Politics of Ethnic Coexistence:
Internal Division and External Pressure
in Eastern Europe
Copyright (c) 1998 by the Slavic Research Center. All rights reserved.
- Eastern Europe clearly is a region with numerous ethnic problems, a fact that would be evident even if the recent conflict in Yugoslavia had not occurred. On the other hand, it is also a fact that ethnic conflicts have not always surfaced in Eastern Europe, even though it has always been a multi-ethnic region.
- This paper will discuss the possibility of multi-ethnic coexistence, by inspecting the processes by which ethnic conflicts break out and escalate, and the methods by which they may be managed and resolved. First, the history of multi-ethnic coexistence and ethnic conflict in Eastern Europe will be reviewed. Next, the general underlying and direct causes of the outbreak of ethnic conflict will be clarified, and then the characteristics of conflict escalation processes will be identified, concentrating upon the internal causes of such escalation. Finally, the methods by which the surfacing of such internal divisions may be prevented will be indicated, along with their limits.
- With respect to conflicts in general, the importance of the functions of actors outside the conflict has repeatedly been pointed out. This paper will therefore discuss the motives of such external actors who become involved in ethnic conflicts, after which the effectiveness of conflict resolution measures which they may take will be briefly examined.
- After this, I will clarify the problems which Eastern Europe will face as it attempts to establish a condition of multi-ethnic coexistence, based upon the ideas and lessons to be gained from Eastern Europe's history of ethnic conflicts.
1. Characteristics of Eastern Europe
Changeability of Definitions
- After the end of the Cold War, the words "East Central Europe" and "Southeastern Europe" have increasingly been used when referring to the region formerly called "Eastern Europe". This indicates that the scope of Eastern Europe had been determined by international political factors rather than by geographical factors. Even so, the boundaries of the region called Eastern Europe had not been strictly defined, even during the Cold War. Eastern Europe had been loosely defined as the region lying between the Western European countries and the Soviet Union (or Russia).
- There are a number of researchers, such as the Hungarian historian Emil Niederhauser, who are redefining "Eastern Europe". According to Niederhauser, Eastern Europe is the region in non-Western Europe, minus the former East Germany, in which a catholic culture is dominant, and is differentiated from the Balkans, where an eastern orthodox and Islamic culture have historically been dominant. Therefore, Eastern Europe as defined by Niederhauser is generally the same as the territory referred to as East Central Europe, which was part of the former Austria-Hungary. In the remainder of this paper, Eastern Europe will generally refer to the area called "Eastern Europe" during the Cold War, minus East Germany, with emphasis placed upon the area defined as such by Niederhauser.
Characteristics as a Periphery
- Eastern Europe has historically always been affected by the influence of the major countries which have either surrounded or possessed it. Specifically, these have been the Habsburg Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Prussia, and more recently Germany and the Soviet Union. As a result of the influence of such countries, Eastern Europe has acquired various characteristics, which may broadly be classified as follows: political, economic and cultural backwardness, external political and economic domination and cultural influence, and a variety of cultures which are multi-layered and mutually coexistent.*1In other words, Eastern Europe, while constantly under external influence, has created its own unique society. The historical characteristic of Eastern Europe may therefore be classified as peripherality. The Norwegian political scientist Stein Rokkan said that the characteristic of the periphery are the loss of control over one's own territory, an undeveloped economy, and a cultural marginality.*2
All of these characteristics may historically be found in Eastern Europe.
- The ethnic groups which can be found in Eastern Europe have been strongly influenced by the various neighboring major countries, resulting in a settlement patterns which are extremely intermingled and therefore different from the patterns found in Western Europe. The process by which such ethnic groups were formed was therefore also complex and different from that of Western European ethnic groups, whose development tended to be more linear.*3 When discussing the process by which Eastern Europe's ethnic groups were created, attention must be paid not only to the particular ethnic group in question, but also in many cases to the influence other ethnic groups have had on that particular group. In this respect, Eastern Europe is a region to which the results of ethnic studies, which are superior in their observations on ethnic problems, may be applied most fully.
2. Politics of Coexistence, Part I: Internal Division and Management of Ethnic Conflict
Ethnic Groups and Conflicts
- Before ethnic conflicts are observed, it is first necessary to define their subject, which is "ethnic groups". While the definition of ethnic group varies from researcher to researcher, the definition used by the British sociologist Anthony D. Smith in connection with ethnic communities will be used in this paper. As the defining factors of ethnic communities, Smith gave the group's name, beliefs and myths regarding common ancestors, a historical memory, a common culture, emotional attachment to a certain territory, and a consciousness or identity of belonging together.*4Smith then specified the consciousness of belonging as the standard which objectively separated ethnic community from ethnic category.*5 The importance of such a consciousness of belonging together certainly cannot be denied, at least with respect to the use of the term "ethnic group" in political science. Smith's ethnic community may therefore be viewed as the same as the ethnic groups which are discussed in this paper.
Next is a definition of "conflict". Conflict is often confused with competition. However, while the objectives of actors in a competitive relationship may be attained without the interference of others, the objectives of actors in conflict are in opposition to those of the other actors, and are not compatible with each other, e.g. the continued existence of an existing state, or its division into independent units.*6
Emergence of Ethnic Conflicts
- Many researchers have observed the causes by which ethnicity becomes a political issue and emerges as ethnic nationalism. Such earlier researchers may be divided into five groups, depending upon what they identify as such causes, i.e. social and economic disparity, the culture and history of specific regions, the inherent weakness of multi-ethnic societies, the endurance of ethnic loyalty, and finally, the group which identifies all of these as causes.*7
- While observations only of such underlying causes may be sufficient to explain the growth of ethnic nationalism, however, they are insufficient to explain the outbreak of ethnic conflicts. This is because such underlying causes do not explain why a certain ethnic conflict did not erupt until a certain time, i.e. why a certain ethnic conflict did not surface until such time that it did.
