This paper will use the post-conflict and post-colonial multicultural challenges that exist in Cyprus to assess the use of ethnicity as a marker for cultural identification. It will be demonstrated that ethnocultural identification can become a source of social, political and linguistic oppression and as such should not be uncritically adopted in defence of group-differentiated citizenship. This hypothesis will be assessed through the example of Cyprus, where the British colonialists divided the various religious groups of the island into two ethno-national minorities, reducing the rest into religious collectives without substantial political rights. The case of Cyprus will demonstrate: (i) how the concept of ethnicity as an ‘imagined community’ can be utilised as a pretext for assimilation or social isolation; (ii) how ethnicity prioritises the continuation of the collective imaginary values over than the needs of the individual cultural members; and (iii) how ethnicity can be utilised in making religious groups socially invisible. The marginalisation of the Maronite, Latin, Armenian and Roma cultures in Cyprus demonstrates the problematic relation of ethnicity and multiculturalism since the former can be used to deny cultural and linguistic recognition to non-dominant or non-ethnic minorities and religious groups.
In this post, I provide a summary of Will Kymlicka’s very influential book on multiculturalism, titled Multicultural Citizenship: a liberal theory of minority rights. This book is important for everyone interested in multiculturalism since it initiated the contemporary debate about group-differentiated rights. One needs not to fully agree with Kymlicka to acknowledge his courageous effort to challenge liberalism’s atomistic individualism by promoting an interpretation of traditional liberal values which demands special treatment to members of some (minorities and immigrant) groups. In doing so, Kymlicka challenges the long assumed neutrality of the liberal state. His thinking and argumentation comes within liberalism itself, which is what makes his case distinctive (if anyone dares to give a concrete definition of liberalism, be my guest).
There are of course fundamental aspects of his book that I find troubling: firstly, his treatment of culture as a more or less homogenous entity; secondly, the clear cut division of national minorities and immigrant groups; thirdly, the use of ethnicity as the marker for cultural identity which is often advanced at the expense of other identities; and finally, his comprehensive liberal approach to autonomy being the ultimate value that the state needs to safeguard.
As this is not a review but rather a summary of the book, my personal opinion will be put on hold for a future post. In what follows, I will try to illustrate Kymlicka’s arguments. Let us begin.