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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Decoupled Empowerment: Minority Representation and the Implementation of Language Rights in Romania

Lilla Balazs
University of Zurich
Lilla Balazs
University of Zurich
Guido Schwellnus
University of Vienna EIF

This paper addresses the relationship between minority protection and empowerment. In the context of the paper, empowerment is understood as representation in political and administrative decision-making. Instead of assuming a zero-sum relationship between protection and empowerment as alternative approaches to dealing with ethnic relations, this paper asks to what degree empowerment through political and administrative representation is conducive to the implementation of minority protection measures. As an example, the paper analyses the implementation of language rights in Romania. More specifically, it examines the implementation of affirmative action measures to ensure the use of minority languages in communication with state authorities, which is guaranteed by Romanian legislation in administrative districts with more than twenty per cent minority population.
Theoretically, the paper builds on insights from implementation research and organization theory to explain the apparent gap between successful formal adoption and patchy implementation despite de facto empowerment of the minority party. Central political processes appear to be largely ‘decoupled’ from local administration and follow different logics: national level politicians are mainly concerned with gaining legitimacy through presenting formal legislation as a success, and much less interested in the actual implementation of the policies they adopted. Local implementers, on the other hand, are mainly concerned with practical problem-solving. For this reason, even committed implementers refrain from institutionalized affirmative action measures and instead often resort to informal ways of implementation in order to avoid potential negative repercussions. In the absence of commitment situations involving minority language use are dealt with in a merely ad hoc manner. It follows that minority empowerment not necessarily leads to institutionalized implementation of minority protection measures.
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