Minority Rights in a contemporary dictatorship

The case of the Polish minority in Belarus

Master's Thesis, 2010

86 Pages, Grade: 1,5


Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations


1. Introduction
1.1 Understanding the “problem of minorities”
1.2 Substantive law
1.3 Minorities and a dictatorship

2. Living in a dictatorship: Poles in Belarus
2.1 From defective democracy to a dictatorship
2.2 Polish Minority in the newly independent state of Belarus

3. Obligations and monitoring
3.1 Analyzing legal standards
3.1.1 Internal standards of Belarus
3.1.2 Bilateral treaty obligations
3.1.3 International standards
3.2 Analyzing monitoring mechanisms
3.2.1 Treaty-based monitoring mechanisms
3.2.2 Non-treaty based monitoring mechanisms

4. External influence
4.1 Strategies of international and domestic actors
4.2 Belarus: Change or Continuity?

5. Conclusions

6. Summary in a foreign language

7. Attachment


List of Abbreviations

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Belarus is arguably the least democratic country in Europe. As such it has posed problems for the EU and other European and Western institutions, especially on the field of minority protection. Minorities are among the most contested issues in political life because they speak to an inherent tension in human affairs between competing desires for freedom and belonging. The diversity, aimed by the Western political actors, simply contradicts the principle that legitimates a political community in an authoritarian state. In the case of the Belarusian dictatorship it leads to enhanced conformity resulting in minority discrimination. The paper presents different kinds of the external influence in order to assess the most effective one(s) when defending minority rights in a dictatorship.

1. Introduction

1.1 Understanding the “problem of minorities”

The “problem of minorities” is both intellectually created and historically situated. In Europe, from the 18th to the mid-19th century and after the Second World War, a fundamental shift in political thinking could be observed regarding the relationship between legitimacy and community. Previously, authority came from above (the ruler king, the emperor, the pope.. .etc.). Today we believe that power originates from below (demos). In fact, “people cannot decide until someone decides who are the people” (JENNINGS 1956: 56). But how should the people be identified? At this point the so-called “diversity dilemma”, which makes the existence of religious, racial, linguistic and ethnic diversity within contemporary states controversial, is brought up. This dilemma is a simple contradiction between freedom, manifested as diversity, and belonging, manifested as community. In other words: shall political order require conformity or rather recognize diversity? The dilemma can be seen as a consequence of the imperfect realization of the concept of self-determination of the national minorities within the present state systems (comp. JACKSON 2005: 3, 182 et sqq). Diversity contradicts the principle that legitimates a political community because it threatens, weakens or destroys the basis of its ideal: collective belonging and social consensus. The “problem of minorities” exists nowadays in a majority of contemporary states. It may have serious consequences not only for individuals affected but also for domestic, regional and, in fact, global peace and security (comp. BAGLEY 1950). A proper understanding of the problem is therefore essential for both academics and politicians in order to avoid such conflicts. This chapter will summarize arguments claiming minority rights as a key concept to limit the potential destabilizing effects of such exceptions to the prevailing rule of state legitimacy.

During the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the term “minorities” was included for the first time in a peace treaty. In the same year, Woodrow Wilson introduced a new principle of legitimacy - the self-determination concept. Previously the concept was understood as the right of ethnic nations, after the mid-1950s - as the right of civic nations. Since that time the nation­state system is justified by this doctrine which asserts that every nation has a right to independent political control over a given territory and its people (MCLEAN, MCMILLAN 2009: 446). Also minority rights, devolution, federalism, and greater acknowledgement of the legitimacy of cultural self-expression are all terms of the self-determination concept (comp. GRIFFITHS, O'CALLAGHAN 2002: 294 et seq). Yet, despite the doctrine, national minorities do not posses political independence in this incoherently distributed post-war territories and, as Jackson concludes, the contemporary “problem of minorities emerges as a lack of consent or entitlement to full participation in political life such that the principle of self-determination is compromised in some way” (2005: 11), Although the modern theory of state sovereignty postulates a neat fit between international boundaries and politically significant identities, in reality the two rarely coincide (MOYNIHAN 1993), Because freedom requires autonomy of action, diversity of choices, variety of values, different beliefs, identities, innovation, and on the other hand, belonging requires coordination, subordination, social cohesion, homogenous choices as well as orthodoxy, the existence of minorities and their striving for self-determination within certain systems is a potential source of insecurity and conflict. Self-determination struggles have appealed in a way opposing values of community and individuality. The potential mentioned in the controversy between freedom and belonging explains the fear of those who are different. Thus, it becomes a subject of policies designed to restructure these socially and politically destructive elements. This fear is often being politically manipulated within states where social complexity is assumed to require a certain degree of conformity (comp. JACKSON 2005: 7, 184). There are two ways in order to overcome the “problem of minorities”: enforcing conformity or recognize diversity through implementing, as far as possible, the self-determination principle.

