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Home arrow Political science arrow After Ethnic Conflict : Policy-making in Post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia

Defining Political Elites

Following the functionalist concern with elites' performance of services, this book adopts Burton and Higley's definition of elites as 'persons holding strategic positions in large or otherwise powerful organisations and movements, who regularly influence political decision-making'.4 This definition enables a discussion of elites that can focus on the relations between different groups of elites – sub-elites – that represent different groups and interests in society, such as ethnic groups. Because of their strategic position in powerful organisations, sub-elites control different yet related sectors of the state, such as political parties, government, administration. Together, these sub-elites comprise the political elite. Ethnicity is certainly not the only division line between political elites, and is not strictly a functional parameter. Nonetheless, since regardless of ethnicity, political elites perform the same functions for their constituents and the state, the functional approach allows the analysis of different sub-elite groups and how they interact across ethnic, ideological or other lines.

Based on the above defi political elites include members of the political leadership of a country, those who represent the country abroad, those who discuss and make the most important political decisions, policies and laws. The political elites analysed are representative of the ethnic groups as well as the political parties in their state, as ethnicity and political party affiliation are two major factors structuring post-conflict politics. Because of the deep ethnic divisions in the post-conflict context and political party dominance over civil society and state institutions, political elites in Bosnia and Macedonia are largely ethnic and party elites. Non-political elites are: military leadership, civil society and business community elites, intellectual elites and religious elites. These sub-elites do have some limited influence in the political arena, but since they lack the power to make policies and make decisions, they are not considered as members of the political elite.

The definition is particularly appropriate for analysing ethnic accommodation for several reasons. First, it allows the analysis to focus on those groups that influence and make the most important decisions in society – political leaders. Focusing on decision-makers makes it easier to analyse their interactions and the processes through which they overcome conflict and divergent interests in order to reach mutually acceptable solutions. Second, by not treating political leaders

4 Michael G. Burton and John Higley, 'Elite Settlements', American Sociological Review, 52 (1987): 295–307. as a single monolithic group, this definition allows the existence of a dynamic relationship between different sets of sub-elites in different parts of society. It also enables one to examine the creation of elite compromise and resistance, as well as elite circulation and differentiation in the process of deep societal transformation, by permitting different interests of different elite groups and regular interaction between those groups.

Unity, Continuity and Ethnic Identity

One of the main ways in which political elites' relate to and affect the political regime is through the extent and nature of elite unity. As Higley, Pakulski and Wesolowski suggest, elite unity, or normative unity of elites, implies shared norms of political cooperation and competition.5 Normative elite unity usually refers to consensual acceptance of democratic principles of political cooperation, but in this instance, it can be expanded to include elite commitment to the post-conflict institutions and principles enshrined in the peace agreements in Bosnia and Macedonia. Higley, Pakulski and Wesolowski further argue that the greater the normative unity of elites, the stronger and more stable the regime is. Normative unity results in political competition that, while allowing competition between various programmes and ideologies, does not threaten the basic tenets of the political regime and the state. In democratic regimes, unity refers only to shared norms about the rules of the political game, whereas political elites can support and promote different political, economic and social values. In totalitarian regimes the normative unity includes the political, economic and overall ideological values of elites.

Post-conflict politics often comes down to reinterpreting the letter of the peace agreements and attempts to adjust the institutional setting to the interest of political elites and the groups that they represent. In this sense, the unity of political elites in post-conflict politics can often be weak and the stability of the post-conflict regime can be threatened. While political leaders in Bosnia and Macedonia have signed the peace agreements, their behaviour does not always conform to their requirements, and on numerous occasions they have challenged the Dayton and Ohrid agreements respectively. Albanian parties in Macedonia have sometimes felt that the Ohrid agreement insufficiently protects the rights of Albanians. Meanwhile some Bosniak leaders in Bosnia have seen Dayton as giving too many powers to ethnic groups at the expense of the state.6 Following Higley et al.'s argument, the extent of the normative unity of political elites in Bosnia and Macedonia – their commitment to democratic and power-sharing

5  Higley, Pakulski and Wesolowski, Elite Change and Democratic Regimes.

6 Only recently the leader of Albanian opposition DPA in Macedonia called for a 'new Ohrid Agreement', while in Bosnia even High Representative Paddy Ashdown, when faced with a deadlock, called for an update of the existing provisions. values enshrined in peace agreements – should affect the stability of the post-

conflict political regime.

