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Echoes From The Past: An Analysis Of The Greek Civil War

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British and Greek troops and a tank in combat against ELAS fighters in Athens, December 18, 1944. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum, NA 20937.

“But the war has not ended yet, because no war has ever ended”. -Manolis Anagnostakis ( from his poetic collection Epohes/Seasons)

In every nation’s history, certain historical events serve as a reminder of a darker past, a past that might serve as a stigma to the history of a country. One such event might be a civil war. Greece is a nation that has had its fair share of historical events throughout its long history. However, the contemporary nation of Greece is still suffering from its past, and the Greek Civil War that took place in the mid 20th century is a dark chapter that has divided the Greek population and has created a political and social animosity that is still seen in the 21st century. 76 years ago, the Greek Civil War entered its third and final phase and set to change the history of the country up until this day. It is an event that no one wants to talk about, and it is not even mentioned most of the time in Greek public schools. However, as we have learned from our world history, distancing ourselves from an unpleasant historical event leads to nothing, and the only way to find some sort of unity inside a society is to recall and understand and not simply forget our history.

The Greek Civil War In The Shadow Of The Cold War

The Greek Civil War took place right after the end of WWII. It was fought between the army of the Greek government and the Democratic Army of Greece (DSE), which at that time was the military branch of the Communist Party of Greece (KKE). The war was fought between 1946 to 1949, however, the struggle between the two conflicting ideologies started back in 1943 when the country was still occupied by the Axis forces. With the Greek government in exile, the Axis managed to establish a puppet regime in Greece, with Greek Nazi collaborators founding the so-called Security Battalions that were responsible for committing atrocities against the civil populations. At the same time, different resistance groups emerged, with the largest being the National Liberation Front (EAM-ELAS) which was controlled by the communist party, and the National Republican Greek League (EDES), which was controlled by the centrist former army officer, Napoleon Zervas. By 1944, when German troops started to withdraw from Greece, EDES, and ELAS, the military wing of EAM that was led by Aris Velouchiotis, did not see eye to eye. They both started accusing each other of treason, realizing that the Germans posed a minimal threat. At that time, for ELAS, the presence of the British was considered a major threat, while for EDES, the threat was the growing communist influence from the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. This led to a conflict between the two groups which resulted in the defeat of EDES and saw their escape to the island of Corfu.

In the fall of 1944, the exiled Greek government which was led by the liberal George Papandreou was located in Italy in preparations to return to Greece. On September 26, 1944, the government of George Papandreou signed the Casetta Agreement, alongside EAM/ELAS. The agreement provided that all resistance forces in Greece would be put under the command of a British officer, General Ronald Scobie. Although the communist party was not happy with the agreement, they were instructed by the Soviet Union not to cause an internal crisis in Greece, so as to not jeopardize the Allied unity. However, not everyone agreed with those instructions. Some KKE leaders like Aris Velouchiotis and Andreas Tzimas did not trust the Western allies. Later on, Andreas Tzimas established contact with the leader of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, who became a powerful ally for the Greek communists. A few months after the Casetta agreement, George Papandreou announced an ultimatum for the disarmament of all guerrilla groups in Greece. In response, EAM condemned the decision and organized a demonstration of at least 200.000 people in Athens. The demonstrators were faced with British forces that tried to stop the demonstrations. According to C.M Woodhouse, a British colonel officer that was stationed in Greece, there were shootings during the protests, although as he claimed, it was difficult to identify where the shots were coming from. Twenty-eight people were killed, and hundreds were injured. This was the beginning of the so-called Dekemvriana (December events), where forces of EAM/ELAS fought against British and Greek government forces in Athens. After 37 days, the conflict stopped with the defeat of EAM/ELAS. Two months later, the Treaty of Varkiza was signed between the Greek government and KKE, where it was agreed that EAM/ELAS would be completely disarmed. The communist party adopted a more political form rather than a military one, and the existence of ELAS was officially terminated.

