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Reviewed by:
  • Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons of Eastern Europe, and: Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe
  • Dmitry P. Gorenburg
Roger D. Petersen , Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons of Eastern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 338 pp. $65.00.
Roger D. Petersen , Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. 312 pp. $70.00.

In these two books, Roger Petersen endeavors to explain why people engage in organized violence against particular targets. In Resistance and Rebellion (RR) the target is a powerful occupying force, whereas in Understanding Ethnic Violence (UEV) the violence is aimed at other ethnic groups. The two books share a set of methodological assumptions and focus on the same region and time period. Together, they provide a convincing explanation of the non-state-sponsored violence that wracked Eastern Europe during the twentieth century. The author develops microlevel mechanisms that explain how structural factors produced conditions that allowed individuals to commit violent acts both against vastly more powerful occupying forces and against their neighbors of different ethnic background—neighbors with whom they had often lived together peacefully for decades. A secondary aim of both books is to shift the emphasis away from elite-centered explanations by recognizing the ability of individual participants to decide for themselves whether to get involved in ethnic violence or violent resistance against occupying forces.

RR seeks to explain "how ordinary men and women, in the face of enormous risks, resist and sometimes violently rebel against powerful regimes" (RR, p. xiii). This is accomplished by identifying mechanisms that lead to rebellion. The empirical evidence Petersen adduces to support the theory is based on interviews with Lithuanian participants in four episodes of anti-Soviet resistance from 1940 to 1991. Petersen conceptualizes resistance on a spectrum of individual actions (coded from -3 to -3) that range from collaboration (-3) through neutrality (0) and unorganized opposition (-1) to locally organized resistance (+2) and finally to participation in a mobile guerrilla army (-3). Most of the book is concerned with the mechanisms that allow movement from 0 to -1 and from -1 to -2, as well as with the mechanisms that allow [End Page 182] opposition to be sustained at the -2 level. The crucial mechanisms for the start of unorganized opposition are resentment, safety considerations at the societal level, considerations of status in the community, and symbols that act as focal points for the community. The movement to organized rebellion requires the presence of safety considerations at the community level and, most important, strong community-based norms of reciprocity. Finally, sustained individual participation in rebellion in the face of a vastly more powerful adversary is enabled by irrational psychological mechanisms such as the value of small victories, the tyranny of sunk costs, and even plain old wishful thinking, in combination with the ability to punish any deserters (RR, p. 14).

RR provides a convincing microlevel explanation for seemingly irrational actions such as participation in a rebellion against overwhelming odds. In doing so, it subsumes the pure rational-choice approach and shows why collective action frequently occurs despite the free-rider problem. The book is most persuasive when it focuses on the rich empirical evidence provided by the author's interviews with Lithuanian resistance participants. The comparative portions of the book are based entirely on secondary sources and therefore cannot provide the level of detail necessary for a sound microanalysis. Reading those sections, one is left with the feeling that while the author is probably right in his analysis, he would have been better served if he had had access to interview or archival sources that described the rebellions in Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, and Belarus at the village level. Despite these empirical limitations, Resistance and Rebellion provides an extremely useful account of the micromotives for rebellion, including a wide range of both interest-based and psychological motivations. It should be required reading for scholars interested in the phenomena of rebellion, mass protest, and civil war.

In UEV, Petersen develops an emotion-based theory of the causes of ethnic violence. The book is explicitly focused on explaining why individuals commit violent acts against...