Similarly, when post-conflict continuity of political elites is rather high, previous divisions and antagonisms can be reproduced. In both countries even some of the most nationalist politicians involved in the conflicts remain in politics.7 The failure to draw a clear line between preand post-conflict politics, which allows old pre-conflict elites to continue playing an important part in postconflict politics, reproduces enmity and polarisation in the post-conflict setting. In addition, pre-conflict elite continuity can also lead to failure to cut political elites' ties with previous informal (often armed and illegal) allies from during the conflict. That then provides these actors access to political power and increased influence in politics. This raises concerns about corruption, about the viability of the rule of law, and most importantly about the failure of post-conflict elites to adopt and uphold new values of ethnic tolerance and cooperation. Ultimately, the continued presence and influence of old elites in the political arena could lead to further reproduction of the 'old' ways and practices of politics. This may occur even after a new generation of politicians arrives, since they too will be socialised into politics through the dominant values embodied by existing practices and embraced by older and more experienced politicians. The arrival on the political scene of a new generation of post-conflict elites who rely on ethno-nationalist politics as much as those who were actually involved in the conflicts illustrates this point. Neither the current president of Republika Srpska, Milorad Dodik, nor the current Macedonian Prime Minister, Nikola Gruevski, were among their countries' top political elites during the conflicts, but both are equally reliant on ethno-political tools as their respective predecessors.

The relationship between political elites and ethnicity is hotly contested in academic debates. Arguments range from essentialist accounts of ethnic identity, in which political elites only aggregate and represent at state level,8 to instrumentalist claims that political elites manipulate the masses into identifying with an ethnic group in order to achieve other benefits.9 Constructivist views in social science see ethnic identity neither as essentially given, nor as entirely forged by elites, but

7 Most notably Macedonian Interior Minister at the time of the conflict, Ljube Boškovski, after being acquitted of the charges against him at the ICTY returned to Macedonia in 2008 and established a new political party, which performed surprisingly well on the 2009 presidential elections. He was imprisoned in 2011 for financial fraud. In Bosnia many of the political leaders during the conflict were indicted by the ICTY and have not had the opportunity to return, but the lower level members of their parties remain active politicians and a complete transformation of political elites remains to be seen in both countries.

8 Anthony D. Smith, Myths and Memories of the Nation (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); Anthony D. Smith, Ethnic Origin of Nations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986). 9 Eric Hobsbawm, Nations and Nationalism since 1780: Program, Myth, Reality,

2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992); Benedict Anderson, Imagined

Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2006). rather as one of the many social identities that individuals develop and make use

of, in their complex set of social interactions.

Contrary to essentialist accounts, constructivists see identities as constructed and reproduced through the daily practices of human agents: concepts such as ethnicity, nation, gender, race, or sexuality are contested and fluid – as are the pertaining identities.10 All group identities are built in opposition to the Other – the out-group which provides the external background against which the identity of the group, its features, and its boundaries are constructed. This suggests that one of the ways that ethnic identity can change is through the changing environment and constellation of other groups perceived as constitutive for the group identity.11 Recent Balkan history abounds with examples of such shifting and re-positioning of ethnic identities vis-à-vis other groups as political boundaries were shifting,12 confirming the fluid nature of ethnic identities in the region.13

In contrast to instrumentalist views, the constructivist take of ethnic identity and conflict does not treat elites as responsible for the (dis)continued salience of ethnic identity. Ethnic identity is seen as one of the multiple social identities of each individual. Elites can therefore contribute to situations when the importance of ethnic identity increases, becoming the dominant source of identification, as well as a mobilising force of political action for the group.14 Alternatively the opposite could occur – political elites' actions could make a certain social identity less salient in a given political context. As such, the constructivist approach is particularly useful and is therefore embraced in this book. It allows sufficient space for agency, implying that elites, through their actions of ethnic accommodation or resistance at the political level, can contribute to a gradual de-escalation of ethnic conflict. At the same time, the approach allows many of the features and consequences of ethnic conflicts (violence, mass killings and expulsion) to be treated as stemming from primordial passions related to kinship, history, language and territory. That is

10 Richard Jenkins, Re-thinking Ethnicity: Arguments and Explorations (London: Sage Publications, 1997); Crawford Young, 'The Dialectics of Cultural Pluralism: Concept and Reality', in The Rising Tide of Cultural Pluralism: The Nation-State at Bay?, ed. Crawford Young (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press 1993), pp. 3–35.

11 Joane Nagel, 'Constructing Ethnicity: Creating and Recreating Ethnic Identity and Culture', Social Problems, 41 (1994): 152–176.

12 Macedonian ethnic identity in the early 1990s was built in opposition to dominant Serbian identity but by the end of the decade when independence from Yugoslavia was not contested anymore language and religion became the dominant identity markers in opposition to internal Albanian minority.

13 Similar arguments on ethnic identities in Africa, see: Robert H. Bates, 'Modernization, Ethnic Competition, and the Rationality of Politics in Contemporary Africa', in State versus Ethnic Claims: African Policy Dilemmas, ed. Donald Rothchild and Victor A. Olunsorola (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1983); Leroy Vail, ed., The Creation of Tribalism in Southern Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).

14 Michael A. Hogg, 'Social Identity Theory', in Contemporary Social Psychological Theories, ed. P.J. Burke (Stanford, Stanford University Press: 2006). because, as Kaufmann notes, the constructed nature of ethnicity does not prevent

it from being experienced as real.15

 
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