• Rok Zupančič
  • Nina Pejič
Open Access
Part of the SpringerBriefs in Population Studies book series (BRIEFSPOPULAT)


The last chapter focuses on three concluding points. Firstly, the research shows that EULEX’s work has to some extent benefitted the targeted areas. Police and customs perform better today than prior to EULEX’s engagement, however, several challenges remain. Research in judiciary field reveals more serious issues that are not being resolved inside the EU. Secondly, the chapter addresses theoretical and policy implications of the research and offers recommendations for the future functioning of any other similar civilians CSDP mission. Lastly, the concluding remarks on the epistemological and methodological challenges of research in the post-conflict societies are given, which are relevant for any future researchers interested in this field.

In the complex post-conflict environment Kosovo found itself in after the war ended in 1999, it is almost impossible to isolate the factors that supported or hindered the success of the peacebuilding efforts and to thus argue that the performance in peacebuilding can be ascribed to a single peacebuilding actor. In this monograph, we only looked at one ‘face’ of the EU’s engagement in Kosovo—the European Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, known as EULEX. Nevertheless, we located this CSDP mission within the framework of a wider conundrum of several international actors active in Kosovo (international organisations, non-governmental organisations, states etc.) that, while aiming to contribute to sustainable peace in the country by projecting ‘good norms’, are often driven by their own agendas, goals and internal institutional struggles, which might hinder the success of its peacebuilding endeavours.

Analysing the most ambitious civilian mission launched under the CSDP umbrella is not an easy task. The mission to this day remains a flagship of the EU CSDP; it is one of those EU engagements around the world used by several scholars, experts and ordinary citizens of Kosovo to evaluate the EU’s power in international relations and the institution’s ability to efficiently build sustainable peace in war-torn societies. Although this book was limited to scrutinising one CSDP mission only, the findings also hold policy relevance for other post-conflict environments. Namely, in many other post-conflict countries ‘receiving’ the peacebuilding efforts of international organisations and other actors, similar processes relevant to peacebuilding theory and practice have been underway.

Other findings important for studies of normative power and peacebuilding in post-conflict societies also stem from this research project. Thus, below we discuss the three distinct, mutually overlapping sets of findings. The first set touches on the core analysis of this book and answers the main research questions. The second section focuses on the theoretical and policy-related implications of this research for both peacebuilding in Kosovo generally and the peacebuilding approach pursued by the EU. The third, final part is epistemological and methodological in character as it considers the validity and reliability of interview-based research in post-conflict societies.

EULEX as a way for the EU to project its normative power in Kosovo’s customs, police and judiciary

This book’s main theme explores the sort of normative power actor the EU wanted to become in its peacebuilding efforts in Kosovo through one of its most ambitious engagements abroad—the EULEX rule-of-law mission—as well as what kind of power the EU has actually exercised in this respect as perceived by local residents (a normative power or ‘simply’ a powerful actor that uses any means to achieve its aims?). Drawing from the general research question, the monograph tried to demonstrate the effects of the EU’s attempt to normatively influence developments in this post-conflict society via EULEX, and here the research assessed whether it is prudent for the EU to try to act normatively within the peacebuilding domain—and to thus be eventually perceived by the local community as ‘a force for good’ (a normative power actor). Last but not least, the research evaluated EULEX’s direct impact in the three core areas of its engagement: improving the functioning of Kosovo’s police, customs and judiciary.

Beginning at the end: the research shows that EULEX’s work has to some extent benefitted the targeted areas. Generally speaking, Kosovo’s police and customs perform better today than they did prior to EULEX’s engagement. While EULEX has helped to strengthen both the police and customs, several management and leadership challenges remain, including a certain level of identified political interference. Inter-organisational communication and cooperation, especially in the Kosovo Police–Kosovo Prosecutorial Office relationship remain challenging, as revealed in several EU reports. Next, the judiciary in Kosovo still struggles to deal with serious cases of corruption and organised crime, a fact that is a big disappointment for the Albanian, Serb and other ethnic communities in Kosovo, EULEX staff (local and international) and external observers alike.

Our research also shows that EULEX has positively contributed in several ways to build sustainable peace in Kosovo, particularly in law enforcement training and establishing dialogue between the EU and local authorities (although this might not be considered too great achievement given most local actors in Kosovo, both Albanian and Serb, are keen on cooperating with the EU). EULEX’s contribution has also been observed indirectly, e.g. by facilitating the dialogue between Belgrade and Prishtina, since this EU mission provided a framework for the two sides to cooperate.

