|MANAGING ETHNIC CONFLICT: THE KONA STATEMENT
Ethnic conflict is one of the greatest impediments to the development
of democratic institutions in eastern Europe and the former USSR. It threatens
the security of the region and the peace and prosperity of the larger Euro-Atlantic
world. Indeed, as the new century approaches, the question of how groups
with different cultures, languages, and traditions shall live together
in an increasingly crowded and interdependent world will be at the top
of the agenda in almost every part of the globe.
In November 1993, the Project on Ethnic Relations (PER) brought together
several members of its Council for Ethnic Accord who are engaged in various
hands-on efforts to understand and to reduce ethnic conflicts. They were:
Nicolae Gheorghe, Institute of Sociology of the Romanian Academy; Donald
Horowitz, Duke University Law School; Allen Kassof and Livia Plaks, Project
on Ethnic Relations; William Pfaff, International Herald Tribune; Attila
Pok, Hungarian Academy of Sciences Institute of History; Vojislav Stanovcic,
Belgrade University; and Valery Tishkov, Institute of Ethnography and Anthropology,
Russian Academy of Sciences. Larry Watts of PER also participated.
At PER's request, the members of this group presented a panel on ethnopolitics
in eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union at the annual meeting of
the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies, which met
in Honolulu, Hawaii. Immediately preceding that presentation, they spent
three days at Kona, on the island of Hawaii, in intensive and far-ranging
discussions of ethnic conflict. The purpose of these discussions was to
compare experiences in observing and dealing with ethnic conflicts and
to search for generalizations about ways to mitigate them.
Donald Horowitz led the discussions. Afterward, William Pfaff wrote
a distillation of the content of the discussions, to which Valery Tishkov
made additional contributions. Their texts were subsequently combined by
PER's senior editorial consultant, Robert Feldmesser, and the result is
the Kona Statement.
The phenomenon of ethnic conflict is old, but its current manifestations
have taken on new dimensions that we are only beginning to recognize--for
example, the widening availability of destructive weaponry and the changing
(and often inconsistent) role of the international community. Moreover,
as the introduction by Professor Horowitz rightly emphasizes, it is easier
to state desiderata than it is to devise realistic measures to accomplish
them. Hence, the reader should think of this statement as a work in progress.
We intend to make further efforts to expand on this modest beginning, and
we hope that others will be stimulated to join. Comments addressed to PER
will be welcomed and will be shared with members of the discussion group.
No single individual can be held accountable for a collective product.
PER therefore assumes full responsibility for the content of this document.
Allen Kassof, Director
Livia B. Plaks, Associate Director
Princeton, New Jersey
In the face of massive ethnic warfare, usually accompanied by unspeakable
brutality, it is easy to become cynical and complacent, to conclude that
the world is prey to beastly behavior and that nothing much can be done
about it. The document that was drafted at Kona, on the island of Hawaii,
in November 1993, makes clear that such attitudes are unjustified. There
are many measures that can and should be taken at all stages of ethnic
conflict. The Kona statement enumerates constructive steps to avert and
alleviate such conflict before it breaks out into open warfare and other
steps to be taken while warfare is ongoing and when it is concluded.
However, it is necessary to enter an important caveat. Adoption of these
measures will never be easy or even likely. If it were, many states would
already have adopted them, and the Kona Statement would be superfluous.
More often than not, ethnic group leaders and politicians find it more
advantageous to pursue intergroup conflict than intergroup accommodation.
Those who are interested in peace must continue to search for opportunities
for the pursuit of conciliation, for those fortunate moments when leaders
do find it advantageous to reduce ethnic hostility.
The specific measures that are recommended should be those that leaders
will find it rewarding to adopt and to pursue once adopted. In all too
many cases, policies born of noble impulses have been pressed upon leaders
who had no incentive to carry them out and who therefore abandoned the
policies as soon as the international community was no longer watching.
It is not always easy to identify policies that leaders will find both
conciliatory and at the same time rewarding to political leaders, and we
make no pretense that everything recommended in the Kona declaration is
of that character. Rather, we issue the statement to break an intellectual
impasse and to generate momentum toward interethnic accord.
