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8. Conflict management in the former USSR and world experience

Victor A. Kremenyuk

Victor A. Kremenyuk

1 Introduction
2 On the notion of "conflict management"
3 Two cultures of conflict management
4 Ethnic conflicts as objects of management
5 Ethnic conflicts in the former USSR: history and lessons
6. Conclusion: Learning lessons

1 Introduction

There are several important aspects to the comparative analysis of conflict management patterns and approaches which has emerged in the international community and in the former USSR. First, there is the general value of comparative analysis which reveals interesting differences or similarities which have developed in totally different social environments. In modern society, conflict management mechanisms acquire special importance, for they are regarded as safeguards of peaceful change, as a guarantee against violence which may disrupt normal evolutionary development. Such a comparative analysis can give additional support and evidence for those aspects of conflict management which have proved efficient, or can cast additional doubts on those which have yielded mixed results. Second, this is a problem for further sociological research, since comparative analysis has to explain where and why different methods and approaches were effective, and how in each case the results of conflict management efforts were different. Finally, comparative analysis should enrich our overall understanding of the role of ethnic conflicts in multinational states.

We shall begin by analysing the notion of "conflict management" as it is treated in this article and as it has long been understood in European and non-European tradition. The specifics of "conflict" in various political and social cultures, and attitudes toward conflict, are studied further as a part of the whole problem of managing multiethnic societies under conditions of devolution of power. These stages of analysis permit us to describe typical approaches to conflict management in the former USSR and in some major Western nations. Comparative analysis may help us to see how the process of conflict management is connected with the process of nation-building, depending upon historical development, types of political culture, the nature and type of conflict, and the effectiveness of conflict management.

2 On the notion of "conflict management"

Decision-makers may approach conflict in a variety of ways. The initial and classic approach has been described by Schelling in his Strategy of Conflict: "We all are participants in international conflict, and we want to 'win' it in some proper sense."1 This description needs no comment. Since ancient times, it has been assumed that the natural goal of any party in any conflict is (and should be) to win a victory. This basic notion is deeply entrenched in thinking and in practice.

However, even when winning the conflict was considered the only logical goal, there were doubts based on primitive cost-benefit analysis. It was realized that if the cost of victory exceeded the benefit of winning ("Pyrrhic victory") it could be more rational to avoid the confrontation and engage in other ways of managing the conflict. More detailed analysis of this approach, typical of the ancient Chinese tradition, is described in Lao-Tzu.2 It is also interesting to observe that in the literature of ancient India, at least in some texts, the notion of conflict management comes closer to the "winning" theory than in the Chinese approach.3

The "winning approach" to managing conflicts has dominated European thinking since the days of the Roman Empire, and much of Roman law was built on this understanding. The legal heritage of the Romans, later entrenched into the legal systems of some European nations, established that in conflicts there is only one "right" side; the essence of law becomes to facilitate finding who is right and who is wrong. Such a system, reflecting the nature of Roman thought, could hardly accept that there could be conditions when both sides would be equally right (or equally wrong) and where victory would reflect only the balance of forces of the actors rather than the justness of their causes.

The "common-law approach" was an independent method of conflict management in the European tradition, reflecting the realities of small communities of German tribes. It focused less on winning and more on accommodation, on appeasing both sides in conflict. It is hard to say whether this was a way of survival for tiny communities (since this approach has later been found also in the primitive legal systems of African tribes4 as well as of some tribes in the Pacific) or a reflection of a more sophisticated thinking which basically rejected the notion of "just cause" in conflict. Important for our present analysis is the idea that European tradition has somehow incorporated both Roman and "common-law" approaches to conflict management. Indeed, for many centuries both were developing as parts of the same political and legal tradition.

Instead of passing moral judgment on either of these approaches, we must understand that both were directed at managing conflicts in order to avoid disintegration of the existing social environment and the entropy of the social order. In this sense, even the violent winning approach, although it was oriented towards using brute force to achieve the victory of one side (and as such very often provoked further conflicts), could play a stabilizing role. This was usually reflected in the tradition of empire-building, where the empire acquired the role of the supreme arbiter, governing with an iron hand the relations between its different parts as well as between an individual and the state.

