National cultural autonomy

Authored by: David J. Smith

Routledge Handbook of Ethnic Conflict

Print publication date:  October  2010
Online publication date:  October  2010

Print ISBN: 9780415476256
eBook ISBN: 9780203845493
Adobe ISBN: 9781136927577


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In the first two to three decades after World War II it was widely, though mistakenly, assumed that ethnicity had ceased to be a significant factor in European politics. Increasingly challenged from the 1970s, this view lost any remaining credence following the end of the Cold War. Ethnic politics has been a particularly visible feature of the former socialist countries since the turn of the 1990s. Nearly all of the states in this region are home to a diverse array not just of ethnic groups, but of established societal cultures. The economic turbulence of the late socialist period, coupled with a collective memory of past oppression and the absence of any strongly rooted tradition of democratic institutions, created fertile terrain for ethnic conflicts. This was especially so in the countries that were created or reconstituted following the demise of the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia. Here, ‘stateness’ appeared particularly insecure. To many outsiders, the bloodshed that occurred in Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo merely confirmed a view of Eastern Europe as a backward locus of intolerant ethnic nationalism. Parallels could, after all, readily be found with the period from 1878 to 1945, when the region’s ‘national question’ contributed in no small measure to the outbreak of two world wars. This stereotype, however, obscures a rich tradition of multicultural thought within the region, which has produced innovative approaches to the democratic management of ethnic diversity.

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