The Impact of National Identity on Conflict Behavior: Comparative Analysis of Two Ethnic Minorities in Crimea

Article excerpt


Identity, definition, and the concepts of ingroup ("we") and outgroup ("they") are key issues in understanding ethnic conflicts in the post cold-war era. Such identity conflicts express existential needs, values, safety, dignity, control over destiny, and are rooted in complex and multidimensional psychological, historical, and cultural factors. The frustration of these basic needs along with a denial of human rights leads to social conflicts (Fisher 1997).

As Rothmans (1997) stresses, the differences between identity and interest conflicts are not precise. All identity conflicts contain interest conflicts: moreover, many ignored or unresolved interest-based conflicts can become identity conflicts. Burton (1987, 1990) calls identity conflicts "deep-rooted conflicts" and stresses that they are not based on negotiable interest and position, but on underlying needs that cannot be compromised. Azar suggests (1990) that the source of such protracted social conflicts is not in economic and power goals, but in the denial of elements necessary to the development of all people, and whose pursuit is therefore a compelling need. In identity conflict, "groups struggle for their basic physical and moral survival" (Rothmans 1997: 9). Such conflicts arise when identity groups perceive that they are oppressed and victimized through a denial of recognition, security, equity, and political participation (Fisher 1997).

Research on ethnic conflicts and violence show a set of factors that have significant impact on conflict behavior and negative intentions toward outgroups. In numerous studies, it appears that salient ethnic identity, ethnocentrism, perceived economic deprivation, and minority position of the ingroup have a strong negative impact on ethnic violence in weak states with sizeable and aggrieved minorities. As Brubaker (1996) points out, ethnic identity politics and minority grievances lead to tensions; the formation of nation in new independent states evokes the activity of national minorities and their proclivity to initiate conflicts.

However, the establishment of new states embodies the potential for economic independence, human dignity, and the self-esteem of the population (Kelman 1997). In addition to a contribution to escalation and self-perpetuation of identity-based conflicts, national identity building in post-communist societies is, therefore, a process that may create superordinate peaceful identity and opportunities for the resolution of conflict.

This study considers the impact such factors as national identity building and ethnic identity revival have on processes of conflict prevention, resolution, and reconciliation. The purpose of this paper is to study the moderation effects of national identity building on interrelations between conflict indicators and readiness for conflict or compromise for two ethnic minorities in the Crimea.

Context of the Research

In the context where the research took place, Crimea in Ukraine, the ethnic minority groups (Russians and Crimean Tatars) are now in the process of adopting a new national identity. Crimea was a nominally independent khanate of the Ottoman Empire until 1783, when it was annexed by Russia. After the Russian Revolution, Crimea was briefly independent from 1917 to 1918 and then incorporated into the Soviet Union as an autonomous republic of the Russian Federation in 1921. This autonomous status was abolished in 1944. In 1954, Crimea was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and this status continued when Ukraine became independent in 1991. The current population of Crimea is nearly 2.5 million. Ethnic Russians comprise 64 percent of the population, 23 percent are Ukrainians, 10 percent are Crimean Tatars, and 3 percent are Belorussians, Armenians, Greeks, Germans, Jews, and others.

The Crimea of the 1990s had substantial potential for ethnopolitical violence. …