Before clarifying the role of minority rights in resolving the problem, it would be useful to define the term “minority”. No universally agreed upon definition of minority exists at the present. Insight into the core definitions of minority can however be gained by examining how relevant academic commentators have dealt with this concept. Francesco Capotorti in his “Study on the Rights of Persons belonging to Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities” defines the term as “a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of the State, in a non-dominant position, whose members - being national of the state - posses ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population and show, if only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion or language” (1979, para. 568, 96). Capotorti points out the importance of nationality, non-dominant position and sense of solidarity, excluding at the same time guest workers and refugees. The possible weak point of this definition is the lack of a territorial requirement as well as not distinguishing between immigrants and the traditional national minority scenarios. Comparable features are contained in the definition of Jules Deschenes: “a group of citizens of a State, constituting a numerical minority and in a non-dominant position in that State, endowed with ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics which differ from those of the majority of the population, having a sense of solidarity with one another, motivated, if only implicitly, by a collective will to survive and whose aim is to achieve equality with the majority in fact and in law” (1985, para. 181, 30). This definition includes the term of a “citizen of a State”, which requires different legal status than Capotorti’s “nationals”. This is also the remarkable difference if quoting the concept of minority according to Asbjorn Eide that describes such a group of people as “persons resident within a sovereign State which constitutes less than half the population of the national society and whose members share common characteristics of an ethnic, religious or linguistic nature that distinguish them from the rest of the population" (1993, par. 29, 7).

The concept of minority also applies in international practice. The United Nations Sub­commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and the Protection of Minorities was the forum in which most of the work towards a universally accepted definition was conducted during the period following the end of the Second World War. However, the United Nations has to date not included any definition of the term itself. In case of OSCE, the term “minority” is defined in documents dating from the end of 1995. The definition has got much in common with Capotorti’s definition, although on the further interrogation it has been clearly limited to traditional, non-immigrant minorities. The Council of Europe, in turn, dealing with different kinds of minorities, decided to define national minorities as “separate or distinct groups, well defined and established on the territory of a state, the members of which are nationals of that state and have certain religious, linguistic, cultural or other characteristics which distinguish them from the majority of the population” (CoE, PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY RECOMMENDATION 1134, 1990). This definition, also having much in common with Caportori’s, does not include a desire on the group’s behalf to maintain their distinct national identity or national language. Each definition reveals an intimate connection to the concept of nation - minorities are finally ethno-nations who failed to secure the independence in their own nation-state and have to exist in within political boundaries of some other nation state. Thus the term “minority” will be used in this study in the common sense of the term “national minority”.

Nevertheless, the diversity remains at the sub-state level. In other words: it cannot be fully accommodated by the further redistribution of existing sovereignty to create more independent states. This is why any political community, in order to preserve territorial and political stability, has to deal with the “diversity dilemma” and possible solutions of it. The enforcement can be explained by the claim of Hannah Arendt saying:

“The reason why highly developed political communities, such as (...) the modern nation-states, so often insist on ethnic homogeneity is that they hope to eliminate as far as possible those natural and always present differences and differentiations. (...) The ‘alien’ is a frightening symbol of difference as such, of individuality as such, and indicates those realms in which man cannot change and cannot act and in which therefore, he has a distinct tendency to destroy”.


In practice, the political community must attempt to make the facts correspond to the ideal, regardless of the rights and interests of those among its population who do not conform to the public official identity. Discrimination, assimilation, persecution and separation as main forms of such enforcement follow from the imperative presented. Before enlightening these forms it would be worth mentioning the human need they derive from. As Hannah Arendt describes, political order will be a human artifice and not a part of the natural, physical world around. Normative constraints on individual behavior are the “foundation of an order” (ibid.: 302) and thus secure collective existence. Without “Leviathan”, which Thomas Hobbes defines as this human artifice, there is a “continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” (1988: 66). The fear of a return to the natural, non-social order (“war of all against all”) makes the diversity challenging the normative basis of the existing political community so divisive.

