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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


Democratization and Ethnic Peace: Patterns of Ethnopolitical Crisis Management in Post Soviet Settings
Aklaev, Airat R

Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999
294pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 42.50; ISBN 1-8401-4972-8.



This book provides a worthy diagnosis of one of the main perils of post-Soviet democratization. The success of democratization depends upon adequate resolution of ethnic disagreements. The author, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Ethnology, in a clever causal twist, advocates democracy itself as a framework most friendly for encouraging the resolution of ethnic disputes. Aklaev demonstrates democracy's effectiveness in dispute resolution in a comprehensive (but dense) literature review, then tests the hypothesis using information gleaned from four country case studies: Estonia, Lithuania, Moldova, and the Russian Federation. Each country has its own special historical issues (the presence of Russians in each country, for instance) which help to determine each country's potential for solving ethnic crises using democratic structures. Yet, "A lot depends upon specific interactions between the state and/or ethnic groups and - what is even more important - upon the critical choices made by salient elites" (p. 255). Three "ethnopolitical problem areas" are singled out for special examination: stateness, state effectiveness, and nationhood. Estonia and (especially) Lithuania have managed to carve out liberal democracies and use them to manage ethnic crises. Moldova and Russia have been less successful in both democratizing and managing ethnic conflict, though not complete failures at either. Another asset of this study is its wealth of information on conditions in the four countries. For instance, ethnic composition percentages for each country, going back to 1959, are presented in tabular format. Also, Aklaev tells in an authoritative manner the story of the days of early democratization in each country, using copious sources. Russian and East European scholars will wish to have this information in their libraries. A critique of this study is its limited comparative application. It is difficult to demonstrate that democratization is effective in bringing about ethnic peace without making reference to countries that have not democratized at all and their ability to contain ethnic conflict. Without variance on democracy, it is hard to know just how well democracy works to create ethnic peace. Despite that critique, and slight stylistic problems, I recommend this book, especially to Russian and East European specialists.


Ross E. Burkhart, Boise State University



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