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Ethnic Politics in Post-Conflict Kosovo: Agonistic democracy as an alternative to antagonistic interethnic relations in post-conflict Kosovo

In Kosova, Politikat etnike on 15 July, 2009 at 20:53

Gëzim Selaci

Abstract: A decade since international actors engaged in peace-building and state-building processes in Kosovo, tensions still prevail between the two main ethnic groups, namely the Albanian majority and the Serb minority, in the country. After failing to build a rational consensus in a deeply divided Kosovo society, international actors have shifted the focus towards legalising the ethnic divisions by creating or allowing for state institutions to function on the grounds of ethnicity, thus perpetuating ethnic antagonisms. The technocratic approach of international state-building in Kosovo is sceptical about the domestic political process and sees it as damaging to the plans for Kosovo. However, as an outcome of impeding the political process antagonisms take more radical forms and the formation of new political identities, that overcome ethnicity, is prevented. This study considers pluralist democracy and politics of inclusion as a strategy for allowing communities to articulate and debate their political values and aspirations at a national level. Pluralist democracy would facilitate agonistic relations in which conflict is characterised by a struggle between political adversaries whose existence is legitimate and must be tolerated, thus replacing actual antagonistic relations between enemies seeking to eliminate each-other. Nevertheless, a consensus about certain rules of ‘the game’ regarding the space and the context in which deliberation could take place, as well as and with regard to certain procedures of decision-making, is necessary.

 

One of the fallacies in the discourse on the cause and origin of war in Kosovo is that it represents the unfolding of ancient ethnic hatreds, after the collapse of the communist regime, in an unfortunate democratic experiment where leaders could mobilise masses into inter-ethnic violence.

Nonetheless, following on Gagnons (2004) account of ethnic violence in Yugoslavia, this paper challenges the assumptions that the war in Kosovo originated from historical sentiments and democratic expression of the wider population. The paper will argue that the root cause of ethnic conflict in Kosovo rests with a power struggle between elites, which is perpetuated through unmet human needs and misunderstandings among the general populace.

Failing to understand the true nature of the conflict and power relations, international actors operating in post-war Kosovo took a wrong approach to its solution, an approach which was grounded on the assumptions of years of nationalistic propaganda and centuries of adjourned ethnic hatreds. In accordance with this assumption, the international administration found no other viable way to accommodate the ethnic communities save legalising ethnic divisions by building institutions that would operate on ethnically based values, a policy which actually contributed to the ethnicization of politics.

Perhaps working from the inaccurate hypothesis that the democratic experiment brought to power irresponsible elites, the international administration is sceptical about the political and democratic expression of the people. Hence its politics of peace and state-building is founded on external regulation and negligence of the domestic political process by denying the expression of the political aspirations of local people. 

The two main arrangements proposed to end the war and give a go-ahead to an international presence in Kosovo, namely the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Comprehensive Status Proposal, are obvious cases of this denial as they consist of plans designed by technocrats based on their judgements of what could be the most viable answer: a prejudged compromised solution accepted by both sides. However they give no chance to genuine deliberation and debate in which local parties are allowed to articulate their dissent and political viewpoints, eventually resulting in a solution accepted by both parties.

However, as the conflict was rather an expression of a power struggle between elites, these solutions were not proven successful in two respects. The international administration is failing (1) to create political identities that overcome the ethnic ones, and (2) to legitimise the state it tries to build. How so?

First, the politics of international state-building is legalising interethnic divisions and is failing to give way to values-based political identities that overcome the ethnic ones. This is because rejecting the plurality of political viewpoints and dissents, seeking to blur political differences, impede the constitution of distinct political identities other than those based exclusively on ethnicity and antidemocratic identities. Second, the insistence on external regulations and the impediment of political expression of the local people is failing to legitimise the state institutions. The legitimacy deficit, therefore, is due to the insistence on building consensus and refusal of contestation and confrontation which is causing a disenchantment of people with their political leaders and parties and apathy on their part towards political participation.

Therefore, in order to build legitimacy and facilitate the creation of political identities in Kosovo, the idea of radical democracy and agonistic politics is proposed (as a model of democracy with politicised foundations) as an alternative to international administration and supervision which reduces political participation in favour of implementation of plans designed from outside the domestic political process. By facilitating respect for the ‘other’ as legitimate political adversaries, agonistic politics could overcome the antagonist relations between ethnicities that look at one another as an enemy to be destroyed.

Nevertheless, in order to facilitate the proposed political process and avoid a possible domination of extremist parties, a minimal consensus on certain rules regarding the space and the context in which deliberation takes place is required. This consensus on rules of the political ‘game’ has to come from the citizens as a result of discussion and negotiations in a setting of deliberative politics, and not be imposed from outside the society. Nonetheless, the rules of engagement should be within the legal institutions of the state of Kosovo and its representatives built under auspices of the UN.

The paper is divided into six sections. The first five sections comprise of a background to the conflict in Kosovo, continuing with empirical arguments in relation to the politics of international peace-building therein and its impact in ethnic relations. In section five I propose radical democracy as an alternative to antagonist inter-ethnic relations in Kosovo. The last section lays the normative framework for agonistic politics as the synthesis in the dialectical relations between antagonist communities and an attempt to build consensus by impeding politics.

 (Continues…)

Paper published at: Albanian Journal of Politics V(1) (June 2009)

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