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Friday, 25 November 2016

The economic challenges to Greece: What does the future hold?

David Madden (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

Jens Bastian spoke on 23 November about The economic challenges to Greece: What does the future hold? Yaprak Gursoy was the discussant, and Kalypso Nicolaidis chaired.

He said that the Greek economic crisis had not gone away. It had been a programme country since 2010, with the third programme due to expire in 2018. This deeply affected the country and how it viewed itself. By contrast, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus had each had one programme and then finished the process. Greek GDP had shrunk by 27%: this was unprecedented in peacetime. Unemployment was over 23%, with two thirds unemployed for over 12 months (benefits ceased after a year). Greece had become a high tax country, and tax arrears were rising. The elephant in the room was sovereign debt: Greece owed 323 billion euros, 85% of it to official credit institutions. Germany was owed 108 billion euros, and opposed debt relief, though the IMF favoured it. Migration added to Greece’s difficulties: with the closing of the Balkan route, over 63,000 refugees were trapped in Greece, which had changed from being a transit country to a hotspot. On the other hand, tourism was strong, Piraeus flourishing (the second largest European port after Rotterdam), there were potentially beneficial developments in the regional energy sector, and resilience in some business sectors e.g. start-ups.

Yaprak wondered about a Keynesian solution of pumping money into the economy. On the political side she detected signs of the deconsolidation of democracy in Greece (unlike eg in Spain and Portugal), with Golden Dawn the most extreme, fascist and violent party in Europe. Recent public opinion surveys had even picked up some evidence of nostalgia for the Junta. The sharp reduction in the granting of TV licences was a new issue.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Conversations with Milošević

Slobodan Milošević was one of the central figures in the story of Yugoslavia’s disintegration and the wars that surrounded it. One of the few Western diplomats that had constant and direct access to him during this time was Sir Ivor Roberts, the former British representative in Belgrade and current president of Trinity College, Oxford. Roberts’ new book ‘Conversations with Milošević’, which he presented on 17 November at a SEESOX seminar chaired by Sir David Madden (St Antony’s College), chronicles the forty-odd meeting that occurred between the two men. For many, as Madden told the audience in his introduction, the book’s title echoes Milovan Djilas’ contribution entitled ‘Conversations with Stalin’, for like him Roberts presents a detailed account of encounters with an autocrat.

As Roberts explained at the beginning of his talk, the book was written some time ago but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only recently gave permission for it to be published. Given that the book details meetings with ‘many unpleasant people’ and is full of ‘dark pages’, as Roberts said, this is maybe may not surprising. When Roberts came to Belgrade in early 1994, the posting had been described to him as challenging and Milošević’s reputation as ‘the butcher of the Balkans’ was firmly lodged with him. His assignment was to get to know how and what Milošević thought, for the latter was seen as a solution to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

The democratic challenge of social reform in Greece under SYRIZA

Jonathan Scheele (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

On 15 November 2016, George Katrougalos (former Minister of Labour and Social Security, now Alternate Foreign Minister in the Greek Government) spoke, with a panel of discussants: Bernhardt Ebbinghaus (Mannheim University), Marek Naczyk (Kellogg College) and Pavlos Eleftheriadis (Mansfield College). Kalypso Nicolaidis chaired the session.

Katrougalos explained the context of Greek pension reforms and his perception that SYRIZA had taken what he described as a “neo-liberal” commitment, contained in the MoU signed with the EU and the IMF, and incorporated it into a “progressive” pension reform. 

