The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing in Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2016, 2018) (Winner of 2017 Best Book Award in the European Politics and Society Section of APSA) (Book Symposium published in Nationalities Papers, June 2018)
The book analyzes the causes of ethnic cleansing in Europe and beyond. It argues that domestic obstacles based on non-ethnic cleavages usually prevent ethnic cleansing, whereas territorial conflict triggers this policy by undermining such obstacles. This argument stands on two pillars. First, even in contexts with salient ethnic cleavages, there are almost always prominent non-ethnic cleavages such as class or secular-religious divisions that generate internal factions within the dominant ethnic groups. These cleavages divert attention from ethnic competition and create possibilities for cross-ethnic cooperation. Thus, usually the faction within the dominant group that favors ethnic cleansing faces opposition from the factions that share an interest and/or feel solidarity with the potential target. Second, due to certain spatial characteristics of ethno-linguistic categories, the ethnic groups that are dominant are typically different in each state. Thus, territorial revisions have a profound impact on the balance between ethnic groups that they do not have when it comes to non-ethnic groups. Specifically, territorial conflicts cause ethnic cleansing because they boost the relative strength of the factions within the dominant groups that favor ethnic cleansing. This argument is supported by statistical analysis based on twentieth-century Europe, historical studies of Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as well as an analysis of Bosnia in the 1990s. Using process-tracing, counterfactual reasoning and, in the case of Bosnia, cross-municipal analysis, these cases test the empirical implications of the argument that relate to outcomes beyond ethnic cleansing. An additional chapter further explores the theoretical and empirical extensions in the context of Africa. The contributions of the book to the field of mass ethnic violence are threefold. First, it provides an explicit theory of the domestic obstacles that preclude ethnic cleansing. The recent studies of ethnic cleansing and related phenomena such as mass killings during wars fall under two dominant categories. The first are the studies that emphasize the role of deep ethnic cleavages that make societies more prone to ethnic cleansing. These studies ignore other political dimensions that inhibit the impact of ethnicity and hence have difficulty accounting for the rarity and timing of ethnic cleansing cases. The second set of studies emphasizes the role of strategic international goals of states. These works have the potential to explain the empirical relationship between wars and ethnic cleansing episodes. But, since they do not offer a theory of what prevents ethnic cleansing in the first place, their explanations remain underspecified. Second, the book highlights a previously overlooked characteristic of ethnicity, namely its non-repetitiveness across space. This characteristic is crucial to understanding how international territorial conflict relates to ethnic cleansing. Briefly, it explains why periods of territorial conflict specifically empower factions that focus on ethnic as opposed to other types of societal conflict and, therefore, remove the obstacles that generally prevent ethnic cleansing. A small number of studies have suggested that wars endogenously impact the relations between ethnic groups and result in mass ethnic violence. This book improves on these studies by explaining why it is specifically ethnic cleavages that come to the fore under these circumstances. Beyond the study of mass ethnic violence, the non-repetitiveness of ethnicity is also potentially relevant for questions such as why ethno-linguistic categories rather than class or religiosity emerged as the basis of state-ideologies in Europe, why in regions such as Europe, Africa, and Asia, the politically dominant ethnic groups systematically vary from state to state, and what explains temporal variations in the salience of ethnic cleavages. Thus, along with political violence, the book has implications for other sub-fields of comparative politics such as state formation, nationalism, and ethnic politics. Finally, the book makes conceptual and empirical contributions to the literature on mass ethnic violence. It develops an analytically distinct definition of ethnic cleansing and measures it in a cross-national setting. The definition focuses on the proportion of victims in a group rather than the absolute number and thereby distinguishes ethnic cleansing from phenomena such as mass killings or civilian victimization during wars. The analysis also goes beyond the existing studies of ethnic cleansing methodologically. Recent work that specifically focuses on mass ethnic violence predominantly relies on case studies. By contrast, my work combines statistical analysis based on extensive data with case studies
Praise for “The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing in Europe” “The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing is an innovative contribution to the systematic study of mass violence. Using a variety of quantitative data, case studies from multiple world regions, and original theory, the book asks and answers a big question. As one of the only dedicated social scientific studies of ethnic cleansing, this book is a landmark that will command attention from scholars for years to come.”