- In other words, ethnic conflicts must have an underlying cause, on top of which a direct cause serves as a "catalyst" for the actual outbreak of the conflict.*8 What types of catalysts are there? Such catalysts may broadly be divided into two types. One is a change in the objective environment, and the other is the leadership.
Changes in the objective environment include, for example, the destabilization of a regime (such as destabilization caused by democratization, revolution, coup d'etat, or changes in leaders), changes in existing economic relations (such as a worsening of economic performance, or the discovery of new natural resources in the periphery), and changes in international relations (such as changes in alliance relationships, or the disappearance of a common enemy, whether potential or real). Of such changes, however, changes in economic relations and international relations act more as a catalyst through the destabilization of a regime. The objective environmental change, which is the most direct catalyst of the outbreak of ethnic conflicts, is therefore the destabilization of a regime.
The phenomenon which contributed most to the destabilization of the Eastern European regime after the Cold War period was probably democratization. According to Samuel P. Huntington, democratization is attained through three routes, i.e. transformation through revisions from above, replacement caused by the destruction or toppling of a regime by pressure from the people, and transplacement caused by unified action by the existing government and its opposition.*9 Of these, it has been believed that transformation results in the least amount of destabilization of the regime. When democratization proceeds under transformation, however, those groups which may lose their vested interests (for example, military officers, bureaucrats and a number of capitalists, who had enjoyed a high social status and economic benefits under the previous authoritarian system) may become concerned about the results of democratization and come to oppose the pro-democratization government; as a result, it is entirely possible that the regime will be destabilized. In the case of replacement, a dramatic change from the old to the new government necessarily takes place; this often necessarily results in the destabilization of the regime. Furthermore, when transplacement takes place, the stability of the existing regime is sometimes strengthened, because the opposition is enveloped within the government; on the other hand, differences of opinion within the government concerning the extent and tempo of democratization may surface. In this way, democratization, through any route, has the strong potential to destabilize the regime. When the government which emerges after democratization is widely different from the former government, in terms of ethnic structure, it is clear that any accompanying destabilization of the regime is especially likely to lead to an ethnic conflict.
- Next is the issue of leadership. As may be seen in the Yugoslav conflict, the leadership of the opposing parties has a great influence over the outbreak and escalation of ethnic conflicts. In particular, it is much easier for an inflammatory leader to convince an economically disadvantaged ethnic group in a multi-ethnic region that their economic problems have been caused by the ethnic minority, or to paint a rosy picture of life after secession and independence, than it is to argue for realistically effective economic reforms. Such agitation is also absorbed more readily by the people. Furthermore, once such people have been mobilized, there is a high probability that they will restrict such a leader's ability to take action calmly. Since the leader's primary interest is to maintain his position or authority, he will have to continue his inflammatory leadership in order to maintain his popular support among the mobilized people. If the leader has a rival who takes radical positions, the leader's actions will be further constrained and probably become more radicalized, too. When a regime has become unstable, it goes without saying that such a leader's leadership will play a large role in pushing the people towards ethnic conflict.
Escalation of Ethnic Conflict
- Once an ethnic conflict has begun and started to escalate, that fact itself becomes a cause for further confrontation among the parties, leading to further escalation of the conflict.*10 With respect to conflict escalation, ethnic conflicts may broadly be divided into three connected stages. In the first stage, difficulties in achieving smooth communication among the parties leads to conflict-like action; in the second stage, the parties develop stereotyped images of each other and overreact to each others' actions, resulting in violence among the parties; and in the third stage, each party tries to totally destroy their opponents.*11 As the level of the ethnic conflict rises, the parties lose their ability to judge rationally, resulting in a spiraling increase in the level of the conflict.
- On the other hand, ethnicity was originally attributive, and leads easily to a clear distinction between "us" and "them", and even to a stereotyped identification of the opposition. When a conflict is perceived and such distinctions begin, the sense of belonging to one's brotherhood is strengthened on the one hand, and exclusionary feelings towards the opponents in the conflict are also strengthened on the other. Such feelings of "us vs. them" escalate the conflict further. In particular, identification with an ethnic group has the characteristic of spiraling during a crisis situation.*12 It may be said that two overlapping spirals act upon each other and escalate the ethnic conflict even further.
- The history and experience of the relation between the opposing parties before an ethnic conflict is one of the conditions which results in the intensifying of such a conflict.*13 If an ethnic group has experienced a conflict with another ethnic group in the past, any new conflict which may break out between such groups will be characterized by stereotypes of each other which are much more easily derived at and stronger than would have been the case if they did not have a history of past conflict, and the spiral escalation of conflict will happen much more readily.
- Furthermore, as shown in the Yugoslav conflict, ethnic conflict is also characterized by combat with light weapons, the blurring of the border between the front lines and rear areas, a weakness in the leadership of the parties, and irregular armed groups. All of these had the effect of escalating the conflict, most directly because they made it easier for the number of fighting groups to expand, and because these characteristics made it more difficult to specify the regular armed groups and to distinguish between combat and noncombat groups, all of which made the early settlement of the conflict more difficult, which then indirectly served to escalate the conflict.
Methods of Ethnic Conflict Management and Their Limits
- As mentioned above, once an ethnic conflict has begun, it automatically goes through the process of escalation. The resolution of such conflicts after they have begun is therefore costly and difficult. In the case of ethnic conflict, it is important to manage such conflict and prevent the outbreak of violent conflict.
The purpose of ethnic conflict management is to prevent the outbreak of violence between ethnic groups even while permitting the existence of differences among such groups to continue. In this respect, such management differs from large-scale genocide, forced mass resettlement, separation, secession and independence, and assimilation, all of which see the cause of ethnic conflict as multi-ethnicity and seek a fundamental removal of this cause.
