Demographic Engineering and the Struggle for Power

By Bookman, Milica Z. | Journal of International Affairs, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

Demographic Engineering and the Struggle for Power


Bookman, Milica Z., Journal of International Affairs


"As long as nationalists think that they can achieve self-determination on the basis of the ethnic population of a territory, they will strive to create an ethnically pure population in the region or regions they covet."

The drive to increase population has led to conquests, receptive immigration laws and pro-natalist population policies. But population size has taken on a new meaning in the post-Cold War world, in which nationalism is on the rise and ethnic self-awareness seems to permeate once-placid populations. Currently the size of a total population is less relevant than the absolute and relative size of a particular ethnic, religious, racial or linguistic group. (1) Indeed, an inter-ethnic war of numbers is taking place in numerous locations. The goal of this war of numbers is to increase the economic and political power of an ethnic group relative to other groups, and the method by which this is achieved entails the increase in size of one population relative to others. Most ethnic groups in multinational states across the globe are engaged in this activity in varying degrees, thus clearly manipulating population numbers in their struggle for power. They have similar goals and differ only in the form and intensity of the struggle.

This inter-ethnic struggle exists because there is a positive link between political power and relative size, as well as between economic power and population size. (2) This link is observed across levels of development, degrees of ethnic heterogeneity and systems of political organization. (3)

With respect to political power, population size implies enhanced representation in political bodies, which translates into decision-making that tends to reflect the interests of that group. (4) Size also implies political legitimacy to partake in the political arena and to express ethnic demands in an organized fashion. Size affects participation in the political system, insofar as it gives the group in question equal or preferential access to legal protection and the legal system, to civil service positions and to the military and police service. Finally, size influences the right to make demands on the political system, as some groups are of insufficient size to even be recognized as groups in the political spectrum. The assertion of these rights in the spheres of economics, politics and ethno-cultural issues can be classified into three types of demands: (5) The mildest demand of a people entails policy changes whose effects will favor the group in question. These are usually of a cultural nature, such as the right to schooling in a non-titular language (such a right was granted by the Yugoslav Constitution of 1974 to minorities such as the Hungarians and the Albanians). Another type of demand is for full integration into the decision-making process. This usually entails minority groups that strive for rights equal to those enjoyed by the titular majority, including the right to own property and to defend property rights in courts, the right to vote or partake in political life and the right to enjoy the social welfare of the country (an example of this right is embodied in the Austrian Constitution of 1876). (6) The strongest demand is for autonomy. While this demand may be satisfied by the extension of increased political rights to the region where the group resides, the demand may also include the right to secession based on self-determination.

The economic rewards that population size convey include the following: (7) First, ethnic population size is usually positively related to access to scarce resources. The larger the size, the greater its power to appropriate those resources through various forms of political manipulation. Distribution of scarce resources is often the primary source of conflict among ethnic groups. If there is no scarcity, there is no economic source of conflict. (8) Second, ethnic size is usually positively related to group input in policy-making. …

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