Ethnic Conflict and Its Threats to Democracy

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In the past two decades, ethnic and national conflicts have clearly re-emerged as one of the greatest, and potentially most dangerous, political problems in the international arena. A series of violent conflicts have erupted in Europe, Asia and Africa, claiming the lives of many thousands of victims, and injuring and displacing many more. In sight of this overwhelming evidence, academia finds itself obliged to ask why nationalism and ethnonationalism can prompt such violence, how they can wreck havoc and in what way these horror-scenarios can be adverted. This presentation considers the threats posed to democratic values by the existence of serious ethnic conflict within a single national territory, and investigates several structural solutions (including, but not limited to, partition, secession, integration, federalism and consociationalism). As such, it hopes to clear out which holds the best hope of success.

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Ethnic Conflict and Its Threats to Democracy

  1. 1. Ethnic conflict and its threats to democracy<br />Sebastiaan Debrouwere<br />26th of July 2011<br />London School of Economics and Political Science<br />
  2. 2. Overview<br />Ethnic groups and nations<br />Ethnic conflict<br />Democratic values<br />Does ethnic conflict pose a threat to democratic values?<br />Solutions<br />
  3. 3. I) Ethnic groups and nations<br />
  4. 4. I) Ethnic groups and nations<br />Nation<br />Psycho-social bond that both joins and distinguishes people, existing in the subconscious of members1<br />Not what is, but what people believe is (conceptual intangibility)<br />Ethnicity<br />More chameleonic than nation<br />Common cultural tradition and a sense of identity which consists as a subgroup of larger society<br />E.g. the Han-Chinese, the French, The Arabs (?)<br />1 Paraphrased from W. Connor Ethnonationalism: A Quest for Understanding (Princeton U.P., 1994)<br />
  5. 5. Ethnic groups and nations<br />Ethno nationalism<br />Regressive phenomenon (revival of trends supposedly eradicated by modernity)<br />Nostalgia to former times of kinship (whether real or imagined)<br />Gradually renders co-existence in the same state impossible<br />E.g. Serbian ethno nationalism in post-Tito Yugoslavia:<br />‘Greater Serbia’ <br />Demonization of Albanians in Kosovo<br />Vengeful sentiments towards Croatia for WWII crimes (Ustaše)<br />Antagonisation by rising Islam fundamentalism in Bosnia-Herzegovina<br />
  6. 6. Would you agree or disagree?<br />We […] are therefore able to imagine a State only to be the living organism of nationality which not only safeguards the preservation of that nationality but also […] leads to its highest freedom.<br />
  7. 7. Would you agree or disagree?<br />We […] are therefore able to imagine a State only to be the living organism of nationality which not only safeguards the preservation of that nationality but also […] leads to its highest freedom.<br />Hitler Mein Kampf (New York: Reinal and Hitchcock, 1940) p. 595<br />This illustrates the danger of fluid ideas about nation, state and ethnicity.<br />
  8. 8. Overview<br />Ethnic groups and nations<br />Ethnic conflict<br />Democratic values<br />Does ethnic conflict pose a threat to democratic values?<br />Solutions<br />
  9. 9. II) Ethnic conflict<br />
  10. 10. Ethnic conflict<br />Grievances underlying ethnic conflict<br />Territorial disputes <br />Historical animosities <br />Racism <br />Sectarianism <br />Cultural Conflicts <br />Human rights abuses <br />Unequal distribution of resources and political power <br />
  11. 11. Ethnic conflict<br />Theories about origins, nature and effects of ethnic conflict<br />Primordialist School (Donald Horowitz)<br />relies on a concept of kinship between members of an ethnic group<br />Can substitute ethnicity for underlying (e.g. institutional factors) in explaining the causes and effects<br />Instrumentalist School (Anthony Smith)<br />ethnicity and race are viewed as instrumental identities, “organized as means to particular ends”<br />ethnic difference alone is not sufficient to explain conflicts<br />Constructivist School (Benedict Anderson)<br />concept of the imagined community (a nation as a socially constructed community)<br />Rwanda as an example since the Tutsi/Hutu distinction was codified by the Belgian colonial power in the 1930s. Identity cards were issued on this basis, and these documents played a key role in the genocide of 1994.1<br />1MahmoodMamdani (2001) When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press<br />
  12. 12. Overview<br />Ethnic groups and nations<br />Ethnic conflict<br />Democratic values<br />Does ethnic conflict pose a threat to democratic values?<br />Solutions<br />
  13. 13. III) Democratic values<br />
