Multiculturalism and Diversity in the 21st Century Europe
Multiculturalism şi diversitate în Europa secolului al XXI-lea
Antony Alcock, A History of the Protection of Regional Cultural Minorities in Europe (From the Edict of Nantes to the Present Days), Palgrave Mac Millan Press Ltd., Hampshire and London and St. Martin’s Press, New York LLC, 2000, ISBN 0-333-652621-4, pp. 279.
“Vasile Goldiş” Western University of Arad, Romania
Faculty of Humanistic, Political and Administrative Sciences
During the present time, the debate regarding European minorities is a problem of high interest. Even if it is a discussion of Basques and Catalans, Turks and Greeks in Cyprus, Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Hungarians in Romania or genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the matter is high on the agenda. After centuries of confrontations in Europe, the European Union tries to legitimate the issue of national minorities, willing to eliminate any kind of discrimination and to preserve cultural identity. Recommendation 1201/1993 of the Council of Europe intended to draw up an additional protocol on the rights of minorities to the European Convention of Human Rights in order to provide the Council with a suitable mediation instrument.
Considering the diversity of peoples and cultures living for centuries within the European space and their important contribution to the cultural development of the European states and civilization, the Recommendation seeks to recognize the rights of persons belonging to a national minority within a state and the international protection of those rights as an aspect of international co-operation, able to end the ethnic, linguistic and religious confrontations, and to guarantee justice, democracy and peace . Nevertheless, at the beginning of the third millennium, the topic of minorities is still an actual one.
Antony Alcock’s  book, A History of the Protection of Regional Cultural Minorities in Europe (From the Edict of Nantes to the Present Days), is an important study of the main historical events that changed the European approach of the issue of national minorities, providing an original account of the historical foundations of this direction of research. The book is divided in five parts, with seven chapters in total, accompanied by an introductory study, a comprehensive conclusion, two appendixes (one showing the main minorities and the percentage from the total population in 37 European states and another one showing the European states accession to the Council of Europe’s European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages and the Framework Convention for the protection of National Minorities) and several maps of ethnic, cultural, religious and linguistic minorities. The book offers a detailed sketch of European thought during more than five centuries, centered on the history of protection of minorities in Western and Central Europe and its role in shaping the actual European approach of the national minorities. Alcock offers an interesting interpretation for the emergence of contemporary European acts of rights and standards for protection of minorities based on the comprehensive understanding of lessons learned over many centuries of historical cohabitation and confrontations.
The first chapter of the book deals with different acts of tolerance from the 16th century till the 18th century, times when Western and Central Europe were wracked by religious war. So, it is not unusual that the first instruments of minority protection are related to religion. Terms, such as religious and civil tolerance, have been later replaced by the more extensive 19th century notions of moral autonomy and self determination. Thus, the second chapter provides an interesting discussion about the so-called “Minorities Treaties, treaties between the victorious Allies and five newly created or enlarged existing states, namely Czechoslovakia, Greece, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia” (p. 47). Although the treaties insisted much on citizenship and equality of rights for individuals and toleration for religious minorities, the so-called “new states” omitted some important aspects connected to their minorities groups. The Romanian Minorities Treaty, for instance, “did not contain similar articles concerning the Jews. However, under Article 7 Romania undertook to recognize as nationals ipso facto and without the requirement of any formality Jews inhabiting any Romanian territory who did not possess another nationality” (p. 51).
The third chapter presents the territorial changes and population movements during the Second World War and its immediate aftermath, accompanied by massacres made by majorities on minorities failed to become loyal citizens in their homelands states. The fourth chapter provides a well presented agenda of events that took place in the non Communist part of Europe, between 1948-1972, under the protection of the International Bill of Human Rights (1946) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The author approaches and analyses some important situations regarding the protection of minorities in the second part of the 20th century (the issue of Italy and Val d’Aosta Autonomy Statute, Denmark and Schleswig Holstein Land, Austria and Carinthia, Cyprus and Turks and Greeks, France and Brittany, Spain and Catalonia, Great Britain and Northern Ireland). The fifth chapter presents the major steps made during the last three decades of the 20th century. The first important step is the process of European integration, the second is the significant development in the doctrine of self determination (the right of national minorities to decide upon all statutory measures necessary for the maintenance and development of their characteristics and to have legal and administrative autonomy) and the third step is the rise of religionalism and regional democracy (pp. 135-36).
The sixth chapter provides an interesting study on Eastern European countries and their minorities during the Soviet domination and after. An important part is dedicated to Romania, especially to the Hungarian, German and Jewish minorities and their evolution before 1989 and after. The last chapter of the book points to the idea that still no lessons have been learned over more than five centuries of controversies and, even most of the European countries have improved their minorities status and European Union has adopted the legal measures in order to guarantee international protection for all national minorities in Europe, the issue of national minorities in Europe is far from being solved. As illustrations are the situation in former Yugoslavia and the ethnic conflict in Cyprus.
Alcock’s A History of the Protection of Regional Cultural Minorities in Europe (From the Edict of Nantes to the Present Days) represents nothing less than a relevant advocacy for the protection of human rights having at its core some significant case studies which represent major contributions to the field of history of national minorities in Europe. This book also represents an important step forward in the process of clarifying and arguing the idea of multiculturalism and diversity.
1. Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly, Recommendation 1201/1993 on an additional Protocol on the Rights of National Minorities to the European Convention of Human Rights.
2. Antony Alcock (1936-2006) had been a member of the University of Ulster, as Professor of European Studies. He was an expert on minority protection in Europe, developing both the academic and political aspects of the subject. He worked for the United Nations and the European Union in a number of roles. His main work, however, lay in the field of minority and cultural protection.