DP10617 | Colonial Legacy, Polarization and Linguistic Disenfranchisement: The Case of the Sri Lankan War

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We introduce two societal polarization measures that, unlike standard approaches based on time invariant and arbitrary divisions of a society into ethnolinguistic or religious groups, take into account how a society's history can alter inter-group relations. One of our measures allows for different inter-group divisions due to different experiences in the colonial era, while the other allows these divisions to change as a result of violence throughout the conflict episode. By examining the protracted war in Sri Lanka and applying these indices to a data set describing victims of terrorist attacks by district and year, we find that, for each of our polarization indices, there is a positive effect on the number of victims from terrorist attacks. The historical underpinnings of our indices allow us to demonstrate in a quantitative and concrete way the relevance of the historical path for understanding patterns of civil conflict.