. 10
( 11)


crimination, intimidation, and unful¬lled promises of full participation
was suppressed, as Fredrick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B.
DuBois pointed out at the time. The legacy of the white North“South
reconciliation is the sorry story of American race relations in the twen-
tieth century; one that excludes blacks from American public life and then
blames them for their failure to be engaged. Southern practices and
policies of intimidation, segregation, and unequal resource allocation get
a heap of responsibility here. But northern whites were complicit in
excluding blacks in ways that were just as signi¬cant, and in doing little or
nothing to push the South, where most blacks continued to live until
1960, to change.
What this raises is the question of what is a ˜˜good enough™™ narrative
following a con¬‚ict? When is reconciliation a mechanism for avoiding a
hard issue that few want to touch, as occurred in the United States fol-
lowing the Civil War when black voices were absent from American
public life? While the focus has been on race issues in the South, the more
I have worked on this chapter, the clearer it became that the same issues
of denial were very present in the North as well. Race is hardly just a
southern problem in the US, but an American one, as Tocqueville,
Myrdal, and many foreign observers have pointed out. In the North, as
well as in the South, issues about slavery and black“white relations are
hard for Americans to confront.
Philadelphia, the city in which I live, has recently had a controversy
around the newly built Liberty Bell Pavilion in Independence National
Park. Excavations of the site, part of which contained the house in which
George Washington lived and worked as president from 1790 to 1797,
turned up evidence that during these years Washington, a native of
Virginia, had slaves who lived and worked there. Also, on this site he
signed the Fugitive Slave Act in 1793 that strengthened the rights of slave
owners to recapture escaped slaves from other states (Mires 2002).
Although he was not the only person who had slaves in this house or in
Philadelphia, the revelations set off a controversy about northern prac-
tices in the country™s early years and the question of how the story would
be marked, and perhaps incorporated into the new building that would
hold the country™s sacred icon (Nash 2003).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Led by African Americans, a group called Avenging the Ancestors
Coalition (ATAC) was formed demanding that the National Park Service
which had spent $300 million on the project that would be located across
from a new National Constitution Center also mark the location; in an
appropriate manner as one in which slavery existed. They charged that
ignoring the presence of slavery in the nation™s ¬rst White House was
hypocritical (Hughes 2004). Historians also organized and demanded that
the site engage the contradictions between the notational narrative of lib-
erty and the reality of slavery on the site. There were public hearings and
discussions and slowly the Park Service agreed that they needed to do more
than simply put up a plaque noting the history of the spot and that
Washington quartered his slaves there while he was president. Plans
emerged for a more signi¬cant presentation on the site of Washington™s
home and of¬ces and an emphasis on slavery in Philadelphia at that time.16
Those pushing the Park Service argued that the power of place needed
to be utilized to communicate the complex and braided history of the
country™s founding on a location that most people associate only with
liberty (Mires 2005). Achieving this raised complicated issues, however,
since archeological remains and archival records about the property are
sketchy. It is not completely clear to all exactly where the slaves were
quartered, and how they interacted with indentured and other servants.
We do know that two of them escaped and gained their freedom and that
despite the fact that there were slave-owners in Philadelphia at the time,
there was also a free African American community and some of its leaders
lived nearby. By 2004, following a Congressional directive to design an
adequate presentation on the site, there was movement toward a speci¬c
design that would make use of the site to raise important issues about race
and the country™s founding that had literally been kept underground for
decades (Salisbury 2005; Waters 2005).
New York is another northern state where many people view race
con¬‚icts as primarily a southern problem. They have had little awareness
that during the eighteenth century New York city was a center of the slave
trade and that the number of slaves in New York was second only to
Charleston, South Carolina (Berlin and Harris 2005).17 Slaves were

A recent report on developments in the controversy is reported at www.ushistory.org/
In 2005, the New York Historical Society presented a widely publicized exhibit on
slavery in New York providing detailed descriptions, maps, and teaching materials

Flags, heroes, and statues

critical in building the early city, and during the eighteenth century as
many as 43 percent of New York families owned slaves who comprised as
much as 20 percent of the city™s population, and slavery was not abolished
in New York until 1828, far later than in most neighboring states. When
the foundations were dug for a federal of¬ce building in lower Manhattan
in 1991, workers uncovered a forgotten colonial-era cemetery in which
20,000 Africans were buried outside the city walls. Research revealed a
great deal about the individuals and their lives in the city (Blakey 2001). In
2003 the excavated remains were reburied in a commemorative ceremony
that included caskets made in West Africa expressly for this purpose,
processions through cities on the east coast, and a well attended memorial
service. The site is now being considered as a National Monument. A
crucial question is why so little was known about the extent of slavery in
New York and its role in the city™s economy over two centuries. How did
such a large part of the population and their experiences become so
invisible in the city™s historical memory and symbolic landscape? Why
and how does it matter that some stories about the past are told and retold
and others are ignored?


Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

Unlike most political analyses of ethnic con¬‚ict, the one offered here has
not emphasized the detailed history of speci¬c disputes, all the substantive
issues separating the parties, or the institutional arrangements that often
dominate such discussions. This is not because these elements do not
matter; rather, it is because they are not all that matters. Political analyses
tend to ignore, dismiss, or under-theorize the role that identity and
emotional framing play in long-term con¬‚icts. In order to address this
imbalance, I focus here on the role of cultural expression and enactment
and link them to con¬‚ict expansion and settlement. This is not a rejection
of structural and institutional analyses, but an effort to expand a what is
considered relevant.
Early in 2005 the news was ¬lled with stories of con¬‚ict involving emo-
tionally powerful cultural enactments and expressions intertwined with
substantive issues. There were Chinese demonstrations against Japan pro-
testing changes in Japanese school textbooks that seemed to downplay
Japanese World War II atrocities, including the 1937 Rape of Nanking.
Analysts linked the current protests to Japan™s push for a permanent seat on
the UN Security Council and economic competition in East Asia. Following
the mounting protests, Japan expressed ˜˜deep remorse™™ for the tremendous
damage and deep suffering it caused during the war. However, this was not
suf¬cient and Chinese President Hu Jintao held a meeting with Japanese
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in which Jintao said Koizumi™s con-
troversial visits to Tokyo™s Yasukuni shrine honoring war criminals are the
˜˜crux™™ of the problem in Sino-Japanese ties and had prevented state visits by
either leader to the other™s country for the past three years.

Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

Concurrently, in South Africa, there was on-going controversy over
whether or not to change the name of Pretoria, which serves as South
Africa™s administrative capital. The Metropolitan Council voted to change
the name of the region to Tshwane, the name of a former Ndebele chief
and the river in the region which means ˜˜we are the same,™™ rather than
keeping the name of the Trekker who led the Afrikaners at the battle of
Blood River; however, the Council agreed to keep the name of the central
city itself as Pretoria. Various opposition parties and Afrikaner groups
said that name change threatened to increase Afrikaner alienation at a
sensitive time, while some blacks insist they should not have to continue
to live with place names that honor former colonial conquerors or those
that include derogatory terms.
In France, the con¬‚ict between Muslims and non-Muslims continued
to simmer; in addition, and when Pope John Paul II died, there was a
series of controversies over how France with its militant ideology of state
secularism should mark the occasion. The Interior Ministry announced
that the French ¬‚ag would ¬‚y at half staff over all public buildings,
including schools, for 24 hours and on the day of the funeral and told all
prefects to attend services to mark the death and pay their condolences to
local bishops. Some mayors, mainly on the right, complied; others, mostly
on the left, did not. A national parents™ organization protested, saying,
˜˜How can the young understand this secularism at two speeds that then
forbids the wearing of the veil but authorizes political and media excesses
following the death of the Pope?™™ (Sciolino 2005). Supporters of the
government™s move and of President Chirac™s decision to attend the
funeral said it was in recognition of the death of a head of state who
enjoyed privileged relations with France, not an expression of religion.
In Jerusalem, Israeli security services reported that they had thwarted a
planned Jewish extremist attack on Islamic holy sites including the Al-
Aqsa mosque, while Israel™s Islamic Movement called upon Israeli Arab
Muslims to ¬‚ock to Jerusalem to protect the mosque from Jewish extre-
mists (Harel and Lis 2005). The police closed the Temple Mount/ Haram
al-Sharif to Jews for a period when a right-wing extremist group called
Revava planned a mass rally there in an effort to disrupt the government™s
Gaza disengagement plan, perhaps provoking a Muslim led attack on
The BBC reported plans in India to build the world™s ¬rst Hindu theme
park that would be the ˜˜world™s biggest ever mythological theme park™™
and honor gods such as Rama, Hanuman, and Krishna (McCaul 2005).
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

