What is a minority?

The term “minority” refers to many concepts often related and difficult to comprehend. If it is so that this term precludes those of the majority, its definition often becomes delicate when associated with humanity. The complexity of human relations and the multiplicity of situations makes researching a universally accepted definition difficult.

Even in international law, no definition of “minority” exists. There are different definitions depending on whether they are texts of the United Nations or the Council of Europe. The UN more readily uses the terms “ethnic, religious or linguistics minorities”, while the European texts uses the term “national minorities”. It should be noted that despite the absence of a legally binding definition of the term “minority”, many agree that a minority must meet objective characteristics (such as language, traditions and cultural patriotism) and a subjective factor, namely the will of its members to assert themselves as such, and assert their commitment to that which makes their identity specific. In developing European texts to defend the rights of minorities, one of the failings was requiring minorities to define the word itself, to find the minimum criteria that enable a group of individuals to be classified as a national minority.

National minority

A “national minority” commonly refers to a population living in a minority situation within a state. There are two types: the people of eponymous states like the Danish in Germany or the Hungarians in Romania. By extension, it also applies to non-sovereign people who do not have their own state structures. The latter are “stateless nations”. Brittany, the Basque Country and Friesland are examples of this.

Ethnic minority

By ethnic minorities one means both national minorities as well as allogenic minorities, that is groups of non-indigenous people and foreign communities. The Maghrebis in France or the Turks in Germany are even considered ethnic minorities. Canadian legislation defines them as “visible minorities”. The term “ethnicity”, derived from the ancient Greek εθνος, meaning “people” or “nation”.

Linguistic minority

National and ethnic minorities are often linguistic minorities. The Welsh or the Catalans are linguistic minorities in the state on which they depend, but they can hardly be described as such, their respective languages being spoken by the majority in the whole or in part of their territory. In rare cases, certain groups are able to speak a maternal language other than the state majority without being qualified as national or ethnic minorities. This is the case for the French population of Switzerland.

Religious and sexual minorities

Religious or sexual minorities, even if they fall outside the scope of this work, are often cited when discussing the question of minorities. Among the most famous minorities are the Irish Catholics, the Jews of Morocco and the Muslims of Belgium. Gender minorities correspond to sociological groups in terms of sexual orientation. Homosexuals and lesbians are the most characteristic example.