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After Ethnic Conflict: Policy-making in Post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia

0 Comments 🕔06.Aug 2015

With After Ethnic Conflict: Policy-Making in Post-Conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, Cvete Koneska has written an engaging and nuanced text, which offers fresh insights on the extent of ethnic accommodation in two post-conflict ethnically divided societies. The author presents two in-depth case studies, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia, and addresses the question of why political elites choose to “accommodate or resist each other across ethnic lines” (p. 4), specifically in power-sharing systems. The book is organized into four parts with nine chapters. It begins with a cursory discussion of post-conflict recovery and ethnic accommodation and some historical background on Bosnia and Macedonia, spanning their respective conflict periods, before proceeding to examine four highly contentious ethnicized policy issues in the two countries. Koneska concludes that power-sharing – with some important qualifications – is a necessary but not sufficient condition for accommodative outcomes, suggesting that supportive external actors and opportunities for informal conflict resolution also carry some explanatory weight. The book will be worthwhile reading for scholars of the Balkans, who will appreciate the author’s access to political elites in both countries. Koneska conducted more than 40 interviews with politicians, journalists, and diplomats in 2010 for this project, offering a wide-ranging and insightful look into politicians’ motives for accommodation and resistance. There are also important lessons for scholars of other divided societies on how the different institutions of power-sharing are conducive or resistant to ethnic accommodation, although the conclusions here are more tentative and could be further extended.

While most studies of power-sharing focus at the aggregate level to explain how it operates as an institutional package in service of political stability and ethnic accommodation, Koneska brings her readers to the policy level, a welcome initiative. In doing so, she conducts a careful process of tracing ethnic accommodation and resistance in four distinct policy-making areas, which is enriched by the interview data from both countries. In terms of policy, she considers four “most difficult” issues, with two examples developed for each policy area. The chapters on Bosnia address attempts at police reform (covering two different reform proposals by High Representatives Paddy Ashdown and Miroslav Lajčak) and defense reform initiatives (the creation of a state-level Ministry of Defense and a single Bosnian army). The chapters on Macedonia address strategies for decentralization (empowering local elites and increased funding for municipalities) and minority education (the recognition of Tetovo University and compulsory Macedonian-language instruction in primary schools). She finds that ethnic accommodation was forthcoming on defense reform and decentralization, but that ethnic resistance was the end result on police reform and minority education, respectively. What is ultimately a largely ambivalent conclusion – sometimes power-sharing leads to ethnic accommodation and sometimes it leads to ethnic resistance – is given greater nuance by Koneska’s argument that two additional factors help to explain her outcomes: the role of external actors and their willingness to employ carrots and sticks to induce agreement (e.g., membership in NATO’s Partnership for Peace or the Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union) and elite willingness to engage one another in informal forums (e.g., the ad hoc Defence Reform Commission in Bosnia and the Association of Units of Local Self-Government or ZELS in Macedonia). Koneska argues that when the confluence of these three factors (power-sharing, external actors, informal institutions) can cut across ethnic lines, accommodation will be forthcoming.

Consider the chapter on decentralization in Macedonia. One of the most ethnically contentious issues in Macedonia is autonomy, with Albanian calls for greater territorial autonomy having been explicitly rejected and the Ohrid Agreement going so far as to state that “there are no territorial solutions to ethnic issues.” Elites were able to reach agreement in such a sensitive area in part because the three factors worked together to “de-ethnicize” the issue, turning an ethnically sensitive question of autonomy into a technical issue of decentralization, specifically tax revenue collection between central and local governments (p. 113). This was made possible because, on the one hand, power-sharing increased the bargaining power and agenda-setting capabilities of the Albanian parties, while, on the other, the revival of ZELS, a hold-over from Macedonia’s Yugoslav days, facilitated, with the assistance of foreign funds, an informal space where members were able to “shed their ethnic and political party ‘hats’ and join solely as mayors and local councilors” (p. 110). Recalling pluralist theory, the emergence of this new center-local cleavage cut across the Albanian-Macedonia divide, making accommodation more likely. By comparison, de-ethnicization did not occur on minority education proposals, which is why resistance was the end result; indeed, Koneska argues, functional autonomy provisions exacerbated the ethnic divide in this instance (p. 154).

The policy chapters are certainly the strongest in the book. Each of the four chapters is compelling in its own right and offers a convincing empirical account of the policy-making challenges and successes in the two countries. The focus on successful accommodation (Part III: “What Makes Post-Conflict Politics Work”) represents one of the most important contributions of the book; while most studies, particularly those on Bosnia and Herzegovina, focus almost exclusively on deadlock and ongoing ethnic intransigence, Koneska also considers accommodative victories, such as the defense reform process, which saw the creation of a single Bosnian army, arguably one of the most contentious issues to resolve given its centrality to sovereignty claims. Yet it remains the case that there is a missed opportunity here for more explicit cross-comparative analysis of how divided societies handle ethnically sensitive issues. The chapter on minority education reforms in Macedonia offers convincing argumentation, telling us much about the Macedonian experience and the extent to which political elites are prepared to play by the institutional rules of the game. Yet, it offers much less insight into the comparative context. How might these issues be addressed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where segregated education is a similarly contentious issue? Examining how the two countries address the same policy issue – whether education or another issue-area – might lead to some more generalizable conclusions about territorial/functional autonomy, which Koneska argues against, and the use of mutual veto rights, which she argues have a significant effect on accommodation. As stand-alone contributions, however, each of the policy chapters represents first-rate scholarship, ably showing the vagaries of policy-making in the four areas.

The lessons for power-sharing scholars in After Ethnic Conflict are more subdued and would benefit from further engagement with power-sharing – and specifically, consociational – theory. There is much that is novel in Koneska’s findings on power-sharing. For instance, she finds that, of the different power-sharing institutions, mutual vetoes and autonomy are likely to have the greatest impact on accommodation and resistance. This pushes against two core assumptions in power-sharing theory. First, the emphasis on vetoes is at variance with leading consociationalist Arend Lijphart’s argument that mutual vetoes be relegated to a secondary characteristic of power-sharing, with grand coalitions and autonomy serving as primary features. Yet Koneska makes a compelling case for vetoes having a primary effect. Distinguishing between direct and indirect vetoes, she reaches a nuanced conclusion about their role in inducing accommodation: veto use is likely to result in ethnic resistance, whereas threatening to use it is more likely to lead to accommodation. Her argument here is persuasive, even if she does not effectively resolve the dilemma that the threat of a veto is only as powerful as its ability to be enacted. She also argues quite passionately against both functional and territorial autonomy, going against much power-sharing theorizing on the benefits of self-rule within the shared rule framework of power-sharing. Between these parts to her argument and her focus on informal accommodation, something power-sharing theory could be considering in more depth, there is an important theoretical intervention here that should be more explicitly framed as such.

Though the generalizability of this study could be extended, it nonetheless serves as a persuasive call for further analytical focus on informal institutions, on individual power-sharing institutions and for focusing on the policy, rather than the aggregate, level. The book is also an excellent example of how to conduct process tracing, reaching complex but well-defined conclusions, and there are important theoretical insights to be gleaned. For these reasons, After Ethnic Conflict should be widely read, not just by Balkan scholars but also by power-sharing theorists and others interested in how to encourage ethnic accommodation in divided societies.

Reviewed by Allison McCulloch, Brandon University

After Ethnic Conflict: Policy-making in Post-conflict Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia
by Cvete Koneska
Hardback / 198 pages / 2014
ISBN: 9781472419798

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