“EL war” workshop on Postwar Politics: Memory, Amnesia, and Denial in the Service of Electoral Victory

Benedetta Berti, Sarah Daly, Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs, Terrence Lyons, Carrie Manning, Justin Pearce, Nora Schrader-Rashidkhan and Gyda M. Sindre of the PAW network participated in the “EL war” workshop on ‘Postwar Politics: Memory, Amnesia, and Denial in the Service of Electoral Victory’ on 20 – 21 February 2020. See below for more information on the workshop and individual papers, and you can watch the researchers talk about their papers here:

EL War: Political Competition in Postwar Southeast Europe

Postwar Politics: Memory, Amnesia, and Denial in the Service of Electoral Victory

How does war shape postwar politics? To which extent is electoral competition in postwar societies determined by the war past as opposed to the peacetime present and future? Does war become embedded into postwar political norms, practices, narratives, and institutions? Insights into the nature of postwar politics, behavior of political parties and elites, and postwar narratives are crucial for our understanding of democratic consolidation in nations previously torn by conflict. The ERC-funded project Electoral Legacies of War: Political Competition in Postwar Southeast Europe (ELWar) studies how war legacies and war past have affected political competition in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia since mid-1990s. With this workshop, the ELWar project aims to bring together scholars working on similar topics to advance our understanding of how war experiences shape political arenas and political actors in post-conflict settings.

Abstracts of papers in order of presentation

Gyda Marås Sindre: Party system development and democratic consolidation after civil war

This article examines the relationship between party system development and democratic consolidation after civil war, focusing specifically on post-civil war contexts in Asia. While there is a large literature investigating the links between party systems and prospects for democratic consolidation in new and emerging democracies, the effects of civil war on party system development has received relatively little attention. This is surprising given the likely transformative effects that civil wars have on political systems: rebel groups transform into political parties, new parties are established, elites are shifted, power sharing mechanisms put in place, and new party laws and election laws are designed. While it is often assumed that civil wars lead to the manifestation of ‘frozen’ party systems reflecting hardened divisions brought about by war, whether this holds across types of conflicts and varied conflict outcomes has received little scholarly attention. Moreover, there is great variation as to the degree of democratic consolidation, leaving us undecided as to what factors facilitate the emergence of competitive party systems associated with democratic consolidation and peace, and which that do not. This article addresses this gap in the literature by proposing a differentiated typology that identifies paths of party system evolution, leaning on Sartori’s classical differentiation of party systems. It emphasises degree of openness in the party system as well as capacity of individual parties to adapt to democracy as crucial factors for democratic consolidation. The typology thus highlights conflict specific factors as particularly crucial for understanding outcomes, differentiating between factors external to parties (conflict ending and institutional framework) and factors internal to parties, specifically to former war-contenders and rebel groups that join competitive party politics. The theory is tested and illustrated comparing party system development in East Timor, Sri Lanka, and Nepal.

Carrie Manning: The continuation of war by other means? The role of wartime cleavages in peacetime politics

Does the survival or dissipation of the wartime political cleavage affect how post-rebel parties fare in electoral politics after war’s end? This paper builds on quantitative research by the author and a colleague, which examines the correlates of electoral participation and performance by 77 post-rebel parties in 37 countries in conflicts ending after 1989. (Manning and Smith 2016 and 2018). The proposed paper focuses on a handful of these post-rebel parties that have participated in every available legislative election since war’s end, always winning between 10 and 30% of legislative seats. This sets them apart from the bulk of post-rebel parties that – while also participating in every legislative contest since the end of the war — consistently remain either below 10% or above 30% (usually war victors) (Manning and Smith, 2018). What sets these ‘consistent competitors’ apart? Are they more willing and able to adapt to electoral politics than other parties? If so, why? Do they face greater competitive pressures than other post-rebel parties? Do they have greater organizational resources with which to adapt? The paper engages in a focused, qualitative comparison of these consistent competitor parties: Sinn Fein (N. Ireland), PDK (Kosovo), SDS (Bosnia) and Renamo (Mozambique) over between five and eight electoral cycles. It finds that the polarization of the electoral arena through the continued salience of the wartime political cleavage initially reduces competitive electoral pressures on these parties. But over time, as parties face flanking by others on the same side of the cleavage line, they engage in adaptive strategies that are shaped not only by their organizational resources and histories, but by their dependence on elections as a source of internal and external legitimation.