The planned park is part of the Hindu nationalist effort to emphasize
India as a Hindu nation and is tied to the con¬‚ict discussed in Chapter 3
over the disputed mosque/temple at Ayodhya and other religious sites in
the northern part of the country. The organizer of the Gangadham theme
park project, which will be located in the pilgrimage town of Haridwar on
the Ganges River, is Shiv Sagar, the grandson of the man who produced
and directed the immensely popular TV serial ˜˜Ramayan™™ that aired
throughout the country in the 1980s and mobilized Hindu nationalist
sentiments (Rudolph and Rudolph 1993). Although not planned as an
expression of anti-Muslim sentiment, the theme park, through its
emphasis on past Hindu heroes, will offer an exclusive view of Indian
identity that emphasizes the country™s Muslims as outsiders.
Nine months later as I was completing the ¬nal revisions for this book,
a con¬‚ict over the publication in a small Danish newspaper, Jyllands-
Posten, in September 2005 of twelve cartoons depicting Mohammed
erupted into protests and violence. Muslims in Denmark had quickly
protested the publication of the cartoons and Muslim ambassadors
complained to the government. The con¬‚ict then simmered for a time as
news of the cartoons spread through the Muslim world from clerics in
Denmark. In late January, Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador and
gunmen seized the EU of¬ce in Gaza demanding an apology. The next
day, papers in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain as well as many websites
reprinted the cartoons asserting the right to free speech; this was followed
by attacks on the Danish Embassies in Syria and Lebanon and public
protests in other countries. Additional pictures offensive to Muslims were
circulated and web sites offered more and more unrestrained visual and
verbal attacks on Islam. Most Western governments were especially
uneasy and issued statements condemning the speci¬c images, noting that
freedom of speech must be accompanied by responsibility, and calling for
an end to the violence.
As the con¬‚ict escalated and new voices were added, it became clear
that the con¬‚ict was only in part about the cartoons themselves. At a
deeper level, it engaged two starkly competing narratives: what Muslims
see as on-going unfair attacks on their religion and its symbols, as
opposed to the position of many Europeans that free speech and freedom
of the press are at risk from Islamic intimidation and violence. As long as
the confrontation emphasized these competing, non-negotiable principles,
any kind of constructive deescalation remained unlikely. Again, Turner™s
(1957) observation that con¬‚icts over competing principles, or rights, are
Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

likely to deescalate only when they are reframed and when new symbols
and rituals redirect the disputants™ attention is on target here. How this
might occur, and whether it can overcome the efforts of con¬‚ict entre-
preneurs exploiting the controversy for their own reasons, remains to be
All of these examples emphasize the close connection between cultural
expressions and political action, and the need to take seriously the
accounts that participants in a con¬‚ict offer, not because they are
necessarily correct in any absolute sense, but because these psychocultural
narratives are a valuable tool for understanding how participants frame
their identities and threats to them (Roy, 1994). Changes in narratives are
one reason why ethnic con¬‚icts such as the ones I have examined are
rarely simple and straightforward. Over time there are changes in goals,
perceived interests, participants, strategies and tactics, and how both the
disputants and outsiders understand the con¬‚ict. They are central in the
dynamic by which parties make decisions about what or what not to do
and say based on what others do and say, which means that the study of
con¬‚ict at the micro-level requires an examination of interaction
sequences and reciprocal changes in attitudes, behaviors, and group
This concluding chapter has three sections. First, I reiterate my core
argument about how and why cultural contestation is central in many
ethnic con¬‚icts and con¬‚ict mitigation. Second, I examine some dilemmas
surrounding the concept of greater inclusiveness in cultural expressions.
One route to greater inclusiveness and changed group relations is that of
reconciliation, often most usefully expressed through cultural expressions
and enactments that signify a new relationship between formerly hostile
groups. Third, the conclusion raises the issue of how cultural enactments
and expressions can be leveraged to contribute to con¬‚ict mitigation that
changes a society™s institutions and practices in a constructive direction.

Reiteration of the main argument
Psychocultural dynamics are central to how culture frames interests,
structures demand-making, and shapes the extent to which opponents can
¬nd common ground to produce constructive outcomes to long-term
disputes. Narratives are not simply just-so stories people recount to justify
their own actions. Narratives matter because they are the lenses through
which groups and individuals view themselves and their opponents. They
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

structure expectations and provide readily available interpretations for the
meaning of action and the motives of different actors.
Narratives de¬ne interests, often in mutually exclusive terms, and in so
doing limit and direct the action possibilities that parties consider to
achieve their goals. Narratives are not simply recounted in a straight-
forward and low-key manner; rather, in emotionally signi¬cant situations
they are expressed and enacted in ways that heighten the salience of group
differences, facilitate mobilization of people to action, and polarize the
parties. Performance and passionate expression of a narrative provide
political support for exclusive positions that diminish the common
ground between the parties and their willingness to engage in cooperative
actions. In these ways, cultural expression and performance are strategic
political acts, although not necessarily always conscious ones, that
reiterate each party™s positions, assert group interests, and promote
selective demand-making and political action. Framing interests and
demands around culturally signi¬cant accessible images and metaphors
heightens each party™s emotional commitments, enhances within-group
communication and coordination, and strengthens group boundaries.
Attending to the metaphors and analogies that frame a group™s analyses
of ethnic con¬‚ict is crucial to making sense of them. They serve as
re¬‚ectors of a group™s core assumptions about a con¬‚ict and what it needs
to make a good-enough agreement with an adversary; in addition, cultural
expressions play an exacerbating, inhibiting, or causal role in con¬‚ict
when they heighten or diminish tensions and make certain action possi-
bilities more plausible, and hence more probable, than others. Psycho-
cultural dramas join past and present issues and emotions, as we see so
clearly in the China“Japan dispute over the textbooks, the World War II
shrine, and Security Council membership, and in the other con¬‚icts
discussed throughout this book. In exchanges between the disputing
parties, the strong emotions unleashed fuel a strong sense of cruciality and
drive confrontations in which at least some of the participants come to
believe that the group™s honor, and even existence, are at stake.
When groups play out culturally salient con¬‚icts through intense
psychocultural dramas, where they take the parties is rarely obvious at the
outset. In some cases, such as the Israeli“Palestinian con¬‚ict, each psy-
chocultural drama appears to morph into the next one as the parties are
unable to ¬nd suf¬cient shared ground to negotiate their interest differ-
ences, to de¬ne structural arrangements to manage their differences, or to
acknowledge the core elements in each other™s national narrative as a step
Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