- The methods for managing domestic ethnic conflict which have been studied and implemented in the past may be classified into four types: hegemonic control, third party intervention, federalism, and consociation.*14
- Historically, hegemonic control has been the system most often implemented. Its key features are rule by force, and the existence of an organ which can resort to violence in order to make such rule effective. It has been pointed out that this system functions more effectively in an ethnically divided society than in one of consociation.*15 However, the repression of dependent ethnic minority easily occurs under a system of hegemonic control, and when the cost of maintaining such a system and pressure, and humanitarian concerns, both domestic and international, are taken into consideration, it is probably difficult to peacefully manage ethnic conflict through hegemonic control.
- While it goes without saying that a prerequisite for a successful intervention by a third party is that any judgement rendered by the third party be fair and appropriate, it is also important that every major ethnic group which resides in the area in question agree on the legitimacy of the intervening third party. Therefore, if any of the actors denies the legitimacy of the third party, such third party intervention will not work. This may also be applied to federalism and consociation, both of which will be discussed below. In other words, a system, be it federalism or consociation, will not function if any of its main structural units or groups of a system voices opposition towards its continuation.
- Federalism is said to be an appropriate conflict management method when each ethnic group is concentrated in its own territory.*16 Federalism is a sovereign state which has the following four characteristics. One, representatives represent a territory; two, such territorial representatives are especially protected at two sub-state levels, at least; three, representatives from regional units are encompassed in the state's central decision-making process, and finally, changes in the way by which regional units are encompassed may be made only through a constitutional process.*17 In a true federal system, a wide range of powers are transferred to each structural unit, and the federal government and the structural units' governments mutually tolerate, respect, compromise with, negotiate with and recognize each other, resulting in the simultaneous attainment of diversity and unity.*18 In addition, the voluntary unity of the structural units is important. In this respect, true federalism must be clearly distinguished from a federal system forced from above, a federal system without federalism, such as a hegemonic control system which assumes the form of a federal system, and a quasi-federal system.*19
When federalism is used as a method for managing ethnic conflict, the problem of how to draw the borders between structural units becomes an important issue.*20 While the issues raised differs greatly depending upon whether the borders dividing the structural units are the same as the borders of the territories in which each ethnic group resides, each case has its problems.
- First of all, the case where the borders between the structural units matches those of each territory in which each ethnic group resides will be considered. The problem here is that differences in opinion between the federal government and a structural unit's government easily lead to the outbreak of ethnic conflict. Once ethnic conflict breaks out, there is a strong possibility that such conflict will become secessionist and involve issues of independence. Since the ethnic uniformity of the structural units opposing the federal government is high, any ethnic conflict may relatively easily develop into a war of independence by the structural unit in question. It is also extremely rare that the borders between structural units and ethnic groups match perfectly, i.e. that only one ethnic group resides within a structural unit. Normally, the structural units each have their own ethnic minority, in which case special considerations must be made towards such minorities.
- There is also a problem if such borders do not match. The fact that such borders do not match means that every structural unit will contain many ethnic groups. There is then a strong possibility that each structural unit will have to separately devise its own methods for managing ethnic conflict. Furthermore, any such methods which are adopted by the structural units will result in heightened dissatisfaction on the part of an ethnic group if that group feels it is receiving more disadvantageous treatment in one structural unit compared to another. Of course, it is possible to revise the boundaries between structural units, so that such problematic ethnic compositions are not created. Whether such revised boundaries would be granted legitimacy by the nation, however, is questionable.
- Another problem which is inherent in a federal system is the relatively high cost of managing the state, compared to a unitary state.*21 These problems of a federal system are similar to those of a canton system, in which the size of the structural units is extremely small. In a canton state, however, any ethnic conflict is unlikely to develop into a secessionist and independence movement, because each structural unit is extremely small in scale. On the other hand, since a canton system results in a large number of structural units, the problems it faces with respect to the inefficiency of the decision-making process of the state as a whole, and the difficulty of maintaining good communications among the structural units, are greater than those of a federal system.
- If the problems of a federal system are territorial, in the sense that they are caused by the boundaries between structural units, what problems are inherent in consociation, which is said to be a ethnic conflict management method appropriate for areas where ethnic groups are intermingled and scattered throughout the area?
- According to Arend Lijphart, one of its main proponents, the necessary conditions for the success of consociation, which is based upon cooperation among elites, are the participation of representatives of the main groups in the government, the autonomy of each group, the proportional representation of the groups in appointments to the main offices of the government, and the adoption of a veto system.*22 In addition, the absence of an absolutely major ethnic group and the lack of a large social and economic disparity among the ethnic groups are also given as factors necessary for consociation to be an effective method of managing ethnic conflict.*23 However, not many states and regions fulfil these conditions. Thus, the biggest problem with consociation is that its applicability is limited.
- On top of this, the consociational system has a number of inherent problems. The first of these is the number of ethnic groups which recognize participation in government.*24 Since a premise of consociation is a delicate decision-making process which involves cooperation, compromise and negotiation among each member group, the fewer ethnic groups there are, the smoother the functioning of the system. If, however, the number of ethnic groups is limited to a great degree, a number of ethnic minorities will be excluded from the decision-making process, and their views will be completely unreflected in policy. The respect and pursuit of their interests will then be left up to the ethnic groups which participate in the decision-making process. When the interests of such excluded groups and participating groups clash, however, there is no structural guarantee which would ensure that the interests of the ethnic minority will not be ignored.
- In connection with this, under consociational system, any change in the ratio of a particular ethnic group within the entire population will be accompanied by a corresponding change in the number of positions assigned to members of that group, in accordance with the principle of proportional representation. In such a case, an ethnic group which occupies a lesser percentage of the entire population will lose a number of positions. Whatever is done to reflect changes in the composition of the entire population, then, creates problems: if certain positions are given to members of another ethnic group, the ethnic groups from which such positions were taken will be dissatisfied; if such readjustments of positions are not made, then the function of the consociational system will be paralyzed.
