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Monday, 21 June 2021

A Citizen’s Guide to the Rule of Law

Book discussion with authors, Kalypso Nicolaidis and Adis Merdzanovic

On 17 June 2021, in collaboration with the European University Institute, SEESOX organised a book roundtable moderated by Alexander Stubb (School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute) for the recently-published “A Citizen’s Guide to the Rule of Law”, authored by Kalypso Nicolaidis (School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute) and Adis Merdzanovic (School of Management and Law, Zurich University of Applied Sciences).

Sarah Nouwen (School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute) first presented the book and underlined that the rule of law is the most precious human invention of all times – for this reason, it should be accessible to everyone. She explained that the book engages citizens in a clear and direct way and raises awareness on the shared responsibility for threats directed towards the rule of law. While the book focuses on the rule of law in Europe, many of the lessons of this book should be applied for EU rule of law promotional activities beyond the Western Balkans. The fundamental argument of the book is that on one hand, the EU should be more ambitious in promoting the rule of law, while on the other, it should be humbler. The book identifies the areas where the EU should be more ambitious and where it should be humbler, supporting its arguments with suggested alternatives.

Monday, 7 June 2021

Emigrants and emigration states: A contested relationship?

The webinar ‘Emigrants and emigration states: A contested relationship?’ was given by Alexandra Délano Alonso, Associate Professor and Chair of Global Studies at The New School (New York City) that took place on 3 June 2021, within the context of the SEESOX/COMPAS webinar series ‘The Politics of Emigration: Representations and Contestations’; it focused on Mexican migrants in the U.S. The seminar was chaired by Manolis Pratsinakis (SEESOX/COMPAS). Robin Cohen, Emeritus Professor and Former Director of the International Migration Institute, University of Oxford, acted as discussant.

In her presentation, Professor Délano Alonso focussed on what diaspora policies reveal about tensions and contestations over policies and politics that are negotiated, as well as how diaspora policies can be a space of accountability, in relation to other aspects of migration. She used the uniqueness of the Mexican case, given the space it shares in relation to the US and also that it is a country of emigration, asylum and transit, as well as of return. Recalling that Mexico’s relationship with its diaspora dates back to the 19th century, she pointed to the strong consular network that protect diasporans’ rights. Most of the policies in their origins focused on documentation, emergency responses on issues of confrontation with US authorities, need for repatriation, and promotion of Mexican culture. Over time there was a shift in the focus towards issues such as expanding consular services, extending ties with migrant organizations (in come cases with practices of control and co-optation), and strengthening the Mexican-American population as a potential lobbying power. They also shifted towards giving rights to Mexicans abroad, such as symbolic recognition (naming them as heroes, talented diaspora), offering voting rights, dual nationality, support through matching programmes for investment (e.g., 3 for 1 programme), in some cases allowing them to participate in the design of programmes that concerned them through the creation of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad and its Advisory Council. She also focussed on consular programmes that support access to social rights in the country of destination, mainly in the US, highlighting the shift from the idea of returning to the reality that most migrants were staying and settling in the US.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Is emigration a blow to liberal democracy?

A webinar on this subject was held by SEESOX and COMPAS on 27 May. The main speaker was Ivan Krastev, Chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia and Permanent Fellow, Institute of Human Sciences, IWM Vienna. Discussants were Maria Koinova (University of Warwick) and Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College, University of Oxford). Jessie Barton Hronesova, also of Oxford, chaired.