Donald L. Horowitz
THE KONA STATEMENT
Members of the Council for Ethnic Accord of the Project on Ethnic Relations
met in Kona on the island of Hawaii in November 1993 with the aim of drawing
up a set of considerations that would be useful to those involved in dealing
with the problems of ethnic conflict, which is surely the most pervasive
and probably the most important source of human suffering in the world
today. This document is the result of the council's deliberations on that
occasion. It is presented in all humility, as a basis for reflection and
comment by others, and in the hope that it will deepen understanding of
the problems and eventually lead to the development of rational policies
for dealing with them.
Ethnic or "national" identity is usually a product of a community's
political, cultural, religious, and linguistic history, traditions, and
conventions--and sometimes inventions--rather than a product of "common
origin" in a scientifically valid anthropological sense. The eminent British
commentator on nationalism, Hugh Seton-Watson, has written that, after
a lifetime of study, he was driven to the conclusion that it was not possible
to devise a scientific definition of a nation. "All I can find to say is
that a nation exists when a significant number of people in a community
consider themselves to form a nation, or behave as if they formed one."
However it may be defined, ethnic identity and the struggle for ethnic
self-determination that has often accompanied it have played two quite
different roles in modern history. On the one hand, they have been a major
force in the decline of imperialism, totalitarianism, and enforced ideology
and thus in the expansion of human rights and freedoms, and they have been
the basis for the recovery and strengthening of individual dignity. On
the other hand, they have been the source of corrosive tensions and destructive
conflicts, leading to the deaths of millions of people and to huge material
losses, blocking economic and political reform, and serving as a justification
for violations of human rights and the imposition of oppressive regimes.
The Council for Ethnic Accord neither advocates nor challenges the principle
of ethnic or national self- determination, although it acknowledges, and
indeed emphasizes, the immense complexity of the consequences of applying
that principle or even seeking to apply it. Similarly, the council takes
no position on the question of the collective rights of a people as distinct
from (or in addition to) the rights of individuals, but it takes note of
the facts that this is an issue of passionate dispute and that the existence
of the dispute is itself an element that must be taken into account in
the search for solutions to the problems that ethnic identification presents.
For centuries, these problems arose particularly in places where patterns
of migration and political change made certain communities minorities in
societies in which the majority was of a different ethnic identity or national
tradition and the minority and majority communities clashed over their
relative access to natural resources or national wealth, to social, political,
and economic positions, and to educational opportunities. Ancient forms
of discrimination or persecution were often present, as in the cases of
the scheduled castes or "untouchables" of India, the class of people traditionally
engaged in "unclean" occupations in Japan, and the Roma (Gypsies) and Jews
in many countries.
More recently, another dimension has been added to the problems, when
a minority community within one nation and the majority group in a neighboring
nation identify with each other, giving rise to fears--or ambitions--of
national expansion or partition. National frontiers established in eastern
Europe and the Middle East by the settlements following the World War,
and in the former Soviet Union by tsarist or Soviet authority, have in
some cases been changed in response to (among other factors) demands from
ethnic groups--sometimes creating new demands from other ethnic groups--and
in many other cases are being contested as never before, sometimes with
the use of armed force, threatening to engulf whole regions. Thus, international
intervention in ethnic conflicts is being proposed with increasing frequency,
although there is little agreement on the criteria or forms of such intervention,
and the limited experience with it to date, as in the former Yugoslavia,
is not promising.
It is useful to view the development of ethnic conflict in four stages:
latency, manifestation, actualization, and aftermath. The needs and possibilities
for action differ from one stage to the next.
Stage 1: Latency
For greater or lesser periods of time in the life of a multiethnic national
state, relations among its constituent communities may seem normal, and
little or nothing is done to deal with the possibility of future conflict.
