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III. The Processual Nature of Conflicts over Governance Structures

A common approach to the examination of conflict is via an examination of correlations between identified and operationalized variables.36 Such an approach might produce a study to examine autonomy institutions as an independent variable and increased conflict or mobilization as a dependent variable. The presence of high levels of autonomy and high levels of conflict across several cases would indicate a correlation between both. We would then know that the two tend to occur at the same time. But it would be difficult to go further with the analysis. First, the correlation does not tell us whether pre-existing and ongoing conflict created a drive to establish autonomy institutions – simply put, the correlation itself does not indicate the path of cause. In order to discern which variable was in fact causing the other, we would need to dig a bit deeper into the processes and timing of events within the different cases. Variables, however, are snapshots of social phenomena at a specific point in time. As such, they do not tell us much about processes and trajectories of events. Variable analysis would thus make it difficult to identify the specific process by which institutions of autonomy might unfold in the wake of high levels of mobilization, or when high levels of mobilization might simply instead produce civil war. Variable correlations may provide a useful first cut for a study, but an understanding of causation requires a breakdown of events as they unfolded in sequence. An identification of the causal mechanisms producing these different trajectories requires an examination of the chronological unfolding of events.37

Second, the political process of the construction of institutions and the contestation over such institutions is inherently endogenous, meaning that there are strong feedback effects. High levels of mobilization for a particular ethnic group might produce specific representative structures that in turn augment the high levels of mobilization further. Some social scientists might propose mathematical controls for endogenity in an analysis. But given that this feedback is crucial to the story of what happened in these settings, endogeneity is in fact a crucial part of the story, and should be incorporated directly into the analysis.38 In analysis of these types of processes, efforts should be directed towards the identification of causal mechanisms from these stories of politics. If certain causal mechanisms repeatedly tie together a certain sequence of events in different places or contexts, it is a general statement regarding common forces in politics – one that might be generalized to other settings.39

In the case of Crimean autonomy in Ukraine, for example, Gwendolyn Sasse has found that the content of the autonomy structures mattered less than the protracted process of interaction and contention that produced the institutions. Instead, the specific routines of exchange to facilitate compromise and consensus, established during the discussion process, that were crucial in defusing conflict.40 In a similar study, Hughes and Sasse have found that a particular interactive dynamic that is established at one point during the interaction process can cut off future possible options. After the eruption of violence, they argue, conflicts develop a trajectory that may render it impossible for autonomy to emerge as a negotiating option.41 These identified mechanisms from the Crimean context become a useful source of general statements regarding common interactions that might produce stable versus unstable settlements.

These processual studies demonstrate that sustained negotiation over the nature of government structures, including autonomy is crucial – even more crucial than the form of institutions that might result. Sasse notes this explicitly.42 While a proposal for autonomy may be controversial, it also gives both groups a clear focus for discussion. As groups engage in this sustained interaction to negotiate these government structures, they can learn that even the most difficult issues can be addressed through routines and institutions, rather than through violence.43 Another insight is that efforts to establish autonomy may turn a minority group’s agitation towards the center. Because inter-group violence takes place at the local level, where group members come into close contact with each other, this mechanism can be particularly useful in defusing local tensions. In the case of Crimean autonomy in Ukraine, ethnic Russian agitation for Crimean autonomy focused explicitly on the central Ukrainian government, rather than on ethnic Ukrainians living in Crimea.44

These two findings from the Crimean context are of great general importance: 1) that sustained interactions are crucial for defusing conflicts, and 2) that the character of center-periphery interactions matter in affecting outcomes. These particular aspects emerge across a number of different settings. The following section outlines some of their theoretical foundations and how they can be useful in informing our study of how and why some disputes over autonomy increase separatist tendencies, while others do not.


