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Government Response to Ethnic Separatist

Movements
Christina Case christinacase@juno.com
Bryan Calvin btc0029@unt.edu
Nicole Carman nicolecarman@hotmail.com
James Lucas jml0066@unt.edu
September 10, 2007
Research Topic and Question
Ethnic conflicts are prevalent world wide. Government reactions to ethnic
conflicts vary widely in each instance. In order to understand which situa-
tions will end in peaceful solutions we pose the following question: Why do
government policies vary in response to ethnic separatist movements?

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Research To Date
In 2006, Barbara F. Walter published an article titled Building Reputation:
Why Governments Fight Some Separatists but Not Others. In her article,
she discusses the causes of governmental response to ethnic separatist move-
ments (Walter, 2006). Her article provides an in depth regression of every
ethnic conflict occurring in the world. Her theory is that governments base
their reaction to ethnic claims on the potential for future ethnic conflicts.
That is, if there is great potential for other ethnic groups to make demands
of the government in the future, then the government will be less likely to
accommodate in the current situation. In order to test her hypothesis, Wal-
ter takes into account several different independent variables these include:
economic, strategic and psychological value of the land in question, length
of residency of the ethnic group, whether the ethnic group had previously
been autonomous, proportion of population and territory, capabilities of both
the ethnic group and the government, regime type, duration of conflict and
whether or not violence was involved. Her results showed that violence did
not have a statistically significant impact on the outcome of the conflict. Her
findings reveal that the variable with the most significant impact was the po-
tential for future conflict. The value of the land had a significant impact if the
potential for future conflict was held constant. Democratic regimes did show
more willingness to accommodate regardless of potential future conflicts.

Sri Lanka
After World War II the Sri Lankan government began enacting several laws
which systematically decreased the rights of the Tamil population (Bloom,
2003). These laws included the banning of the Tamil language through-
out the country, policies of non-admittance to universities and discrimina-
tion against Tamils in the workforce. Initially, the Tamil population fought
against these government incursions within the republican government but
was unsuccessful. The Tamil population is estimated to be about 12 percent
of the population in Sri Lanka (DeVotta, 2002). Despite organizing to form
political groups to work within the governmental institutions the Tamil pop-
ulation has never been able to gain enough support to protect their rights
within the Sinhalese lead government. Frustration among the Tamil popula-
tion continued to grow. During the 1970s groups began forming to demand
an independent Tamil nation (Bloom, 2003). One of these groups was the

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Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or the LTTE. This organization is responsi-
ble for the much of the violence that has occurred in Sri Lanka during the last
thirty years. The government and the LTTE are responsible for the deaths
of over 70,000 Sri Lankans since the began of this civil war (DeVotta, 2005).
The government and the LTTE have been involved in five rounds of peace
talks (Stokke, 2006). The most recent ceasefire agreement was broken in
mid-2006. Both the government and the LTTE seem to have continued to
escalate the conflict since then (de Silva, 2007).
Research regarding the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka has been widespread.
Scholars have focused on the causes of the civil war. Arguments in this field
have focused on institutional causes such as the failure of the republican
government instituted under British rule to incorporate different ethnic pop-
ulations (DeVotta, 2005). Neil DeVotta argues in his article From Ethnic
Outbidding to Ethnic Conflict: the Institutional Bases for Sri Lanka’s Sepa-
ratist War, that the republican government in Sri Lanka provided an arena
in which political parties exploit ethnic differences in order to gain popular-
ity among citizens. Politicians seek to have the most anti-minority stance in
order to gain votes and win elections. DeVotta argues that although political
elites ultimately make the behavioral decision to become involved in ethnic
outbidding, it is the institutional framework that has created the situation
in which that decision is possible. Other scholars have focused on ethnic
mythmaking as the trigger to ethnic violence (Kaufman, 2006). Under this
theory political elites engage in ethnic mythmaking. This is a process by
which elites create stories involving ethnicity to garner support for their eth-
nic causes. In the case of Sri Lanka, Tamil elites created myths which claimed
the Tamils were direct descendants of the first human race and original oc-
cupiers of the northern territory in Sri Lanka(Bloom, 2003). Elites were able
to garner support for the cause of an independent Tamil nation under the
assumption of these myths. The Sinhalese engaged in fear based mythmak-
ing (DeVotta, 2002). The Sinhalese elites inspired fear of the Tamils based
on their experiences under colonial rule. If the Tamils were able to use their
own language and participate in government activities they would be able
to dominate the Sinhalese population as they had under the British rule.
Elites used these myths to enact discriminatory policies against the Tamils
and justify violence in response to the Tamil quest for independence.
Additional research has been conducted on the continuation of the con-
flict. Such research has focused on the failure of peace talks and cease fire
agreements (Sislin and Pearson, 2006; Smith, 2007). Theories posed by schol-

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ars include failure of the government to recognize the negotiating ability
of the LTTE. This argument suggests that although government is some-
what willing to sit at the same table with the LTTE, they are unwilling to
work toward a compromise that will calm the tensions between the groups
(Smith, 2007). Other theories suggest that ceasefire agreements are merely
used by the LTTE as a time to reinforce their army (Sislin and Pearson, 2006).
The relaxation of the conflict allows the LTTE to focus on recruiting new
soldiers, acquiring new arms and financial backing. Once the LTTE has ac-
complished these goals, they break the ceasefire agreement and reengage in
the conflict.

