Letter: The fallacy of ethnic territorial claims

Sir: A new term has entered our vocabulary: 'ethnic cleansing'. By this is meant the forcible eviction of particular populations variously defined by their ethnicity and culture, including religion and language, from areas that are claimed by other groups. The situation in Bosnia is one such current example, but there are, alas, also others.

Anthropologists are by profession interested in issues of cultural difference. We consider that ethnic differences between human beings - language, culture, religion - make our world a richer and more fascinating place. But we wish to emphasise that anthropology shows us that there is nothing 'primordial' about such differences, which, while expressing powerful notions of collective identity, are also often metaphors for struggles over economic and political resources.

Hence ethnic exclusivity should not be made a basis for territorial organisations, including that of the nation state, since it is impossible to unravel historical migration and movements of people, or to stop current mobility of peoples locally and globally.

We therefore call upon the international community to resist the destruction of multi-ethnic states by violent and undemocratic means.

Professor M. J. ROWLANDS, Professor PAT CAPLAN, Dr JOSEPH LLOBERA, Dr JOHN GLEDHILL, Dr RUTH MANDEL, Dr STEFAN FEUCHTWANG

Department of Anthropology

University College London

London, WC1

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