Further assistance is required in training on the use of sophisticated equipment and ensuring that Kosovo Customs is well equipped to perform its work, especially while the EU continues to provide the necessary means to establish permanent border crossing points between Kosovo and Serbia. Special attention is also needed when addressing the high levels of publicly perceived corruption inside Kosovo Customs. Efforts should be made to investigate what is driving the continuously poor evaluations and to improve the public’s perception of Kosovo Customs. Finally, because it is highly likely that the stronger influx of irregular migration in the region will continue, EULEX will also have to assist its Kosovo partners in monitoring and controlling such migrant flows in the future.

On a less positive note, this civilian mission’s legitimacy has been seriously eroded by the cases of corruption among EULEX staff and the criticism of its reluctance to prosecute political and economic elites allegedly involved in organised crime and corruption. In this respect, our research corresponds with several analyses conducted by other scholars (see Chap.  4 for details). Thus, it is no surprise that a significant majority of the Kosovar population and local institutions would prefer to see the termination and withdrawal of this mission.

Regarding the efficient use of resources needed to achieve the required level of functioning of Kosovo’s customs, police and judiciary, the picture is also not promising. The majority of ‘locals’ and ‘internationals’ believe EULEX has spent significantly too many resources (financial, human, material etc.) for its relatively modest contribution to the rule of law and sustainable peace. Some authors like Capussela (2015) even claim notwithstanding this enormous investment—far bigger than in other countries in the region in which the EU is also engaged—the improved functioning of these three sectors has been too slow. He adds the EU’s efforts to bolster the rule of law in Kosovo have mostly failed. This is consistent with World Bank (2014) worldwide governance indicators from 2014 showing that Kosovo continues to score lowest in the Western Balkan region for the rule of law.1

With regard to the normativity of EULEX’s approach to Kosovar institutions, it is noted that the target institutions have benefited from EULEX’s policy, which calls for a balance in the ethnic and gender composition of local law-enforcement institutions. The representation of Kosovo Serbs and other minorities within them reflects the actual composition of society relatively well, with some minor deviations. What remains a challenge is the relatively small number of female police and customs officers. Several structural and cultural factors might explain this.

Theoretical and policy implications of the research

In spite of almost two decades of engagement by the EU and other international actors, Kosovo remains a partly free and semi-consolidated authoritarian regime. This is not something a country that supposedly adheres to the rule of law can be proud of. However, certain progress has been made and should be acknowledged (Freedom House 2016). In addition, Kosovo remains economically one of the least developed countries in Europe, with widespread unemployment and inactivity, especially among women and youth, “which leaves an ample amount of human potential unused, misused or underused” (UNDP 2016). Hence, when discussing the theoretical and policy implications of this research, one should recall that EULEX is only one, albeit a very robust and resourceful, international actor involved in peacebuilding in Kosovo. It is within this interplay of different actors, including local ones, that the (un)success of EULEX should be discussed.

Yet this does not imply that EULEX could not have performed better in several areas. Last but not least, before discussing the implications, one might also question the attempt to isolate the added value of EULEX’s involvement in the rule-of-law reform and argue that certain achievements or failures have been the exclusive result of EULEX’s work.

Neither EULEX nor any other international engagement in Kosovo has managed to change the fact that people in this former Yugoslav province—almost 20 years after the Serbs (the FRY) de facto lost power over Kosovo—still largely rely on particularistic networks to access resources for survival. Yet, it would be too much to expect this local characteristic, peculiar to several post-conflict societies, can be effectively reversed by a single actor. As rightly argued by Skendaj (2014, 181), every war produces economic scarcity, insecurity and generalised distrust, whereby relying on local components often literally amounts to ‘who you know’ and ‘who can help you’ to provide basic needs that in more developed parts of the world are typically addressed by more or less efficient state administrations.

What does this mean in practice? In everyday life, which may still be improved in the direction of a modern state (supposedly always working for the greater equality and well-being of its citizens), could the rule of law have been better implemented? A wide network of people who benefit directly from engaging with international actors is developing around all the international organisations in Kosovo and foreign countries’ embassies in this ‘new-born country’.

