Kosovo Bill Clinton Statue

Workshop "International Patron-Client Relations in Secessionist Conflicts: Empirical Insights and Conceptual Innovations​"

September 16-19, 2021, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Germany - Dornburg Castles (World Cultural Heritage)
Kosovo Bill Clinton Statue
Image: Arian Selmani

Whenever secessionist conflicts are debated in politics and academia, patrons almost inevitably come to our minds. Indeed, foreign support is crucial for secessionist movements and metropolitan states alike. Consequently, interactions between intrastate actors and their foreign supporters are common features of most secessionist conflicts. However, what international patronage means and what it does not mean, often remains subjective and vague. This ambiguity is in stark contrast to the relevance of international interactions in such conflicts. We will tackle this conceptual vagueness by analysing such international patron-client relations in secessionist conflicts empirically from different angles to develop a more concise conceptualization of the phenomenon.

The workshop on international patron-client relations in secessionist conflicts will take place from 1st to 4th October 2020 at Dornburg Castles near Jena. It brings together junior researchers and senior experts on secessionism, unrecognized statehood, and ethnic conflict. The event is organized by Prof. Dr. Rafael Biermann, Chair of International Relations at Jena University, and his team in cooperation with Prof. Dr. Eiki Berg, Institute of Political Studies, University of Tartu and Prof. Dr. Stefan Wolff, Department of Political Science and International Studies, Birmingham University. The event is fully funded by the German Foundation for Peace Research.

Secessionist conflict is a territorial dispute in which a part of a state’s population, usually a minority, attempts to withdraw a piece of territory to create an independent state or join another state. Since state territory is usually regarded as indivisible, such conflicts often become violent and intractable. Moreover, such conflicts have, due to the issue of international recognition, inherently an international dimension. Usually, a plethora of states, intergovernmental organizations, and non-state actors (diasporas, refugees, NGOs, etc.) considerably affect the outbreak, course, and outcome of a conflict. Some of those actors are called “patrons.” They are mostly supposed to support the secessionist side, such as Russia the break-away territories Lugansk and Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, Turkey Northern Cyprus, or Serbia the Republika Srpska and Krajina during the 1990s. More conspicuously, some observers perceive the United States (and the European Union) as a patron for Kosovo’s independence or Germany for Croatia’s.

Our primary goal is to conceptualize patron-client relations in secessionist conflicts by arriving at core definitions, exploring key properties, and assessing their impact on conflicts. Our approach is both deductive and inductive. We proceed in three steps. First, before the workshop, we draft a preliminary conceptualization of patron-client relations based on the pertinent literature on secessionism, patrimonialism, and clientelism. We identify five main variables: (1) agency, (2) degrees of (a)symmetry, (3) motives of support, (4) kinds and intensity of support, and (5) impact on the conflict. Second, during the workshop, we test this concept by discussing ten research papers of scholars who have strong expertise in patron-client relations in various cases. Based on those empirical insights, we will refine the conceptualization accordingly. We complement the presentations with brainstorming sessions to facilitate a process of collective thinking. Together, in-depth case-specific and cross-case insights will enable us to develop an innovative conceptualization that has a maximum of explanatory power for secessionist conflicts worldwide that feature patron-client relations. Third, we plan three publications to disseminate our findings: (1) a conference report in a German International Relations journal, (2) a special issue in a leading international journal or an edited volume, and (3) a policy paper in collaboration with a German think-tank. The academic goal is to inspire a research program on international patron-client relationships in secessionist conflicts.

We are strongly interested in transferring our findings to politics and society. Our topic is highly policy-relevant. Politicians struggle how to engage with patrons and clients in secessionist conflict. Think, for example, of the Normandy Format: Disentangling local activities of pro-Russian militias and clandestine Russian interference in the Eastern Ukraine is one of the most pressing challenges for European mediators. Therefore, we believe it is crucial to include practitioners in this scholarly conversation – be it peace-building activists or conflict management professionals. In that regard, we also will invite practitioners such as ministerial or legislative officials, as well as members from peace research institutes and NGOs, to our workshop.

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