The Red Scare: Greek Edition

However, the internal conflict in Greece was far from over. Between 1945 and 1946 it was reported that at least 1.190 people were killed by anti-communist gangs. This reign of “White Terror” against communist party members, forced many ex-ELAS fighters to form resistance groups, and eventually, the Communist Party in Greece reversed its political position of pacifism towards more aggressive tactics against the government forces. Thus, the Democratic Army of Greece (DES) was founded. On the one hand, the Greek government forces were supported by the United Kingdom and the U.S., while the DES was supported by Bulgaria, Albania, Yugoslavia, and the Soviet Union. During the first two years of the war, it seemed that the communists had the upper hand, however, in the end, the government forces managed to turn the war around, primarily because of the increased military aid from the U.S and the internal conflicts inside the DES that were caused because of the Tito-Stalin split that happened in 1948. The war officially ended on October 16, 1949, with the victory of the Greek government and its allies. At least 160.000 people lost their lives in the war, with 40.000 of them being civilians, while at least 1.000.000 people were relocated during the war.

War Causation Analysis

There have been a handful of opinions concerning the causes of the Civil War in Greece. Professor Nicos Christodoulakis from the London School of Economics suggests that the prolongation of the Greek Civil War has been influenced by socio-economic factors that are linked with pre-war socio-political polarization and, political grievances that are associated with persecutions by state forces against local populations that were sympathetic to leftist ideologies. Also, he examines the causes of civil war in Italy and the potential conflicts in Belgium after WWII, that were avoided due to the empowerment of the institutions that reconstructed their countries. In contrast, politics of exclusion and population division were introduced in Greece, gradually becoming the norm, which led to the Greek Civil War. Political scientist Stathis N. Kalyvas adopts a similar theory of societal polarization. In his paper, “The Greek Civil War in Retrospect”, he points out that the period of occupation in Greece and the split of the various resistance groups, and the role of collaborators must be the primary focus of the study for the causes of the Greek Civil War. In his own words: “Recent work-study must focus more on the period of the occupation, taking into account social and economic factors. What will emerge, would be a very complex and nuanced set of shifting and segmented loyalties, heavily informed by local considerations and conflicts, in which terror was never the monopoly of a single camp”.

On the other hand, some studies generate a different opinion about the cause of the civil war in Greece, focusing on the international dimension. Professor John Sakkas, from the University of the Aegean, focuses in his paper, “Old Interpretations and New Approaches in the Historiography of the Greek Civil War*”, on the role of the Western Allies, and especially Great Britain who had a tremendous influence in Greece. In his opinion, Great Britain was always conscious of the geopolitical importance of Greece and its strategic position in the Mediterranean. As a result, they were very concerned regarding the situation in Greece and they made sure to restore their dominant presence in Greece and secure their interests in the region. Winston Churchill himself was obsessed with the preservation of monarchy in Greece and the maintenance of British influence in the country. To achieve his goals, he influenced the exiled government of Greece to return and eliminate any anti-monarchists and communists that were supported by KKE. This attitude added more “fuel to the fire” since the communists were already skeptical about the intentions of the Western allies, and they decided to side with the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Winston Churchill indeed had a great influence on Greece, and as a result, the elements of the Cold War and the clash of ideologies might have been more influential at the start of the Greek Civil War, rather than just socio-political animosities amongst the Greek population. Furthermore, the presence of the United States and its strong alliance with Great Britain was instrumental to add more skepticism about the intentions of the communist party. As the internal conflicts in Greece started to escalate further, both countries feared that Greece, the last of the Balkan states to resist Soviet domination, would fall to the communists. The extended involvement of other countries in Greece eventually led to the Greek Civil War.

In a more constructive way of thinking, the most convincing causes of the Greek Civil War would be the analysis of both Christodoulakis and Kalyvas. Although the setting of the Cold War, and the involvement of the Western Allies, the Soviet Union, and Yugoslavia, played a critical role in accelerating the internal conflict and providing valuable help to both sides, the causes are more complex than just saying that this was a product of the Cold War. In reality, it was a struggle between two different ideological camps that showed early signs of confrontation, even before the arrival of the Allies. Unlike other countries that became unified after WWII, Greece continued its internal conflicts, prosecuting the communists, and in retaliation, the communists conducted guerilla warfare against the nationalists. As was mentioned before, although the setting of the Greek Civil War was the Cold War, there wasn’t a real ideological confrontation between the West and the Soviet Union. Stalin had acknowledged that Greece belonged to the Western sphere of influence in the Percentages Agreement (1944) and did not interfere. In addition, Tito’s Yugoslavia stopped any support to Greece’s communists after the Tito-Stalin split in 1948, and finally, the United States came to the very late end of the Civil War to provide their support. In conclusion, the cause of the Greek Civil War was the internal ideological conflicts that were built up before and during WWII, and although some may argue it was the first conflict in the Cold War era, it was not a product of it.

