1989 many ethnopolitical hot spots resurfaced. But remembering this year's newspaper headlines on Northern Ireland, the Basques Provinces, Corsica, and Cyprus, we should not forget that it is not only the region behind the former Iron Curtain where violent ethnic conflicts are going on unresolved. When it comes to minority rights, also some Western countries are lagging behind.

Secondly, ECMI is a centre, not a typical research institute. That means that it is open to all sides and will try to function as the hub in the network of research institutions, international organizations, and NGOs active in the field of minority issues.

Thirdly, ECMI deals with minorities, more precisely with non-dominant ethnic groups. It goes without saying that in looking into minority issues, also the majority - be it a titular nation or a centralist state - has to be taken into account.

Fourthly, we have the letter "I" in ECMI's name standing for "issues," not, as usual, for "minority questions" or "minority problems." I think, the neutral term "issues" is an excellent choice. This because in most instances it is not the minorities which ask awkward questions and cause problems, but it is on the contrary the pressure centralist governments tend to put on their minorities which produce these questions and problems and which provoke ethnic tension and conflict. Finally, there is yet another peculiarity to the word "issues"--that is the fact that it is at all there. So ECMI is not a "European Centre for Minorities," but for "minority issues;" it is not an ombudsman to plead the cause of Europe's minorities, but to monitor, analyse, and--wherever feasible--to help to improve the relations between minorities and majorities in Europe. I think this is a very important distinction: Not to be the advocate of one of the parties in a conflict situation, but to try to act as an analyst and even as a mediator impartial to both sides.

Now, what exactly is ECMI going to do? Let me first enumerate its general functions and then give you some more concrete examples from our work programme for the year to come. On a general level, ECMI will collect, analyse and communicate information on inter ethnic and minority-majority relations, and, in particular, on practical experiences regarding the protection of minorities. This will happen via electronic information systems, publications, seminars, and lectures. For example, we will build up a databank with bibliographic information on the ethnic structure of Europe, and a full-text databank with information on legal and other solutions to minority issues. So if in the future you want to know all about the new Hungarian law on national minorities, on the minority rights of the Swedes on the Finnish Åland Islands, or on the status of Catalonia within Spain, then just have a look at our web page. There you will also find a detailed inventory of institutions in the field of diplomacy, politics, and academia, which concentrate on minority issues. So information services will be definitely one of our top priorities.

The same goes for research, be it in the form of field trips and study mission to the many minority areas of Europe or at our high-tech ivory tower, the Kompagnietor Building here in Flensburg. However, due to the limited number of academic staff at ECMI--from next year on there will be five to six scholars in place--due to this we cannot embark on pure basic research. Instead, we will have to proceed in a problem-oriented way that is focussing on areas of acute inter ethnic tension. Here, we will initiate case studies and interdisciplinary cooperation. We will publish results on a homepage, in a newsletter, occasional papers and monographs, and--at a later stage--in a new journal or a yearbook. Of course, ECMI will also organize academic conferences, either at the Kompagnietor or in one of the many institutions of political and adult education here in the border region. Already now we have many generous offers from such institutions on both sides of the border.

Yet next to information services and research there is an important third field of activities of the new centre: Early warning, conflict prevention, and conflict mediation. How can that be achieved?

Well, I think, first of all only in close coordination, cooperation and by teaming up with international organizations, NGOs, and other research institutions. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe--OSCE--, the Council of Europe, the European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, or the US-based Project on Ethnic Relations, are just some names on a long list of possible partners.

Secondly, as the protracted Yugoslav wars for succession have demonstrated, successful preventive diplomacy can be guaranteed only by well-functioning early warning systems. Accordingly, ECMI plans to team up with NGOs to establish early warning task forces for such ethnopolitical crisis zones, where diplomatic actors have no or little access. For example, in some of the minority areas of Serbia, inter ethnic tension with a potential to trigger off ethnic or even inter state warfare is acute. In Kosovo with its Albanian minority--or more precisely: majority--, but also in the Sandzak, where Serbian-speaking Muslims live, and in the Hungarian-populated Vojvodina, Serbian authorities are reluctant to grant international organizations, foreign diplomats or foreign correspondents permanent offices or even access. Here, an institution like ECMI has a good chance to achieve the necessary freedom of movement. This because we will, of course, also look into the status of the Serbian minorities outside Serbia--in Macedonia, Romania, or Croatia. The case of Kosovo, in particular, shows that good offices offered by a third party indeed can contribute to ethnic conflict prevention. Some of you probably remember that this September a Catholic Order from Italy was instrumental in bringing about a first agreement between the Serbian government and the leadership of the Kosovo Albanians concerning education. To meet on neutral ground and to talk with each other in an informal atmosphere without being under the mistrustful surveillance of one's own public - all that can contribute to better mutual understanding between the conflict parties and it can promote personal contacts which can prove vital in case of escalation.

So much for the tasks of ECMI and its mode of operation, and now a short glance at what the Board and staff are planning for 1997.

The most prominent project, at least in academic terms, is an international opening conference on "Ethnoradicalism and Centralist Rule: Eastern and Western Europe Compared". Here political scientists, sociologists, historians, anthropologists, and others will analyse the causes, the forms, and the results of violence in minority-majority relations. What makes minority elites opt for guerrilla warfare and terrorism in promoting their demands, what makes central governments turn to violent means in controlling their minorities, to forceful assimilation, or to ethnic cleansing--these will be the questions the conference will deal with.