According to the Blackwell Encyclopedia for Political Thought, discrimination is “an action that treats people differently when there are no morally relevant differences between them (...) and unfairly because of their membership in a particular social group” (MILLER 1991: 127 et seq, comp. also: MCLEAN, MCMILLAN 2009: 143). Enforcing conformity via discrimination involves exclusion from whatever ideal sustains community, restraining access to it and limiting benefit enjoyment to the community members. Jennifer Jackson Preece describes this practice as one intending “to make it difficult for the minority to sustain its separate existence and thus [encouraging] the attrition of its members through flight, assimilation or increased mortality” (1998: 184). Through assimilation persons belonging to minorities are absorbed into the larger society or dominant culture, removing all public evidence of diversity: by speaking only the official language, worshiping only according to the official religion and, broadly speaking, conducting lives like the rest of the population (RYBARSKI 1926: 7 et seq). Persecution can be defined as “the punishment of individuals based solely on factors such as race, religion, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status” (librarv.thinkquest.org). It includes different kinds of violence conducted by agents of the political community: from harassment, verbal or physical abuse, to even death. The intention is here to disrupt the lives of persons belonging to minorities in order to encourage them to assimilate. The last of the main forms of enforcing conformity is separation. This method detaches minority from the rest of the community so that this community becomes more homogenous in result. It may involve legal or administrative division, physical removal to a separate geographical space (ghetto, forced migrations) or another community (transfer of population) or else even, as final act of separation, the physical annihilation (genocide) (comp. JACKSON 1998: 185 et seq). These scenarios present diversity as a threat per se. History however, demonstrates that such attempts to enforce conformity are temporary and inefficient. Refractory human nature makes diversity resilient. In consequence, such policies may intensify the minority/majority conflicts they hoped to avoid. Instead, minorities who are recognized and supported are less likely to challenge authority or territorial integrity (comp. ESSER 1996: 74 etseq; JACKSON 2005). Thus, alternatively, political communities can recognize diversity and provide special guarantees for minorities often in the form of minority rights in order to prevent political instability.

Continuously, since the 17th century and especially since the end of the 19th century, special agreements have become a standard feature when recognizing new or enlarged states. This response, presented scrupulously in the next chapter, is certainly more compassionate than enforcing conformity. However, it cannot be assumed that minority rights finally resolve the diversity dilemma. The recognition of group rights at the expense of individual ones is not consistent with the ethical attraction of the much-abused self-determination concept. It should rather provide a moral and legal framework in which some “hard choices” can be adjudicated. Robert Jackson defines them as “the best choices in the circumstances” (2000: 22). This concept seems to be coherent with assumptions of normative pluralism. Michael Walzer says, “Once we see the richness and complicity of social goods, once we appreciate the different ways in which different communities understand goods, value goods and think various goods, we will no longer doubt that justice is a human construction”. Furthermore he states, “The question posed by the theory of distributive justice admit of a range of answers, and there is room within the range of cultural diversity and political choice” (1983: 5 et seq). Isaiah Berlin, in order to explain that members of one culture can recognize the values of another culture identifies it as: “the conception, that there are many different ends that men may seek and still be fully rational, fully men, capable of understanding each other” (1990: 11). Thus, hard choices will always arise; the incommensurability of diversity and community makes this unavoidable. However, those conflicts can be minimized by promoting equilibrium and the concept of minority rights is a response to this need.

1.2 Substantive law

Minority rights create a series of corresponding duties and procedures (judicial and political, domestic and international) fixed in constitutions, legislation, agreements, treaties and declarations. These rights are “rights of individual persons belonging to minorities” (GRIFFITHS; O'CALLAGHAN 2002: 295). In other words: they principally do not recognize the rights of groups as such, they can be individually exercised however, in community with other members. The group rights are designed to preserve and protect the individual’s propensity for communal attachments and associations. Furthermore, this individual right formation was made necessary by the continued refusal of sovereign rights advocates to accept any national minority guarantees because it was feared they could be abused by dissatisfied national minorities to further their own secessionist aspirations. This was the case during the interwar period for instance. Nowadays, most existing documents on minority rights recognize only individual claims. However, there are some exceptions. Article 3(2) of the Convention on the Protection of National Minorities states that “persons belonging to national minorities may exercise the rights and enjoy the freedoms flowing from the principles enshrined in the present framework Convention individually as well as in community with others” (FCNM 1995). Another example is the Copenhagen Document, Article 32.6 (CD 1990). This is why those states hostile to collective guarantees did not entirely escape the more rigorous duties these entailed. Nevertheless, until now it is not clear how much of a check on state sovereignty these clauses represented.

