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Monday, 7 May 2018

6th Annual Ambassadors’ Forum

On 3 May, SEESOX hosted its annual Ambassadors’ Forum at St Antony’s College, Oxford. This was the sixth in the series: in the well-established tradition of inviting to Oxford and presenting its work to all the diplomatic missions from the region of South East Europe in London. This year the working lunch was attended by nine Heads of Mission, two Deputy Heads of Mission and one First Secretary and the SEESOX group.

SEESOX briefed on the main themes which it addressed during the academic year 2017-2018, concentrating in particular on EU integration and the European Commission’s new strategy for the Western Balkans, the region’s geo-political challenges, the Berlin Process and the political economy of the region, including the impact of Brexit and other macro-economic challenges. The Bulgarian Ambassador briefed on the priorities for the Presidency and the Sofia Summit on 16/17 May, with the focus on the Western Balkans, and the themes of connectivity, regional cooperation and good neighbourly relations. There was general round table discussion of these issues, and on the forthcoming summit meetings in July (Berlin Process in London, and NATO in Brussels). Our Forum discussed the future of the Berlin Process, the meaning of the London Summit and what messages this gives now that the UK is leaving the EU, especially regarding a range of security concerns. 

Friday, 4 May 2018

Greek-Turkish tensions: Impending Conflict?

On Monday 30 April 2018, a panel discussion on ‘Greek-Turkish tensions: Impending Conflict?’ took place in the European Studies Centre. The panellists talked about the present tense climate in Greek-Turkish relations, potential risks for escalation, and related wider geopolitical considerations in the region. David Madden (SEESOX) chaired the session, Ezgi Basaran (SEESOX) began with an overview of recent developments in Greek-Turkish relations, Othon Anastasakis (SEESOX) talked about the Greek context, Mehmet Karli (SEESOX) presented the Turkish perspective, Katerina Dalacoura (LSE) spoke about relevant developments in the Middle East, Yaprak Gürsoy (Aston University) focused on the role of NATO and the US, and Kalypso Nicolaidis (SEESOX) ended with some final comments on the probabilities of conflict.

Basaran spoke about the Greek-Turkish tensions that began on 15 July 2016, with the eight Turkish soldiers who landed at the Alexandroupolis airport the day after the attempted coup in Turkey, asking for asylum from Greece. Turkey sought their extradition, which the Greek Supreme Court denied. On 7t December 2017, the first official visit by a Turkish president to Greece in six decades took place. However, in 2018 relations between the two countries worsened, with numerous incidents in the Aegean, and further escalated with the imprisonment of two Greek soldiers after they got lost and crossed into Turkish territory. She stressed the point that tensions with Greece are not high on the public discourse agenda and although it is hard to guess how things will turn out, Erdogan would not gain very much in domestic politics if there were an escalation in the crisis. She added that in Greece a considerable number of Golden Visas are given to Turks. 

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Balkans in the wider European context; the Slovene view

On the first day of Trinity Term, SEESOX hosted a seminar given by Iztok Mirosic, State Secretary for European Affairs in the Foreign Ministry of Slovenia. He gave a wide-ranging overview of current and future developments in the Western Balkans, and their relationship with the EU, complemented by an extensive Q & A session. The seminar was chaired by Othon Anastasakis.

Mirosic began by stressing that, despite the Brexit vote, the underlying interests of the EU and the UK in the region remained the same – the preservation of stability. In geopolitical terms, the region was now at a crossroads. EU accession, as a process supporting stability, the rule of law and economic reform and development, alongside the region’s role as an energy transit route, meant that accession was in the mutual interest of both the EU and the countries of the western Balkans. This had been recognised at the Thessaloniki Summit in 2003, when the Western Balkan countries had been given a clear perspective of full membership, differentiating them from the EU’s eastern neighbours.

Rival power: Russia and South East Europe

On the 7th of March 2018, the last (chronologically) but not least session of the Hilary term seminar series, Dimitar Bechev (University of South Caroline, Chapel Hill) gave a talk on his most recent and very topical book “Rival power: Russia and South East Europe”.

In his excellent book, Dimitar discusses the different dimensions of Russia’s influence in the region and the specific spheres of influence, including energy, military security and soft power, through media, religion and culture. For Dimitar, the current competition between Russia and the West is not about the return to the Cold War, neither is Russia trying to establish an Empire in the region of South East Europe. Russia is not able to offer to the countries in the region a coherent model alternative to the EU’s more comprehensive one. But what Russia does very effectively is to play a disruptive game of influence by tactically exploiting both its own limited strengths and the weaknesses and divisions among the European players.

