Societies and Spaces in Contact

Between Convergence and Divergence

by Milan Bufon (Volume editor) Tove H. Malloy (Volume editor) Colin Williams (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 278 Pages

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Preface and Acknowledgments (Milan Bufon, Tove H. Malloy and Colin H. Williams)
  • Part One Majority-Minority Relations, Plurilingualism, and Cross-Border Regionalism
  • Regional Development Policies: Ethno-Cultural Minorities as Actors and Agents of Change? (Tove H. Malloy)
  • On the Side of Angels: Dignity and Virtue in Minority-Majority Relations (Colin H. Williams)
  • National Minorities, Border Communities and Cross-Border Social Cohesion: A Case Study in Central Europe (Milan Bufon)
  • Best Practices and Perspectives of the “Friulian Way to Plurilingualism” in the Light of New European Key Competences (Serena Martini and Gabriele Zanello)
  • Is ‘Symbolic Ethnicity’ the Future of the Slovene Minority in Austria? (Milan Obid)
  • Part Two Migrations, Ethnic Changes, and Social Integration
  • Convergence Within Diversity: Integrating the European Diaspora in Australia (James Forrest)
  • “It Is Not Too Bad in Slovenia, but It Could Be Much Better:” Inclusion of Asylum Seekers and Refugees at the Borders of Europe (Asja Pehar Senekovič and Jure Gombač)
  • Challenging Multicultural Diversity: Changing Trends of Ethnic Groups in Vojvodina after the Disintegration of Yugoslavia (Ksenija Perković)
  • Towards a Comprehensive Local Integration Policy: The Example of Slovene Istria (Mirna Buić)
  • Part Three Narratives, Constructions and Perceptions of Cultural Landscapes
  • The Novel of the Slovenian Canonical Writer Ivan Cankar as a Source of Intercultural Education in Schools on the Slovenian/Italian Border (Vesna Mikolič)
  • A Foreign Country as a Homeland or a Homeland as a Foreign Country in the Novel Crnoturci (Monte-Turks ) of Husein Bašić (Miluša Bakrač)
  • The Symbolism of Religious, National, and Gender Diversity in the Novel The Battle of Mojkovac by Ćamil Sijarić (Ana Pejović)
  • Notes on Editors
  • List of Contributors
  • Series index

Milan Bufon, Tove H. Malloy and Colin H. Williams



The original idea for the book was conceived during the International Conference on Societies and Spaces in Contact: Between Convergence and Divergence held in Portorož/Portorose (Slovenia) in September 2019. The conference was organized as a broader scientific meeting and an opportunity for discussion within the Research Programme Areas of Cultural Contact in Integration Processes (ARRS P6-0279), developed under the direction of one of the Editors by the Science and Research Centre in Koper/Capodistria and funded by the Slovene National Agency for Research in the period 1999–2019. The aim of the conference was to continue the inter-national and inter-disciplinary scientific approach and cooperation that has been supported by the Research Programme and has produced in the last period, among other activities, the organization of the International Conference on (Re)Integration and Development Issues in Multicultural and Border Regions, also held in Portorož/Portorose as a Regional IGU Commission on Political Geography Conference in September 2011. A revisited selection of more than 80 papers/contributions presented during that Conference was published in the book The New European Frontiers by CSP in 2014 and edited by the Conference Organizer in cooperation with Julian Minghi (Professor Emeritus at the University of South Carolina, USA) and Anssi Paasi (Full Professor at the University of Oulu, Finland).

While the 2011 Conference focused primarily on multicultural and border regions from a (human) geographical perspective, the 2019 Conference sought to extend this approach to a more inter-disciplinary discussion and focused mainly on ‘contact’ people and social groups rather than ‘contact’ spaces and regions. This current volume thus speaks not only to the (geo)political, but also to the cultural, social and linguistic processes related to divergence and convergence in areas of contact. In so doing, it focuses critically on (re)integration policies and diversity management approaches in multicultural societies and border regions. It represents an inter-disciplinary endeavour from scholars of various disciplines who wish to offer a critical and many-sided overview on issues such as ‘ethnic identification’ and ‘territorial determination,’ social integration and devolution, as well as a discussion of some fundamental ←7 | 8→categories of social convergence: ethnos as the space of identity and the cultural community, and demos as the space of planning and the political community.

The aim of the book is threefold: first to assess past developments and attempts at conflict resolution within different ‘critical’ European areas; secondly to provide an analysis of current situations and problems concerning divergence approaches to minority protection, language planning, spatial and social cross-border and inter-cultural integration/disintegration policies and issues; and thirdly to develop an evaluation of the future trends and opportunities for co-operation and development within a local and broader operational context. The chapters pay particular attention to the condition of linguistic, national and religious minorities, the impact of majority-minority relations in building social harmony and integration in a wider European context, while also offering fresh and unusual insights and narratives from the pivotal Central-Eastern and Southern-Eastern European area where conflict and coexistence potentials seem to best represent the actual ‘unity in diversity’ managing dilemma in our continent.


