Outsiders: A History of European Minorities

Outsiders: A History of European Minorities

Ardittis, Solon

Outsiders : A History of European Minorities. By Panikos Panayi. London and Rio Grande: The Hambledon Press, 1999. Pp. 208.


Ecult Ltd

This book does not claim to be a complete history of minorities. Rather, it aims to provide a concise analysis, mostly in a historical perspective, of three different types of minorities in Europe, all of which have “the basic characteristics of constituting small numbers within a particular State, distinguishing themselves through appearance, language or religion, and having limited political power” (p.1). They include dispersed groupings (united by religion or way of life and moving within and across Europe throughout history, eg., Jews and Gypsies); localized groupings (which have become ethnic groupings because of State creation and extension in areas where they live); and the post-Second World War arrivals. The book is divided into four chapters reviewing each of the above categories, in addition to an opening chapter on Minorities, States and Nationalism.

While distinguishing between the above categories of minorities, one of the book’s central arguments is that, “in fact, if we are prepared to go back far enough, every people in Europe is made up of immigrants” (p. 63). What is more, the very notion of “minority” is often an artificial one which owes, to a large extent, to the process of State creation. Thus in numerical terms, it is sometimes possible for a “minority” to constitute a “majority” as in the case of the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

The chapter on dispersed minorities provides a valuable account of the historical and socio-political context of migratory movements of Jews, Gypsies, the Balkan and Soviet Muslims and east European Germans. It shows that Jews and Gypsies, in particular, have found themselves as minorities under all systems of government, be they empires, city states, monarchical structures or nation states. The chapter aptly demonstrates that, while all four groups have been faced with different forms of persecution over thousands of years, they have come under more serious threat over the last two centuries, with the rise of nationalism and racism. Racism, in particular, only gained in intensity as from the mid-nineteenth century with the development of concepts of “racial hierarchy” brought about by Social Darwinism and the first major encounter of Europeans with Africa and its inhabitants.

The case of localized minorities is perhaps less intricate in nature in that it owes almost exclusively to the establishment of nation states throughout the European continent and to the resulting growth of nationalism in the modern era. Panayi distinguishes between peripheral minorities (e.g., the Sami people in Scandinavia), the victims of unification (in the Netherlands, France, Spain, Germany), the victims of border groupings (eg., the ceding of Finland to Russia), and the outsiders in the interior (e.g., Belgium, which at various times has fallen under the control of Spanish, Dutch, French and German states). However, whatever the historical construct of localized minorities in Europe, one common determinant in all categories is that, while “the emergence of peoples into nation states is a fairly random process, the dominant population always has something which links its members together, most commonly language” (p. 116).

By addressing the full range of population movements since the end of the Second World War, from asylum seekers to labor migrants, and including the ongoing Europe-an Union integration process, the last chapter on post-war arrivals extends the book’s coverage to a more contemporary, if not slightly stretched, notion of European minorities. The chapter offers limited original coverage of contemporary forms of European migration and mostly summarizes broad findings from the abundant literature which appeared on the subject throughout the 1970s and early 1980s.

The book as a whole is a commendable effort at producing an easy-to-read and jargon-free digest of broad historical events and causes in the formation of minorities in Europe. Its limited analysis of the sociological and legislative contexts (especially as regards the cultural and political rights of minorities in various countries and points in time) is at times frustrating. The book should nevertheless appeal to all lecturers in European Studies about to compile their 11 recommended reading” list for their undergraduate students.

Copyright Center for Migration Studies Summer 2001

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