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A Technical Query

Suppose that you're a social scientist, studying ethnic tensions in the Balkans.

And suppose that you're focusing on an area where the ethnic make-up of the population is about 90% Croatian & about 10% Serbian.

And suppose that your thesis is that, in their endless, pointless feuding with one another, Croats & Serbs are just about equally guilty: i.e., that Croats hate Serbs just as much as Serbs hate Croats, and that Croats are just as likely as Serbs to express their hatred through acts of violence. And vice versa.

Given all that, what would you expect, in your area, when it come to acts of violence motivated by ethnic hatred?

Would you expect more attacks by Croats against Serbs? Or would you expect more attacks by Serbs against Croats?

On the one hand, potential Croat victims out-number potential Serb victims by about ten to one. Which might lead you to expect a big majority of Serb perpetrators and Croat victims.

On the other hand, potential Croat perpetrators out-number potential Serb perpetrators by about ten to one. Which might lead you to expect exactly the opposite - i.e., a big majority of Croat perpetrators and Serb victims.


Should this all just work out to a wash? Or what?

My own initial, and very weakly held, theory is that, in this situation, one should expect approximately equal numbers of victims and perpetrators on each side. 'Cause even though Croats out-number Serbs by about ten to one, the number of Croat *encounters* with Serbs *necessarily* exactly equals the number of Serb encounters with Croats.

But I am *very* ready to be instructed otherwise, if I'm missing something.

Am I missing something?

Comments (5)

I think it depends on how much of an effect you expect from the fact of differential numbers, and of course on what else you know about the way majority-minority status plays out. Suppose you expect the minority group to be cowed, so that even though they hate the majority group members as much as the majority group members hate them, they expect greater punishment--mob violence, unpunished private attacks, etc.--if they attack majority members. So they keep their heads low. Then you would expect fewer attacks by minority members against majority members. On the other hand, suppose there is some sort of PC situation going on (which I'm sure there isn't in this case, but this is just an example) where attacks by majority members against minority members are punished by the government more consistently and/or severely than attacks the other way. Then this obviously could skew the numbers in the opposite direction.

If you are just talking about random acts of violence, based on the mutual hatred of one group for the other, then I agree with your analysis.
If, however, you are talking about a politically-charged turf war, a civil war, in effect, then you would expect more acts of terrorism to be perpetrated by the minority group. In an asymmetrical conflict, terror is the most effective tactic for the group lacking the numbers and/or resources.

Lydia - thanks. That seems exactly right, to me, and it helps with what I'm working on.

Rodak - interesting point, though acts of "terrorism" were a little outside my purview, here.

Or, to put it in more mathematical terms (and less political terms): All other things being equal, one would expect the sheer number of individual instances of attacks being 9-1 in favor of the Croats. On the other hand, one would expect the number of individuals directly affected by a given attack to be roughly 9-1 in favor of the Serbs. That is, in any given attack, one would expect a Serb attack on Croats to hit at more Croats than a typical Croat attack on Serbs.

This would generally hold true both in the spontaneous event of hatred overflowing into violence, and in the planned terrorist attack. In the spontaneous version, there are many more Croats, and so there are many more opportunities for one of them to feel violated or whatever to the point and lash out, but typically there will only be one or a few Serbs on the receiving end. For a Serb, in any such spontaneous event, there will typically be many more Croats around him to hit at. Psychologically, also, the majority party will feel safe in letting off steam against a few of the minority, while a member of the minority group will hold in his aggressions until they reach a higher level, and this will typically burst forth when he perceives a better "return" for the risk he takes on - which means when he thinks more Croats will suffer.

For pre-planned violence, (in particular, terrorism), Rodak is exactly right: the minority party has more incentive to engage in asymmetric methods, such as car-bombs, etc.


I think I disagree with the consensus here.

The number of available victims is not really a factor. They aren't scarce enough to make a difference; any motivated Serb or Croat could find a victim, so then the Serb or Croat attacks should be in proportion to the population of Serbs or Croats.

And, I think you need to simplify and clarify your question. I suggest you deal with the one-on-one and the asymmetric cases as separate categories (hoping you have that information available).

Even in the social sciences, a simple and testable hypothesis is better than a vague one. You will probably find the Chi-Square test for goodness of fit useful if you want something statistical. Luck.

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