From secessionism to regionalism: Intra-organizational change and ideological moderation within armed secessionist movements
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Secessionist movements rarely succeed in their quests for separate statehood. Hence, conflict resolution efforts in secessionist wars tend to focus on making autonomy frameworks acceptable to both sides. This article posits that de-radicalization on the issue of secession and specifically the endorsement of regionalism over secessionism is an important prerequisite for such autonomy arrangements to succeed. A programmatic shift toward regionalism represents a determinant shift in the ideology and raison d’être of secessionist movements. Drawing on insights from the literature on party change and rebel group transformation, a twofold contribution is made. First, moderation can occur in the absence of electoral participation as a result of internal shifts in the dominant faction of a rebel group. Second, identifying two mechanisms as drivers for group identity change, organizational diversification and internal debate, it shows how under certain condition fragmentation may induce moderation on core ideological issues of the armed movement. These arguments are developed through an inductive analysis of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM). In this case, moderation on the issue of secession was the outcome of the formation and strengthening of a moderate domestic wing, increased internal debate and the subsequent weakening of the symbolic powers of a long-standing insurgent leadership.