His presentation of the context of the reforms took in aspects of Greek politics – characterised by a clientilistic culture and general popular distrust of the traditional political parties – and what he described as the EU’s apparent lack of democracy – Syriza perceived the EU as determined to make an example of Greece to prove that only one economic policy was possible and that any deviation from this would lead to failure. The SYRIZA government’s painful dilemma was a choice between no agreement, leading banks to close and pensions not to be paid, and the painful compromise of signing an MoU containing policies it was hostile to. The MoU contained two types of policy – reforms of clientilistic [practices, which they supported wholeheartedly, and neo-liberal reforms that they considered dangerous to Europe itself; SYRIZA’s rejection of the MoU only related to the latter.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Brexit and its impact on the Western Balkans

Speaker: Peter Sanfey, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development
Chair: Jonathan Scheele. St Antony’s College, Oxford
Discussant: Adis Merdzanovic, St Antony’s College, Oxford

The impact of Brexit on the UK, Europe, and the world are discussed almost daily in the press and much uncertainty remains. Yet, often lacking from such discussions are its indirect impacts on third countries, such as those in the Western Balkans. In his talk, Peter Sanfey presented new research carried out by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development on the impact of Brexit on Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Albania, FYROM and Kosovo. His remarks were followed with a brief analysis of the political implications by Adis Merdzanovic from St Antony’s College.

The Western Balkans face an important convergence challenge. Currently, their income is around half of that of other Eastern European countries, and only a quarter of that of Western European countries. Yet, there have been some positive developments, with growth projected to average 3% in 2017, a stable macroeconomic situation, and declining non-performing loans. Over the medium term a set of factors enhance their attractiveness to investors: the prospect of EU membership, good relations with the IMF, a geographic location at a crucial point of China’s New Silk Road, the diverse range of economic activities, and favourable tax and labour costs.  

Monday, 7 November 2016

Bosnia’s Paralysed Peace

Adis Merdzanovic (Junior Research Fellow, St Antony's College, Oxford)

Two decades after the Dayton Peace Agreement (DPA) ended the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), the country once again finds itself in a precarious situation. While the war has certainly stopped, BiH faces deep political, social, and economic crises that threaten the stability of the state and its structures. But why has BiH, which received enormous institutional and financial aid from the international community, not become a self-sustaining democracy? 

This question is central to Christopher Bennett’s new book Bosnia’s Paralysed Peace, which the author presented at a SEESOX seminar on 3rd November 2016. The event was chaired by Adis Merdzanovic (St Antony’s College) and Richard Caplan (Linacre College) acted as discussant. 

As Bennett explained, the book presents an analysis of the breakdown of Yugoslavia, the war in BiH, and all the political developments since the Dayton Peace Agreement. It was written with the deep conviction that there exists a solution for what Bennett has termed the ‘Bosnian Question’, namely a way for Bosniaks, Serbs, and Croats to peacefully live together within a political framework that actually works. In order for this to happen, however, one needs to understand the structural preconditions for the current challenges.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Turkey before and after July 15: The story of a failed coup

Yaprak Gürsoy (Academic Visitor, St Antony’s College, Oxford and Associate Professor, Istanbul Bilgi University)

On 2 November, four senior members of SEESOX at St Antony’s College, Ezgi Başaran, Mehmet Karlı, Deniz Ülke Arıboğan and Yaprak Gürsoy, spoke on the 15 July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey. The director of SEESOX, Othon Anastasakis, chaired the seminar, which mostly focused on the events of the coup, but also touched upon the political, economic and social aspects of Turkey before and after the botched putsch. 

The seminar started with Ezgi Başaran, a prominent Turkish journalist, describing in detail the events of the night of the coup. The presentation was particularly rich in providing facts and in explaining the surprise and disbelief of many Turkish citizens in the first few hours of the coup. Başaran summarized the main differences between the July 15 putsch and the previous coups in Turkey, pointing out that people going out to the streets to protect the elected government, as well as the unanimous resistance against the coup among the political parties, were unique to the recent attempt. Although opposition to the coup was common, there is still no consensus over political issues, which results in the continuation of political conflict. In her talk, Başaran referred to some of the groups that are part of the conflict, namely the AK Party government, the Gülenists, and those who were charged in the Ergenekon and Balyoz trials based on fabricated evidence. The relationship between these groups has taken several twists and turns over the last decade. The government and the Gülen network are in a power struggle today and the coup attempt was the latter’s last effort to unseat the former.