Ethnic group

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The word ethnic group generally designates an ethnic group , in the narrower sense a minority within a state , specifically a single ethnic group within a polyethnic state ( multi-ethnic state ). An autochthonous ethnic group ( Greek : “established”, original, see origin of the word ) is an ethnic minority that is legally protected in Europe . Colloquially , “ethnic group” is often used synonymously with ethnic minority .

When it comes to the protection of ethnic groups within a state, one speaks of minority protection , in Austria also of ethnic group promotion .

The designation must not be confused with ethnic group (abstract summary of different peoples or ethnic groups such as Indians or Papua ).


In contrast to the terms minority and indigenous peoples ( Latin "indigenous", see origin of the word ) - apart from the legal definition of the legislature in Austria  - there is no generally recognized specific definition of an ethnic group , which is also reflected in the changing application of the term to minor - and majorities are reflected.

For example, the African Hutu and Tutsi are often referred to equally as “ethnic groups”, although the former forms the numerical majority in Rwanda and Burundi , whereas the latter forms the parliamentary majority in Rwanda. Apart from the period from independence in 1962 to the genocide in Rwanda , the pastoral people of the Tutsi traditionally dominate the rural Hutu majority as a minority .

In cases where several groups are roughly equally represented, they become ethnic groups, for example Flemings and Walloons in Belgium . At the same time, ethnic minorities are often named with this term, such as German-speaking minorities in East Central Europe (see nationality ).

The term ethnic group has no exact equivalent in other languages. In Hungarian , the word népcsoport exists with the same meaning. In English , Spanish and French , the term is mostly understood as an ethnic group.

Historical ethnic group concept

The term ethnic group became known through German cultural propaganda and the political "borderland work" during the First World War . Max Hildebert Boehm from the "Office for Nationality and Tribal Problems" coined this term in the national movement and tried to make it scientific.

The concept of the ethnic group became a special topic, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, due to the exploding population figures and the previously unknown population density. The already problematic ethnic group concept was radicalized in the context of the criminal ethnic group policy of the National Socialists . The German minorities in neighboring countries did not only use these to assert territorial claims, but also promoted a policy of divide et impera (“ divide and rule!”), Especially in south-eastern Europe , whose core was to play different ethnic groups off against each other.

According to the ethnic group concept, people often organize themselves under the leadership of " ethnic group leaders " not only according to their social needs, but also subordinate these to ancestral ( people ) and therefore national ideals. The concept was reactivated in the 1970s in the context of the South Tyrol question and the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft .


The German social scientist Samuel Salzborn criticizes the fact that the ethnic group concept refers to a romantic concept of the people and politicizes it insofar as a spatial planning consequence is drawn from the cultural division of mankind into peoples and ethnic groups. Social and political conflicts are "naturalized and brought into an ethnic context". By thinking of ethnicity as a fundamental category and advancing it to the highest good of the "human being, the political goal is a complete social and political segregation of people along ethnic criteria as well as the creation of separate ethno-regions for the individual ethnic groups."

The concept emphasizes “the ethnic-cultural homogeneity of the population, or at least their cultural-mentality similarity up to the common concern by negative external influences. Based on this, the interests of those affected are asserted to be similar to other regions or the higher-level system. "

See also


  • Michael Krugmann: The right of minorities. Legitimation and limits of the protection of minorities (=  publications on public law. Vol. 955). Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2004.
  • Ulrich Prehn: The changing faces of a “Europe of Nations” in the 20th century. Ethno-political ideas with Max Hildebert Boehm, Eugen Lemberg and Guy Héraud . In: Heiko Kauffmann, Helmut Kellershohn, Jobst Paul (eds.): Völkische Bande. Decadence and Rebirth - Analyzes of Right Ideology. Unrast, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-89771-737-9 , pp. 123–157.
  • Jürgen Schlögel: The protection of ethnic minorities as a general legal principle of community law (=  studies on international and European law. Vol. 5.21). Kovac, Hamburg 2004.
  • Felix Ermacora , Christoph Pan : Basic rights of the European ethnic groups. Vienna 1993.
  • Felix Ermacora: Nationality conflict and ethnic group law. Munich 1978.
  • Ulrich Prehn: Max Hildebert Boehm: Radical order thinking from the First World War to the Federal Republic . Wallstein, Göttingen 2013.
  • Sarah Pritchard: The protection of minorities under international law: historical and recent developments . Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 2001.
  • Theodor Veiter (Ed.): Latest developments in the field of international ethnic group law and the protection of ethnic minorities. 3 volumes, Vienna 1970–1978.

Web links

Wiktionary: ethnic group  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Federal Chancellery Austria : Ethnic groups. Information page, undated, accessed January 26, 2019; Quote: "In Austria the following 6 autochthonous ethnic groups exist [...]".
  2. Christoph Pan: Basic elements for the theory of ethno-sociology. In: Theodor Veiter (Ed.): System of an international ethnic group law. Part 2: National, regional and universal structure of an ethnic group law , Vienna / Stuttgart 1972.
  3. ^ A b Samuel Salzborn , Heribert Schiedel : "Nation Europe". Ethno-federal concepts and continental networking of the extreme right. In: Sheets for German and international politics. Issue 10, 2003, pp. 1209–1217, here p. 1214 ( PDF; 60 kB ).
  4. Quoted from Günther Pallaver : Kopfgeburt Europaregion Tirol. Genesis and development of a political project. In: History and Region / Storia e regione . Yearbook of the Regional History Working Group, Bozen 2000, p. 247.