Scott Straus, University of Wisconsin-Madison
“The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing in Europe is the most systematic scholarly effort to date to understand of one of the most terrible forms of violence facing humanity. Episodes of ethnic cleansing have ravaged Europe repeatedly over the last 100 years, killing millions of people and rendering tens of millions more refugees. Drawing on in-depth historical and statistical analyses, H. Zeynep Bulutgil locates the causes of these tragedies in territorial conflicts between states and in the nature of the social and political cleavages and hierarchies within states. In so doing, she points the way to policies that might render ethnic cleansing less common in the future.”
Benjamin Valentino, Dartmouth College
“By dint of meticulous research and methodical analysis, Zeynep Bulutgil has constructed an argument that is provocative and far-reaching in its implications. Calling into question common assumptions about the relationship between historical memory and inter-communal violence, Bulutgil articulates a powerful argument to the effect that ethnic cleansing is not so much dictated by the legacy of past conflicts as it is set off by the intersection between particular patterns of ethnic geography and warfare. This is a wide-ranging and methodologically rigorous comparative study that forces its readers to reexamine some of their deepest held conceptions about the most common form of warfare in the contemporary world”
Aviel Roshwald, Georgetown University
“Bulutgil’s innovative study examines the causes of ethnic cleansing, and why some regions are so much more prone to ethnic cleansing than others. Her fundamental and compelling point is that "territorial revisions” alter the balance of power among groups within annexed territories that then unleash murderous dynamics. She finds that cross-cutting cleavages serve as barriers against ethnic cleansing, while interstate ethnic conflict facilitates ethnic cleansing by increasing salience of ethnicity relative to other cleavages. This theoretical argument is then elaborated and demonstrated through the study of study of Germans in historical Czechoslovakia and Germans in historical Poland, Ukrainians in historical Poland, and Greeks in Ottoman Empire, as well as a main case study of Bosnia. This important book revisits some older theories in comparative politics and ingeniously uses them to address a critical question. In sum, The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing in Europe combines sharp theoretical insight with great empirical material.”
APSA European Politics and Society Section Best Book Award Committee, 2017
War, Collaboration, and Endogenous Ethnic Polarization: The Path to Ethnic Cleansing ( in Adria Lawrence and Erica Chenoweth, eds. Rethinking Violence: States and Non-State Actors in Conflict (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010).
Social Cleavages, Wartime Experience, and Ethnic Cleansing in Europe, Journal of Peace Research. September 2015, 52(5).
What explains ethnic cleansing? Recent research has used systematic evidence to explore the causes of civilian victimization and mass killings. Yet, comparable studies that focus on ethnic cleansing are still rare. This article conceptualizes ethnic cleansing as a group-level phenomenon that is distinct from civilian victimization or mass killings and studies its causes by using systematic evidence from Europe 1900-2000. Two main findings follow. First, the analysis shows that salient social cleavages, measured through levels of land inequality, political competition, and support for left-wing parties, substantially decrease the risk of ethnic cleansing. Second, the findings suggest that the arguments that underscore psychological mechanisms related to wartime experiences provide a better explanation for ethnic cleansing than the arguments that emphasize the role of strategic wartime aims. The results highlight the importance of treating ethnic cleansing as a conceptually separate phenomenon and offer implications for the debate on democracy and mass ethnic violence.
Ethnic Cleansing and Its Alternatives in Wartime: A Comparison of the Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian Empires. International Security, Spring 2017, 41(4).
What are the conditions under which states target minority groups with ethnic cleansing? Recent literature suggests that state leaders turn to ethnic cleansing when the minorities within their territories have ties with enemy states and these ties result in collaboration or rebellion behind frontlines. This paper makes two arguments. First, treating the wartime leadership of states as coherent units is empirically and theoretically misleading. Even during wartime, state leaders differ on the extent to which they prioritize territorial goals as well as in the extent to which they think minority collaboration makes a difference for these territorial goals. Second, I argue that the salience of these divisions turns on the existence of a pre-war political system that includes organized ideological alternatives to nationalism that are based on non-ethnic cleavages. Depending on the existence of such cleavages, minority collaboration during wars might result in full-scale ethnic cleansing, limited deportations and killings, or no violence. To test the argument, I focus on three contexts in which the minority group collaborated with a neighboring enemy during World War I but the reaction of the leadership was very different: a. The Ottoman Empire and its genocidal policy towards the Armenian population during WWI; b. The Russian Empire and the limited deportations and massacres that targeted the Muslims in South Caucasus. c. The Austro-Hungarian Empire and its relatively mild treatment of the Austrian Italians. The analysis supports the notion that facing comparable security challenges, state leaders pursue different policies based on the type of prewar political divisions in the leadership.
