Ethnic Struggle, Coexistence, and Democratization in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

Sherrill Stroschein. Ethnic Struggle, Coexistence, and Democratization in Eastern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012. xxiv, 289 pp. Map. Figures. Tables. Bibliography. Index. $77.90, cloth.

Ethnic struggle can, under specific conditions, be positively correlated with the democratization process. Sherrill Stroschein refines the general thesis about the link between mass political contention and democratic consolidation by zooming in on the realm of the highly sensitive ethnic relations of post-communist Eastern Europe. Notwithstanding the book's regional focus, the author is convinced that the main results of the study can be duplicated in other areas.

Democratization in ethnically mixed societies is a difficult task. Decisions are, and should be, made on the principle of majoritarian rule. Ethnic minorities, therefore, will remain outnumbered no matter how strong their level of political involvement or how fair their demands may be. As a result, minorities may become increasingly alienated from the political system and from the nation-state in which they feel that their identities and interests are not respected. To resolve this problem, the author advances the following two arguments. In spite of their small numbers, ethnic minorities can still manage to gain political concessions through protest that could not be achieved through the formal channels of the ballot box (pp. 2-3). Ethnic contest helps to moderate group demands on each side during the democratization process. Each group becomes accustomed to the stances of the other group and the degree to which they can forward their own claims. Inter-ethnic contention and following inter-ethnic debates can provide a framework for regulating problems of interaction and establish common institutions (p. 3).

Stroschein has chosen to use the relational approach to the study of social life, focusing on ties and interactions as primary units of analysis rather than emphasizing individual actors (p. 4). The evidence is based on ethnic interaction in Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine, with the Hungarian ethnic minority being the primary group of interest between 1990 and 1999, the first decade following the start of democratization in Eastern Europe. The choice of cases is not arbitrary. They represent two divergent trajectories of ethnic interactions unfolding over time. Romania and Slovakia illustrate high levels of contention that slowly converge toward solutions that could be regulated between ethnic groups. …