Nation-Building and Ethnic Integration in Post-Soviet Societies: An Investigation of Latvia and Kazakstan

Article excerpt

Pal Kolsto, ed. Nation-Building and Ethnic Integration in Post-Soviet Societies: An Investigation of Latvia and Kazakstan. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999. xiii, 344 pp. Tables. Figures. Bibliography. Index. $75.00, cloth.

This book, edited by Pal Kolsto, is not a collection of essays. Rather, it is a closely-reasoned study of political culture in Latvia and Kazakstan researched and written by a team of scholars working together. The title succinctly describes the book's aim-to analyze nation-building (as opposed to state-building, which happened quickly after the downfall of the USSR) in two former Soviet republics. The process of nation-building, according to the text, can be described as either ethnic or civic, based on the number and size of ethnic groups in a political culture. The authors chose to study Latvia and Kazakstan because both may be considered to be bipolar cultures-that is, each country has two strong ethnic groups but no dominating ethnicity. Likewise, Latvia and Kazakstan both have the distinction of containing titular ethnic groups (Latvians and Kazaks) that are actually minorities in their own country. The aim of the book is to distinguish the roles of three main variables-cultural diversity, stability, and democracy-in the two nations under examination.

The text is grounded in theory, especially the assumptions of differences between "civic nations" and "ethnic nations." Likewise, the authors go to some extremes to create models based on binary opposites-civic versus ethnic nations or integration versus bipolarization, for example. This creates a framework for analysis but oversimplifies the issues-little time is spent imagining models that lie somewhere between civic or ethnic nations, between integration and polarization. After introducing this latter duality, for example, the authors explain that "Integration, as we have used this term in this book, may be either cultural or structural" (p. 300). This system-theoretical binaries nested inside other theoretical binaries-can be needlessly confusing.

The bulk of the analysis, however rooted in theory, is built on data collected through historical research, study of the press, and-especially-the results of opinion polls taken by public opinion research groups in Latvia and Kazakstan. …