1d/2021: ‘Others’ and the consociative model. Citizens, civil society and politics in South Tyrol and Bosnia Herzegovina

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  • Project duration: March 2019 - March 2021
  • Project status: finished
  • Funding:
    Provincial P.-L.P. 14. Mobility (Province BZ funding /Project)
  • Total project budget: €120,427.00

The consociative model of democracy is generally implemented in multi-ethnic societies and oftentimes as a post-conflict solution – as it has been the case of Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Lebanon, Macedonia, as well as Bosnia Herzegovina and South Tyrol, case studies of this work.  The consociational model, on the one side, guarantees the major societal segments’ equal representation and participation while, on the other one, it has been criticized for freezing collective identities, allowing for ethnic political pluralism, compromising the birth of shared civic identities and identifications untied form ethnonationality. Accordingly, and particularly in corporate consociations (as ST and BiH), ‘Others’ are not represented and included in the system. ‘Others’ are those who, due to a different set of reasons, do not want /cannot identify themselves with the ethno-national divisions.

This project focuses on ‘Others’ and their being ‘non aligned’ with the system. It explores, from a multi-dimensional perspective accounting for citizens, civil society and politics, how ‘others’ interact with a system and society organized along ethnic lines, and how civil society and politics/institutions deal with and tackle (if they do) the issue. The ultimate project’s aim is to better understand the macro-micro dynamics featuring corporate consociations, particularly in respect to those ‘who cannot fit’ into the system; as well as possibilities and extents for consociations’ amelioration in a more inclusive direction.


Arendt Lijphart, the creator of the model of co-sociative democracy, defined plural societies as 'clearly divided societies, along religious, ideological, linguistic, cultural, ethnic or racial lines, in virtually separate subsocieties with their political parties, interest groups and media'. (Lijphart, 1977: 22). The consociative model, therefore, is based on the fundamental assumption that 'it is more perverse to deny the existence and salience of ethnic identities [...] than to build on them (O'Leary 2005: 19). Starting from this assumption, the societies provide for a model of power-sharing based on four main elements: 1) the establishment of a coalition government formed by political leaders representing all significant groups; 2) proportional representation of these groups in state institutions; 3) rights of mutual veto and 4) the conferral of a high degree of autonomy, sometimes reflected in a decentralized state system and/or federalism.
It should be pointed out, however, that there are two main variants of the consociative model: the corporate model and the liberal model. The first is based on the logic of 'ascription', so the groups that will share power are identified on the basis of ascribing criteria such as language, religion, ethnicity. The second, on the other hand, is based on the logic of self-determination, thus rewarding any political identity emerging in democratic elections, 'whether it comes from ethnic or religious groups, or from the identity of subgroups' (McCulloch 2012: 502). The difference, therefore, lies in how to identify groups that will share power.
Generally, however, the consociative model is implemented as a solution in the plural realities in which conflicts between the major groups have occurred, since it is able to guarantee their equal and proportional representation and participation in the mechanisms and institutions of government. Power-sharing mechanisms have been applied in realities such as Lebanon, Iraq, Cyprus, Northern Ireland, as well as - in the strictly corporate variant - in Bosnia Herzegovina and South Tyrol, the latter, selected case studies in this project.
Although aimed at protecting and guaranteeing the inclusion and equitable representation of each group in the plural society, Lijphart's sister model (especially in its corporate variant) has been widely criticised (see: Brass 1991; Horowitz 1985; Noel 2005; Reilly 2004) and accused of leading to a 'ethnic' political pluralism in which political parties tend to strengthen ethnic rather than civic identities; of provoking 'immobility', since it makes dialogue and compromise between the various groups more difficult. Finally, he was also criticized for his tendency to 'favour institutionally (undesirably) collective identities at the expense of more "emancipated" or more "progressive" identities' (O'Leary 2005: 5); and to 'crystallize' collective identities by solidifying their boundaries, and finally to disadvantage dialogue, exchange, and integration between the groups themselves. The consociative mechanisms have contributed to the creation, when implemented, of 'divided societies', sub-societies within the wider society, and characterized by the total separation of the groups as far as most aspects of social and political life are concerned (Carlà 2007). As evidence of what has been said so far, it is worth noting that the political and institutional representation of 'non-ethnic', 'civic' and 'alternative' identities is not only institutionally difficult but sometimes discouraged by a multiplicity of actors and factors.
The so-called 'Others' are, in fact, 'all those who do not identify with ethno-divisions' (Agarin et al 2018: 301). This means, all those who have different identities/modes of identification than those constitutionally foreseen, institutionally protected and politically represented. Therefore, they constitute a heterogeneous group whose members are not explicitly included in the consociative system. Consequently, given the 'ethnic' connotation of the consociative model itself, these minorities are faced with a series of obstacles, both formal - for example, concerning the 'quota' system, which guarantees an equitable institutional representation of the recognized groups, and informal - concerning, for example, the social status of the groups in society, as well as prejudices and privileges on an ethnically-identified basis.
The main focus of this analysis, therefore, is on the category of 'Others' because it is their identities 'not aligned with the system' that make them not explicitly included in the consociative model. The 'Others' considered in this study are, therefore, 'those not ethnically declared' as well as those with a mixed background. In the latter case we distinguish between 'old' and 'new' minorities: by old minorities we mean those who come from mixed marriage/meetings between groups historically present in the plural society (in the case of South Tyrol, therefore, we refer to Italians, Germans and Ladins, in the case of Bosnia Herzegovina instead to Bosnian Bosnian Serbs and Bosnian Croats); while by new minorities we mean both the population with a migration background and from mixed marriage/meetings between 'local groups' and foreigners. However, by virtue of the focus on the corporate social model, in the case of the new minorities the study considers only those who possess the citizenship of the state in question and are fully entitled to the rights and duties that allow them to enter and participate in the social system itself.
The present project, therefore, aims to explore 'the question of Others' by performing a multi-level analysis focused on i) 'Others' citizens; ii) the political world; and iii) civil society as an intermediary between the other two levels.
The aim of the study is to understand (i) how 'Other' citizens become part of and interact with the institutional and political system, whether adapting or reacting to it; (ii) how the system itself addresses the issue, and to what extent it is able to accommodate the needs of these citizens, to represent them institutionally and politically, possibly making changes in a 'more inclusive' direction; and finally iii) whether and how civil society works, and interacts with the other two levels, in order to ensure a greater inclusion of the 'Others' in societies based on the corporate model.

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