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Research assesses the impact of armed conflict on electoral behaviour

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Published on Thursday, 19 October 2017

Prof. Josip Glaurdić of the University of Luxembourg has been awarded a Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) for the research project ELWar, a five-year venture assessing the impact of war on political behaviour in Southeast Europe.



ELWar – its full name Electoral Legacies of War: Political Competition in Postwar Southeast Europe – focusses on the evolution of political competition and electoral behaviour over three decades in six postwar states: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

War profoundly changes people and their communities over decades. It destroys societies’ social, economic, and physical fabrics and deeply alters social, gender and class structures. “After an armed conflict, the political decisions that individuals and parties take, either consciously or unconsciously, will essentially reshape their society,” explains Prof. Josip Glaurdić. “Yet we know very little about how these decisions are influenced. Our task is to identify the agents of postwar politics and how they encourage or impede, deliberately or not, this process.

“The ways in which members of a society experienced and in particular remember violence is essential in this process. In all Southeast European countries, political actors keep using the past for political schemes, in order to mobilise votes or create policies, which is making it difficult for people to overcome deep frustrations and move on.”

A different research perspective

Political science tends to focus on elections or democratisation in the period shortly after the end of a conflict. However, the exposure to violence has long-lasting effects on people’s voting or political actions. Likewise, political scientists often study political actors as independent players, but they are part of a large and intricate context. “This means there is little understanding of how conflict molds an entire political system for years to come, what determines electoral results and the quality of governance in these states,” Prof. Glaurdić carries on. “One question for us to address for instance is whether it is voters’ experiences and perceptions of the conflict that influence postwar elections, rather than their considerations of the parties’ peacetime performance.”

ELWar aims to fill this gap in political science research. Over the course of the project, the team will share results through a series of interactive maps, books and three international conferences in Luxembourg. A dedicated website will host the material: elwar.uni.lu.

A comprehensive research methodology

In order to deliver a comprehensive view of postwar political life, the research team around Prof. Glaurdić will explore three postwar groups: political parties, voters and communities. Analysis of party documents and platforms, party relations with the civil sector, as well as interviews with party officials and activists will shed light on the influence of war on electoral strategies, policy preferences, and recruitment methods.

At the level of municipalities, electoral, economic, social, and demographic data, as well as data on human losses and physical destruction, will uncover how people were exposed to violence and how war continues to exert its influence on politics even decades after the violence has ended.

Photo: Christophe Lesschaeve, Josip Glaurdić, Michal Mochtak, © Université du Luxembourg