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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2001, Vol. 4 No. 2 .


Game of Mirrors: Centre-Periphery National Conflicts
Francisco Letamendia

Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000
370pp. Hb.: 45.00; ISBN 0-7546-1361-5



Letamendia's book is noteworthy for its insightful analysis of nationalism and the nationalist question. The starting point for his analysis stems from Rokkan's theory of the four cleavages in Western societies: class, church-state, tradition-modernity and centre-periphery. The author focuses on the latter of these cleavages. Further, the theme running throughout this book is the mirror-game nature of peripheral and centralist nationalisms. More specifically, while non-violent nationalisms only mirror-image the national community and/or society, violent nationalisms mirror-image the state's monopoly of the use of force.

The book is organised into two parts. The first part discusses in great detail the nature and characteristics of the peripheral and centralist nationalisms. Most of the argument is devoted to the peripheral national movements that "emerged as a reaction to state processes of political integration and national acculturation". These nationalist movements are distinguished by the fact that they pass from an ethnic and selective identity-based phase to a rational instrumental phase. The former phase is characterised by the mirror-imaging of the community and the latter phase by "the construction of society and demands for institutionalisation that are inclusive of all inhabitants of the territory and not just the members of the ethnic group". However, whilst Letamendia's model fits well into the "geopolitical area of Western Europe, its application on a global scale is uncertain". Other nationalisms that are more important on a global scale, like e.g. break up of states, pan-nationalisms, non-territorial and a-national ethnic movements are also dealt with, however, in less detail. The second part discusses the relationship between nationalism and violence. Both the violence exerted by the peripheral nationalist movements and the state-centre response to it are thoroughly analysed and again interesting mirror-images are pointed out. In addition, a set of eight case studies (Macedonia, Palestine, Kurdistan, Punjab Sikhs, Tamils in Sri-Lanka, Corsica, Southern Basques, Northern Ireland) substantiates the theoretical reasoning.

The book provides a very interesting theoretical exploration of the nationalist phenomenon, firmly underpinned by a range of facts, examples and case studies. However, occasionally, the style of writing demands quite some stamina from the reader.


Arnim Langer



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