By definition, this means some people are privileged over others and that meritocracy in, for example, the situation of getting a job is not always the case. This is yet another and hardly disputed characteristic of several post-conflict societies, not just Kosovo. The insistence of ‘internationals’, including those of EULEX, on an inclusive concept of peacebuilding has led to the scenario whereby some locals are invited to take part in projects solely to comply with donors’ requirement to ensure the inclusion of locals.

The result in practice is that locals often agree to become subcontractors or collaborators of international organisations or foreign embassies in exchange for being awarded a project that directly benefits them in several ways (good financial remuneration, international travel, educational and training programmes funded by international actors, and other opportunities for internationalising the careers of ‘chosen individuals’). The more resourceful the international organisation, the wider the network, with EULEX being an excellent case in point. Yet, faced with limited chances to lead a decent life, the locals cannot be blamed for taking advantage of such opportunities, at least not until they work legally and work to help stabilise the country.

What then are the lessons the EU and CSDP can draw from this? EULEX withdrew relatively early from its involvement in the customs reform. Given the above findings, some might propose that EULEX similarly consider withdrawing its involvement in the Kosovo Police because the continuation of its presence there is today questionable and adds to or exacerbates the locals’ dependence on ‘the internationals’. One exception might be the offices investigating serious and financial crime where the support and assistance of EULEX’s top experts is still welcome.

If this is to happen, vast financial resources should be invested in the judiciary in an attempt to attract and engage the most competent foreign judges, prosecutors etc. to work for EULEX. If only the ‘second best’ international experts can be recruited, downsizing the mission might be a better option than having not so well qualified and trained experts among the EULEX staff. At this point, we already touched on the (supposed) equality of the EU member states which do not want to stay out of any important decisions and selections for CSDP positions. Further strengthening of Kosovo’s judiciary could occur by properly addressing certain known cases of mismanagement or even illegal activities of Kosovo’s elites, making further efforts to complete legal procedures within a reasonable time and by ensuring that the laws and EU best practices are fully applied in practice.

As noted specifically by the locals we interviewed, in one decade of its functioning EULEX has often regarded political stability within the country as sacrosanct, even if this has occasionally compromised the effectiveness of its operations. While looking at Kosovo in terms of preventing conflict or destabilisation, we may conclude that a relatively stable environment has been maintained. However, EULEX has only partly contributed to this ‘stability’ within the framework of the international actors’ streamlined efforts. It should also be noted that these international efforts brought about greater stability for many people, but not all. We can nevertheless conclude, based on several interviews and observations by other authors, that this ‘stability-above-all mantra’ has sometimes been achieved by compromising the mission’s fundamental objective of strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo.

Drawing from this, the following recommendation is offered: EULEX (or any other similar civilian CSDP mission) aiming to establish the rule of law in a post-conflict society should press the member states, which have the final say in CSDP decisions, to provide the wherewithal to fulfil the mission’s mandate—even if, like in Kosovo, this may sometimes challenge the stability argument. In other words, it is not enough for EU member states to only provide funding for CSDP missions and operations, which is perhaps the easy part, and then claim the EU is wholeheartedly committed to building peace, while simultaneously questioning whether changes in a particular post-conflict society are occurring as fast as expected.

On the other hand, if the stability argument prevails at the expense of the unwavering implementation of reforms at the EU level it is better for the mission or operation’s leadership to explicitly state the mandate’s objectives cannot be met in such circumstances where full support is lacking. If this is the case, the CSDP mission or operation’s leadership should require the mandate to be changed or suggest it be closed and withdrawn from the post-conflict society.

One of the fundamental challenges unlikely to be resolved in the near future is EULEX’s relationship with the issue of Kosovo’s recognition. As noted by experts, the EU has somehow adapted and learned to live with the fact that five EU member states do not recognise the statehood of Kosovo. Yet in this regard the EU should also question who the people leading the CSDP missions and operations are, and how does the local population perceive them.

Namely, in 2016 a senior diplomat from Greece was appointed the new head of EULEX. As noted by some interviewees, the majority population of Kosovo (Albanians) have a certain hesitation regarding the ambiguous position of non-recognising states that also participate in EULEX. Appointing as mission head a representative from Greece, a country that does not officially recognise Kosovo, might thus send the wrong political message even if they are competent for the job. Irrespective of the question of who the head of the mission is, they should not hesitate to criticise the country’s institutions when required (even if in the local environment this might lead to accusations that EULEX is politically intervening in domestic politics).

