ANALYSIS | How can multiculturalist ‘freedom’ become an assimilationist strategy?

Wed, 3 Aug 2022 15:47 GMT
Adopting multiculturalist policies does not mean that the subject is such a libertarian, rather the level of dialogue with the minority would demonstrate whether it is libertarian or not.
ANALYSIS | How can multiculturalist ‘freedom’ become an assimilationist strategy?

The intricate relationship between multiculturalism and assimilation has made dealing with diversities more difficult day by day. Although it is possible to date concepts such as multiculturalism and assimilation as a phenomenon to the beginning of history, it is possible to start their emergence as a problem with the nation-state as well. The nation-state first legitimated the homogeneous nation ideal with the idea that differences would necessarily be assimilated. The politics of multiculturalism came to the fore when this idea, which seemed to be natural and scientific, was later seen as artificial. In this context, the situation of the Western Thrace Turks, who continue to exist as cultural diversity in Greece, will be discussed within the framework of the relationship between multiculturalism and assimilation


The story of the Western Thrace Turks as a problem existing under the sovereignty of the Greek state dates back to 1923, the signing of the Treaty of Lausanne. In the Treaty, both the Greek Minority in Istanbul and the Turkish Minority in Western Thrace were excluded from the well-known population exchange and were given établis (settled) situation and referred to pretty much on a religious basis. Every statement mentioned above is of great importance that is both the source of the problem and the solution itself.

To start with the main cause of the population exchange, we can simply define it as the necessity to make the nation-states happen. Neither Greece nor Türkiye was appropriate for definition as a nation in terms of their socio-demography. Thus, the population exchange was one of the possible solutions to becoming a nation. However, unlike today’s Greece and Türkiye, the homogeneity of the nation was considered on a religious basis. Here the problem occurs: Turks in Greece are claimed to be ethnically Greeks in order to meet the conditions of the national ideology. The term ‘religion’ in the Treaty is used to legitimate this effort. That is, the rights of The Minority in Western Thrace are referred to in religious terms, so they cannot be defined ethnically. On the contrary, The Minority in Istanbul was referred to as Greek-Orthodox Minority. To sum up, the national ideology of Greece suggests that The Minority in Greece is a Muslim (religious) minority therefore they cannot be defined as Turks whilst The Minority in Istanbul is Greek-Orthodox (ethnoreligious) minority, which means that they can be defined both on an ethnic and religious basis.

Yet, this justification is highly misleading. The main reason for defining the Turks in Greece in religious terms was not that they were not Turks but that they were considered as the natural derivative of Türkiye which was established on the same basis as well. On the other hand, to refer to Greeks in Istanbul only in religious terms would require adding the Armenians, Catholics, Protestants, and all other Christian communities living in Turkiye which would not suit the principal of the Greek nation-state. In short, it is all about the legal context of nation-states and not the sociological fact.


Western Thrace Turks, after a long time of suffering as a Minority in Greece, today, were provided some religious rights which are claimed to be a sign of respect for diversity, in accordance of the religious basis in the Treaty. First, one of the perennial problems, namely, the election of the muftis, is claimed to be resolved by establishing an official system that will elect the muftis. However, this form of ‘freedom’ needs questioning. Taking into consideration that religion as an institution in Greece has an autonomous structure and cannot be determined by a political apparatus, the religious autonomy of the Western Thrace Turks would be under a total sovereign of the Greek state. That is to say, the muftis will not be elected freely by the demos as the democracy requires, which the roots of the democracy itself lie in the Ancient History of Greece but by officially appointed officers. Here we may thank Greece which provides laicism to the minority before itsef(!).

Secondly, when a religious institution of a minority in a nation-state becomes an official institution or the cultural values are embedded in the official structures, assimilation shortly after becomes inevitable as the American experience shows. American social scientist Marcuse Lee Hansen has shown that establishing foundations or religious institutions -which are expected to conserve the cultural values- on an official basis would assimilate the 3rd generation by allowing them to be included in the public, collective life. 

At this rate, adopting multiculturalist policies does not mean that the subject is such a libertarian, rather the level of dialogue with the minority would demonstrate whether it is libertarian or not (see for more on the relationship between multiculturalism and assimilation relationship).


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