Ethnic Conflict in the Former Soviet Union: Ethnic Demography and Its Influence on Conflict Behavior


  • Joseph Meyer


With the end of the Cold War, conflict in the international system increasingly manifested within states rather than among them. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the creation of 15 independent states, many with diminished state power and simmering inter-ethnic tensions. Scholarly research in the post-Cold War era has focused on the determinants of ethnic conflict, including ethnic demography. In this study, I examine the relationship among three measures of ethnic demography—ethnic fractionalization, polarization, and dominance—and conflict behavior in states of the former Soviet Union. Results illustrated a negative relationship between fractionalization and polarization and conflict behavior, representing a break from traditional theory regarding demographics and ethnic conflict. As such, I advocate a constructivist approach to ethnic conflict, focusing on the fluid nature of ethnic identity. As ethnic identity changes over time, it may exacerbate or mitigate the chances of ethnic conflict, regardless of what demographic indicators may be present. This demonstrates a need to expand our understanding of how identities and narratives change over time.

Author’s Note: This version of the essay is excerpted from a longer version, condensed to meet the page-length requirements of Scientia et Humanitas. A case study was eliminated to suit this journal’s needs.