Cultural Rights of Native Majorities between Universalism and Minority Rights


Theoretical background and objectives

Minorities’ claims for rights increasingly clash with important sections of majority populations who wish to retain and defend “national” cultural and religious traditions. Debates around minarets in Switzerland, burqas in France, Saint Nicolas’ companion “Black Pete” in the Netherlands, and about freedom of speech versus respect for minorities in several countries are cases in point. Such issues are highly salient and offer a major mobilization potential for populist parties. However, while the wider empirical and normative literatures have concentrated on minority rights, few attention has been directed towards the rights of autochthonous cultural majorities and the conditions under which they may legitimately prevail. This normative question is tackled in this project. It is argued that the proliferation of minority protection provisions in supranational treaties as well as national legislation after the Second World War, while understandable given the historical context of widespread minority persecution in the Interbellum, has left majority rights in a normative void. Of course, majorities can, by definition, impose their will by electoral force. But this does not solve the normative problem and leads to a whole range of situations in which claims of minorities, legitimated by national and supranational minority protection norms and sometimes enforced by courts against the will of majorities, stand against majorities backed by the power of numbers but lacking normative legitimacy.


A first, Dutch-language paper argues that it is this dynamic of “right” versus “might” that stands behind the rise of nationalist populism across Western countries. It also argues that the distinction between the legitimacy of rights claims of immigrants and national minorities (advanced for instance by Kymlicka) may point towards a normative solution to the problem of cultural majority rights. 

Main content

Ausgewählte Publikationen

Koopmans, Ruud (2015): "De meerderheid in rechtvaardigingsnood. Culturele rechten van nationale meerderheden tussen universalisme en minderheidsrechten". In: Jasper Doomen/Afshin Ellian (Eds.): De strijd van gelijkheid en vrijheid. Den Haag: Boom Juridische Uitgevers, S. 265-286.