toward tension reduction. In the absence of either signi¬cant formal or
informal agreement among the parties or an externally imposed
arrangement that addresses the differences among the parties, new issues
regularly arise that threaten to spin out of control.
On-going escalation is not, however, the only possible outcome to
intense psychocultural dramas. Con¬‚ict mitigation occurs and new more
inclusive narratives and ritual expressions and enactments can be a crucial
part of deescalating con¬‚ict and solidifying partial or comprehensive
settlements. All cultures have images of peace and peacemaking and
drawing on these can help opponents see each other in a new light, and to
explore shared concerns and mutually bene¬cial arrangements. For such
beliefs to be politically effective, however, the parties must express them
in emotionally evocative ways through images and rituals consistent with
more inclusive narratives which, at the same time, de¬ne interests and
positions in less absolute, strident terms.
Attending to cultural expressions is not a substitute for politics,
negotiation, and institution building, but a valuable supplement before,
during, and after the development of new structural arrangements. Parties
in con¬‚ict need to negotiate, but negotiations by themselves are not
enough. In long-term con¬‚icts, opponents also need to face the past,
rede¬ne their incompatible identities, and engage in rituals that express
their new relationship. Con¬‚ict mitigation through the development of
explicit connections between culturally available images and metaphors
and events on the ground goes hand in hand with attention to interest
differences and institutional arrangements. Attention to psychocultural
dynamics as a part of con¬‚ict mitigation requires emotional and ritual
rede¬nition in order for more complex, and less directly opposed, iden-
tities to develop, such as the emergence of a European identity after
World War II. The new narratives and enactments that develop in
peacemaking and peacebuilding processes must alter the parties™ frames of
reference; exclusively cognitive efforts to convince adversaries to change
their attitudes and behaviors are almost always efforts that fail. Con¬‚ict
mitigation must include the recognition and acceptance of a group, and
its narratives can create possibilities for cooperation linking identity to
new metaphors, rearranging the content of old ones in culturally accep-
table ways, and creating space to actively envision alternatives to ongoing
confrontation, as we saw in the case of the new festival in Derry and
changes in the symbolic landscape in South Africa.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

The challenge of inclusiveness in ethnic con¬‚ict management
I have argued that cultural expressions and enactments must be part of the
analysis of any long-term ethnic con¬‚ict and are integral to any strategy
for their constructive management. In this section, I want to highlight
ways to enhance our understanding of the dynamics of con¬‚ict and
strategies for ethnic con¬‚ict mitigation through more explicit con-
sideration of narratives and the deeper meanings cultural contestation
makes visible. All the con¬‚icts I considered were long-term ones, not
single disputes that ¬‚ared up and then rapidly disappeared. They did,
however, range in terms of their intensity, use of violence, and the degree
to which they have escalated in dangerous ways. While I focused on
cultural contestation in each con¬‚ict, I want to reiterate for one last time
that I have not argued that cultural differences by themselves cause ethnic
con¬‚icts. Rather, while groups and individuals often employ these dif-
ferences to make claims, mobilize supporters, and seek positions and
power, people, battle over real interests, and identities and culture is one
of the resources they mobilize to do this. Yet because of the ambiguous
and emotionally charged nature of many cultural enactments and
expressions, they are too easily assumed to be the cause of con¬‚ict rather
than the vehicle through which it is played out.

The paradox of inclusiveness
Central to my argument is the contention that a shift from exclusive to
more inclusive cultural expressions and enactments helps the disputing
parties move from con¬‚ict to coexistence to cooperation. At the same
time, this can sound like the argument that if we just get one (or both)
sides to give up their identity then con¬‚ict will diminish or disappear.
While there is empirical support for such a proposition under certain
conditions, there are both theoretical and political problems with such a
strategy because the concept of inclusiveness is paradoxical in important
ways: namely, that inclusiveness must be balanced with differentiation.
Theoretically, it is clear that while humans have a strong propensity for
group attachment (Tajfel 1981; Brown 1986; Bowlby 1969), people also
exhibit a clear need to differentiate themselves from others on the group
and individual levels and use a variety of psychological and social stra-
tegies to do this. As a result, Brewer describes the social self in terms of a
need to be ˜˜the same and different at the same time™™ (Brewer 1991).

Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

What this means is that either extreme separation or merger of individuals
and groups induces strong fears; it is not something that can simply be
mandated, and is politically unproductive when that is tried.
The tension between attachment and differentiation is highly relevant
to understanding some constraints on inclusiveness in cultural enactments
and expressions as a con¬‚ict reduction strategy. It means that while
drawing attention to what people from diverse backgrounds and tradi-
tions share, at the same time there must also be appreciation of their need
for differentiation. Probably the best way to mediate these apparently
contradictory tendencies is to begin with the realization that because
people possess multiple identities, changing or adopting one identity does
not require discarding or abandoning another. Making space for multiple
identities is likely to be more productive than simply promoting a new
one and extinguishing an existing one. European identities are instructive
here for in recent decades we can see that while people have maintained
attachments to the states in which they are citizens, in many cases they
have also increasingly identi¬ed themselves as Europeans and in many
cases as members of regional cultural groups. As the Catalan case shows,
the opportunity to be part of Europe paradoxically facilitated the Catalan
national identity as inclusive and compatible with Spanish citizenship.
A political reason to be cognizant of the paradox of inclusiveness is that
it is rarely the case in divided societies that people are willing to give up
their group-based identities. If people are told that the price of peace is
that they must abandon their identity, then ending identity con¬‚icts will
be even harder than it now is. Although I have seen no systematic evi-
dence on this question, many studies point to a desire among minorities
for pluralistic political arrangements such as autonomy, decentralization,
and other measures that permit, or guarantee, the right to maintain local
cultural traditions and institutions. Of course, not all groups need or want
the same things. For example, indigenous minorities are often geo-
graphically clustered and identify with territorial homelands, and their
demands emphasize autonomy, while immigrant minorities who are more
dispersed often are more concerned politically about access to resources
and integration. Finally, we must recognize that in many cases majority
groups are not keen on the assimilation of minorities.
When inclusiveness requires relinquishing highly valued behaviors,
beliefs, traditions, or institutions, it often dooms such efforts to failure. A
good example of this phenomenon is the persistence of languages which
have only a modest number of speakers despite the pressures to adopt a
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

more widely spoken language. Why in Europe, for example, are there
more than two dozen lesser used languages and at least 40 million EU
citizens who regularly speak a language other than the of¬cial language of
the state in which they live? Forcing people to abandon their languages, as
Franco™s Spain tried to do with the Catalans and Basques, is not likely to
be politically effective unless the incentives for doing so are upfront and
desirable (Laitin, Sole, and Kalyvas 1994; Laitin 1989).
A common identity or narrative that is widely accepted by groups in a
long-term con¬‚ict will not emerge from, nor should it be the goal of,
good con¬‚ict management. It would be na±ve to think that differences in
culture, historical experiences, and political disagreement could be
bridged so simply. When there are strong differences in how two parties
see the world, it is important that these differences be acknowledged and
explored and that emphasis must be on shared experiences, hopes, and
aspirations without denial of separate identities. To achieve greater
complexity, a narrative needs to be nuanced and one way this is achieved
is to invoke or strengthten images of cross-cutting identities and experi-
ences in a way that inhibits the power of any single polarizing dimension.
Rather than one joint narrative, complexity can support multiple, nuanced
narratives that lower polarization, hostility, and distrust to promote, or at
least permit, interaction and mutual adjustment.
Politically, more inclusive identities are not necessarily an end in
themselves. They are signi¬cant, however, when they establish, or
strengthen, practices, rules, and institutions in societies coming out of
con¬‚ict. A sense of greater inclusiveness gives formerly excluded groups a
stake in public institutions that can limit the pressures on possibly weak
institutions to deliver goods and services to the public. Inclusiveness can
also build support for turn taking, reciprocity, and tolerance.

Using inclusiveness to facilitate and express reconciliation
Reconciliation is about changing the relationship between contending
parties instrumentally and emotionally so that each can more easily
envision a joint future (Kriesberg 2004; Long and Brecke 2003; Ross
2004). Reconciliation can be a complex process understood as involving
degrees of change in attitudes, behaviors, institutional practices, and/or
symbolic expressions (Kriesberg 2003). In large group con¬‚icts,
acknowledgment is often communicated through symbolic and ritual
action “ exactly the sorts of cultural enactments and expressions that have
Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

