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  Back to my Conflict Resolution Page

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(An Introductory Essay)


Since their emergence, nation-states [1] have generally had tense and conflict-ridden relations with the ethnocultural minorities [2]under their jurisdiction. Yet, the social, political, and economic changes that have been taking place in the last two decades, changes that have accelerated and deepened as a result of the end of the Cold War, both in the developed and underdeveloped world, in the East as well as in the West, made this tension and conflict more visible, and a more compelling topic for social scientists.

Any researcher who examines the conflicts between nation-states and minorities has to grapple with either or both of these two basic questions:

* What are the possible approaches a minority might adopt toward the state? and

* What are the possible approaches a state might adopt toward (its) minorities?

One can be more specific by rephrasing or reformulating those two questions as follows:

* Why and how are minorities mobilized (and rebel) against the state? and

* Why do nation-states tend to regard minorities as a problem and how do they try to 'solve' this problem? And why do they usually resort to oppressive measures?

The first question has been extensively dealt with by many scholars, but primarily by Ted Gurr (1970, 1993, 1995) and Charles Tilly (1978). Moreover, Hirschman's theoretical model presented in his book entitled Exit, Voice and Loyalty (1970) can also be employed to explain how minorities may respond to state policies aimed at them. The second question has not been subjected to scientific scrutiny that frequently. Although there are many studies that focus on the violence- prone nature of the nation-state (see, for example, Giddens, 1985), only a few of them concentrate on state-minority relations, and the reasons why the nation- state implements violent and oppressive policies toward the minorities [3]. Perhaps the most interesting and most provocative of these studies is the one conducted by Pierre van den Berghe (1990) and the Center for the Comparative Study of Ethnicity and Nationalism. He and his colleagues, however, are interested only in the most extreme forms of state violence, that is, genocides, massacres, mass deportations, etc. Nation-states usually adopt more 'benign' measures (ranging from assimilation and integration to segregation) to deal with their minorities.

Yet, even when they choose less violent methods and strategies, states do tend to oppress minorities. The oppression of minorities is a widespread phenomenon. Gurr, in his comprehensive research entitled Minorities at Risk (1993: 3-27) identifies 233 ethnocultural groups that are in conflict with more than 100 nation-state governments [4]. Therefore, to answer the second question, one has to consider not just the most brutal forms of oppression, but also the 'banal' ones.

This paper is a modest attempt to explore and analyze theories designed to account for the reasons why this phenomenon is so general and so pervasive. After briefly describing the psychological factors that lead to the need for intragroup cohesion, which, in turn, often results in the oppressive measures to achieve that cohesion, I will try to examine historically how the emergence of nations is linked with processes that characterize and define the age of modernity, and how these processes create the need for homogeneity within the nation. I will proceed with a discussion of problems in state-minority relations that stem from the slow and gradual transition of the nations all over the world from modernity to a post- modern (information) era. I will conclude by presenting some ideas on how nation-state governments should deal with their problems with minorities, without resorting to either violence or oppression, or assimilation.

A Brief Psychological Description of Intragroup Dynamics

According to many social psychologists (most notably Sherif, 1953: 185-191, a pioneer in the study of the emergence of group norms) there is a need for cohesion which leads to demands and pressures for conformity in both small and large groups [5] . Any group, in order to survive as a distinct entity, has to maintain a certain level of internal cohesion [6]. The norms of the group, therefore, strongly encourage conformity and discourage deviance. The group, and especially its leadership, requires of the members to conform, i.e. to comply with the norms. Those who do not abide by the group rules, traditions, and values are in trouble: Depending on the extent to which they deviate from the norms they are scolded, punished or ostracized.

Yet, just as the groups have an intrinsic need for cohesion, most individuals have an equally basic need to belong (Berlin, 1982: 338). Membership to groups gives them security and meaning. They thus are willing to sacrifice part of their individuality in order to conform [7]. By giving up part of their distinctiveness they become similar, they voluntarily assimilate to the group. As long as the group's demand for conformity is met by the members' desire to assimilate, the group-member relationship is a mutually beneficial one.

