MINELRES: Fwd: Book Review: Eze on Facing Ethnic Conflicts: Towards a New Realism

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Published by H-Genocide@h-net.msu.edu (December, 2006)

Andreas Wimmer, Richard Goldstone, Donald L. Horowitz, Ulrike Joras and
Conrad Schetter, eds. _Facing Ethnic Conflicts: Towards a New Realism_.
Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004. 392 pp. Introduction, graphs,
bibliographies, index, notes. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-7425-3584-3;
$32.95 (paper), ISBN 0-7425-3585-1.

Reviewed for H-Genocide by E.C. Eze, Department of Philosophy, DePaul

Ethnic Conflicts: Reality and Illusions of Inevitability

For several reasons, the edited volume _Facing Ethnic Conflict_ is an
important book. It is very rare to find in a scholarly treatise of this
nature a wide representation of different voices arguing a range of
analytical standpoints as well as reporting empirical data about root
causes, dynamics of intensification, and methods of management and
resolution of ethnic conflicts. Moreover, the idea of the "ethnic" is
broadly conceived: it includes conflicts of identities, cultures, and
political interests within and across nationalities, states, and
diasporic or migratory social formations. This is indeed a commodious
book very rich in details, locations, and particularities. I highly
recommend it to both theorists and practitioners. The bibliography
provided at the end of each chapter is consistently composed of
up-to-date literature.

The variety and richness of the book is explained by a number of
factors. One of them is the fact that the contributors brought to the
work superior backgrounds from three broad areas: academia; public and
private policy think-tanks; and on-the-ground experiences in executive
or supervisory programs during ethnic conflict and or in peace
management. In some cases the same contributor has had professional
experiences in areas that fit more than one of the three categories.
The case studies and illustrations are diverse and rich in detail and
are drawn from wide geographical and cultural areas: Eastern Europe
(Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, Russia); Africa (Rwanda, Burundi, Congo,
South Africa); Asia (Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Cambodia); Western Europe
(Switzerland, Germany, Britain, Northern Ireland); North America
(Canada, the United States); the Caribbean (Guyana, Suriname); and the
Middle East (Palestine). But _Facing Ethnic Conflict_ also
distinguishes itself by the depth and range of theoretical frameworks
it articulates for understanding and, ultimately, managing not only
open peace processes in ethnic conflict but also the ambiguities that
often obscure the conflict's cultural, social, and political causal
roots. This is what makes the book useful beyond the circles of those
whose immediate concern might be solely practical. Unsurprising, the
most general theory-oriented analyses were provided by political
scientists: Walker Connor of Middlebury College ("A Few Cautionary
Notes on the History and Future of Ethnonational Conflict"), Milton J.
Esman of Cornell University ("Ethnic Pluralism: Strategies for Conflict
Management"), Donald Rothschild of the University of California, Davis
("Liberalism, Democracy and Conflict Management: The African
Experience"), René Lemarchand of the University of Florida
("Exclusion, Marginalization, and Political Mobilization: The Road to
Hell in the Great Lakes"), and Angel ViÅ√as of the Universidad
Comlutense, Madrid ("External Democracy Support: Challenges and

Contributions from sociologists tend to bridge the theory-practice
divide: Rogers Brubaker and Andreas Wimmer, both of the University of
California, Los Angeles, contributed, respectively, "Ethnicity without
Groups" and "Towards a New Realism"; Michael Hechter of the University
of Washington wrote "Containing Ethnonationalist Violence"; and Peter
Waldmann of the University of Augsburg is the author of "The Asymmetry
between the Dynamics of Violence and the Dynamics of Peace: The Case of
Civil Wars." Contributions from professors of law are the most similar
in content and style to those by the sociologists. They include "Some
Realism about Constitutional Engineering" by Duke University's David
Horowitz; "Territorial Authority: Permanent Solution or Step toward
Secession" by Hurst Hannum of Tufts University; "Decentralized
Governance in Fragmented Societies: Solution or Cause of New Evils?" by
Walter KÃlin of the University of Bern; and "Ethnic Conflict and
the Colonial Legacy" by Christopher J. Bakwesegha of Makerere
University, Kampala, Rwanda.

