Promoting Minority Rights in Ukraine and Central and Eastern Europe

Over the past decade, growing nationalism and authoritarianism have made ethnic minorities more vulnerable and has threatened to compromise political stability in Central and Eastern Europe. Professor David Smith’s team has worked with leading international organisations to deliver new legal instruments to protect the rights of ethnic minorities. 

The research

The current resurgence of nationalism in Europe denies ethnic minorities a political voice, painting them as a threat to the cohesion of majority-dominated states.  

Professor Smith’s research reverses this perspective by showing how ethnic minorities have contributed positively to the democratisation and fuller integration of diverse societies in Central and Eastern Europe. 

His research has highlighted examples of good practice and suggested that these could provide a template for resolving tensions surrounding minority groups in Ukraine and other contexts.  

As the Ukraine crisis shows, ethnic tensions can increase when an ethnic minority in one state is a majority in another, neighbouring state.  

If such minorities are excluded by their home state, they become more susceptible to external influence from—and political manipulation by—this external ‘kin’ state.  

The team’s research highlighted the need to address this issue as crucial to any discussion on advancing minority rights in contemporary Central and Eastern Europe. 

The Impact

Through a range of targeted knowledge exchange activities, research by Smith’s team has informed the approach of leading international organisations, such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). 

The team’s research has guided the policy recommendations of the OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities (HCNM). He acknowledged that engagement with the research has, ‘informed my work and allowed my staff to consider new and relevant issues [in the] integration of diverse societies.’ 

A key concern of the OSCE had been updating its guidelines in response to a rapidly-changing international environment.  

To this end, Dr Federica Prina was invited to join an expert group convened to update the 2003 HCNM Guidelines on the Use of Minority Languages in the Broadcast Media.  

This resulted in the new Tallinn Guidelines on National Minorities and the Media in the Digital Age (2019).  

The Chair of the expert group commended Prina’s, ‘valuable contribution to the preparatory process’, of guidelines that will, ‘guide national law and policymakers, and OSCE work in this area for some time to come’.