Monday, January 11, 2010

'Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies'

This book review appeared originally in the New York City Tribune on Tuesday, March 13, 1990.

People in Conflict: Ethnic Loyalties Versus The Need to Govern 

Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies, edited by Joseph V. Montville, Lexington Books, $58.95, 559 pp.

Since World War II, political scientists have asserted that as countries become urbanized and industrialized, improve communications, and participate more fully in international relations, ethnic tensions within the countries’ borders will disappear. Yet evidence from the Third World and, more lately, from within the Soviet Union, testifies that violent ethnic conflict continues to be a crucial issue in many countries, one that diplomats and public officials will have to deal with for years to come.

In Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies, a new volume edited by U.S. foreign service officer Joseph V. Montville, international experts discuss the tasks faced by societies in which different ethnic groups come into contact and conflict.

In the flush of optimism that followed the defeat of ultranationalist ideologies in World War II, many political scientists assumed that nationalism or ethnic identity as a political force had ended. Newly independent colonies in what came to be known as the Third World were looked upon as undergoing the process of “nation-building,” while in fact they faced a great deal of difficulty in bringing together different and often adversarial ethnic groups under a single flag within borders imposed by an outside power.

In the first essay, Prof. Uri Ra’anan of Boston University notes that “the territorial frontiers of the state and the ethnic boundaries of the constituent nation rarely coincide.” The exceptions among the 170-plus sovereign countries are Iceland, Norway, Portugal, and perhaps a few others.

Ra’anan also notes that the concept of nationality or ethnic group differs among cultures. In the West, nationality is a juridical concept defined by territory. A person, under this concept, owes loyalty to the state in which he lives, “to the point where, in American English, one speaks of a national of a country when one actually means a citizen.” By contrast, in other cultures, a person’s nationality or ethnic group is determined not by where an individual resides but rather by who she is, determined by cultural, religious, or historic factors. In Russia and the East ethnicity is determined by “cultural touchstones” such as ancestral language and name, while in the Mediterranean and the Near East, religion is a more important determining factor.

Does ethnic conflict exist in the modern West? Most people would say no, because it has no visible, violent manifestation. There is such conflict, as Prof. Martin Heisler of the University of Maryland points out; it is simply that ethnic conflict in the West has been channeled into more peaceful and constructive directions. Since the mid-1960s. about 3,000 people have died in ethnic conflicts in the West, almost all of them in two countries, Northern Ireland and Spain. Heisler notes that in the West, “the politics of contemporary ethnicity and ethnic relations derive more from the nature of the modern democratic state and its political styles than from qualities in dwelling ethnicity or the dynamics of ethnic groups.” In other words, it is not the people who are different in the West, but the structures through which they settle disputes and channel their political differences.

Moreover, there is a cultural difference in the way ethnicity shapes an individual’s identity in the West, in contrast to other regions of the world. For instance, the modern, urbanized citizen of the West can choose how much his ethnic identity means in relation to his membership in other groups. In less developed countries, “ethnicity means belonging and is essentially a given,” whereas in liberal, industrialized democracies, ethnicity “is more akin to a chosen affiliation.” As a consequence, Heisler writes, “ethnic groups in the modern West hardly resemble the functionally and structurally comprehensive, inclusive societal divisions they constitute in other settings.” Political, social, and economic forces define intergroup relations far more effectively than any inherent ethnic divisions or similarities.

Canadian political scientist Kenneth McRae contributes a discussion of the concept of consociational democracy, a term originally introduced in 1967 by Arend Lijphart. The “model countries” for the theory of consociational democracy are Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. McCrae looks at Lijphart’s description of consociational democracy, what critics have had to say about it, and some alternatives to the model that have been suggested by others.

McRae says that the distinguishing feature of consociational democracy “is the ability of the leaders of the contending subcultures to avoid the dangers of intergroup conflict through cooperation.” Lijphart stressed the “voluntary, rational, purposive, and contractual elements of consociational democracy” and has also emphasized the assertion that “consociationalism is an example that can be freely and deliberately followed.”

By contrast, Gerhard Lehmbruch and Hans Daalder emphasize the particular historical settings in which these democratic systems happened to emerge. McRae notes that “although this view does not reject the idea that consociational methods might be transplanted to other settings, it does suggest that the success or failure of the transfer may depend on the specific political culture to a degree that Lijphart was reluctant to recognize.”

An important question often asked regarding the theory of consociational democracy is, Can the model be transplanted in the Third World? Lijphart himself applied consociational analysis to the situation in South Africa in a 1985 book. Third World countries possess both positive and negative factors that may affect their ability to use the consociational model. In some countries, “precolonial traditions of collective decisionmaking” can contribute positively to the adaptation of the model. In other cases, negative “developmental dynamics of Third World societies,” described by McRae as “stagnant political development, loss of deference to elites, increasing cross- cultural contacts through urbanization, rising expectations, fading memories of the shared liberation struggle,” and others, serve as obstacles to adapting the model under local circumstances.

This review has just been able to scratch the surface of Conflict and Peacemaking in Multiethnic Societies, a comprehensive volume that also includes case studies (Northern Ireland, the Sudan, and Sri Lanka), examining them in depth and within the context of their political and cultural settings. The analysis of most of the contributors is useful both for policyniakers faced with ethnic problems and for social scientists who study a wide variety of ethnic issues.

Richard E. Sincere is a Washington-based issues analyst who writes frequently on African affairs.

No comments: