Multiculturalism Policies for National Minorities

Although Western democracies are often called "nation-states", a number of them are more accurately described as "multination" states or "plurinational" states, in the sense that they contain historic substate groups who have a distinct national identity and who mobilize politically in pursuit of nationalist goals. Examples include the Welsh and Scots in Britain, the Catalans and Basques in Spain, the Flemish in Belgium, the Germans in northern Italy, the Corsicans in France, the Swedes in Finland, and the Quebecois in Canada. Such national minorities have historically been viewed with suspicion by states, who doubt their loyalty, and who fear their secessionist or irredentist intentions. States have often tried to suppress the public expression of substate national identities, and to keep tight political control over national minorities. Yet we can also find important examples where states have come to accept the legitimacy of minority nationalist aspirations, and to reshape political institutions to accord greater space for the language and culture of national minorities, and to accord them greater autonomy. They have come to accept, implicitly or explicitly, that they are multination states.

Our MCP Index for National Minorities is intended to track the extent of this shift over the past three decades, by examining the adoption of the following six policies detailed on the Decision Rules page:

  1. federal or quasi-federal territorial autonomy;
  2. official language status, either in the region or nationally;
  3. guarantees of representation in the central government or on constitutional courts;
  4. public funding of minority language universities/schools/media;
  5. constitutional or parliamentary affirmation of 'multinationalism;'
  6. according international personality (eg., allowing the substate region to sit on international bodies).

This is not an exhaustive list of every possible form of public policy intended to recognize or accommodate the distinctive status of national minorities. However, we believe that this list captures core elements of the "multiculturalist turn" in relation to such groups.

The country scores in the Index reveals considerable variation across times and across countries in the strength of these policies. However, the basic trend line is clear: there has been a consistent increase in the average score of Western democracies from 1980 to 2000 to 2010, with virtually no reverses or retreats.