4 September 2008
Pundit: Ethnicity and democratization can go together
Ethnic nationalism can, under the right conditions, work for rather than against democracy’s rise and consolidation, says a professor from Princeton University in the latest issue of Journal of Democracy.
While not denying the conventional scholarly wisdom that ethnic diversity generally dims democracy’s prospects, such as:
* Lowering of aggregate economic rates, especially under authoritarian regimes
* Poorer governmental performance
Mark R. Beissinger, the author of Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State (2002), argues that these effects can be remedied through “nation building reforms that build trust across groups.”
One of the remedies he suggests is federalism. “Federalism is widely believed to harm chances for stable democracy in ethnically diverse countries, yet has also been known to aid democratic stability if the country’s majority ethnic group lacks a core home region and if the federal bargain is reached consensually by ethnic elites rather than imposed from outside or above,” he writes.
In fact, there are even cases where ethnic nationalism is the drawing force behind democratization efforts, according to him. Extremely diverse societies like India and Papua New Guinea for example, rate as successful democratizers.
Soviet experience also shows that while republics with less ethnic diversity tend to have more ethnic protests, others such as Lativa and Armenia, each with widely different demographic make-ups, became models of democracy and development. “Globally, ethnic diversity is generally a poor predictor of civil wars,” he says.
Beissinger however is not an unquestioned champion of ethnicity. “Not all ethnic nationalisms are born equal. Nationalism that targets members of other groups with the goal of creating an ethnically pure state is likely to end in bloodshed and the wreck the basis for democratic stability and the rule of law,” he says.
He also warns against politicians playing the ethnic card in order to consolidate their rule.
The late Senator Patrick Moynihan had counseled: The challenge is to make the world safe for and against ethnicity.
For details, please read A new look at ethnicity and democratization, by Mark R. Beissinger, http://www.journalofdemocracy.org