Autonomy and minority rights: A case study of the kin-state minorities in the Danish-German border region

Publikation: Kapitel i bog/rapport/konference-proceedingKonferencebidrag i proceedingsForskning


Autonomy is an often detested and an often sought after concept. It is detested by those, who must give up some power and it is sought after by those who receive new powers. The question in international law and the international community is often, how much autonomy the state is willing to give to a specific group. The question never posed is, if there is a point and in that case at what point the group can actually talk about being autonomous. Is there a minimum in the number of special rights and procedures that has to be reached in order for the package of rights to qualify as ‘granting autonomy'?

I will look at this in connection with minority rights, as minority rights accord special rights and procedures to a specific group. For example, minorities have sometimes far reaching competences in the educational field: setting up and running their own schools and to a certain degree also decide on the content of the syllabus. When autonomy is understood in the literal sense, of giving oneself one's own laws, then there is a clear connection. Autonomy is usually connected to politics and a geographically limited territory. Special political rights of minorities - e.g. is the Danish minority party SSW exempt from the five percent hurdle of electoral votes that each party has to pass in order to gain seats in the Schleswig-Holstein Landtag - though do not necessarily have anything to do with autonomy.

What is the relation between autonomy-rights and minority rights? Do they supplement each other, are they at odds with each other or do they possibly overlap? This last possibility would be that minority rights are so extensive that they actually amount to autonomy.

Autonomy has a range of dimensions and one must distinguish between political autonomy which is largely territorial in nature and autonomy in the cultural, educational, religious and social sectors which have of course are exercised in a limited territory; however, do not threaten the state's sovereignty in the same way as independent political decisions could do. How far minority rights have the same dimensions, will be another issue. Minorities with kin-states face a two-way situation regarding autonomy. First there is the autonomy from the home-state - the state the minority exists in. Secondly, though, there is the question of autonomy from the kin-state: How autonomous is a minority when it is (partly) financed by the kin-state?

The discussion will use the German and Danish minorities in the Danish-German border region as a model. The minorities came into being in 1920, when a referendum in the region drew a border that left Danish-minded people in the South and German-minded people in the North of the region. Because of the long tradition of granting special rights to the minorities, it is worth while to consider, whether their rights actually amount to autonomy. It is a rather unspectacular question in this context, as autonomy has not been discussed for any of the minorities. However, just because a phenomenon is not explicitly named does not necessarily mean it does not exist.

TitelNordic Political Science Association
Antal sider31
ForlagNordic Political Science Association
StatusUdgivet - 2008
Begivenhed NOPSA Conference - Tromsø, Norge
Varighed: 9. aug. 20066. aug. 2008
Konferencens nummer: 15


Konference NOPSA Conference


  • mindretal
  • autonomi


Dyk ned i forskningsemnerne om 'Autonomy and minority rights: A case study of the kin-state minorities in the Danish-German border region'. Sammen danner de et unikt fingeraftryk.