Very often, however, some members do not comply with the group's attempt to achieve cohesion, and, vice versa, certain individuals' desire to become members of a group is met with resistance. It is in these cases that conflict between the group's leadership (and often its majority) and certain members occur. Several sociologists and social psychologists (see, for instance, Sherif, 1953: 161) emphasize the frequent incongruence between one's 'reference group' and 'membership group:' A reference group is a group to which the individual relates him/herself as a member, or to which he/she aspires to relate him/herself psychologically. A membership group, on the other hand, is a group of which the individual is (in actuality) willingly or unwillingly a member. Quite frequently, some people's reference group happens to be different from their membership group. In that case, they are considered troublemakers by the latter, for they behave according to the norms of the former. The loyalty of such individuals lies with their reference group, and, hence, they are distrusted by their membership group.

This incongruence can be observed in almost every conflict between a nation-state and an ethnocultural minority.

The Emergence of Nations, Nationalisms, and Nation-States
and the Need for Homogenization.

Nations, being large human groups, have very similar characteristics to the smaller groups examined by social psychologists. But unlike those smaller groups, they are "Imagined Communities" (Anderson, 1983: 15), because the members of even the smallest nation do not know most of their fellow-members, they will never meet them, they will never even hear of them, and yet, in the mind of each member of a nation lives the idea or ideal of national togetherness.

Cohesion and conformity is a very important need for nations, as it is for any other group. However, nations require an extreme form of cohesion, that is, homogeneity. This more profound need for unity and integrity has to do with the historical developments that accompanied the rise of the nation, and nation-state.

The formation and rise of nation-states (from the 15th to the 20th Century, first in the West and later in other parts of the World) occurred simultaneously with, and as a result of the gradual emergence of capitalism, the growth in commerce, the beginning of industrialization, the spread of literacy, the development of communications, population explosion, and urbanization. (Gellner, 1983: 19-62 & Anderson, 1983: 75).

All these developments together characterize the advent of Modernity. Nations, nation- states, and nationalisms (i.e. ideologies that led to the formation and legitimation of such states) are typically modern phenomena (Hobsbawm, 1990: 14).

The social, political and economic conditions of modernity demanded standardization, uniformity, and homogeneity: Custom duties within countries were abolished, transportation systems were improved, highway and railroad systems were built to bring remote and isolated regions into easy contact with markets and metropolitan centers (Weber, 1976: 197-220) national currencies and uniform units of measurement were adopted, mail services became systematic, buildings, streets and roads were given numbers, detailed censuses started to be conducted; small regional economies were transformed into interdependent parts of a larger, presumably more efficient, single 'national' economic system... Moreover, citizens of the newly-formed nation- states were forced to speak the same language; they were even encouraged to speak the standard dialect of that language with the 'correct' accent [8]. And basically through the education-system and mass media, both either state-run or state-controlled, the ruling nationalist elites launched a social engineering project to metamorphose the heterogeneous populations of their countries into a unified community having the same historical symbols, deriving from the same ancestors, and, irrespective of social inequalities and class differences, pursuing the same 'national' interests (see, Anderson, 1983: 80-128, and Hobsbawm, 1990: 80-100).

During this period, most modern states had to resolve a paradox: the dominant nationalist ideology claimed that within the national boundaries there was one integral, undivided nation, while at the same time the governments were trying to do away with diversity in order to establish homogeneity (the process of "nation-building"). In other words, they were trying to turn a myth into a reality.

Different Paths toward the Achievement of Homogenization

In almost every country there were ethnocultural minorities, and for every attempt at homogenization they posed a problem that had to be 'solved.'

Most social scientists and thinkers of the 19th and early 20th Century, including Marxist or socialist ones, did not regard the 'problem' of minorities as a major one (Stone, 1985: 83). They argued that racial and ethnic divisions and identities were going to wither away as a result of economic and technological development (Berlin, 1982: 339- 340). They particularly emphasized the impact of industrialization, and suggested that as societies became increasingly industrialized, the dynamics this process was creating was inevitably going to break down barriers between racial and ethnic groups. Industrialism was promoting effectiveness and positivist thinking in the societies; it was transforming society, by facilitating social mobility and urbanization, and, consequently, by undermining the traditional segments, where ethnocultural identities were valued most. According to those social theorists, the process of industrialization, accompanied by the rise of capitalism and the values attached to it, and facilitated by the 'nation-building' policies, was gradually creating an undiversified society; social stratification and social relations were increasingly dictated by the needs and logic of industrial capitalism (e.g. employees versus employers) (Stone, 1985: 84-85 ).