Ireland
The conflict over independence in Ireland has no doubt been a brutal and
bloody affair. The history of intense violence can mostly be attributed to
political demands and has been described as civil war, ethnic conflict, and
terrorism. The origins of this political violence can be traced back to the
Irish Civil War that occurred from 1919 to 1921, when Irish nationalists de-
manded Home Rule or self government from the British government. This
war led to the formation of nationalist armed militias, most notably, the
Irish Republican Army. After years of fighting, the representatives of the
de facto Irish Republic and the British Government signed a treaty ending
the war in 1921. This treaty, known as the Anglo-Irish Treaty, established
the Irish Free State and confirmed the partition of the island into Southern
Ireland and Northern Ireland. This settlement was an acknowledgement that
the Irish people were deeply divided between Protestants, primarily concen-
trated in the Northern province of Ulster, who intended to remain part of
the United Kingdom, and the Catholic majority who demanded indepen-
dence from Britain (Schmitt, 1998). After the treaty was ratified, the IRA
leadership was deeply divided over the decision to divide the new Irish Repub-
lic and discontent developed into open defiance of the government amongst
anti-treaty campaigners. As a result, the focus shifted from Independence to
the preservation of a United Ireland.
While in most areas of the country the conflict remained between the
IRA and the British Police and Army, in the North, the war for a United Ire-
land had a character of its own. Nationalists within Northern Ireland, who
were predominantly Catholic, did not accept legitimacy of the new state.
As a result, the Protestant and Unionist majority began to engage in sec-

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tarian violence to respond to IRA attacks on their security forces with the
killing of Catholics. Discrimination of Catholics in terms of housing, jobs,
and especially legislation was evident in the community where Protestants
outnumbered Catholics two to one (Bell Jr, 1973). These acts of violence con-
tinued to escalate from 1925 to 1968 when the period of violence described
as The Troubles began. This thirty year period of repeated acts of intense
violence escalated the IRA from insurgents to terrorists as they began to
attack outside of Ireland in the mainland of Britain as well as in other parts
of Europe using tactics that often involved the killing of civilians. The Irish
Republican strategy has always been based on physical force whether it be
mass rebellion, assassinations, guerilla war, or bombing campaigns. Assess-
ments of the effectiveness of the IRA.s campaign vary. While there is some
sympathy for the movement, in many cases appeal for the cause was hurt
badly as a result of numerous bombings killing innocent civilians. According
to a study measuring the political violence in Northern Ireland by Robert
White, between the years of 1969 and 1993, the casualties as a result of
the Troubles were totaled at 3, 523 people. Approximately sixty percent of
the victims were killed by Republicans, thirty percent by loyalists, and ten
percent by the security forces (White, 1993).
The IRA did not in any sense defeat the British military in Ireland;
however they did create an ungovernable environment in which the political,
military, and financial costs of maintaining resistance resulted in forcing the
British government into negotiations (?). Nationalistic and ethnic conflicts
are a continuing source of tension in the world today. Underlying issues, such
as the lack of trust amongst ethnic groups and governments create difficulty in
finding resolution. In the case of Northern Ireland, the Troubles were brought
to an uneasy end in 1994 when the IRA announced a cessation of military
operations. This was the first of many unsuccessful cease fires in the area. A
few years later on April 10th, 1998, the Belfast agreement, also known as The
Good Friday Agreement, was signed and agreed to by both sides restoring
peace and dividing power allowing for equal representation in the disputed
area. The structure of the Peace Negotiation is what Arponen refers to as
peace politics. The goals of the negotiations in Ireland were geared towards
establishing relationships and institutional development. The establishment
of a relationship between the two governments as well as the citizens of
the area was believed to be vital in creating stability and trust, leading
to ongoing peace. Institutional development was also necessary to create
democratic institutions for Northern Ireland based on power sharing to in

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turn diminish inequality and allow for representation (?). The North Ireland
Assembly was the product of these negotiations, and matters of education,
health, agriculture, and employment were entrusted to the new legislative
power. The government of Great Britain did however reserve the right to
control matters of criminal law, police, aviation, trade, and sea ports.

