Monday, February 05, 2007

Tony's Summary of Oberschall's Article

Oberschall's Analysis of Ethnic Violence
In Anthony Oberschall's article "The manipulation of ethnicity: from ethnic cooperation to violence and war in Yugoslavia", he uses popular explanations of ethnicity and ethnic conflict to expound further in explaining how exactly Yugoslavia went from ethnic cooperation to all out ethnic warfare. The 'primordial', 'instrumentalist', 'constructionist', and the 'state breakdown' views are four explanations of ethnicity and ethnic conflict that come up short according to Oberschall.
The 'primordial' view states that feelings of ethnicity are natural and almost taken for granted in culture. Applied to Yugoslavia, this would mean that underneath the facade of cooperation and friendship that had been so prevalent among Muslims and Serbs, there were inherent mistrusts, hatreds, and other misgivings felt by both sides. Fueled by a political power race, this meant that neighbors would have started going at each other in a escalating level of violence and hatred. According to Oberschall, this view comes up short for explaining the conflict in Yugoslavia primarily because of the lack of neighbor on neighbor violence, and how most of the violence perpetrated was committed by militias and the military. I take issue with his criticism in that the makeup of militias and think that they could have contained former neighbors. These people had to come from somewhere, and if manipulated enough with propaganda, neighbors would be more than willing to take up arms against threats, regardless of whether or not that ex-neighbor of yours lent you three eggs the week before. I would like to read more about the regional makeup of militias in order to answer this more thoroughly.
The 'instrumentalist' idea of ethnic conflict states that politicians and those in power manipulate ethnic feelings and identities in order to make political gains. The political gain in this case was, for the Serbs, the creation of Greater Serbia. Oberschall takes issue with this when the feelings of average Bosnians and Serbs were surveyed to display a sentiment that was not supportive of secession, and that many Serbs in fact avoided military service which would show an unwillingness to die for this cause or fight for it at the least, though I would argue that they could have had strong nationalist sentiment but they were not willing to die for it perhaps.
'Constructionist' explanations point to the very real existence of ethnicity but that in ordinary times ethnicity is just one of a few identifying characteristics important to people. Oberschall finds this lacks any explanation of how the nationalist and ethnic identities were constructed and then broken down by a heavy handed propaganda campaign and political mobilization.
The breakdown of the state and the lack of security therein was the fourth existing explanation of ethnic conflict. The idea behind this is that a lack of security drives a sort of ethnic arms race because there is no protection offered, or felt to be offered, by existing institutions. This is not to say that it is ethnicity that drives this, but rather a feeling of fear and insecurity. However, Oberschall finds this lacking any explanation as to why there was so much violence without state breakdown. I disagree in that the state does not need to be failing in order for groups to cling together out of fear.
Oberschall then seeks to show that it there was a strong sense of nationalism that was lying just beneath the surface of peoples psyche and that it was the leadership that brought those feelings out. The fears and insecurity that followed was the product of media dishonesty and heavy propaganda. He uses the ideas of cognitive frames to explain some of the shortcomings as described above.
There existed two frames in Yugoslavia. One was a frame of normal peacetime relations that was most prevalent under the rule of Tito. This frame suppressed the other, crisis frame. This crisis frame was activated throughout the many wars experienced in the region throughout history. Oberschall argues that the crisis frame was brought out in a manipulative way by nationalists.
Generally critical of what I read, I have to admit that this argument was very agreeable to me and made quite a bit of sense in explaining a little further than the other views on ethnicity, why and how ethnic conflict was ignited in Yugoslavia. I would have liked to continue on further with really unpacking the article because the implications of how cognitive crisis frames are brought out, particularly through the media, are very global. Even in our own country we could analyze this in regards to the War on Terror, or to past issues such as racism and the Civil Rights Movement and find explanations that might call into question whether or not our media machine is indeed benevolent and noble in its quest for the 'fair and balanced' report.