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Securing Peace and Democracy: Consocational Democracy and the Role of Religious Leaders
Mar 1, 2013

A consocational democracy is a type of democracy which emphasizes the importance of power-sharing and decision-making among different segments in society. But is consociational democracy the most suitable form of democracy when it comes to establishing lasting peace in post-conflict societies?

Consocational democracy addresses problems in democratic state building that result from deep segmentation. These divisions as a result are easily defined and measured where real boundaries (political or otherwise) exist. As a result of these environmental and social conditions there exists a natural tendency for competition and the supporting of ethnically-based parties (Andeweg 2000).

The consocational framework is dependent on elite cooperation. This is the centerpiece of the model and is based on the premise that communal violence between groups is often exacerbated by elites so that when these elites have a voice in government, they have a vested interest in maintaining its integrity. Although elite meddling in conflict is the most potent, it is not the only incendiary in inter-group relations (Andeweg 2000).

Under the current model where a society has the characteristics necessitating a consocational framework, the sub-groups have two choices: to remain a part of the country or to separate. These two forces pull on individuals of each group in which decisions are often based on various factors. Those societies that do not cooperate are termed “centrifugal.” In this case, the sub-groups emphasize separation over integration. Consocationalism is a top-down integration/cooperation mechanism that seeks to overcome centrifugal forces (Andeweg 2000).

Loyaltiyes and state building

One of the forces that create these centrifugal tendencies is also one of the characteristics that make communal life possible i.e. group loyalty. According to A.A.M. Kinneging (2004) loyalty, “pertains to a bond that withstands the passing of time and the winds of change: a bond that is conceived of as lasting, permanent, unbreakable, even holy” (Kinneging 2004, 68). This definition of loyalty indicates how intractable it is when integrating many different groups with different loyalties under one government. In this case, as Kinneging points out, the community is higher than the individual. In ethnically homogenous countries this presents no problem and allows democracy to flourish at all levels. Often times this is not the case in heterogeneous societies where either the state enforces a loyalty to its institutions, such as in the republican liberal democracy model, while still maintaining individual rights or enforces it in such a way that violates individual rights in an undemocratic manner.

Loyalties typically follow racial or religious lines. They can even be more fragmented such as loyalty to one’s town or city. Evidence can be seen in the sport’s world. Loyalty is typically to a person or an institution (Healy 2007). Loyalty to the nation-state has been somewhat of a recent phenomenon. The lack of loyalty can be detrimental to state integrity when it is towards another group. The lack of loyalty between sub-groups is something that consocationalism does not address as it represents an administrative/electoral solution to a heavily divided society. It does not address the psychological/emotional element that loyalty forms a part of and which in essence is the backbone of society.

Lijphart envisioned consocationalism as a temporary solution in which it was only meant as a transitory phase to greater levels of democratic cooperation (Andeweg 2000). This of course assumes that through elite cooperation and living peacefully alongside each other under one roof, it is possible that these groups would eventually reconcile their differences and move to greater integration. Unfortunately, there is the other direction such as entrenched differences that only get worse with time that may stalemate/postpone the conflict i.e. not resolving the conflicts (Fox & Miller 2007). Still, consocational democracy is considered the best option for deeply stratified societies because it recognizes, among other things, that some sub-groups have a complete way of life that requires a certain level of autonomy from the state.

The risk in this approach is that these sub-groups may look at the government as a burden or unnecessary overhang on complete control of their affairs. In response, the state may have a few choices at its disposal that may either create incentives such as the consocational framework or force a state identity upon all sub-groups, essentially eliminating them.

Bosnia: Adversarial communities under one roof

Bosnia is composed of three adversarial communities that have existed since the 15th century. Primarily, these communities came into existence around a particular religion. These religions of interest in the Bosnian case are Orthodox Christianity, Catholic Christianity and Islam. The Serbian people primarily follow Orthodox Christianity, the Croatians follow Catholic Christianity, and the Bosniacs follow Islam. These communities erupted into full-fledged war in the early 90’s when the Orthodox Serbs engaged in genocide against the Muslim Bosniacs (Kasapovic 2005).