Mimmi Söderberg Kovacs and Mélida Jimenez: Governing the Revolution: The MILF and Muslim self-rule in Southern Philippines

What kind of governance do formerly armed groups turned into ruling parties provide and how does this effect the kind of peace that emerges in war-torn societies? The transformation from armed groups to political parties is considered important in the transition from war to peace (e.g. Dudouet, 2015; Ishiyama and Marshall 2016; Söderberg Kovacs, 2008). It can also strengthen democracy through increased representation of excluded minority groups (Ishiyama & Batta, 2011a; Sindre & Söderström, 2016). But we still do not know enough about the relationship between rebel governance after war and the peace that follows. The purpose of this article is to contribute to this scholarly debate by closely examining the case of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) in the Philippines under the leadership of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The 2014 peace agreement with the government brought the armed Islamist group into regional government power after decades of armed struggle. The group will lead the interim transitional arrangements for three years until the first elections set for 2022. In preparation for this day, the MILF launched its political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party (UBJP) already in 2014. According to its leadership, this was “the start of the MILF’s evolution from an armed revolutionary group into a political organization that would continue struggling for peace and development in the homeland in another arena – governance and politics” But critics have questioned the ability of the group to transform into a democratic political institution. This article will pay close attention to some key aspects of MILFs rule, notably its decision-making structures, its constituency base and some of the key policies and legal frameworks, in order to assess the implications for the still fragile peace.

Terrence Lyons: Different Memories of Different Struggles: Intra-Coalition Dynamics within the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front

The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the ruling party since 1991, is simultaneously a victorious insurgent party and a coalition of four quite different member parties (Lyons 2019). The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) wing won the protracted civil war fought mainly in the northern Tigray region. As a result, it developed a disciplined, cohesive leadership tied to a wartime narrative of victory. In order to govern the many diverse constituencies within Ethiopia, the TPLF formed the EPRDF coalition that incorporated ethnic parties, namely the Amhara National Democratic Movement (ANDM), the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO), and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement (SEPDM). The legacies of the prolonged struggle were very high for the TPLF, less so for the ANDM, contested for the OPDO, and far less significant for the SEPDM. For the first 25 years of post-war politics, the TPLF dominated the EPRDF in part by capitalizing on the legacies of its wartime victory. By 2016, however, memories of the war and the legitimacy derived from the TPLF victory faded and mass protests undermined the EPRDF. However, other constituent parties of the ruling coalition developed their own links to their respective constituencies and emphasized more populist narratives and the symbolic politics of ethnic grievance to build the legitimacy of the non-TPLF wings. Rather than accepting the TPLF’s story that the ANDM and OPDO were created by the TPLF, the other parties began to emphasize their specific histories of mobilization and resistance. To illustrate with a specific example, an ANDM official emphasized how his party “gave sanctuaries to TPLF who were strategically backpedaling” during the civil war. TPLF fighters bristled at claims that they had ever “backpedaled.” By challenging the narrative of military victory, the ANDM and OPDO developed an alternative rationale for consolidating power within the ruling coalition. This paper examines party documents, newspapers, and speeches made by leaders of the four parties that make up the EPRDF. It identifies how the Oromo and Amhara wings of the ruling party countered wartime memories advanced by the TPLF. By 2018, the OPDO and ANDM displaced the TPLF at the head of the coalition and promoted policy reforms that referenced a different set of narratives.

Sarah Daly: Spinning the Violent Past: The Varied Effectiveness of War Narratives

After wars, which historical narratives of violence take hold and why? This article explores what aspects of the violent past prove more amenable to manipulation: the reasons for the conflict, the assignment of blame for the violence, or the nature of and responsibility for the military outcome. It then asks which citizens prove most vulnerable to politized historical narratives? To gain leverage on these questions, I use an information experiment embedded in a survey of a random sample of Colombian victims and non-victims. I randomize exposure to different framing treatments about attribution of responsibility for the past violence and for the establishment of peace and order to explore the causal impact of these “spun narratives” on political attitudes and behavior toward the civil war belligerents and postwar political parties. I complement the survey evidence with social media data and in-depth interviews conducted during extensive fieldwork in Colombia.

Benedetta Berti: War, Resistance, and “combatant identity:” Hezbollah’s political identity and the legacy of conflict.