The first part of the book is dedicated to issues such as majority-minority relations, plurilingualism, and cross-border regionalism. In addressing the question whether ethno-cultural minority groups interact with mainstream societies in planning the future of communities and regions, we argue that in most cases the answer is ‘yes,’ even though there is little academic research and debate about this in Minority Studies. In truth, most of the literature focuses on minority rights and the protection of ethno-cultural identity; consequently, it is rare for members of minority groups to be seen as real social actors. In most cases they are presented merely as objects of different policies as exercised by state governments, which generally see minority issues through the lens of paternalism. It is not uncommon for legislation and the institutionalisation of their existence and participation in public affairs to be used as a mean of control over minority groups. This view assumes that members of ethno-cultural minorities need to be guided through law and policy, rather than be allowed to equally take part to common societal integration processes by both individual and collective action. One reason for such a situation could be found in the one-sided scientific approach used in Minority Studies. Scholars of minority protection rarely speak to colleagues in regional development studies and economics. Occasionally, there have been analyses of the involvement of ethno-cultural groups in cross-border cooperation, but these have been often confined ←8 | 9→to participation in cultural projects. True interdisciplinarity in Minority Studies is poorly cultivated, and this has ramifications for how minority issues are described, analysed and presented in areas, such as spatial integration and regional development. Research should thus better address and explain questions such as the involvement of minority groups in development strategies and policies; their contribution to the development of regions, cities and communities; their particular skills and knowledge to enhance development processes and, finally, their interest in creating and enhacing mainstream society.

In our attempt to develop this discussion we considered that there are at least three significant themes which continue to animate a minority’s struggle for recognition and empowerment in selected contexts: the Atrophying of Territory, the Managing of Expectations and the Construction of Narratives of Belonging. In a period of multi-level governance, the various initiatives and programmes designed to safeguard the survival of ethno-linguistic minorities, have to contend with global geostrategic and structural tendencies which can either weaken or ameliorate the intended consequences of public policy. But they also have to contend with a moral framework which presumes public sympathy for the right to exist, which is not universally shared by all within the crowded arena of the respective state. A close examination of selected aspects of contact space can reveal the scale of the challenges facing framers of public policy who wish to carve out a distinct niche for a long-discriminated minority within the modern state. Thus convergence, divergence, emergence and submergence mirror the opening and closing of periods of relative growth and decline in majority-minority relations, but do not necessarily follow a unilinear growth trajectory, despite a revival of fortunes and increased self-government. In fact, an examination of these processes, illustrated by current trends in Ireland, the Basque Country, Scotland and Wales, shows that quite contentious claims can be upheld by reference to the three processes under review, each of which may be subject to quite different interpretations and consequently involve divergent outcomes, both in spatial and temporal terms.

But other European multicultural areas, in particular the shifting Central-European landscape, itself a result of the conflictual inter-connections between the processes of construction of both political and cultural spaces, are revealing this relational context. Here, social and spatial convergence and divergence processes have provided for different variations of the possible ‘balance’ between both cultural and political spaces, as in the case of the Upper Adriatic border region, perhaps one of the most controversial contact areas in the first half of the 20th Century. Both cultural and political borders were quite loose in the pre-modern period, transitioned to become a sort of ←9 | 10→‘war instrument’ in the modern period, and represent an opportunity for re-integration in the post-modern period. As a consequence, national minorities have been also perceived in a quite different way during these periods: initially they became undesired ‘foreigners’ in the modern period, but acquired a potential role of cross-border ‘social bridges’ in the post-modern period, due in no small measure to European integration processes. In the latter, political and cultural boundaries – once dividing social spaces in separate, exclusive nation-state units – seem to lose their ‘barrier’ function, permitting not only national minorities, but also border communities in general to participate within both the ethnos and demos of the neighbouring countries. Recent field research conducted in the current Italian-Slovene and Slovene-Croatian border region and involving the respective border communities, including the Slovene national minority in Italy and the Italian national minority in former Yugoslav Istria, demonstrate an increasing level of both inter-national and intra-national social integration of all the above-mentioned social groups and also the effective role of national minorities as the mostly engaged partner and integration agent. This convergence process contributes, on the one hand, to a potential general revival of the multicultural and multilingual habits within border regions and, on the other hand, to an effective functional (re)integration process, creating a type of societal continuum not only at a cross-border but also at an inter-ethnic level. The re-established multicultural society includes, of course, provisions for plurilingualism too, as illustrated on the case of multilingual education programmes in Friuli or by the fact that originally minority-designed Slovenian medium schools in Italy are now largely attended by Italian mother-tongue pupils, representing thus an unexpected social ‘glue’ between both communities, reducing social distances and supporting multilingualism in ethnically mixed families. As a consequence, as observed in the case of the Slovene minority in Austria, the socio-structural dimension of the original ethnic background disappears, and ethnicity somehow becomes ‘a leisure activity’ and could achieve a mere symbolic dimension, within which people can choose what kind of ‘ethnic role’ they want to play in different social situations and relations.