been described throughout the earlier chapters. Such acknowledgment
may be especially important in situations where explicit verbal apology,
forgiveness, and reparations “ central features of reconciliation for some “
may not be possible or even desirable. Emphasizing the symbolic and
ritual aspects of intergroup reconciliation means that acknowledgment
involves a two-part game, the ¬rst between leaders and the public in each
community and the second between the two societies.
Symbolic and ritual action can be signi¬cant in reconciliation processes
for a number of reasons (MacGinty 2003). Direct apology is dif¬cult;
symbolic action can be easier for former enemies to offer. Words are
sometimes perceived as easy to utter; symbolic actions can be viewed as
more sincere. Verbal apologies are more cognitive; symbolic actions are
more affective. Ritual helps build new narratives and can strengthen
weaker existing ones (Jarman 1997). The argument is not that ritual and
symbolic actions are more important than verbal ones but rather that
because the two work differently, they make distinctive contributions to
One practical problem is that the need (and timing) of reconciliation is
often not the same for all parties. While this is not surprising it means
when one party reaches out to the other and feels rebuffed, anger and rage
are sometimes the response, again raising tensions.1 In situations of great
inequality in power and economic resources, for example, a central
question asked by the weaker party “ and this is often a key test of the
sincerity of the desire of the more powerful party for reconciliation “ is
the willingness of the more powerful to redistribute resources. In South
Africa, Israel“Palestine, and black“white relations in the United States,
reconciliation for weaker parties is much more intimately connected to
questions of inequality than it is for the majority “ a reminder of how the
needs of different parties are not necessarily reciprocal.
It is easy to conjure up images of dramatic reconciliatory gestures such
as President Bill Clinton reviewing Vietnamese troops in Hanoi, Willy
Brandt kneeling at the site of the Warsaw Ghetto, and King Hussein of
Jordan on his knees with the families of Israeli children killed by a
deranged Jordanian soldier. What these images communicate is

Both Gulliver (1979: 81“120) and Volkan (1988: 146) point out that con¬‚ict management
can be fruitfully understood as a cyclical rather than a linear process. As the parties move
closer together there can be either new issues that once again divide them or fear of having
come too close that then drives then to separate, in what Volkan calls ˜˜the accordion

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

acknowledgment of a past and the image of a different future. They
establish, or strengthen, a connection among previously divided people.
They are, however, single actions and to have enduring effects they need
to be generalized and institutionalized as part of altering and enlarging
the symbolic and ritual landscape in ways that diminish threats and
change relationships. Three of the forms such expressions can take, that
were discussed at length in the earlier chapters, are language, holidays and
ceremonies, and a society™s symbolic landscape. A concluding thought on
each of these might be helpful.

Language Language serves as an obvious symbolic and ritual
expression of group differences, and can be a focal point for bitter ethnic
con¬‚ict when groups make demands that their language should be the
state™s of¬cial language or have a privileged status in the public domain.
Language is one of the easiest ways to associate the state with a particular
group and can readily be linked to issues of economic power and political
control as contestation increases. In Quebec and Catalonia language is the
basis on which regional (and cultural) autonomy demands are justi¬ed but
the claims are much broader than language rights. In many third world
countries and recently independent states in eastern and central Europe
recognition of language rights is seen as central to issues of group
recognition (Laitin 1998).
In central and eastern Europe, bitter con¬‚icts over language policy
after 1990 in Slovakia, Moldova, Estonia, and elsewhere unleashed vio-
lence at times and pitted hard-core nationalists against regional minorities
in the newly independent states. In Slovakia the con¬‚ict focused on
Hungarian speakers in the southern part of the country and demands that
they show their loyalty by learning Slovak and removing public signs in
Hungarian. While the ethnic tension seems to have eased following the
1998 elections, there is no reason to think the con¬‚ict has been settled yet.
Estonia and Moldova are two newly independent states with large Russian
minorities. In Estonia the con¬‚ict turned around the question of citi-
zenship. Estonians passed legislation that granted citizenship to Russian
speakers only if they pass an examination demonstrating competence in
the Estonian language, a language many long-time Russian residents of
Estonia had never bothered to learn.2

Language differences are not necessarily bitter. Among FSU countries, the case of
Kazakhstan is interesting in that while of¬cial Kazakhization has taken place, the issue does

Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

Despite the intensity of some language disputes, a number of countries
have found ways to manage them or at least to move them out of the arena
of violent con¬‚ict. In Canada, for example, despite all the strident
Francophone language about oppression and the strong support at times
for secession, language con¬‚ict is not violent. Similarly, Spain since
Franco™s death has granted autonomy to Catalonia and other regions
allowing them to set their own language polities. India is another relevant
case. In the 1950s there were widespread language riots in many parts of
the country. However, since then the situation has calmed as linguistic
and political boundaries are now more aligned and each Indian state has
three of¬cial languages “ Hindi, English, and the language of the largest
linguistic group in that state (Laitin 1997).

Holidays and ceremonies Ethnically exclusive holidays are com-
mon, but they are especially problematic in a highly divided society that
has few, or no, holidays and other rituals that are commemorated across
groups. This is even more the case when holidays marking the glories of
one group are experienced as humiliating for another. Israeli Indepen-
dence Day is for Palestinians the Nakba or catastrophe. A striking
example of an exclusive holiday in Northern Ireland is the anniversary of
the Battle of the Somme in which so many British soldiers died in 1916;
Protestants mark this date as a solemn occasion and as continuing evi-
dence of their loyalty to the crown while Catholics ignore it. Irish
Republicans view ¬ghting and dying in this battle as support for the
British and have been unwilling to mark their own losses in a way that
could communicate a shared link to Protestants. Another example from
Northern Ireland is that for years St. Patrick™s Day has been celebrated
exclusively by Catholics although there is no religious reason why Pro-
testants could not mark the day as well. In recent years there have been
efforts to invite Protestants to march in the St. Patrick™s Day parades in
Dublin, Belfast, and elsewhere. While some have done so, Republicans™
aggressive display of the Irish Tricolour and other Republican symbols
has meant that the effort to use the parades for building cross-community
bridges has not been effective to date.
Invented or rede¬ned holidays can serve as integrative rituals, if they
are de¬ned in inclusive terms. Kwanza, an invented festival for African

not evoke the deep feeling found in the Baltics despite the large number of Russians in its
population (Laitin 1998).

