New NSF grant enables professor to deepen research on state building in Bosnia

NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, Nov. 8, 2004 – The United Nations recently reported that a landmark number of 1 million refugees have returned to their houses since the Dayton Peace Accords brought the war in Bosnia to an end in 1995. During the past few years, Gerard Toal, professor of government and international affairs at the Virginia Tech Alexandria campus, has been at the forefront of research on the returns process in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Toal's research investigates the contradiction in the Dayton peace treaty that pledged to reverse ethnic cleansing but, at the same time, sanctioned a segregated Bosnia created by ethnic cleansing and ruled by local authority ethnonationalists. This contradiction has resulted in a 10-year struggle between the international community and local authorities over the ethnic composition of Bosnia.

With a 2001 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Toal and his colleague, Carl Dahlman, assistant professor of geography at the University of South Carolina, traveled extensively across the divided country, conducting more than 50 field interviews for a study that analyzes how extensive efforts by the international community to reverse ethnic cleansing in Bosnia have affected particular locations.

With this returns project drawing to a close, Toal and a collaborative team of scholars from other universities across the country recently received a $650,000 grant from the NSF to explore "The Dynamics of Civil War Outcome: Bosnia and the North Caucasus." While there have been many valuable studies about the causes of civil war, few have examined the economic, social, political, and health consequences of violent conflict for the communities and societies in the war zone and contiguous regions.

"The wider impact of this new NSF project is that it will deepen empirical analysis of the factors that cause conflicts in two strategic regions with substantial Muslim populations, southern Russia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Understanding the localized impact of civil wars is vital in helping us understand if peace agreements are working or not, and whether peaceful relations between nationalities in the two regions can be maintained," Toal said.

The research is ultimately about "state-building" in war-torn regions. "Our goal is to provide answers to key issues about the nature of community conditions in former war zones as local, national, and international agencies try to cope with the disruptions to peoples, economies and environments during the past 15 years," he said.

The NSF grant will allow the research team to ascertain the scope of structural and personal damages, the separate and cumulative effects of forced and voluntary population movement, the differential impacts of war dynamics across localities and communities, and the depth of national, religious or ethnic-based consciousness, Toal said.

In addition to Toal, the research team includes John V. O'Loughlin, professor, geography, University of Colorado, Boulder; Jeremy L. Mennis, assistant professor, geography and urban studies, Temple University, Philadelphia; Kristian S. Gleditsch, assistant professor, political science, University of California, San Diego; and Michael D. Ward, professor, political science, University of Washington, Seattle. The group will conduct its research with local research partners in both Russia and Bosnia.