Conflict Management

Author: Gwendolyn Sasse
Instructor: Claire Gordon
Credits: 8

Main goals

  • To analyze the causes and dynamics of post-communist conflicts
  • To examine the mechanisms of conflict management
  • To identify strengths and weaknesses in the study of conflict and conflict management and its application to Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union

General topics

  • Theories of nationalism and ethnicity, transition and conflict-regulation as a conceptual framework for the study of post-communist conflicts
  • Causes of conflict and violence·
  • Secession and autonomy in the international system
  • Key characteristics of socialist federations and their impact on post-communist conflicts
  • Analysis and comparison of case studies from the former Yugoslavia and the FSU
  • Discussion of the issue of minority rights in Central and Eastern Europe in the context of EU enlargement


Students have to complete and pass a specified number of module tasks as well as submit and pass one research assignment (essay of 2,500 words).

Example tasks from the Conflict Management Module

1. How would you rank the various factors contributing to the collapse of the socialist federations?
Send your comments to the Discussion Board.

2. Why did three socialist federations collapse, while the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) survived?
Submit an essay of about 500 words via the assignment function.

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Introduction to the Conflict Management Module

"Ethnic and national conflicts have been one of the greatest threats to political stability within and between states in the international system in the era after 1945. After the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union (FSU) in 1989-1991, the post-communist countries became a major arena for such conflicts. The politicization of ethnicity and mobilization for conflict that followed the collapse of the FSU added weight to the argument that late 20th century saw a fundamental shift in the nature of conflicts, away from inter-state relations within the international order to intra-state relations between ethnic communities (Carment, James: 1997: 2). From the mid-1990s a shift in the international order took place towards a more interventionist approach in the domestic affairs of ‘sovereign’ states by Western democracies and international organizations such as the UN and multilateral organizations such as NATO, precisely driven by the policy goal of managing the increase in intra-state conflict. This culminated in the doctrine of ‘ethical foreign policy’ and the ‘humanitarian intervention’ during the Kosovo crisis of 1998-9.

Through its regional focus on Eastern Europe and the FSU this module is empirically grounded, but it frames the analysis of conflict and conflict-management conceptually. While the module touches on policy-makers’ thinking about conflict (e.g. the ‘tracks’ or ‘stages’ of conflict-management), its main aim lies elsewhere: it tries to facilitate a deeper understanding of the potential for and the dynamics of conflict and conflict-management. As such, it is rooted in the approaches developed in comparative politics, in particular in its (neo-) institutionalist tradition. Institutions, widely defined, and the actors located within and shaping these institutions, are a crucial factor in the study of conflict. They provide a platform and resources for political mobilization that can feed into conflict. Moreover processes of institution-making tend to be at the heart of peace agreements and conflict-settlement. Institutions do not exist in a vacuum, they are part of a highly politicised process shaped by a range of domestic and international actors, legacies and perceptions, but they provide a useful focal point in the study of conflict. Historical, rationalist and sociological interpretations of institutions – the three main approaches within institutionalism – come into this discussion, although the module refrains from delineating these sub-categories, as there is considerable overlap, especially as the module ultimately focuses on a concrete empirical setting.

The literature on the relevant concepts used in this module, such as nationalism, conflict, autonomy, secession, is vast as is the literature on individual post-communist conflicts. This course tries to strike a balance between the two by providing a conceptual and empirical overview of the most relevant issues and themes, while leaving room for a more in-depth analysis of selected cases (in particular in the tasks at the end of the units and in Part 3). The emphasis on the conceptual or empirical side of the issues under scrutiny varies: the module develops logically from a stronger conceptual focus in Part 1, which makes brief references to the empirical questions at stake, to an integration of the conceptual and empirical discussion in Part 2, to a strong empirical focus in Part 3, which subsequently encourages a re-assessment of the concepts introduced at the beginning of the course.

Part 1 begins by conceptually exploring the causes of national and ethnic conflicts and examining the main mechanisms which have been developed to manage them – a process which is generally termed ‘conflict management’ or ‘conflict regulation’. Without this conceptual introduction, any analysis of post-communist conflicts would remain superficial and void of a contextual or conceptual understanding. Equipped with some basic definitions and concepts, we are then able to test some of the assumptions and predictions of theory with regard to post-communist conflicts and critically assess common, though often simplified depictions of the conflicts in the region.

Part 2 focuses on a combination of thematic and empirical issues, namely the breakdown of socialist federations and the conflict-potential inherent in this process as well as the contrast between the accommodation or control of conflict-potential vs. the outbreak of violent conflicts in parts of the Former Soviet Union and ex-Yugoslavia.

Part 3 of the course presents several case studies of post-communist conflicts drawn from the Former Soviet Union (FSU) and the Former Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY) to analyze several themes. The in-depth case studies are divided into two categories: one case to illustrate strategies of political accommodation (Crimea), where major conflict has been avoided by negotiation and the use of institutional mechanisms; and two cases to illustrate strategies of political violence of war and coercion to resolve differences, one of which occurred within a domestic context (Chechnya), and one of which has involved international intervention on a large scale (Kosovo).

Having identified the nature of the problems and the possible options for the prevention, management or resolution of conflict, one of the key questions underpinning the whole course is how different are post-communist conflicts? Arguably, there are factors specific to the experience of communism and transition that make for significant differences in the nature of post-communist conflicts and which therefore should shape the possible remedies."

Claire Gordon: Introduction of Unit 1: Nationalism, Ethnicity and Ethnopolitics. © East European Studies Online; 2010.

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