"Sacred Stones & Religious Nuts" Negotiating Ethnic Disputes Over Absolute Space

Norlen, T.C. (2003). "Sacred Stones & Religious Nuts" Negotiating Ethnic Disputes Over Absolute Space. IIASA Interim Report. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: IR-03-007

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This study focuses on ethnopolitical secessionist conflicts where, for historic, symbolic or spiritual reasons, the disputed space cannot be divided into sub-units but still, because of a mutually hurting stalemate (the cost of continued violence exceeds the perceived cost of negotiation), cannot be resolved in any way other than through negotiations. The stakes in such conflicts are not just "indivisible," but have become "absolute" in the perception of the parties. Territorial "absolutes" cannot be exchanged for something else (like security), paid off (by compensation), or substituted (by territory elsewhere else). Parties in such disputes often have identical or extremely similar (but exclusive) interests concerning a territory that is so well defined that flexibility is impossible to introduce. Two of the most prominent examples of absolute territorial conflicts are Kosovo and Israel/Palestine.

Sacredness is an integral part of territorial absolutes because the spiritual connection between the land and the identity of an ethnic group makes conflicts different from most conflicts of secession or independence. When two ethnic groups have interlocking histories in a land that at least one side perceives as absolute, the dispute goes beyond the normal notions of self-determination or sovereignty. Whereas in most violent conflict situations, parties eventually reach a point where it is clear that continuing the conflict incurs higher costs than what would be lost through negotiation, conflicts over territorial absolutes seem to never reach this point. This can partly be explained by the fact that violence sometimes is sustained at low levels, enabling actors to keep refurbishing a dispute for generations. However, the argument put forth in this paper is that for many actors whose connection with a disputed territory is "absolute," no cost, including death, is too high if compared to giving up any of the land to the enemy group. This study explores territorial "absolutes" conceptually in order to explain how absolute perceptions influence conflict management and negotiation.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Interim Report)
Research Programs: Processes of International Negotiation Network (PIN)
Young Scientists Summer Program (YSSP)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 02:16
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:18
URI: https://pure.iiasa.ac.at/7074

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