The MinMaj Rule

Minorities and Majorities in Adjacent Polities

By: Sam Vaknin, Ph.D.

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Written: July 4,1999

I have a Roma (gypsy) cleaning lady. She cleans my house every fortnight. She is nice and well spoken. She values education and good manners. She is spotless, obsessively purgatory, compulsively tidy. And she hates "shiptars" (the derogatory name assigned to Macedonian Albanians). They are dirty, she says, and criminal and they have too many children. They don't respect their women. She is afraid of them. Her eyes glow with the gratification of the underdog turned top dog, if only verbally, if only for a while, if only while cleansing my house. This is the way it is, a chain of abuse, a torrent of prejudice, an iron curtain of malice and stereotyping. Czechs portray "their" gypsies with the same lingual brushstrokes, the same venomous palette, a canvass of derision and atavistic, reflexive hatred.

In the Balkans reigns supreme the Law of the MinMaj. It is simple and it was invariably manifested throughout history. It is this: "Wars erupt whenever and wherever a country has a minority of the same ethnicity as the majority in its neighbouring country."

Consider Israel - surrounded by Arab countries, it has an Arab minority of its own, having expelled (ethnically cleansed) hundreds of thousands more. It has fought 6 wars with its neighbours and (good intentions notwithstanding) looks set to fight more. It is subjugated to the Law of the MinMaj, enslaved by its steady and nefarious domination.

Or take Nazi Germany. World War Two was the ultimate manifestation of the MinMaj Law. German minorities throughout Europe were either used by Germany - or actively collaborated with it - to justify one Anschluss after another. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, Russia - a parade of Big Brotherly intervention by Germany on behalf of allegedly suppressed kinfolk. Lebensraum and Volksdeutsch were twin pillars of Nazi ideology.

And, of course, there is Yugoslavia, its charred remnants agonizingly writhing in a post Kosovo world. Serbia fought Croatia and Bosnia and Kosovo to protect besieged and hysterical local Serbs. Croats fought Serbs and Bosnians to defend dilapidated Croat settlements. Albanians fought the Serbs through the good services of Kosovars in order to protect Kosovars. And the fighting is still on. This dismembered organism, once a flourishing country, dazed and scorched, still attempts to blindly strike its former members, inebriated by its own blood. Such is the power of the MinMaj.

There are three ways out from the blind alley to which the MinMaj Rule inevitably and invariably leads its adherents. One exit is through ethnic cleansing, the other via self determination, the third is in establishing a community, a majority of minorities.

Ethnic cleansing is the safest route. It is final, irreversible, just, fast, easy to carry out and preventive as much as curative. It need not be strewn with mass graves and smouldering villages. It can be done peacefully, by consent or with the use of minimal force. It can be part of a unilateral transfer or of a bilateral exchange of population. There are many precedents - Germans in the Ukraine and in Czechoslovakia, Turks in Bulgaria, Jews in the Arab countries. None of them left willingly or voluntarily. All were the victims of pathological nostalgia, deep, disconsolate grieving and the post traumatic shock of being uprooted and objectified. But they emigrated, throngs of millions of people, planeloads, trainloads, cartloads and carloads of them and they reached their destinations alive and able to start all over again - which is more than can be said about thousands of Kosovar Albanians. Ethnic cleansing has many faces, brutality is not its integrated feature.

The Wilsonian ideal of self determination is rarely feasible or possible - though, when it is, it is far superior to any other resolution of intractable ethnic conflicts. It does tend to produce political and economic stillborns, though. Ultimately, these offspring of noble principle merge again with their erstwhile foes within customs unions, free trade agreements, currency unions. They are subsumed in other economic, political, or military alliances and gladly surrender part of that elusive golden braid, their sovereignty. Thus, becoming an independent political entity is, to most, a rite of passage, an adolescence, heralding the onset of political adulthood and geopolitical and economic maturity.

The USA and, to a lesser degree, the UK, France and Germany are fine examples of the third way. A majority of minorities united by common rules, beliefs and aspirations. Those are tension filled structures sustained by greed or vision or fear or hope and sometimes by the very tensions that they generate. No longer utopian, it is a realistic model to emulate.

It is only when ethnic cleansing is combined with self determination that a fracturing of the solutions occurs. Atrocities are the vile daughters of ideals. Armed with stereotypes - those narcissistic defence mechanisms which endow their propagators with a fleeting sense of superiority - an ethnic group defines itself negatively, in opposition to another. Self determination is employed to facilitate ethnic cleansing rather than to prevent it. Actually, it is the very act of ethnic cleansing which validates the common identity, which forms the myth and the ethos that is national history, which perpetrates itself by conferring resilience upon the newly determined and by offering a common cause and the means to feel efficient, functional and victorious in carrying it out.

