The Legacy of Political Violence across Generations

By Noam Lupu and Leonid Peisakhin

AJPS - The Legacy of Political Violence across GenerationsPolitical violence has profound political and psychological effects on its victims. Under some circumstances, victims withdraw from politics, but in other settings they seem to become more politically active. In our study, we ask what effect violence has on victims’ descendants, who themselves were not subject to political persecution.

We come at this question by studying the Crimean Tatars, a Muslim minority that currently resides in Crimea. In May 1944, Soviet authorities summarily deported Crimean Tatars to Central Asia. Like other Soviet deportations, the lengthy journey to Central Asia was grueling for all and deadly for many. Overall, 20-46% of the whole Crimean Tatar community perished either in transit or during the first year in exile. Most of those who perished died from illness and malnutrition. The Crimean Tatars were finally permitted to start returning to their ancestral homes in Crimea in 1989, and almost all have returned.

Our paper studies the effect that the loss of family members during the deportation has on the descendants of the survivors. In late 2014, we interviewed three generations of respondents in 300 Crimean Tatar families. Our survey includes 300 survivors who experienced the deportation, 600 of their children who were born in exile, and 1,004 of their grandchildren who themselves had no direct experience of the Soviet state. Because all Crimean Tatar families had been deported but some lost more relatives than others, we are able to estimate the impact of additional family deaths on the grandchildren’s political identities, attitudes, and behaviors.

We find that with each additional death in the survivor generation, grandchildren tend to identify more strongly as Crimean Tatar and as victims, and they are more likely to perceive Russia as a threat. The young Crimean Tatars who come from more victimized families are more likely to participate in politics. Interestingly, they were more likely to vote in the referendum in early 2014 on Russia’s annexation of Crimea and in the local elections later that year. However, they turned out in order to express their opposition to Russia by voting against the annexation and against Russia’s ruling party.

We find that what is transmitted across generations is identities—victim identity, a heightened threat perception, and strong in-group attachment. Once engrained through family socialization (sometimes through direct conversations about the family’s experiences), these core attitudes shape responses to political events and motivate behaviors such as political participation or choices at the voting booth.

Our study demonstrates that victim identities are extremely persistent and can be transmitted within families across at least three generations. At least some of the strong anti-Russian sentiment among younger Crimean Tatars today is a direct result of Soviet-era victimization of their ancestors some 80 years ago. These results help to explain why reconciliation between victims’ descendants and perpetrators’ successors is often so elusive.

About the Authors: Noam Lupu is Associate Professor of Political Science and Associate Director of the Latin American Public Opinion Project at Vanderbilt University; Leonid Peisakhin is Assistant Professor of Political Science at New York University – Abu Dhabi. Their article “The Legacy of Political Violence across Generations” is now available for Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The Editor of the AJPS is at Michigan State University and the Editorial Office is supported by
the Michigan State University Department of Political Science and the School of Social Sciences.

  Michigan State University 
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