ISSN 1586-9733

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Reconstructing Political Order: The High Commissioner on National Minorities in Transylvania


University of Hamburg

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This paper intends to analyse involvement in managing the identity of the OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities in the inter-ethnic crisis between Romanians and Hungarians in post-socialist Transylvania. I will show how the HCNM developed a specific approach, as a means to an end, that aimed at changing societal identity in order to permanently resolve the inter-ethnic crisis and to permanently regulate conflict situations. The study focuses on the last stage of the HCNM's involvement in Transylvania, in which he identified the Hungarian University case in Cluj as the “core conflict”. Often, core conflicts can be identified in identity-related fields. I will explore several different levels of identity-building in the case of the University. Moreover, I will examine the attempts of the HCNM to regulate this conflict as well as its implications and outcomes.



 The High Commissioner on National Minorities of the OSCE (HCNM) is an instrument of crisis prevention concerning minority issues. It was founded in 1993 and has had two office holders so far: the Dutch diplomat Max van der Stoel from 1993 until June 2001, and since then, the Swedish diplomat Rolf Ekéus. The founding conference defined his objectives as "early warning" and "early action" at the earliest possible stage "in regard to tensions involving national minority issues that have the potential to develop into conflict within the CSCE area". In other words, his main objective is not the protection of minority or human rights but rather to ensure the peaceful handling of minority issues within the CSCE/OSCE area.

At the founding conference, the HCNM was given a mandate by the CSCE States which provide general principles and objectives of the office's work. It allows the HCNM to decide highly independently from other OSCE institutions about which conflicts to intervene in and the timing of its involvement. The main guideline of his work is preventative diplomacy, and to ensure its effectiveness, he often needs to work confidentially with the parties involved. Performing his work, he is authorized to (a) visit any participating state, (b) "collect and receive information regarding national minority issues" in a given case and (c) assess "the role of the parties directly concerned, the nature of the tensions […], recent developments therein and […] the potential consequences for peace and stability within the CSCE area". He may promote dialogue, confidence and co-operation between the parties concerned. However, there are two cases in which he is generally not allowed to intervene: those involving a minority the High Commissioner itself is part of and those involving acts of organized terrorism.

The parties to the conflict are urged to cooperate with the HCNM. If they fail to do so or if the HCNM is denied access to a country or to travel and communicate freely, he may resort to sanction this behaviour in either reporting to the OSCE official bodies or in issuing an early warning, i.e. to make the case public and open to further action. He may as well ask for a separate mandate to authorize himself for further action.

In the following I will argue that this mandate is based on two qualitatively different pillars intertwined in the founding document, partly excluding each other and therefore, paving the way for Max van der Stoel, as the first office holder, to develop his own approach to dealing with conflicts ‑ one focusing on specific identity related issues.

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