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Minority Recognition in Nation-States—The Case of Silesians in Poland

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Ethnic issues have always been at the top of the agenda of many countries hosting significant numbers of minorities, as ethnic differences quite often cause tensions among these groups. Establishing responsible and farsighted policies to create favourable environments for the coexistence of these groups with respect to cultural differences has been an important element of good governance. Great Britain having implemented its multiculturalism and communautarisme policies may be referred to as an example (Parzymies 2005, Janicki 2007). However, in some countries other approaches have been applied. In these cases, minority groups have been kept under the control of the dominating ethnos, which curbs any activity leading to possible improvement of the political position of minorities, as in case of Myanmar's attitude towards their ethnic Karen minority (Delang 2003). Poland, on the other hand, seems to have introduced yet another approach-denying recognition of some minority groups in order to avoid a “minority problem”.

A state, as a political territorial organisation of a particular community, needs to derive its legitimisation from features that distinguish it from other states. The most apparent such feature is a separate nation (Wnuk-Lipiński 2004). Consequently, nation-states are territorial entities providing exclusive geographical space for cultural, ethnic or political communities called nations. This implies that, in the world of nationstates, nations should be awarded the right to their own geographical and political space in the form of states, or at least the right to autonomy. Hence, recognition of another nation in the nation-state is often believed to be an insidious step. Yet, denial of recognition must be based on firm grounds, otherwise the vague boundary between lawful operation and discrimination on the basis of ethnic belonging may be crossed. In nationstates all state institutions are expected to secure the development of the dominating nation, often neglecting the needs of minorities (Zwoliński 2005). There is, therefore, an urgent need to address the issue of the recognition of Silesians, the largest officially unrecognised ethnos in Poland, since in present-day Europe there should be no room for discrimination of minorities (Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union 2000, art. 21).
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2009

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