chapter  2
21 Pages

Regime transition and the emergence of ethnic democracies


This chapter is concerned with the emergence of ethnic democracies. Characterized by democratic political procedures on the one hand with formal and deeply institutionalized ownership of the state by a dominant group on the other, ethnic democracies may be found in many regions of the world that experienced democratic transition in the twentieth century. Most of the transitions in postcommunist Europe engendered ethnic democracies, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Slovenia. In Asia, Thailand before the 2006 coup may be said to have constituted an ethnic democracy. Botswana is a case in Africa. And in the Middle East, Israel and Turkey exemplify state ownership by a particular ethnic group coupled with a democratic form of government. Although common, ethnic democracy is by no means a predetermined outcome of the democratization process (and likewise, some of the cases listed above are not a product of democratic transition). Furthermore, the treatment of minorities in ethnic democracies varies between cases and diachronically. It may range from various forms of recognition, as in the case of Hungarian minority territorial and language rights in Serbia, to outright suppression of expressions of minority collective identity, as in the case of Kurds in Turkey. Minority status can shift over time from subordinate and marginal to inclusive and participatory, as happened to Albanians in Macedonia following the signing of the Ohrid Framework Agreement in 2001. Considering these variations, the purpose of this chapter is to increase our knowledge about how and why ethnic democracies emerge following transition, what influences the varying treatment of minorities in such regimes, and what lessons may be drawn from these experiences for the question of democratization and ethnic group relations more generally. The analysis reveals that legacies from the pre-transition period influence the patterns of majority-stateminority relations during and after the collapse of authoritarianism. Indeed, there is no reason to expect a blank slate in inter-group relations just because of a change in regime. Furthermore, the regional environment in which the new democracy is located can influence the treatment of minorities in the longer term, as external actors with clout can provide incentives and impose constraints on states seeking acceptance into the regional environment. A more general

significant lesson is that while democratization can deliver important liberal individual freedoms and protection for individuals – including those belonging to minority groups – such as political rights and freedom from persecution, we should not expect successful democratization to generate automatic equality between ethnic communities or substantive accommodation of minorities. This chapter is divided into three sections. The first section clarifies the concept of ethnic democracy and identifies its key characteristics. The second section discusses key factors that influence the emergence of ethnic democracies following regime transition and the treatment of minorities within them, including institutional legacies from the pre-transition period and the regional neighborhood. The third section illustrates the argument with three case studies: Bulgaria, Estonia, and Macedonia. The chapter concludes by drawing general lessons from the cases.