There are many variants of this malignant, brutal, condemnable, criminal and inefficient form of ethnic cleansing. Bred by manic and hysterical nationalists, fed by demagogues, nourished by the hitherto deprived and humiliated - this cancerous mix of definition by negation wears many guises. It is often clad in legal attire. Israel has a Law of Return which makes an instant citizen out of every spouse of every Russian Jew while denying this privilege to Arabs born on its soil. South Africa had apartheid. Nazi Germany had the Nuremberg Laws. The Czech Republic had the infamous Benes Decrees. But ethnic cleansing can be economic (ask the Chinese in Asia and the Indians in Africa). It can be physical (Croatia, Kosovo). It has a myriad facets.

The West is to blame for this confusion. By offering all three solutions as mutually inclusive rather than mutually exclusive - it has been responsible for a lot of strife and misery. But, to its credit, it has learned its lesson. In Kosovo it defended the right of the indigent and (not so indigent but) resident Albanians to live in peace and plough their land in peace and bring forth children in peace and die in peace. But it has not protected their right to self determination. It has not mixed the signals. As a result the message came through loud and clear. And, for the first time in many years, people tuned in and listened. And this, by far, is the most important achievement of Operation Allied Force.

Minorities or Immigrants? The Kven and Sami Peoples of Norway (Brussels Morning)

The phrase "minority rights" conjures abhorrent images of Palestinians tortured in Israeli prisons; Aegean Macedonians expelled from Greece or incarcerated on remote islands, there to perish; and Native-Americans confined to wasteland "reservations", having been decimated for decades. But, the sad truth is that minorities are welcome nowhere and that every single nation harbors embarrassing skeletons in its historical closet.

Consider Norway, by far the least plausible candidate for the role of perpetrators of genocide, physical or cultural. This remote Scandinavian polity has repeatedly won every conceivable prize for upholding and cherishing human rights. Yet, it, too, has a dark chapter that ended only recently.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, many Finns - destitute farmers and fishermen - emigrated from their homeland and from Sweden and settled in the inhospitable northern reaches of Norway. They joined the original inhabitants of that area, Finns known as Sami. The new arrivals came to be known as Kvener (in Norwegian), Kvenee (in their own Finnish dialect), or simply Kven, by everyone else.

Fully one quarter of the population in the north identified themselves as Kven in the census of 1875 - yet, it took their adopted country two centuries (and a parliamentary investigative committee) to recognize them a minority (in 1996) and to accept their right to use their language (in 2005) within the framework of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

Yet, this may have been too little, too late. In the intervening period, the word "Kven" was used as a pejorative by the Kvens' upstanding "ethnically pure" compatriots. Kven and Sami culture and languages were considered backward and inferior (with racist undertones). Across the border, in Sweden, Samis were compulsorily sterilized.

In Norway, the Kven and Sami were re-labeled "The Foreign Nations" (non-Nordic, of Mongol roots) and "The Original Immigrants" (a falsification of history, as the Norwegians were the immigrants, not the Sami).

The mandate of the "Finn Fund", established in the 19th century by the National Assembly, called on it to "civilize" the Kven and the Sami. Even after World War II, as Norway sought to "modernize" itself, Kven and Sami civilizations were cast as outdated and primitive.

Consequently, many Kvens now claim counterfactually to be Norwegians (or merely Norwegian Finns) and consider the Kven language to be a dialect of Finnish.

Inevitably, in a nationalistic backlash, some Kven now insist that they are the aborigines of northern Europe and that once, in the 11th century, they ran an empire that covered most of northern Scandinavia. Groups of opportunistic Swedish Finns support these theories in an attempt to leverage the ILO 169 Convention about the Rights of Indigenous People and apply it to Sweden's Kvens.

Be that as it may, the truth is that Norway had made it exceedingly difficult for Kvens (and other Finns, such as the Sami people) to obtain citizenship or maintain it and literally impossible to buy real estate - unless they agreed to change their names, give up their language and culture and, later, move away from sensitive border areas (they were considered pro-Russian, then pro-German and, therefore, a security risk). Additionally, lands in the public domain (in truth, owned by the Sami and Kven) were declared to be state property and confiscated without compensation.

This discriminatory policy was known as fornorskningspolitikken (Norwegianization).

Thus, for instance, well into the 1950s, it was forbidden to teach the Sami language in schools (with a few exceptions in the 1930s and 1940s). The very existence of the Sami nation (as a minority) was acknowledged only in 1989, after massive demonstrations in 1979 (ostensibly against the construction of an environmentally-disruptive dam, but actually to air Sami grievances).

Only in the 1990s were some of the wrongs righted: the Sami language was declared a "national treasure" (and a second official language in Norway), a Sami parliament was established, and lands appropriated by the state were returned to the Sami people.

