POLMIN - The Contraditions of Regional Minority Politics
Under what conditions do minorities seek universal individual and group rights, and when do they turn towards exclusive nationalism? Minorities in politics are generally seen as trouble makers. They are expected to induce boundary making and discrimination, such as seen in Flanders, or northern Italy. However, under a different set of circumstances, regional or linguistic minorities may play a liberalizing role and induce inclusion in national politics, as seen in Scotland.
The eastern part of the European continent provides an important testing ground for the dynamics of minority politics with a striking puzzle. Hungarian speakers living in Slovakia or Romania tend to support liberal minority parties when they vote in their country of residence. However, when they also hold Hungarian citizenship, and vote in Hungarian elections as members of the majority group, they tend to support the nationalist-conservative Fidesz party of Victor Orbán. What an interesting contradiction. While Hungary recently gained notoriety for its heavy-handed response to migration, a Hungarian minority party in Slovakia argued that migration may benefit the receiving countries. This example suggests that minorities in politics may act circumstantially, begging for the explanation of the conditions that affect their behavior. Such an approach is a significant departure from the classical literature on minority political behavior, which largely finds minority politics as a source of particularistic extremism, conflict, democratic instability, and suboptimal public goods provision (e.g. Easterly and Levine 1997, Fearon and Laitin 1996, Cederman et al. 2015, Wucherpfennig et al 2015). Even if minorities tend to stabilize political choice by leading group members to continuously support their representatives (Birnir 2007, Csergö & Regelmann 2017), it produces particularistic politics of belonging that detract from politics of universal individual and group rights.
POLMIN sees minority politics as normal politics, and eastern Europe as Europe. It seeks to compare the behaviour of minorities and majorities, assessing when individuals of specific groups turn towards group particularism devoid of universalistic content, and when group status infuses politics with the search for universal individual and group rights. The project seeks to identify the conditions that determine the formation of preferences and behaviour among minority groups and their members across diverse contexts. While some scholars (e.g. Chandra 2005, Hamidi 2010, Laitin 1998, Posner 2005) approach minority politics by studying the construction of group identities and their political mobilization, this project addresses the preference formation and electoral behaviour of minority group members defined on the basis of a key socially and politically salient characteristic – their mother tongue. POLMIN thus proposes to carry out qualitative and quantitative studies of the Hungarian speaking minorities in Slovakia and Romania, comparing how their preferences and voting behaviour differ across political and group contexts.
POLMIN addresses how inequality between group political positions influences political preferences and behaviour of individuals, and how this may conditionally shape the political process in a country. POLMIN is theoretically innovative because it considers the conditional nature of minority status. The project ambitiously demonstrates under which conditions minority groups can infuse politics with preferences seeking rights, inclusive conceptions of society, and civil liberties thus acting as a liberalizing force in national politics, and under which conditions minorities rather seek exclusive group particularism. Methodologically, the project innovatively disentangles how the same individual behaves in two distinct political settings.
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This project is financed by Sciences Po as part of the projects selected by the Scientific Advisory Board