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Beyond Formal Institutions

Informal practices, such as the closed leaders' meetings and ad hoc reform commissions, appear to be positively linked to ethnic accommodation between political actors in two ways. First, they make negotiations between leaders of different ethnic groups less confrontational, by removing the damaging effects of invoking vetoes in more formal institutions. By doing so, informal practices substantially contributed to achieving inter-ethnic compromise over contentious issues in both states. Second, on several occasions, informal meetings between leaders served as a final resort for relaxing ethnic tensions and averting government crises, thus further contributing to the stability of post-conflict politics. By confirming hypotheses concerning informal institutions' potential complementary role to formal institutions, this book therefore demonstrates that some informal practices lead towards more ethnic accommodation by supplementing the work of formal institutions.6

Informal practices were especially important during the military and police reforms in Bosnia. Since in Bosnia the state had no authority over defence and security policies (despite a state-level executive coalition), there was no formal setting for negotiations on these issues between entity governments and representatives. Therefore the Defence Reform Commission (DRC) and Police Restructuring Commission (PRC) provided frameworks for reform discussions between entity political elites. Both the DRC and PRC were special bodies created

5 See discussion in Chapter 2, see also: M. Kerr, Imposing Power-Sharing (Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2005).

6 Hans-Joachim Lauth, 'Informal Institutions and Democracy', Democratization, 7 (2000): 21–50; Anna Grzymala-Busse and Pauline J. Luong, 'Reconceptualizing the State: Lessons from Post-Communism', Politics and Society, 30 (December 2002): 529–54. by a decision of the High Representative and with a limited advisory mandate; they were not part of the constitutional structure and were disbanded once their mandate had expired. They served as a substitute for an inclusive three-group coalition that could have come up with an agreement on proposed reforms. The difference between the two commissions was in their rules of procedure, the DRC worked with a requirement for explicit consensus between the three groups, while the PRC did not rely on consensus. Consensus was important exactly because it prevented veto use in the entity and state legislatures. A lack of consensus left the Serb representatives with doubts that the commission would proceed to recommend reforms acceptable to the RS government. Ultimately, the PRC did not recommend concrete reform proposals, allowing the High Representative to formulate the final proposal based on the commission's findings.

In Macedonia, the Association of local government units (ZELS) played an important role, not only in making accommodation possible, but in facilitating consensus across both ethnic and party lines. ZELS provided a space for local leaders to socialise and discuss common problems, eventually allowing for the creation of a 'local vs. central' cleavage in the decentralisation debate, which cut across the dominant ethnic cleavage and made it less salient. While independent from government funding, ZELS's success was partly because unlike other interest associations, its members, by virtue of being elected politicians, had strong informal links with political parties both in government and opposition. This enabled them to successfully lobby for their desired policy proposals and gave them substantial leverage in shaping the agenda of decentralisation policy. Thus, within the field of decentralisation, ZELS served both as a permanent consensusseeking body – as its decisions were reached by consensus, and an agenda-setter for decentralisation – thanks to the close informal ties between ZELS members and political parties in parliament. Such bodies were absent in all other policy cases: teachers in Macedonia have separate Macedonian and Albanian unions; while in Bosnia, police unions, army veterans and military clubs are ethnically divided. However, ZELS demonstrates that ethnic cleavages can be supplanted by other cross-cutting ones, which can remove the ethnic components from sensitive policy issues.

One informal practice that Bosnia and Macedonia have in common is top leaders' closed meetings. During discussions over compulsory Macedonian in schools in 2010, the leaders of the two governing parties met to mend a rift between their parties caused by their opposing views on the issue. The meeting repaired the deteriorating relations in the coalition, although due to its closed nature, the contents of the talks and agreements remain unknown. Similarly, during the later attempts at police reform in Bosnia in 2007 and 2008, there were several meetings behind closed doors where the leaders of the largest parties discussed overcoming the deadlock. The Mostar Declaration that was eventually adopted as a foundation for future police reforms was the product of exactly such a meeting between Dodik and Silajdžić, when the two were trying to meet the final deadline for the ratification of the country's Stabilisation and Association Agreement. These informal meetings between leaders were efficient in overcoming resistance because of the hierarchical nature of political parties in Bosnia and Macedonia. Few among the party membership would question a decision by the party leader, so regardless of the severity of ethnic resistance, once the party leaders resolve the problem that resistance subsides. This is the reason why external actors often encourage such informal leaders' meetings during government or other political crises, and frequently broker the agreements reached there. They are an efficient method of averting further ethnic tensions when formal institutional mechanisms fail to curb ethnically charged politics.

These three practices vary significantly in their informality and democratic nature. The reform commissions in Bosnia and ZELS are more formal than the entirely informal closed leaders' meetings. The reform commissions and ZELS have a clear policy and political purpose, set of rules of procedure, membership criteria and clear mandate, all of which is missing or secret in closed leaders' meetings. Leaders' meetings are not subject to formal oversight procedures, they are not transparent and they do not allow for public accountability. Held behind closed doors, away from public and media attention, they deprive the population from knowledge about the concessions and compromises made to resolve the problem or what role was played by the external actors who often convene them. However, because they are an efficient tool for relaxing ethnic tensions these meetings are often encouraged by external actors and domestic leaders, who prefer resolving political problems while avoiding political costs from admitting concessions made to other groups.

It is difficult to generalise the findings relating to informal practices to other cases or other types of informal practice. Because of their informal and often clandestine nature, such practices are difficult to observe. The rules and norms they embody can only be studied from observed outcomes, but there are no documents and only very few personal accounts to support such findings. However, the cases analysed in this book show that some informal practices can facilitate ethnic accommodation, conforming to Helmke and Levitsky's 'substitutive' category of informal institutions.7 This is an important finding because it provides empirical evidence for what has until now been a predominantly theoretical discussion about the effects of informal institutions.8

 
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