In This Review

Democracy and Nationalism in Southeast Asia: From Secessionist Mobilization to Conflict Resolution
Democracy and Nationalism in Southeast Asia: From Secessionist Mobilization to Conflict Resolution
By Jacques Bertrand
Cambridge University Press, 2021, 301 pp

Do transitions to democracy inflame or calm ethnonationalist movements that took shape under authoritarian regimes? Bertrand draws together years of research into five such movements in Southeast Asia to show that violence tends to surge right after the democratic transition, when separatists see an opportunity to achieve their goals. If the new democratic elites offer plausible concessions, however, the conflict has a good chance at least of being diminished, if not resolved. In Indonesia in 2006, for example, the post-transition government offered the province of Aceh a strong form of local autonomy, which addressed many of the demands issued by a pro-independence movement there and greatly reduced violence. By contrast, Thai politicians during the democratic period in the 1990s and early years of the next decade refused to negotiate with Malay Muslims in the south, allowing a low-level insurgency to continue there. The three other case studies lie between these extremes. Violence in the Cordillera highlands of the Philippines abated after 1997, when the government granted local groups special status as indigenous peoples. Meanwhile, however, the Moro uprising in the same country kept flaring up because the government failed to implement its agreements. In Papua, the inconsistent implementation of a 2001 special autonomy law kept a resistance going. It is hard for any kind of regime to compromise on national unity, but Bertrand shows that negotiation is a better way to manage separatist challenges than repression.