The common-law approach played a rather marginal role in history. It is only in the writings of Hugo Grotius in the seventeenth century that some principles of this approach were applied to the norms of international conflict. The basics of this approach have appeared more favourable to the stability of the system of relations both within separate countries and in their relations with the other nations. The historical evolution of the common-law approach, finally formulated as a global doctrine in US President Woodrow Wilson's "14 points" declaration of 1917, appeared far better suited for creation of the stable world and social order, and an adequate method of conflict management.5

A certain parallel may be drawn between this evolution of the European tradition of conflict management and the approach to conflict management in Christianity. In the Bible the attitude to conflict is based upon divine judgment (e.g. the Ten Commandments), with neither moral and ethic imperatives allowing any compromise and both inclined towards winning the conflict. This is also reflected in the present-day attitude of the Israeli government towards the conflict with the Arabs. But in the New Testament a further evolution of Christian thinking found a way to avoid forcefully solving the conflict between a sinner and the teaching. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," Christ told the crowd that had congregated when a woman was sentenced to be stoned for her sins. This was regarded by religious orthodoxy as moral relativism, but it meant a way of reconciling two opposed structures.

The conflict management tradition which prevailed until recently was a blend of "winning" and "common-law" approaches, with the former dominating. It was strengthened by the lessons of Munich 1938, and thereafter tended to emphasize the necessity of winning the conflict when it had a moral dimension. This rhetoric was also part of John Foster Dulles' approach to Soviet-US relations in the 1950s.6 Only with the advent of nuclear weapons did there come a new vision of the cost-benefit side of conflict. This contributed to the formation of a totally new academic theory of managing conflicts - "conflict resolution."

First developed by figures like Rapoport, Boulding, Singer, and others at Ann Arbor, Michigan, where the Center for Conflict Resolution was established, this approach has since acquired a large constituency both in the USA and abroad. Special attention has been given to this approach at the United Nations and other international bodies whose principles of management are based on consensus.

The essence of the conflict resolution approach centred on several assumptions: first, that conflicts, once started, may be solved without violence to the satisfaction of either side; second, that the resolution of conflicts is a special field of knowledge and experience to be studied along with other "peace science" disciplines; and, third, that there should be a set of normative prescriptions which, if introduced into behaviour of both sides, can lead to a satisfactory end of the conflict. Furthermore, on the value scale, its supporters have held that there are no unsolvable conflicts: everything depends upon shared values and the relevant will of the parties.7

Importantly, the foundation for the whole theory was a cost-benefit analysis of conflict in conditions of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which provided solid proof of the futility of using force as an ultima ratio. The further evolution of the conflict resolution approach has brought a focus on conflict prevention and conflict avoidance as another means to settle conflicts in the early stages of their formation. Conceptually, these were off-shoots of the "mother theory," but they have had a major impact on attitudes towards conflict, strengthening the belief that it is possible to solve conflicts without letting them grow into wars.

Thus, from this brief overview we may sum up our use of the term "conflict management." Managing conflict means, first of all, keeping it under control, preventing the possibility of its unpredictable development; second, it means providing a framework which can incorporate both "winning" and "compromise" approaches as part of a single theory which stresses the need to manage conflict irrespective of the outcome; third, it may also envisage resolution, prevention, or indeed avoidance of conflict as a preferable outcome, as has been stressed by adherents of "conflict control" policies.

3 Two cultures of conflict management

Conflict management forms part of a larger social framework built by the general political process in a nation. Specific mechanisms of conflict management - courts of justice and appeal, arbiters, intermediaries, special government agencies - may be very similar in different countries. Contemporary civilization has already worked out some model institutions which are duplicated widely, sometimes even without proper understanding of why these institutions exist and what function they really play in maintaining the social order.

Basically, these institutions have been copied from developed Western democracies. It is the evolution of such states, especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which brought into existence various institutions with the purpose of managing domestic conflicts between classes, large social groups, political movements, and ethnic minorities, in order to preserve the social order from major disruptions. Their emergence was partially a reaction by Western societies to atrocities of the French Revolution, the European upheavals of 1848-50, the Paris Commune, and, finally, the October Revolution in Russia. The experience of all these major social outbursts, as well as the lessons of social conflicts of lesser magnitude, spurred democratic societies on to work out mechanisms for coping with social unrest.

The last and largest impact on this institution-building came in the wake of the tragic experiment of the Nazi regime in Germany. After World War II, an institution-building process became universal, in developed European nations and in Japan, and in the developing states of Asia, Africa, and Latin America. This was a process largely encouraged by the findings of the theory of political development.

