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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 1 .

The Dynamic of Secession
Viva Ona Bartkus

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)
272pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: ISBN 0-5216-5032-1 Pb.: ISBN 0-5216-5970-1

Bartkus' near forensic examination of secession is highly recommended. It does not take the obvious case study approach to the subject, although it is packed with empirical detail and is eclectic in its use of examples. Instead, Bartkus' work rests on a novel conceptualisation of secession along the lines of the costs and benefits of membership of a state or secession from it. Benefits of membership are regarded as restraints on secession. Rising membership costs are a critical factor leading to secession. Four necessary elements for a secession crisis are set out: a distinct community, a territory, leaders and discontentment (pp. 10-15).

The book raises a key issue with regard to secession: why does the extension of greater autonomy blunt the energy of some secessionist movements and merely encourage others to press for greater powers? The author quite rightly steers the reader away from glib generalisations, and the costs and benefits of secession/membership formulation provides a useful framework to approach the issue. At times the actual dynamic of secessionist struggles is somewhat unclear. The costs and benefits formulation is better at explaining the conditions under which secession can and cannot come about rather than shedding light on the actual processes of secession. Nevertheless, this is a genuine contribution to the literature and while theoretically rigorous, is not hampered by the international relations love of jargon.

Roger Mac Ginty
Lancaster University

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