Tag Archives: language rights

Sweden faces up to past discrimination against its Roma minority in a new ‘White Book’

by Rhodri C. Williams

One week ago, the Swedish integration minister Erik Ullenhag presided over the long-awaited release of a government “White Book” documenting the country’s treatment of Roma during the 20th century. As appropriate to the aims and nature of this inquiry, the initial publication was a Swedish family affair; while the context of broader European antiziganism – or racism against Roma – is discussed and acknowledged, there has yet to be an official translation of the White Book in English (let alone romani ćhib), although a summary and fact sheet are now available.

Greater accessibility and dissemination will no doubt follow, if for no other reason than to show compliance with Sweden’s EU-mandated integration policy, and respond to specific criticisms of the Advisory Committee for the Council of Europe Framework Convention on National Minorities. However, for the time being, coverage, dissemination and discussion of the White Book have been in Swedish, with the exception of the Local and Swedish Radio. While this has emphasized the extent to which this effort is driven by and aimed at addressing local concerns, it has also resulted in a limited and eclectic international reception to date.

Given my own ongoing research interest in autonomy and minority rights in the Nordic countries, I have been working my way through the White Book and will be writing two posts on it here in TN. The first one, will address the general approach to truth-seeking set out in the White Book, and how it has been received and debated in Sweden. The second will focus more narrowly on the fifth chapter of the White Book, and, in keeping with the concerns of this blog, discuss the historical obstacles to property ownership and secure tenure to housing for Roma in Sweden.

As an outset observation, the White Book is a remarkable document, stating clearly and with an unassuming Swedish sobriety how far the country has come in the integration of its Roma national minority and how far it has yet to go. Its goals are two-fold, namely to provide recognition to the victims of a century of systematic discrimination, and raise awareness among the majority population regarding the severity of these abuses and their enduring effects (12). While the White Book represents a major step toward meeting both goals, some questions remain about both their sufficiency and their relationship with the prospectively oriented Swedish strategy for Roma inclusion.

In fact, the current relevance of the White Book was underscored with near-Hollywood timing by a set of recent scandals involving Roma in Sweden. Continue reading

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Responsibility to provoke? Aggression, self-determination and the Ukraine crisis

by Rhodri C. Williams

With four posts in a row on the tumult in Ukraine, it is starting to feel like this blog has joined Crimea in being overrun by Berkut riot police and Night Wolves biker gangs. But it is impossible not to be distracted by the parade of tragicomedy that almost hourly seems to turn all of our sanctimonious post-Cold War certainties on their head. And the point is that after three posts of, essentially, just trying to keep up with events, this is the one where I finally get to engage with the scrimmage of international law and self-determination discourses being hurled around.

First things first. There is little doubt that the Russian takeover of the Crimean peninsula is illegal under international law, and more specifically the rule against aggression that constitutes one of the central planks of the UN Charter. US Secretary of State John Kerry splashed out early on, decrying an “incredible act of aggression”, with Russia behaving in a “19th century fashion by invading another country on a completely trumped-up pretext.” More soberly, EU Foreign Ministers have condemned “acts of aggression by the Russian armed forces.”

Legally, the charges seem to stick. In a cautious, preliminary analysis in EJILTalk, Daniel Wisehart argues that neither of the relevant conventional exceptions to the non-aggression rule – self-defence or intervention by invitation – can credibly be invoked in this case. A recent appeal by the Ukrainian Association of International Law goes further to claim “not only a violation of the UN Charter and general international law, but also of the bilateral treaty permitting Russia to retain the Black Sea Fleet in Ukraine, and also of the security assurances given in the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 by Russia…” So, what is Russia saying?

Continue reading

Ukraine 2.0, and its still February…

by Rhodri C. Williams

Simply amazing. The Ukrainian boat of  state looked set to capsize just five days ago as the Russian Sochi supertanker bore down. Miraculously, she righted herself in its wake, her un-beloved Captain spilling his cooked logbooks left and right as he dashed for his armored lifeboat. But now there is dissension among the crew and the tanker still lurks nearby in the fog, its commander brooding imperiously and sending out his cabin boy to mutter imprecations. It looks better, in other words, but could all be a prelude to getting dramatically worse. 

