Ethnopolitics, 5 (2), 2006, pp.183 – 190.
A recent UN Report claims that self-government rights for ethno-linguistic minorities and their institutional recognition at the state level are normatively desirable, since they help promote cultural freedom. However, there is evidence that the political recognition of ethnic identities through power sharing and federal arrangements on a communal basis reifies culture and thereby fosters phenomena of cultural essentialism. In situations of communal conflict, one particular ethno-linguistic or national identity can thus easily become dominant over all other forms of individual belonging. Ironically, the institutional recognition of group-differentiated political rights may therefore narrow individuals’ cultural freedom and their related ability to choose what aspects of their identity they wish to value. The sharing of political power along ethnic lines and self-government rights for ethno-linguistic groups can still be defended on pragmatic grounds, as instrumental to conflict regulation and the preservation of political stability. But these are different normative objectives (securing political stability vs. promoting individual capabilities), and any political measures focused on the former are not necessarily conducive to strengthening the latter.