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Ethnopluralism: Panacea for East Central Europe?

  • Rasma Karklins (a1)


Worldwide, ethnopolitics takes on various shapes. Yet, while politics involving ethnicity can be either conflictual, competitive, or cooperative, analysts typically focus either on instances of conflict or ignore the multiethnicity of states by sticking to “the comfortable integrationist presumptions of the 1950s.” All too rarely does one find analyses of policies that work in difficult situations. This global trend is intensified in the case of Eastern Europe. As this region has suffered instances of ethnic politics gone wrong—most recently in the former Yugoslavia—many analysts assume that constructive approaches to ethnic relations are impossible, even though they are needed more than ever. Here, I outline a model of ethnopolitics which is both democratic and constructive, has been used in East Central Europe in the past, and has potential for the future. In presenting the case for ethnopluralism, I outline a promising alternative to ethnic conflict or neglect.



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1. Joseph Rothschild, Ethnopolitics: A Conceptual Framework (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), p. 84.

2. Crawford Young, “The Temple of Ethnicity,” World Politics, Vol. 35, No. 3, 1983, p. 656. Early optimism about the simplicity of nation building in the developing world soon led to analyses pinpointing its complexities; for example, Cynthia H. Enloe, Ethnic Conflict and Political Development (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973).

3. Arend Lijphart, Democracy in Plural Society (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); and Rasma Karklins, Ethnopolitics and Transition to Democracy: The Collapse of the USSR and Latvia (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994).

4. John Burton, Conflict: Resolution and Prevention (New York: St Martin's, 1990), p. 140.

5. Andre Liebich, “Nations, States, Minorities: Why is Eastern Europe Different?Dissent, Vol. 42, 1995, pp. 313317.

6. Similar policies may be useful in the Balkans or other close neighbors—for example, Romania or Ukraine—but discussing this goes beyond the focus of this paper.

7. Vernon Van Dyke, “The Individual, the State, and Ethnic Communities in Political Theory,” World Politics, Vol. 29, No. 2, 1977, pp. 343369.

8. Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995), p. 15; Michael Walzer, “Pluralism: A Political Perspective,” in Will Kymlicka, ed., The Rights of Minority Cultures (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), pp. 139155.

9. Sharon Wolchik, “The Politics of Ethnicity in Post-Communist Czechoslovakia,” East European Politics and Societies, Vol. 8, No. 1, 1994, p. 158.

10. Raymond N. Morris and C. Michael Lanphier, Three Scales of Inequality: Perspectives on French-English Relations (Don Mills, Ontario: Longman Canada, 1977), p. 10; Van Dyke, op. cit., p. 365; Tove Skutnabb-Kangas and Robert Phillipson, eds, Linguistic Human Rights (Berlin: Moutone de Gruyter, 1995).

11. M. Crawford Young, “The National and Colonial Question and Marxism: A View from the South,” in Motyl, Alexander, ed., Thinking Theoretically about Soviet Nationalities, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), p. 77.

12. Kymlicka, op. cit., p. 69.

13. Jacqueline C. Simpson, “Pluralism: The Evolution of a Nebulous Concept,” American Behavioral Scientist, Vol. 38, No. 3, 1995, p. 459; on the innumerable definitions of pluralism see also ‘Traditions in Pluralist Thought’, special issue of International Political Science Review, Vol. 17, No. 3, 1996.

14. For example, George A. De Vos, “Ethnic Pluralism: Conflict and Accommodation,” in Lola Romanucci-Ross and George De Vos, eds, Ethnic Identity: Creation, Conflict, and Accommodation (Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, 1995), pp. 528.

15. Simpson, op. cit., p. 463, referring to W. W. Gordon, “Models of Pluralism: The New American Dilemma,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 454, 1981, pp. 178188.

16. Simpson, ibid., pp. 463464.

17. Sammy Smootha and Theodore Hanf, “Conflict-Regulation in Deeply-Divided Societies,” in John Hutchinson and Anthony D. Smith, eds, Ethnicity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), p. 332.

18. Frederick Barth, Ethnic Groups and Boundaries: The Social Organization of Cultural Differences (London: Allen & Unwin, 1969).

19. Compare also Iris Marion Young, Justice and the Politics of Difference (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990).

20. Arend Lijphart rejects this and states that while in the short run consociationalist institutions do indeed strengthen distinctiveness, the latter decreases in salience in the long run as mutual acceptance increases. Lijphart, op. cit., p. 228.

21. Uri Ra'anan, “The Nation-State Fallacy,” in Joseph V. Montville, ed., Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies (Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1990), p. 15.

