Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Effects of Ethnic Separation on Democratization: A Comparative Study

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

The Effects of Ethnic Separation on Democratization: A Comparative Study

Article excerpt

This article will attempt to shed light on the validity of a hypothesis which endeavors to explain the success of democratization in emerging nations. For decades, scholars have recognized that ethnicity is an important factor in the political life of a nation. But how does the relative homogeneity or ethnic diversity of a state's population relate to democratization and state-building? Does an extremely heterogeneous population preclude the success of democracy, or is democracy the best hope for a multiethnic state? Those who point to ethnicity and culture as important factors in the democratization process, such as Robert Dahl and Joseph Rothschild, consider the political actions of ethnic groups to be important factors in the development of a state. Dov Ronen interprets the nexus of these factors: "...`development' is presented as social change toward conformity with the legal entity and `ethnicity'...as an obstacle to that direction of change, which `politics' is to be used to overcome."(1) A competing hypothesis stressed by Raymond Duch and Stephen Porter, and others argue that "a country's institutions and institutional heritage is much more persistent and is therefore a more critical determinant of whether these institutions are successfully implemented."(2) The institutionalist position states that there is a "specific set of institutional norms, directly shaped by the nation's historical development, that predict the success with which democratic capitalism is implemented."(3) Douglass North views institutions as key to understanding historical change. He posits that they are "humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction ... they structure incentives in human exchange, whether political, social, or economic."(4) I hypothesize that ethnic separation (the differences between ethnic groups) is a fundamental and often a positive causal factor of successful democratization whereas institutions are secondary--a tool used by a populace to achieve goals.

To prove my hypothesis, I use a comparative study of three countries, alike in several important ways but different in ethnic separation. In the following pages I argue, building on earlier scholarship by Robert Dahl, Paul Brass and others, that the study of democratization should focus on ethnic groups, and cooperation among them in multiethnic societies, as causal. It is my intention to demonstrate that institutions and their historical development do matter, they are conjunctural with other causal factors affecting successful democratization in two important ways. First, I consider institutions part of the concept of the state and a tool that ethnic groups use to achieve their goals once they have been politically integrated into the state. Second, reified institutions, those institutions over which the populace has control such as a state's legislature, can work for or against ethnic groups' goals and can therefore contribute to the success of the political aspirations of a people by being a tool to achieve their goals. In sum, I argue that the major causal factor that affects democratization is rooted in ethnic diversity of a region and the type of institutions it chooses to use. I further contend that cooperation between ethnic groups can significantly affect, and in some cases become the key determinant in, the formation of a pluralist democracy.

Arthur Bentley describes the importance of group cooperation in his theory of cross-cutting cleavages.(5) Applied to ethnic groups, this theory proposes that the potential for conflict between ethnic groups decreases when members of groups are in the same functional membership groups. Therefore, if ethnic groups have common churches, social organizations, etc., the conflict potential is decreased. Conversely, when ethnic groups are separated in many ways (low or no criss-crossing) the potential for communication is less and conflict is more likely. Douglass North, discussing the inadequacy of economic theories points out that missing is "an understanding of the nature of human coordination and cooperation. …

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