Yet, ethnocultural identities, differences and minorities proved more resistant. They were not going to wane that smoothly. Industrialization and urbanization generated widespread frustration, insecurity, and anxiety among the members of traditional segments of society, forcing them to cling even more tightly to their culture (Stone, 1983: 90). By the same token, many ethnocultural minorities that were exposed to modernization, not only did they not lose their distinct identity, but they sought security by emphasizing it even more than before (Eriksen, 1993: 8). It is partly because of this resistance that states launched their 'nation-building' and homogenization projects.

During the homogenization process in each country, nation-states developed different approaches for different minorities:

Some ethnocultural minorities were considered 'integrable,' or 'assimilable,' that is, capable of becoming integrated into the nation, or incorporated with the majority. These minorities were either encouraged to assimilate voluntarily [9], or were subjected to forced assimilation.

Other minorities were viewed as 'non-integrable, that is 'unassimilable,' not capable or not worthy of becoming part of the nation [10]. The policies adopted to deal with them were cruel: Ejection (forced migration), segregation (keeping minorities separate and unequal; Gurr, 1993: 306), oppression, ethnic cleansing, massacres, genocides [11].

What are the criteria used by the states to classify minorities as assimilable or non- assimilable? There are no well-defined, permanent criteria. The categorization of minorities on the basis of their 'assimilability' depends on the social, political, and economic circumstances in a certain country, in a certain period, on the beliefs, aspirations, and suspicions of the ruling elites, on the attitudes of the minorities --but especially of their leadership toward the nation-state and the government--, on the degree of racial, ethnic, or religious congruence between the minority and the ruling elite, etc. As all of those factors change over time, so does the 'integrability' of a minority. A minority can be treated by a government as an assimilable one, and then, when a new (say, a racist) government comes to power it may start to be regarded as non-assimilable. Or economic conditions might change, the country might enter a period of depression, and a government that hitherto regarded a minority as assimilable, now in search of a scapegoat, might start treating the same minority as the enemy, hence, as a non-assimilable one.

The changes in the status of the Jews in Czarist Russia in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries illustrates vividly how a minority may shift back and forth from the 'assimilable' to the 'non-assimilable' category (Rubenstein, 1994; 5-15). [12]

Non-assimilable minorities usually fulfill a special psychological function for the majorities: They become "Suitable Targets for Externalization" (or projection) of the majority population's negative feelings and images (Volkan, 1988: 28-32). In other words, not only do such minorities attract the hatred, the suspicion, the rage of the majority because of their own characteristics, they also become reservoirs of the majority's negative self- images. Volkan argues that people and groups of people externalize or project the "unwelded" positive and negative images about themselves into certain people and objects of the outside world. This, he claims, is necessary in order for them to maintain the cohesion and integrity of their self (and group-self, i.e. group identity, when it is the groups that do the externalization/projection). Thus, people or groups that are targets of positive externalized images and representations are seen as allies, friends, leaders, etc.... On the other hand, people or groups that are reservoirs of unintegrated bad images are regarded as enemies, or worse (Volkan, 1988: 31). [13]

But there is another, more dreadful psychological dynamic that can often be observed in minority-majority relations: Relations between the non- assimilable minority and the majority or the nation-state government become even more strained if that minority is linked to a state or nation that in the past inflicted a deep trauma upon the majority group; so painful a trauma that cannot be mourned. In that case, and after the balance of power changes in favor of the majority, the minority may be seen as so dangerous, so contaminated, that it should be eliminated. The government supported by the majority group might intend to "purify" the society from its dirty and harmful elements. These perceptions and intentions can pave the way for policies of "ethnic cleansing," for mass expulsions, massacres, even for genocides. Such policies, or strategies to deal with non- assimilable minorities, according to Volkan, are "malignant forms of purification rituals" (Volkan, 1992: 13-14).