Quebec
The secession movement in Quebec has remained relatively peaceful since
1972. Efforts by Quebeckers to achieved sovereignty for the province have
produced mixed results with their ultimate goal not yet achieved. Canada,
however has maintained a desire to work with the secessionist leaders; while
wanting to prevent separation, the national government also seeks to elim-
inate the need and desires associated with the movement by actively ad-
dressing its concerns. Historically, there has only been one time when the
Canadian government has felt the need to take an aggressive stance and that
held widespread support in the country as a whole and within Canada.
The majority of research on the Quebec separatist movement focuses on
the intergovernmental efforts of the Parti Qubcois, a political party formed
in 1968 dedicated to the causes of a free Quebec (Watts, 1996; Thomson,
1976). According to Watts (1996), the Parti Qubcois, or P.Q., pushed for
constitutional reforms aimed at creating a restructured federalism with an
increase in power and responsibility at the provincial level. What has been
remarkable is Canadas continued willingness to negotiate. Between 1982
and 1992 there were three significant attempts at constitutional reform with,
along with other goals, a purpose of strengthening Quebecs autonomy (Watts,
1996; Simpson, 1990). In addition to attempts at structural reform, the P.Q
has led two different referendums on the question on sovereignty. The 1980
question presented to Quebec citizens resulted in a resounding 65 percent
majority vote against sovereignty. The 1995 vote was a narrow 50.6 percent
no and a 49.4 percent yes (Clarke and Kornberg, 1996; Dion, 1996; Watts,
1996).
This is not to say that the movement was entirely peaceful. Indeed the
formation of the P.Q. can be seen as a reaction to the violent tactics of the
late 1960s and early 1970s. Ross and Gurr (1989) document the instances
of violence in the name of Quebec separatism by the Front de Libration du
Quebec, or the FLQ. The FLQ stands as the only terrorist group associated
with the Quebec separatist movement (Ross and Gurr, 1989). Although they

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attempted several small bombings they are most known for setting off a bomb
in the Montreal Stock Exchange in 1969 which injured 27 people, and multiple
kidnappings that occurred in October 1970. The October 1970 kidnappings
of James Cross and Pierre Laporte led to Canadian Prime Minister Pierre
Trudeau to impose the War Measures Act from October 1970 to January 1971
(Sorrentino and Vidmar, 1974). The War Measures Act allowed the federal
government to suspend Habeas Corpus and place the Province of Quebec
under a form of marshall law. FLQ reaction to the War Measures Act was
to execute Laporte. Rather than face the murder of Cross, the Candadian
government negotiated his release in exchange for the safe passage of several
FLQ members to Cuba. Following the execution of Laporte, public support
for the FLQ dissolved (Ross and Gurr, 1989; Sorrentino and Vidmar, 1974).
Quebec separatists turned to the P.Q. as a peaceful means of achieving their
sovereignty goals.
As a democracry Canada has maintained negotiations to preserve the
unity of the union. The only time Canada has shown aggression in this
matter was as a response to the violence of the FLQ. Public support for the
Canadian governments actions and the rise of the P.Q. led to the cessation of
violent tactics to achieve sovereignty goals. Since P.Q. is an embedded part
of Canadian party politics, there is no sign that this issue will be resolved
soon and there are continued efforts and calls for negotiations.

Chechnya
The latest conflict in Chechnya between Chechen separatists and the Russian
government began during the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. However, as
Tolz (1996) points out, the conflict between the Chechens and Russians has
been ongoing since the 16th century, when Russia first attempted to colo-
nize the Northern Caucasus region. The region was militarily defeated by
the Russians in 1859, though disloyalty and attempts at independence by
the Caucasus peoples occurred periodically, particularly during the Russian
revolution and World War II. Arguably, the region has never fully embraced
Russian rule or culture. The move toward separatism reemerged in the wan-
ing years of Soviet rule (Karagiannis, 2002). Initially a peaceful separatist
movement, violence broke out in December 1994 as the Russian government
tried to retake control of the Chechen capital (Tolz, 1996). A peace agree-
ment was signed in 1996 between the Chechens and the Russian government,
although little was reconciled politically. In 1999, Chechen forces invaded