Yet there are constructive measures that can be taken at this stage to
prevent the eruption of such conflict. This is especially true when significant
institutional changes are taking place, as in the former Communist countries
The objective of government action at this stage should be to foster
inclusion and full citizenship for all. It is not enough to enact legislation
that defines the rights of ethnic groups or prohibits discrimination. There
should be an attempt to enlarge the participation of ethnic minorities
in public decision-making so as to enhance their confidenc that their rights
are being respected and that they can rely on fair treatment by public
authorities. Newly independent states should accept the "zero" variant
of citizenship: All persons living on the territory of the state at the
moment of its establishment are entitled to be full citizens. Electoral
systems and political parties should be organized in ways that encourage
ethnic coalitions. Social and economic policies should seek to improve
the conditions and status of groups that have been the victims of discrimination
and to enlarge their opportunities, although experience in the United States
and India suggests that "reverse discrimination" may be counterproductive.
These policies should take into account the fact that disparities among
ethnic groups are often associated with differences between urban and rural
areas or between historical rates of participation in various forms of
In some cases, a federal structure may help reassure ethnic minorities
that their rights will be maintained and their culture protected. Federalism
can provoke fears of separatism and national dismemberment among the majority
group, but the experience of Switzerland, India, post-Franco Spain, and
the European Union demonstrates that, on the contrary, federalism can provide
political stability and weaken separatist impulses. De jure or de facto
exclusion from participation in national affairs may well spark demands
for self-determination. One provision that may be useful in a federal system
is that election to national office require a specified fraction of the
vote in a majority of the federated units. At the least, a "functional
federalism" should be encouraged. The European Union's "distributive" principle
is a useful model, in which political and economic powers are devolved
to the lowest level of government or administration at which they can be
competently exercised. This principle can also be applied in matters of
education. However, it should not be overlooked that ethnic identification
can also be nonterritorial, binding together communities living in different
areas of a national state; hence, opportunities should be provided for
communication (including the use of ethnically distinct languages) and
association across the borders of federated units.
The educational system should be encouraged to include instruction about
the fallacies and perils of ethnic prejudice and the duty of individuals
to be alert to their own tendencies to engage in ethnic stereotyping. Special
educational efforts should be directed to traditionally disadvantaged ethnic
groups, in order to improve their ability to define their own interests,
responsibilities, and possibilities in the larger society and to assume
positions of political and economic leadership at both local and national
levels. Individuals and organizations in the mass media should be encouraged
to assume responsibility for carefully investigating and verifying accounts
of ethnic threats or confrontations before publicizing them. But efforts
to outlaw the public expression of ethnic prejudice are not always effective;
indeed, the trial of those charged with violating such statutes can sometimes
give rise to heightened tensions. However, it may be useful to act against
the deliberate dissemination of ethnically hostile views or the instigation
of ethnic hatred. At the very least, national and regional networks should
be established to monitor and publicize such developments.
Intellectual elites bear a particular responsibility for articulating
ethnic interests in a nonthreatening manner; unnecessarily aggressive intellectual
formulations have in a number of cases been the trigger for conflict (e.g.,
the struggle between Georgians and Abkhazians began as a "war of the philologists").
Intellectual leaders should also play a positive role in developing new
concepts of the nature of the state, moving away from the idea that a particular
ethnic group, perhaps claiming descent from a common ancestor, is the only
legitimate holder of state power--"one ethnic group, one state"--and toward
ideas of nations as multicultural entities, though with distinctive cultural
Every national government should recognize that other national governments
will inevitably interest themselves in the status and conditions of their
coethnics living within its borders. Both sides must approach this matter
as objectively as possible, but frankly and realistically, constantly aware
that questions of secession and national honor and sovereignty are nearly
always just below the surface in such cases. The goal should be to achieve
noninvidious and nonthreatening relationships between ethnic minorities
and their coethnics abroad. Experience suggests that problems of this kind
are more constructively discussed in specific terms than at the level of
general principles. It may be helpful to draw on professional expertise,
knowledge of comparable experience, and the international community's assistance
in mediating disputes and perhaps offering specific kinds of guarantees.
By the same token, international organizations, both governmental and nongovernmental,
need to reexamine their responsibilities and their practical possibilities
for action. There is much they can do to promote the values of equal citizenship
under the law, respect for human rights, and ethnic and national understanding
and cooperation, and also to prepare themselves to offer mediation and
conflict-resolution services and to enforce international law or impose
certain rules of international conduct. A permanent war-crimes or human-rights
court might serve as a deterrent to conflict.
