Essay on Issues of Ethnicity

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The world as we know it today has significantly changed. After two world wars, thousands of conflicts, and countless efforts to achieve peace, we can now say democracy prevails. We can count almost 200 sovereign nation-states in the world now, most of them being democratic. But looking in the past, this was not the case. The world was comprised of societies, later on out of colonies till it reached the world as we know it today.

How this was achieved is still a debate among scholars, with opinions varying and many different theories created. Some theories, such as the modernist approach, support the idea that the nationalist movement brought about the idea of nation-states. Other theories, such as primordialism, look at things from a different point of view, suggesting that nationalism existed from the beginning of time. Another issue created thus, is the problem of ethnicity.

Oftentimes, news outlets mention conflicts surrounding ethnic groups. The issue of ethnicity frequently comes up, and tensions between different ethnical minorities or majorities are created. The question deriving from these problems is how ethnicity is connected to nationalism. Moreover, what is ethnicity exactly and why does it create such issues?

In the following essay the concept of ethnicity will be explored, in order to establish a connection between ethnicity and nationalism. Moreover, the question of how ethnicity affects democracy will be explored. The various ethnic groups around the world, nowadays wield great influence in their respective nation-states, gaining a lot of attention. Does this help democracy or does ethnicity actually undermine the democratic processes? Such questions will be researched, in the interest of establishing a relationship between ethnicity and democracy, and understanding how the former affects the latter either negatively or positively.

Comprehending the Concepts

Understanding the concepts of ethnicity and democracy is of vital importance, before moving on to establishing a connection between them. The meaning of these terms will provide significant information in realizing how they came into existence, and why an interconnection may exist between them.

Democracy

“No one is born a good citizen, no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Young people must be included from birth.” Kofi Annan

Taking into account what Kofi Annan mentioned, and going into a more etymological definition, democracy derives from the Greek words “demos” and “Kratos” and can be thought of as the power of the people.

According to one of the most influential international organs, the European Council, democracy in the modern world is differently represented throughout the world. Yet there is one common element among democracies. The possibility for people to select their representatives, and be able to exercise their powers through them. This system is generated through elections, which makes the people legal citizens with rights. Moreover, this system aims to achieve equality for everybody and the right of individual autonomy. Thus creating such rights and freedoms, in order to keep each individual safe and protected, while also safeguarding these rights

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Ethnicity

The exact definition of ethnicity has not yet been agreed upon. Usually, ethnicity is regarded as a commonly recognized feature attached to a certain group of people. These features can be history, language, religion, culture and even territory. These particular characteristics provide a different identity among these groups, commonly called ethnic groups. A wide range of these groups, though are starting to seek forms of recognition within the state they are living.

Nationalism and Ethnicity

Issues arise when these groups seek for recognition. These ethnic groups, however different they may be, they have one common goal. They all seek economic, political or cultural rights and equality to the rest of the population within the state. Putting this in context, we can assume that ethnicity can be described as part of nationalism asking for political attention, thus challenging the legitimacy of the state. This may often lead to conflicts with regional or even international consequences. So how does this affect the democratic process within the states, but also around the international community?

The negative impact of ethnicity

Most scholars find a problem within societies that are highly polarized. These societies usually cannot agree upon mutual public goods, such as infrastructure or economic relief. Therefore, ethnic diversity may reach its peak and create policies that may lead to the reduction of growth. A study conducted by Easterly and Levine (1997), shows that ethnicity is directly impacting on long-term growth, thus ethnicity can affect public policies affiliated with economic growth.

In addition, competition in the political domain within such plural societies may unleash feelings of ethnic ousting. Politicians that aim for support to groups within their ethnic group can cause instability and lead to uprisings. This can eventually lead to democratic reductions and violence, as minorities may feel left abandoned. Cyprus and the Turkish minority of the island could be a paradigm of such destabilization, which has caused major problems that have yet to be solved. Another view, suggests that high levels of pluralism within societies may utterly undermine democracy. This can happen in states where ethnic groups have the ability to influence a wide number of people and dominate the state. Moreover, many theorists pinpoint ethnicity with extreme right-wing ideologies which can have a much more severe impact on the democratic process.

Ethnicity and Democracy, the bright side

Realizing that the application of western democracy is not an easy task, is very important in this case. Issues may always arise in pluralist societies, but there are many examples of success stories. The United States has managed to produce a multiethnic society with steady rates of democracy. Many scholars have argued that varying ethnicity within a state may actually be a component in achieving democracy. Federal democracies, even though they may cause problems, can also bring stability if the state’s ethnic group reaches an agreement collectively with the government.

In Papua New Guinea for example, pluralism provides a guarantee that no ethnic group can rise to power monopolistically. The same applies for India. Strong local institutions can help the diffusion of ethnic politics. It all depends on the level of integration and interaction among these ethnic groups, and how they perceive their role within the state.

Moreover, there is evidence showing that ethnicity can reduce the economic growth of a state, but the impact an authoritarian regime may cause can be much more severe. And all of this can be subjected to nation-building reformation and the goal of trust-building among the various groups. Ethnic diversity may have severe impacts in democracy, but hardly in a direct manner.

Conclusion

Ethnicity may be regarded as a form of nationalism, that affects political states and the international community. Plural societies may not always provide grounds for democratic development and stability due to the differences created by religion, culture, language or more. Yet politics and democracy is not solely practiced among ethnic lines. Western Democracy, as we know it cannot be measured by preferences because its outcomes are more important than procedural standards.

Does that make ethnicity unimportant in the process of democratization? Not really. Ethnicity may indirectly influence democracy, through economic or social factors and cause conflicts among the different ethnic groups. But it all depends on the level of integration among the ethnic regimes and their interaction with the rest of the society. Elites and political goals can cause a strong feeling of ethnic rejection, thus leading to uprisings and conflict. However, achieving to minimize the feeling of excludability may lead to stable and strong democracies, examples of which exist all around the world. As long as the interests of each ethnic group are equally met, democracy is safeguarded and equality among them can be achieved successfully.

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Essay on Issues of Ethnicity. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/essay-on-issues-of-ethnicity/
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