New SNSF Project on Minority Protection in Belgium, Italy and Spain
Davide Rodogno, Professor of International History at the Graduate Institute, has been awarded CHF 591,867 by the SNSF for a research project entitled “The Myth of Homogeneity: Minority Protection and Assimilation in Western Europe, 1919–1939”. He will co-manage this three-year study, due to start in 2017, with Dr Emmanuel Dalle Mulle (PhD in International Studies, 2015).
In the late 1970s, Stein Rokkan and Derek Urwin argued that “most, if not all, states in Western Europe are multi-ethnic, with several layers of identity”. This might seem an obvious statement today, when important regions such as Scotland and Catalonia are confronted with strong demands for self-determination. It was not necessarily so, though, in the first half of the 20th century, when national homogeneity was considered a banal reality in much of Western Europe.
The main objective of “The Myth of Homogeneity: Minority Protection and Assimilation in Western Europe, 1919–1939” therefore is to question the widely held assumption of national homogeneity in Western Europe during the period under study, an assumption furthered by the then prevalent tendency of Western governments to ignore their own minority issues while, at the same time, imposing legislative constraints concerning the protection of national minorities on the new states emerging from the dissolution of the Central and Eastern European empires.
The project entails a multi-layered and multi-archival inquiry focusing on three case-study countries: Belgium, Italy and Spain. It revolves around three levels of analysis: government legislation concerning minority protection and/or assimilation and its enforcement; sub-state national minority mobilisation, or lack thereof; transnational and international interactions between state and non-state actors dealing with the issue of national minorities. It relies on a wide range of government, international organisations, and diplomatic archives as well as regional, international and transnational repositories. Despite including an analysis of the minority regime built around the League of Nations in the interwar years, the research will not be limited to that international organisation, since Western minorities did not fall under the jurisdiction of the League’s Minorities Section.
The goal is not at all to suggest that minority issues in Western Europe were the same as those in the Eastern part of the continent. It is rather to inquire into the specificities of minority-majority relations in Western European countries in order to provide material for a better-informed and scientifically grounded comparison with the situation in Eastern Europe. Furthermore, as the universalisation of the minority regime was among the main causes defended by organisations fighting for the rights of minorities at the time, the project will also try to answer the question whether we can discern (or not) in their language and/or practice incipient human rights principles, thus contributing to the burgeoning literature on the history of human rights.
But the relevance of the project goes beyond the academic need to fill a lacuna in the existing literature. At a time when Western Europe is confronted with strong separatist demands and centrifugal forces, it is necessary to question national homogeneity and to acquire a better understanding of the historical evolution of majority-minority relations.