- The next problem concerns veto powers. In a consociational system, the right to veto is the "final weapon" which safeguards the vital, life-or-death interests of ethnic minorities.*25 If ethnic minorities do not have such veto powers, repression of such minorities by the ethnic majority is certain to occur. On the other hand, if an ethnic minority feels the pursuit of its own interests are more important than the maintenance of the consociational system, any exercise by the ethnic minority of the right to veto will lead to "minority violence", and may even place the existence of the consociational system itself in jeopardy.
- In other words, a consociational system requires a basic agreement among the elite that the system will be maintained, in view of the fact that the costs of its maintenance will be less than the costs which would be incurred if ethnic violence should begin and escalate. In addition, the feelings of the people must strengthen such agreement. If these requirements cannot be met, consociation will collapse.
- Finally, a few words concerning cultural autonomy. As is already well known, cultural autonomy involves the separation of cultural problems from political ones, and the assigning of such cultural and educational issues to the jurisdiction of each ethnic group. In order to realize such autonomy, it is said that the introduction of a proportional representation system, which permits the representation of each ethnic group, the establishment of a committee to discuss cultural issues, proportional representation among public servants, and the elimination of an official language must all be implemented.*26 It is true that the concerns of ethnic minorities regarding the survival of their culture can be removed through cultural autonomy. In this sense, therefore, this is a superior means of managing ethnic conflict. Cultural autonomy, however, not only shares the same problems as consociation, which have already been pointed out, but also has its own problems, such as the need for an absolute mediator when conflict breaks out, inefficiency in governing the state as a whole, and difficulty in developing, within each ethnic group, an identity which encompasses the entire state. Generosity and respect by the ethnic majority towards the ethnic minority is required, and when the interests of the two are completely in opposition, cultural autonomy will fail unless the majority and minority both show strong support for maintaining cultural autonomy.
- While all of the conflict management methods mentioned above may function effectively during peacetime, each has the potential for paralysis when there is an underlying cause for ethnic conflict and when a direct cause for such conflict occurs in such a situation. Ethnic conflicts are extremely dynamic, meaning that in order to make conflict management function smoothly over the long-term, the leaders of each ethnic group must constantly exercise leadership aimed at the maintenance of the existing regime, and at times must also revise the means of conflict management, if the situation warrants it.*27
3. Politics of Coexistence, Part II: External Pressure and Ethnic Conflict Resolution
Causes for the Intervention of External Actors in Ethnic Conflicts
- As mentioned above, once an ethnic conflict begins, it gradually becomes difficult for the parties to resolve the conflict by themselves. Furthermore, in the case of Eastern Europe, it was affected by the strong influence of the center, since it was the periphery. The intervention of the center in the resolution of Eastern Europe's ethnic conflicts is therefore all the more important.
- Broadly speaking, there are two causes why the center becomes involved in ethnic conflicts in the periphery. One is intervention due to sentimental causes, and the other is intervention in order to gain some sort of benefit, i.e. intervention as an instrument of gaining, expanding or maintaining benefits.*28 Naturally, there are many examples in which these two causes may both be found in a single case of intervention.
- The main sentimental causes of intervention are some sort of historical connection with the region in conflict, such as close biological or blood ties (measured by ethnicity, culture or religion, for example), or a humanitarian reason.*29 First of all, in the case of an external actor's intervention due to close biological ties, the external actor is often a neighboring country. Just by being in the geographical proximity of the region in conflict, a neighboring country will have a strong possibility of having such close ties. In reality, however, a neighboring country does not often became deeply involved purely from sentimental causes. Of course, it is true that when at least one of the parties in conflict has some sort of close ties with a neighboring country, there is a strong possibility that that country will express interest in the region in conflict, or become involved through verbal statements, such as statements of support or of intent to attack, to the country in which that region is located. In order to become involved at a higher level, however, such as by the actual providing of support through the shipment of arms or other material or the sending of personnel, the intervening country, or more specifically its leaders, must be motivated because it viewed such intervention as a means of gaining some sort of benefit.
- Next, humanitarian considerations are very often given as a reason for intervention. In cases in which the intervention consisted of action and not just words, however, humanitarian considerations were only the "official" cause, at least when the party getting involved was a state; in most cases, the real reason behind such intervention was biological closeness with the party in conflict, or instrumental cause, which will be discussed later. Even in the case of intervention by international organizations, a precondition for intervention consisting of real action is often agreement by the countries making up the organization; it is extremely difficult for such organizations to become involved purely for humanitarian reasons. Transnational organizations and non-governmental organizations, however, are different cases.
- Instrumental cause involves economic and political benefits, strategic considerations, prestige and international influence.*30 When an ethnic conflict breaks out in a certain region and the level of fighting increases, states which lie next to that region worry above all that the ethnic conflict will spill over into their own territory. Ethnic conflicts in neighboring territories always have the potential to create refugee problems, as well as economic problems by interfering with existing trade and transportation systems and arrangements. In addition, military problems may be created if one or more of the parties to the ethnic conflict uses the neighboring country as its base, and the fighting may even spread to that country. These all have a strong possibility of creating national security problems for the neighboring country. Furthermore, ethnic conflicts often threaten to develop into an interstate war.*31
- Once an ethnic conflict begins, each of the opposing parties will try to get their neighboring countries to side with them. Because a mechanism functions in ethnic conflicts which makes clear distinctions between allies and enemies, it becomes very difficult for neighboring countries to stay neutral and avoid siding with either party. If the leadership of any of the opposing parties is weak and permits the growth of a radical group within itself, the possibility that that radical group will attack a neighboring country becomes even stronger. In addition, if a neighboring country has close cultural or ethnic ties to at least one of the opposing parties, public opinion in that country will radicalize, strengthening the tendency in that country to actively intervene. In this case too, therefore, there is a strong possibility that the political leaders in the neighboring country will become involved for domestic political causes in the ethnic conflict, occurring in its neighbors.