A reconsideration of the duration of deployments, especially of judges and prosecutors, and improving the pre-deployment training in EU member states (especially the synchronisation and standardisation of trainings at EU level) would benefit the mission’s operational capability and efficiency. Some interviewees also indicated that pre-deployment training of EULEX personnel should focus more on the culture, history and tradition of the environment of the mission since it not uncommon for someone who has been deployed to not have the necessary knowledge of these topics (insufficient cultural awareness). The challenge of providing deployed personnel with the required language skills—English and local languages—has existed ever since the CSDP’s inception over a decade ago. It must be ensured—through different means and initiatives—that the understanding of Kosovo’s challenges and the CSDP generally becomes more standardised for all staff coming to the mission.

EULEX has still not been entirely able to transfer European best practices to Kosovar institutions. It has been noted several times that understanding of what EU ‘best practices’ are is often not very clear among EULEX staff or their local counterparts. It is necessary for EULEX (and other CSDP civilian missions in general) to improve its effectiveness by recruiting more personnel on a contract rather than a secondment basis. Namely, contracted personnel usually have to pass tougher selection processes and be better than competing candidates such that it becomes more likely they are not lacking in education, competence or professionalism instead of primarily deploying personnel seconded from member states who do not necessarily go through competitive selection processes.

Additional efforts are especially needed in Northern Kosovo where EULEX still faces certain limits which, however, do not necessarily stem from EULEX’s own failures but the political circumstances in the area. It is recommended that EULEX reach out to the Serbian population in the areas north of the Ibar River by showing that a better rule of law can also be partly achieved through EULEX’s efforts at lower (non-political) levels and thereby demonstrate that EULEX is not an institution that does injustice to the Kosovo Serbs, as it has often been seen as doing, most notably in the verdict handed down to the local Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanović.

As Kosovo is a sensitive political and security environment in which state institution officials remain hesitant to report the wrongdoings, criminal activities or political interference of their superiors, it is suggested that EULEX, or the EU Office in Kosovo, establish so-called protected channels to allow the reporting of cases of political interference, nepotism, political and criminal pressure etc., free of pressure ‘from above’. Such pressure can take different forms, from less benign verbal accusations to more problematic varieties (e.g. the threat of losing one’s job or even putting one’s life at risk).

When CSDP military operations and civilian missions are inaugurated, the expectations of local communities, together with the ambitions of the EU and its member states, are usually high. This is understandable as they are often perceived as a remedy coming from the developed world to heal all the problems of a post-conflict society. Nevertheless, if from its inception the CSDP mission or operation does not aim to create a functioning state, or at least provide greater safety, security and a stronger rule of law such an endeavour is doomed to fail.

To do so, the political environment in the recipient country (with aspirations to improve the current state of affairs) must also be positive, allowing the mission or operation to conduct the tasks falling within its mandate. Here we mean that local security providers must be able to contain any disruption that might occur. However, these ambitious goals cannot be achieved solely through the efforts of a CSDP civilian mission or military operation. They require the strong political commitment of the main actors on the ground, local ownership, economic development, functioning state institutions, and the coordinated will and actions of other international actors involved in conflict-prevention and peacebuilding efforts in the post-conflict society.

CSDP engagements are primarily conceived as short-term conflict-prevention and crisis-management instruments. Yet, as saw in the analysis of EULEX, this mission has instead been used as long-term vehicle for post-conflict institution-building. Hence, one of the first discussions to be resolved at EU level is whether it is better for CSDP missions and operations to also be deployed in the long run. If the answer is positive, the EU’s mandates and general approach should be adapted accordingly. This is particularly important in light of the new EU Global Strategy that states the CSDP ought become more responsive and set the EU’s approach very ambitiously.

The lack of a clear end-state or exit strategy for CSDP missions and operations does not help prevent its engagements from being seen as ‘eternal’ and without ‘feasible goals’ by the local people who should benefit from the CSDP. This not only applies to EULEX, but to most other CSDP military operations and civilian missions.

The analysis showed that the EU’s engagement cannot succeed without aligning the policies of the biggest international actors in the area. With regard to the Balkans, this in particular refers to the EU-USA alignment, while the alignment of CFSP/CSDP with the Russian Federation, like it or not, might be more challenging to achieve for reasons pertaining to the domain of the ‘realpolitik’ of influential states. If this strategic alignment of major actors is not ensured, all of the positive contribution of the EU’s engagement will remain limited to the tactical (low) level (e.g. improving the work of the police in dealing with traffic safety and petty crime, better performance of customs, certain administrative reforms…), while leaving the main objectives of the missions or operations, which are strategic in nature, still to be accomplished (e.g. fighting corruption and organised crime).