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the neighboring territory of Dagestan, breaking the peace, and thus began
the second war between Chechnya and Russia. Fighting continued into the
new millenium, although the conflict has waned since the assassination of
the Chechen president in 2004 and of the Chechen’s military leader, Shamil
Basayev, in 2006 (Chechnya, 2007; Buckley and Ostrovsky, 2006).
The question of democracy and how it relates to Chechen separatism
and the Russian government’s response is complex. In 1994, Russia was still
in the infantile stages of democratic development. The Soviet Union had
collapsed only three years earlier, and its democratic constitution had only
been in place since 1993 (Russia, 2007). The sovereignty of the Russian state
and its commitment to democratic principles were still much in question (as
they are in the present) in 1994 and clearly depended upon how issues like
Chechen separatism were resolved. Thus, the Russian government faced a
unique dilemma: whether to approach the situation democratically and al-
low the Chechens the opportunity for self-determination, thereby potentially
weakening the sovereignty of the Russian federal government, or whether
to crack down on the separatist movement in an authoritarian fashion, and
thus weaken the government’s perceieved commitment to democracy. The
government, of course, chose the latter option, which may reflect both the
precarious sovereignty of the Russian government and the lack of strongly
held democratic ideals in Russian political culture.
According to (Tolz, 1996), the Chechens began conducting terrorist acts
to achieve their goals in 1995, when Shamil Basayev led Chechen forces to
take a Russian hospital hostage. Hundreds of civilians were killed, thus
setting a pattern of terroristic attacks led by Basayev over the next decade.
The most notorious include the siege of a Moscow theater in 2002, and the
siege of a school in the Russian town of Beslan in 2004. In both of these
attacks, hundreds of civilians were killed; the Beslan siege was particularly
gruesome for the number of children who were killed. Such attacks may
have done little to further the cause of Chechen independence: in 2003,
the Chechen public approved a constitution for Chechnya that made the
region subordinate to Russian federal law. In 2004, the Chechens elected the
Kremlin-supported candidate as president of Chechnya (Chechnya, 2007).
Therefore, it seems the use of violence, and terrorist techniques in particular,
may have undermined support for Chechen separatism.
As previously mentioned, conflict between the peoples of the Caucasus
region and Russia has occurred periodically since the 16th century. The long-
standing desire by Northern Caucasians for independence resurfaced through-

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out the 20th century, most recently during the fall of the Soviet Union.
Initially, the Russian government was peaceful towards the Chechens and
participated in negotiations with Chechen leaders both before the start of
hostilities in 1994 and in 1995 and 1996 - a three-year ceasefire took place
between 1996 and 1999. However, none of these negotiations was ultimately
successful, and the most recent lull in violence has likely occurred due to
a lack of Chechen popular support and as a result of the assassination of
Shamil Basayev (Chechnya, 2007).

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Theory
Fully democratic regimes will always be more willing to accommodate sepa-
ratist movements than less democratic or non-democratic regimes. In order to
maintain legitimacy and stability of the regime a democracy must be willing
to provide forums for free speech and minority requests to be heard. Demo-
cratic regimes will seek democratic and non-violent means to a resolution.
We also theorize that the length of the conflict will increase the willingness
of the government to accommodate separatist movements regardless of the
regime type of the government. As the conflict spreads over many years
the cost both in monetary and human life terms will result in an increased
willingness to accommodate. As elites weigh the costs of continuing to fight
with no peaceful end in sight and the costs of some accommodation, they
will see that greater progress toward peace can be made through negotia-
tions rather than a continuation of current policies. Contrary to perceptions
of some separatists leaders we believe that increased levels of violence may
not urge governments to accommodate. Higher levels of violence could have
both positive and negative effects on attaining the goals of the independence
movement. As violence increases it can alienate public support for the cause
and force the government to respond with an even more resistant stance
toward the movement. As elites must respond to the threat of continued
violence it is also possible that the government may be willing to accom-
modate to prevent further violence and loss of life. The level of violence is
not a reliable predictor of how government will respond to ethnic separatist
movements.

Hypotheses
• Democratic regimes will be more accommodating to separatist move-
ments than non-democratic regimes.

• The level of violence used in an ethnic separatist movements does not


predict the willingness of governments to accommodate.

• The longer the duration of the separatist movement the more willing
governments will be to accommodate.

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Research Design
The four case studies chosen for this project are Sri Lanka, Ireland, Que-
bec and Chechnya. We have chosen these four countries for several reasons.
First, in each of these countries there has been an ethnic movement toward
separatism. Each of the movements have engaged in different levels of vio-
lence. The conflicts have lasted for different lengths of time. The responses
of government have varied between complete non-accommodation to some
accommodation. Each of the countries has varying levels of democracy. The
cases are regionally diverse. These aspects will provide a more representa-
tive sample of the recent ethnic conflicts and provide a theory with a more
generalizable outcome.
To test the above hypotheses we will run a regression analysis to deter-
mine if our hypotheses are true. The first independent variable is the level
of democracy. Level of democracy will be measured by using the Polity IV
data set, which codifies how democratic a regime is by assign a numeric value
based on characteristics of that regime. The second independent variable is
length of conflict. This value will be based on the first organization of the
ethnic group demanding separation from the controlling government. The
final independent variable, level of violence, will be measured by the number
of fatalities since the conflict began. The dependent variable of the regres-
sion is willingness of the government to accommodate the ethnic separatists.
Each case will be coded on a one to three scale. A value of one represents no
accommodation on the part of the government toward the ethnic movement.
A value of two will represent some willingness to accommodate. A value of
three represents full accommodation and territorial secession.

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