Another project of ECMI is a conflict workshop on the crisis zone Transnistria inside the Republic of Moldova where in 1992 a short but cruel ethnic war with some one thousand casualties took place. The separatist authorities of Transnistria have already indicated their willingness to participate in such a meeting, as have leading Moldovan politicians. Also the governor of the autonomous area of Gagauzia and the speaker of the Gagauz parliament have assured us of their cooperation and participation. We have reason to assume that the presence of the Gagauz leadership which on its own behalf has already come to an agreement with Moldova will contribute to bridging the gap between the separatists and the central government. To be able to organize such a workshop here in Flensburg, in a multiethnic surrounding with its own well-established minority institutions and an impressive record of handling minority issues, is, of course, a big asset.

Accordingly, ECMI is also planning projects in cooperation with institutions here in the Danish-German border area. For example, we intend to contribute to a summer course for students from minority areas in East Central Europe, which the Højskolen Østersoen at Aabenraa is organizing. Our idea is to invite young Macedonians from Macedonia together with a group of youngsters from the large Albanian minority of that country. In Macedonian everyday life, Muslim Albanians and Christian Orthodox Macedonians have very little contact and the relationship between the two ethnic groups in general is strained. Perhaps such a summer course can bring young members of the two communities a bit closer together. Another cooperation partner of ECMI is the Ostsee-Akademie at Lübeck-Travemünde. Next May we will jointly organize a conference on the Ukraine with its large and many ethnic minorities like the Crimean Tatars, the Russians, or the Jews.

In 1997, we also will produce our first publications starting with the "ECMI Newsletter" which will be on the internet, too.

So much for our projects in the months to come.

Before I come to the end of my speech, please allow me to try to look even further into the future--not of the work of ECMI, however, but into future of ethnopolitical trends and processes in the countries of Europe. Let me first quote a warning from Max van der Stoel in looking back at his first four years in office as the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities recently directed to the OSCE member states: "We must have an open eye for longer-term developments with a view to anticipating future crises and not only pay attention to already existing conflicts." 1 As a historian I am, of course, on principle reluctant to forecast the future, but when it comes to minority issues, I think, the knowledge of history provides insights even in that regard. The modern history of Europe demonstrates that the process of nation-building has not--as we in the West tend to assume--come to an end. To the contrary, it is going on and on, and the emergence of additional actors is highly likely. A decade ago, most Western analysts considered the results of Soviet and Yugoslav nation-building from above as artificial and thus not viable. But today the new nations of say, the Bosnians, the Moldovans, or the Macedonians are consolidated--not least by crises, conflicts, and wars. They no longer consider themselves as being Muslim Serbs or Croats, as Romanians, or as Bulgarians. They by now have their own states, and there is absolutely no reason for not treating them as equal members of the family of European nations. But if they have built their nations, other ethnic groups might do so as well. The eminent social scientist in the field Ernest Gellner has called them Europe's "Sleeping Beauty Nations" who can wake up almost any minute. Yet whether, let's say, the Karelians in the very Northwest of the Russian Federation, the Pomaks in the Greek-Bulgarian border area, or the Occitanians of Southern France will or will not put forward a national programme, organize a national movement and ultimately demand or even fight for their own nation-state--these are difficult, but in some instances pressing questions.

For a state, as we all know, it takes not only symbols, executive bodies, and citizens, but first of all a territory. Whereas the number of nations in Europe is infinite, the territory is definitely not. And it is precisely here where our main problems lie. The American political scientist Samuel Huntington observed that the twentieth-century bias against political divorce, that is secession, is just about as strong as the nineteenth-century bias against marital divorce. Today in our secular, urban and industrial societies marital divorce is perfectly accepted. So what does that mean in terms of Huntington's "political divorce?" Does it mean that the principle of not changing borders by force, that is against the will of the central government, one day will be abolished or overtaken by the course of events, in this case by ethnic war and ultimately inter state war? Let us hope not. But on the other side, no minority should be left at the mercy of a repressive central government. In this regard even sovereign states have to accept intervention by the international community. In cases like Kosovo, only in that way can the escalation of inter ethnic tension be prevented. Besides that, the Bosnian tragedy has demonstrated that early warning and preventive diplomacy are much cheaper than robust peacekeeping, crisis management and conflict resolution applicable only after a conflict has broken out. I will quote once again the OSCE High Commissioner Van der Stoel: "Capital invested in conflict prevention is capital well spent." 2 In the same context, in a recent proposal concerning which strategy the EU should adopt towards Eastern Europe, Werner Weidenfeld and his "Forschungsgruppe Europa" have forcefully argued for introducing new elements into international law which will allow the international community directly to intervene in situations of escalating ethnic conflict. I am convinced an institution like ECMI can be instrumental in identifying such crisis zones and in measuring the degree of ethnic tension. So to sum up: It is exactly the ethnopolitical risks in Europe's future which make the founding of ECMI so timely an enterprise.

As I have indicated, our founders have alotted to us a large number of daring tasks, and the Board has approved an equally ambitious work programme for the immediate future. So my final message to you is that in order to accomplish all this, we need your support. We need the active help of all of you who are present here tonight. We count on your assistance to ensure ECMI's success. Only together with you can the "European Centre for Minority Issues" fulfil its broad mandate and contribute to an improvement of the relationship between minorities and majorities in Europe.

Thank you very much for your attention.

1 Report by Mr Max van der Stoel, OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities. OSCE Review Meeting, Vienna, 4-21 November 1996 (REF.RM/71/96/4 November 1996), p. 12.
2 Max van der Stoel: The Role of the CSCE High Commisioner on National Minorities in CSCE Preventive Diplomacy. In: Staffan Carlson (Ed.) The Challenge of Preventive Diplomacy. The Experience of the CSCE. Stockholm: Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs 1994, p. 33.

ECMI founders:

The German Federal GovernmentThe German
Federal Government
The Danish GovernmentThe Danish
The Federal State Schleswig-HolsteinThe Federal State