These people were subject to the first consocational system of the world, the millet system which was implemented by the Ottoman Empire shortly after conquering the area that is now the former Yugoslavia. The millet system, which has roots in the religion of Islam, gave different religious communities their own autonomy headed by an elite (millet bashi) who was responsible for different religious and civil areas. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the various nation-states that emerged did not act so kindly on the remaining Muslim groups and either forced them to leave or massacred them. The Bosniacs represented a unique example as well as other indigenous ethnic groups who converted to Islam during Ottoman rule (Katsikas 2009).

These communities have historical differences that cannot disappear overnight. The Orthodox Serbs and Catholic Croatians owe their divide to the Great Schism in the 11th century between Constantinople and Rome (Norwich 1999). The Muslim Bosniacs and Orthodox Serbs owe their divide to Serb defeat at the hands of the Ottomans in the 14th century (Kinross 2003). Although present-day communities probably give little thought to these events, the mimetic transmission of hatred means that these communities are seemingly locked in an adversarial relationship.

After the 1995 Dayton Peace Accord, a consocational-type government was established. Kasapovic described it as an “asymmetrical confederation” in which the country is divided into two parts with one part being more consocational between Bosniacs and Croatians and the other representing a more homogenous state of Serbs. At the national level equal representation is given to the three groups, mutual veto exists, autonomy is given to each group, and consensus is maintained (Kasapovic 2005).

More than fifteen years after the Dayton Peace Accord there is peace, but as Kasapovic pointed out, this is only because all groups consented to peace. Kasapovic notes that the state is still highly unstable because there is no consensus on its organization and there are continuing external threats that may tear the country apart (Kasapovic 2005). This instability means that these groups, by and large, have not resolved their differences.

He argues that there are three reasons for this inefficiency of the model of consocational democracy, one “at the level of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a state, and one more at the level of the Federation as a state sub-entity: no consensus on the state, no consensus on the political system, no consistent strategy of international actors in establishing a democratic state, and the unfavorable two-segmental structure of the Federation with one segment outnumbering the other” (Kasapovic 2005, 9).

The fact remains that despite living in a consocational-type system for six centuries, the different groups that compose Bosnia’s adversarial groups have not cooperated at any level that would have caused them to avoid the deluge in the early 90’s. This indicates that although these people are living together under one country, they harbor distrust or hatred of those who compose the other group. The fact that they are all part of one country appears to have no influence on the perceptions towards the other group.

Considering that this conflict has been ongoing at varying intensities for several hundred years, an unfreezing process is needed. The concept of unfreezing has its roots with the organization theorist Kurt Lewin who proposed an unfreezing, moving/changing, and re-freezing process. In the process, values are changed and thus can be labeled change management. The re-freezing may have more clout with individual organizations, but the re-freezing creates an organized way of thinking akin to concepts of efficiency i.e. an established uniform identity (Levasseur 2001).

The involvement of religious leaders has importance in this case. Since these conflicts involved Christian and Muslim communities which are international religions, and since these conflicts also involved an international response, these local conflicts have implications that are not only local. International religious leaders should remember to be sensitive to religious sentiments despite their distance from Bosnia.

Haynes pointed out that one of the problems of the roles religious leaders face is that they lack the capacity to build a strategy for peace (Haynes 2009). As members of an international faith, these leaders would have access to a large network of resources that would facilitate them in their role as peace-makers. One of the aspects that may be appropriately addressed in Bosnia is training these leaders to both acquire these resources as well as use them appropriately. This would make their role far more influential than the elites.

The side effect is that many of these religious leaders may have instigated violence against the other or continue to preach hatred towards the other. These leaders need to either be isolated by the national government or reprimanded severely by those leaders of international representation. The globalized world makes all this possible. The world in this essence can either be a harbinger of peace or a catalyst for war at the local level.

Religious leaders should be engaged in dialog with each other as much as other community members are engaged in workshops both inventing solutions and implementing them. Once a healthy environment of dialog is fostered, then either naturally or through planned social action, inclusive networks should be developed. These networks can create cooperation and community.

Lastly, the existence of these networks means that the state as a reactionary entity becomes a mirror of that society. In this case, the consocational model of governance might work and if possible a more unified democratic format may be chosen. The result would be a multi-group democratic state with shared loyalties to the state, one’s own group, and to another group. This does not guarantee continued peace, but at least secures it much more tightly than as proposed under the consocational framework alone.

Hummel is a doctoral candidate at the School of Public Administration, Florida Atlantic University.


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