Dissertation Abstract

September 27, 2012

Security or Identity? Narratives of State & Nation in International Territorial Conflict Protraction

My dissertation explores how popular domestic beliefs regarding the meaning and value of disputed lands contribute to the protraction and resolution of international territorial conflict. Using comparative historical analysis and artefactual field experiments, I find in Israel and Serbia that persistent popular unwillingness to relinquish claims to a “United Jerusalem” and “Kosovo and Metohija” have resulted from the extraordinary position of these territories in their respective national homeland narratives. These outcomes stand in stark contrast to Israel’s largely popular withdrawals from the Sinai Peninsula, Southern Lebanon, and Gaza Strip, dominantly valued as strategic rather than cultural assets. They also contrast with Serbia’s acquiescence to the political independence of both Bosnia and Montenegro, spaces of high concern for Serb political self-determination but relatively low territorial-cultural priority. The Golan Heights and the West Bank are also analyzed as disputed spaces wherein strategic and cultural narratives continue to contribute to conflict protraction. In doing so, I demonstrate how particular strategic and cultural narratives come to dominate public discourse over disputed spaces and, in turn, how these narratives constrain the policies states can legitimately pursue in these spaces. Ultimately, I find that popular perceptions of national identity can be as powerful a force in determining government policy as state security prerogatives.

Dissertation Committee:
Will Reno (Chair), Hendrik Spruyt, Jason Seawright


May 23, 2011

Pozivam vas da učestvujete u onlajn istraživanju kojim se ispituju stavovi građana Srbije prema političkim govorima. Za učešće u njemu je potrebno otprilike petnaest minuta.

Da biste u njemu učestvovali, potrebno je da budete punoletni državljanin Srbije. Takođe, svaki ispitanik direktno učestvuje u specijalnom izvlačenju u kom poklanjamo ajpod-tač (iPod Touch).

U ovom istraživanju garantujemo poverljivost podataka koje ispitanicu daju. Pružene informacije biće ukrštene sa informacijama iz drugih istraživanja, pa neće biti moguće utvrditi identitet onoga ko je odgovorio.

Svoja pitanja i komentare mi možete poslati na azellman@u.northwestern.edu.

Reviews: Malcolm and Judah on Kosovo

May 15, 2011

In addition to the interviews, focus groups, and surveys I have been conducting since I arrived here in Serbia, I have also been catching up on my Balkan politics-related reading. Two books of note I have recently completed are Noel Malcolm’s Kosovo: A Short History and Tim Judah’s Kosovo: War and Revenge.

Although Malcolm’s Short History is anything but short, for a region with as complex and contentious a history as Kosovo, that he managed to present a readable and seemingly balanced account in only 492 pages is laudable. As I am not a historian, I admit that I am in no position to judge the historical accuracy of the intricate details of Malcolm’s account. Indeed, the book has been subject to considerable criticism by Serbian academia and his account of recent history (published in 1999 before the end of the Kosovo war) is quite truncated. It moreover is obviously unsympathetic to the contemporary Serbian narrative in Kosovo and almost entirely uncritical of the Albanian one.

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The Dangerous Politics of Leverage: Republika Srpska

May 13, 2011

milorad-dodikYesterday, Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik announced that he would postpone a controversial entity-wide referendum on the decisions of the  international high representative in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH).

The decision comes after a tense stand-off between Valentin Inzko, the current High Representative, and Dodik in which Inzko threatened to remove Dodik from office and Serb representatives in the BiH federal government threatened mass resignation. While Inzko has claimed that the referendum would undermine the Dayton Accords and perhaps be a first step toward dissolution of the country, Serb voices have insisted that a referendum is needed to check what they see as the creeping power of Sarajevo and the arbitrary authority of the High Representative.