The Bitter Epilogue Of World War II

The Greek Civil War left Greece in ruins with great economic and social distress. Thousands died, many had been imprisoned for their political views, and others were sent to internal exile in the infamous islands of Makronissos and Gyaros. On an international level, its significance can be seen from a Cold War perspective, where Greece and its western allies managed to win the war, which eventually led to Greece’s membership in NATO in 1952. Also, Greece managed to establish very good relations with the United States, a country that practically founded the state of Greece through the Truman Doctrine. The lasting impact of the Greek Civil War can be seen through different historical events in Greece, and nowadays in its contemporary form. The political polarization and the animosity amongst Greeks eventually led to the military junta of 1967-1974, where anti-communist generals took control of the country and imposed a strong anti-communist security establishment. After the junta, Kostantinos Karamanlis led to the abolition of the monarchy and the legalization of KKE. Also, for the first time in Greek history, the internal conflict that occurred was recognized as a civil war and not as a conflict between government forces and gangs of communists. In contemporary Greece, the effects of the civil war have not faded, as the political identity of participants in the war was passed down to the next generation through family ties, and the collective memory of the ones that were involved helped shape the political identity of the leftist ideology, that until this day is deliberately barred from the socio-political landscape of Greece. Even today, there is animosity and division within Greece and there are efforts of the current government to alter the course of Greek history by demonizing the left-wing parties. Those parties respond by accusing the government of fascist tactics. In a way, history repeats itself, and it seems that Greece is stuck in its past and refuses to provide any solutions that can lead to national unity. The war might be over, but the scars have not faded away.

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Europe

On international relations, the public is clueless, democracy fails

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Nothing is more important to the people in any nation than international relations, because that includes national security, peace and war, and also includes the nation’s economy, which depends heavily on foreign trade. 

Take, for example, the big issue in Finland and Sweden, the decision whether or not to join America’s NATO anti-Russian military alliance. To join that alliance would cause Russia to target the country as being an enemy nation if there is to be a war between America and Russia — which now seems increasingly likely. These nations weren’t targeted by Russia in the past (neither Finland nor Sweden is), because they weren’t Russia’s enemies in post-WW-II times. So: joining NATO would create an enormous and entirely new national-security threat to the people there. But, apparently, they either don’t know this; or, if they do, then they don’t think it’s important; and, so, it doesn’t affect their opinions on whether or not to join NATO — which their leaders are now determined to do. Apparently, Finns and Swedes are being led into this monumental decision on the basis of ignorance, if not of inattention, to the issue of the potentially grave threat to their national-security that might be entailed by their joining NATO. 

To judge from what is being reported in the press, public opinion on the matter, in both countries, ignores the issue of whether being targeted as an enemy, by Russia, even factors, at all, in their opinions, on whether or not their country ought to join.

Turkey’s AA News agency headlined, on May 23rd, “Swedish public … have mixed thoughts about country’s NATO membership bid”. None of the respondents volunteered that concern (about whether becoming an enemy of Russia might reduce, instead of increase, their nation’s safety and security) when asked “how they feel about the sudden urge of their country to become a NATO member.” The closest answer which was volunteered to that was “if you poke the Russian bear too much, it might react because Putin has totally no regard for any laws of war”; but no preference, one way or the other, was cited from that individual.

Alleged experts on the subject were similarly ignoring the issue. On May 13th, France 24 News bannered “In Sweden, misgivings over rushed debate to join NATO”, and reported that, 

“It’s not Sweden deciding the timeline, it’s Finland, because they share a 1,300-km border with Russia”, said Anders Lindberg, political editorialist at Aftonbladet, an independent social democratic daily.