There are two schools if considering the minority and the human rights. There is considerable academic controversy whether they are a separate normative category. According to Donnelly, Sieghart and Vincent, human rights are, corresponding to their provisions, classified into civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights (comp. DONNELLY 2003, SIEGHART 1986, VINCENT 1986). They try then to preserve certain common distinctiveness. Minority rights however, wish to preserve and promote the distinctiveness of minorities in particular. The other distinction is that minority rights are not given but constructed in certain social realities where belonging to a group is a precondition for exercising those rights. The advocates of the sufficiency of the human rights believe they would be a complete solution, characterizing the problem of minorities as a struggle of individuals for civil and political equality in the face of discrimination (RA'i'KKA 1996). For purposes of this study it will be assumed that the minority rights are not a separate normative category situated outside the human rights framework but they are rather considered to be part and parcel of it. The minority rights are to be seen as one of several sets of category specific human rights for persons belonging to especially vulnerable groups. The explanation for this is that their vulnerable position requires ‘special’ rights in order to obtain substantively equal level of protection of their human dignity, that is the founding principle of human rights (comp. HIPOLD 2005: 568, HEINTZE 2005: 86).

Minority rights are not natural givens but the construction of particular historical moments. The history of establishing minority rights in the international law system can be divided into five periods. These periods, according to the theory of Social Constructivism, prove that only exceptional circumstances and needs create innovative legislation. A major focus of social constructivism is to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the creation of their perceived social reality and identity over time. There will be presented a model of international interaction that explores the normative influence of fundamental institutional structures and the connection between normative changes and state identity and interests (GRIFFITHS, O'CALLAGHAN 2002: 50 et sqq). It is generally understood to be the by-products of countless human choices rather than laws resulting from divine will or nature (comp. BURR 1995). In order to create a new legislation on minority rights, key players (persons calling for changes), chance situation (when previously popular norms have been put in question) and socialization mechanism (legislation) were needed in every period presented below (GRIFFITHS, O'CALLAGHAN 2002: 50 et sqq). This perspective of the Social Constructivism can also be put in the analytical frameworks of the New Institutionalism, the principal focus of which concentrates on the international political process. It is, broadly speaking, a study of the way the institutions operate, relate to each other and organize themselves. The institutions are sets of rules meant to govern international behavior. Institutionalism claims, that despite lack of common government in international politics, sustained cooperation is possible under well defined conditions (conditions include existence of mutual interests that make joint gains from cooperation possible). There is however a long-term relationship among actors and a practice of reciprocity according to agreed upon standards of appropriate behavior needed. The cooperation is here not an antithesis of conflict but constitutes a process for the management of conflict (BALZACQ 2008: 10 et sqq). In the context of minority rights under the term institutions, fall all the structures and mechanisms of social order and cooperation governing the behavior of a set of individuals: legislation, monitoring, enforcement.

The history of protection of minorities in Europe begins in the period of religious wars (Reformation and Counter-Reformation). Thus, the first protected minorities were religious, namely in the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648, later in the Treaty of Berlin in 1878. The French Revolution resulted in protection of national minorities in 1789, beginning from the technique of the plebiscite which was somehow an unspoken implementation of the self-determination concept. This would be prejudicial to the principle of the balance of power after the defeat of Napoleon in 1815. The second stage is associated with the rise of nationalism and social Darwinism where language and culture came in turn to be politicized. Until the end of the Second World War however, measures of protection still concentrated on religious groups. This is why specific minority treaties between the Allied and Associated Powers, and Poland, in 1919, as well as the Swedish-Finnish agreement on territorial autonomy of Swedish-speaking inhabitants of the Aland Islands, 1920, must be seen as a measure of protection ahead of their times (ALCOCK 2000: 1).

