What a great idea. This book should inspire wandering spirits to discover other ethnically harmonious cities and regions and spread the word: “reasonable accommodation” can work, gloriously.
In trying to devise a formula of co-existence and progress for groups seemingly destined to compete with each other, the authors take on a heavy burden. As they point out, the principle of self-determination and the negotiation of treaties protecting minority rights have been imperfect pathways to protecting ethnic diversity. These political tools nonetheless provide the much-needed historical context for some of the authors’ case studies.
Meyer and Brysac explore life in Flensburg, a town in the state of Schleswig-Holstein at the northern tip of Germany, just across the border from Denmark. The Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, and the Third Reich long counted Schleswig-Holstein as part of Germany. The doctrine of self-determination had worked its will after World War I when the German majority in south Schleswig voted to remain within Germany.
But the post-World War II reality has proven far more nuanced. Denmark magnanimously traded land for peace with its defeated aggressor neighbor. The Bonn-Copenhagen Declarations of 1955 established enough autonomy for Schleswig-Holstein to forge its own distinctive preservation of Danish culture and recognition of other minorities. The Danish minority was guaranteed cultural and civil rights.
In the Indian state of Kerala, the comity that binds together Hindus, Muslims and Christians rests upon an exceptionally high literacy rate, particularly among women, and a thriving economy fueled by strong democratic instincts. Everyone’s holidays are celebrated. As one local professor proclaims, “In Kerala, there is no Hindu water and no Muslim water.” Sashi Tharoor, a worldly former United Nations official representing Kerela as a parliamentarian in New Delhi, said: “If America is a melting pot, then to me India is a thali — a selection of sumptuous dishes in different bowls. Each tastes different, and does not necessarily mix with the next, but they belong together on the same plate, and they complement each other in making the meal a satisfying repast.”