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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

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Ethnicity and Territory in the Former Soviet Union
James Hughes and Gwendolyn Sasse (eds)

London: Frank Cass Publishers, 2002
272pp, HB: 45.00, ISBN 0-7146-5226-1, PB: 17.50, ISBN 0-7146-8210-1



Ethnicity and Territory in the Former Soviet Union attempts to shift the focus of conflict analysis away from predominant ethnic explanations to include especially regional elements. In their introductory and concluding chapters James Hughes and Gwendolyn Sasse approach post-Soviet conflicts in a context of political-institutional changes, state and nation building, adjustments to Soviet legacies, elite struggles, and international interference. Nationalism/nation building and transition theories form the background. However, the authors criticise their concentration on nation-states and central elites as deficient when it comes to regional factors. Their arguments are illustrated by six case studies from Soviet succesor states and an analysis of OSCE conflict management. Comparative in nature, they reflect the varieties of ethnic and regional mobilisation in the area.

In the Russian Federation secession potential has been met by Boris Yeltsin's strategy of assymetric re-federalisation that was largely successful. In contrast to Tatarstan, James Hughes explains the Chechnyan failure as a consequence of conflicting personalities.

Gwendolyn Sasse presents Ukraine as state of historically different regions. Political mobilisations in Zakarpattya and Donbas have been limited by the lack of clear-cut ethno-political boundaries. Even in Crimea, the region with the highest conflict potential, the Russian ethno-political movement was not sustainable. The final autonomy solution promoted regionalisation as a stabilising factor.

Conflicts in Moldova erupted around the regions of Transnitstria and Gagauzia. Steven D. Roper analyses the first one as fostered by formerly dominant Slavic elites that found themselves threatened by Moldavian nationalisation policies. The latter put no threat to Moldovan sovereignty and thus could be accomodated with an autonomy agreement.

Georgia is another country with diverging regional developments. Monica Duffy Toft compares the conflicts around Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Ajaria focusing on differences in Soviet institutional legacies, relations to Russia, and concepts of national self definition.

Razmik Panossian examines the frozen conflict in Nagorno Karabakh from three different angles of the region's unclear status: Formally still part of Azerbaijan it is de facto either acting as independent state or as Armenian periphery with the power to drive central policies.

In Central Asia Kazahkstan, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Uzbekistan had to deal with a legacy of weak centres and considerable regional autonomy. As described by Neil J. Melvin, the re-affirmation of control regimes, together with the destruction and/or incorporation of regional elites has been predominant in these states. The OSCE is shown as consistent in its interventions in the post-Soviet space, and influential when it comes to the development of regional and ethnic politics. However, Natalie Mychajlyszyn finds that its clear priority of sovereignty over self-determination leads to continued instability in "frozen conflicts" where state integrity is challenged.

The volume throws fresh light on post-Soviet conflicts with a multi-dimensional approach. It emphasises the different responses of states in transiton to ethnic, territorial and/or regional challenges. Showing a broad spectre of post-Soviet institutional realities, it successfully questions simple explanatory patterns. In this context, it might have been desirable to show how the Baltic States are dealing with their conflict potential.


Daniela Mussnig, PhD Candidate University of Vienna



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