After the Second World War, a new international order appeared. The war experience put the emphasis on human rights for all rather than special rights for some. National minority rights were considered contrary to international peace and security. However, as result of new border-states and new minorities, it has been realized with time that non-discrimination clauses are required. This conclusion was substantiated by some states’ disavowal of proposed national minority rights regime (i.e. Poland, Czechoslovakia). In 1965, the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination was adopted. “Vital elements of the social life of the individual member of the community can only be enjoyed as a part of a group, and the enjoyment of minority rights therefore depends on the existence and development of the group” (ibid.: 2). In that respect, the Paris Agreement 1946 on South Tyrol, almost twenty years before, was an exception to the postwar trend because it proposed a political framework for the protection of the German-speaking minority in Italy for a multicultural area. The fourth stage to be distinguished begins in the 1970s with the process of Western European integration and the fall of the Spanish dictatorship. The concept of self-determination gained its renaissance with the recognition of frontiers and the rise of regionalism, both connected with regional diversity recognition. The fifth and present stage began after the fall of the Iron Curtain when many minorities, especially in Eastern Europe, gained their independence with the fall of the Soviet system and became the dominant majority in new independent states. Why did minority issues become so important after the collapse of communism? Liebich argues that ethnicity has become one, sometimes the principal, criterion for the distribution of scare resources (1998: 5, comp. also ESSER 1996). The need for developing standards and monitoring machinery became evident. A great majority of theorists, lawyers and policy-makers have come to the clear conclusion that recognizing diversity might be a better option than enforcing conformity. As a result, a growing list of minority rights nowadays includes such rights as provisions for identity, language, culture, ethnicity, religion, education, equality and political participation. Still, the fundamental dilemma in recognizing national minority rights - whether post -1919, post-1945, or post-1989 - concerns that gap between so-called principles of order that affirm the territorial integrity and sovereignty of existing states, and those principles of legitimacy that affirm the right of all nations to independent statehood (comp. JACKSON 1998: 123). Since the beginning of the 1990s, there can be observed a certain international integration process in the form of growing acceptance for rules and norms that construct the surrounding reality. This applies exactly to the assumptions of Functionalism. The main idea of the theory is that international cooperation should begin by dealing with specific transnational problems where there is some prospect of applying specialized knowledge and where the success of ad hoc functional agreements will lead to further efforts to replicate the experience. Over time, the principle of territorial and legal sovereignty will weaken because states would transfer functional responsibilities to international agencies in order to deal with issues on a supra-national level (GRIFFITHS, O'CALLAGHAN 2002: 116 et seq). Correspondingly, the problem of minorities has reached this level and a certain international minority rights regime has been created.

In order to systematize the development of this regime, a certain number of international documents created and signed after 1945 can be named, with a special focus on European dimensions (see: development of documents on minority protection; attachment 1). One can observe a strong interest in the issue after the collapse of the communism (three significant international agreements in the period 1945 - 1989 and about 11 noteworthy agreements after 1989). Another reason, on the other hand, is the long process of integration in Europe. Obviously, there have been documents created on specific national issues as well, for instance: the General Framework Agreement for Peace in Bosnia, 1995; the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement, 1998; the Bougainville Peace Agreement, 2001 or the Constitutional Framework of Provisional Self-Government in Kosovo, 2001, among others. These agreements also prove an increased interest in minority issues since 1989. This interest has been partly constructed both by new conflicts which have emerged (i.e. the Balkan War) and by a more dynamic transfer of the common European values (democracy, respect of minorities, non-discrimination... etc.) onto the international platform. In this way, the political relevance of national minorities' protection is presently very high. Although it has not become a generally accepted legally binding principle of the European Union, in several legal acts issues of national minorities have been mentioned. In external relations, the protection of national minorities has become one of the main criteria for cooperation with the EU or its accession (SMIHULA 2008: 51 etseq).

1.3 Minorities and dictatorship

The regime type is the primary determinant of the minority polices of particular states. In other words: the characteristics of a regime have a strong effect on state policies and in this way changes in the conditions of ethnic groups can be explained. States that share common fundamental organizing principles belong to the same regime type (BARANY 2001: 24). Regimes can be divided according to their recognition and protection of minorities, whether they support institutional-structural arrangements for the articulation of minority interests. There are several regimes types in the world’s political systems, but it cannot be argued that special attention should not be paid in this context to dictatorships. The argument for this is that such states “generally pursue more repressive policies towards ethnic minorities” (ibid.: 31).

It is difficult to be precise about the term “dictatorship” because it has changed over time and space. Generally speaking, it is a form of totalitarian or authoritarian regime, where the state’s power has been obtained through illegal measures such as violence or plots (SOBCZAK 2002: 65). Essentially, it is a system of government where the power is intense, unlimited, uncontrolled and not estimated in time (BASZKIEWICZ 2002: 3). Furthermore, according to the study of Antoszewski and Herbut, common features of a dictatorship could be distinguished:

- high level of concentration of power in hands of an individual or a particular group
- ensuring of access to public positions only to persons enjoying the confidence of political leaders or the ruling group
- deprivation of the political significance of the institution of parliament
- directing citizens’ activities in the channel of dominant party
- lack of competitive elections and, in fact, depriving citizens of the power impact
- autonomy of the machinery of repression
- common and frequent human rights violations (1997: 24 et seq)

According to Baszkiewicz, authority is satisfied with the obedience of citizens, and if necessary, it enforces desired behavior through brutal methods (2002: 34). Barany states that the main reasons for such repressive policy is the state’s coercive potential; a smaller number of minorities which are, consequently, easier to control; weakness of democratic processes and, last but not least, a potential of minorities to threaten state stability (2001: 31).

