Ethnic cleansing

From Academic Kids

For other uses, see Ethnic cleansing (disambiguation).

The term ethnic cleansing refers to various policies of forcibly removing people of another ethnic group. At one end of the spectrum, it is virtually indistinguishable from forced emigration and population transfer, while at the other it merges with deportation and genocide.

At the most general level, however, ethnic cleansing can be understood as the expulsion of an "undesirable" population from a given territory due to religious or ethnic discrimination, political, strategic or ideological considerations, or a combination of these.

Some political commentators avoid use of the term, which they see as a political euphemism which attempts to apply a word with positive connotations (cleansing) to a morally objectionable act (forced population movement usually achieved through violence).


Origins of the term

The term "ethnic cleansing" entered the English lexicon as a loan translation of the Serbian/Croatian phrase etničko čišćenje (IPA ) (notice that literal translation of the phrase is "ethnic cleaning"). During the 1990s it was used extensively by the media in the former Yugoslavia in relation to the Yugoslav wars, and appears to have been popularised by the international media some time around 1992. The term may have originated some time before the 1990s in the military doctrine of the former Yugoslav People's Army, which spoke of "cleansing the territory" (čišćenje terena, IPA ) of enemies to take total control of a conquered area. The origins of this doctrine are unclear, but may have been a legacy of the Partizan era.

This originally applied purely to military enemies, but came to be applied to ethnic groups as well. It was used in this context in Yugoslavia by the Serbian media as early as 1981, in relation to the policies of the Kosovo Albanian administration allegedly creating an "ethnically clean territory" (i.e. "cleanly" Albanian) in the province. However, this usage had antecedents.

The earliest known usage of it may been in May 16, 1941, during the Second World War, by one Viktor Gutić, a commander in the Croatian fascist faction the Ustaše. An article in the Hrvatska Krajina newspaper[1] ( describing the visit to the Franciscan monastery in Petrićevac quotes Gutić's speech:

Every Croat who today solicits for our enemies not only is not a good Croat, but also an opponent and disrupter of the prearranged, well-calculated plan for cleansing [čišćenje] our Croatia of unwanted elements [...]

The Ustaše did indeed carry out large-scale ethnic cleansing in their time, similar to other warring parties in Yugoslavia in the Second World War. It is possible that the revival of nationalism in the 1980s reintroduced ethnic cleansing into Yugoslavia's political debate and language.

A similar term with the same intent was used by the Nazi administration in Germany under Adolf Hitler. When an area under Nazi control had its entire Jewish population removed, whether by driving the population out, by deportation to Concentration Camps, and/or murder, the area was declared judenrein (lit. Jew Clean): cleansed of Jews. (cf. racial hygiene.)

Ethnic cleansing in history

Some narratives in the Torah and other books of the Old Testament in the Bible (also known as the Hebrew Bible or Tenakh) describing the Hebrew (or Israelite) conquest of Canaan (in c. 13th century BC or before) would now be considered descriptions of ethnic cleansing or even genocide. In several places the Hebrew God commands the Hebrews to kill every man, woman and child after capturing a city, and sometimes cities also had to be burnt to the ground. It was also standard practice at the time to murder or enslave prisoners of war and their families.

For example, according to the biblical narrative, the people of the Canaanite village of Ai are massascred by Joshua's troops in Joshua 8:20-25. In one passage detailing the war of "God's vengence" on Midian (Numbers 31:1-24). In verses 13-24 Moses asks the victorious Hebrew troops why they have spared the lives of all the women who had "perverted the sons of Israel" into rejecting God. Moses then orders the Hebrew troops to kill all the male children and women who are not virgins.

In Exodus, the story of the Pharaoh's attempt to destroy the Israelites living in Egypt can also be seen as ethnic cleansing.

The Assyrian Empire regularly deported entire ethnic groups, as did the Babylonians; victims of this policy most famously include the the Israelites of Israel in 722 BC and the Israelites of Judah in 586 BC (see Babylonian captivity of Judah).

In some instances, the expulsion of Jews had some features of ethnic cleansing, especially if it were accompanied by violence and were enacted on the whole territory of the state. Jews were expelled from England (1290), France (1306), Hungary (13491360), Provence (1394 and 1490), Austria (1421), Spain after the Reconquista, Portugal (1497), Russia in 1724, and various parts of Germany at various times. Not all deportations of Jews affected an entire country or lasted for extended periods of time: Jews from Krakow (1494) were expelled to suburbs of the city, and Jews were expelled from Lithuania (1491) and allowed to return 10 years later.

Spain's large Muslim minority, inherited from that country's former Islamic kingdoms, was expelled in 1502 and 16091614.

Roma people were expelled from France, England and other European countries in during the 16th century. France expelled Huguenots in the 18th century.

Colonization-related ethnic cleansing

During more recent times, ethnic cleansing has often been used during colonisation projects. In North America, British and American settlers ethnically cleansed millions of Native Americans, forcibly relocating them to remote and often inhospitable reservation land. In southern Africa and Australia, native tribes were removed from their lands so that they could be replaced by white farmers and settlers.

