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Ethnocracy: Wikis


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Ethnocracy is a form of government where representatives of a particular ethnic group hold a number of government posts disproportionately large to the percentage of the total population that the particular ethnic group(s) represents and use them to advance the position of their particular ethnic group(s) to the detriment of others.

The minority ethnic groups are systematically discriminated against by the state and may face repressions or violations of human rights at the hands of state organs. Ethnocracy can also be a political regime which is instituted on the basis of qualified rights to citizenship, and with ethnic affiliation (defined in terms of race, descent, religion, or language) as the distinguishing principle.

Generally, the raison d'être of an ethnographic government is to secure the most important instruments of state power in the hands of a specific ethnic collectivity. All other considerations concerning the distribution of power are ultimately subordinated to this basic intention. Ethnocracies are generally considered to be non-democratic in nature.°

Ethnocracies are characterised by their control system – the legal, institutional, and physical instruments of power deemed necessary to secure ethnic dominance. The degree of system discrimination will tend to vary greatly from case to case and from situation to situation. If the dominant group (whose interests the system is meant to serve and whose identity it is meant to represent) constitutes a small minority (20% or less) of the population within the state territory, extreme degrees of institutionalised suppression will probably be necessary to sustain the status quo.

The other side of the coin might well be a system of full-fletched democracy (inclusive and competitive in Robert Dahl's terminology) for the privileged population, making up what Pierre van den Berghe (1981) calls "Herrenvolk democracy" (with reference to apartheid South Africa). This is a system of ethnocracy which offers democratic participation to the dominant group only.



In his book Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine, Israeli geographer Oren Yiftachel refers to a strategy of "Judaization" as the primary manifestation of ethnocracy in Israel/Palestine. [1]. Similar references have also been made to the Palestinian Territories[2].

South Africa

Ethnocracy indicates a specific principle of power-distribution in a society. In his book Power-Sharing in South Africa [3], Arend Lijphart classifies contemporary constitutional proposals for a solution to the conflict in South Africa into four categories:

  • majoritarian (one man, one vote)
  • non-democratic (varieties of white domination)
  • partitionist (creating new political entities)
  • consociational (power-sharing by proportional representation and elite accommodation) (1985:5)

Not surprisingly, Lijphart argues strongly in favour of the consociational model and his categories illustrates that, on the constitutional level, state power can be distributed along two dimensions: Legal-institutional and territorial.

Along the legal-institutional dimension we can distinguish between singularism (power centralised according to membership in a specific group), pluralism (power-distribution among defined groups according to relative numerical strength), and universalism (power-distribution without any group-specific qualifications). The three main alternatives on the territorial dimension are the unitary state, "intermediate restructuring" (within one formal sovereignty), and partition (creating separate political entities). Ethnocracy indicates a specific principle of power-distribution in a society.


Uganda under dictator Idi Amin Dada has also been described as an ethnocracy favouring certain indigenous groups over others, as well as for the ethnic cleansing of Indians in Uganda by Amin.[4]


There is a spectrum of opinion among authors as to the classification of Estonia, spanning from Liberal or Civic Democracy [5][6] through Ethnic democracy[7] to Ethnocracy. Will Kymlicka regards Estonia as a democracy, stressing the peculiar status of Russian-speakers, stemming from being at once partly transients, partly immigrants and partly natives.[8] British researcher Neil Melvin concludes that Estonia is moving towards a genuinely pluralist democratic society through its liberalization of citizenship and actively drawing of leaders of the Russian settler communities into the political process.[9] Israeli researchers Oren Yiftachel and As’ad Ghanem consider Estonia as an ethnocracy[10][11]. Israeli sociologist Sammy Smooha, of the University of Haifa, disagrees with Yiftachel, contending that the ethnocratic model developed by Yiftachel does not fit the case of Estonia; it is not a settler society as its core ethnic group is indigenous, nor did it expand territorially or have a diaspora intervening in its internal affairs as in the case of Israel for which Yiftachel originally developed his model.[12]

James Hughes, in the United Nations Development Programme's Development and Transition, criticizes Estonia, described by unstated sources as a case of ‘ethnic democracy’ where the state has been captured by the titular ethnic group and then used to promote ‘nationalising’ policies and discrimination against Russophone minorities.[7] (Development and Transition has also published papers disputing Hughes' contentions.)


Although ethnic Latvians comprise only 58% of the population of Latvia, 92% of all officials are ethnic Latvians.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Yiftachel, Oren (2006). Ethnocracy: Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine. University of Pennsylvania Press. ISBN 978-0-8122-3927-0.  
  2. ^ Arkush, Allan 1949-, Ethnocracy Land and Identity Politics in Israel/Palestine (review) Israel Studies - Volume 12, Number 3, Fall 2007, pp. 161-167
  3. ^ Lijphart, Arend (1985). Power-sharing in South Africa. Berkeley : Institute of International Studies, University of California. ISBN 0877255245.  
  4. ^ Soldiers and Kinsmen in Uganda: The Making of a Military Ethnocracy by Ali A. Mazrui. Author(s) of Review: Rodger Yeager The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 10, No. 2 (1977), pp. 289-293. doi:10.2307/217352
  5. ^ John Pickles, Adrian Smith, Theorising transition: the political economy of post-Communist transformations, Taylor & Francis, 1998, p284
  6. ^ Jubulis M. Nationalism and Democratic Transition. The Politics of Citizenship and Language in Post-Soviet Latvia (Lanham, New York and Oxford: University Press of America, 2001), pp. 201–208
  7. ^ a b Discrimination against the Russophone Minority in Estonia and Latvia — synopsis of article published in the Journal of Common Market Studies (November 2005)
  8. ^ Kymlicka, Will, Estonia’s Integration Policies in a Comparative Perspective. in Estonia’s Integration Landscape: From Apathy to Harmony 2000, Pp. 29-57
  9. ^ Melvin, N. J. 'Post imperial Ethnocracy and the Russophone Minorities of Estonia and Latvia' in The Policies of National Minority Participation Post-Communist Europe. State-Building, Democracy and Ethnic Mobilisation, p 160. J. P. Stein, ed. EastWest Institute (EWI), 2000.
  10. ^ Yiftachel, Oren; As’ad Ghanem (August 2004). "Understanding ‘ethnocratic’ regimes: the politics of seizing contested territories". Political Geography 23 (6).  
  11. ^ Yiftachel, Oren (23 January 2004). "Ethnocratic States and Spaces". United States Institute of Peace. Retrieved 2009-10-18.  
  12. ^ Smooha , S. The model of ethnic democracy, European Centre for Minority Issues, ECMI Working Paper # 13, 2001, p23.
  13. ^

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