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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


Minorities in Southeast Europe
Hugh Poulton

(London: Minority Rights Group, 1998)
40pp. Bibl. 4.95; ISBN 1-897-693-42-7.



This is one more report by the Minority Rights Group on the condition of minorities in Southeast Europe. Hugh Poulton, the author of the book The Balkans: Minorities and states in conflict, attempts to give a short and concise review of the subject. Amongst others he presents issues like the nature of the states in the Balkans and their perception of minorities, the politics of identity in the region, and issues of citizenship. Due probably to the limited length of this report, the author does not analyse much his arguments. Terms and concepts are only used to demonstrate the points which refer to plain presentation of facts and limited analysis of developments. The author for example, can question the usefulness of territorial autonomy in the Balkans, without offering any elaboration other than the hint that it presents a "dangerous precedent" in Bosnia (p.33).

The minorities and their interaction with their respective states are well analysed, but what is missing from the report is the international element. This is no less significant issue in the Balkans where often the perception or the treatment of minorities depended on the condition of the relations with neighbouring countries. It is no coincidence that the description of what is called "transnational minorities", the usually forgotten minorities with no kin-state in the area, is better and more well-balanced.

Poulton's explanatory engine in this report is the legacy of the Ottoman millet system. In my view, too much significance is assigned to it. This has the effect of undermining other important factors like the role of the elites and nationalist ideologies in the Balkan states. For example, attention is not paid to the extremely interesting process whereby the imported by Western Europe nationalist ideals were brought into the region resulting in conflicts between their agents and the old local elites of the millet system. On the other hand, although the author stresses the importance of the millet tradition, he usually evaluates the region's national building processes against purely Western conceptions of the national. The fostering of national identities for political reasons is pointed out, but it would have been much more interesting if the author could elaborate more or if he could provide insights on the most recent of such processes, most notably these of the Bosnian Muslims and the Macedonians.

Poulton is careful with the use of terminology, the only exception being probably the extended use of "assimilation". He generally avoids the reification of certain representations of the Balkans although he could have eluded giving ethnic cleansing a "perennial" status in the area. Concluding, the report notwithstanding certain missing elements is a well informed short introduction to the minority issues of the Balkans, providing insights on both history and latest developments.


Ioannis Armakolas,
INCORE - University of Ulster




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