Annual Convention of the Association for the Study of Nationalities edition:11 location:Columbia University, New York date:23-25 March 2006
Contemporary political action for ethnic and national minorities in Europe appears to be increasingly directed towards supra- and transnational structures. This development seems indicative of the growth of a European space for minority activism – a public space that is less state-centered, that allows claims to be framed in terms of European standards and therefore facilitates the emergence of an active European citizenship. But while this Europeanization of minority politics offers minority activists additional and powerful avenues of activism, it also raises a number of important problems. Europeanization as a dominant strategy of self-representation for minorities may divert attention away from the responsibilities of the national state, it may create unrealistic expectations about the competencies and potential impact of European institutions, and in the absence of a more general presence of European citizenship it may stimulate and objectify a trend to see minorities as bounded groups that are completely separated from the national population of a state and do not share any interests with other groups within that national population.
This article seeks to advance a better understanding of the possible implications of the Europeanization of minority politics by exploring the case of the Romani (Gypsy) movement in Hungary. More in particular, analyzing documentary sources and interviews with Romani activists and politicians and administrators from European institutions, we identify an ambiguous understanding of the Europeanization of minority politics among Hungarian Romani activists and historically shifting ideas about the significance of “Europe” in Hungarian Romani ethnic mobilization. Following Hungary’s accession to the European Union, we observe an increasing tendency for Hungarian Romani activists to appeal to European institutions for political support and to frame the Roma human rights movement as the activism of a specifically “European” people. With the appearance of new leaders and organizations working at the European level, Roma rights issues are reframed as the issues of “Europe’s largest ethnic minority.” Whether in Brussels, Budapest, or the Hungarian countryside, Romani activists frequently express high hopes for positive social change following Hungary’s accession to the European Union. On the domestic and local levels, however, this “Europeanized” framing of Romani claims could eclipse other important ways of framing demands for substantive structural change.