22. Theodore Hanf, “Reducing Conflict through Cultural Autonomy: Karl Renner's Contribution,” in Uri Ra'aanan et al., eds, State and Nation in Multi-Ethnic Societies (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991), p. 40.

23. John Coakley, “Approaches to the Resolution of Ethnic Conflict: The Strategy of Non-territorial Autonomy,” International Political Science Review, Vol. 15, No. 3, 1994, p. 300.

24. Dietrich A. Loeber, “Language Rights in Independent Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania,” in S. Vilfan, ed., Ethnic Groups and Language Rights, Vol. 3 (New York: New York University Press, 1993), pp. 221249.

25. Arend Lijphart, Democracies: Patterns of Majoritarian and Consensus Government in Twenty-One Countries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984), p. 84.

26. Coakley, op. cit., p. 307; he cites excellent primary sources.

27. For a review of the protection of minorities by the League of Nations, see Oscar I. Janowsky, Nationalities and National Minorities (with Special Reference to East-Central Europe) (New York: Macmillan, 1945), pp. 110192.

28. C. A. Macartney, National States and National Minorities (London: Oxford University Press, 1934).

29. Carl J. Friedrich, Trends of Federalism in Theory and Practice (New York: Praeger, 1968), p. 124.

30. Coakley, op. cit., p. 299.

31. Ruth Lapidoth, Autonomy: Flexible Solutions to Ethnic Conflicts (Washington: United States Institute of Peace, 1996), p. 37.

32. Coakley, op. cit., p. 299; also Uri Ra'anan, “Nation and State: Order out of Chaos,” in Ra'anan, State and Nation, pp. 332.

33. Various contributions in Ra'aanan, State and Nation. Choice is crucial: “personal autonomy has a great advantage over territorial autonomy: As mentioned, it usually applies only to people who opt to be members of the group for which it is established. Territorial autonomy, on the other hand, may apply to all the inhabitants of a certain region … including some who may resent it.” Lapdoth, op. cit., p. 39.

34. Juliet Langman, “Expressing Identity in a Changing Society: Hungarian Youth in Slovakia,” in Laszlo Kurti and Juliet Langman, eds, Beyond Borders: Remaking Cultural Identities in the New East and Central Europe (Boulder: Westview Press, 1997), pp. 111131.

35. This is my own summary, but compare, for example, F. M. Barnard, Herder's Social and Political Thought: From Enlightenment to Nationalism (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 5867, 173177.

36. Compare George Klein and Milan J. Reban, eds, The Politics of Ethnicity in Eastern Europe (Boulder: East European Monographs, 1981); Peter F. Sugar, ed., Ethnic Diversity and Conflict in Eastern Europe (Santa Barbara: ABC-Clio, 1979); George Schopflin, “Nationalism and Ethnicity in Europe, East and West,” in Charles A. Kupchan, ed., Nationalism and Nationalities in the New Europe (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1995), pp. 3765.

37. Compare especially Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983), p. 12 and passim.

38. Compare Anthony H. Richmond, “Ethnic Nationalism: Social Science Paradigms,” International Social Science Journal, Vol. 39, No. 1, 1987, pp. 318.

39. Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, “Introduction,” in Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, eds, Ethnicity: Theory and Experience (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975), p. 3.

40. Ernest Gellner, Nations and Nationalism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), p. 43.

41. Kymlicka, op. cit., p. 50, citing Ernest Barker, National Character and the Factors in its Formation (London: Methuen, 1948), p. 248.

42. Catherine Brolmann et al., eds, Peoples and Minorities in International Law (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers), 1993.

43. Compare, for example, Janusz Bugajski, Ethnic Politics in Eastern Europe (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1994), p. xiii and passim; Joseph Rothschild, East Central Europe between the Two World Wars (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1974).

44. Donald L. Horowitz, Ethnic Groups in Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), p. 178.

45. This argument follows Karklins, Ethnopolitics and Transition to Democracy, especially chapter 2; a different analysis of links between ethnopolitics and the break-up of the federal communist states is presented by Carol Skalnik Leff, “Democratization and Disintegration in Multinational States: The Breakup of the Communist Federations,” World Politics, Vol.51, No. 2, 1999, pp. 205235.

46. Walker Connor, The National Question in Marxist-Leninist Theory and Strategy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 533580.

47. Henry S. Kariel, “Pluralism,” in Daniel L. Sills, ed., International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 12 (New York: Macmillan, 1968), pp. 164169.

48. Karklins, Ethnopolitics and Transition to Democracy, chapter 5; Giuseppe Di Palma, “Legitimation from the Top to Civil Society: Politico-Cultural Change in Eastern Europe,” World Politics, Vol. 43, No. 1, 1991, pp. 4980.

