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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


Ethnic Conflicts and Civil Society: Proposals for a New Era in Eastern Europe
Edited by Andres Klinke, Ortwin Renn, Jean-Paul Lehners

(Aldershot: Ashgate, 1998)
282pp. Bibl. Hb.: 42.50; ISBN 1-84014-455-6. Pb.: ISBN 1-84014-462-9.



Ethnic Conflicts and Civil Society constitutes an attempt to analyse some of the countries where ethnic politics (as in the Ukraine) or ethnic conflict (as in former Yugoslavia) took precedence over the development of a civil society. Beyond analysis, this edited volume, the outcome of a conference in Luxembourg, seeks to point to ways out of the ethnic vicious circle and towards inter-ethnic co-operation (such as in Switzerland or the United States).

The editors and Ursel Schlichting attempt in two separate articles to find an overall theoretical approach to ethnic conflicts and their resolution. Klinke, Renn and Lehners present the federalism of the United States as a positive example for resolving tensions between antagonistic ethnic groups. Renn further elaborates the 'main principle of social cohesion in the United States' in a separate article. While the authors correctly identify the reasons for successful multiethnic coexistence in the United States, it can not directly serve as an example for Central and Eastern Europe. The United States as an immigrant society presupposes a degree of voluntarism (with the notable exception of native Americans and African-Americans) in opting for the 'melting pot'. In Central and Eastern Europe the multi-ethnicity, however, is the outcome of states moving, while populations involuntarily become a minority in a nation state of the majority. The absence of 'historical rights' and territory of ethnic groups in the United States is the outcome of an immigrant society, while reducing the historical and geographical justifications for ethnic predominance in South-eastern Europe will remain much more difficult to be overcome. The approach presented by Albert Reiterer and Kurt Spillmann, who introduce, respectively, Western Europe (Belgium in particular) and Switzerland as examples, tends to offer greater potential in the cases under consideration here. While both countries, especially Belgium, possess considerable internal tensions, the overlapping multiple institutional networks, the great degree of decentralisation and the multiple channels of intra-'ethnic' communication have enabled a peaceful coexistence.

The case studies from Central and Eastern Europe mostly serve to demonstrate the problems of unresolved ethnic tensions. Nadia Skenderovic Cuk describes the Yugoslav case as such, while Mirijana Morokvasic, Drago Roksandic and Silvo Devetak discuss the particular cases of the Vojvodina, Croatia and Slovenia, respectively. All the authors correctly examine the positive signs of multiethnic co-operation these cases, despite the overall conflict. Besides former Yugoslavia, Ukraine and Romania are also examined in separate articles.

Altogether this edited volume touches as many ethnic conflicts and multi-ethnic settings, as it leaves out. The challenges in the Southern Balkans (Macedonia, Kosovo, and Bulgaria) are unfortunately not mentioned. Also some West European mechanisms for the resolution of ethnic tensions would have merited further discussion, such as the status of Swedes in Finland or the autonomy of Catalonia in Spain. Finally, one has to beware of seeing Western Europe as a 'cure' for the problems in Eastern Europe. Ethnic politics remain problematic in large parts of Western Europe as well, and some of the most promising theoretical concepts for the solution of such conflicts, in particular cultural autonomy have their origins in South-eastern Europe.

Florian Bieber
Central European University - Budapest


Zhidas Daskalovski, Central European University - Budapest



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