Even the substantial financial and human resources the EU spends on CSDP engagements cannot help much in the absence of genuine aspirations of the EU (and its member states) and the USA in Kosovo to go after those political and economic elites allegedly involved in criminal activities. This would, however, require renewed negotiations between the US government and the EU. If this level of misaligned and unsynchronised approaches among influential international actors persists, this will further justify the criticism that the EU (and the West generally) should either strengthen the level of its intervention to ensure real change in the post-conflict society or withdraw from the country.

On the other hand, it comes as no surprise that the EU and its member states, or even the USA, generally do not become strategically and comprehensively involved as the problems, at least for now, seem to be ‘locally contained’ from the security aspect (and there are several other more pressing issues for both Washington and Brussels than Kosovo). Political leaders of countries in the region, with rare exceptions, generally enjoy the support of the West and are well aware of what the EU, drowning in its own problems, wants: namely, that any problems affecting the Balkans remain contained within the area without threatening to spill over, to avoid any (further) flaring up of the wider region.

When grasping the EU’s desire to become a ‘force for good’ instead of a ‘regular’ security actor, one that uses all means available to achieve the desired outcome in peacebuilding, we must recall our theoretical predispositions: we have analysed the EU based on a normative identity as a subjective term, created by the EU itself and its interactions with others. In terms of the EU’s normative identity, it is very likely the EU structures wish for their peacebuilding efforts to be perceived as being normative in nature.

However, this endeavour to be regarded as a genuine ‘force for good’ has misaligned expectations from the outset. It has raised the local population’s expectations regarding EULEX’s capabilities to tackle all of Kosovo’s problems, while then failing to deliver on its promises in the eyes of the same people—be it regarding the corruption that still exists, the establishment of somehow functioning relations between the Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, or tackling high-profile cases of individuals allegedly involved in criminal activities.

This does not mean the EULEX personnel are not interested in fulfilling these promises, but that ‘Brussels is far away’. The EU member states actually dictate policies, but cannot agree on the level of engagement or the country’s status, which often proves to counterproductive in the field. The EU (thus, EULEX) does not have a strong stance on elite politicians regarding non-popular measures the mission tries to implement. Hence, the mission often sacrifices its position to maintain somewhat stable relations between conflicting parties in the country. Local politicians of course directly blame the mission for the failures. If the EU can only establish its normative identity in its interactions with others, this bad reputation therefore has a direct influence on the EU’s status as a normative player.

Next, our theoretical framework presupposes that the EU as a normative actor should have the will to participate in foreign policy dimensions that are a statement of its values. Again, is the EU able to claim that EULEX not tackling high-profile cases is a value it wants to advocate as a peacebuilding actor? The EU also tolerates the local elites’ misbehaviour within the country in exchange for relatively peaceful relations with the ‘opposite’ side—the consequence is ever more imposed compliance than a real ‘normative pull factor’. This certainly holds implications for the EU’s identity as an international peacebuilding and normative actor. Moreover, is the lack of the division of powers within the mission itself a reflection of Europe’s democratic values? Are the goals it wants to achieve with, for example, management of the migration crisis in Kosovo, really others-empowering such that they reflect its true goals of peacebuilding?

However, and third, the EU should behave according to the established norms: the EU has indeed acted in line with international law, and acted according to the norms and principles set out, except concerning internal corruption within its own ranks, a fact that has strongly damaged its reputation.

Fourth, the EU should use normative means of power: to persuade by implying the future mutual gains. In its activities, the EU engages in operational civilian peacebuilding consisting of monitoring, training locals, enhancing capabilities—supporting EU practices and values, but the problem is how to precisely identify these values. On the other hand, the mission’s executive mandate is hardly the means for normative power.

Finally, when assessing the EU as a normative power we must look at the ‘good’ outcomes. As mentioned in Chap.  2, there are not many real EU success stories here revealing the correcting of attitudes and re-creating behaviour (using the previous four criteria as a basis for this correction), to help replace conflict with peace in the future. It should address the underlying causes and provide alternative means to resolve conflict without violence or without allowing the triggers of conflict to intensify. In the absence of a functioning judiciary, this will hardly ever be the case.

