Ethnic democracy is a political system that combines a structured ethnic dominance with democratic, political and civil rights for all. Both the dominant ethnic group and the minority ethnic groups have citizenship and are able to fully participate in the political process. Ethnic democracy differs from ethnocracy in that elements of it are more purely democratic. It provides the non-core groups with more political participation, influence and improvement of status than ethnocracy supposedly does. Nor is an ethnic democracy a Herrenvolk democracy which is by definition a democracy officially limited to the core ethnic nation only.
The term "ethnic democracy" was introduced by Professor Juan José Linz of Yale University in 1975, and subsequently by University of Haifa sociologist Professor Sammy Smooha in a book published in 1989, as a universalised model of the Israel case. The model was used widely in subsequent decades; in 1993 for a comparison of several countries, in 1997 for a comparison of Israel and Northern Ireland, applied to Estonia and Latvia in 1996 and Slovakia in 2000.
The State of Israel is seen as a country that utilises the ethnic democracy model in its relations with the country's Arab minority, as Israel has combined viable democratic institutions with institutionalized ethnic dominance.
There is a spectrum of opinion among authors as to the classification of Latvia and Estonia, spanning from Liberal or Civic Democracy through Ethnic democracy to Ethnocracy. Will Kymlicka regards Estonia as a civic democracy, stressing the peculiar status of Russian-speakers, stemming from being at once partly transients, partly immigrants and partly natives. British researcher Neil Melvin concludes that Estonia is moving towards a genuinely pluralist democratic society through its liberalization of citizenship and actively drawing of leaders of the Russian settler communities into the political process. James Hughes, in the United Nations Development Programme's Development and Transition, contends Latvia and Estonia are cases of ‘ethnic democracy’ where the state has been captured by the titular ethnic group and then used to promote ‘nationalising’ policies and alleged discrimination against Russophone minorities. (Development and Transition has also published papers disputing Hughes' contentions.) Israeli researchers Oren Yiftachel and As’ad Ghanem consider Estonia as an ethnocracy. Israeli sociologist Sammy Smooha, of the University of Haifa, disagrees with Yiftachel, contending that the ethnocratic model developed by Yiftachel does not fit the case of Latvia and Estonia; it is not a settler society as its core ethnic group is indigenous, nor did it expand territorially or have a diaspora intervening in its internal affairs as in the case of Israel for which Yiftachel originally developed his model.
However the notion that Estonia or Latvia are ethnic democracies has been rejected by some commentators. On the one hand, the citizenship laws of these countries are not based on ethnic criteria, treating citizens of Russian extract, including a number of people who automatically became citizens because their families have resided there since before 1940, with the same rights as the ethnic majorities. Moreover, non-citizens enjoy social rights on a par with citizens. On the other hand, given the proportion of non-citizen minorities without certain political rights (7.5% in the case of Estonia), Estonia and Latvia may not yet even qualify as ethnic democracies: in Smooha's definition of ethnic democracy, minority groups should enjoy full rights as citizens of the country.
Slovak nationalism is grounded in ethnicity and language. "State-building and nation-building in Slovakia are designed to install ethnic Slovaks as the sole nation and to prevent any sign of binationalism. This objective is made clear in the preamble of the Slovak constitution which begins with the following words: “We, the Slovak nation, bearing in mind the political and cultural heritage of our predecessors, the experience gained through centuries of struggle for our national existence and statehood…”
^ abcdSmooha, S. 'The model of ethnic democracy: Israel as a Jewish and democratic state', Nations and Nationalism, p. 475. Volume 8 Issue s4, 2002.
^ abcSmooha, 2001, p.23: "I used this name in 1989 without being aware that it was coined originally by Linz in 1975 to refer to a political system that is democratic for the dominant group but excludes, on the basis of ethnicity, other groups from the democratic process. In 1996 Linz and Stepan followed Linz’s original usage and employed the term (Type II, pp. 429-430) to essentially mean “Herrenvolk democracy”, which is a non-democratic system."
^Kymlicka, Will (2000). "Estonia's Integration Policies in a Comparative Perspective". Estonia's Integration Landscape: From Apathy to Harmony. pp. 29–57.
^Melvin, N. J. (2000). "Post imperial Ethnocracy and the Russophone Minorities of Estonia and Latvia". In Stein, J. P. (ed.). The Policies of National Minority Participation Post-Communist Europe. State-Building, Democracy and Ethnic Mobilisation. EastWest Institute (EWI). p. 160.
^E.g., regarding Latvia: Smith-Sivertsen, Herman (2006). "Latvia — meir enn etnopolitikk" [Latvia: More than Ethnopolitics]. In Bakke, Elisabeth (ed.). Sentral-Europa og Baltikum etter 1989 [Central Europe and the Baltic States after 1989] (in Norwegian) (2nd ed.). Oslo: Det Norske Samlaget. p. 63. ISBN82-521-6786-1. OCLC162357834.