The scope of ideas behind this historical evolution was laid down by French thinkers of the Enlightenment, specifically by Rousseau's "social contract." The normative approach of their works was based upon a conclusion that through education and learning, humanity could make moral and spiritual progress, creating a "harmonious" society capable of maintaining the necessary balance between its main social groups on the basis of justice and equity. Although these ideas were at the time received with widespread scepticism, further evolution has given much more emphasis to the idea of "contract," which, together with the traditions of common law, has appeared as a sound basis of social organization. The traditions of contract and negotiations have become an important alternative to violence and power. One example of this type of development may be found in former US President Roosevelt's "New Deal."

On the basis of this evolution, concepts and theories of conflict resolution have been studied and developed. Knowledge backed up by numerous examples of social and international conflicts has shown that in the long run no violent conflict has ever brought success to the winner. The only stable result of such conflicts has been the perpetuation of the controversy, its reproduction over several generations, or even centuries. For example: the radical Tatar movement for independence insists that the Tatar people are still at war with Russia, ever since the days of Ivan the Terrible, when the Kazan and Astrakhan Khanates were conquered by the Russians in the 1550s and forcibly incorporated into the Russian stardom. Tatar extremists maintain that the conflict between Russians and Tatars has continued through all these centuries and has never been ended.8

In this respect, conflict resolution theory holds that a durable solution to a conflict may be achieved only if and when the totality of variables which form the conflict situation is studied; the variables which can perform the main function in putting an end to conflict must then be activated through political decisions. This can provide a sound basis for a negotiated solution which will exclude the possibility of reactivating the conflict.

This view contrasts with the other approach found in the USSR and even today in the independent states. The latter approach assumes that violence is a midwife of history, and sees revolutions as a manifestation of violent conflict between classes who are the "locomotives of history." It assumes, further, that revolutions and armed struggles are generally the most efficient and desirable means of social change; hence, they should be regarded not as a deviation from a "normal" way of things, but rather as something to be encouraged and set as a goal of the political party which heads the mass movement of the working class. This goal consists in taking power through violent overthrow of the existing government and enforced change of the social order along the lines of Communist ideology.9 It further insists that even after the successful overthrow of the old regime the new social and political order must continue to suppress opposition with the whole might of the state.10 The contribution of this revolutionary process consists in promoting violent change of the social and political order in other countries where similar conditions exist.

This approach regards conflict as something natural, which provokes the existing contradictions of the society to their extreme. Only when they reach that extreme and conflict erupts can there be a possibility for genuine change, making revolution possible. This is not Schelling's "we all are party to the conflict" (where conflict is something alien to the will of the actors): on the contrary, the purpose of these actors in promoting change is perceived as conflict itself, which has to be promoted in order to "win." Conflict in this case is desirable because it is regarded as the best (if not the only) means to achieve progress and change.

Correspondingly, these two approaches differ in how they treat conflict management. The first, the Western liberal approach, considers conflict as unnecessary, as damaging to the society, and hence as something to be put down. The preferable solution is compromise, a mutually acceptable agreement to be worked out by both sides, sometimes with the participation of an intermediary or a third party, sometimes without it, and voluntarily accepted. Such a solution has two distinct assets: first, it tends to be optimal, since it has been achieved through negotiations where different positions are compared, analysed, contested, and finally brought together; second, it is usually more durable because the way it has been achieved minimizes the possibilities of challenging the agreement after it is signed. Thus, this approach prefers a non-normative, experimental way of forging a solution; it moves to the "cone" of agreement from beneath, searching for an acceptable solution.

The second approach, the Marxist, violent approach, treats conflict management in a totally different manner. First, it generally associates "winning" with management, stressing that to win in a conflict means to keep it under firm control; and, vice versa, that complete control of the conflict may be achieved only through a victory. Second, this approach does not exclude the possibility of negotiating in conflict, but regards this as an "auxiliary" method which may be used when there is an impasse in a forced solution, or when cost-benefit analysis shows that using force is counterproductive. Otherwise, negotiation is not preferable to conflict. Third, this approach does not exclude a compromise achieved through mediation, but it acknowledges only an authoritative intermediary, one possessing the necessary power. In a hierarchical society, it sees conflict management as the coercion exerted by a higher authority in relation to a lower one.