Stage 2: Manifestation
There is no reason to assume that ethnic tensions will inevitably develop
into overt hostilities, but it is all too common that they do, often as
the result of neglect of the measures that could have been taken during
the latency stage. The more obvious warning signs of this shift are increased
accusations of wrongdoing by ethnic groups and references to ethnic stereotypes
in public discussion and political discourse, the appearance of rumors
of atrocities supposedly perpetrated by one ethnic group or another, and
demands for extraordinary steps to benefit or "protect" the majority or
minority groups or to restrict the liberties of those believed to threaten
Sometimes, a more subtle but nonetheless discernible sign is a spontaneous
regrouping of populations along ethnic lines; such a movement was apparent
in census statistics in Yugoslavia following Tito's death, and it could
have been recognized as a silent signal of popular expectation of the conflict
that eventually broke out. In addition, these regroupings themselves can
be a source of problems when they bring competition for jobs and housing
or are believed to be the cause of increased criminal activity. Even when
the newcomers are of the same ethnic identity as those among whom they
settle, they may be the bearers of different cultural values or life styles
as well as strongly negative feelings toward the ethnic group from which
they have "escaped." All of those problems are of course exacerbated when
the population movements are carried out as forced resettlements.
Privatization of the economies of the former Communist countries has
often contributed to ethnic tensions, because groups that make their living
(or find a new means of survival) through trading can readily be perceived
as profiting "illegitimately" from the market system and other aspects
of economic reform. This has happened to Transcaucasians in Moscow and
to Roma and Jews there and in eastern Europe.
These processes may then erupt in sporadic incidents of ethnic violence.
At that point, the government must move promptly to maintain order and
authority, and it must make unequivocally clear its rejection of violence
as a mode of political action, including violence instigated by elements
in the national majority or in a politically dominant minority.
Once violent incidents have occurred, various groups may begin to acquire
arms and to arrange for the training and organization of paramilitary forces
or for the recruitment of those already trained and experienced in the
nation's military ventures. "Ethnic entrepreneurs" appear, making narrow,
nonnegotiable demands in emotionally laden terms, and they may succeed
in intimidating politicians into incorporating these demands into official
declarations and legal documents. Even political leaders who want to resist
these demands and to resolve disputes in peaceful ways may not know how
to go about it; simply ignoring the manifestations of hostility may seem
to them to be the only option. Such reactions may be interpreted as a green
light for launching large-scale, systematic violence against ethnic foes.
The steps that can be taken to deal with the dangers at this stage include
all of those already discussed as preventive measures appropriate to the
latency stage, but they will be much more difficult to implement in the
conditions of manifestation, because they are apt to be perceived as "taking
sides" in a situation of acute controversy. Major resource transfers to
victimized groups, for example, may produce resentment and backlash. Moreover,
these measures may not be effective quickly enough to avert further conflict.
Hence, additional steps are called for.
The most immediate need is for strengthened measures to maintain public
order. It is of course essential that these be, and be seen as, free of
ethnic bias. An impartially commanded, highly disciplined, and ethnically
mixed police force trained in techniques of crowd and riot control is vital.
Foreign assistance from such specialized forces as France's Compagnies
Republicaines de Securite can be useful. The police and customs authorities
should also closely monitor and control the movement of arms within the
country and from abroad, and they should do what is possible to interdict
the circulation of incendiary propaganda.
The courts--particularly the lower courts--must be given clear guidance
on handling ethnically charged issues, and they must be closely supervised
to prevent bias in the administration of justice. Incitement to and participation
in riot should be promptly prosecuted, and whatever sentences are handed
down should be carried out. There is a tendency to dismiss charges or to
suspend sentences in these cases once the violence is over; this is conducive
to the recurrence of conflict, since those who have promoted the violence
perceive that the personal risk to them in doing so is minimal. Failure
to prosecute and punish also inflates the reputation of riot leaders and
promotes a popular belief that the violence is condoned or even connived
at by the public authorities. New legislation to define or strengthen the
state's role in preventing ethnic discrimination and violence may be necessary.
It is extremely important to foster accurate, unbiased information and
communication, particularly in the mass media. A program should be in place
to systematically expose and discredit rumors. Journalists and editors
should be made aware of their ethical and professional responsibilities.