Nevertheless, violence and oppression against ethnocultural minorities cannot entirely or necessarily be explained by psychological dynamics. There usually are some sheer political reasons behind brutal and discriminatory policies directed against a minority group. Governments frequently play the "minority card" when, for example, they are losing popularity or legitimacy and find it convenient "to wrap themselves in a cloak of nationalistic, racial, or religious rhetoric" (Human Rights Watch, 1995: 2). [14]

The Gradual Prevalence of Democracy and Human Rights

After the end of the Second World War with the defeat of Nazism, Fascism and Japanese militaristic nationalism, and with the worldwide shock and horror caused by the Holocaust, it became significantly more difficult for the nation-state governments to implement violent and brutal policies of oppression against minorities. With the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and with other mainly regional documents and conventions emphasizing Human Rights (for instance, OSCE's Helsinki Final Act and the Paris Charter) the principle of non-discrimination and the right of free association are now accepted as global norms. In addition, the concepts of 'minority rights' and 'cultural rights' gained widespread acceptance. [15] This does not mean, of course, that these rights and principles are not or cannot be violated. They are, but the governments that violate human rights or minority rights feel the need and the pressure to present excuses; and if they are not persuasive, they often have to face sanctions. That was not possible in the 19th or in the first part of the 20th Century.

Moreover, since the eighties, and especially since the end of the Cold War, democracy based on liberal values and principles has gained an unprecedented popularity. Today more countries enjoy a democratic regime than ever before. Although not impossible, it is certainly more difficult and less acceptable to violate minority rights in a democratic regime. Establishing or maintaining national cohesion is still a very basic goal and principle for every national government, but today it has to coexist with the principles of democracy and human rights.

Toward the End of Modernity,
and How to Deal with Minorities
in an Information (Post- Modern) Era

The recent rapid and impressive developments in technology, in transportation, in the telecommunications signify that the era of modernity is coming to an end. Some analysts have argued that information has become the most important element of today's world, and that industrial societies, or even non-industrial societies, are gradually being transformed into information societies (see, Naisbitt, 1982: 1-33). Due to this transformation, together with the old technologies, the centralized, homogenizing, standardizing, modern nation-state is rapidly becoming obsolete. Parallel to that, or as a consequence, the whole world is experiencing two seemingly contradictory, but mutually reinforcing trends (Isaacs, 1975: 215. See also, Barber, 1992): Globalization and Fragmentation. Economy and information exchange is gaining global dimensions, rendering national borders either meaningless or, at least, porous. On the other hand, ethnocultural and religious groups are asserting the distinctiveness of their identities and they are trying to separate themselves from the larger national units of which they constitute a component.

All these trends and changes are forcing the governments to reexamine their policies toward ethnocultural minorities. How can governments deal with ethnocultural minorities in this new era?

* In Authoritarian Regimes:

The trends I described above are pushing dictatorial or authoritarian governments towards liberalization and democratization. No matter what mechanisms these governments use, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for them to control the content and the amount of information their citizens are getting (particularly from abroad). Today, the leaders and intellectuals of ethnocultural minorities (and not only them) are aware of and are closely following the developments in other parts of the world. They know about the struggles of other minorities, they know about the global trends favoring democracy, and they also know that they can internationalize their problems and their agenda much more easily than before. It is therefore almost impossible for any government to oppress a minority or suppress its demands, without creating international reaction. Authoritarian governments, then, have basically two choices: They can either violate the rights of their minorities and face international outcry or isolation, or often sanctions (e.g. Burma, Nigeria, even China, to a certain extent), or they can negotiate with the representatives of those minorities with a view to recognize their rights. But they cannot just improve the situation of the minorities and ignore the majority of the population. If an authoritarian government agrees to improve the situation of a minority, the majority is inevitably going to demand the same improvements. This demand will probably lead to a conflict between political groups representing the majority and the authoritarian regime, which sooner or later will result in its overthrow. So, a better choice for those governments is to initiate a process of general democratization, and to start respecting the human rights of every citizen. [16] If it is them who initiate the process, it is more likely that they will be in control throughout the transition, and perhaps even after the transition. [17]

* In Democratic Regimes:

For such regimes there is a need to implement "a politics of recognition of differences" alongside "a politics of equal dignity" (Taylor, 1994: 39).