This complex and in many cases quite controversial dimension is further explored in the second part of the book, which deals with migrations, ethnic changes and social integration. The Australian case-study shows that in this continent-state almost thirty per cent of the population were born overseas (out ←10 | 11→of this nearly twenty per cent from non-English speaking countries) and almost half of the population have at least one parent born overseas. In spite of such a high level of diversity, ethnic group segregation is much lower than in North American societies, suggesting that perhaps the key to success of Australian multiculturalism lies in its selective immigration policy. Of course, this kind of policy can be more successfully implemented in isolated social environments, but soon become rather disputable in more inter-connected areas, opening up a bitter controversy between the ‘accepted’ and the ‘excluded.’ This tendency is often reinforced by the re-emergence of populism and nationalism, wishing to protect the integrity of the in-group from the supposedly aggressive and too different out-group, involving among other re-actions the construction of border fences, the introduction of enforced border controls and the forced segregation of the ‘undesired.’ This new divergence trend is now particularly critical in Europe, the continent that has colonized most of the world through its own migrants but is now so reluctant to accept non-European migrants on its soil. Of particular concern is the ‘Balkan corridor’ situation and the issue of asylum seekers and refugees in Slovenia, the former Yugoslav republic where economic migrants and their descendants still represent a fifth of its population, but which found itself as an independent and EU member state with a non-existant long-term strategy in the field of migrant and refugee welcoming and social inclusion.

The book thus pays a particular attention to the former Yugoslav territories and societies, which became at the end of Millennium, not only the centre of European instability, but, as Castells noted in 1998, the most visible expression of the fact that “nationalism, not federalism, is the concomitant development of European integration.” The post-Yugoslav conflict management process re-opened the question of both the strengths and weaknesses of territoriality and the limitations of ‘classic’ European national territorial solutions to ethno-national conflicts. In fact, the implementation of both political and cultural nationalism, led by the dominant groups – the first seeking to construct a Nation out of a given State, the second to establish a State out of a given Nation – always produces both external divergence and internal convergence. If the Central-European cultural nationalism, in particular in the 20th Century, created several border disputes and thus inter-national conflicts that have changed the regional political map after WW I, WW II and the post-1990 developments, both forms of European nationalism assumed tendencies and policies of forced integration/deportation or assimilation of ethnic minorities and all those people who once were perceived as neighbours but became foreigners after political partition. These tendencies and policies are in clear contrast with modern conflict ←11 | 12→resolution models which, as shown in the case of US-driven Western European post-war reconstruction and reconciliation, requires contact and cooperation between the ‘managed,’ but also a wider multilateral and multi-level approach that the EU system should enable. Nevertheless, the Yugoslav wars in the 1990s have shown all the limits of the EU conflict management potentials and the discrepancy between its integration visions and practices. As Anderson noted ten years after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, ethno-national conflicts, for example in Ireland and former Yugoslavia (and currently in Catalonia too), are rooted in the inherent limitations and mutually reinforcing inter-relations of contemporary ethnicity, nationalism, democracy and territoriality – in the very nature of modern national statehood (Anderson 2006). Unsurprisingly, territorial solutions based on classic forms of nationalism have uncritically re-created these limitations and thus produced quite weak and artificial new political spaces, a sort of post-colonial or neo-colonial shatter-belt of ‘failed states,’ influencing even more peaceful and long-lasting cultural melting pots, such as Vojvodina.

The violent disintegration of the previous multicultural Yugoslav federation and the subsequent creation of new independent nation-states with bouts of ethnic cleansing produced large population movements, as well as a considerable number of refugees seeking to join their kin-state. The refugee wave in Vojvodina even exceeds the large re-organization of its population structure which took place after World War II. The immigration of mostly ethnic Serbian people and the emigration of minority population also changed the inter-ethnic relations and challenged the traditional multicultural organization of the local society. In such a situation, not only institutional cross-border functional cooperation but grass-rooted cross-cultural contacts need to be re-established. Therefore, the last part of the book is dedicated to contributions concerning narratives, constructions and perceptions of cultural landscapes within the Western Balkans, which are at the same time narratives, constructions and perceptions of both us and them. Intercultural literature, in fact, includes the meeting with the other, the different and the outsiders, all those who might live in the same space, but no more or not yet in the same society. These kinds of narratives are redolent in novels and literary works, depicting religious, national and gender diversity, alienation from one’s homeland, or how homelands may become foreign countries and vice versa, showing that both representation and resolution of ethno-national conflicts depends on breaking out of the fixation with national territorial identities, recognising that these are not necessarily the most significant or important ones.


ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2021 (July)
Contact areas Multicultural societies Ethnic minorities Language policies Integration processes Cross-border regionalism
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2021. 278 pp., 5 fig. b/w, 14 tables.

Biographical notes

Milan Bufon (Volume editor) Tove H. Malloy (Volume editor) Colin Williams (Volume editor)

Prof. Dr. Milan Bufon was Director of the Institute and is currently Senior Research Associate at the Science and Research Centre of Koper. Prof. Dr. Tove H. Malloy is professor of European Studies at the Europa-Universität Flensburg. She was Director of the European Centre for Minority Issues in Flensburg, Germany. Prof. Dr. Colin H. Williams was Research Professor in Sociolinguistics, now an Honorary Professor, in the School of Welsh, Cardiff University, UK.


Title: Societies and Spaces in Contact