The State of the Field and Debates on Ethnic Cleansing, Nationalities Papers, May 2018.
This review article outlines the progress that the literature on the causes of ethnic cleansing has made in the last ten to fifteen years. The article specifically focuses on two lines of research that have expanded our understanding of ethnic cleansing: a. the studies that focus on the role of wars (this literature can in turn be divided into those works that treat “wars as strategic environments” and those that treat “wars as transformational forces”); b. the studies that focus on the pre-war domestic or international conditions that hinder or promote ethnic cleansing. The last section of the article suggests several future avenues of research that could further refine the study of ethnic cleansing and its relationship to other types of mass violence.
Work in Progress
On Political Violence
Pre-War Domestic Politics and Mass Violence during Wars
Why do states or non-state actors target civilian populations with mass violence? What are the local and national level obstacles that might preclude this type of violence? Why are such obstacles more resilient in some contexts than others? The proposed review article approaches these questions by analyzing the empirical and theoretical contributions of four recent books that focus on mass violence against civilian populations.
Within Group Inequality and Ethnic Voting (co-authored with Neeraj Prasad)
When do individuals vote along ethnic lines? Existing arguments focus on the role of institutions, the nature of interethnic relations, or the relationship between ethnicity and other social cleavages. This paper contributes to the last approach by distinguishing between two dimensions of the relationship between ethnicity and socio-economic cleavages: within-group inequality and between-group inequality. We use elections to state legislatures within India to control for institutional and historical factors that may influence ethnic voting. Using data from the National Sample Survey we calculate inequality in consumption expenditure, educational attainment, and occupational categories. We estimate coethnic voting in terms of voting for a coethnic candidate and voting for an ethnic party. We show that: 1) high within-group economic inequality deters coethnic voting and 2) high between-group economic inequality encourages coethnic voting. Furthermore, between the two, we find that within-group inequality has a greater effect on coethnic voting compared to between-group inequality.
On Religion and Politics
War, Diffusion, and Legal Secularization
What are the conditions that result in the adoption of secular legal systems in some contexts but not others? The paper answers this question by adopting a mixed methods approach. The main findings are twofold. First, the countries that were both exposed to persistent international threats and had a history of close throne-altar relations were more likely to develop secular institutions because they tended to invest in educational institutions that eventually resulted in the emergence of influential secular elites. Second, the diffusion of ideas and practices from geographically close secular contexts also increased the chances of legal secularization by contributing to the emergence of secular elites and politicizing the clerical-anti-clerical cleavage. These findings are supported in two steps. The first part of the empirical section uses statistical analysis based on original data on legal secularization that dates back to 1850. The second part studies the historical experience of three cases, Turkey, Spain, and Morocco, to evaluate the more fine-grained empirical implications of the specific arguments that gain support from the statistical analysis.
War, Diffusion, and the Origins of Legal Secularization (book manuscript in progress)
Why do some countries adopt secular legal systems while others do not? What are the historical conditions under which robust political groups with a secular agenda emerge? How and when do they succeed in changing the institutional structure of the state? This book project identifies two interrelated causal mechanisms that result in the secularization of laws. First, international security pressures in the form of persistent warfare incentivize traditional state leaders to establish educational and bureaucratic institutions that eventually and, often unintentionally, result in the emergence of potent secular elites. These new elites then takeover power when periods of instability typically generated by international crises weaken the traditional system. Second, once a number of “first mover” countries secularize their legal systems, the institutional changes in these contexts also influence geographically proximate areas by leading to the diffusion of secular ideas as well as by revising regional norms about the type of institutional reforms that are desirable. On the empirical front, this study adopts a mixed methods approach to evaluate these arguments as well as others that are suggested in the broader relevant literature. The first empirical section uses statistical analysis of original data that I have compiled on legal secularization in the post-1850 period to evaluate the primary hypothesis that follows from each argument. The findings in this section support the arguments that emphasize the role of international security pressures and diffusion from geographically proximate contexts. The second step in the empirical strategy focuses on the comparative historical analysis of three sets of countries that vary in terms of legal secularization but share a set of critical characteristics: a. France and Spain; b. Turkey, Morocco, and Iran; c. Albania and Lebanon. These comparative case studies further evaluate the two arguments that are supported by the statistical analysis by focusing on their more fine-grained empirical implications that relate to the emergence of influential secular elites and the conditions under which they succeed.