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The Post-Communist Diaspora Laws. Beyond the “Good Civic versus Bad Ethnic” Nationalism Dichotomy

Written by Oxana Shevel, this article appeared on the first issue of Vol. 24 of the journal East European Politics and Society in February 2010.
In the 1990s, a number of post-Communist states adopted diaspora laws that defined the target group ethno-culturally, thus seemingly confirming the continued relevance of Hans Kohn’s distinction between ethnic Eastern and civic Western nationalism. The article, however, posits that while Kohn’s dichotomy may be valid, its related implica­tions are often not. The ethnic content of the diaspora laws, and the content of ethnic nationalism behind them, is much more nuanced, and not all ethnically tinted diaspora polices are discriminatory or otherwise contrary to international standards.
Using the case of the 2001 Hungarian Status Law and the European organizations’ reaction to it, the first part of the article draws attention to the often neglected fact that international standards do not ban ethnically based policies altogether but allow for some distinc­tions in treatment based on ethno-cultural criteria.
The second part of the article focuses on the case of Ukraine and further challenges the accuracy of the civic-ethnic dichot­omy by showing how the politics of the Ukrainian diaspora law was driven not by a clash between civic and ethnic nationalism but by a more complex tension between different variants of ethnic nationalism, a neo-Soviet imperial vision, strategic bargain­ing, and changes in electoral fortunes for unrelated reasons. The Ukrainian casealso shows how, in addition to international norm diffusion, another — and rathercounterintuitive — path towards internationally compliant diaspora legislation may be the presence of substantial domestic divisions on the national issue, which forces the elites to compromise on a less ethnic law.


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