Cultural Rights (9): Ethnic Cleansing

Ethnic cleansing is the violent displacement of an ethnic group from a particular territory in order to create an ethnically “clean” unit, i.e. a territorial unit composed of only one ethnic group. The means used to achieve ethnic unity are:

  • direct military force
  • police brutality
  • genocide
  • the threat of force
  • intimidation
  • rape
  • pogrom
  • demolition of housing, places of worship, infrastructure
  • discriminatory legislation or policies
  • tribal politics
  • economic exclusion
  • hate speech, propaganda
  • rewriting of history, fabrication of historical resentment
  • a combination of the above.

Given these various “tools”, it is not correct to equate ethnic cleansing with genocide. There are more or less violent forms of ethnic cleansing, although all forms contain some kind of force, otherwise one would speak merely of voluntary migration. Deportation or displacement of a group, even if effected by force, is not necessarily equivalent to destruction of that group.

Given the element of force it is correct to denounce all forms of ethnic cleansing, not only on the grounds of some kind of ideal of multiculturalism, but also on the grounds of the self-determination of the people involved, of their right to settle where they want, their freedom of movement etc. It is defined as a crime against humanity.

The best known cases of ethnic cleansing are:

  • Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s
  • Iraq during the Iraq war
  • India and Pakistan during their partition
  • The Georgian-Abkhaz conflict
  • Rwanda during the genocide
  • The relocation of Native American peoples from their traditional areas
  • The forced removals of non-white populations during the apartheid era
  • The Palestinian exodus
  • Central and Eastern Europe during and immediately after World War II
  • Darfur
  • etc.

However, it seems that this tactic has been known to humanity since a long time. Some even believe that the Neanderthals were victims of ethnic cleansing.

Some of the justifications given in defense of ethnic cleansing are:

  • To remove the conditions for potential and actual opposition. According to Mao Zedong, guerrillas among a civilian population are fish in water. By draining the water, one disables the fish.
  • To create a separate state for one ethnic group. A nationalist believes that a people or a nation can only have an autonomous and authentic existence, according to their own traditions, language, values and norms, in a state of their own. A multicultural nation can never be legitimate according to nationalism, because one assumes that in such a state it is inevitable that some groups are ruled by others and hence do not have an authentic and autonomous existence. The only way to have homogeneous territories in our multicultural and melting-pot world with no clear territorial separation of groups within states, is the use of force.
  • To redeem a society that is literally “unclean” and “sick” because of the presence of inferior humans.

1 thought on “Cultural Rights (9): Ethnic Cleansing”

  1. Ethnic Cleansing in the United States

    What about the ethnic cleansing currently taking place in the United States? It is good to condemn ethnic
    cleansing in Darfur or Bosnia, but what about closer to home, like in your own neighborhood.
    The New York Times calls this period in the United States “The Great Immigration Panic.” You can read
    their incisive editorial online.
    Few people are concerned about the daily arrests of
    undocumented immigrants in this country. Profiling is
    a concealed part of these search and arrrest raids.
    If you look latin, your car will be stopped to check the
    taillights, or just stopped to demand your ID. Local
    police are taking upon themselves the responsibility
    of arresting and arranging for the imprisonment and
    deportation of immigrants on the grounds of using
    false documents.
    In order to get a job in this country you must present
    a Social Security card in most cases. And, yes the
    cards used were never issued to the immigrants.
    The result of this is that these immigrants pay at
    least $1 billion a year into the Social Security Administration and are ineligible ever to receive
    benefits. The SS Administration is glad to receive
    this found money to help cover their deficits. So, what
    is the crime?
    The current wave of ethnic cleansing is part of a long
    history of similar actions in this country. It was so with
    the early Chinese, with the concentration camps for
    Japanese-American citizens in World War II and many
    other groups were ostracized: the Irish, Jews, Italians.
    Our treatment of African-Americans was despicable and, yes there were efforts to deport them.
    The new immigrants are young, healthy, and hard working. We need them and they need employment.
    They contribute far more to our economy than they
    receive in return, despite claims to the contrary.
    The random raids on workplaces have terrorized
    the entire latino population, and that is their purpose.
    They are being driven further underground and their
    suffering will be increased. That is what we want.
    It has been widely acknowledgedd that we cannot deport millions of undocumented workers. What we can and are doing is to force into them into ever more demeaning jobs. It is fun. It is a game. Catch the
    illegal immigrant. The deepseated need for a minority group to scapegoat is always with us, but needs to be
    One lie is that the immigrants are not learning English. They are learning English at a more rapid rate thanany other group of immigrants have in the past.
    Another lie is that they commit most of the crimes.
    The crime rate for immigrants is about one-third that of U.S. citizens, and probably less.


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