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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

The Politics of Ethnicity in Central Europe
Karl Cordell (ed.)

London: Macmillan Press. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000
224pp. Index. Hb.: ISBN 0-333-73171-9

Though an edited volume, this does not appear to be the product of a conference or workshop, but instead an organized attempt to examine the problem of "ethnicity" in Central Europe through what the editor calls the "prism of Silesia." The goal in exploring the history of Silesia is to better understand why ethnicity has been the focus of so much conflict in the region, while disavowing primordial, biological explanations of that phenomena. It begins with two theoretical chapters, one describing the evolution of nationalism and the national idea in the east compared to the west, and the second on the debates surrounding the status of minorities in the states of Poland, Germany and the Czech and Slovak Republics today. These are followed by chapters on the deep history of the region, i.e. the place of Germany in pre-modern Central Europe, the emergence of Silesian identity in the "modern" era, and finally, several chapters on the fate of Silesia during the interwar and post World War II periods. Throughout, the authors provide empirical evidence to demonstrate the fluidity of identity in a region that has been contested by a number of empires and modern states. Most of the work focuses on Upper Silesia, which has been subject to alternating German and Polish assimilationist policies. Evidence is drawn convincingly from censuses taken by various governing bodies to demonstrate that Silesian national identity has indeed been quite fluid and responsive to both the larger processes of economic change as well as "political expediency". The authors make an effort not to favor one national interpretation, and in the end come down most positively in favor of the possibilities of European Union. In concluding chapters, they suggest that support for multi-leveled EU institutions seems to encourage the articulation of multiple identities and loyalties, seeing these as preferable to what Cordell and Kamusella refer to as their "monistic national counterparts"(p. 198). What perhaps limits the appeal of this well-researched and edited volume is the unsexiness of the case study itself in a region fraught with so many others to choose from. But this is perhaps also the best rationale for choosing it for adoption in a graduate or sophisticated undergraduate level course on the politics of ethnicity, nationalism or nation-building in East Central Europe. Precisely because the region was once prone to conflict but now seems to have moved beyond it, the case could be reasonably paired with readings on the worst-case scenario, the Balkans. We learn as much about where conflict is likely to emerge from looking at cases where it hasn't as much as from places where it has. Indeed, Rogers Brubaker made a similar argument for exploring in more detail a conflict that has not reoccurred between Romania and Hungary. As a comparativist working on ethnopolitics in the regions, I only wish the authors had made some of these cross-national comparisons more explicit.

Kathleen Dowley, SUNY, New Platz

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