The most practical chapters were contributed by those with backgrounds
in national and supra-national state, governmental, or non-governmental
organizations. Andrew Ellis, technical adviser on electoral and
constitutional processes at the International Institute of Democracy
and Electoral Assistance contributed "The Politics of Electoral Systems
in Transition"; Richard J. Goldstone, former justice of the
Constitutional Court of South Africa, former chief prosecutor of the UN
Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, former member of the
International Task Force on Terrorism, and currently chair of the
International Independent Inquiry on Kosovo wrote the chapter on
"Justice and Reconciliation in Fragmented Societies"; and joint authors
Ulrike Joras, associate program officer for the United Nations Fund for
International Partnerships and Conrad Schetter, research fellow at the
Center for Development Research, University of Bonn wrote the chapter
on "Hidden Ties: Similarities between Research and Policy Approaches to
Ethnic Conflicts." Others are: Michael Lund, senior associate at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies ("Operationalizing the
Lessons from Recent Experience in Field-Level Conflict Prevention
Strategies"); Hugh Miall, director of the Richardson Institute at
Lancaster University ("Transforming Ethnic Conflict: Theories and
Practices"); Norbert Ropers, director of the Berghof Research Center
for Constructive Conflict Management, Berlin ("From Resolution to
Transformation: Assessing the Role and Impact of Dialogue Projects");
Valery Tishkov, director of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology
of the Russian Academy of Science, Moscow, as well as former chairman
of the Russian Federation State Committee for Nationalities Affairs
("Conflict Starts with Words: Fighting Categories in Chechen
Conflict"); Max van der Stoel, a special adviser to Javier Solana, the
European High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy
("Looking Back, Looking Forward: Reflections on Preventing Inter-ethnic
Conflict"); and I. William Zartman, director of the Conflict Management
Program at the Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns
Hopkins University ("Sources and Settlements of Ethnic Conflicts").

The editors of the volume are to be commended for the marvelous
conceptual work of grouping the diverse contributions and perspectives
into several parts with sub-sections. The first, "Understanding Ethnic
Conflicts," comprises the thematic sub-sections "The Rise of the Ethnic
Question" (Connor, Brubaker and Bakwesegha) and "The Dynamics of
Escalation" (Lemarchand, Tishkov, and Waldman). The second, "Politics
of Intervention," divides into the sub-sections "Prevention and
Peacemaking" (van der Stoel, Lund, Zartman, and Miall) and "Mediation
and Reconciliation" (Ropers and Goldstone). The third, "Institutional
Reform," has as sub-sections "Democracy and Electoral Systems" (Esman,
Vinas, Rothchild, Horowitz and Ellis) and "Federalism and Autonomy"
(Hannum, Hechter and KÃlin). The final part is the conclusion, with
two essays (Schetter and Wimmer). Wimmer also wrote the introduction to
the volume.

In the rest of this review, I provide some insights into what I take to
be a representative essay from each part. I know that this is unfair,
given the breadth and depth of the contributions. But I am sure those
who are interested in reading the book--and I hope they are many--will
appreciate my judgment on this. In fact, if there is any criticism of
the book that could be stated upfront, it is the reality that, because
of its thematic variety, one could easily imagine this volume as three
books. It is a credit to the editors, especially Wimmer, that the
reader comes away with a greater sense of continuity rather than
discontinuity across the parts of the volume.

