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From the Editor: earlier early warning

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Genocide studies could easily slide into a purely academic exercise, consisting of monographs, conferences, and grants. That in itself is not inadvisable. The study of genocide needs an objective base of solid data and methodological analysis. But, to validate itself, it must not stop there. Looking only at genocides of yesteryear and yesterday is not enough. As scholars of an international crime, our work is only partially grappling with genocides past. Our professional ethical obligation must include the search for ways and means of preventing genocides-to-come by means of knowledgeable anticipation that allows one to look ahead, informed by the past so as to evade a conflict in the making.

Work on early warning goes back a decade or so. It has so far little to show for itself. It is largely an untested discipline, if only because too much emphasis is placed on predicting genocide, when prediction necessarily is a blind alley. Instead, the emphasis should be on anticipation by means of monitoring pre-crisis dangers in the context of overarching frames of reference, such as the volcanic stresses endured by virtually all post-colonial states in Africa and Asia.

National disintegration is a potential source of extreme violence, especially when the crisis has an ethnic dimension that can be mobilized by manipulating demagogues such as Idi Amin (Uganda), Slobodan Milosevic (Serbia) and Sadam Hussein (Iraq). The most obvious conflict comes in the form of secession movements which can generate ferocious violence: Biafra (in the 1960s), East Timor (1975-2000), Chechnya (1992-1994 and 1999-) and, of course, Bosnia (in the 1990s). It is safe to say there will be more, especially in post-colonial states. These were cobbled together regardless of the wishes of indigenous ethnic groups. They are products of external imperial will, the last legacy of colonialism in retreat, leaving behind an untenable patchwork of international borders, drawn without regard for ethno-demographic distribution.

Back in post-World War I, the then major powers pasted and glued together states with no regard for the people involved. Thus, there was born overnight, by the undemocratic will of Versailles and Sèvres, multi-ethnic states such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. Both have since collapsed along with the Soviet Union which was also, when everything is said, an anti-democratic, multi-ethnic conglomerate that, in the end, lacked a viable and morally authentic center.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2003-12-01

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