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

Americans, celebrates their African heritage; it is accepted along with
Christmas and Chanukah, although Kwanza is not a religious holiday as
such, as part of the American ritual calendar. Like Martin Luther King
Day, its recognition of black experiences and roots is not hostile to whites
and does not discourage occasional white involvement and participation.
On MLK Day, a national holiday, many communities hold intergroup
services and sponsor community service activities that involve people
from all groups. South Africa now marks December 17, which was once
the Afrikaner sacred Day of the Covenant, as the Day of Reconciliation,
although it is not yet clear how successful this shift will be.
Public ceremonies can also be an important way to express more
inclusive identities; narratives about them and their celebration range
from solemn events to relaxed festivals.3 In these, the joint participation
and shared identities that are communicated are often more important
than the explicit content of the ceremony. Reconciliation events between
former opponents can be effective when they include direct physical
contact or proximity between opponents, public ceremonies that receive a
good deal of attention, and ˜˜ritualistic or symbolic behavior that indicates
the parties consider the dispute resolved and that more amicable relations
are expected to follow™™ (Long and Brecke 2003: 6).4

Symbolic landscape Inclusiveness can be powerfully expressed
through expansion of the symbolic landscape as we saw in Northern
Ireland, South Africa, and Richmond, Virginia, and can be understood as
ritual acknowledgment and partial reconciliation. Sacred sites (which are
not necessarily religious ones) are an important part of the symbolic
landscape but there are also more secular representations associated with
a group™s identity found in the mass media, theater, literature, and public
art that communicate inclusion and exclusion.
All groups have places that are sacred (Friedland and Hecht 1991) and
these often are the most emotionally charged, treasured, and defended
sites in the symbolic landscape, especially when they are threatened in

Events such as inaugurations, funerals, and other state events are worth considering in
greater detail than I do here. One excellent treatment from the perspective of the role the
media plays in them is Dayan and Katz (1992).
At the White House signing of the Oslo Agreement, Bill Clinton was keen that Yasser
Arafat and Yitzak Rabin shake hands and the White House worked carefully to create the
physical context to make sure they did; at the same time, Clinton did not want Arafat
embracing and hugging the Israeli leader.

Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

ways that are experienced as threats to the group itself.5 These places
mark key events in a group™s past and are associated with emotionally
signi¬cant victories or defeats, miracles, and the exploits of ancient heroes
(Levinson 1998). Sacred places containing relics linking a group™s past
to its present and future often are particularly powerful emotionally
(Benvenisti 2000). Often there are restrictions on admitting outsiders to
them and sharing them is frequently hard to even imagine, let alone achieve.
Inclusion in the symbolic landscape offers legitimation that can both
re¬‚ect and promote changes in political narratives. Such inclusion can
identify and help groups mourn past losses, and also represents hopes and
aspirations for the future. As symbolic statements of acknowledgment, it is
no wonder that such sites and the representations they contain can become
the source of intense controversy between groups but also within the pre-
viously socially invisible group. What stories do they choose to tell about
themselves? How is this related to who can speak for the group? Who
controls its narrative and the images associated with it? All of these issues
can provoke thoughtful and heated discussion as in the case of the
Holocaust Museum in Washington and the District Six Museum in Cape
Town (Linenthal 2001a; Rassool and Prosalendis 2001). A more inclusive
symbolic landscape is a powerful expression of societal inclusion that com-
municates a mutuality and shared stake in society. It renders the previously
unseen seen, gives voice to those once voiceless, and can offer powerful
messages to young people and help to reshape relations between groups.

Conclusion: leveraging cultural enactments and expressions
Culture cannot do all the work of bridging group differences. Real
interests and institutions matter too; but it is obvious that culture and

Group members easily feel a sacred site™s power and its vulnerability. When I was in Sri
Lanka in 1994 I was reminded of this on a visit to the ancient city at Anuradhapura. The
area contains beautiful buildings and there are thousands of monks in ¬‚owing saffron robes
and ordinary people in this important Buddhist pilgrimage center that contains a sacred
Bohdi tree that is guarded day and night. It is believed to have grown from a sapling from
the tree under which the Buddha gained Enlightenment in 528 BCE and was brought from
India in the third century. The mood is calm and serene. A few years earlier a group of
Tamil Tigers attacked Anuradhapura ¬ring automatic weapons, killing 180 people and
wounding hundreds more. On my visit there I was told about the attack but instead of
focusing on the dead and wounded, my host said, ˜˜They tried to destroy our tree.™™ For
him, destruction of the tree would have been a far more deadly attack on Sinhalese
Buddhists than the mortal one that took place.

Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

institutions affect each other, although we are not always very clear how
this occurs. One basic proposition is that cultural enactments and sym-
bolic gestures can help create the political space for opponents to
negotiate substantive differences, and that when such differences are
successfully negotiated, an agreement™s backers need to ¬nd culturally
appropriate expressions to build support for its implementation and
institutionalization (MacGinty 2003). So how can cultural expression be
leveraged to make the most difference in enabling groups to reimagine
their relationship and change behaviors and perceptions in viable and
lasting ways?
In all of the con¬‚icts considered in this book, there have been indivi-
duals and groups who have at different points made meaningful, inclusive
gestures to opponents. In some cases these expressions have been reci-
procated and have been part of a shift in the parties™ language and the
country™s symbolic landscape, facilitating changes in behaviors and
institutional practices. What determines when a constructive sequence
follows initial gestures, as for example it did when King Juan Carlos
declared the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona open in the Catalan
language, and when are such gestures unanswered?
Inclusive gestures are unlikely to have lasting effects when they are
isolated acts, unrelated to substantive efforts to negotiate and implement
political and institutional changes. They are most likely to produce a
positive echo effect when they are linked either directly or indirectly to
speci¬c political proposals that address core concerns and substantive
differences between the parties.6 How this is achieved will take different
forms across con¬‚icts. It some cases, it will depend on top leaders making
signi¬cant, and often risky, reciprocal gestures, while in others the ges-
tures are more popularly and community based. In some cases gestures
will follow political negotiations; in others, negotiations will be made
possible by a shift in climate arising from the gestures. But the gestures
themselves will matter most when they create, or support, the space for
meaningful substantive proposals. One path by which this can occur is

The context in which they are offered is often fragile and sometimes when an inclusive
symbolic gesture or a new political proposal is offered, outside parties immediately express
their strong support for them and the supporters feel legitimated. However, these well-
meaning expressions can be problematic when they leave opponents of peace processes
feeling isolated and threatened so that they mobilize and provide tacit, or even explicit,
support to spoilers who use in¬‚amed rhetoric or selective violence to sabotage any possible
easing of tensions.

Culture™s central role in ethnic con¬‚ict

when the reaction to prior gestures suggests to political ¬gures that such
proposals will be popular among their own supporters. Yet because many
leaders in divided societies have achieved their positions as staunch
defenders of their communities, it is especially hard for them to broaden
their positions without fear of being accused of selling out their group.
This means that the spillover (or multiplier effects) and the transfer of
inclusive gestures across domains are limited unless others such as
grassroots groups and opinion leaders engage actively in a discourse of
cooperation and coexistence to build support for cross-group cooperation
and strengthen the resolve of politicians.
While the dramatic gestures of ¬gures such as Nelson Mandela can be
crucial in leveraging cultural expression and enactments to produce
changes in attitudes, practices, and institutions, smaller acts matter as
well. In addition, they are politically important in engaging larger num-
bers of people and combating the idea that only the actions of a few
powerful people make any difference. Among the modest, but potentially
signi¬cant, steps that can be undertaken are those that increase the visi-
bility of groups of people previously underrepresented in public arenas
such as the mass media, political life, and artistic domains in ways that can
communicate how legitimate it is for their group to have a ˜˜a place at the
table.™™ Linguistic and artistic broadening communicates recognition and
˜˜parity of esteem™™ that has a potential to diminish intergroup tensions. It
can facilitate more inclusive identity and narratives which emphasize a
linked fate, raising the prospects for self-ful¬lling and reinforcing coop-
erative problem-solving.
I began this book by arguing that long-standing ethnic con¬‚icts are not
only about interests and structure; where primarily interests and structure
are at stake, negotiated settlements can occur with relative ease. Ethnic
con¬‚icts become long standing when group identities are engaged, and in
these con¬‚icts group narratives quickly harden and promote escalation.
The narratives can also, however, be powerful tools for deescalation, as
they provide clues to each group™s fears and hopes, and to ways to
diminish perceived threat and confrontation. I end with the reciprocal
argument that long-standing con¬‚icts are not only about identity. It is by
learning how to braid interest-based and identity-based efforts at con¬‚ict
management that we will be able to develop examples and models of how
to manage it constructively (Bates, Rui J. P. de Figueiredo, and Weingast
1998). Leveraging cultural expressions and enactments surely must be
part of any strategy for reshaping narratives, weakening set positions,
Cultural Contestation in Ethnic Conflict

opening channels of communication, and imagining new courses of action
that reduce destructive con¬‚ict. Bringing an understanding of how to
achieve this in ethnic con¬‚ict is important in combating the strong belief
in some quarters that ethnic con¬‚ict is inevitable and enduring, and in
developing examples and models of how to manage it constructively.


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