The term ethnic cleansing, a euphemism for genocide, came to the fore in the 1990s with the war in the former Yugoslavia. On 2 August 1991, a Washington Post article used the term in a translation of a Croatian political statement:
The Croatian political and military leadership issued a statement Wednesday declaring that Serbia’s “aim...is obviously the ethnic cleansing of the critical areas that are to be annexed to Serbia.”
The history of the term is much older though. The term ethnically clean dates to a decade earlier, in a 12 July 1982 New York Times article about the Serbian province of Kosovo:
The nationalists have a two-point platform, according to Becir Hoti, an executive secretary of the Communist Party of Kosovo, first to establish what they call an ethnically clean Albanian republic and then the merger with Albania to form a greater Albania.
The term social cleansing, referring to the removal of the poor and otherwise undesirable dates to the 1970s. From D.J. Olsen’s 1976 Growth of Victorian London:
Long before the very rich began to covet converted workmen’s cottages the social cleansing of Chelsea had begun.
And the use of cleansing to refer to purging of minorities in an area or region dates to the 1936 in translation in the American Political Science Review of the German Säuberungsaktion:
In Berlin, for example, there was a cleansing process (Säuberungsaktion), directed against Marxists, Jews, and others who were alleged to be enemies of the state, involving wholesale charges of corruption and inefficiency.
(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)
Copyright 1997-2013, by David Wilton