Minorities Can Create a Liberal Pole That Strengthens Democracy, Human Rights and Openness

Op-Ed by Jan Rovny, Associated Professor at the Centre For European Studies of Sciences Po Paris

News / 04.9.19

Ethnic minorities, when they cannot reasonably obtain secession or irredenta, thus being in a (quasi) permanent minority state, are likely to seek liberal, multi-ethnic arrangements. This is in order to protect themselves from the potentially dominating majority and ensure their survival as a specific group. This occurs because national minorities have vested interests in promotion of liberal values that protect individuals and groups. Their survival as a community, their livelihood and the protection of their basic rights very fundamentally depends on it. The minorities, and their political representatives, most likely to push for such liberal arrangements, are those that are politically significant, and that are non-religious.

Consequently, the presence of ethnic minorities tends to create a liberal pole in politics. Given their interest in limiting the coercive capacity of the state, and ensuring individual and group rights, ethnic minorities and their various political partners can strengthen democracy, human rights, openness, and liberal values. This brings together diverse political forces, be it other minorities or majority actors, who share a similar vision of society, thus creating broader alliances on those issues. This, in turn, this creates liberal attitudes towards other “non-minority” issues, such as migration.

Simultaneously, we observe the presence of minorities may trigger populist backlash and opposition, generating negative, anti-liberal responses in the majority group. But what is very clear is that minorities and their allies are unlikely to support populist movements. If you look at France, very rarely you will find people identifying as Muslims or North Africans, who will support Marine Le Pen.

Diverse societies do not necessarily show more liberal or democratic attitudes than homogeneous countries, but, under certain conditions (where the minorities are significant and more secular), the presence of minorities in heterogenous societies creates and strengthens a liberal pole in politics, making it more stable. This is the case especially if the contact of the majority population with minority communities is frequent and positive – if “otherness” is normalised. In this way, diverse societies find themselves better placed to engage nationalism, xenophobia and populism.

Jan Rovny, Associated Professor at the Centre For European Studies of SciencesPo-Paris, gave a keynote speech at the 2019 Summer School on National Minorities and Border Regions in Humboldt University in Berlin.

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