135 The Politics of Identity: Ethnic Voters and Ethnic Parties in Europe

Wednesday, June 26, 2013: 11:00 AM-12:45 PM
1.15 (PC Hoofthuis)
The Politics of Identity: Ethnic Voters and Ethnic Parties in Europe

What role does ethnicity play in politics? This question has long concerned political scientists but it has become even more pressing over the past three decades. The collapse of several multinational states and the violence that accompanied their demise have focused attention on the negative influence of ethnic differences on the cohesiveness of states. Internal migration and immigration have also increased the ethnic heterogeneity of many members of the EU and made ethnic identity an important issue in contemporary European politics.

The representation of members of ethnic minority groups in the national political process has been a challenge for political systems of all types and in all geographical regions. Many states have, consequently, introduced policies to encourage the representation of minority groups, ranging from political education campaigns to guaranteeing seats for minority groups in the legislature and/or government and setting quotas for the nomination of minority candidates by mainstream political parties (Melansek 2010).

These methods have been subject to controversy, in large part because many of them appear to be opposed to the basic principles of liberal democracy. The formation of ethnic political parties based has been particularly contentious. These are parties which, formally or in practice, speak for the interests of a particular ethnic group (Chandra 2011) and aim to fulfill a descriptive representative function for that group in the national political arena. The ethnic party is an interesting nexus of group-driven efforts to achieve representation and state policies regarding representation. No party can form without individuals willing to be part of it and ethnic group members willing to vote for it, making ethnic parties a reflection of the minority group’s cohesiveness, socio-economic situation, and political ambition. However, the party’s existence is often subject to differential treatment by the constitution and other laws of any given state.

Scholars have made a variety of arguments regarding ethnic parties and their impact on the nature of ethnic relations and democratic development. Most reflect an underlying uneasiness about both the nature of ethnic parties and their behavior and the phenomenon of ethnic voting. However, we remain relatively ignorant about how ethnic parties behave in practice and how they relate to their electorates. Do they target exclusively ethnic voters? Do members of the ethnic group vote consistently for ethnic parties? Do ethnic parties face internal or external competition from other ethnic-group specific parties? All these questions drive the organization of this panel and are addressed by its individual contributions. The answers provided will help in our ability to assess the relations between ethnic voters and ethnic parties on the one hand, and ethnic parties and democracy on the other.

Maria Spirova
Maria Spirova
Counting Heads? Ethnic Voting in Europe
Femke Avtalyon, Leiden University
Patrons or Champions? the Organizational Strategies of Ethnic Parties
Maria Spirova, Leiden University; Petr Kopecky, Leiden University
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