Instant and severe legal reaction to calls for violence, to ethnic libel,
and to other acts breaching the proper limits of free expression is essential,
not only in order to do justice but to make it evident to the public that
justice is being done. Inflammatory or libelous statements or claims should
be promptly answered by public authorities.
Specialized foreign assistance may be useful in such areas as conflict
resolution, allowing the experience acquired elsewhere and techniques developed
abroad to be brought to bear. The resources of social science may be enlisted
in efforts to contain or rechannel hostilities and to reestablish constructive
communications between groups. One principle of communication that has
been found valuable in these circumstances is that of "second-order agreement,"
which is agreement as to what a disagreement is about. The parties to a
dispute have achieved second-order agreement when each of them is able
to explain his opponent's argument to a third party in terms acceptable
to the opponent. Subsequent argument is then more likely to take place
around real differences, rather than around a polemical interpretation
of the other side's position.
At this stage, too, governments need to understand the international
implications of their actions. Their countries' ability to control if not
prevent ethnic violence fundamentally affects the treatment they receive
from international institutions and from the foreign investment community.
Stage 3: Actualization
If the steps taken in the first two stages fail to have the desired
effects, large-scale conflict between ethnic groups may break out. It can
take the form of a minority's insurrection against the national government
or of war between ethnic groups within the national borders, which may
be supported to greater or lesser degree and in more or less overt ways
by coethnics abroad.
In some of these cases, the interests of the national government may
lie in maintaining its own "national" character and in obtaining an eventual
reconciliation of the warring parties (although in others the central authorities
may see an advantage in suppressing one side). The alternatives are national
partition--possibly as a consequence of foreign intervention--or, more
rarely, a "victory" by the majority over a minority that is sustainable
in the long run only by permanent measures of political and military repression
corrupting to state and society.
The first imperative is to stop the fighting, or at least to control
it in a politically sensitive way, with a view toward the ultimate achievement
of a constructive outcome. This requires:
(a) Strong statements from the public authorities in opposition to the
violence, accompanied by firm actions on the part of the armed forces and
the police. The instigators and executors of violent acts should be detained
or arrested or at any rate removed from the sites of conflict.
(b) Avoidance of ethnic division within the forces of order (which is
more likely if the steps described in stages 1 and 2 have been taken).
These forces must be well disciplined and under effective political control.
If the local police are suspected of harboring ethnically biased sentiments,
it may be useful to bring in nonlocal police forces.
(c) Responsible control of communications, and objectivity in the mass
media. Supplementary equipment may be needed to enhance communication capacity
and to document events.
(d) Establishment of mechanisms for obtaining cease- fires and initiating
negotiations. International mediation may be crucial toward this end. A
cease-fire agreement should include sanctions for its violation, and care
must be taken that a cease-fire does not allow one side or the other to
accumulate fresh resources for the renewal of hostilities. Agreements should
include not only the immediate hostile parties, but also other parties
who have not yet been involved but who possess arms and recruits and have
the potential for interjecting themselves into the conflict. Measures may
have to be taken to disarm all civilians in the area.
(e) Minimization of casualties and material damage. Arrangements should
be made for armed participants and their weapons to be withdrawn from front-line
positions. It may be helpful to set up neutral or protected zones, perhaps
under international authority, to declare open cities, or to take other
steps available to belligerent parties under international law.
(f) Prevention of atrocities and war crimes. As mentioned before, the
existence of international tribunals to try such crimes may have a deterrent
effect. (If, in the aftermath of the current struggles in the former Yugoslavia
and the states of the former Soviet Union, war crimes are diligently and
soberly prosecuted, there may be fewer recurrences.) Facts should be collected
for the future prosecution of war crimes, and the process of collection
should be widely publicized.
The international community inevitably becomes involved at this stage,
because of the risk that the conflict will be transformed into regional
or even global war. Direct intervention is an option, though obviously
a dangerous one, since it may itself widen the war instead of ending it.