Authoritarianism became a dominant political regime in Europe after the First World War. The postwar period especially put new democracies to several tests: economic crises, national conflicts, conviction of the injustice caused by the Versailles Treaty, selfishness and incompetence of the ruling elites, and finally, ideological confusion. Classes and social groups, for which democracy was a new experience, tended to overestimate its impact. In this situation, there quickly emerged disappointment and frustration. That was extremely vulnerable ground, says Jan Baszkiewicz, for spreading the Jacobin-Bolshevik myth about the extraordinary effectiveness of political violence. When democratic procedures and compromises fail, there is a temptation to introduce order through violence (2002: 3).

One can say, in a dictatorship the public is limited by prohibitions, orders and restrictions. Dictators require the assistance of the people they rule in order to maintain the sources of political power. These sources could be distinguished as below:

- authority, meaning the belief that the regime is legitimate
- human resources, which means people obeying, cooperating and providing assistance to the dictator
- skills and knowledge needed to perform specific actions and projects
- intangible factors, which are psychological and ideological pressure tools for forcing people to obey the ruler
- material resources, mainly access to property, natural resources, transportation, communication, financial and economic system
- sanctions and punishments, which are applied against disobedient people in order to ensure cooperation or eliminate the threat (comp. SHARP 2002:16 etseq)

To sum up, a high degree of enforcing conformity is required in the case of a dictatorial regime. Consequently, the challenge of implementing minority rights as part of the international minority protection regime, being created for at last 70 years in Europe, is here especially immense because of the named tendencies.

Special attention should be paid to the authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe and their attitude towards national minorities. During the period of the Soviet domination in the region, the problem of minorities lay dormant, even if it had not gone away. Generally speaking, control by the Communist Party of states and the media meant that minorities got as much or as little attention as the authorities allowed (LIEBICH 1998: 5). Since the collapse of communism, ethnic relations in central and Eastern Europe has been a subject of great interest to scholars, especially with a focus on the political situations and minority politics there. The drive to secure the rights of groups that had previously been discriminated against soon turned into an effort to impose a new kind of imprisonment and subordination based on nationalist principles (EBERHARDT 2001: 5). This is the most serious challenge to the forging of a post-Cold War international order. In the absence of external homogeneity, internally weak multi-national post-communist states face the threat of disintegration into smaller parts, only to produce unstable successor states that are themselves wracked by ethno-national conflicts. Ethnic conflict is hardly new to many societies but the spread of ethno-nationalist mobilization in recent years reflects an aspiration on the part of ethnic minorities to reassert their right of self-determination. Not only did the nationalist idea create the problem of minorities there, it was also instrumental in worsening the plight of minorities once the modern state-system was in place. Because states were sovereign, they insisted on absolute loyalty from their citizens. Ethnicity unbound can seem to resemble a machine that goes of itself, fueled by the dismal Hobbesian logic of culturally homogenizing “war of all against all”. Consequently, this consideration not only precluded states, to a lesser or greater extent, from granting rights to minorities within their borders, it also induced them to increase the assimilation pressure on minorities (comp. TARAS 1998:1-3, STEIN 2000: ix, 3 etseq).

Acquaintance with the structure of the relationship between the authoritarian regime and its minority politics is reflected in renewed attention to the influence of international environment on ethnic conflict within states, particularly the relational dynamic between ethnic minorities, their external homelands and the home state in which they reside. This would form the premise for efforts to come to grips with the successes and failures of intervention by intergovernmental or supranational organizations. According to Sharp, there are a few harsh realities to be presented concerning foreign intervention towards a dictatorship:

- Foreign states tolerate or even positively assist a dictatorship in order to gain some political or economic advantages
- Foreign states sell out an oppressed people instead of keeping pledges to assist their liberation at the cost of another objective
- Foreign states act against a dictatorship only in order to gain their economic, political or military control over the country
- Foreign states are actively involved for positive purposes only of and when the internal resistance movement has already begun shaking the dictatorship, having thereby focused international attention (2002: 6)

Investigating the situation of minorities in an Eastern European dictatorship, one must pay attention to two opposing tendencies: development of international minority rights regime in Western Europe and the aim of the authoritarian regime to conform their national minorities. As consequence of this, a research question for this study would appear: Which factors can affect minority protection in a contemporary dictatorship and to which extent? Sharp’s proposition would be slightly modified and re-directed on the minority problematic in order to answer this question. There are five groups of arguments to be distinguished:

1) co-operation treaties and their enforcement on a supra-national level
2) economic and political incentives towards an authoritarian regime
3) economic and political pressure of third states
4) bilateral actions of countries directly involved in the minority issue
5) civil society building within the dictatorship

Classifying and evaluating the named possibilities would find the best, most effective way in order to diminish the democracy deficit in a dictatorship. In doing so in this study attention will be paid to both domestic and international means, in particular European laws and policies relevant to the minority in question and how developments in this area influence those in the other.

