The Dynamics of Secessionist Regions: Eurasian Unrecognized Quasi-States after Kosovo's Independence

A Project of the Human and Social Dynamics Initiative of the National Science Foundation (NSF)

    Grant number 0827016

Project Description

Quasi-states are secessionist regions that have established internal territorial sovereignty but lack widespread recognition and legitimacy as states. Despite their tenuous and contested status, such regions have long been features of world political maps. A U.S-Russian research team will focus on four quasi-states in the Balkans-Black Sea region - Kosovo, Transdniester Moldovan Republic (TMR) in Moldova, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia - chosen because of research access, contrasting historical experiences, sources of dispute between Russia and the Euro-Atlantic community, and the variety of the implementation of international norms of refugee protection and recognition of selfdetermination.

Two fundamental research and policy concerns are raised by quasi-states; firstly, how and why do certain quasi-states endure and, secondly, why are some more successful at accumulating legitimacy than others? The contested declaration of independence by Kosovo in early 2008 and concern about a precedent effect across the Eurasian quasi-states render these questions particularly timely

The establishment of legitimacy – internal and external – of quasi-states in the wake of wars that defined the political unit in opposition to an ‘external enemy nation-state’ – is one key factor accounting for the robustness of quasi-states. The specific research questions include; a) What is the character and localized distribution of the agricultural, industrial, trade, social and political dynamics of the unrecognized quasi-states which might account for their longevity? b) What factors (war experience, governance structure, nation-building and identity construction, migration/displacement, border relations and international control) helps explain these distributions? c) How do state-aspirant elites and the techniques of government work across a variety of scales (global, regional in relation to patron and localized) to promote legitimacy, in the wake of the Kosovo precedent? d) How appropriate is it to make comparisons between these 4 cases or are they sui generis? Does their enduring presence spur or undermine the development of global norms surrounding the response to ethnic cleansing and violence?

To overcome potential difficulties in accessibility and reliability, we adopt a multi-methods data gathering approach to examine the internal legitimacy of quasi-states across a variety of scales. This includes public opinion sampling of about 1000 persons in each study site (among both residents of the quasi-states and the displaced populations), focus group discussions (including about 400 persons in all) and elite interviews. Survey data will include questions on socio-demographic background, material well-being, prevailing attachments, support of the state and perceptions of safety, migration histories and external contacts, inter-group attitudes, knowledge of external legitimacy debates, and emotional attachments to places. We will also map and analyze public and unpublished statistical data in a geographical information system that will also incorporate land use change, including changes in agricultural use, derived from 30 meter resolution Landsat satellite imagery over the past 20 years. 1990s.

The four frozen conflicts are outcomes of civil wars in the 1990s, accompanied by ethnic cleansing, destruction of infrastructure and deteriorating relations between the parent states from which the secessionist quasi-states splintered and the patron state, Russia in three of the four cases. The US focus is to ensure the smooth transition to independence in Kosovo and to continue to support Georgia and Moldova in their efforts to reclaim control of their lost territories. The quasi-states themselves are seen as grey zones of smuggling (especially drugs and weapons), money laundering, border violations, transit points of terrorists and refuges of criminals beyond the reach of international law and arrest warrants. With the emergence of Russia as a powerful actor, their permanence became more evident since Russia has consistently insisted on the universality of any solution to all four cases. Without more information about the conditions inside the quasi-states - their level of legitimacy with their own populations, the extent and nature of their contacts with the patron states, the willingness of the populations to accept territorial compromises or other settlement options, the relative level of inter-ethnic social distances, and the conditions of border interactions - policy formation is significantly separated from ‘facts on the ground’.