chapter  6
27 Pages

Democratization and determinants of ethnic violence: the rebel- moderate organizational nexus


Democratization constitutes a crucial moment in the historical relationship between ethnic groups and the state. A more open political space allows greater flexibility to express grievances, exert political pressure, and seek greater representation in reformed political institutions. By contrast, authoritarian political settings offer few avenues. When groups are not repressed to the point of paralysis, they can organize protests, demonstrations, or other extra-institutional forms of expressing grievances. On rare occasions, ethnic groups that are not dominant within the institutional apparatus of the state can gain access to power and resources, when they are integrated into the regime through patrimonial relationships or other forms of regime cooptation. In many instances, of course, ethnic groups use violent means to rebel against the state. The loosening grip of an authoritarian regime, or its sudden demise, represents an opportunity for mobilization. As discussed by Haklai and Bertrand in the introduction to this volume, this institutional change produces a variety of possible outcomes, from violent uprisings to new modes of peacefully channelling demands via renewed political institutions. How ethnic groups react to a changing political environment depends on a number of factors. On the state side, the provision of channels to express grievances is likely to reduce the propensity to mobilize violently; the continued use of security forces to suppress minority discontent can also prevent open mobilization or, alternatively, stimulate a backlash and intensify minority resolve to counter it. The choice to mobilize and the type of mobilization will vary also according to characteristics of groups themselves, such as their size, or territorial concentration, but they also depend on organization. Mobilization requires first that leaders persuade ethnic group members to engage in their chosen political action. The success of recruitment and following may determine the ability to sustain mobilization or its chosen type. The number, nature, and diversity of in-group organizations constitute an important, often neglected, factor influencing responses to a new political environment. Ethnic groups are not monolithic entities that mobilize en masse in peaceful or violent ways to advance their interests. Ethnically based organizations constitute the most relevant unit of group mobilization. These organizations vary tremendously in terms of their size, degree of support, extent of armed

capacity, and preferred methods of advancing group interests. Furthermore, within single ethnic groups they often compete for mass support and legitimacy. The effects of democratization on violent ethnic conflict, as we argue in this chapter, are mediated in part by the in-group competition between ethnic organizations. When a regime democratizes, the previous configuration of in-group organizations is often changed significantly. For instance, an armed organization claiming sole representation of an ethnic group might compete with a civilian one seeking representation in newly democratic institutions. Groups previously divided into several organizations may see their relative support dramatically transformed. After the fall of an authoritarian regime, in-group competition is associated with higher levels of violence, as armed organizations outbid more moderate ones to remain relevant. When organizations cooperate or when one dominates, violence against other ethnic groups tends to diminish.