To which extent is electoral competition in postwar societies determined by the war past as opposed to the peacetime present and future? How does war become embedded into postwar political norms, practices, narratives, and institutions?

War changes people and their communities. It creates refugees, veterans, orphans, profiteers, victims, perpetrators. It destroys polities’ social, economic, and physical fabrics. It profoundly alters social gender and class structures. And yet we have little systematic and theoretically supported grasp of its impact on the nature and content of political competition which follows in its wake.

ELWar – Electoral Legacies of War: Political Competition in Postwar Southeast Europe was a five-year project that aimed at understanding the political legacies of war by focusing on the evolution of political competition over the period of almost three decades – from the early 1990s until the present – in six postwar states of Southeast Europe: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.

Postwar elections have garnered tremendous interest from researchers in a variety of fields. This has been limited to establishing the relationship between electoral democratisation and the incidence and intensity of conflict. With a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods as well as a radically interdisciplinary, multi-method and innovative approach, our project aimed at filling the gap in understanding the real extent of political legacies of war.

Southeast Europe offered great potential for a truly comparative and systematic study. With almost three decades of postwar political life in no less than six different countries and a great variety of war and postwar experiences (civil conflict versus external aggression, emigration versus immigration, defeat versus stalemate versus victory, military versus civilian casualties), former Yugoslavia was an extraordinary political laboratory offering possibilities to get breakthrough insights about the mechanisms that shape postwar elections, voter choice, parties and political cleavages.

Three levels of analysis – postwar voters, postwar parties, and postwar communities – were set and each one was explored using a large array of methodological tools both quantitative and qualitative. Extensive databases of demographic, economic and political factors, registries of war veterans as well as of human losses, opinion surveys, oral history and elite interviews were collected at a large scale, analysed and combined using innovative approaches for this field in order to deliver a comprehensive view of postwar political life.

The vast database of quantitative data that the project accumulated have been made available online in order to allow further analysis by the research community.