The study will interrogate the documented evidence - both legal and political - of those international bodies that have tried to deal with the problem of anomalous minority communities in the European state system (UN, OSCE, CoE and the EU) with the emphasis on the period between 1989 and 2009. As the challenge of diversity, the study distinguishes three ways in which a group affected by the right to self-determination may be included or excluded from the political community of the country it is living in: participation, identity and interpretation. Participation indicates whether the group has got a voice in the process of the implementing the right to shape the political and social reality in the country. Identity gives the possibility for shaping perception of the group, its history and entitlements, both internally and externally. Interpretation rules, in turn, in or out the sorts of reasoning resonating most strongly with the group affected.

Three general categories of analysis will find application:

- Experience: How has the international minority protection towards an authoritarian state developed since the collapse of communism? Legal standards, monitoring instruments and enforcement mechanisms will be analyzed.

- Theory: What is the character and substance of those rights and what effects on the principle of the self-determination of peoples do they have?

- Evidence: What kind of external influence is the most effective one? In this perspective, the focus is on behavior arising from a given set of institutional rules: participation, identity and interpretation. In order to investigate the research question some statistical data on the three elements of the self-determination: participation in form of elections, identity in form of NGOs that represent political pluralism, interpretation in form of the press freedom.

The focus of this study is limited in two important ways: only a political community in the form of a dictatorship and a national minority with a strong distinct collective consciousness will be investigated. Because the problem of minorities in post-communist states is relatively new and important, when considering the historical aspects and significance as well as European integration process and attitude Europe’s towards its neighbors, the study will examine the case of Belarus, as an example of a contemporary dictatorship, and its minority politics towards Poles, as an example of the problem of minorities.

2. Dictatorship as Belarusian experience

2.1 From defective democracy to modern dictatorship

Understanding the origin of the contemporary form of the Belarusian state would simultaneously be a political contest over Belarus’ future. It explains how the national consciousness has emerged and how it has been retarded.

It is impossible to understand events in contemporary Belarus without having in mind the beginning of the Belarusian state and the Soviet period. The First World War saw Russia and Germany locked on the Belarusian territory. After the October Revolution in 1917, a small group of nationally conscious intellectuals tried to form a new state[1]. On March 25th, 1918, a Belarusian National (People’s) Republic (BNR) was proclaimed. It lasted about nine months before it was deposed by Soviet forces. The main reasons for the failure of these independence aims was the fact that the territory was “a virtual battle ground” (MARPLES 2002: 32), as well as the late development of national consciousness.

Following the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty, March 2nd, the territory fell under the control of the Germans. After the Polish-Russian war, 1921, under the terms of the Treaty of Riga, Poland and Russia divided the territory between themselves. After the collapse of the BNR, Lenin created the Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic (BSSR) in the Eastern part and made it to be one of the four founding nations of the Soviet Union in December, 1922. David Marples called this new republic “nationalist in form, socialist in content” (ibid.: 32). Only then could cultural and national development start in the form of new institutions, publications and the revival of the Belarusian language. Lenin had argued on several occasions that Bolshevik policy, with respect to the national question, should be based on the principle of self-determination (KIRKWOOD 1990: 701). This came to an end with the Stalin era when the policy changed towards intense sovietisation and russification on one hand, as well as collectivization of agriculture and rapid industrialization of the other hand. National elite was violently suppressed and finally destroyed. In David Marples’ words, Belarus became “a denationalised nation” (1999). The German invasion during the Second World War completely destroyed the country and cost the lives of about 20 % of the population. A large partisan movement was centered there, partly coordinated through Moscow. In 1943, some nationalist groups collaborated with Nazis in the hope of bringing Belarusian independence back, which Stalin used as an argument to deport hundreds of thousands of people to Siberia later on. The Red Army drove the Germans back in 1944. Under the conditions of Yalta Conference, the Western Belarusian territories ceded to Poland in 1921 were incorporated into the Soviet Union (TEAGUE 2002:17 et sqq). The period of the war and the “partisan tradition” remained the strongest influence on the population of the BSSR. Two former Partisan leaders gained the leadership of the Communist Party in Belarus[2]. It can be concluded that the Soviet era, ironically, enhanced national conscious in the republic. The Gorbachev period brought changes and particularly two events had a thoughtful impact on Belarus: the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the discovery of mass graves of Stalin’s victims at Kuropaty Las. In the first case, the Republic’s authorities took little action to address the crisis except to suppress information. The second crisis was responded to only with cover-ups. The immediate danger to the survival of the nation led to an accusation of the communistic regime of either agency or complicity (ZAPRUDNIK, URBAN 1997: 288). Protests, among other processes at that time, resulted in declaring state sovereignty in July 1990. An interesting remark made by Steven Eke and Taras Kuzio: “all the major popular demonstrations that occurred in Belarus prior to the collapse of the USSR were economically, not politically motivated” (EKE, KUZIO 2000: 527), refers first of all to the food price increases. Chernobyl and mass graves discoveries should be seen here only as a kind of release. The catastrophic drop in living standards served to alienate the Belarusian people from Russia and make them wary of pursuing a market economy. There was no support for the idea of seceding from the Union and later on, shortly before declaring national independence, Belarus was ready to sign a treaty in order to reconstitute the USSR on a new basis. Because the country was deprived of a national leadership tradition due to the war losses and the Stalin purges, the opposition movement lacked authority as many citizens found the anti-Russia faction sentiment repellent. This resulted, above all, from the family connections of the citizens of Belarus, 30 % of whom have close relatives in Russia. Many of them have been educated at Russian universities or have started their political or military careers there. These factors create a specific system of ties with Russia “which no politician aspiring to 2 Kyril T. Mazurov 1956-65 and Petr M. Masherov 1965-1980 leading positions in Minsk can afford to ignore" (GROMADZKI, KAZANECKI, MIRONOWICZ NAUMCZUK, 2001: 7).

