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Constitutional Law and Minorities

1 April 1978

After this catalogue of constitutional styles tentative generalisations are possible. Distinctive geo-political, attitudinal and institutional factors appear to accompany the treatment of minorities in a particular state (see Table infra). One geopolitical factor is the relative size of majority and minority groups. If more or less equal in size, groups are in a ‘no win’ situation and compromise is the only alternative to constant battle. There is no mutual deterrence and little inducement to compromise or to enter into co-operative arrangements where they are unequal in size or power. Another factor is whether a country is adjacent to a neighbouring state which supports the minority, or which is perceived as a threat to the majority. Then majority and minority are unlikely to reach an accommodation. The changing state of economic development is also crucial. If the country is industrialised and scarcity of resources does not trigger group competition, relative harmony is more likely.  If, by contrast, resources are scarce, or the country is undergoing rapid economic modernisation with population migration, conflict is more likely.

Another major factor affecting attitudes is the kind of cultural difference between majority and minority groups. Religious, ethno-linguistic, tribal, caste and nationality differences are all divisive. If they co-incide, they are more likely to result in an ideology, and if this is developed, compromise is less likely (principle always being the enemy of peace). Nationalism is an exclusivist ideology: if the majority are chauvinistic, they seek unchallenged hegemony, adopt majoritarian attitudes and are unwilling to make concessions; if the minority are nationalistic, they prefer secession and their own rule.

Majority attitudes can thus be broadly categorised as majoritarian, compromising or even concessive. Conversely minority attitudes can be broadly classified as compromising or militant, even possibly secessionist.

Please note that the terminology in the fields of minority rights and indigenous peoples’ rights has changed over time. MRG strives to reflect these changes as well as respect the right to self-identification on the part of minorities and indigenous peoples. At the same time, after over 50 years’ work, we know that our archive is of considerable interest to activists and researchers. Therefore, we make available as much of our back catalogue as possible, while being aware that the language used may not reflect current thinking on these issues.

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Claire Palley