chapter  1
17 Pages

Democratization and ethnic minorities


Many scholars and policymakers share the conviction that democracy promotion generates stability and cordial relations between various ethnic groups. Backing this position, several empirical studies show that the movement from an authoritarian to a democratic regime has improved ethnic group relations in many cases (Gurr 2002; Lindberg 2006).1 As a result, in the latter part of the twentieth century and the dawn of the twenty-first century Western governments strongly encouraged transitions from authoritarianism around the world. Yet, democratization in its early stages can sometimes be accompanied by increased levels of ethnic tension, if not outright inter-communal violence (Snyder 2000; Rothchild 2004; Young 2006; Rudbeck 2007). And when relations sour, minority groups tend to be most vulnerable. During democratization in Estonia, for example, millions of Russian speakers were stripped of their citizenship. Likewise, following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, tens of thousands of Christian Copts fled Egypt in fear of harassment and persecution. And in Rwanda, attempts to introduce open elections in the 1990s precipitated a bloody war that culminated in genocide. Why do some democratization processes yield conflict and violence whereas others are followed by accommodation and compromise? Democratization and Ethnic Minorities analyzes the mediated effects of regime change on ethnic group relations. Varying paths toward democracy shape differently how ethnic politics are organized and conducted and how minorities fare under the new regime. Democratization generally does not produce more violence. Yet, it does not necessarily yield substantive equality for ethnic minorities. The core of our analysis thus revolves around identifying the mediating factors that influence whether democratization leads to improvement or deterioration in ethnic group relations. Why do relations between ethnic groups (and ethnic groups and the state) improve in some cases while they worsen in others? Under what conditions do ethnic minorities suffer during democratization and when do they benefit? When have newly democratic regimes introduced mechanisms to integrate or accommodate ethnic minorities and in what way? Covering a wide array of cases, the chapters in this book clarify some of the mechanisms through which democratization produces favorable (or unfavorable) outcomes for ethnic relations and minorities.