The politics of equal dignity are based on the assumption that human beings, just because they are human, have a dignity. Human dignity, according to that assumption is the same for every human being. No-one has more dignity than others (Taylor, 1994: 27). Jefferson expressed a very similar idea in the American Declaration of Independence when he wrote "all men are created equal." It is these assumptions that led to such concepts as 'human rights,' 'one man - one vote,' equal rights to participate in government, and equality before the law (Singh, 1996: 22). For if human beings are created equal and have the same dignity, they must also have certain rights -the same rights- and they must be able to have a say, an equal say in the decision-making process. Yet, even though these concepts are essential for democracy, they do not wholly satisfy the identity needs of minorities, because they want their differences as a group to be recognized and respected. As Hegel (Taylor, 1994: 36) and Burton (Sandole, 1993: 14) have pointed out, recognition is a basic need for a group, as well as for a person.

The principle of "recognition of differences" derives from the works of Johann Gottfried Herder, a proto- nationalist German historian and philosopher. Herder argues that each of us has an original way of being human. In other words, we have a distinct way, our own way to actualize ourselves. Therefore we should not imitate, we must not be forced to imitate others. We should find our own original way of self-actualization, and we should not give up until we are sure we have found it. If we do give up and choose someone else's way, we miss the point of our lives; we miss what being human is for us. We should be true to ourselves by being true to our originality. Herder, then, leaps from the level of individuals to the level of groups and asserts that just like individuals, an ethnocultural group (a "Volk"), too, should be true to itself, that is, its own culture. Only through its own culture can an ethnic group actualize itself. Thus, Herder concluded that Germans should not try or should not be compelled to try to imitate the French (Berlin, 1992: 244- 246). If they do, they can only become second-rate French. He also suggested that European colonialism should be rolled back to give colonized people the chance to be themselves without any impediment (Taylor, 1994: 30-31)

About one and a half century later, Frantz Fanon, one of the most important thinkers of anti-colonialism, expressed the same or very similar ideas: He claimed that the colonized peoples, in order to be free, must first of all purge themselves of the image colonizers imposed on them. Subjugated peoples, he proposed, should develop their own self-image relying upon their own culture (Taylor, 1994: 65).

If governments accepted the ideas and suggestions of Herder and Fanon, they would have to abandon all their policies of assimilation, even those that are not coercive. And in a democratic regime based both on human rights and on minority rights, members of minority would have equal rights with the members of majority, but, in addition, they would be given the opportunity to express, and preserve their own culture. [18]

Managing/Settling/Resolving State-Minority Conflicts
'Accommodation without Assimilation,' Consociationalism, Federalism, and Secession

If one rules out the option of assimilation as a state policy, as well as all the other brutal and coercive techniques to be implemented toward the minorities, and considering that there must be some kind of peaceful coexistence between the nation-state governments and ethnocultural groups, perhaps the best option among those that remain is what Margaret Gibson calls "accommodation without assimilation" (Gibson, 1988) [19]. What could be the basic elements of this option?

* First of all, it is a progressive-conservative option, because its goal is both the improvement of the social, economic, and political condition of minorities and the preservation of their culture with their values, their communal structure, and their traditions (to the extent they do not contradict with the basic human rights).

* Second, it requires of the minority members to affirm their cultural identity, while at the same time to recognize the need to develop certain skills (for instance, to become bilingual) that would enable them to peacefully interact and cooperate with the majority (Mehan et al., 1994: 105). That is to say, minority members should try to accommodate themselves to the mainstream, dominant culture, while maintaining theirown culture. [20]

* And, third, it requires of the state to accommodate itself to the needs of the minority. The state should facilitate minorities' efforts to preserve their identity and culture.

This third requirement often is achieved by granting special economic, political and cultural rights to disadvantaged minorities, in order to address inequities (Gurr, 1993: 309). Such a policy, however, may lead to a perpetual competition between the majority and minority communities, or to a backlash by the dominant group, thus creating communal tensions, which may result in violent ethnic conflict (Human Rights Watch, 1995: 7 and Gurr, 1993: 310). So, it is by no means a panacea.