- Countries which are geographically distant from the ethnic conflict face little possibility that the conflict will affect their vital interests, and are difficult to motivate for instrumental cause. Therefore, a consideration by such distant countries of the costs and benefits of becoming involved often result in reluctance or refusal to become involved through direct action instead of just verbal statements. In the case of the major powers, however, international status and prestige are sometimes viewed as important factors in such considerations.
- Next is intervention by international organizations. Since all of the countries which make up an international organization must agree in principle before the organization can become involved through direct action, any decision for such intervention usually takes a long time to reach, regardless of whether or not the country in which the ethnic conflict is being fought is a member of that organization. Many international organizations, as well as states, have a history of showing reluctance towards getting involved, through such direct action, in ethnic conflicts in other countries, because many such organizations and states observe the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of other countries.*32 Following World War Two, many cases have occurred in which international organizations became actively involved in domestic conflicts, in order to protect rights of self-determination and out of humanitarian considerations. In many of these cases, however, the international organizations have had an instrumental cause for direct intervention, in addition to the ostensible motive. The instrumental cause which is the clearest basis for intervention is consideration for regional security, especially a concern over the potential influence the ethnic conflict will have over other separationist groups, real or possible, in the region. The principle of self determination, which emerged during World War One, became the Golden Rule of separationist movements during the decolonization period following World War Two and the current post-Cold War period, even as its territorial characteristics became stronger.*33 However, seen from the viewpoint of states in which ethnic conflict may break out, or states which are struggling to maintain regional security, the principle of self-determination means the dismemberment of the state and regional turmoil, and is not an ideal which can be supported actively. For that reason, when a party in an ethnic conflict demands secession and independence, and when such a demand has the possibility of negatively influencing regional security, international organizations generally will become involved in an ethnic conflict by adopting a policy which will prevent such secession and independence, demanded by the secessionist parties. This sort of reluctance towards recognizing demands for secession and independence is commonly seen in the cases of intervention by states and international organizations. The early recognition of independence in the Yugoslav conflict may therefore be seen as an exceptional case.
Methods of Resolving Ethnic Conflicts and Their Limits
- When an external actor becomes involved in an ethnic conflict with the intent of resolving it, the party on whose side it intervenes, the timing of the intervention and the characteristics of the external actor all are important issues. An external actor may become involved in an ethnic conflict by assisting one or both of the parties. In the former case, if the party being assisted is the stronger of the conflicting parties, it probably would have won anyway without such external assistance; in such a case, the external actor is not as likely to give material assistance unless it intends to expand its interests after the resolution of the conflict. On the other hand, an external actor who gives material assistance to the weaker of the parties in conflict faces a real danger that it will get dragged into the fighting and find itself in a quagmire.
- In order to avoid such a danger, it is important that any external actor get involved on both sides of the conflict. In such a case, however, the external actor will face the problem of identifying the conflicting parties. As mentioned above, the leaderships of the opposing parties in an ethnic conflict are often weak, especially in the case in which both such parties are not clearly unified and led. A leader of a warring party who has the desire to reach an agreement must always pay attention to the radical and anti-negotiation elements within his group.*34 Even if some sort of an agreement is reached by the representatives of the opposing parties, it is possible that a radical group within either of the parties will refuse to abide by it and continue the fighting; once the conflict is thus resumed, the side which was attacked will feel it has been betrayed, which may make the conflict more intense than before. On the other hand, even if the representatives can exercise strong leadership, the agreement may be only a tactical ploy on the part of one or both leaders, in order to buy time to reorganize the fighting front and to prepare for additional combat. Even if the leaders have no such intent, they usually are in a state of mutual suspicion during at least the early stage of conflict resolution, which makes it easy for even a small armed confrontation to lead to all-out fighting during this period.*35 Such dangers are probably even more likely to be realized in an ethnic conflict, because of the strong "us vs. them" mentality inherent in such conflicts.
Next is the issue of the timing of the intervention. Once an ethnic conflict breaks out, it almost automatically escalates. It has been pointed out, therefore, that intervention by an external actor in the early stages of the conflict, i.e. before violence breaks out, is the key to the success of such intervention.*36 Regardless of who initiated the ethnic conflict, in its early stages the combat capabilities and intentions of the parties are strong, generally speaking, and both parties are unlikely to agree to the intervention by an external actor for the purpose of conflict resolution. Seen from the standpoint of successful conflict resolution, it is important for external actor intervention to take place when the conflict has reached a stalemate, i.e. when both parties have become exhausted through combat, no longer have prospects for realizing their objectives, and cannot by themselves develop new prospects for the end of the conflict.*37 In addition, the lack of a disparity in the military strength of the conflicting parties will improve even further the possibility that the intervention will be successful.*38
- With respect to intervention by an external actor in a conflict, it has often been pointed out that the neutrality of the external actor is important. A "he who is not my ally is my enemy" mentality is often seen in ethnic conflicts, however. Since the parties in an ethnic conflict tend to view everybody as clearly an ally or an enemy, a completely neutral external actor usually does not exist.
