Why the communicative empowerment of minorities? Should minority policies conform to the interests of their “target groups”? They obviously should in a democratic political system. However, when such policies are determined exclusively by the will of those in power – and representative democracy, by and large, hinders minority representation in government – members of minority communities are in a disadvantaged position that is, indeed, incompatible with the principles of democracy. Historically, minority protection has been exercised primarily through the promotion of human rights, and modern democratic legislation provides a number of safeguards designed to prevent the exercise of arbitrary power by authorities in respect to minority groups. One such safeguard is the notion of universal human rights, which protect persons belonging to minorities from unequal treatment and focus on the fight against discrimination. Nevertheless, the protection of individual rights as such is not sufficient to ensure the reproduction of the cultural identity of a minority group across time.1 The latter is usually considered to involve the exercising of cultural rights, which are collective or group specific, and, unlike universal rights, do not enjoy general approval in either scholarly literature, politics, or the eyes of the public. Fears have been voiced that the recognition and protection of such rights may in fact lead to the violation of the cultural and, hence, political integrity of the societies concerned (see Jones 2010; Bisaz 2012; Jovanović 2012). It is because of such fears that not all democratic legislation contains provisions on cultural rights; moreover, even where such provisions exist, they are usually worded in a way that lacks a sense of imperativeness. This also holds true for the relevant international instruments concerning minority rights. An example of this is provided by the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (1995), which includes a number of articles that contain such phrases as “as far as possible,”2 “if those persons so request and where such a request corresponds to a real need,”3 “taking into account their specific conditions,”4 and “when there is a sufficient demand for such indications.”5 Real-life examples and commonsense demonstrate that the application of legal norms concerning cultural identity may produce very different effects in
differing circumstances. In some cases, the existence of media outlets owned and/ or operated by representatives of a particular minority community may help the identity of that community develop into an important positive factor in the public life of the country. It may help, for example, to raise the social status of the community, as well as the self-confidence of its members, so that they feel like fullyfledged citizens. In other circumstances, however, the operation of minority-oriented media outlets may lead to the self-segregation of the minority groups whose interests they ostensibly serve, and to a confrontation between those groups and society at large. In a similar fashion, if place names that are traditional for a substantial minority population of a particular area in a given country are added to the official names of towns, villages, or rivers, such as on signposts, this may be regarded as an acknowledgment of the worth of the minority’s identity and have a positive effect on relations between the community and society. But in another country, or even in another region of the same country, such multiculturalist tolerance may create tension between ethnic groups, provoke outbursts of nationalism, and in general prove to be counterproductive. Everything depends on the specific circumstances, which may vary from place to place. This study proceeds from the position that the mechanisms used to align minority policies with the interests of the minorities themselves should be consistent with the multiplicity, complexity, and dynamics of the problems related to the interactions of minority groups with society in general. The hypothesis that this study seeks to test is whether or not another instrument may be added to already existing mechanisms of this type in order to make them more effective. More specifically, can the public legitimization of minority claims be convincing enough to garner the support of the public in a given country? The task of the research presented below is to identify the reasons why minority claims concerning public policies often “fall on deaf ears” and to propose ways in which to cope with this challenge. If the authorities in a given country are sufficiently sensitive to the public legitimization of norms and policies and configure their actions accordingly – that is, if conditions exist that enable civil society to exercise what Jürgen Habermas (1996, 371) calls “communicative power” – then minority policies could be adjusted to meet the real needs of the communities concerned in ways significantly more flexible and context-relevant than relying solely on the indiscriminate application of the system of human rights. This would also make it possible to maintain a balance between the interests of such communities and the interests of society as a whole. This is, of course, not the only means that minority groups may use to influence the policies that address their needs. A similar effect may be achieved through their direct empowerment – that is, by ensuring, in one form or another, their representation in the legislative and executive branches of government. This, too, is a way of protecting the interests of such communities that can make public policy more sensitive to the “nuances” of minority issues that arise from the complex nature of these issues as well as from their dependence on a diverse and mutable social context.