  • The colonization of the Americas by European powers, particularly Spain and Britain. This led to population removals and massacres of the indigenous population, starting in the 15th century and continuing into the 20th.
  • The colonization of Australia by Britain. This led to population removals and massacres of the indigenous population, starting in 1788. It is important to note that the Maori were not ethnically cleansed in New Zealand. Many Maori were dispossessed of ownership of their land, but few were ever forcibly removed, and when this did happen it was mostly as a result of punishment for fighting and losing against colonial troops during the New Zealand Wars.
  • The removals and massacres of native populations in the African colonies of various European powers.
  • The concentration of Boers by Britain during the Second Boer War

The American and South Pacific instances were disastrous. The native populations fell from millions to thousands in only a few centuries, a combined result of colonization policies and epidemics of foreign disease.

Modern age ethnic cleansing

The term "ethnic cleansing" has come to mean the displacement or expulsion from a territory of one ethnic group by another. The displacement is usually forcible, though there are examples of voluntary or compensated ethnic cleansing.

The 20th century has seen numerous cases, particularly in Europe and the Middle East.

Older examples

  • In Canada the Expulsion of the Acadians in 1755 from their ancestral lands in Nova Scotia or Acadia by the British military because of the French and Indian War.
  • In the United States in the 19th Century there were numerous instances of relocation of Native American peoples from their traditional areas to often remote reservations elsewhere in the country, such as the Long Walk of the Navajo and the Trail of Tears, which was the forced removal of the Cherokee tribe that led to the deaths of about 2,000 to 8,000 people.

Alleged 20th Century instances

Ethnic cleansing as a military and political tactic

The purpose of ethnic cleansing is to remove the conditions for potential and actual opposition, whether political, terrorist, guerrilla or military, by physically removing any potentially or actually hostile ethnic communities. Although it has sometimes been motivated by a doctrine that claim an ethnic group is literally "unclean" (as in the case of the Jews of medieval Europe), more usually it has been a rational (if brutal) way of ensuring that total control can be asserted over an area. The Serbian campaign in Bosnia in early 1992 was a case in point. As well as fighting a traditional war with the Bosnian Army, the Serbian forces sought to eradicate the entire non-Serb population of the areas they controlled, either through massacres (as the Srebrenica massacre) or more usually through terrorization of the civilian population to encourage them to flee to territory controlled by government forces. The tactic was also used by Croatian and Bosnian forces, and was repeated on a large scale during the Kosovo War in 1999. Ethnic cleansing is often also accompanied by efforts to eradicate all physical traces of the expelled ethnic group, such as by the destruction of cultural artifacts, religious sites and physical records.

As a tactic, ethnic cleansing has a number of significant advantages and disadvantages. It enables a force to eliminate civilian support for resistance by eliminating the civilians — in a reversal of Mao Zedong's dictum that guerrillas among a civilian population are fish in water, it drains the water. When enforced as part of a political settlement, as happened with the forced resettlement of Germans from outside of Germans border after 1945, it can contribute to long-term stability. The large German populations in Czechoslovakia and Poland had been sources of friction before the Second World War, but this was forcibly resolved. It thus establishes "facts on the ground" — radical demographic changes which can be very hard to reverse.

On the other hand, ethnic cleansing is such a brutal tactic and so often accompanied by large-scale bloodshed that it is very widely reviled. It is generally regarded as lying somewhere between population transfers and genocide on a scale of odiousness, and is treated by international law as a war crime. It can also create political problems in the long term as displaced communities campaign to be allowed to return, as in the case of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Ethnic cleansing as international law crime

Ethnic cleansing is designated a crime against humanity in international treaties, such as that which created the International Criminal Court (ICC). The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was set up in a similar spirit, and prosecutes these crimes under more generic names.

The United Nations' General Assembly condemns "ethnic cleansing" and racial hatred in a 1992 resolution [2] (

The emergence of ethnic cleansing as a distinct category of war crime has been a somewhat complex process. Each individual element of a programme of ethnic cleansing could be considered as an individual violation of humanitarian law — a killing here, a house-burning there — thus missing the systematic way in which such violations were perpetrated with a single aim in mind. International courts therefore consider individual incidents in the light of a possible pattern of ethnic cleansing. In the Yugoslav case, for instance, the ICTY considers the widespread massacres and abuses of human rights in Bosnia and Kosovo as part of an overall "joint criminal enterprise" to carve out ethnically pure states in the region.

However, many alleged "ethnic cleansing" in the past doesn't fit in the modern definition of the crime against humanity. For example German expulsions were sanctioned by the international agreement at Potsdam conference. The agreement required the action to proceed in a humane way.

References and external links

es:Limpieza tnica fr:Nettoyage ethnique ko:민족청소 he:טיהור אתני nl:Etnische zuiveringen ja:民族浄化 no:Etnisk rensning sv:Etnisk rensning uk:Етнічна чистка zh:种族清洗


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