- Some researchers take the position that the influence an external actor has on the parties of an ethnic conflict is more important than its neutrality.*39 Any decision reached through the intervention of an external actor cannot be implemented unless the external actor has the influence to make the opposing parties abide by the decision; such influence would act as a guarantee. In an ideal situation, the external actor would have equally good relations with the opposing parties, but even if this were not the case and the external actor has good relations with one of the opposing parties while having only distant relations with the other, it is actually more likely to win the confidence of the latter party if its actions are impartial. Furthermore, in such a case, the external actor, by making a decision which is unfavorable to the former party and on whom it is able to exercise meaningful influence, may gain the strong confidence of the latter party; the external actor could make up for the concessions by the "close" party by other means. In other words, what is important about a external actor with respect to conflict resolution is the perception by the opposing parties that the external actor's actions are impartial, rather than the neutral position or status of the external actor.*40
- Here is a brief review of the historical aspects of actual intervention by external actors in conflict resolution. While there are many methods by which external actors have been involved in ethnic conflict resolution, the methods which historically have been most often taken will be discussed below, namely, mediation, United Nations peacekeeping, economic sanctions and arms embargoes, and the most dramatic form of intervention, armed intervention.
- Mediation basically takes place on the initiative of the parties in conflict. While the degree of intervention of the mediator differs from case to case, it can be distinguished from other forms of third party intervention in that the mediator does not take a leading role in the drafting of the agreement.*41 The mediator's role is mostly secondary, and his purpose is to increase the probability of success of the mediation effort, by setting a location for the mediation, relaying information, and facilitating communication between the opposing parties, for example. It is important that the opposing parties voluntarily (at least officially) enter into the mediation negotiations, and it is up to the skill of the mediator to bring the opposing parties to that stage. Since mediation is ostensibly a voluntary process on the part of the opposing parties, the issues concerning external actor intervention, which were mentioned above, probably are most applicable to mediation.
- Next, the demand for peacekeeping operations is growing rapidly.*42 Peacekeeping operations may be divided into traditional peacekeeping operations and multifunctional peacekeeping operations. The two are distinguished by the time at which they commence, the scope of operations and the necessary personnel.*43 While all of the issues discussed above apply also to peacekeeping operations, multifunctional peacekeeping entails its own additional problem in that it can be carried out only after a comprehensive peace agreement has been reached; in comparison, traditional peacekeeping can be carried out as soon as a cease-fire agreement has been reached. Furthermore, multifunctional peacekeeping operations involve a wide range of activities, since they must deal with military, political and economic issues, which in turn requires the intervention of a larger number of military and civilian personnel. Multifunctional peacekeeping therefore involves much higher costs and interdepartmental tensions than traditional peacekeeping, which is somewhat symbolic of the problems faced by the United Nations as a whole today.
- Economic sanctions and arms embargoes are two conflict resolution methods which have recently often been implemented by the UN. Since both are forced upon the opposing parties, the impartiality of the external actor's actions are not as much a problem as it is in the case of mediation or peacekeeping operations, and the cost is also less than that of peacekeeping operations. However, sanctions and embargoes have problems, too: both are ineffective in the short-term as conflict resolution measures; their effectiveness is questionable, given the fact that ethnic conflicts are mainly fought with light weapons; uninvolved countries or regions which have important trade and transportation ties with the country in conflict face a strong possibility of being negatively affected; and some countries inevitably disregard the sanctions and embargoes.*44 Sanctions and embargoes are therefore probably suitable for use as a secondary measure, to strengthen the effectiveness of other conflict resolution measures.
- The most dramatic conflict resolution method is armed intervention. Since armed intervention also involves force, the impartiality of the intervening actor is irrelevant. On the other hand, by actively intervening in the fighting, the intervening actor will be directly affected by the characteristics peculiar to ethnic conflicts, i.e. the vagueness of the front lines and rear areas, weak leadership of the opposing parties, and the existence of irregular armed groups. In order to avoid such problems as much as possible, it is necessary to identify clear political objectives and to intervene with overwhelmingly superior military force.*45 It also goes without saying that the plans and actions of all of the intervening countries must be coordinated with each other when two or more countries are going to intervene militarily in an ethnic conflict.
- Conflicts escalate in a spiral fashion and are extremely dynamic. Ethnic conflicts, in particular, are characterized by an even stronger dynamism than other conflicts. It is therefore important when attempting to resolve ethnic conflicts, as well as with other conflicts, to avoid persisting with one method and to flexibly choose and apply the appropriate methods, taking into account the nature of the opposing parties, the characteristics of the intervening external actor itself, and especially the stage of the conflict.*46
4. Towards a Future of Coexistence in Eastern Europe
- The process by which ethnic conflicts break out and escalate, and the measures by which such conflicts may be managed and resolved were reviewed above. The dynamic characteristic of ethnic conflicts was clear throughout. As pointed out earlier, it is therefore important to flexibly apply one or more of the various ethnic conflict management and resolution measures which is the most appropriate for the situation. It should also be obvious that the realization of economic growth and the equal distribution of its fruits, and the establishment of a stable regime, will serve as a defense against the outbreak of ethnic conflict, especially in multi-ethnic societies, which have the potential for such conflict. However, no matter what measures are taken, and no matter what the condition of the economy and politics are, the groups which reside in regions with potential causes for ethnic conflict must always keep the following problems in mind with respect to the management and resolution of such conflict.
- The first problem concerns leadership. Eastern Europe has experienced the stable rule of persons such as Franz Joseph I and Josip Broz Tito, whose leadership were multi-ethnic. Generally speaking, however, political leaders of an unstable multi-ethnic society are more concerned with maintaining their positions and power over the short term, rather than securing the long-term stability of the society. The easiest way to do this is to appeal to ethnic sentiments. For example, such leaders will set up an ethnic minority as a scapegoat, or inflame emotions against an external ethnic enemy, whether real or imagined. In order to avoid being inflamed by such selfish political leaders, the people must develop a civic consciousness, and gain the ability to rationally determine the possibility of the outbreak of ethnic conflict and the gains and losses to be had as a result of such conflict. If the people develop such a consciousness, major concessions may be made to the minority when necessary, and the possibility will also decrease that rabble-rousing politicians or movement leaders will become leaders of the state. The development of such a civic consciousness is extremely difficult. Since Eastern Europe is a peripheral area, however, its surrounding states can exercise influence aimed at the emergence and maintenance of a civic consciousness there. A stable civic consciousness therefore may be more easily formed.