Sweden is otherwise more accustomed to lengthy government-commissioned inquiries on major issues, aimed at fostering debate and building consensus so that decisions are broadly anchored in society.

In contrast, a security review on the pros and cons of NATO membership prepared by the parties in parliament was pulled together in just a few weeks.

The rapid U-turn is also remarkable given that the country “has built its identity on its neutrality and military non-alignment,” Lindberg added.

Support for NATO membership has soared in both Finland and Sweden since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But while a record 76 percent of Finns are in favour of joining NATO, Swedish public opinion is more divided, with recent polls indicating that between 50 and 60 percent back the idea.

On April 20th, Reuters headlined “Growing majority of Swedes back joining NATO, opinion poll shows”, and reported 

 A growing majority of Swedes are in favour of joining NATO, a poll showed on Wednesday, as policy-makers in both Sweden and Finland weigh up whether Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should lead to an end to decades of military neutrality.

The poll by Demoskop and commissioned by the Aftonbladet newspaper showed 57% of Swedes now favoured NATO membership, up from 51% in March. Those opposed to joining fell to 21% from 24%, while those who were undecided dipped to 22% from 25%.

The March poll was the first to show a majority of Swedes in favour of joining NATO.

Sweden has not been at war since the time of Napoleon and has built its security policy on “non-participation in military alliances”.

But like Finland, the invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”, has forced a radical rethink. Both countries are now seen as highly likely to join the 30-nation alliance.

The article didn’t even mention the issue of whether becoming targeted by Russia’s missiles might possibly endanger Swedes far more than protect them by NATO.

On March 23rd, Business Insider headlined “Finland’s people now strongly back joining NATO, poll says, a massive political shift that would enrage Russia”, and reported: “A survey of people in Finland found that a majority wanted the country to join NATO after Russia invaded Ukraine. The survey by the Finnish Business and Policy Forum Eva think tank found that 60% of people supported Finland joining NATO, a massive jump from previous years.” It closed:

Ilkka Haavisto, the research manager at Eva, said of the results: “Russia has shown that it does not respect the integrity of its neighbors. “The war in Ukraine has concretely shown what the horrors of a defensive war on Finland’s own territory would be and made it clear that NATO countries cannot use their military forces to help defend a nonaligned country.”

No mention was made that joining NATO would cause Finns to become targets of Russia’s missiles, perhaps even of nuclear missiles. 

On May 9th, The Defense Post bannered “Overwhelming Support for NATO Bid Among Finns: Poll”, and reported “Around 76 percent of Finns now want the country to join NATO, up from 60 percent in March, according to the poll commissioned by broadcaster YLE and conducted by research firm Taloustutkimus.” The same day, YLE headlined “Yle poll: Support for Nato membership soars to 76%”, and reported that, “Backing for membership in Yle polls has grown from 53 percent in February to 62 percent in March and 76 percent in May. Before the Russian attack on Ukraine, a majority of Finns had long opposed membership.” No mention was made there, either, regarding Finns’ possible thoughts on whether becoming targeted by Russia as being an enemy-nation might possibly create massive new danger for Finns, vastly more than any possible increase in Finland’s national security might result from joining Russia’s enemies.

Also, none of the alleged news-reports mentioned that, when Russia, on February 24th, invaded Ukraine, it was the result of a war which actually had started eight years ago in February 2014, when the U.S. perpetrated a bloody coup disguised as a ‘revolution’, that replaced Ukraine’s neutralist government, by a rabidly anti-Russian government, which then promptly started a civil war against Russian-speaking Ukrainians, especially in Ukraine’s far east and south. Neither Sweden nor Finland is in anything like that situation regarding Russia — at least not yet.

How can democracy work if the public are in the dark, and are being kept in the dark? And are satisfied to remain in the dark? When their government is taking them to war? Maybe even rushing them into a war? Maybe into WW III? Is this really democracy? Who profits from whatever it is? If this is true in Finland and Sweden, then is it true in every country? Is there any way to change it — to produce a democracy that cannot be manipulated so that it is functioning against the most important interests not only of foreign publics, but of its own public? Does anybody even discuss these problems? Why not?

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Europe

Is European humanity skin deep?

