Ethno-territorial Cross-border Conflict in Western Europe

Published in The European Legacy (vol. 4, no. 5, 1999), this article examines the consequences of migration, settlement, and state formation in
European history. Particularly in Central and Eastern Europe a succession of empires and wars through the centuries has created many multi-ethnic states, most of which host diaspora groups of neighboring nation-states. Yet, in a less obvious, and for the most part, less conflictual and less violent way, this also holds true for Western Europe. National minorities have played, and still play, a significant role on the European political stage. In an era of deepening integration among the member states of the European Union, they can build important bridges between their host-states and kin-nations. They can also further the process of different cultures coming closer together for their mutual benefit without losing their distinct character. However, this positive relationship has not always been the case. Minorities in Western Europe have been subjected to discrimination and forced assimilation, and they have resisted such repressive state policies in a variety of ways. The ethnic conflicts that have developed in the past were a form of group conflict wherein at least one of the parties involved interpreted the conflict, its causes, and potential settlements along an existing or perceived discriminating ethnic divide. Whenever such a conflict has occurred in ethnically mixed areas bordering the kin-state of the aggrieved ethnic group, it manifests itself on three interrelated levels — inter-group conflict, conflict between the aggrieved minority and the institutions of its host-state, and the potential (territorial) conflict between host and kin-state. Three case studies — Alsace, South Tyrol, and Northern Ireland — illustrate this point. Although each of these ethnic conflicts has developed in a unique environment, influenced by a variety of distinct factors, there are factors that consistently occur in each. Using these three cases, I establish the core factors that determine the nature of conflict settlement in ethno-territorial cross-border conflicts.


November 1999


The European Legacy

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