Intervention may also complicate the conflict, make it more difficult to
end, and preclude other forms of action. Hence, it should be undertaken
only after serious analysis of previous experiences and of the possible
consequences. If intervention is to take place, it is apt to be most effective
as early as possible after the outbreak of hostilities--e.g., in the Yugoslav
case, at the first military violation of the borders of the newly recognized
Bosnian, Croatian, and Slovenian nations--and it is most likely to be successful
when undertaken with the consent of all the belligerents.
But the international community has a variety of options available to
it short of intervention. It can restrain the movement of arms from abroad
and, to some extent, unilateral political or military acts and the propagation
of inflammatory statements. It can impose sanctions, enact embargoes, and
exert moral pressures in efforts to obtain cease-fires, protect human life,
and promote negotiations. It can prepare trials for crimes against humanity
and violations of international conventions on the conduct of war and the
treatment of prisoners and refugees. It (or individual states on its behalf)
can provide objective information about the conflict, by financing and
otherwise supporting responsible journalistic agencies inside the country
and through radio and television broadcasts from outside. It can contribute
to the strength of moderate forces in the country and help them avoid being
marginalized by extremists, furnishing material support (when that does
not compromise them) and giving them international exposure. Groups in
the country that support principles of democracy and ethnic inclusion should
receive privileged participation in the international dialogue on their
country's crisis. The international community should make it clear to those
in the country who are responsible for instigating ethnic violence or who
are committed to ethnic exclusion that, even if they are successful in
asserting their power, their government will face continuing international
opprobrium and isolation. Finally, the influence of international business
in supporting moderate forces should not be neglected, for the economy
of any country is affected by the goodwill and the investment decisions
of actors in the international business community.
It is important, however, that international organizations and individual
nations, even when acting to render humanitarian assistance or to bring
about negotiations for a peaceful settlement, not confirm or rationalize
the gains of one or another side in the conflict or collaborate or acquiesce
in measures of "ethnic cleansing."
Stage 4: Aftermath
Sooner or later, the conflict must end, and it will then be necessary
to reconstruct a civil order from the wreckage left by the ethnic struggle.
The parties to the struggle must be reconciled, and the claims of the "victors"
must be adjusted to the realities of continued national functioning and
the necessities of continued ethnic coexistence.
In some fortunate cases--as in Nigeria after the ethnically based civil
war of 1967-70--there may be a general acknowledgment of the losses that
the society has suffered and a concomitant recognition of the need to reconstruct
civil and political society on a new foundation. It may then be possible
to proceed directly to the rebuilding of institutions in terms of a national
reunion. In this process, there should be a conscious attempt to turn disaster
to good purpose; institutional reconstruction must scrupulously be kept
ethnically neutral, and all parties should commit themselves to ethnic
In any event, hostages must be released, prisoners exchanged, the dead
properly buried; a period of national mourning may be an appropriate gesture,
provided that measures are taken to prevent it from becoming an occasion
for glorifying the conflict. The victims of the war should be compensated,
and people should be helped to return to their homes if this is at all
possible, actions that will be facilitated if laws and international pronouncements
are in place declaring it illegal to seize individual property under conditions
of mass unrest or armed internal conflict. Medical treatment must be provided
for injured and displaced persons. Special attention needs to be given
to children left without their parents and to women who have been the victims
of rape (and who are sometimes further victimized by their own communities
Unfortunately, it is often true that the militants responsible for the
violence are made into heroes and so reap political benefits. Wherever
possible, international pressure should be exerted to prevent them from
assuming national leadership in the postconflict situation. Public debate
should be encouraged with the aim of promoting positive change. The conflict
should be de-dramatized, its events should not be allowed to become the
stuff of sacred memory, and any concept of "blood revenge" should be denounced,
in order that the conflict not be passed on to successor generations (as
in the case of Armenian genocide, among many others). In all of these respects,
the schools and the mass media will play a vital role. Finally, war crimes
and other violations of human rights should be impartially prosecuted and
punished, preferably under national law.
The goal of the measures undertaken in this stage should be to return
the nation to the first stage, when conflict is contained and the possibility
again exists that, with the proper steps--vigorously carried out and informed
by experience--durable, universally beneficial, peaceful relationships
can be established among the nation's diverse ethnic groups.