49. Daniel H. Levine, “Paradigm Lost: Dependence to Democracy,” World Politics, Vol. 60, No. 3, 1988, p. 388; Juan Linz, “Transitions to Democracy,” Washington Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3, 1990, p. 152.

50. Jan T. Gross, “Poland: From Civil Society to Political Nation,” in Ivo Banac, ed., Eastern Europe in Revolution (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992); V. Stanley Vardys, “Sajudis: National Revolution in Lithuania,” in Jan Arveds Trapans, ed., Toward Independence: The Baltic Popular Movements (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), pp. 1124.

51. Bugajski, op. cit., p. xx. The volume presents excellent accounts of individual ethnic groups, including the Roma, asking for collective rights such as recognition of their group name, schools, language rights, and some forms of autonomy.

52. Gale Stokes, Three Eras of Political Change in Eastern Europe (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 151.

53. This formulation was used by Ashutosh Varshney in a seminar discussion at the Woodrow Wilson Center, July 1991.

54. Paul Q. Hirst, “Introduction,” in Paul Q. Hirst, ed., The Pluralist Theory of the State (London: Routledge, 1989), p. 2.

55. Ibid., p. 28.

56. Hundreds of thousands of Germans and Jews have been emigrating from the former USSR and Eastern Europe since the early 1970s, and in the 1950s many Poles were resettled to Poland from the territories annexed by the USSR in 1939. Compare Joseph B. Schechtman, European Population Transfers, 1939–1945 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1971), and numerous articles on Jewish and German emigration.

57. Jane Perlez, “Slovak Leader Fans a Region's Old Ethnic Flames,” New York Times, 12 October 1997, p. 3.

58. For an argument that the break-up of the USSR was both the collapse of an empire and the failure of a state, see Mark R. Beissinger, “Demise of an Empire-State: Identity, Legitimacy, and the Deconstruction of Soviet Politics,” in Crawford Young, ed., The Rising Tide of Cultural Pluralism (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1993), pp. 93115.

59. Donald L. Horowitz, “Ethnic Conflict Management for Policymakers,” in Montville, op. cit., pp. 115139.

60. Frank S. Cohen, “Proportional versus Majoritarian Ethnic Conflict Management in Democracies,” Comparative Political Studies, Vol. 30, No. 5, 1997, pp. 607630.

61. Ian Lustick, “Stability in Deeply Divided Societies: Consociationalism versus Control,” World Politics, Vol. 31, No. 3, 1979, pp. 325344.

62. Smootha and Hanf, op. cit., passim. Compare also Rogers Brubaker, Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992); Yoav Peled, “Ethnic Democracy and the Legal Construction of Citizenship: Arab Citizens of the Jewish State,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 86, No. 2, 1992, pp. 432443.

63. William Safran, “Non-separatist Approaches Regarding Ethnic Minorities: Positive Approaches and Ambiguous Consequences,” International Political Science Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, 1994, pp. 6180.

64. Priit Jarve and Kornelija Jurgaitiene, “Multiculturalism in American Universities: A Lesson for the Baltics?Proceedings of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences, Vol. 42, No. 4, 1993, pp. 345356.

65. For an interesting argument about “nationalizing” policies in Eastern Europe, compare Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), ch. 4.

66. As noted by the former Swedish prime minister, by 1994 the issue of Russians in Latvia and Estonia had moved to the center stage of Russia's foreign policy. Carl Bildt, “The Baltic Litmus Test,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 5, 1994, p. 80.

67. Kymlicka, op. cit., pp. 45, 57.

68. Philip Gleason, “Pluralism and Assimilation: A Conceptual History,” in John Edwards, ed., Linguistic Minorities, Policies and Pluralism (London: Academic Press, 1984), pp. 221257, especially p. 239.

69. Milton J. Esman, “The State and Language Policy,” International Political Science Review, Vol. 13, No. 4 1992, pp. 381396.

70. William Safran, “Ethnicity and Pluralism: Comparative and Theoretical Perspectives,” Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, Vol. 18, Nos 1–2, 1991, pp. 112; also G. Bingham Powell, Jr, Social Fragmentation and Political Hostility: An Austrian Case Study (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1970), pp. 35.

71. Safran, ibid., p. 8 refers to Dahl's Polyarchy.

72. John A. Armstrong, “Assessing the Soviet Nationalities Movements: A Critical Review,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 19, No. 1, 1991, p. 11.

73. Vernon Van Dyke, Human Rights, Ethnicity, and Discrimination (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985).