The option of 'accommodation without assimilation' may not satisfy a minority, especially when it constitutes a significant proportion of the society and that society is deeply divided, that is, there are serious differences in the culture, identity and interests between minority and majority. Such a society is more likely to be held together peacefully through a "consociational" or power- sharing system of government.

Consociation is a form of government based on the cooperation among political elites of the segments of a divided society, within an institutional framework. Its immediate aim is to turn a society with a "fragmented political culture" into a stable democracy and to maintain the "national unity" (Lijphart, 1969; Gurr, 1993: 310-311).

It has been implemented with a remarkable success in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Colombia, and Malaysia, and with a satisfactory degree of success in Belgium. (Nevertheless it failed in Lebanon and in Cyprus.)

Consociationalism has four basic and indispensable characteristics: a power-sharing coalition, proportionality, mutual veto, and segmental autonomy (Lijphart, 1969: 216-221).

In order for consociationalism to be implemented successfully, (a) the political leaders from the rival segments should have the ability to accommodate the divergent interests and demands of their own community and they must have an effective control over it. (b) They should be able to transcend cleavages and to work jointly, to cooperate to a great extent with the elites of the rival segments. (c) They should be committed to the continuance of the system and to its stability. (d) Finally, the elites should understand the perils of political fragmentation (Lijphart, 1969: 216).

As can be seen, consociationalism is an elitist system, because its establishment and success depends almost completely on the willingness of the political elites to cooperate. And it requires wise segmental leaders, "more tolerant than their followers," capable of understanding the importance and the benefits of inter-elite cooperation, as well as capable of creating solutions to the political problems of their countries (Horowitz, 1985: 573). If the elites are not willing to make the system work, consociationalism breaks down, leading usually to violent interethnic conflicts.

A federal structure may increase the effectiveness of consociational politics, provided that there is a large number of federated units not designed according to the geographical distribution of the ethnocultural groups (such as in Switzerland) - thus preventing domination of one unit by a single ethnic group, and enabling shifting coalitions to take place (McGarry & O'Leary, 1990: 269). If each federated unit corresponds to an ethnic group (such as in former Czechoslovakia and former Yugoslavia), then the partition of this country is more likely than its continuance.

For many minority groups, even a federal-consociational arrangement might not be deemed satisfactory. The only solution such groups can accept is separation / secession: They want to establish their own nation-state where they will no longer be a minority, but a majority (Wellman, 1995). But secession rarely solves the minority problem: Where there is one nation-state and one minority, it creates (at least) two nation-states and two minorities, because it is practically impossible to concentrate all the members of an ethnic group in a certain territory and extremely difficult -not to mention unacceptable- to 'purify' or 'cleanse' a territory of unwanted ethnic groups (Singh, 1996: 20). [21]


We can conclude, therefore, that, as far as state- minority relations are concerned, there are no perfect options or solutions. Each of the above has certain strengths but also some weaknesses. If there were a perfect solution, relations between minorities and states probably would not be that conflict-ridden.

Yet there are several clearly wrong options: Oppression is wrong; ethnic cleansing and genocide are wrong; segregation is wrong; assimilation, if forced, is wrong. Unfortunately, despite the global changes and the new worldwide trends, many governments still consider such brutal strategies and policies within their range of choices. Let us hope that some day governments will realize that these are not solutions, but the very core of the problem.


[1] Unlike Walker Connor, who defines nation-state as a "territorial-political unit [...] whose borders coincide or nearly coincide with the territorial distribution of a national group" (Connor, 1978: 382), I use the term nation- state to describe a territorial-political unit under the (official) control of a national/ethnic group (Staatsvolk) which is usually the majority of the population. I should emphasize 'official control,' because constitutionally and according to the International Law, nation-states and their territories are considered to belong to, or to be owned by, the Staatsvolk. That is why they are, as a rule, named after the dominant or majority group; thus, Germany is the land of the Germans, France, the land of the French, Turkey, the land of the Turks, etc.

