Policy and Politics Journal

Superdiversity and sub-national autonomous regions: Perspectives from the South Tyrolean case

Roberta Medda-Windischer

Senior Researcher/Coordinator of the Research Group ´National Minorities, Migration and Cultural Diversity` Institute for Minority Rights, EURAC Research, Bolzano/Bozen, Italy

Fair management of migration and cohabitation of culturally different groups, together with debate on identity and sense of belonging, are challenging and intricate matters, especially in territories inhabited by historically traditional minorities such as those in Catalonia, South Tyrol, Scotland, Flanders, Basque Country and Quebec. The coexistence of old minorities and new minority groups originating from migration (‘new minorities’) in sub-national territories adds complexities to the governance of superdiversity and migration issues. The relation between ‘old’ communities and ‘new’ minority groups can be rather complicated. Interests and needs of historical groups can be in contrast with those of the migrant population. Moreover, the presence of new minorities can impact, not necessarily negatively, on the relationship between old minorities and majority groups at state level and also between old minorities and the central state, as well as with policies enacted to protect the diversity of traditional groups and the way old minorities understand and define themselves.

In our Policy & Politics article published in a special issue focused on superdiversity, our analysis of a case study based on South Tyrol confirms that it is not possible to speak of a fixed and monolithic view about migration taken by old minorities. Just as there are differences between and within nation-states (between ‘migrant-friendly’ and ‘migrant-hostile’ countries and between national parties promoting inclusive policies and those sustaining restrictive measures), old minorities are differentiated between and within themselves. Nor is it possible to analyse the issue as a two-actor game between old and new minorities: the game also invokes relations between old minorities and the central state, especially with regard to issues of political competence on migration matters; and in addition it also interacts with the central state’s approach to migration.

Understanding how old minorities deal with the arrival of new migrant communities offers important insights for building a genuinely inclusive society respectful of diversity, where cultural differences and people’s cultural background are valorised and not seen as challenging social stability.

The ultimate aim in contemporary societies – whether inhabited or not by old and new minorities and where superdiversity is the norm rather than the exception – is to create a pluralist and tolerant society in which different communities interact with each other in a spirit of equality and openness. The process, however, is onerous for all parties involved. New minorities and migrants must learn to negotiate, often in an unfamiliar or even hostile environment, where minority status makes them vulnerable to marginalisation and segregation. Old minorities, having negotiated protection of their cultural and linguistic characteristics with the central state and the majority, must now cope with enhanced diversity in their schools, workplaces, housing, public spaces and neighbourhoods, displaying tolerance and broad-mindedness. This is not easy to achieve and has its own problems: some groups may not be open and experimental and others may jealously guard their inherited identities. In the end, sincere willingness for continuous interaction, mutual adjustment and accommodation on all sides lies at the heart of any successful model.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may be interested in reading Mainstreaming in response to superdiversity? The governance of migration-related diversity in France, the UK and the Netherlands by Ilona van Breugel and Peter Scholten.