Diasporas in Conflict: Peace Makers or Peace Wreckers?

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Diasporas in Conflict: Peace Makers or Peace Wreckers? Edited by Hazel Smith and Paul Stares United Nations University Press. Tokyo, 2007. ISBN 978-92-808-1140-7

This is a fascinating book about the political and financial roles and thence the international impact of diasporas (i.e. emigrants who have settled far from their original homelands, forming new localised ethnic communities). It should be required reading for those who continue to focus on war as the exclusive concern of sovereign states. The research project on which the book is based was jointly sponsored by the United Nations University and the United States Institute of Peace. Each of the contributors, already known as experts in their field, was asked to answer the question 'Was the particular diaspora you studied a peacewrecker or a peace-maker?' Clearly, the sponsors hoped to find the balance tipping towards peace rather than conflict, but overall the detailed findings belie their hopes. It repeatedly emerges that it is easier to mobilise emigrants to support the armed fight for the cause, especially where independence and the creation of a new state is the goal, than to work towards a more nebulous plan for peace within existing borders. This is a collection of thirteen chapters by different authors: three dealing with general issues relating to diasporas and conflict and ten detailing the conflictrelated roles of the diasporas of Israel, Palestine, Armenia, Colombia, Cuba, Sri Lanka, Kurdish Iraq, Croatia, Eritrea and Cambodia.

What the chapters have in common is a tapestry of intriguing stories of how real life politics are played out on a cross-continental stage. In almost all cases it emerges that the role of the diasporas has been more firmly on the side of war rather than peace. The Croatian chapter, by Zlatko Skrbis of the University of Queensland tries to present a nuanced case that overseas Croatians were all for peace provided that the end result was peace with an independent state of Croatia. However, the neutral reader would probably score the exiled Croats as 9 out of 10 on a bellicosity scale (including the Australian Croats) on the basis of the well-researched evidence presented by Skrbis himself. Indeed, one issue that emerges is the understandable difficulty of finding a member of a given diaspora who can be balanced and neutral in writing about the actions of their fellow diasporans. Conversely outsiders are frequently regarded with suspicion by the diaspora members and lack the passion to follow up in obscure ethnic news sheets on the endless minutia which makes up the bigger picture.

Often there is also a paucity of clear evidence about the roles which less high profile diasporas play. In many cases such as the Kurds and the Eritreans it is not known how many members of the diaspora there are, even less has been documented of how much they have contributed in financial support to their fellow countrymen at home or what proportion of this support has been devoted to the purchase of armaments. …


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