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The Enemy Within: Causes of Fragmentation in Separatist Movements

Why is it that some separatist movements remain united while others fragment into competing factions? While one would expect supporters of a separatist movement to be united in the struggle against their common enemy, the state, recent literature has shown that they often spend valuable time and resources on internal rivalries. Based on a comparison of two Caucasian separatist movements—the Chechens in Russia and the Armenians in Azerbaijan—this paper shows that the ability of the separatist movement to establish institutions capable of providing effective governance is essential in understanding processes of cohesion and fragmentation. It further illustrates that the strength of the incumbent state as well as the amount of external support a separatist movement receives play into these processes in important ways.

Keywords: fragmentation, governance, institutions, separatism

Rightful Rebels: On Rebel Governance and Legitimate Authority

Rebel organizations purposefully challenge and undermine the existing order—usually in an attempt to gain control over all or part of an existing state’s territory—and typically engage in protracted violence to achieve their goals. As a result, they are often discarded in political discourse as illegitimate actors that do not hold any rightful authority over the groups they claim to represent. Yet rebels’ practices are not limited to the violent or ‘insubordinate’ behavior by which they are defined. Many rebel groups  also make positive contributions in the territory they control, for example by providing security, education, health care, or justice. In doing so, they often fill an institutional vacuum  left behind by the government, which endows them with considerable popular support. In such cases, who should be referred to as the legitimate authority: the rebels or the state? This paper challenges the common assumption that only ‘official’ authorities can be considered legitimate, and argues that the concept of legitimate authority needs to be taken more seriously in contexts of rebel rule.

Keywords: legitimacy, rebel governance, statebuilding