Source: (2006) Journal of Peace Research. 43(2):201-218.

Existing approaches to resolving civil wars are based primarily on the assumption that these wars result from conflicts of interest among rational individuals. However, peacebuilding efforts based on this approach usually fail in cases of ethnic civil war, leading sooner or later to renewed fighting. Symbolic politics theory suggests the problem with these peace efforts is that they pay insufficient attention to ameliorating the emotional and symbolic roots of extremist ethnic politics. The theory suggests that resolving ethnic war requires reconciliation – changing hostile attitudes to more moderate ones, assuaging ethnic fears, and replacing the intragroup symbolic politics of ethnic chauvinism with a politics that rewards moderation. The only policy tools for promoting such attitudinal and social changes are reconciliation initiatives such as leaders’ acknowledgement of their sides’ misdeeds, public education efforts such as media campaigns, and problem-solving workshops. Integrating such reconciliation initiatives into a comprehensive conflict resolution strategy, it is argued, is necessary for conflict resolution efforts to be more effective in ending ethnic civil wars.