74. Ibid., p. 194.

75. Lijphart, op. cit., p. 88 and passim.

76. Paul Dixon, “Consociationalism and the Northern Ireland Peace Process: The Glass Half Full or Half Empty?Nationalism and Ethnic Politics, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1997, p. 23; for other criticisms, see Paul Brass, Ethnicity and Nationalism: Theory and Comparison (London: Sage, 1991), pp. 333348.

77. Toivo Raun, “Ethnic Relations and Conflict in the Baltic States,” in W. Raymond Duncan and G. Paul Holman, Jr, eds, Ethnic Nationalism and Regional Conflict: The Former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia (Boulder: Westview, 1994); also Andrejs Plakans, The Latvians (Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 1995).

78. Juris Dreifelds, Latvia in Transition (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1996; Karklins, Ethnopolitics and Transition to Democracy, pp. 90115, 141165.

79. The 1992 Constitution of Estonia mentioned cultural autonomy in articles 6 and 50.

80. Aksel Kirch, “Russians in the Baltic States: To Be or Not to Be,” Journal of Baltic Studies, Vol. 24, No. 2, 1993, p. 180.

81. Between 10% and 20% of this population have left, mostly in 1990–1992. Elmars Vebers, “Demography and Ethnic Politics in Independent Latvia: Some Basic Facts,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 21, No. 2, 1993, pp. 179194; Aksel Kirch, ed., The Integration of Non-Estonians into Estonian Society: History, Problems, Trends (Tallinn: Estonia Academy Publishers, 1997).

82. Rasma Karklins, “Ethnic Integration and School Policies in Latvia,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 26, No. 2, 1998, pp. 283302.

83. Royal Institute of International Affairs, The Baltic States (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), pp. 3335; Detlef Henning, “Die Sprachenpolitik und die Gewahrleistung des Bildungswesens nationaler Minderheiten in Lettland,” in Boris Meissner et al., eds, Der Aufbau einer freiheitlichdemokratischen Ordnung in den baltischen Staaten (Hamburg: Bibliotheca Baltica, 1995), pp. 257289.

84. Anatol Lieven, for one, has revised his gloomy predictions about increasing ethnic conflict in the Baltic states. Response to questions, “Nation-Building in the Baltic States” Conference, University of Chicago, 2–4 May 1996. See also David D. Laitin, Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998).

85. Vebers, op. cit., pp. 179194; Kirch, op. cit.

86. Zsuzsa Csergo, “Parallel Institutions? Language and the Contestation of Institutional Space in Romania and Slovakia,” paper delivered at the convention of the APSA, Boston, 3–7 September 1998, p. 20.

87. David Lucas, Ethnic Bipolarism in Slovakia, 1989–1995 (Seattle: Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, 1996), pp. 2223.

88. The Hungarians were close to unanimous in rejecting the dissolution of the Czechoslovak federation. Lucas, op. cit., p. 11.

89. Csergo, op. cit., p. 46.

90. Lucas, op. cit., p. 13, 16.

91. Mary Neuburger, “Bulgaro-Turkish Encounters and the Re-imaging of the Bulgarian Nation,” East European Quarterly, Vol. 31, No. 1, 1997, p. 6.

92. Ali Eminov, “The Turks in Bulgaria: Post-1989 Developments,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 27, No. 1, 1999, pp. 3155; Ivan Ilchev and Duncan M. Perry, “Bulgarian Ethnic Groups: Politics and Perceptions,” RFE/RL Research Report, Vol. 2, No. 14, 1993, pp. 3541.

93. Petya Nitzova, “Bulgaria: Minorities, Democratization, and National Sentiments,” Nationalities Papers, Vol. 25, No. 4, 1997, p. 733.

94. Eminov, op. cit., p. 51.

95. Compare Zoltan Barany, “Orphans of Transition: Gypsies in Eastern Europe,” Journal of Democracy, July 1998, pp. 142156.

96. Compare Steven L. Burg, “Preventing Ethnic Conflict: Macedonia and the Pluralist Paradigm,” Meeting Report, East European Studies, Woodrow Wilson Center, 19 February 1997.

97. Robert Melson and Howard Wolpe, “Modernization and the Politics of Communalism: A Theoretical Perspective,” American Political Science Review, Vol. 64, No. 4, 1970, p. 1130. For a similar point, see Kenneth D. MacRae, “Theories of Power-Sharing and Conflict Management,” in Montville, op. cit., pp. 9394.

Parts of the research for this paper were supported by grants from the United States Institute for Peace and the East European Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Studies.

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Ethnopluralism: Panacea for East Central Europe?

  • Rasma Karklins (a1)


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