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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2005, Vol. 5 No. 1 .

Facing Ethnic Conflicts: Towards a New Realism
Andreas Wimmer, Richard Goldstone, Donald Horowitz, Ulrike Joras and Conrad Schetter (eds)

Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004
384 pp PB $32.95 ISBN: 0742535851

The central aim of this collective book is to provide an overview of how to understand and prevent ethnic conflicts. With more than twenty different authors of very various backgrounds, including policy-makers and academics, the book manages to cover a very wide variety of extremely relevant topics. At the outset Andreas Wimmer establishes that a central purpose of the book is to promote a dialogue between policy-makers, academics and scholars working on ethnic conflicts. In this regard, his introduction to the book provides an excellent review of the different research approaches to ethnic conflicts from many different angles (history, sociology, political science, etc.). The book is constructed around four main questions: why ethnic conflicts escalate, what are the possibilities to prevent them, what are the dynamics surrounding external intervention; and what role institutional reform could play in resolving ethnic conflicts.

In the part dedicated to the understanding of the escalation of ethnic conflicts, Connor goes into the debates regarding the notion of ethnicity and nationalism and speaks of an ?ethnically filtrated reality? that enclose all the reasons that lead to conflicts. This chapter and the other chapters written by Brubaker and Bakwesegha bring an enlightened understanding of the escalation that lead to conflicts between different ethnic groups. A few chapters are dedicated to analysing the role of so-called ethnic entrepreneurs in the escalation towards ethnic conflicts. For example, Waldman?s chapter analysis the dynamics of violence and the dynamics of peace; in the exercise this author examines how ethnic entrepreneurs use a discourse that militates for ethnic groups to maintain a dynamic of violence.

The part dedicated to the politics of intervention offers a good map of the different roads used by the international community in recent ethnic conflicts. For example, Max van der Stoel chapter?s argues that the regime of minority rights could play a crucial role in avoiding the escalation that leads towards a conflict. Two chapters are particularly interesting as regards the negotiation of peace agreements and the development of a peace process in cases of ethnic conflicts. Zartman concentrates on the difficulty of negotiations when territorial issues are involved in the outcomes of the conflict whereas Miall highlights that negotiations could lead to peace only if they truly and fully address the structural causes of the conflict. This examination of the dynamic involved in peace negotiations are completed with Ropers?s assessment on the practical impact of mediation projects and Goldstone?s focus on the potential role of international criminal law in resolving ethnic conflicts. Finally, Part 3 of the book addresses a much needed debate on the interaction between the establishment of democratic institutions and their role in re-establishing peace. This includes a very rich debate on the international community?s involvement in designing electoral processes and also a fascinating discussion on the different possible constitutional arrangement for the devolution of power from autonomy regulations to decentralisation.

On the whole, this book certainly should be read and used by any person working in the field of ethnic conflict, while bearing in mind that there are a few gaps in this book. First, even though the book should be praised for avoiding focusing on specific cases of ethnic conflict and providing instead a more global understanding, there is nonetheless a large emphasis on situations that always receive large coverage (Great Lakes region, Chechnya, etc.). Thus one can regret that the book does not try to focus on the situation of ethnic conflicts in regions that receive minimal attention from the rest of the world. For example, despite the welcome analysis from Bakwesegha whose chapter explores how colonialism sowed the seeds of ethnic tensions in Africa, there is no mention of ethnic conflicts in Asia despite the several ethnic conflict situations still unresolved following the decolonisation process. Second, despite the presence of eminent international lawyers such as Judge Goldstone or Hurst Hannum, there is a lack of focus on the large developments that have taken place in terms of international law and ethnic conflicts which does not meet the goal of interdisciplinary of the book. Nonetheless, despite these minor points, overall this book manages to systematically summarise the research on ethnic conflicts from different academic and practical political perspectives, while also proposing new ways, or a ?new realism?, to understand and help resolving ethnic conflicts.

Jérémie Gilbert, Lecturer, Transitional Justice Institute, University of Ulster

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