Ethnic or national homogeneity, as I will explain later in this paper, is not a requirement for a state to be called a nation-state. Rather, it is a goal to be achieved by the state and/or a claim that would induce the population to collectively imagine itself as homogenous.

As for the Staatsvolk, whom this group of people includes and whom it excludes is determined by the prevalent version of nationalism of the time.[Back]

[2] Inspired by Eriksen (1993: 10-12), I define an ethnocultural group, as a group of people, who firmly believe that they are ethnically and/or culturally distinct from the rest of the population. An ethnic group is primarily an "emic group of ascription;" in other words, how its members perceive themselves and their differences from other groups is more important than any definition or categorization done by outsiders. It is, therefore, futile to search for an objective and general definition, based on specific criteria like language, history, skin color etc.

An ethnocultural minority, then, is an ethnocultural group, that is numerically smaller and/or politically less powerful than the dominant group in a country's population. The term minority, of course, is a "relative and relational" concept (Eriksen, 1993: 121): It is meaningful, only in relation to the 'majority,' and it is not a permanent characterization for any ethnocultural group: Demographical changes, border changes, mass migrations, and radical social changes leading to redefinition of social boundaries can make a minority majority and vice versa. [Back]

[3] By "oppressive policies toward the minorities" I mean government/state actions which grossly discriminate against members or organizations of a minority group viewed as presenting a fundamental challenge to existing power relationships, or to the government's vision of the nation, or to its key government policies, because of its ethnocultural identity. This is a modified version of a definition formulated by Davenport (1995: 683), one of the very few scholars who attempted to quantitatively analyze threat perception and state repression. [Back]

[4] In an article published in 1995, Gurr raises the number of 'minorities at risk' to 292, and the number of nation- states that have to deal with these minorities to 120 (Gurr, 1995: 212-213). [Back]

[5] Together with the need for cohesion, Sherif et al. (1988) have also stressed the need for common or 'superordinate' goals -- for goals that are shared by all or most members and that can be achieved only through the cooperation of the group members. [Back]

[6] However, several experimental studies (for instance, those conducted by Dion in 1973, by Allen and Wilder in 1975 and by Kennedy and Stephan in 1977) suggest that cohesiveness, though important for the continuance of a group , is not necessary for group formation. Subjects in their experiments favored even those in-group members who were dissimilar to them over out-group members who were similar (Turner, 1982: 24). [Back]

[7] Ross (1993), influenced by John C. Turner, has set forth a similar yet more radical explanation for this need of individuals to belong and to conform. According to him:

"Groups are the central mechanism for providing individuals with their identity; rather than thinking about individuals 'sacrificing' part of their identity when the become part of a group, [we should regard] individual identity as possible only in the context of secure group attachments...The notion of individuals apart from a product of western thought, not the human experience" (Ross, 1993: 76). [Back]
[8] For instance, French schoolchildren in rural France after the revolution started to be taught in 2le-de-France French; British schools taught the "King's English;" education in German schools, since the 19th Century has been in "Hochdeutsch;" and after the nationalist revolution of 1911, Mandarin Chinese, a dialect spoken by Chinese bureaucrats, became China's official dialect. [Back]

[9] For example in France, the state has until recently implemented policies of assimilation of minorities such as Bretons, Provensals and Catalans. It encouraged them to become French, so that they would achieve equal rights, and improve their standing. In addition, it has "mercilessly" insisted on the use of the French language, which it has promoted as "emancipating" and necessary for social mobility (Weber, 1976). [Back]

[10] Some examples for non-assimilable minorities are: The Native Americans (American Indians) in the 18th and 19th Centuries, Gypsies (Roma) in eastern Europe, Christian minorities in the Ottoman Empire, particularly during and immediately after W.W.I, and, of course, Jews during the Nazi Germany. [Back]

[11] For a detailed and radical explanation of the reasons why and the conditions under which the nation-states resort to such violent strategies to do way with ethnocultural minorities, see van den Berghe, 1990. [Back]

[12] The Jews of the Pale, from the time Russia conquered the eastern part of Poland up until the 1870s, were regarded as a foreign, dirty and dangerous element that should be prevented from spreading throughout the empire. The Jews could not travel beyond the formerly Polish provinces, they were not allowed to engage in certain occupations, to lease land, to manage certain businesses, to employ Christian workers, to attend universities, to locally govern themselves etc. They were forbidden even to wear their traditional clothing, and later, when the government started to instigate or organize pogroms the Jews were forbidden to even defend themselves (Rubenstein, 1994: 5-6).

