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Institutions Replacing Armed Conflict – What Happens When Soldiers Seek to Build a Country?

Conflict
 
Democratisation
 
Government
 
Institutions
 
Corruption
 
Presenter
Armend Bekaj
University of Sheffield
Authors
Armend Bekaj
University of Sheffield
Pavlos Koktsidis
University of Cyprus

Abstract
This paper seeks to identify and assess the role and impact of politically active former combatants on institution-building and democratic consolidation in Kosovo. The paper critically examines the role of ex-combatant leaders on post-war Kosovo, a country where political space is all but overpowered by the “war-wing” parties and politicians, as a way of explaining some of the major sources of weak institutions and a backsliding democracy. One of the most pressing concerns following the war in Kosovo (1998) was the disarmament and demobilization of KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) combatants. By most accounts, the DDR (Disarmament - Demobilization - Reintegration) process proved successful, with around 18,000 combatants relinquishing KLA uniforms and weapons for a civilian life. However, for most KLA leaders, the most effective and sure way to have an impact on longer-term processes was to enter politics. In fact, the active inclusion and involvement of former combatants in post-conflict politics is a common practice in many post-conflict societies. Such involvement is driven by the necessity to create a durable peace settlement that accommodates and represents the interests of influential former combatants and their constituencies, and to prevent the occurrence of spoiler effects. Currently in Kosovo, three out of six main political parties were founded and are led by former army leaders. There are virtually no senior political or civil service positions that are not directly occupied or influenced by former combatants. Their impact on institution-building is unquestionable and omnipresent. However, similarly to other regional post-conflict countries, Kosovo’s democratization has been a frustratingly long process undermined by the existence of clientelistic relations, the encroachment of informal relations on mainstream politics, and predatory practices. The paper develops an argument linking up Kosovo’s aforementioned institutional deficiencies with the conspicuous systemic influence of former combatants. The findings concur with the theory that keeping former combatants out of post-war political arrangements runs counter to the spirit of inclusion and risks creating spoiler effects for peace. However, when the political establishment is all but dominated by former combatants-turned politicians – such as in Kosovo – the clientelistic web and predatory practices tend to interrupt the process of institution-building and democratic consolidation. The study is supported heavily by first-hand data stemming from elite interviews with former combatants turned politicians, civil society and academic representatives, conducted in Kosovo during the period of 2015 to 2017. The secondary literature on the topic of political transformation of combatants is buttressed by participatory observation from a decade of fieldwork in Kosovo and the wider Western Balkan region.
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