In This Review

Peoples Versus States: Minorities at Risk in the New Century
Peoples Versus States: Minorities at Risk in the New Century
By Ted Robert Gurr
United States Institute of Peace Press, 2000, 448 pp

Ethnic conflict is often considered a defining feature of the post-Cold War landscape. But this systematic, empirically rich study by a leading scholar suggests the worst has perhaps passed. Tracking 275 ethnic and social groups since the mid-1980s, Gurr sees the reach and intensity of ethnic struggle diminishing for three reasons. First, in the former Soviet bloc the initial shock of state reformation after communism's collapse has diminished, reducing the incentives and opportunities for ethnic activism. Second, international efforts at publicizing and responding to minority-rights violations have increased, while leading states and international organizations have stepped forward to offer remedies. Most important, democratic states have improved their own policies toward ethnic minorities, resisting the temptations of assimilation and repression in favor of pluralism and group autonomy. Gurr concludes that the settlement of disputes over inequality and oppression requires a bargain in which the minority group is given rights and autonomy in return for recognizing the state's wider authority. But while democratic countries with strong political institutions can most easily reach such bargains, the elusiveness of stable democracy in much of the world tempers Gurr's optimism.