Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

From Protection to Empowerment through Participation: The Case of Trentino-A Laboratory for Small Groups

Academic journal article Journal on Ethnopolitics and Minority Issues in Europe : JEMIE

From Protection to Empowerment through Participation: The Case of Trentino-A Laboratory for Small Groups

Article excerpt

1. Introduction: a "law of diversity" for minorities' empowerment

To move beyond mere protection of national minorities and achieve empowerment is the primary goal of a new approach to minority protection, defined as the "law of diversity" in a favourable cultural, political and social context (Palermo and Woelk, 2005). This approach aims to overcome the traditional focus on "protection of minorities", which is rooted in principles such as state sovereignty and "top-down" recognition of a minority, and 'indicates the complex bunch of legal instruments that can be adopted at all possible levels in order to deal with the request for accommodation of potentially endless claims for diversity' (Palermo, 2007: 70). According to this approach, the key for a balanced relationship between majority and minority groups is participation. This is particularly challenging for numerically small groups. According to Palermo and Woelk, the law protecting minorities is 'inevitably subject to constant revision, in terms of [...] proportionality, efficiency and sustainability, and directly linked to the changes of the societal reality' (Palermo and Woelk, 2005: 9). The three main elements characterizing it are: asymmetry of application, according to the concrete characteristics of each group; pluralism of legal sources and of subjects; and negotiation of its content in a quasi-contractual framework. Starting from this premise, Malloy argues that the procedural dimension must be also taken into account, particularly in terms of minority law-making: in order to evolve from participation to empowerment, within the paradigm of political minority law-making, 'minorities are forced to become self-empowered and, in doing so, they become empowered to be self-protecting' (Malloy, 2006: 22). As we will see below, the system of minority protection and promotion established in the Autonomous Province of Trento (also known as "Trentino") seeks to enforce the principle of minority self-empowerment, by calling for active participation in law-making, legal implementation and monitoring.

This article analyses the specific approach to linguistic minorities implemented by the Province of Trentino, highlighting the role of linguistic groups with a historical presence in the territory in both policy making and policy implementation. It focuses on the normative framework, assessing the legal mechanisms for minority promotion, paying particular attention to participatory and accountability instruments. It also addresses the role of linguistic minorities in implementing promotional policies: the case study demonstrates how it is possible to integrate the right to participate in the decision-making process with a duty to take action conferred directly upon minorities and their institutions, by increasing the level of adequateness, efficacy, feasibility and sustainability of the law.

2. The Italian legal framework: diversity promotion and asymmetry

Since the entry into force of its 1948 constitution, Italy has benefited from a pluralistic and promotional legal model. According to Toniatti, a 'national State of multinational and promotional inspiration' is characterized by the predominance of a national group (the majority) and the presence of one or several minority groups (Toniatti, 1995: 206 ff.). Within this model, 'the recognition, protection and promotion of minorities are an integral component of the constitutional order and its fundamental values' (Palermo, 2011: 29). Article 6 of the Italian constitution states that safeguarding linguistic minorities is a binding constitutional obligation of the Italian republic. Protection is applied through an asymmetric approach: according to the area of settlement, "historical" (with a traditional presence) linguistic groups are subject to different protection and promotional measures, although within a common general framework of principles provided for by law.

According to Law 482/1999, only minorities which are explicitly recognized by the state can benefit from protection under Article 6 of the constitution: it means that the state must formally recognize a linguistic group as a minority within a given region and local authorities must implement specific legislative measures to protect those minorities (Art. …

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