National cultural autonomy
DOI link for National cultural autonomy
National cultural autonomy book
In the ﬁrst two to three decades after the Second World War it was widely, though mistakenly assumed that ethnicity had ceased to be a signiﬁcant factor in European politics. Increasingly challenged from the 1970s, this view lost any remaining credence following the end of the Cold War. Since the turn of the 1990s, ethnic politics has been a particular focus of attention in relation to the former communist countries, where the policies of the previously existing regimes are widely seen as having strongly institutionalized ethno-cultural understandings of nationhood. The economic turbulence of the late socialist period, a collective memory of past oppressions and the absence of any strongly rooted tradition of democratic institutions all created fertile terrain for ethnic conﬂict, which emerged in several of the countries created or reconstituted following the demise of the USSR and the former Yugoslavia. To outside eyes, the bloodshed that has occurred in Croatia, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and elsewhere has invited parallels with the period from 1878-1945, when the region’s ‘national question’ contributed in no small measure to the outbreak of two World Wars. This focus on conﬂictual dynamics of ethnicity, however, has obscured past multinational legacies within the region, including some original models for the management of ethnic diversity within a single territorial state framework. A good example is the concept of National Cultural Autonomy (NCA – also known as
non-territorial cultural autonomy), which was ﬁrst devised at the turn of the twentieth century by the Austrian Social Democrats Karl Renner (1870-1950) and Otto Bauer (1881-1938). These ‘Austro-Marxists’ sought to transform the then Habsburg Monarchy into a democratic multinational federation based on ‘personal, not territorial characteristics’ (Renner 2005: 32). Their ideas also attained widespread currency within the western provinces of the neighbouring tsarist empire. Renner and Bauer’s vision was soon overtaken by the tumultuous events of 1914-1923, which precipitated the collapse of the region’s polyethnic empires. In Central Europe, these gave way to a belt of new, putatively national states. Further east there emerged the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, which (in line with Stalin’s famous 1913 deﬁnition of the nation and Lenin’s previous repudiation of Austro-Marxism) gave territorial recognition to the former subject ethnicities of the tsarist empire. The USSR could, however, in no way be considered a genuine federation, and it ultimately served to institutionalize
both territorial-political and personal ethno-cultural models of nationhood as well as the tension between them (Brubaker 1996: 35-36). The NCA concept was nevertheless carried over into the ‘New Europe’ of the post First World War era: during the 1920s it informed laws on minority rights adopted by Estonia and Lithuania and also became the guiding principle of the European Nationalities Congress, a transnational lobby group that sought to reform the League of Nations and challenge the primacy of the indivisibly sovereign nationstate within international relations (Smith and Hiden 2012). These pre-1914 and inter-war developments could easily be dismissed as a quaint experiment belonging to a bygone age. However, in the post-1945 period, NCA has been applied as a facet of federally based political arrangements in Belgium and Canada and as an arrangement catering for indigenous peoples in a range of settings (Coakley 1994; Chouinard 2013; Salat et al. 2014). Since 1991, national minority legislation based on the NCA principle has also been adopted in a number of former communist states in Central and East Europe.