One issue is the engagement of the West, which is now enjoying a windfall opportunity to support the Ukrainian opposition, despite earlier performances so lacklustre that historian Anne Applebaum was moved in January to lament the death of “the belief that some kind of post-Cold War order still prevails in Europe and the United States is an important part of it.” Having negotiated the initial truce that eased Yanokovich out (see this fascinating BBC account of the role played by Radislav Sikorski, Polish foreign minister and Applebaum’s husband), Western actors are now frantically engaged in attempting to shore up an interim government composed of the bewildered former opposition.

It is not clear that they are always doing themselves great favors. First, whatever the merits of Russia’s ostensible concerns about Ukraine, airily dismissing them is unlikely to calm the waters. Writing for Stratfor, for instance, George Friedman notes that the ‘truce agreement’ was achieved in part through sidestepping Ukraine’s constitution, but argues that the latter “didn’t have the patina of tradition that a true constitution requires, and few will miss Yanukovich.” In a similarly blithe manner, the US has gone on to dismiss Yanukovich as President and proclaim the non-existence of East-West tensions in the country.

There are plenty of reasons to believe that the political split between the Russian-speaking East and the Ukrainian-speaking West is overstated, beginning with the lack of any groundswell of popular support for union with Russia or its “Eurasian Union” anywhere outside the Crimean Peninsula. Writing for the Globe and Mail, Daniel Bilak asserted that the population of the East are “confused and uncertain” but increasingly joined to the West by joint rejection of the Russian-oriented oligarchs that have compounded their economic misery:

Mired in poverty, the people of Eastern Ukraine have been cynically manipulated by regional political and economic (a.k.a. oligarch) elites for the past 22 years of Ukrainian independence. As they enriched themselves through the cheap acquisition of decrepit Soviet-era assets (a phenomenon common throughout the former Soviet Union), these clans have exercized virtual total economic and political control over the lives of their electorate/employees, who are tied like serfs to the large enterprises that dominate their towns and cities. Fear of losing jobs and pensions makes these people easy to manipulate at election-time, something the ruling clan has used to great effect.

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The “eastern narrative” in the age of globalization and the internet is not sustainable. While they may be more passive than passionate, Mr. Yanukovych’s 20 per cent approval rating shows the degree to which Ukrainians from the east are united with the rest of the country against what most see as endemic bureaucratic racketeering at all levels of government. Anti-Maidan demonstrations have been fleeting at best. On the other hand, “Euromaidan” demonstrations in the eastern oblasts recently gained ground by the thousands, driven by a growing social network-friendly middle class of small entrepreneurs and youth.

On Thursday, this trend reached an apex when Ukrainians of all ages showed solidarity with their compatriots on the Maidan by stopping on roadways busloads of thugs hired by the regime (often burning their buses) and lying on railway tracks to prevent police and troops from reaching Kiev.

In essence, socio-economic problems make all Ukrainians brothers-in-arms. With an economy on the verge of collapse, Ukrainians are facing up to theft of Homeric proportions, as they wonder how Ukraine’s debt went from $36-billion to $72-billion in four years, with no improvement in their livelihoods. Eastern Ukrainians are also patriots of their country – they feel as much cheated by this regime, as their brethren in western Ukraine felt betrayed by the previous government.

On the other hand, it will be important for Western actors to pressure the new interim government to avoid moves that could be seen as unnecessarily provocative. By rushing to strike down legislation recognizing Russian as an official language, for instance, the Parliament has met genuine demands to roll back the Yanukovich legacy with a measure that could unnecessarily alienate potentially sympathetic members of the country’s Russian-speaking community. Meanwhile, major concerns have been raised by the apparent mobilization of the Russian-speaking majority on the Crimean Peninsula, who have threatened to secede, and allegedly sought a Russian intervention.

Russia itself appears bewildered, furiously condemning the new authorities while repeatedly affirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Where the Beijing Olympics provided useful cover for the 2008 war in which Russia disciplined Georgia, another former Soviet Republic, the Sochi Olympics constituted a distraction that prevented a more assertive response to the rumblings in Ukraine. Likewise, the penumbra of corruption and human rights abuses that overshadowed Sochi’s glitz hardly constituted an advertisement for closer ties.

As argued here in the BBC, it is quite likely that Moscow has realized applying further pressure at this stage is only likely to burn whatever bridges it has left to Kiev without bringing tangible gain. Still dangerous circumstances, but Yanukovich’s corruption, repression and abrupt abdication may have left the best possible legacy – a set of incentives for all actors to allow Ukraine to fumble its way forward to cleaner and more representative government.