Krastev described the background and context. In Central and Eastern Europe, there was, broadly speaking, a fear of immigration; but the real trauma was emigration and population loss. The countries were shrinking demographically. Surveys showed that Poland was shrinking by 15%, BiH by 29%, Bulgaria by 40%. These declines were unprecedented in the absence of war and natural disasters. One economic effect was shortages in labour markets. COVID -19 revealed the devastation caused in the health sector, with the loss of medical professionals to countries where they were better paid.  This also meant the loss of money invested eg in the education of medical professionals, and the invisible transfer of money from the periphery to the centre. Governments were unsure how to react.  Strong nationalist rhetoric was employed, like the Berlin Wall, to stop the exodus of people.  There was also a major generational imbalance, with the young especially likely to leave: and a political effect, with the tendency of pro-EU voters to leave. The very fact of going abroad and making a living outside a country was seen as a success; just as under Communist rule moving from country to city was seen as a move-up. Illiberal governments, eg in Hungary and Poland, were not closing their countries to foreigners, rather welcoming them as guest workers; but were not giving them political rights, thus divorcing labour markets from politics and the nation.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Challenges and opportunities for the Biden Administration in South East Europe

On 13 May, SEESOX hosted, jointly with the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard, a webinar on Challenges and Opportunities for the Biden Administration in South East Europe. Speakers were Thomas Countryman (former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with responsibility for the Balkans), Valerie Hopkins (former South East Europe Correspondent for the Financial Times), and Ivan Vejvoda (Head of Europe’s Futures Programme, Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna). Othon Anastasakis (SEESOX) and Elaine Papoulias (Minda de Gunzberg Center) co-chaired.

Countryman began by underlining that the aims of US policy in the region had remained unchanged across different administrations since Dayton: to support the aspirations of West Balkan countries to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic structures (NATO, EU) and prevent any recurrence of conflict. Thus, while there would be no significant policy change from Trump to Biden, the new administration would seek to restore US credibility with its allies and in its alliances. He pointed out that, even under Trump, and despite frictions with Richard Grenell, the US and EU had in fact worked well together and achieved results – the North Macedonia name issue, Montenegro accession to NATO, and Albania’s progress towards EU accession. However, the EU accession perspective had lost credibility (Kosovo non-recognition by some EU member states, hesitations over opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia), while Hungary’s Potemkin democracy did not encourage reform in SEE.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Emigration states, existential sovereignty, and migrant responses

On 6 May the first seminar of the joint SEESOX/COMPAS Trinity Term Seminar Series ‘The Politics of Emigration: Representations and contestations’ took place, addressing the theme ‘Emigration states, existential sovereignty, and migrant responses’. The panel included Dace Dzenovska (University of Oxford) and Elena Genova (University of Nottingham) and was chaired by Manolis Pratsinakis.

The presentation of Dzenovska was based on a chapter in the edited volume The Everyday Lives of Sovereignty by R. Bryant and M. Reeves. Drawing on ethnographic research on Latvian migrants in the UK, she argued that sovereignty should not be seen solely as an attribute of state power but also as a claim and desire exhibited by people. According to Dzenovska, Latvians consider the Latvian cultural nation and the state as embattled. This sense of embattlement is a legacy of the Russian occupation and derives from two threats: proximity to Russia as a potential aggressor, and the presence of a large Russian-speaking minority in the territory of Latvia. However, in the post-socialist period another threat appeared; Latvia lost one third of its population to emigration, which intensified existential fears about the viable existence of Latvia as both a people and a state.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Protests in the Balkans: Do they have an impact?

The SEESOX seminar series on “The Quality of Democracy” ended with the event “Protests in the Balkans: Do they have an impact?” focusing on popular, participatory democratic activities and their consequences. The speakers were Danijela Dolenec (University of Zagreb, Croatia); Chiara Milan (Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy); Julia Rone (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge); and Daniel Smilov (University of Sofia, Bulgaria. Othon Anastasakis (SEESOX) and Jessie Barton Hronesova (Oxford Department of International Development) chaired the discussion.

Anastasakis introduced the seminar by stressing the role of protest as a means to address issues that are neglected—or even created—by national elites and established institutions. “Bottom up” movements can be a vital source of innovation and a bulwark of democracy.

The speakers shared an understanding that protests can have important impact in several areas, namely:
  • Politics, for example by shifts in voting patterns and party structures;
  • Policies and economics, where resources may be reallocated and incentives adjusted;
  • Culture and norms, when the standards of behaviour adjust;
  • Biography, in the sense that the lives of protesters can take on new directions; and
  • Networking and society, as when new nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) emerge from protest movements.