The Kven are envious of the Samis' achievements. Well into the 1990s, they were still being labeled "immigrants" (and not a minority) by the Norwegian state.

In 1987, they established The Norwegian Kven Organization. Its aims are both political and cultural: the ultimate compilation of a government report about the Kven population; liaising with the Norwegian media; to push for the establishment of a State Secretary for Kven issues; to further the knowledge of the Kven language, from the kindergarten level onwards, using the proceeds of a Kven culture fund and income from museums and culture centers. The Kven also demand bilingual signage and place names.

Yet, only after Norway ratified, in 1999 the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (a process that started in 1996), did it reluctantly alter the Kvens' status and accept that they are a "national minority": a minority with a historical presence (longer than 100 years) in a given territory. The Kven language has been recognized as minority language only in 2005.

Now, only Norway and Canada maintain a three-tiered hierarchy of "nations": indigenous, minority, and immigrants.

Even so, Norway is light years ahead of countries such as Israel and Greece who completely deny the existence of their minorities. Israel has insisted until quite recently that the Palestinian "nation" is an invention and the Greeks refuse to accept the existence of Macedonians on Greek soil.

Multiculturalism and Prosperity

The propensity to extrapolate from past events to future trends is especially unfortunate in the discipline of History. Thus, the existence hitherto of a thriving multicultural polity does not presage the preponderance of a functioning multiculturalism in its future.

On the very contrary: in an open, tolerant multicultural society, the traits, skills, and capacities of members of different collectives converge. This gives rise to a Narcissism of Small Differences: a hatred of the "nearly-we", the resentment we harbor towards those who emulate us, adopt our values system, and imitate our traits and behavior patterns.

In heterogeneous societies, its components (religious communities; socio-economic classes; ethnic groups) strike implicit deals with each other. These deals adhere to an organizing or regulatory principle, the most common of which, at least since the late 19 century, is the State (most often, the Nation-State).

These implicit deals revolve around the allocation of resources, mainly of economic nature. They assume that the growth of the economy ought to be translated into individual prosperity, irrespective of the allegiance or affiliation of the individual.

There are two mechanisms that ensure such transmission of national wealth to the component-collectives and thence to the individuals they are comprised of:

(i) Allocative prosperity achieved through distributive justice (usually obtained via progressive taxation and transfers). This depends on maintaining overall economic growth. Only when the economy's cake grows bigger can the poor and disenfranchised enjoy social mobility and join the middle-class.

(ii) Imported prosperity (export proceeds, foreign direct investment (FDI), remittances, mercantilism, colonialism). In contemporary settings, these flows of foreign capital depend upon the country's membership in various geopolitical and economic "clubs".

When the political elite of the country fails to guarantee and engender individual prosperity either via economic growth (and, thus, allocative prosperity) or via imported prosperity, the organizing principle invariably comes under attack and very often mutates: empires disintegrate; uniform states go federated or confederated, etc. The process can be peaceful or fraught with conflict or bloodshed. It is commonly called: "history".

The Mirage of Minority Rights (Brussels Morning)


The President of North Macedonia accused Bulgaria of mistreating its Macedonian minority. Putin leveled the same accusation at Ukraine with regards to its Russian-speaking population. Both Bulgaria and Ukraine reject the allegations vehemently. To this very day, many in Israel deny that Palestinians exist.


But what is a minority and whence its rights?


A minority is a group of people who self-identify and self-determine as a minority on grounds of ethnic, linguistic, cultural, religious, or national identity and are possibly discriminated against owing to being a minority.


The rights of minorities are enshrined in numerous bilateral and multilateral treaties and in international law, including in UN declarations. In some cases, minorities are explicitly recognized and identified in state constitutions and thus are protected from persecution or endowed with autonomy and special privileges.


These protections include: the right to not be exterminated or forcibly displaced; the right to not be coercively assimilated and to exercise the language and culture common to the members of the minority; non-discrimination and equality before the law, the institutions, and in the workplace.


Members of the minorities should be allowed and encouraged to participate in the public affairs, politics, culture, education, society, and economy of the host polity. They should be represented in all the institutions, be consulted, and contribute to actual decision-making.


The courts of the host country should protect the minorities from any attempt to infringe on their rights and freedoms and enforce these when and where applicable.

This is the noble theory. Reality is much shabbier. By far the main thorn is the inability to agree on an objective, neutral definition of a minority.


Throughout history and to this very day, majorities or powerful populations have refused to recognize others as disenfranchised minorities with a common culture and history.


This discord often devolved into armed conflict or outright suppression and even genocide.


The solution is to establish an international court for minorities with the power to confer a minority status on applicants, having reviewed the history of the group and having consulted experts from neutral territories.


Read More

The Narcissism of Differences Big and Small

A Dialog about Anti-Semitism

The Merits of Stereotypes

Herzl's Butlers

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