During the reign of Alexander II, the government adopted a strategy to modernize Russia. That strategy, among other things, included a partial emancipation of the Jewish community. Thus, the government's approach toward this ethnic group changed significantly: Now the Jews were encouraged, often forced to assimilate, to "fuse" with the Russian population. Most of the restrictions mentioned above were lifted, and some opportunities for the Jewish population to join the mainstream of the society were created (Rubenstein, 1994: 7-8).

The assassination of Alexander II, however, led to a radical change of the status of the Jews. First, they were held responsible of the murder, and the government encouraged a wave of pogroms. Later, the extreme nationalist Alexander III, who succeeded Alexander II, gradually curtailed their rights and began treating them as non-assimilable again: Jews started to be expelled from big cities, from schools and universities, they were barred from certain professions, and many of them were forced to return to the Pale (Rubenstein, 1994: 13-14).

The status of the Jews would change for yet another time with the Russian Revolutions (March-November 1917), after which they would be regarded as assimilable again. [Back]

[13] According to Volkan, it is this psychological process of externalization/projection that has resulted in the rise of the tension in the relations between the Romanians and Hungarians in Romania after the overthrow of the Ceausescu regime. The Romanians, instead of engaging themselves in the painful and complicated work of mourning and adaptation to the drastic changes after Ceausescu's death, found it easier to target their "psychic energies" and all their negative feelings to the "Hungarian threat" (Volkan, 1995: 73). [Back]

[14] The report entitled Slaughter Among Neighbors, prepared by Human Rights Watch (1995) describes several cases where governments inflamed ethnic tensions for mainly political reasons. [Back]

[15] This widespread acceptance was reflected, for instance, in 1966, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which required that minorities should not be denied the right to practice their religion, to use their language and enjoy their culture (Article 27; Williams, 1981: 48). [Back]

[16] That is also the conclusion of the UN Subcommission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, which proposed, in 1991, that minority rights could best be safeguarded within a democratic framework based on the rule of law (Singh, 1996: 21). [Back]

[17] For example, the National Party in South Africa, and the Socialist Party in Bulgaria have responded to the demands from the society (and from ethnocultural groups: Blacks in the case of South Africa; Turks and Muslims, in the case of Bulgaria), initiated the transition to democracy, and today they are either in power or they share power. (Yet, the National Party decided to withdraw from the government a few months ago.) [Back]

[18] Nevertheless, in a regime based on human rights, people should have the right to abandon their culture, and assimilate with another one, if, they freely choose to do so. [Back]

[19] The same option has also been discussed by Tajfel (1981: 335) who calls it simply 'accommodation,' by Turner (1975) who calls it 'social competition,' and by Gurr (1993: 309-310) who calls it 'pluralism.'[Back]

[20] According to Gibson (1988: 25), that is exactly what the Sikhs in California managed to do. [Back]

[21] Singh (1996: 20) mentions the case of India-Pakistan: When the Indian Territory was divided into a state for Muslims (West and East Pakistan) and a state mainly for Hindus (India), tens of millions of Muslims had to migrate from India to Pakistan leaving most of their properties behind. These immigrants, who call themselves "Mahajirs" (immigrants), were not able to get fully integrated into the Pakistani society, and they are still regarded by the native population as foreigners. On the other hand, many Muslims chose to remain in India (the Muslim population of India is slightly larger than the total population of Pakistan), and thus the conflict (and violence) between Hindus and Muslims went on. Therefore, neither the partition of the territory nor the mass migration of a significant proportion of Indian Muslims achieved its objective, namely to terminate the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India. On the contrary, these two measures added an inter-state dimension to the conflict : The rivalry between Pakistan and India, primarily due to the status of Kashmir. There have been three wars between these two countries since they gained their independence. Now that both of them have obtained nuclear capabilities, a fourth war would be a major threat to the global security. [Back]


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