- Second, regarding the escalation of conflict, the communication gap between the opposing parties in an ethnic conflict has a strong effect. Undoubtedly, a certain such gap always exists among the ethnic groups in a multi-ethnic society. Efforts must be made, however, to prevent that gap from widening, or even to shrink it. When an ethnic conflict breaks out and escalates, it becomes difficult for the parties themselves to prevent the communication gap from widening. It is therefore necessary to continuously make such efforts while the conflict is still only potential. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to consciously establish multiple channels of communication, such as through the adoption of a Track Two strategy, and prevent the inter-ethnic group communication channel from being unified.*47 In addition, school education must be aimed at developing the skills which will permit smooth communication among ethnic groups. A variety of communication channels will not only prevent the outbreak of ethnic conflicts, but also may promote the discovery of new measures which will cure the cause of such conflicts.
- The third problem is the consciousness of belonging together. It goes without saying that an ethnic consciousness is one of the important factors of ethnic nationalism. It is therefore clear that changes in the ethnic consciousness is the most basic corrective measure that can be taken in order to eliminate ethnic conflict. However, without other facilitative factors, it is probably impossible for all practical purposes to peacefully change a firmly established ethnic consciousness. This is true in cases of amalgamation, in which multiple ethnic groups are combined to form a new consciousness, as well as in cases of assimilation, in which an ethnic group absorbs the others. Another related method is to leave the existing ethnic consciousness unchanged and create a new bridging consciousness, which will control the functions of the ethnic consciousness. In other words, based upon the premise that multiple ethnic consciousnesses will remain, a higher-level consciousness must be created, which will tie together the multiple consciousnesses under it. The realization of this method, however, will require the meeting of favorable preconditions, as the failures in Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia clearly indicate. In addition, the good leadership for the people, and the support of such a leader by the ruling elites are necessary for such a multilayered consciousness of belonging to develop.
- The issues which have been pointed out so far are of such a character that they may be applied to multi-ethnic regions in general. In closing, a problem peculiar to Eastern Europe will be noted. As mentioned earlier, Eastern Europe's greatest historical characteristic was its peripherality. It can therefore be said that Eastern Europe has never taken an independent path, domestically or internationally, without a relation of dependence on the center. The newly established states of Eastern Europe looked like they would follow such a course between the two world wars. However, the international environment at the time was extremely unfavorable for maintaining such states; furthermore, nationalism in each state began rising along the axis of the status quo vs. revisionism and began opposing each other, and peace in Eastern Europe as a whole was never realized. In World War Two and the Cold War, Eastern Europe was again forced to take a peripheral position. However, with the end of the Cold War, the states which could exercise direct influence over Eastern Europe disappeared. Now is therefore a good opportunity for Eastern Europe to break out of its peripheral position. Looking at the political leadership of Eastern Europe after 1989, however, one gets the feeling that many Eastern European countries are seeking a new center outside the region. Of course, given the confusion caused by democratization and the introduction of market economies, it is difficult and will take a long time for the Eastern European countries to develop their own prospect and display an independent blueprint for the future. Undoubtedly, the Eastern European countries can solve many problems over the short term if they take the easy way out and join the EU (of course, even that will not be easy) and become economic colonies of the advanced countries of Western Europe. In fact, that would even help to prevent the surfacing of ethnic conflict. Seen from a long-term viewpoint, however, the willing selection of a new relation of dependence without an independent blueprint for one's future is not recommendable. If the Eastern European countries do not rid themselves of their identity as a periphery, at least in their minds, it will probably be extremely difficult for them to overcome ethnic conflicts over the long term and to establish a multi-ethnic condition of coexistence in the future.
- Shigeto Toriyama, "To-ohshi no ichizuke" ("Definition of Eastern European History") in: Shigeru Kido and Takayuki Ito, eds., To-oh Gendaishi (Modern History of Eastern Europe) (Yuhikaku, 1987), pp. 20-21.
- Stein Rokkan & Derek W. Urwin, Economy, Territory, Identity: Politics of West European Peripheries (Sage, 1983), p. 2.
- Hans Kohn, The Idea of Nationalism (Macmillan, 1944) is one of the early examples of research on the special characteristics of Eastern European ethnic groups. Other examples of research on such ethnic groups are Karl W. Deutsch, Nationalism and Its Alternatives (Alfred A. Knopf, 1969), Hugh Seton-Watson, Nations and States: An Enquiry into the Origins of Nations and the Politics of Nationalism (Methuen, 1977), and Miroslav Hroch, Social Preconditions of National Revival in Europe: A Comparative Analysis of the Social Composition of Patriotic Groups among the Smaller European Nations (Cambridge UP, 1985).
- Anthony D. Smith, "The Ethnic Sources of Nationalism", in: Michael E. Brown, ed., Ethnic Conflict and International Security (Princeton UP, 1993), pp. 29-30.
- Ibid., pp. 30-31.
- Mary Elizabeth Beres & Stuart M. Schmidt, "The Conflict Carousel: A Contingency Approach to Conflict Management", in: Gerald B. J. Bomers & Richard B. Peterson, eds., Conflict Management and Industrial Relations (Kluwer-Njihoff, 1982), p. 39.
- Abeysinghe M. Navaratna-Bandara, The Management of Ethnic Secessionist Conflict: The Big Neighbour Syndrome (Dartmouth, 1995), pp. 5-6.
- Michael E. Brown, "The Causes and Regional Dimensions of Internal Conflict", in: Michael E. Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict (MIT Press, 1996), p. 573. James G. Kellas points out that the necessary conditions and sufficient conditions of the politicization of nationalism must also be distinguished from each other (James G. Kellas, The Politics of Nationalism and Ethnicity (Macmillan, 1991), p. 34.).