IV. Defusing Separatism via Brokerage and Network Control

Much research in the area of separatism has focused on the structure of institutions. It has been this type of emphasis that has spurred much of the research discussed above – research into how autonomy structures might increase or decrease conflict. One reason behind this focus is the fact that Max Weber’s understanding of states has served as a foundation for political scientists for decades. Given the Weberian legacy, a state is generally understood to be a hierarchical administrative apparatus, with a defined territory, and with control over the use of force within that territory.45 In the state hierarchy, the center is stronger than the periphery and ideally commands the apparatus that employs force throughout the periphery. However, many exceptions to this model persist in political life. Indeed, states may not control the use of force everywhere within their territory, but rather, local actors may hold stronger local controls.46 These local actors might challenge state power informally, as with strong local public officials or mafia groups, or might be separatist movements that publicly and directly challenge the state.47

An understanding of the nature of center-periphery dynamics generally can thus greatly inform our knowledge of separatism, given these similar considerations. The importance of center-periphery interactions has been noted by a scholars taking a locally-informed view of political dynamics. In a study of decentralization in Africa, Katherine Boone has found that the strength of a state government can be best understood through an examination of the strength of local actors in relationship to the center. Her discussion of these power dynamics does much to establish a more nuanced understanding of state strength and weakness than prior approaches that tend to treat state institutions as a uniform mass.48 Similarly, in a study of civil wars, Stathis Kalyvas has noted that civil conflicts are often assumed to be binary in nature in analyses – but rather, interactions between center and periphery add another layer to conflict, as the relative strength of local actors may be greater than that of the center in a given region.49

Given the strong potential of local actors to challenge central state authority, what might states do in response? One common response has been the attempt to exert brute force, in an effort to regain control over the use of force in a periphery. However, such a strategy is costly, and may have limited success – history has shown that forceful intervention may inflame as well as dampen movements against state authority. But there are other options to exert control, via informal control structures between central state leaders and leaders at the periphery. Leaders of the center in Ukraine have been experts at applying these patronage strategies. If we place emphasis on central state control as the most desirable political goal, Ukraine has achieved marked success via these strategies.50 As outlined by Keith Darden in his examination of Ukraine as a “blackmail state,” the central leadership in Ukraine has successfully exercised informal mechanisms of control, particularly in relation to the periphery. First, the central leadership allowed and even encouraged corruption by local elites. Second, the state collected information on these activities of local elites, using broad systems and resources of surveillance. This documentation on corrupt activities was stored by the center. Third, directives from the center were given to local elites to implement. If they did not do so, or if they did so in a way that the center found problematic, the files on corrupt activity would be produced, and the local elite in question might find him- or herself in jail51 – or would simply flee the country.52 Another means of control is the promise of jobs and positions to indiviudals who support central policies of elites.53 Such options can be particularly attractive in a country in which poverty, economic restructuring, or war has destroyed other potential avenues of making a living. Not only are these types of patronage control quite effective, but they are also less costly (in financial and public relations terms) than a direct application of military force.

The presence of these patronage structures in Ukraine sheds much light on the fact that separatist movements in Crimea and the push for autonomy in Transcarpathia simply died out after initial actions in the early 1990s. Quietly and effectively, the state simply exercized control via these networks. With this sort of structure in place, military action was not necessary; local elites simply used their own resources on the ground to remove the issues from the table. In Transcarpathia, locals interviewed years later expressed disgruntlement that the autonomy referendum had received 78 percent support and had gone nowhere. But they simply perceived that those local elites in the position to push autonomy had simply passively let it die. An examination of the local regional newspaper, with strong links to the regional authority, reveals an incremental shift in the tone on articles regarding the autonomy issue from excitement to disfavor over a two-year period. This fact illustrates the efficiency of such control structures – a strong local elite with strong ties to the center can easily mobilize local resources to fulfill the aims of the center.

