Ethnic un-mixing in Eastern Europe?

Costica Dumbrava | Published in Introduction: Citizenship in Post-communist Eastern Europe, Central and Eastern European Migration Review

pexels-photo-262488After 1990 most Eastern European countries acted as ‘nationalising states’ (Brubaker 1996), seeking to secure the control of the core ethnic majority over state institutions and over the official definition of the nation. Citizenship policies have been used to ensure the unity of the nation within and across state borders (Pogonyi, Kovács and Körtvélyesi 2010). Whereas the explicit exclusion from citizenship based on ethnic grounds was prohibited by international norms, which most of these countries were forced to accept as a condition for European and transatlantic integration, indirect exclusion based on seemingly legitimate grounds was still possible. For example, Estonia and Latvia effectively denaturalised large proportions of their populations by reinstating their pre-Soviet citizenship laws and thus excluding from citizenship all Soviet-era immigrants and their descendants (Gelazis 2000).

The projects of national reintegration in Eastern Europe were also pursued via policies of preferential inclusion of co-ethnics – people regarded as sharing special ethnic, cultural or historical ties with the country. It must be noted, however, that the presence of ethnic minorities on the territory of a country and/or of co-ethnic minorities outside its borders is not a sufficient condition for the adoption of generous co-ethnic citizenship policies. For example, Ukraine has been reluctant to adopt preferential citizenship policies for co-ethnics despite having a significant number of them living outside its borders. According to Shevel (2009), this deliberate ‘civic’ citizenship policy was a result of Ukraine’s political and national identity conflicts that swept the country after 1990.

Comparing data on self-declared ethnicity, collected through censuses that took place in the early 1990s and the late 2000s, we can see that most Eastern European countries that had weak ethnic majorities in the 1990s had consolidated their ethnic majorities by the 2000s (see Figure 1). Moreover, the number of co-ethnics living outside their kin state and in another Eastern European country decreased considerably, from 30.9 million to 22.2 million in the same period (see Table 1), suggesting a process of ethnic ‘unmixing’ in the region.

Figure 1. Ethnic majorities in Eastern European countries in the 1990s and 2000s (in % of the total population)

Main source: Pop-stat

Note: Data from censuses in Armenia (2001, 2011), Belarus (1999, 2009), Bulgaria (1992, 2011), Croatia (1991, 2011), the Czech Republic (1991, 2001), Estonia (1989, 2011), Georgia (1989, 2014), Hungary (1990, 2011), Latvia (1989, 2011), Lithuania (1989, 2011), Moldova (1989, 2014), Poland (2002, 2012), Romania (1992, 2011), Russia (2002, 2010), Slovakia (1991, 2011), Slovenia (1991, 2002) and Ukraine (1989, 2001).

Table 1. Self-declared ethnic minorities in Eastern Europe

Main source: Pop-stat

Note: According to census data from the 17 Eastern European countries and from Albania (1989, 2011), Azerbaijan (1999, 2009), Bosnia and Herzegovina (1991, 2013), Kazakhstan (1989, 2009), Kosovo (1991, 2011), Macedonia (1991, 2002), Montenegro (2003, 2011) and Serbia (2002, 2011).

According to censuses, the number of all major kin minorities in Eastern Europe decreased in the course of the two decades following the end of the Cold War – the number of self-declared Russian co-ethnics fell from 15.4 million to 12.5 million, of Ukrainian co-ethnics from 5 million to under 1 million, and of Hungarian co-ethnics from 2.7 million to 2.1 million. The same holds true for other significant ethnic minorities in the region, such as Germans (whose number decreased from 1.7 million to 0.8 million) and Tatars (from 5.9 million down to 5.6 million). The only significant increase occurred in the case of Romanian co-ethnics (from 0.5 million to 1.1 million) as a consequence of a massive re-identification of ‘Moldovans’ as ‘Romanians’ in the conflict-ridden Republic of Moldova. Another notable increase is reported for the Roma, a minority without a kin state, whose number increased from 1.4 million to 1.9 million. One should not, of course, overestimate the reliability and capacity of census data to capture ethnic affiliation, not least because the number of persons who did not or refused to declare ethnic affiliation in Eastern European countries rose dramatically from 2.6 million to 13 million between the 1990s and the 2000s.

According to Eurostat (2016), between 2006 and 2015 about 330 000 persons acquired citizenship in 11 Eastern European countries that are EU member-states. Almost one third of these acquisitions occurred in Hungary, particularly after the amendment of the Hungarian citizenship law in 2010, which made it easier for persons of Hungarian origin to acquire Hungarian citizenship. However, Eurostat data only include acquisitions of citizenship by people living in the country (ordinary naturalisation) and thus do not capture the full scale of citizenship acquisitions by co-ethnics, who often acquire it from outside the country.

In many Eastern European countries, preferential citizenship rules for co-ethnics constitute the primary channel of citizenship acquisition. About 1.1 million persons acquired Croatian citizenship between 1991 and 2006 on the grounds of ethnicity, including 800 000 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, 100 000 in Serbia (and Montenegro) and 10 000 in Macedonia (Štiks 2012). About 600 000 persons are estimated to have obtained Hungarian citizenship on the basis of their Hungarian origins between 2011 and 2014 (Bálint 2014), whereas about 230 000 persons re-acquired Romanian citizenship between 1991 and 2012 (Iordachi 2012). The potential for further acquisitions remains great in many cases. Bulgarian citizenship can be claimed by all ethnic Bulgarians who lived in territories which remain outside the boundaries of the modern Bulgarian state – this includes about 2.5 million persons living in Macedonia and 235 000 in Ukraine and other smaller Bulgarian communities around the world. Most citizens of Moldova can claim preferential citizenship in Romania, while many Romanian, Slovakian and Ukrainian citizens can acquire Hungarian citizenship.

Given the cross-border character of ethnic diasporas in Eastern Europe, co-ethnic citizenship policies have often been greeted with resistance and suspicion by neighbouring countries. Russia’s policy of handing passports to ‘Russians’ from the Georgian separatist region of South Ossetia is a blunt example of using citizenship as a tool of territorial revisionism. Softer policies of national reintegration through co-ethnic citizenship have also been contested by concerned states. The Hungarian–Slovak dispute over Hungary’s policy of non-resident dual citizenship for Hungarian co-ethnics is a case in point. While accusing Hungary of revisionism and imperialism, the Slovak government amended its citizenship law in order to withdraw Slovak citizenship from those voluntarily acquiring another citizenship, in an attempt to dissuade Slovak citizens of Hungarian ethnicity from acquiring Hungarian citizenship (Bauböck 2010). The row intensified nationalist rhetoric in the region and threatened to destabilise diplomatic relations between several neighbouring states.