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EPILOGUE

Democracy and Minority Rights


Funeral procession
for Vladimir Oesov...

ALL COUNTRIES HAVE MINORITIES that differ in language, religion, ethnic origin or culture from the majority population. Attempts by governments to forcibly create a "uniform" nation have invariably led to discrimination and persecution; the most recent attempt resulted in what is now known as "ethnic cleansing" in former Yugoslavia. But intolerance is not only a threat to minorities.

The political and moral health of a society can be measured by its treatment of Jews, the historian Isaac Deutscher wrote. This holds true for the attitude toward all minorities. Not the imposition of majority opinions on society but tolerance and respect for minorities are the hallmarks of a democratic society. Democracy itself is threatened by indifference toward minority rights and political opportunism that exploits prejudices and ignorance in the population.

Minorities must be able to participate in society as equals while giving full expression to their own identity without fear. To accomplish this, minorities are dependent upon the majority - upon the awareness within the majority that it has a special responsibility in actively safeguarding minority rights. Some of these safeguards are:
  • an educational system that fosters awareness of and respect for different cultures or religions;
  • laws and a legal system that protect minority rights;
  • a public discourse in which opinion leaders from politics, cultural life and the media honor their special responsibility in upholding tolerance.
When the Nazis arrested Communists
I kept silent
Because I was not a Communist.

When they rounded up Social Democrats
I kept silent
Because I was not a Social Democrat.

When they picked up Catholics
I did not protest
Because I was not a Catholic.

When they arrested me
There was nobody left
To protest.

Poem by Dr. Martin Niemöller, a Protestant clergyman who was active in the resistance movement against Hitler.


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