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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .


Demographic Struggle for Power
Milica Zarkovic Bookman

(London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1997).
Hb.:32.50/$45.00; ISBN 0-7146-4752-7. Pb.: 15.00/$19.50; ISBN 0-7146-4308-4.



As scholars, it is important to understand that which we find abhorrent. The purpose of Bookman's work is to comprehend the logic behind such policies as ethnic cleansing, the promotion or discouragement of births, forced assimilation, and genocide. The author convincingly argues that the underlying dynamic of nearly all ethnic conflicts is the belief that there is strength in numbers; as a result, leaders seek to increase one's population relative to that of potential enemies. This is the demographic struggle for power.

Bookman's numerous examples span across region and level of economic development; though the focus is primarily on modern cases. The author's background in and inclinations toward political economy are obvious. However, the author shows an acute understanding of how economic power is tied to political power and how this in turn is tied to ethnic group security and dominance. In addition, Bookman shows how economic inducements, policies, and discrimination often play a crucial role in demographic engineering.

The first and second chapters provide the background and basic dynamics of the demographic struggle for power by making the link between power and the relative size of ethnic groups. Chapters three through seven examine different policies through which ethnic leaders attempt to manipulate population size: censuses; pro- and anti-fertility policies; assimilation; forced population movements; genocide; secession and irredentism. Chapter eight examines economic pressures underlying demographic change. In the conclusion, Bookman proposes severing the link between demographics and political power by adjusting internal boundaries so that ethnicity does not coincide with substate regions.

The weakest section is Bookman's conclusion. In some cases ethnic regions actually prevent conflict because they provide some semblance of security to ethnic groups and shift conflicts to the substate level. While this is not true in every case, it is not given its due. Also, the author misreads the case of prewar Bosnia which possessed the kind of substate regions called for by Bookman. Now that Bosnia's internal units are more or less ethnically defined, it is possible that each group will feel secure enough to work together.

There is also the broader problem of intention: while some of the policies cited can have demographic consequences, this may not be their purpose. Although Bookman shows an understanding of this, some examples lack the important link between intention and policy.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent book and appropriate for both undergraduates and specialists. It is strongly recommended.


Thomas Ambrosio, University of Virginia



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