National Minority Rights and Democratic Political Community: Practices of Non-Territorial Autonomy in Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe

In the 25 years since the fall of communism, a growing number of countries in Central and Eastern Europe have applied or discussed the historic model of non-territorial cultural autonomy (NTCA) as part of their national minority rights policies. Why is this the case, and to what extent can NTCA serve as viable means of accommodating diverse ethno-cultural claims and supporting the emergence of more integrated political communities, both in Central and Eastern Europe and more broadly?

This project explores contemporary debates and practices around non-territorial cultural autonomy (NTCA) for national minorities in Central and Eastern Europe, at a time when this region continues to face divisive issues of ethnicity and territoriality twenty-five years on from the fall of communism and the demise of the USSR and the former Yugoslavia. Through comparative analysis of elite interviews, parliamentary and media debates, official documents and other materials from a range of Central and East European countries, the project examines the origins, nature, and perceived effectiveness and legitimacy of current (or proposed) institutional arrangements based on non-territorial cultural autonomy. In this way, it aims to assess the extent to which NTCA can be seen as a viable mechanism for meaningfully accommodating diverse ethno-cultural claims within existing state borders, in a way which supports the emergence of more integrated political communities and – by extension - the agendas of regional stability and democratic consolidation currently promoted by international actors such as the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe and the European Union.


Project dates

31 October 2014 to 31 October 2017


Economic and Social Research Council (£603,000)


Prina, F. (2017 - forthcoming) National in Form, Putinist in Content: Minority Institutions ‘Outside Politics’. Europe-Asia Studies

Smith, D. J. (2017) State, Nation and Sovereignty in a Century of Uncertainty and Change: Turning Points and Continuities in Latvian Society and Polity. In: Smith, D. J. (ed.) Latvia - A Work in Progress? One Hundred Years of State- and Nation-Building. Series: Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society. ibidem-Verlag: Stuttgart, pp. 11-28. ISBN 9783838206486

Smith, D. J. (2017) Why Remember Paul Schiemann? In: Smith, D. J. (ed.) Latvia - A Work in Progress? One Hundred Years of State- and Nation-Building. Series: Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society. ibidem-Verlag: Stuttgart, pp. 71-90. ISBN 9783838206486

Smith D. J, Semenyshyn, M. (2016) Territorial-Administrative Decentralisation and Ethno-Cultural Diversity in Ukraine: Addressing Hungarian Autonomy Claims in Zakarpattya. Working Paper. European Centre for Minority Issues.

Smith, D. (2016) National Cultural Autonomy. In: Cordell, K. and Wolff, S. (eds.) Routledge Handbook of Ethnic Conflict. 2nd edition. Routledge: London, pp. 267-277. ISBN 9781138847736

Prina, F. (2016) Shrinking Autonomy for Tatarstan and Gagauzia: The Perils of Flexible Institutional Design. In: Nicolini, M., Palermo, F. and Milano, E. (eds.) Law, Territory, and Conflict Resolution: Law as a Problem and Law as a Solution. Series: Studies in Territorial and Cultural Diversity Governance (6). Brill: Leiden, pp. 244-269. ISBN 9789004311282

Prina, F. (2016) National Cultural Autonomy: Russia’s Model, the Tatars and Ethno-Cultural Education. Tatarica, 1(6), pp. 175-188

Prina, F. and Tomaselli, A. (2016) (unpublished) Land and Fishing Rights of Indigenous Peoples in Russia. Report to the Committee on the Implementation of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, International Law Association [text attached]

Smith, D. J. (2016) Estonia: A Model for Interwar Europe? Ethnopolitics, 15(1), pp. 89-104.

Smith, D. J. (2015) Non-Territorial Autonomy as Political Strategy in Eastern Europe. In: Malloy, T. H. and Palermo, F. (eds.) Minority Accommodation through Territorial and Non-Territorial Autonomy. Oxford University Press, pp. 161-178. ISBN 9780198746669

Molnar Sansum, J. (2015) Néhány gondolat a magyarországi romák interkultúrális stratégiájához [Some Thoughts about the Intercultural Strategies of the Hungarian Roma]. In: Keczeli, L., Kovács, K. I. P. and Nezdei, C. (eds.) Geográfus Körút 60. Virágmandula Kft., pp. 195-216. ISBN 9786155497445

Prina, F, (2015) The Position of National Minorities in Putin’s Russia: Uniformity or Diversity? Cicero Foundation, Great Debate Paper No. 15/08.

Smith, D. J. (2014) National-Cultural Autonomy in Contemporary Estonia. In: Salat, L., Constantin, S., Osipov, A. and Székely, I. (eds.) Autonomy Arrangements around the World: A Collection of Well and Lesser Known Cases. Romanian Institute for Research on National Minorities: Cluj-Napoca, Romania, pp. 299-316. ISBN 9786068377308

Smith, D. J. (2014) Minority Territorial and Non-Territorial Autonomy in Europe: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Challenges. In: Kantor, Z. (ed.) Autonomies in Europe: Solutions and Challenges. L'Harmattan: Budapest, pp. 15-24.

Further reading

Nimni, E., Osipov, A. & Smith D.J. (eds) (2013) The Challenge of Non-Territorial Autonomy: Theory and Practice. Series: Nationalisms across the Globe - Volume 13. Peter Lang, Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien. ISBN 978-3-0343-1714-6 pb.  (Softcover) ISBN 978-3-0353-0511-1 (eBook)

Smith, D.J. (2013) Non-territorial autonomy and political community in contemporary Central and Eastern Europe. Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe, 12 (1). pp. 27-55. ISSN 1617-5247 

Smith, D. (2013) Institutional memories and institutional legacies: managing minority-majority relations in post-communist Europe qua cultural autonomy. In: Cordell, K., Agarin, T. and Osipov, A. (eds.) Institutional Legacies of Communism: Change and Continuities in Minority Protection. Series: Routledge advances in European politics (95). Routledge, London, UK. ISBN 9780415638739  

Smith, D., and Hiden, J. (2012) Ethnic Diversity and the Nation State: National Cultural Autonomy Revisited. Series: Routledge innovations in political theory, 44 . Routledge, London. ISBN 9780415696906

Prina, F. (2012) Power, Politics and Participation: The Russian Federation’s National Minorities and their Participatory Rights. Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights, 30(1), pp. 65-96

Collaborations and partnerships

  • European Centre for Minority Issues (ECMI)
  • OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities
  • Hungarian Academy of Sciences
  • Babeş-Bolyai University
  • Federal Union of European Nationalities (FUEN)