- Samuel P. Huntington, The Third Wave: Democratization in the Late Twentieth Century (Oklahoma UP, 1991), pp. 109-163.
- Friedrich Glasl, "The Process of Conflict Escalation and Roles of Third Parties", in: Bomers & Peterson, eds., Conflict Management and Industrial Relations, p. 123.
- Ibid., pp. 124-131.
- George M. Scott, Jr., "A Resysthesis of the Primordial and Circumstantial Approaches to Ethnic Group Solidarity: Towards an Explanatory Model", Ethnic and Racial Studies 13/2 (1990), p. 164.
- Morton Deutsch, The Resolution of Conflict: Constructive and Destructive Processes (Yale UP, 1973), p. 5.
- John McGarry & Brendan O'Leary, "Introduction: The Macro-Political Regulation of Ethnic Conflict", in John McGarry & Brendan O'Leary, eds., The Politics of Ethnic Conflict Regulation: Case Studies of Protracted Ethnic Conflicts (Routledge, 1993), p. 4. International methods of managing ethnic conflict, such as government by an international body, will be discussed at a later time.
- Ian Lustick, "Stability in Deeply Divided Societies: Consociationalism versus Control", World Politics 31/3 (1979), pp. 325-344; Kenneth McRae, "Theories of Power-Sharing and Conflict Management", in: Joseph V. Montville, ed., Conflict and Peacemaking in Multi-ethnic Societies (Lexington Books, 1989), p. 96.
- Alain-G. Gagnon, "The Political Uses of Federalism", in: Michael Burgess & Alain-G. Gagnon, eds., Comparative Federalism and Federation: Competing Traditions and Future Directions (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993), pp. 15-16.
- Preston King, "Federation and Representation", in: Burgess & Gagnon, eds., Comparative Federalism and Federation, p. 94.
- Michael Burgess, "Federalism and Federation: A Reappraisal", in: Burgess and Gagnon, eds., Comparative Federalism and Federation, p. 7.
- Graham Smith, "Mapping the Federal Condition: Ideology, Political Practice and Social Justice", in: Graham Smith, ed., Federalism: the Multi-ethnic Challenge (Longman, 1995), p. 8.
- Donald L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (California UP, 1985), pp. 601-619.
- Ibid., pp. 621-622.
- Arend Lijphart, Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration (Yale UP, 1977), pp. 25-44.
- Arend Lijphart, "The Power-Sharing Approach", in: Montville, ed., Conflict and Peacemaking in Multi-ethnic Societies, p. 497.
- Milton J. Esman, "The Management of Communal Conflict", Public Policy 21/1 (1973), p. 62.
- Lijphart, "The Power-Sharing Approach", p. 495.
- Theodor Hanf, "Reducing Conflict through Cultural Autonomy: Karl Renner's Contribution", in: Uri Ra'anan, et al., eds., State and Nation in Multi-ethnic Societies: The Breakup of Multinational States (Manchester UP, 1991), pp. 38-39.
- Esman, "The Management of Communal Conflict", p. 66.
- Alexis Heraclides, "Secessionist Minorities and External Involvement", International Organization 44/3 (1990), p. 370.
- Ibid., pp. 370-371.
- Ibid., p. 370.
- Brown, "The Causes and Regional Dimensions of Internal Conflict", pp. 591-595.
- Heraclides, "Secessionist Minorities and External Involvement", p. 342.
- Alexis Heraclides, The Self-Determination of Minorities in International Politics (Frank Cass, 1991), p. 22.
- Stephen John Stedman, "Negotiation and Mediation in Internal Conflict", in: Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict, p. 350.
- Ibid., pp. 349-350.
- David R. Segal & Robert J. Waldman, "Multinational Peacekeeping Operations: Background and Effectiveness", in: James Burk, ed., The Military in New Times: Adapting Armed Forces to a Turbulent World (Westview, 1994), p. 174.
- Jacob Bercovitch & Allison Houston, "The Study of International Mediation: Theoretical Issues and Empirical Evidence", in: Jacob Bercovitch, ed., Resolving International Conflict: The Theory and Practice of Mediation (Lynne Rienner, 1996), p. 23.
- Ibid., p. 21.
- Jeffrey Z. Rubin, "Conclusion: International Mediation in Context", in: Jacob Bercovitch & Jeffrey Z. Rubin, eds., Mediation in International Relations: Multiple Approaches to Conflict Management (Macmillan, 1992), pp. 254-256.
- Peter J. Carnevale & Sharon Arad, "Bias and Impartiality in International Mediation", in: Bercovitch, ed., Resolving International Conflict, p. 46.
- Bercovitch & Houston, "The Study of International Mediation", p. 12.
- Boutros Boutros-Ghali, An Agenda for Peace (UN, 1992), p. 28.
- Chantal de Jonge Oudraat, "The United Nations and Internal Conflict", in: Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict, pp. 506-507.
- Ibid., pp. 509-511.
- Regarding military intervention by the UN, Mats Berdal, Whither UN Peacekeeping: An Analysis of the Changing Military Requirements of UN Peacekeeping with Proposals for Its Enhancement (The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1993), pp. 49-50. Regarding U.S. military intervention in particular, Ivo H. Daalder, "The United States and Military Intervention in Internal Conflict", in: Brown, ed., The International Dimensions of Internal Conflict, pp. 470-471.
- Ronald J. Fisher, "Pacific Impartial Third-Party Intervention in International Conflict: An Review and an Analysis", in: John A. Vasquez, et al., eds., Beyond Confrontation: Learning Conflict Resolution in the Post-Cold War Era (Michigan UP, 1995), p. 49.
- Regarding Track Two, John Burton & Frank Dukes, Conflict: Practices in Management, Settlement and Resolution (Macmillan, 1990), pp. 139-142.
80 Politics of Ethnic Coexistence