  14. 14. Democratic values<br />De jure values1<br />Effective participation<br />Equality of voting (caveatfor ‘electoral fallacy’2)<br />Enlightened understanding<br />Final control over the agenda<br />Inclusion of all adults<br />Conclusion: Nomenest omen when considering these and other rights<br />The contentious issue of the judiciary<br />Is there an institutional bias in favor of the majority?<br />Can constitutionalist evolutions overcome/attenuate the democratic principle of government by majority?<br />1 R.A. Dahl On Democracy (Yale U.P., 1998)<br />2J.Linz and A. StepanProblems of Democratic transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South-America and Post-Communist Europe (John’s Hopkins Press, 1996)<br />
  15. 15. Democratic values<br />De facto democracy in ethnically divided societies<br />The democratic conundrum: If a majority decides to support policies that violate the rights of minorities, is this undemocratic?<br />Part. when national boundaries contain disaffected/unpopular minorities (e.g. Roma in Hungary and Romania)<br />Can institutional engineering solve this problem?<br />Should majorities interfere with individual rights and freedoms? <br />The power of perception<br />Is the Athenian idea of public debate really respected? (i.e. are minorities really heard?)<br />Control over media?<br />Civil society<br />Impartial arbitrage?<br />
  16. 16. Overview<br />Ethnic groups and nations<br />Ethnic conflict<br />Democratic values<br />Does ethnic conflict pose a threat to democratic values?<br />Solutions<br />
  17. 17. IV) Does ethnic conflict pose a threat to democratic values?<br />
  18. 18. The threat posed by ethnic conflict<br />The nature of threats to the democratic status quo<br />Pre-emptive threats in the realm of majoritarian politics (re-active)<br />Coercion<br />Distributive conflicts<br />Purposeful discrimination (economic, political, social, cultural)<br />Historical Group Demands1 (active)<br />Demands for equality of citizenship and individual rights<br />Demands for group rights (i.e. explicit recognition of separateness)<br />Demands for cultural rights<br />Demands for institutional political recognition<br />Demands for secession<br />1J. CoakleyThe Territorial Management of Ethnic Conflict (London: Frank Cass. 2003)<br />
  19. 19. The threat posed by ethnic conflict<br />Threats of conflict<br />Facts: 127 civil wars (casualties > 1000) in the period of 1945 – 1999, with a total direct death toll of 16.3 million people1<br />Roughly equates to 5 times the interstate toll in the same period<br />These conflicts often present a threat to democratic values (even if these are not actually codified in the territory where the conflict is conducted) since they tend to violate ‘natural rights’ and justice alike in the course of the conflict<br />After conflict, the state-unit (whether newly carved out or still within the old structure) has a tendency to wither away, as its workings are still often undermined by ethnic rather than democratic considerations<br />E.g. Lebanon (post-2006 murder of Rafik Hariri), Bosnia-Herzegovina (dysfunctional state), Sri Lanka (worsening in political protection of Tamil minority)<br />
  20. 20. The threat posed by ethnic conflict<br />In conclusion, (simmering) ethnic conflict threatens<br />The current workings of democracy by bypassing democratic institutions, systems and procedures<br />The continued existence of democracy (especially if the conflic turns violent)<br />The workings of post-conflict democracy are seriously endangered<br />
  21. 21. Overview<br />Ethnic groups and nations<br />Ethnic conflict<br />Democratic values<br />Does ethnic conflict pose a threat to democratic values?<br />Solutions<br />
  22. 22. V) Solutions<br />
  23. 23. Solutions<br />Coakley’s typology1<br />indigenization<br />accommodation<br />assimilation<br />acculturation<br />population transfer <br />boundary alteration<br />genocide<br />1 John Coakley (1992) The resolution of ethnic conflict: Towards a typology, International Political Science Review 13(4), pp. 343-358<br />John McGarry and Brendan O'Leary’s taxonomy 2<br />Methods for eliminating differences:<br />Genocide<br />Forced mass-population transfers<br />Partition and/or secession (self-determination)<br />Integration and/or assimilation<br />Methods for managing differences:<br />Hegemonic control<br />Arbitration (third-party intervention)<br />Cantonisation and/or federalisation<br />Consociationalism or power-sharing<br />2 John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary (1993) ‘Introduction: The macro-political regulation of ethnic conflict’, in John McGarry and Brendan O’Leary (eds.) The Politics of Ethnic Conflict Regulation: Case Studies of Protracted Ethnic Conflicts, London: Routledge, pp. 1-40<br />
  24. 24. Consociationalism: the ultimate solution?<br />Case-study: post-Apartheid South-Africa, Dayton-accords in Bosnia-Herzegovina<br />Advantages<br />all groups are represented on the political and economic stage<br />more realistic option in deeply divided societies than integrationist approaches<br />Democratic rights are often constitutionally protected<br />Criticisms<br />specific conditions must exist for three or more groups to develop a multi-party system with strong leaders (e.g. failure in Lebanon)<br />Horowitz: relies on rival co-operation, which is inherently unstable<br />Rights are given to communities rather than individuals<br />Promotion of sectarianism?<br />

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