|Ethnicity and Power in the Contemporary World (UNU, 1996, 298 pages)|
|5. Dynamics of the Moldova Trans-Dniester ethnic conflict (late 1990s to early 1990s)|
Assessment and study of the specific context in which inter-ethnic violence erupts are fundamental for a more adequate understanding of its nature and for the search for effective strategies to promote peaceful alternatives. The overwhelming majority of current violent ethnic conflicts in the republics of the former Soviet Union are predominantly political in nature. These are ethnic disputes over group status in the political structures of the ethnically divided societies of these new nations, and intergroup struggles for the redistribution of power arrangements.
Rapid and turbulent socio-political change, the ongoing processes of state building in these new nations, and transition to inter-state relations between these ex-Soviet republics, form another integral part of the context of present-day inter-ethnic violence within the borders of the former Soviet Union. This swift and vertiginous sociopolitical transition, amidst the complicated legacy of unresolved and deeply felt ethnic problems left behind after the collapse of the Soviet Union, provides both motivation and opportunity for ethnic groups to mobilize as political actors and to engage in militant struggles for power.
The burgeoning pressure of politicized ethnic assertiveness and the escalation of claims and counter-claims at every stage of sociopolitical change may lead to a crisis in inter-ethnic relations. With the crisis situation comes a special period in inter-ethnic conflict when a turning point is reached and a new, intense level of interaction between the conflicting groups becomes possible. Either escalation or de-escalation of conflictual behaviour may ensue. Under certain circumstances a crisis in inter-ethnic relations can become a transition point from non-violent to violent collective ethnic political action. Here, concrete case studies can help us understand the specific forms of current socio-political change which have produced crises in interethnic relations, with some groups resorting to violence to achieve their demands for change.
This article will consider the major stages in the development of sociopolitical change and inter-ethnic violence in Moldova, discussing how the political nature of inter-ethnic disputes and the rapid political transformation of Moldovan society have led to recourse to violence in the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict since 1989. I shall also venture an assessment of the role played by ethno-political crises of legitimacy as transition points from nonviolent to violent ethnic political action.
The pattern of conflict dynamics, as seen in the case of Moldova, seems fairly typical of current ethno-political conflicts in the post Communist republics. That the sizeable Russian-speaking minority participated, as well as the fact of the considerable international implications of the violent ethnic disputes in Moldova, indicates that analysis and discussion of the Moldova-Trans-Dniester conflict can increase our general understanding of the nature and dynamics of ongoing inter-ethnic conflicts in new post-Communist nations. Moreover, it may contribute to the vital search for more effective techniques of conflict management in the modern world.