At this time the newborn democracy and independence in Belarus began to fail. There are several arguments of this thesis. First, the economic disaster caused by rising prices in Russia and the collapse of the new currency, zaichik, resulting in hyperinflation, depriving the leadership of power. Stanislav Shuskevich had been elected to the Belarusian Supreme Soviet (parliament) in 1990, with the backing of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF). The parliament however, remained dominated by the communist political and economic elite. Shuskevich was isolated, an example of this being the parliament rejection of proposed reforms (economic liberalization and privatization). Due to the economic crisis in Russia and its effects on Belarus there was a fear of completely losing the relatively privileged situation that Belarus enjoyed during the Soviet period. Shushkevich was dismissed in 1994 when he lost a parliamentary vote of confidence regarding allegations of corruption. In the same year Belarus introduced a new constitution under which the political power in the country would be divided between a new presidency and the unicameral Supreme Soviet, based on the former Soviet model. Democracy in the meaning of the framework constructed in the years 1990-1994 was not accepted. As result, a large part of the citizens still associate it with anarchy, inflation and empty shelves in the shops.

At the time of the first Belarusian elections it seemed “the country [has been] caught in a time warp” (TEAGUE 2002: 25). Civil society was weak, political parties failed to get common support, the media remained largely under state control, publications were dependent on state subsidies, and the Soviet police, the KGB, remained unconstructed. In 1994, Aleksander Lukashenko was elected as the first president of the independent Belarus. In comparison with the Soviet era, there were not many changes initiated. Although the Communist Party had been banned, a new party, Party of Communists of Belarus (PCB) was now in place. The army, the military and the secret police had a strong influence on the society, partly due to the fact that several Russian military bases were still placed in the territory. The major Soviet newspaper, Sovetskaya Belorussiya, published entirely in Russian, remained in place. Only a few insignificant newspapers, i.e. Svoboda, appeared in Belarusian. Nevertheless it seemed still possible for Belarus to develop as a new national republic with close links to Central Europe and the Baltic states. On paper, parliament had a decisive voice.


[1] autonomous within Russia at first

[2] Kyril T. Mazurov 1956-65 and Petr M. Masherov 1965-1980

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Minority Rights in a contemporary dictatorship
The case of the Polish minority in Belarus
European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder)
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master paper reviewer: In this master thesis the Author aimed to analyze the legal standards related to the protection of minority rights, external influence on Belarusian authorities and the way of treatment of the Polish minority in Belarus. That goal was reached in an adequate way. The master thesis poses a logical and coherent whole, composed of 5 chapters. One can find innovative elements there. The Author decided to concentrate on the impact of several countries and organizations - the choice should be appreciated. The number and choice of sources is sufficient and correct.
Belarus, dictatorship, minority, minority rights, Poland, EU, UN, European Union, United Nations, Bialorus, Weissrussland, OSCE, Council of Europe, Russia, foreign policy, conflict, discrimination, Poles
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BA Elzbieta Szumanska (Author), 2010, Minority Rights in a contemporary dictatorship, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/149178


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