Moreover, the lack of political solutions provided by EULEX has created a political vacuum for domestic actors reluctant to comply with the EU’s conditions and contesting the EU’s policy positions on normative grounds. Therefore, some of the EU’s actions or disagreements are leading to non-normative outcomes (short rotations, leaving local elites in power, not prosecuting criminal activities, corruption within the mission and across the country) and taking advantage of them has become a political tool for domestic players. With this, the reluctant domestic actors have likely given rise to domestic sources of legitimacy—namely, their own—instead of the EU’s.

Yet, the EU should be allowed to fail to some extent—it can be less successful in its efforts to use the EULEX mission as an instrument of its peacebuilding. It is indeed following a ‘good path’; yet, it should continue to recruit truly motivated and experienced people and not compromise in this regard. The case of customs clearly shows the need to use the ‘best you have’, even if that means some form of ‘brain drain’ in the member states. However, this requires political will, something the member states lack in the case of Kosovo, especially after a decade of EULEX’s functioning.

Internal political will, not only its external counterpart deriving from the international community, is therefore the foundation upon which an outside player might hope to achieve the end-goal of functioning state organs, like the judiciary. The judiciary requires sufficiently long deployments of the judges to at least complete the high-profile cases. It also requires enough ‘guts’ to prosecute those in the highest positions and prevent the country from descending into chaos. It requires enough patience and the will to defend the reforms that tackle corruption against the local criminal networks that are also politically influential. The EU should strongly unite in its future peacebuilding endeavours if it wishes to improve in this regard.

Epistemological/methodological challenges of (future) research in post-conflict societies

We conclude this monograph by addressing a few epistemological and methodological aspects of research issues in post-conflict societies. Most research looking at post-conflict societies, such as the one in this monograph, struggles with the question of how to distinguish accurate information from ‘fake’ information in an environment often unwelcoming of foreigners. The field of conflict prevention and peacebuilding—in which national and international actors do not always work hand-in-hand and at times even pursue different agendas—is an excellent case in point.

This is very important in cases where the researcher relies on interviews as the main fieldwork method (this is quite a realistic prospect given that most peacebuilding research projects use this method). Namely, when it comes to interviews it is quite difficult for the researcher to know how much truth is contained in the answers received; interviewees are ‘only’ human beings, with different underlying motivations and agendas. Thus, gaining the local population’s trust and building a reputation for trustworthiness in a post-conflict society is likely to be one of the most challenging tasks for a non-local researcher.

What does the organisation of fieldwork in a post-conflict society—arranging interviews in most cases—usually look like in practice? The researcher typically makes a few interview arrangements in advance. As these arrangements in post-conflict societies are often prone to change, when ‘in the field’ the researcher knows that quite a few interviews might not be completed for one reason or another. In this respect, we should also mention ‘the fluidity’ of in-advance arrangements in South East Europe. Most researchers active there are well acquainted with the phrase, “Zovi, kad dodješ, i dogovoričemo se” (across the various languages in the region, this roughly translates to: ‘Call once you arrive, and we will set the time’). The researcher must thus accept the reality that it is impossible to set things (too much) in advance from his comfortable chair back home, and be flexible upon arrival as much as possible. In practice, this sometimes means not conducting a single interview in a day—or completing dozens of them within a short period.

Things might become further complicated by the fact that conducting fieldwork in post-conflict societies has certain specifics and unwritten rules: it touches on sensitive issues and is thus challenging per se. This is amplified when one strives to conduct academic research—a type of research which is ambitious by definition as it aspires for theory-building. Many people in post-conflict societies are (unsurprisingly) quite hesitant to share sensitive information with others. This is particularly true of post-conflict societies where trauma and suspicion are often two omnipresent features of an individual’s daily lived experience. Thus, how can a researcher—even an academic who supposedly adheres to the highest ethical standards—believe (and then claim in academic publications) the interviewees actually revealed the most crucial information? In other words, can the researcher thus argue that, given these costraints, the research has any significant scientific value?

Conducting interview-based research in a post-conflict society, in particular with people a researcher can relatively easily relate to, has certain advantages and also drawbacks (this book’s authors share with the target population of this research the fact of having once belonged to the same country—Yugoslavia—and consider the cultural, linguistic and other ties as beneficial). Several interviewees feel more secure and are less reluctant to share their opinion with a researcher if feel a certain degree of connectedness with them.

