The Politics of Good Neighbourhood
Béla Filep, State, civil society and the enhancement of cultural capital in East Central Europe, Routledge, London and New York, 2016
1Béla Filep is lecturer at the University of Bern (Switzerland). His research fields are inter-ethnical relationships in Central Europe, especially with a border approach. He proposes a new reading, more positive, of the intercultural relations in East Central Europe. The perspective of the book is “to pursue a solution-oriented approach, aimed at the highlighting good-neighbourly discourses” (p. 4). Therefore, one of his objectives is to explore the practices of different stakeholders, for highlighting their best practices. More widely, he wishes to understand general factors contributing to build a better intercultural understanding (p.5). In this perspective, the book is based on two main cases, linked to Hungarian culture and history, probably because B. Filep has Hungarian roots. The two cases are Subotica/Szadbaka, located in Serbia, precisely in Vojvodina, and Komarom/Komarno, located in Slovakia.
2The book consists of 7 chapters, with a very clear organization. The introduction brings out the main questions about the sub-title. This part of Europe is usually considered as an important place of inter-ethnic conflicts. The author acknowledges the persistence of antagonisms. On one hand, as he is more interested in Hungarians’ situation in Slovakia and Serbia, he explains, a little bit, the social psychological impact of the Trianon treaty on Hungarian populations, in and out the new Hungary, born after 1920. On the other hand, he recalls the traditional processes of nation-building and assimilationist policies (p. 3). Finally, he speaks about the aims and the issues of the book, understanding and developing the good practices in multicultural contexts; therefore, he wants to help intercultural recognition and friendship, thanks to examples and comparisons taken in other countries. Chapter 2 is built on definitions, like neighbourly relations or the role of the scales (a more geographical approach) to understand these relations. Otherwise, it is noted “borders are deeply present in people’s minds” (p.15), not only in relation with the WW1 but also with the iron curtain and the cold war. These conditions, and the strong renewal of nationalisms after the end of the iron curtain, have contributed to re-active oppositions and the defence of national identities.
3Chapters 3 and 4 are focused on the presentation of the two cities studied. Komarno/Komarom is considered as one town but shared between two States, and by Danube. The most historical part of the city is located in North, in Slovakia. Even if, in the Slovakian part of the city, the Hungarians remain the majority of the city population, but their proportion decreases, in relation to past policies of the settlement of Slovakians and the re-settlement of Hungarians. However, borders have been vanishing since Schengen, and the city became a symbol. It is the symbol of their culture for Slovakian Hungarians: the city “is the heart of Hungarian life in Slovakia” (p. 29). But, sometimes, the place is used by each nationalism to affirm his positions. In fact, the city is very ethnicised, especially for school, but bilingualism is legal and practical (in shops, restaurants...). Subotica (Szabadka), the second city, is considered like a “multi-ethnic oasis in Serbia” (p.59); for instance the city stayed in peace over the Yugoslav wars. Diversity of the population is lived as a normality. Nevertheless, Serbian refugees have been resettled in the province (the Vojvodina), and have unbalanced the local status quo. Therefore, this political decision drives to an increase in the rate of Serbians, and Hungarians are less and less numerous. Moreover, the city is also used by nationalists from Hungary and Serbia to claim rights (to maintain a cultural pole, or, in the opposite, to develop the Serbian identity in a “Serbian land”). Fortunately, Szabadka/Subotica is a cultural and economic bridge over the borders, with a “quite vibrant” (p. 75) cultural life. The three last chapters are organized around quality of good relationships between neighbours, both with regards to neighbourhoods as well as cities or States, with a scale perspective. Chapters are built according to the “pyramid of good neighbourhood” (p. 85), a Filep’s figure. The basis (chapter 5) represents the intercultural capital. It depends on local-language proficiency, cross-cultural (historical) knowledge and civic education. The second floor, the cross-cultural social capital (chapter 6), analyzes the meeting of cultures, in places, in everyday life, with friends and family, with a perspective of intercultural rapprochement. The top of the pyramid (the last chapter) may be considered as an outcome: the multi-cultural capital. This last staple promotes diversity in shared spaces, with minority rights and historical reconciliation. The author explains us constructions of meeting, thanks to sport (an intercultural team, p.123-124) or school. To develop this last case, he presents the situation in Biel/Bienne (a Swiss bilingual city) with some bilingual classes in high-schools (p. 120-121). However, until now, these interesting cases stay a little bit experimental.
4The approach of Béla Filep is very well built and provides hope, with a lot of examples and references (p.190-203). The style is optimistic and, maybe, the future will be like this, with peaceful inter-relations between close communities. Nevertheless, building better neighbourliness is very complex. Domestic and external forces are strong and, often, work to oppose, share populations. Furthermore, cultural relations on territories are also competition, domination and assimilation. Therefore, minorities are less considered than majorities, even when laws protect them officially, because the cultural environment is too strong and attracting, like numerous cases studied in Canada. Finally, it is important to underline that the book offers a positive perspective, a very necessary approach in times of withdrawal.
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Franck Chignier-Riboulon, « The Politics of Good Neighbourhood », L’Espace Politique [En ligne], Comptes rendus d'ouvrages, mis en ligne le 16 mars 2017, consulté le 30 mars 2017. URL : http://espacepolitique.revues.org/4053Haut de page
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