In his presentation Dimitar emphasised Russia’s impact in the energy sector which, while extensive, has weakened since its high point in the 2000s, especially given the decreasing significance of the region as an outpost or a corridor for Russian gas. He spoke about the rising close alliance between Russia and Turkey, the “marriage of convenience” as he calls it in his book: with the occasional intra-marital spat such as the fall-out over the shooting down of the Russian fighter. What we are witnessing, according to Bechev, is a Putin-Erdogan double act, where convergent country interests, especially in the energy field, have recently become highly personalised. He also spoke about other bilateral relationships, including with Greece or Cyprus; and pointed to the gap between Russia’s limited commitments, and the at times high expectations of the two states, most clearly witnessed during the Eurozone crisis. He also spoke about relations with Bulgaria, a bilateral bond with deep historical roots; but where, despite the current strong Russian lobby in the country’s economy and politics, Bulgaria’s political elite has clearly shown a commitment for the EU and NATO. Finally, in some Western Balkans, Russia has found some fertile ground for infiltration with divisive potential in Serbia, Republika Srpska (especially), Macedonia and Montenegro: but appears involved in tactical manoeuvring rather than following a strategic master-plan.

Monday, 5 March 2018

The erosıon of free speech ın Turkey: Why were key instıtutıons defeated?

Convenors: Free Speech Debate, Timothy Garton Ash; SEESOX, Othon Anastasakis, Mehmet Karli

Chair: Dr. Mehmet Karli, SEESOX
Rıza Türmen, Former ECHR judge and former MP
Kemal Göktaş, Reporter from Cumhuriyet newspaper, Visiting Fellow at the Reuters Institute
Funda Üstek-Spilda, Goldsmiths, University of London

The seminar entitled “The Erosion of Free Speech in Turkey: Why were Key Institutions Defeated?” was held at the European Studies Centre, St Antony’s College on 28 February 2018. The seminar was co-organized by SEESOX and the Free Speech Debate, headed by Professor Timothy Garton Ash. Rıza Türmen, a former ECHR judge and former Turkish MP from the main opposition party CHP, Kemal Göktaş, reporter from Cumhuriyet newspaper and a visiting Fellow at the Reuters Institute, and Dr. Funda Üstek-Spilda from Goldsmiths, University of London were the speakers in the panel which was chaired by Dr. Mehmet Karli of SEESOX.

In line with the guiding question of the seminar, each speaker focused on the failure of key institutions to check and balance the authoritarian slide in Turkey. Mr. Türmen focused on the judiciary and parliament, Mr. Göktaş on the press, and Dr. Ustek-Spilda on academia.

Monday, 26 February 2018

(Ir)regular states of migration: Contested sovereignties on Europe’s margins


On Wednesday, 21 February Katerina Rozakou (University of Amsterdam) presented her paper ‘(Ir)regular states of migration: Contested sovereignties on Europe’s margins’. Franck Duvell (University of Oxford) acted as discussant. Rozakou’s presentation provided critical insights on sovereign power and state bureaucracies focusing on a moment of rupture –the “European migration crisis” and the “Greek crisis”. Rozakou provided a detailed ethnographic account of the situation in Lesbos island in the summer of 2015, in the midst of both “crises”, examining the role of state, supra-state, and non-state agents in governing irregular migration. In late August 2015, there was a backlog of 20,000 unrecorded border-crossers who were stranded on Lesvos, camped in parks, playgrounds, the port, sidewalks and on the streets. There were demonstrations where border-crossers pleaded to be allowed to get off the island. Border-crossers lit fires near the camps and on the outskirts of town. Their frustration targeted NGO and INGO personnel for failing to provide the aid foreseen in their mandates. Moreover, in the first weeks of the summer 2015 police officers and border-crossers alike accused the state but, by mid-summer, the UNHCR had acquired a status parallel to that of the sovereign state. And, like the state, the UNHCR was also considered absent. 

Greek to Me: A Memoir of Academic Life

Richard Clogg witnessed the 1967 coup in Greece, while living in Athens and researching modern Greek history. He then went on a joint appointment at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies and King’s College, London: becoming Professor of Modern Balkan History at the latter. During this time he published his controversial book on Arnold Toynbee and the Koraes Chair, before moving to St Antony’s as a Senior Research Fellow (and then Emeritus Fellow). Greek to Me focusses on the secretive fields of academia and university politics, as well as providing unique eyewitness accounts of modern Greek history.

Peter Mackridge commented that the book was written with trademark gusto and humour. It was highly topical in providing insights into Universities and academic freedoms, and the difficulties for those investigating controversial subjects: and appeared at a time when the marketization of higher education represented a threat to academic standards.

Stathis Kallivas described the book as a page-turner. It was fascinating on Clogg’s discovery of Greece and experience of academic politics. Central themes were academic funding, and criticism of constraints on freedom emanating from donors; and the lively turf battles between academics. He paid tribute to Clogg’s eye-opening books about Greece, in particular the Concise History, and the Short History, and the imaginative use of images and illustrations to convey themes and ideas.

Richard Clogg quoted approvingly from Ranke: ”History should describe events as they actually were”; and also from Kissinger “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so low.” He described the extraordinary secretiveness of the London University archives: for example, the minutes of the Board of Studies were effectively closed for a hundred years.

Discussion centred in particular on the openness of Greece to works by foreign historians, whose credentials for writing about the country were readily accepted. Clogg and his writings had played a major role in this.

David Madden (St Antony's College)