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At the border crossing between Ukraine and Moldova at Palanca, refugees stand in line. © UNICEF/Vincent Tremeau

When talking about security the most common line of thought tends to be war and the actors involved in the attack, however, all the people who had regular lives within those territories that are jeopardized are as important. With the increasing tensions and armed conflicts happening within the Twenty First Century, the movement of people searching for shelter has increased. More asylum seekers leave their home countries every single day and contemporary politics is still struggling to find a way to catch up. Europe, history wise, is the zone of the world that deals with more refugees wanting to enter the continent due to different factors: geography, proximity, democratic systems, level of development and more. Nevertheless, with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, true sentiments towards refugees are now being put on display.

Even though all refugees are fleeing their countries because their lives are in mortal danger, authorities and government officials do not seem to care. Processes to apply for the refugee status are getting harder and harder. In Europe, to apply for a refugee passport, people are asked for identifications, online questionaries and many other unrealistic aspects that if not answered correctly, the whole process is cancelled. It is ridiculous to believe that when people are scaping in order to stay alive, they will take under consideration all these requirements to receive help, sometimes even from neighboring countries. Which inevitably leads to the following question: why are refugees accepted based on the legality of their applications and not of their status?

By 2016, nearly 5.2 million refugees reached European shores, which caused the so called refugee crisis. They came mainly from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq: countries torn apart by armed conflicts. Similarly, with Russia’s invasion over the Ukraine in 2022, only few days deep within the fighting,  874,000 people had to flee their homes. Nonetheless, the issue seems to be that, for Europe, not all refugees are the same. When the refugee crisis in 2015 was declared, the European Union called for stopping and detaining all arriving refugees for around 18 months. There was a strong reluctancy from Europeans towards offering them shelter. On the contrary, countries such as Poland and Slovakia have said that Ukrainian refugees fleeing will be accepted without passports, or any valid travel documents due to the urgency of the situation. Therefore, stating with their actions, that Ukrainian refugees are more valuable or seem to be more worthy of help than refugees from Asia, Africa, or the Middle East.

Correspondingly, it is true that not all countries inside Europe deal and act the same way towards refugees, be that as it may, with the current refugee crisis it has been proved that they all share strong sentiments of xenophobia and racism. For instance, Hungary is a country that refused to admit refugees coming from outside Europe since 2015. In 2018, Prime Minister Viktor Orban described non-European refugees as “Muslim invaders” and “poison” to society, in comparison with Ukrainian refugees who are being welcomed without hesitation. In the same way, Jarosław Kaczyński, who served as Prime Minister of Poland and is the leader of the Law and Justice party, in 2017 said that accepting asylum seekers from Syria would be dangerous and would “completely change our culture and radically lower the level of safety in our country”. Furthermore, Germany in 2015 with Chancellor Angela Merkel in charged said that they would accept one million of Syrians. Although, as time passed, Europe’s solution was to make a deal with Turkey, who is not part of the European Union, to close the migrant route. Moreover, the promise of letting refugees integrate into German society was not fulfilled since. Seven year later, an impressive amount of refugees are still in camps and centers, with their lives frozen in time. Sadly, most European governments gambled towards the idea of sending them back once the armed conflict was over, without caring for the aftermath of war’s destruction.

The common narrative until now pushed by leaders, politicians, and mass media has been that Ukrainians are prosperous, civilized, middle class working people, but refugees coming from the Middle East are terrorists, and refuges from Africa are simply too different. Despite, refugees are all people who share similar emotions and struggle to grasp the fact that their lives may never be the same; having lost their homes, friends, family and so much more. Plus, being selectively welcomed based on their religion, skin color or nationality by the continent which’s complete rhetoric is universal rights, just adds another complex layer to the issue. Conjointly, the displacement of people due to war displays how regular individuals are always the ones who suffer the most in consequence to the interests of the few that represent larger powers. Hence, greed, envy, and cruelty are stronger than recognized, even in a developed continent such as Europe.

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What Everyone Should Know About Preventing Ethnic Violence: The Case of Bosnia

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Image source: srebrenica.org.uk

When the Balkans spiraled into violence and genocide in the 90’s, many wondered what caused this resurgence in militant ethnic nationalism and how a similar situation may be countered.

