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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .

The National Question: Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict, and Self-Determination in the 20th Century
Edited by Berch Berberoglu.

(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).
329pp. $49.95; ISBN 1-56639-342-6.
Pb.: $22.95: ISBN 1-56639-343-4.

While a little uneven in quality The National Question provides useful surveys of nationalist movements and inter-ethnic conflict in a wide range of current conflict situations. There are articles on Palestine, Kurdistan, South Africa, India, Puerto Rico, Northern Ireland, the Basque country, Quebec, the former Soviet Union, China, the former Yugoslavia and on Women in National Liberation Struggles in the Third World.

One of the strengths of the book is the attention paid to economic conditions by several of the contributors. They remind us that, while economic factors can not fully explain ethnic conflict they are a part of the explanation too important ever to be left out. One of the weaknesses of the book is the uncritical acceptance by several of the authors of traditional Marxist perspectives on the national question. The editor, Berch Berberoglu, in his preface, writes that resolving [the national question] is ... necessary before we can move ahead on the most fundamental of struggles: the class struggle . At this juncture in history it seems entirely possible that the national question will linger on in one form or another for quite some time. If it does, then Berberoglu s view suggests that the long-term prospects for successful class struggle are bleak indeed. The articles on the former Soviet Union by Levon Chorbajian and on China by Gerard Postiglione provide useful overviews of current issues around nationality and ethnicity in both areas, extremely useful for undergraduates. The article on former Yugoslavia by Jasminka Udovicki stands out for its clarity and is for the most part convincing in its analysis. Postiglione s article on China however raises as many questions as it answers and Tibetan nationalists at least will be unhappy with his reference to the Chinese liberation of Tibet. It is notable in a book with so many references to national liberation that there is no suggestion that national liberation is appropriate for minorities in either China or India.

The commitment to anti-imperialism leads to the loose use of terminology in at least one contribution. Gordon Welty, the author of Palestinian Nationalism and the Struggle for National Self-Determination refers in one paragraph to Palestinian Guerilla war and Zionist terrorism in the 1930s. Terrorism is a problematic term at the best of times but never more so than when it is posited as being clearly distinct in meaning from the term guerilla war .

On the subject of guerillas/terrorists, Ferhad Ibrahim in his article on Kurdish nationalism describes and agrees with the view that popular suppport for the PKK (Workers Party of Kurdistan) in Turkey has been based not on its political ideology but on its political methods - that is, armed action. This rings true and has implications for our understanding of the complex and ambiguous relationship between militarist and non-violent nationalist movements.

To those happy to use a text which deals with ethnicity and nationalism from an unapologetically Marxist standpoint The National Question will serve as a useful textbook for courses on ethnic or national conflict. To those sceptical of this perspective its principal attraction may well be the focus of several contributors on the underlying economic factors in a range of conflict situations, a focus absent in much of the literature on conflict and ethnicity.

Niall O Dochartaigh, National University of Ireland - Galway

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