A Brief History of Ethnic Cleansing

Courtesy Reuters


The Serbian campaign to "cleanse" a territory of another ethnic group, while gruesome and tragic, is historically speaking neither new nor remarkable. Population removal and transfer have occurred in history more often than is generally acknowledged. The central aim of the Serbian campaign-to eliminate a population from the "homeland" in order to create a more secure, ethnically homogeneous state-is in some ways as old as antiquity. Moreover, despite greater international attention and condemnation, such campaigns have only intensified in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Despite its recurrence, ethnic cleansing nonetheless defies easy definition. At one end it is virtually indistinguishable from forced emigration and population exchange while at the other it merges with deportation and genocide. At the most general level, however, ethnic cleansing can be understood as the expulsion of an "undesirable" population from a given territory due to religious or ethnic discrimination,

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