***

The 1990’s were a vibrant decade, that is unless you were living in the Balkans. 1995 was especially bad, as the 11th of July of that year marked the Srebrenica Massacre, which saw Serbian soldiers murder over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims over the span of two weeks. This shocked the world, as it was the first case of a European country resorting to extreme violence and genocide on ethnic lines since World War II. After World War II, the idea that a European country would resort to genocide was unthinkable. As Balkan nations continue to see the consequences of the massacre after over 25 years, it is increasingly evident that more needs to be done to curb ethnic violence.

We must first investigate key causes of ethnic violence. According to V.P. Gagnon, the main driver of ethnic violence is elites that wish to stay in power. Ethnic nationalism is easy to exploit, as creating a scapegoat is extremely effective for keeping elites in power. This is exactly what happened in Yugoslavia, which had previously seen high levels of tolerance and intermarriage in more mixed areas that saw the worst violence during the war. Stuart J. Kaufman argues that elites may take advantage of natural psychological fears of in-group extinction, creating group myths, or stereotypes, of outgroups to fuel hatred against them. While they may take different approaches to this issue, Gagnon and Kaufman agree that the main drivers of ethnic violence are the elites.

David Lake and Donald Rothchild suggest that the main driver of ethnic conflict is collective fears for the future of in-groups. Fear is one of the most important emotions we have because it helps secure our existence in a hostile world. However, fear can easily be exploited by the elites to achieve their personal goals. In a multiethnic society such as Yugoslavia, the rise of an elite that adheres to the prospects of a single ethnic group could prove dangerous and sometimes even disastrous. The destruction of Yugoslavian hegemony under Josip Broz Tito and the resulting explosion of ethnic conflict at the hands of Serbian elites in Bosnia underline this because of the immense fear this created.

Regions with high Serb populations in Bosnia sought independence from the rest of the country when they found themselves separated from Serbia by the dissolution of Yugoslavia. Republika Srpska was formed by these alienated Serbs. The leadership and elites in Serbia riled up the Serb population of Republika Srpska by stereotyping and demonizing Bosnian Muslims as “descendants of the Turkish oppressors”. This scared the Serbs in Bosnia so much so that they obeyed the elites of Serbia in supporting and fighting for the independence of Republika Srpska by any means necessary. As was seen in Srebrenica, they were not opposed to genocide.

We know how the elites fuel ethnic tensions to secure power as well of the devastating effects of these tensions reaching their boiling point. But what could be done to address ethnic conflict? David Welsh suggests that a remedy for ethnic conflict could be the complete enfranchisement of ethnic minorities and deterrence towards ethnic cleansing. This means that we must ensure that ethnic minorities are able to have a say in a democratic system that caters to all ethnicities equally. Fostering aversion to genocide is also vital toward addressing ethnic conflict because it is the inevitable result of unchecked ethnic conflict.

There is also the issue of members of ethnic groups voting for candidates and parties on ethnic lines. For example, in the United States, White American voters have shown to prefer White candidates over African American candidates, and vice versa. Keep in mind that the United States has a deep history of ethnic conflict, including the centuries-long subjugation of African Americans by White Americans.

Ethnic violence is horrifying and destructive, but it can be prevented. The first measure would be the establishment of a representative democracy, where members of all ethnicities are accurately represented. Another measure would be to make ethnic conflict and ethnic stereotyping taboo so that the average person would not resort to genocidal behavior once things go wrong. Lastly, making people feel secure is the most important step towards preventing ethnic conflict. If the people feel secure enough, they will not even need to think about ethnic violence. In short, while it is important to consider the differences of the various ethnic groups in a multiethnic society, it is vital that each group is kept represented and secure, free of any fears of subjugation.

While the case of Bosnia was extremely unfortunate, it provides an integral view into what could happen if perceived subjugation and fear of eradication reaches a breaking point. As was seen in Bosnia, ethnic violence can be extremely violent, resulting in untold suffering and death. That is why we must take necessary steps towards de-escalation and remediation of ethnic conflicts. These measures can, quite literally, save millions of lives.

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