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Knight, Robert

Ethnicity in the Cold War

Ethnicity has not generally been considered as a Cold War topic. For many sociologists and anthropologists the Cold War is little more than a blip on the radar screen of modernity. International relations scholars tend to agree that national and international “high politics” suborned or manipulated ethnicity and ethnic conflict as it did most other “sub-state” phenomenon. Standard histories of the Cold War (e.g. J.L.Gaddis) has also tended to share this statist “top-down” understanding, reducing ethnicity to an instrument of “high politics.” Many traditional investigations of particular ethnic conflicts (from within, or below) add a note of “victimhood” in which ethnic minorities are portrayed as the “playthings” of the “great powers.”

My paper argues, in line with some recent scholarship (e.g. Mann, Brubaker, Mazower, Suri) that we need to think of ways of bridging the gap between the “bird’s eye” perspective of Cold War high politics and the “worm’s eye” perspective of ethnic politics. It argues that the instrumentalisation of ethnic politics in the Cold War though not altogether wrong, is limited. Adopting recent conceptualizations of the Cold War as a competition between two rival ideologies of modernity (e.g. Westaad) it argues that it a dual process of adjustment was involved: on the one hand the particularistic demands of ethnic minority politics were re-formulated in the universalistic terms by ethnic politicians. On the other hand the actors of high politics downplayed ethnic conflicts or rewrote them so that they would better fit into the understanding of the world as a battle between communism and capitalism.

Thursday 29 Oct 11.15-12.45 SESSION 1
Panel: Party, Flag and Tribe: the Politics of Ethnicity