After the initial fuzziness accompanying a researcher’s arrival in a post-conflict environment, the researcher then slowly starts to get a grip and usually manages to conduct several interviews during quite a short stay. Then, all too soon the field trip is almost over and the researcher starts packing up whilst in the meantime saying good-byes and still trying to obtain a few more potential interviewees’ telephone numbers or email addresses. These are people the researcher did not have time to meet or were simply not in the country during the visit.

After returning home, the researcher embarks on another challenging journey: the data analysis stage. By definition, this means complementing the existing knowledge (theory) with fresh data obtained ‘on the ground’, so as to build on that theory. Often being overwhelmed by the sheer amount of interviews and acquired information while ‘in the field’, it is usually in this phase—when the researcher is already well settled back home and is already analysing the data—that the question of ‘are any pieces missing from this puzzle’ appears.

Namely, the researcher can never be aware of ‘the unknown unknowns’. Unfortunately, for the academic rigour and accuracy of findings (in other words, the researcher’s career), there are many ‘unknown unknowns’ in post-conflict societies since these are places where so many international actors with often competing agendas fight for their (or their sponsors’) ‘right’ or ‘truth’. The picture is further blurred by the fact international actors involved in peacebuilding are staffed by experts with different personalities and different goals that do not necessarily support the building of sustainable peace; while a considerable share of such experts is undoubtedly motivated by the prospect of making the post-conflict society a better place to live in, not all of them primarily work with this noble goal in mind. Thus, how can a researcher argue that the findings are accurate—and develop theory on them—if the main pool of information is interviews?

Noting these difficulties, we continually question our own conclusions, or ‘the truths’ about the EU’s power to project norms in post-conflict societies—this time focused on the case of EULEX in Kosovo. However, on balance we argue that one possible way for researchers of conflict prevention and peacebuilding to partly mitigate these problems is to not jump from one (post-conflict) society to another, from one conflict to another. Some sort of continuity is needed (although it is hard to judge how long this should be) so that local people in the post-conflict society realise the researcher is not working ‘for someone’ (many researchers, including one of this book’s authors, were accused of being a spy).

If this can be achieved, it becomes clearer to the interviewees that the researcher is genuinely interested in ‘their’ post-conflict zone and that the answers they provide will in no case be used against the interviewee. Only then can the researcher eventually overcome the attitudes of distrust and suspicion within the local community, which hamper the possibility of doing high-quality research. (However, for different reasons some people in post-conflict societies never trust researchers.)

Building on our previous work in Kosovo, our local contacts, and also a certain level of credibility and trust we have perhaps acquired, we tried to address the research problem of this monograph also ‘through’ the lens of the locals. Our approach—like many others similar to it—may rightly be criticised for not fully conforming to the scientific principles of systematicity, replicability, reliability, and thus even for its validity. Yet, in the face of such critiques, we concur with scholars who argue that this ultimately boils down to a choice between the research taking place in the constrained conditions or the research not being conducted at all.

But, as alluded to above, we continue to wonder what is the actual use of assembling the pieces of information collected through this method. And we think we are aiming for this: not a giant leap, but maybe at least one small step forwards, building on earlier analyses of post-conflict societies, and challenging those written by scholars who rely on ‘the armchair approach’ in studies of post-conflict societies, those who never manage to experience the post-conflict environment in person.

When all is taken into account, we prefer to be physically present in a post-conflict society and conduct research from within than to look on from afar. With this concluding thought, we encourage scholars to not only keep visiting ‘the field’ and take enough time to collect sufficient interviews or questionnaires to meet the funder’s requirements, but to stay in the post-conflict zone long enough and speak to as many people as possible, so as to make their own ‘reality’ of a particular post-conflict environment as accurate as possible. In any case, even this ‘reality’ will only end up on the bookshelf alongside several other realities.


  1. 1.

    On the percentile rank of the Rule of Law indicator—this indicates the rank of a country among all countries in the world, with 0 corresponding to the lowest rank and 100 corresponding to the highest—Kosovo ranks 37th. The higher the number, the better the rule-of-law rating. In comparison, Albania has a ranking of 41, Bosnia and Herzegovina 49, FYR Macedonia 57, Montenegro 61 and Serbia 50.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Southeast European StudiesUniversity of GrazGrazAustria
  2. 2.Faculty of Social SciencesUniversity of LjubljanaLjubljanaSlovenia
  3. 3.Faculty of Social Sciences, Centre of International RelationsUniversity of LjubljanaLjubljanaSlovenia

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