At first glance, these tools of control might appear to be specific to Ukraine or to the former Soviet Union. But in fact, a broad range of research in political science has uncovered some of the theoretical foundations of patronage control structures. First, brokerage occurs when a regional elite mediates exchange between the center and other local actors at the periphery. In the case of Transcarpathian Ukraine, a local governer beholden to the center due to the blackmail apparatus, acted to reduce local voices behind the autonomy bid in the aftermath of the successful referendum. In theoretical terms, brokerage is a relational mechanism, linking two social sites to mediate their relations.54 As outlined by McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly, brokerage facilitates change between actors because it “reduces transaction costs of communication and coordination” between them and also “facilitates the combined use of resources located at different sites.”55 As a causal mechanism, brokerage invokes dynamics, interaction, and change. However, it takes place within particular structural relations – networks that invoke stability and permanence in an analysis. A breakdown of both of these elements illustrates how both stability and change are required features of political processes.

Analyses of this second, structural aspect of networks and network controls have been quiete well-developed in the field of International Relations. Studies of the control structures of empires have revealed that the centers that are most effective in exerting control over their peripheries maintain control networks of a particular shape. While empires and states are often analyzed in different fields, the isomorphic forms of of network structures have simiar properties regardless of the scale or level of aggregation at which they are applied. Thus, dynamics of imperial control and dynamics of domestic control can be understood through an analysis of potentially similar networks of control.56 As outlined by Daniel Nexon and Thomas Wright, a hub-and-spoke pattern with little connection between subunits is a more effective isomorphic pattern than other forms for an empire to exert control.57 This type of network structure increases power to the center, because regional actors must go through the center in order to communicate with each other – everything must pass through the center. Ukraine’s “blackmail state” took on this configuration, because the center could effectively forbid collusion between regional actors due to its effective system of blackmail.

Alternative isomorphic forms might allow for direct links between the units, or for direct links between the units and external actors. But the network control structure in Ukraine took the centrally-focused hub-and-spoke form, as all interactions required endorsement from the center. The mechanism of brokerage within a network control structure can provide an effective means of control regardless of whether institutions of autonomy are present or not. Just as imperial centers have used such means to control distant territories, some with distinct boundaries, state centers use these means to exert control over local actors within their borders. In doing so, they can defuse movements that might oppose state goals, including separatist movements.


V. Brokerage and Network Control in Transcarpathia, Ukraine

After the December 1991 referendum, the Transcarpathian regional legislature acted relatively quickly on the 78 percent approval of the autonomy measure. In early March of 1992, they passed a law to codify this self-government status, after some discussion over its content.58 The Transcarpathian legislature then submitted their draft as a proposal to the Ukrainian parliament and government in Kyiv. Although their efforts were acknowledged by the central government, autonomy was formally refused in early April. The office of the Ukrainian President Kravchuk’s not only made a formal declaration against autonomy, but also enlisted the help of the head of the regional parliament, Mihailo Krailo, as a local representative of the presidential office.59 By mid-May, the Ukrainian parliament passed a decision on the territorial integrity of Ukraine,60 and then a long period of official silence ensured. Even from just a reading of the newspaper accounts, it becomes clear that several local actors were offered concessions by the center in exchange for giving up on the push for autonomy.61

By late 1993, Kyiv’s official silence on the issue led some local leaders to change their focus to a “free economic zone” status for Transcarpathia. They reasoned that this zone might obtain many of the goals intended by the self-governing status, and would be more likely to gain approval by the center.62 Not all local actors were happy with this strategy. In particular, some Rusins, a slavic ethnolinguistic group that comprises the majority of the regions indigenous inhabitants,63 voiced opposition to such conciliatory moves vis à vis the center. In May of 1993 a small number of the Society of Subcarpathian Rusins held press conferences in Slovakia, Hungary, and Austria, proclaiming a “Provisional Government of Subcarpathian Rus’” and declaring “null and void” the 1945 treaty that had attached the region to Ukraine.64 These efforts, however, were met with derision on the part of the local authorities, and achieved little positive resonance among the rest of the general public. The effort lacked popularity partly because it was an escalation of claims and partly because by this time locals were beginning to accept the notion that Transcarpathia would have to accept its offical status as simply a “normal” region of Ukraine.65 It did just that.

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