These two approaches to conflict management indicate how and on what principles a state can operate government in a multi-ethnic society in the midst of social upheaval caused by ethnic conflicts. Ethnic conflicts come into existence because the ethnic minority is dissatisfied with its position in multiethnic society: thus, ethnic conflict always means a challenge to the power of the central authority which keeps the nation together. In trying to control ethnic conflicts, the central authority does this in order to maintain its power, well aware that in the opposite case it would inevitably lose power and become the loser in the conflict. When we bear in mind the psychology of the relevant actor, it becomes evident that in this case losing power would mean political death.

4 Ethnic conflicts as objects of management

Ethnic conflicts may be found in various societies: developed and underdeveloped; liberal and authoritarian; democratic and totalitarian; Western and Eastern; Northern and Southern. Nor are they solely a product of contemporary times; ethnic conflicts have occurred throughout human history. The essence of these conflicts has been the desire of the ethnic minority to defend its identity, either through national liberation or through achieving national autonomy. This desire has always been prompted by the fear of losing one's own cultural traditions, ethnic heritage, and language to a larger and more developed nation which could swallow and ingest smaller groups. Indeed, this is what happened, for example, to Luzhichan Serbs in Germany, as well as many other minorities elsewhere.

Though a supporter of the "melting-pot" theory would never recognize any rational element behind the resistance of small nations to the expansion of big ones, nevertheless such conflicts multiply. To explain the underlying rationale, we may suggest that cultural diversity is one of the most important and powerful locomotives of the cultural development of the world community. Without ethnic minorities cultural diversity might simply disappear. This does not mean that peasants in remote villages fighting for their independence or self-determination are necessarily obsessed with the cultural heritage of humankind: but it does give a rational explanation to the feeling of justice and the desire to provide assistance that are experienced when the world community deals with ethnic problems.

Ethnic conflicts throughout the world may be divided into several groupings. We can begin with the most simple and "primitive" conflicts, where an ethnic minority wants to be recognized as such and to win the right to "cultural autonomy." This type of conflict exists in both developed and developing countries.

Another type occurs when an ethnic minority wants self-determination and independence. This also may happen both in developed and developing societies, although it is more typical of developing societies where the problems of self-determination have not yet been solved and society itself is in a state of rapid change.

The next type is the so-called "irredentist" movement, when an ethnic minority in one state wants to join its counterpart in another state and create a new nation (Basques in France and Spain, Ossetians in Russia and Georgia). Such movements may have as their goal national reunification under the auspices of a big nation which is either closer to them ethnically or which is regarded as capable of sponsoring such an endeavour.

What would be a totally new type of ethnic conflict characteristic of our times is the drive for unity of the so-called separated states, such as Germany, Laos and Viet Nam, and Korea.

It is important to have a typology of ethnic conflicts in order to understand the possible scale of their consequences for the social order in relevant countries and for the international system. Usually, conflicts of the primitive type do not produce large-scale consequences and they may be managed by governments. Depending upon the nature of the government and the conflict management approach chosen, this may either satisfy the world community or raise serious criticism on the part of those concerned over human rights and the rights of the minorities. Moving from more simple types of ethnic conflict towards more complex and sophisticated ones, the scale of consequences will be greater, as will the attention of the world community to the conflict. In the most sophisticated cases, ethnic conflicts become truly international, with all the corresponding consequences. What ethnic conflicts lose in their domestic dimension, they now gain on the international side.

This observation is a necessary preface to the analysis of ethnic conflict as an object of management. When confronted with the challenge of an ethnic conflict, any government will feel the attention of the outside world. No longer can ethnic problems be regarded simply as completely internal: the issues of self-determination and respect for the rights of minorities have already become part of international law. At the same time, an ethnic conflict is always a challenge to the authority of the state and a danger to its power, whether it is a democratic state or a totalitarian one. It would be naive to expect that, because of the international dimension of ethnic conflict, a state will hesitate to use all the means at its disposal in order to minimize the damage it suffers. The real political problem facing the state in this case will be how to synchronize its domestic policy goals vis--vis ethnic conflict and its international obligations to avoid a situation in which, both domestically and internationally, ethnic conflict aggravates devolution of power.