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Srpska kultura i identitet na Balkanu

May 10, 2011


Srpska kultura i identitet na Balkanu:
diskusija u grupi

Američki kutak Beograd

Dom omladine Beograda, Makedonska 22/1

Sreda, 11. maj – 15.30
Četvrtak, 12. maj – 15.30
Ponedeljak, 16. Maj – 15:30

Ukoliko želite da prisustvujete, kontaktirajte azellman@u.northwestern.edu



Serbian Culture and Identity in the Balkans:
a group discussion

American Corner Belgrade

Dom Omladine Beograda, Makedonska 22/1

Wednesday, 11 May – 15:30
Thursday, 12 May – 15:30
Monday, 16 May – 15:30

If you would like to attend, please contact azellman@u.northwestern.edu or visit http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=152904678110814

The Politics of Referendum: Republika Srpska

May 6, 2011


The international status of Kosovo remains a contentious issue in Serbian politics and the governing coalition in Serbia is fractured over the question of early national elections. However, the most hot button topic in Serbia and indeed the Balkans today is the looming referendum in Republika Srpska (RS).

Republika Srpska is one of the two federal units which comprise Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) today. A result of the 1995 Dayton Accords which brought the war in Bosnia to a close, the agreement allows for two primary governing units, the Serb dominated Republika Srpska and the Croatian and Bosniac dominated Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Although both units are officially under the authority of the federal government in Sarajevo, the “entities” maintain considerable powers which often clash with legislation from the center.

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Brief Review: Yugoslavia’s Ruin by Cvijeto Job

May 5, 2011

On Monday, I read Yugoslavia’s Ruin by Cvijeto Job. Job was a fighter in Tito’s Partisans and a former Yugoslav diplomat.

The book tells the story of the rise and demise of Yugoslavia through the eyes of a man who experienced it first-hand. Interspersing historical narrative and personal accounts, Job makes a serious attempt to be even-handed. Although he was clearly a committed member of Tito’s regime, he does offer some criticism of the excesses of the Partisans. He is also quite critical of the social and institutional engineering which characterized Tito’s attempts to bury competing nationalisms in the Balkans.

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Memorial at Donja Gradina, Jasenovac

May 1, 2011


Today I attended a memorial service at Donja Gradina, a field of mass graves of victims of Jasenovac concentration camp. Jasenovac was operated by the Croatian Ustaša regime during the Second World War and is remembered for its cruelty and brutality. Although precise numbers are difficult to determine, estimates range as high as 700,000 victims, the majority of whom were Serbs, Jews, and Roma as well as anti-fascist Croats.

While the main camp is located in present day Croatia, the fields of Donja Gradina are across the border in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the territory of Republika Srpska. The government of Croatia holds its own ceremony every year on or around April 22, marking the day in 1945 when 600 of the remaining prisoners of the camp attempted to escape; only about 100 survived. The event I attended was hosted by the government of Republika Srpska and is also held annually. That the two governments do not jointly host the event is indicative of the highly politicized atmosphere which still characterizes the relationship between Serbs and Croats in the region.

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Back in Belgrade

April 30, 2011


For those of you who are curious what I have been up to since returning to Belgrade, here is a quick update.

After midnight on Thursday, I took the Jat flight out of Tel Aviv to Belgrade with an hour or so stop in Cyprus. I landed at Nikola Tesla Airport on the outskirts of Belgrade at about 4:00 am. Customs here is pretty relaxed (or lax depending on who you ask) so entering the country was really no hassle at all. The custom agent did not give me a word or even glace.  She just scanned my passport and let me through.

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Research in Serbia

April 27, 2011

Late this evening, I will be flying to Belgrade, Serbia for a three-week trip to follow up on my travels there in the summer of 2009.

During my next few weeks, I will be meeting with academics and pollsters to develop a political behavior survey. This will be similar to the one I have been working on here in Israel for the last few months which will be launched on this site in the coming weeks.

I will do my utmost to continue to update the blog while “abroad” although I anticipate doing very few interviews and will likely not venture far from the capital. With many in Serbia demanding new elections and bilateral discussions between Belgrade and Pristina on the horizon, it should be an interesting time to be there. Stay tuned for more.