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With the emergence of nation states in Europe over the centuries, a parallel Europe of national minorities arose. In the twentieth century, these minorities were thrown into the fire of several violent conflicts and became victims of war crimes and ethnic cleansing. The international community, while generally recognising the need to protect national minorities from such atrocities, has approached this issue in various different ways over the course of twentieth century which, however, failed to prevent new escalation of ethnic tensions. It was the War in Yugoslavia in the early 90s that triggered a new wave of interest in the rights of national minorities. Three distinct, albeit related, systems of protecting rights of national minorities were developed – the UN, the OSCE and the Council of Europe system.
This publication contains a collection of crucial legal and political documents related to rights of national minorities that are forming the three systems of contemporary minority protection. It is being presented that the outbreak of new minority protection was motivated not only by humanitarian concerns for the rights of minorities, but also by various policy considerations. Many of the documents scrutinised are being justified in terms of their contribution to stability, peace and democracy in Europe, as well as in terms of the contributions that minorities can make to the enrichment of societies. This reflection about the reasons to protect national minorities is presented with an ambition to serve for further discussions about the future of national minority protection. In the present day, many European countries exclude numerous ‘new minorities’ formed by immigrant populations from their definitions of national minorities. It might be worthwhile to consider the motivations that led to the emergence of minority protection and whether the same motivation is not relevant in the case of these ‘new minorities’.