Here, the type of conflict management and the mode of operation acquire crucial importance. If the culture of the given state is oriented towards brutal oppression of ethnic minorities, if it operates within the narrow limits of the "winning" approach, it will not only prefer forcible, imposed solutions of such conflicts but will also hold that if it does not demonstrate enough power and resolution, its foreign and domestic images will suffer. In this case the state will inevitably tend to use force and self-appointed conflict management, regarding any attempt on the part of the world community to criticize its approach as an attempt to "interfere in its domestic affairs," and will lock itself into a vicious circle of violence and failure: the less successful its efforts, the more it will be inclined to escalate violence. This may be seen in Saddam Hussein's policy towards the Kurds and the Shiite minority in Iraq.

In such situations, it is extremely difficult for the international community to do anything real and significant to help oppressed minorities. As the Kurdish uprising in early 1991 showed, even when foreign troops interfere to prevent a mass massacre on the part of the government forces, the result is still unsatisfactory and insignificant. One explanation may be that dealing with ethnic problems becomes a matter of survival for the government involved, and the minority experiences in its own destiny the consequences of the struggle for survival. The more the state is pressured, the lower are the hopes that it will change its attitude towards ethnic conflict. A similar process was under way in the former Soviet Union until it ceased to exist and turned into a loose commonwealth.

5 Ethnic conflicts in the former USSR: history and lessons

The emergence of a whole series of ethnic conflicts in the USSR in 1987-91 came both as a surprise and as something long expected by Soviet and foreign observers. On the one hand, it was no secret to those who knew Soviet history that there were dozens of ethnic minorities whose rights had been abused during the Communist regime; and it was only logical to expect these minorities to demand justice as soon as the situation in the country permitted. The period preceding 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Kremlin, and the period immediately after that provided ample evidence of the struggles of the Crimean Tatars, the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Meskhetian Turks in Uzbekistan, the Russian Germans, and many others. It became clear that all the minorities who had suffered serious dislocations during Stalin's rule would demand some historical satisfaction.

The ethnic situation was also unsettled for some minorities, like the Gagauz minority in Moldova, who had been deprived by the Communist regime of the possibility of autonomy and who now sought recognition of their right to self-determination. Ethnic issues also included relations between separate republics and ethnic minorities (in Russia, Georgia, Azerbaijan) dissatisfied with their dependent status inside those republics. Several "irredentist" movements appeared, in Georgia (Ossetians), Azerbaijan (Nagorno-Karabakh), Moldova (the Dniester Republic), as well as in the Baltic states (the Russian speaking population), demanding union with their brothers and sisters in neighbouring states. All in all, it appeared that the ethnic problem was developing into a major source of devolution of power in the former Soviet Union, and, at the same time, a source of potential conflict.

On the other hand, there was a strong belief, shared not only by Gorbachev's government but by the public at large, that these cases of ethnic conflicts were basically mere exceptions: the major republics of the Union were more or less integrated socially and economically into an interdependent complex which could be preserved during a period of social change, helping to dampen the waves of instability produced by minor ethnic movements. This conclusion was based both upon the experience of World War II, when the Union had proved its integrity, and upon the determination of the centre to start a series of long-term profound changes linked with democratization, perestroika, openness, and other reforms, which would put the centre into the leading position among all other political forces, including leaders of republics.

The evident determination was to use the momentum of social change in order to navigate through the reefs of ethnic and nationalist moods. Here we may note how Gorbachev's Concept of Perestroika, published in 1987, was establishing a direct link between the speed of social change sponsored from above and the possibilities for quick and sound solutions to ethnic problems.11

The traditional Marxist-Leninist ideology assumed that national and ethnic issues are subordinate to the interests of class and large social groups, and are thus incapable of providing a powerful enough impulse to destroy the existing social order. The example of some developed nations (the USA first of all) was misused to "prove" that with the advent of economic progress minority issues will be solved easily, if not automatically. A devastating blow to these views came with the civil conflict in Yugoslavia. That country had been regarded as far more developed than the majority of the former Soviet republics; nevertheless, it suffered disintegration due to ethnic conflicts between Serbs and other nationalities. On the other hand, for some time a kind of euphoria persisted, both in the thinking of the Union leadership (until it was dissolved in December 1991) and in the Russian leadership. Judging by the Declaration of the Three Republics of 8 December 1991, which put an end to the existence of the USSR, the main emphasis was on economic rather than ethnic issues.12

