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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 1 .

Federalism Against Ethnicity? Institutional, Legal and Democratic Instruments to Prevent Violent Minority Conflicts
Edited by Günther Bächler.

(Zürich: Verlag Rüegger, 1997)
335pp. Pb.: ISBN 3 7253 0559 5.

It is perhaps ironic that Switzerland, as one of the few states which is not a member of the UN, celebrated the organisation's 50th anniversary in 1995, but it was certainly appropriate that federalism was the chosen theme for one of the events to mark the occasion. This volume contains the proceedings of an international conference in Basel, organised by the Swiss Peace Foundation. According to the cover text, "[t]he aim was, first, to analyse the problems of minority conflict resolution through federalism and, second, to examine a set of selected countries as case studies in this context." The book contains 20 papers, divided into four sections: Minorities in Intrastate Conflicts; Africa; Europe; Asia and South America. There are short general papers by Ted Robert Gurr, Ekkart Zimmermann, René Lemarchand and others, and case studies on Belgium, Burma, Colombia, Kashmir, Nigeria, Romania, Rwanda and South Africa.

The 50+ pages long contribution by Monty G Marshall on societal disintegration, arrested development and political violence seems rather out of line with the rest of the book. It is a bold attempt to develop a systemic view on these global issues by following a strictly positivistic approach and using quantitative data sets on war and conflict in the post-WWII era. The policy prescriptions at the end, however, not only strike me as quite banal and self-evident (albeit in complex 'systemic' jargon), they don't seem to bear much connection with the preceding mass of theorizing and empirical data. Nor, for that matter, does the paper throw any light on the issue of federalism!

The final part of the book contains the text of the 'Charter of Basel' adopted by the conference participants, with an introduction by Bächler. The Charter is addressed at governments, minorities and international organisations; while it stays clear of providing ready-made solutions ("there is no universally valid model for settling minority and ethnopolitical conflicts"), it tries to steer a balanced course between state sovereignty, self-determination, and the international requirement for intervention to protect human rights. It calls, unsurprisingly, for conflict resolution through (various forms of) federal democracy and political participation from the bottom up. There is little new here in an academic sense, but it can provide a useful focus for international political campaigning. The volume as a whole (minus the strange bird referred to above) certainly qualifies as a good state-of-the-art overview on federalism.

Guus Meijer, Conciliation Resources, London

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