Friday, September 5, 2008

Is ethnic diversity the enemy of democracy?

Some say democracy could not work in a country as ethnically diverse as Burma.

However, Mark R. Beissinger, who has studied states of the former Soviet Union, argues that ethnic diversity need not doom democracy.

“Globally, ethnic diversity is generally a poor predictor of civil wars,” he says.

The key is to build trust across communities. Beissinger maintains this should be a primary goal of institution-builders. I could not agree more. Beissinger hits on an important application Robert Putnam's concept of "bridging" social capital. Ties among people within a group, called "bonding social capital" are important; but for the success of a larger community, ties among people of different ethnicities, religions, professions, etc. -- that is, 'bridging social capital" -- are also vital.

People concerned about the future of Burma have taken an interest in Beissinger's ideas.

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