This approach never worked; indeed it proved to be based on false assumptions. First, the speed of social change from above was much slower than expected, due to resistance on the part of hard-liners and the party nomenklatura. This produced the first open crisis in the Soviet leadership in 1987, when Boris Yeltsin revolted against Gorbachev's policy and was evicted from the ruling Politburo. Second, the nationalist movements in separate republics were gaining strength; their platforms appeared much more attractive for the large masses of people than that of the Communist Party. This produced another crisis, which was less spectacular than the so-called Yeltsin crisis but which nevertheless significantly narrowed Gorbachev's power base in the republics and turned the republics into a dominant force of development. Third, there was an attempt (at least, according to some reports) on the part of the central leadership to use, if not encourage, ethnic conflicts in the republics in order to strengthen the position of the centre.13

As these factors were unfolding, a specific policy regarding ethnic conflicts was formulated for the whole of the USSR. While the central government was counting on the "winning" approach and used force in Tbilisi (1989), Baku (1990), and Vilnius (1991) in order to put down nationalist uprisings, the republican governments, while resisting the policy of Moscow, were applying those same methods against their own ethnic minorities in Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and even in Lithuania against the Russian speaking minority. Conflict management through force, directly or indirectly, and the inability to find other ways to keep those conflicts under control to prevent their escalation - this has become the norm.

Why has that situation developed? Here, we should stress that at the base of the whole pyramid of violence was the policy of the central government. It was not simply tradition and habit which formed the policy of Moscow, but also a strong commitment to keep on playing the role of the "supreme arbiter," which was considered necessary from both the domestic and the foreign policy perspectives. Domestically, it was considered necessary to use the situation of growing conflict between governments in the republics and ethnic minorities in order to increase the leverage of the centre and to dilute the power of the republics in the growing unrest of their minorities. This was especially important since Moscow found itself unable to start economic reform and was, thus, counting on circumventing economic hardships by stressing the gravity of ethnic problems. Internationally, the centre tried to continue to play a visible role in order to project an image of control over the spread of nuclear weapons in the new republics.

Thus, the ethnic problem, the importance of conflicts around the self-determination of the minorities, acquired unprecedented dimensions, threatening the existing order both in the republics and in the Union. In view of this, it was not unexpected that the leadership of the republics preferred to dismiss the central authority completely, exchanging it for some loose arrangement, rather than try to support Gorbachev and his policy. This was scarcely a free choice of alternatives, each with its pros and cons, but an enforced solution to save the public order in the republics. Of course, not all the republics were equally embroiled in ethnic problems, but for the majority it was clear that they could cope with the situation only if the interference of the central government could be removed once and for all. Thus came the events of December 1991, when the agreement on the Commonwealth was first signed by the three Slavic republics and then enlarged through addition of eight more by the end of that month.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have only partly helped to ease tensions between the republics. While this devolution of Soviet power has ended the confrontation between the centre and the republics, it has not brought a stable horizontal relationship. The worst evidence of this is seen in relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan and between Russia and Ukraine. The institutions of the CIS appear too weak to contain these conflicts and there seems a real possibility that they may escalate into a threat to East European or Transcaucasian order.

In view of the ethnic dimension of this development, the results of the devolution of the Soviet power have become even more disastrous. CIS attempts to moderate some of these conflicts have failed; nor have the attempts of some republican governments to control ethnic conflicts on their territories succeeded. In some cases, such as the Russian Federation, the government has tried to be more or less tolerant of various ethnic claims for independence (e.g. the Chechen or Tatar republics), though it is evident that the limits of its tolerance have been dwindling. In other republics the spectre of ethnic independence has created a critical situation.

Why has this happened? A whole group of the former Soviet republics have an artificial nature: Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan. These nations either never had a state of their own, or were always parts of other states. During the Soviet period their statehood was artificially created as a subsidiary of the Party bureaucratic system, without any serious attempt to forge viable nations. Now that these republics have gained independence, their lack of historical experience in statehood and the absence of knowledge of how to deal with ethnic minorities make them rather aggressive and intolerant in their domestic policies and help to create further impasses in respect to ethnic minorities. The ethnic issue and the impossibility of finding sound solutions to it may lead to the further fragmentation of the geopolitical entity once called the Soviet Union.

