Explaining Ethnic Accommodation


This chapter provides an overview of the academic literature related to the research problem studied in this book. It maps and reviews the existing knowledge on this topic and evaluates its usefulness and applicability for this study. Much has been written recently on post-conflict and ethnically divided states, and this chapter draws upon that existing scholarly work. In its search for concepts, arguments and hypotheses that can be applied in the empirical analysis, this chapter engages with several strands of social science literature. Those strands include political elite theory and institutional theory, in particular the literatures on post-conflict, powersharing and informal institutions.

This chapter starts with a section focusing on the key actors that define the book's main subject – political elites. It then discusses the context in which actors operate: post-conflict ethnically divided societies. The remainder of the chapter examines the theoretical debates related to the particular explanatory variables within the countries' institutional framework that this study uses to explain accommodation-resistance patterns between political elites. The explanatory factors analysed include formal power-sharing institutions, informal practices and external actors.

Actors: Political Elites

Political elites are the main political actors in every state. They include the persons who fill the most powerful positions in the state and administrative structure. They are also the actors who defend and promote the interests of the social groups they represent. Crucially they are responsible for ultimately deciding which policy options are later implemented by the administration. When reconciling conflicting interests in societies over distribution of finite resources, political elites play the role of brokers of agreement between different groups, facilitating compromise between them. Political elites, therefore, are integral to any effort to understand and explain politics and the political and as such, their behaviour in terms of mutual accommodation and resistance is the main focus of this study.

While undoubtedly important in the general political process, under special circumstances, such as the collapse of regimes or radical institutional overhaul, political elites can also play a pivotal role in the consolidation of new political regimes and the legitimisation of new institutions. As many scholars of democratic
transition and consolidation in Eastern Europe have noted, political elites were the key actors in the dismantling of the communist regimes and the transition to democracy.1 Moreover, political elites in democratising states also affect the consolidation of democratic institutions, since the extent to which political elites are committed to the democratic values embodied in the newly-established democratic institutions determines the pace of democratic consolidation. As has often been noted, once 'democracy is the only game in town', or once political elites reach a consensus on the (democratic) rules of the political game, a country can be seen as safely set on the track towards a fully functioning liberal democracy.2 In the post-conflict context, when new post-conflict institutions are being established, the peaceful inter-ethnic cooperation and competition that these institutions embody can only take root once political leaders fully embrace and respect the new institutional design. Otherwise, the reconciliation and cooperation provisions remain just a façade, behind which exclusive ethnic politics continues to thrive to the detriment of all. Although post-conflict reconciliation is a wide and complex process that extends to the entire population, inter-ethnic cooperation and democratic competition at the political elite level significantly contribute to its success. As Nordlinger argues, political elites play a crucial role in regulating the intense conflicts in divided societies, as only they can directly and positively influence post-conflict political outcomes by lending political institutions legitimacy and respecting the rules and values these new institutions are set up to promote.3

Once institutions become widely accepted by all actors and their legitimacy is no longer contested, institutions tend to structure actors' behaviour more than the reverse, even though politicians always retain a certain degree of leverage to adjust and change the institutional structure. Post-conflict Bosnia and Macedonia are currently moving towards solidifying their post-conflict institutions and democratic political practices, so the need to study their political elites and their actions is particularly pronounced. Both the Dayton Peace Agreement and the Ohrid Framework Agreement were designed through externally led processes where the domestic political actors signed and committed to supporting the implementation of the provisions of the agreements. Their commitment to these documents and the pertaining institutional and legal structure was further ensured through external pressure by international actors. International actors were either directly in charge of overseeing implementation, such as the High Representative

1 See most actor-based explanations of post-communist democratization such as: Juan Linz and Alfred Stepan, Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) and Giuseppe di Palma, To Craft Democracies: An Essay on Democratic Transitions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

2 J. Higley, J. Pakulski and W. Wesolowski, Elite Change and Democratic Regimes in Eastern Europe (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998).

3 Eric A. Nordlinger, 'Conflict Regulation in Divided Societies', Occasional Papers in International Affairs, Harvard University, No.29 (January 1972). in Bosnia, or indirectly responsible, such as through conditionality for EU and NATO accession (for which the successful implementation of the Dayton and Ohrid agreements is set as a requirement). Thus, even though political elites are the main actors in this process they do not operate in isolation from external actors and society at large.

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