'Right-Peopling' the State: Nationalism, Historical Legacies and Ethnic Cleansing in Europe, 1885-2020


Many European nation-states were historically homogenized through violent ethnic cleansing. Despite its historical importance, we lack systematic evidence of the conditions under which groups where targeted with cleansing and how it impacted states’ ethnic demography. Rising nationalism in the 19th century threatened multi-ethnic states with right-sizing through secessionism and irredentism. States therefore frequently turned to brutal right-peopling, in particular where cross-border minorities and those with a history of political independence increased the risk of territorial losses. We test this argument with new spatial, time-variant data on ethnic geography and ethnic cleansing from 1886 to the present. We find that minorities that politically dominated another state and those that have lost political independence were most at risk of ethnic cleansing, especially in times of interstate war. At the macro-level, our results show that ethnic cleansing increased European states’ ethnic homogeneity almost as much as border change. Both produced today’s nation-states by aligning states and ethnic nations.

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