Social Sciences

How past becomes present

Using a multi-disciplinary methodological toolbox, the ERC-funded project ELWar – Electoral Legacies of War: Political Competition in Postwar Southeast Europe – seeks to understand how (war) past becomes embedded in (political) present and why postwar societies often struggle to overcome conflict traumas.

Political competition in postwar societies

Wars change everything. They destroy human and physical capital. They alter the social structures of communities. They create refugees, veterans, orphans and victims, as well as perpetrators, murderers, criminals and silent bystanders. Despite the transformative power of war, we have a very limited systematic and theoretical grasp of its impact on the nature and content of the politics and electoral competition which follow in its wake.

Why are some societies able to leave their war pasts behind while others struggle to move forward? To what extent is the answer to that question dependent on the nature of the conflict, post-conflict economic performance, or the ability of political entrepreneurs to use the war past for present electoral gain?

Six countries, three decades, one political laboratory

ELWar is a five-year project funded by the European Research Council’s €1.5 million Starting Grant. The project aims to understand the electoral legacy of war by focusing on the evolution of political competition over three decades – from the early 1990s until the present day – in six postwar states of southeast Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia. With their common Yugoslav pasts, exposure to different types of conflicts, different war outcomes (victories, stalemates, and defeats), and the diversity of postwar political competition, these countries offer the perfect laboratory for testing a variety of theoretical propositions.

Voters, parties and communities

The project explores the development of political competition in southeast Europe on three levels of analysis: voters, parties and communities. To do this, it uses a large array of methodological tools, both quantitative and qualitative, from social network analysis and public opinion research to in-depth interviews with activists and politicians, as well as ethnographic studies of political mobilisation and competition. These tools are used to shed a comprehensive light on complex subject matter which remains relevant in the studied region decades after the end of violent conflict.

Latest News

07 11 2022
How does war past become embedded into political present?

As we are faced again with images of war coming from Ukraine, the five-year project ELWar ends with significant findings on how war past becomes embedded into post-war politics and on the importance of the European Union accession process.

The ELWar team made big strides in explaining how the politicisation of history, as well as real, lived experiences of war, affect people’s political loyalties and actions. Research has shown that people’s war identities become a part of the social fabric. They have also shown that these identities can get passed on even to generations born after the wars. There is, however, one silver lining in this story: a country’s clear European path can change the minds of voters.

People related to this project