In part 1, I found Bakwesegha's essay the most convincing. In contrast
to the views that ethnic conflicts may be rooted either in primordial
conflicts of identities (Connor) or merely in the manipulations of such
identity conflicts for sectarian ends (e.g., religious) or partisan
profits (e.g., class-economic or political goals), Bakwesegha provides
a larger analytical framework. For him, histories of colonial
conquests, occupation, and the dynamics of subsequent postcolonial
relations account for the vast majority of the initial sources of
ethnic tensions. Although not all of these tensions lead to open and
catastrophic conflicts, they invariably create the root and generic
conditions under which simmering feelings of collective aggression,
insecurity, or resentment break into the open--and often
violent--conflict. It seems to me that the histories of ethnic
relations in parts of Africa--examples of which abound in this
volume--support Bakwesegha's view. But evidence for it can also be
found in other parts of the world: Northern Ireland, regions of the
former USSR, Afghanistan, or Iraq.

In part 2, where "politics of intervention" is the dominant theme, I
found Hugh Miall's thesis quite intriguing. To achieve conflict
prevention or peace in nascent or already open ethnic conflict, some
authors highlighted the vital importance of, and strategies for,
effective "negotiation" (Zartman), "accommodation" (van der Stoel),
"mediation" (Ropers) or "reconciliation" (Goldstone). Miall, however,
emphasized what he calls "conflict transformation." This is the idea
that any strategies for prevention or resolution of an ethnic conflict
can be, in the long run, effective only if it is part and parcel of a
program to address the structural origins of the conflict. I am partial
to this view because of its common sense and the strength of the
historical evidence. As presented even in the other parts of this book,
we can see that wherever sustainable peace or reconciliation have been
achieved before or following an open ethnic conflict, the achievement
seems to have been possible only because longer-term solutions were
found to the structural problems that, in the first place, created the
conditions for the conflict.

In the essays that compose part 3, various views are offered on the
strengths and weaknesses of different institutional frameworks (e.g.,
constitutional engineering; democratization--including aspects of
cultural pluralism, regional devolution, federalism, etc.; or electoral
management) that may facilitate or impede resolution of ethnic
conflicts. Some bold ideas are proposed: non-ethnic competition versus
ethnocultural pluralism; cultural assimilation versus multiculturalism;
unitary cultural domination in the name of _Staatsvolk_ versus
supposedly ethnicity-neutral republicanism; etc. Esman does a marvelous
work of disentangling the strengths and weaknesses of each of the pair.
But I found myself the most intrigued by the thought (proposed by
Rothchild, but also evident in Horowitz) that, in the abstract and by
itself, the electoral process--even when democratic--does not work like
a magic bullet in resolution of ethnic conflicts within a nation-state
framework. This insight, I think, ties in neatly with the conclusion
reached in the study by Miall and, indirectly, Bakwesegha.

The impression that most remains with the reader--at least this
reader--is the insightful manner in which the essays in _Facing Ethnic
Conflict_ manage to argue the case for realism in understanding ethnic
conflicts without reducing the causes of ethnic conflicts to "natural"
and inevitable factors. The best essays in the volume show how, given
certain historical conditions, ethnic tensions necessarily arise. They
also show how some of these tensions--where inadequately understood and
diffused or managed--lead to open and violent conflicts. But as tragic
and inexorable as the outcomes of some ethnic conflicts might be, our
authors resist the temptation to believe that the causal conditions of
these conflicts are themselves equally inexorable. The most credible
contributions show ethnic conflict to be caused structurally during
processes of social-identity formation as well as partisan interests
during intra- as well as inter-cultural or national relations. But one
will not find in this book's "new realism" much evidence-based support
for the currently fashionable argument that ethnicities, nationalities,
or even civilizations are divided by God Himself and programmed by
nature for constant and unavoidable tragic collisions. _Facing Ethnic
Conflict_ therefore seems to me to be an effort, quite successful, to
make better our theoretical understanding of the nature of ethnic
conflict and enhance our capacity for choice and action.

  Copyright 2006 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational
purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web
location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities
& Social Sciences Online. For any other proposed use, contact the
Reviews editorial staff at hbooks@mail.h-net.msu.edu. --30--


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