Legitimacy and ethnic politics in de facto states: rhetoric, legislation and reality in Abkhazia and Kosovo



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Tartu Ülikool


This thesis investigates three closely related research questions. The first is how de facto states make use of minority rights norms to garner legitimacy on the international stage. The second is how de facto states’ desire for international legitimacy is reflected in legislation relevant to ethnic issues. The third is how the desire for international legitimacy – and the legal framework – actually affects ethnic politics and the situation of minorities. These questions are explored through a two-case comparative study, comparing Kosovo and Abkhazia. Qualitative methods are used to analytically compare the two cases with regards to official rhetoric on the international stage, legislation and the situation on the ground. It is found that in Kosovo minority rights norms have moulded legislation and official rhetoric, but have not penetrated deeply into the actual behaviour of policy-makers and have only yielded modest results on the ground. In Abkhazia it is found that the norms have had some effect on official rhetoric, but little to none on legislation or praxis. In both cases it is observed that international minority rights norms are reinterpreted to fit pre-existing, ethnocentric narratives and then used in legitimation strategies. It is hypothesized that greater international engagement results in rhetoric and legislation that more closely comply with international norms, but that this will only translate into praxis in the presence of material incentives. It is also hypothesized that norms are more likely to be adopted the more compatible they are with pre-existing norms and identities.