A key issue in analyzing how armed conflict and its legacy shapes postwar politics pertains to the question of how former or hybrid rebel groups frame their war-time ‘combatant identity’ in the context of their postwar political identity. As armed-political organizations active in the midst of conflict, rebel groups’ identities often encompasses a ‘combatant identity’ and ‘ethos of conflict’, centered on the legitimacy of the use of force, the rightfulness of the rebels’ goals and the defensive nature of their struggle, along with a narrative of victimization and patriotism (Canetti et al. 2017). How do these politicized narratives crystalized in war-time shape post-war political behavior and strategies? How do war-time ‘combatant identities’ evolve and shift to fit into a broader post-war political identity? The article explores how a rebel group’s war-time ‘combatant identity’ and ‘ethos of conflict’ is embedded, reframed and adapted in the aftermath of war by analyzing the case of Hezbollah. The Lebanese Hezbollah, a complex political, military and social organization, offers an interesting case to examine the resilience and fungibility of the ‘resistance and combatant framework’ both during and in the aftermath of conflict. The article traces the evolution of the group’s ‘combatant identity’ from the Lebanese civil war, through its post-war political transition, until the group’s involvement in the Syria civil war. In doing so, it highlights the simultaneous process of embedding and reframing the wartime legacy to craft a broader political identity that in turn shapes the group’s political behaviors and strategies.

Justin Pearce: Narratives of nationalism and electoral politics in post-war Angola and Mozambique

In Angola, the MPLA government used the opportunity of its victory in 2002 after a 27-year civil war to impose upon the country a narrative about anti-colonial struggle that asserted the MPLA’s historic position as the unique representative of the Angolan nation. A project of national reconstruction, funded by booming oil revenues, was also an important means by which the MPLA consolidated its post-war hegemony, but the politicisation of this project depended upon the creation of meanings derived from a particular telling of anti-colonial struggle and the civil war. On this basis the MPLA secured a crushing victory in the first post-war election. The gradual revival of the former armed movement UNITA as an opposition party has depended, I argue, on UNITA articulating its own narrative of anti-colonial struggle and civil war and challenging the efficacy of the government’s role as a provider of social goods. Mozambique’s Frelimo government has long guarded the history of anti-colonial struggle as its own and has continued to defend it although aid dependency did not permit a project of state-led reconstruction equivalent to that in Angola. An absence of distinction between party and state led to the withering of electoral opposition. It was only by returning to violence in 2013 – violence that was accompanied by an alternative discourse on history that challenged Frelimo’s monopoly on the identity of the nation – that Renamo succeeded in rebuilding its electoral support. This paper is based on interviews conducted over the past decade in Angola and Mozambique with politicians, party members and witnesses to political violence. I argue that both these cases, despite diverging historical trajectories, illustrate a politicisation of national identity that is rooted not only in the fracturing of national identity that characterises civil war, but also in the particularly violent claims to the identity of the nation that are the legacy of anti-colonial struggle. These cases therefore form a fruitful ground for comparison that can add to our understanding of electoral politics in new democracies after anti-colonial struggle and post-colonial civil war: in particular, how dominant parties use narratives of past violence to legitimise their present power, and the possibilities for opposition parties to challenge dominant party hegemony.

Nora Schrader-Rashidkhan: Pathways for Rebel Party Development in Africa: Comparing Rebel Victory vs. Negotiated War Termination

In many post-conflict countries around the globe, former rebel groups participate in elections as newly formed political parties (‘rebel parties’). While the phenomenon itself is empirically widespread, research has been growing but is still rather limited (mainly concentrated under the label of ‘rebel-to-party transformation’ literature; see i.a. de Zeeuw 2008; Curtis/Sindre 2019). A systematic assessment of context factors influencing the paths for those groups is underdeveloped, but recent research indicates that rebel victory tends to result in powerful political parties that consolidate autocratic rule in the long run (Lyons 2016; Manning/Smith 2019). In contrast, peace agreements seem not to stimulate party formation by former rebels in Africa (Söderberg Kovacs/Hatz 2016). By analyzing party formation and success of former rebel groups in Sub-Saharan Africa in this light, the paper aims at revealing some of the underlying dynamics that emanate from the conditions of war termination. While most scholars focus on internal, actor-centered approaches to explain this topic, in this paper the structural context should be elucidated some more by applying Fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analyses (fsQCA). This established tool in general party research (i.a. Redding/Viterna 1999) has been used only little in post-war contexts. The paper uses original data and comparative sources such as the V-Dem and UCDP Datasets and combines party research and more conflict-oriented sources. The main argument would be that some structural conditions make it easier for rebels to run and succeed as political parties in elections in Africa in general, and that the conditions of war-termination cause path dependencies that shape the prospects for party work in particular.

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