Ethnic issues in the former USSR were not the only or even the main factor which destroyed the Union. Many other factors worked in the same direction. All the same, it is clear that the conflict management strategy which combined direct and forceful pressure from the centre on the republics with an indirect form of pressure through encouragement of some ethnic issues has produced a cumulative feedback which destroyed the Union. In order to avoid the impression that in this interplay of factors the politics of republics were justifiably directed against the Centre, it should be emphasized that the republics also followed the same line in their attitude toward ethnic conflicts. As a result, the whole structure of ethnic problems in the former USSR has become highly instrumental in devolution of the power of the state and in bringing it to the present state of affairs.

6. Conclusion: Learning lessons

The leaders of the republics are well aware that the inability to cope with ethnic problems - due either to the force of tradition or to the general state of the society, which cannot produce the sophisticated mechanisms of conflict management in use in developed nations played a highly visible role in bringing an end to the Soviet Union. This does not mean, however, that they are inclined to make any significant changes in their methods and attitudes to this problem. In each of the sovereign republics, old traditions appear stronger than common sense and the knowledge of Western experience.

What then can we say about the lessons of the Union? The new independent states have started their existence amid two important processes: on one hand, there is the problem of overcoming the residues of Communist rule; on the other, nation-building under conditions of multi-ethnicity. It will be the balance between efforts in both directions that will determine their destinies. Not all of these republics are equally caught up in ethnic problems, although the heritage of both the Empire and Communist rule has left almost all of them with mixed populations. Neither are they all equally eager to continue democratic reforms, although they understand that without a certain democratization, in politics as well as in economics, they will not be able to survive as independent and integrated nations. On the other hand, all of them face the problem of having to learn modern and accepted methods of rule quickly; those who can be quick enough here will have greater chances for survival and a peaceful future. It is evident that no model for managing ethnic conflicts exists that is fully suited to the new independent states. This can be seen from the failed efforts of Russia and Kazakhstan to play an intermediary role in the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict. On the contrary, it seems that each of the republics will have to work out its own specific approaches and methods in order to keep its conflicts under control. International experience demonstrated that using force as the main method is self-destructive. To hope for the United Nations or other international institutions to step in and take care of these conflicts is also unrealistic. Local governments will have to take the necessary steps to understand the depth and complexity of the issues they are facing. Finally, we should note that international experience also teaches us that handling ethnic conflicts is a long-term task which cannot be solved overnight.


1. T.C. Schelling, Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1959), p. 3.

2. Lao Tzu, Te-Tao Ching: A New Tradition Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-Wang-Tui Texts (New York: Ballantine Books, 1989).

3. Bhagavadgita: Philosophical Texts (Russian version; Ylm Publishing House, Ashkhabad, 1977).

4. See, for example, F.M. Deng and I.W. Zartman (eds.), Conflict Resolution in Africa (Washington DC: Brookings Institute, 1991).

5. In Russian, see N.N. Yakovlev, Prestupivshije Gran (Those who crossed the brink) (Moscow: Meghdunarodnye Otnoshenija, 1971), pp. 7-41.

6. T. Hoopes, The Devil and J.F. Dulles (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1973).

7. An excellent overview of the major writings on conflict resolution was given in a recent work by a young scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA); see L. Wagner, Processes for Impasse Resolution (IIASA Working Paper, wp-91-43, December 1991).

8. Some Russian extremists respond to this claim that the conflict between Russians and Tatars started in the mid-1200s, when the Mongols invaded Russia and kept it under their rule for about 300 years. Both positions demonstrate that, in absence of a durable solution, conflicts may continue endlessly, with mixed results at different stages. See S.L. Tikhvinsky (ed.), Tataro-Mongoly v Asii i Europe (Tatar-Mongols in Asia and Europe) (Moscow: Nauka 1977).

9. V.I. Lenin, Gosudarstvo i revolutsiya (State and Revolution), in Complete Works vol. 33 (Moscow: Politizdat, 1972) p. 43.

10. J.V. Stalin, Voprosy Leninisma (Problems of Leninism) (Moscow: Politizdat, 1941).

11. M.S. Gorbachev, New Thinking for Our Country and for the Whole World (Moscow: APN Publishers, 1987).

12. Izvestija, 9 December 1991.

13. R.I. Khasbulatov, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian Federation, Interview with Soviet TV, 15 March 1992.

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