When the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991, pundits predicted that it would end up like Yugoslavia, with ethnic wars tearing the union into fragments. Russians left “abroad”—in Central Asia, Crimea, and the Baltic Republics—would become tinder for conflagrations. Islamic fundamentalism, some claimed, would infect the traditionally Muslim peoples of the south and the Volga region. Yet in the last five years, ethnic conflict, though explosive and bloody in several places, has not spread across the ex-USSR. The belief that ethnic difference must lead to ethnic conflict and even to ethnic cleansing has not been borne out by the post-Soviet experience. Despite weak state structures, disintegrating economies, and widespread anxiety about the future, ethnicity has not metastasized into open widespread violence.
Most of the Soviet republics were not ethnically homogeneous. With over 93 percent of its population Armenian, tiny Armenia was the most ethnically consolidated, especially after it drove out nearly two hundred thousand Azerbaijanis in 1988-1989. In Azerbaijan, Lithuania and Belarus more than 77 percent of the population consisted of the titular nationality. But Estonia (61.5 percent Estonian), La...
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