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We explore the long-term political consequences of the Third Reich and show that current political intolerance, xenophobia, and voting for radical right-wing parties are associated with proximity to former Nazi concentration camps in Germany. This relationship is not explained by contemporary attitudes, the location of the camps, geographic sorting, the economic impact of the camps, or their current use. We argue that cognitive dissonance led those more directly exposed to Nazi institutions to conform with the belief system of the regime. These attitudes were then transmitted across generations. The evidence provided here contributes both to our understanding of the legacies of historical institutions and the sources of political intolerance.
What makes people take ethnic divisions into account when judging politics? We consider here the possible effect of language. We hypothesize that speaking a minority tongue primes ethnic divisions, leading people to interpret politics more heavily through this prism. In two survey experiments with bilingual adults, we demonstrate that subjects assigned to interview in a minority language are indeed more likely to evaluate politics based on ethnic considerations: they rank ethnic relations as a more important political issue and they are more likely to correctly identify the anti-minority party in their political system. These results suggest that people may think about politics differently depending on the language they use.
How does wartime exposure to ethnic violence affect the political preferences of ordinary citizens? Are high-violence communities more or less likely to reject the politicization of ethnicity post-war? We argue that community-level experience with wartime violence solidifies ethnic identities, fosters intra-ethnic cohesion and increases distrust toward non-co-ethnics, thereby making ethnic parties the most attractive channels of representation and contributing to the politicization of ethnicity. Employing data on wartime casualties at the community level and pre- as well as post-war election results in Bosnia, we find strong support for this argument. The findings hold across a number of robustness checks. Using post-war survey data, we also provide evidence that offers suggestive support for the proposed causal mechanism.