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Democracy, nationalism and (lack of) sovereignty: the complex dynamics of democratisation in unrecognised states


  • Acknowledgements: Research for this article was supported by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-000-22-2728). Earlier versions were presented at the 49th annual ISA Convention, San Francisco, USA, and at the 1st Durham International Affairs Conference, Durham University, UK (both March 2008). The author would like to thank the two anonymous referees for their very helpful comments.


ABSTRACT. Unrecognised states are among the least likely candidates for democratisation: they tend to be driven by ethno-nationalism, many are marked by the legacy of war and most are facing international isolation. Nevertheless, the claim to democracy has become a central part of their legitimising narrative. This article examines this apparent paradox and finds that neither ethno-nationalism nor non-recognition represents insurmountable barriers to democratisation. However, what we tend to find in these entities is a form of stagnated ‘ethnic democratisation’. These findings throw new light on the relationship between democracy and nationalism; they highlight the importance of (lack of) sovereignty; and they are used to evaluate Sammy Smooha's concept of ‘ethnic democracy’.