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Thursday 30 November 2017

Revisiting Yugoslavia in the shadow of the present: Continuities and discontinuities

This day-long Symposium, on 23 November, was not yet another conference about the disintegration of Yugoslavia. States are not just their institutions and institutional boundaries, they are also ideas, cultures, experiences and cultures. While some things did disintegrate, the end of Yugoslavia was not a permanent rupture, as many things also remained in place in the successor states.

The first panel looked at politics and society. Adis Merdzanovic compared liberalism in Yugoslavia with the version of liberalism put forward by the European Union as part of the accession process. Catherine Baker examined the usefulness or not of the concept of nostalgia in delineating a cultural space that spans the former Yugoslav region.

Ivor Sokolic presented a paper on the impact of the civil society on democratisation in the post-Yugoslav space by highlighting its ambiguous and disordered nature. Jasmin Ramović considered the role of worker self-management in peacebuilding in the Balkans.

The second panel covered international affairs. Ljubica Spaskovska spoke about the legacies of Yugoslav non-aligned multilateralism and the selective appropriation of this part of socialist Yugoslavia’s legacies by the successor states. James Ker-Lindsay focussed on EU integration and post-Yugoslav cooperation, competition, and conflict: showing how integration might be interpreted as an attempt to foster regional re-integration. Othon Anastasakis spoke on the influences of the former empires, concretely Russia and Turkey, in the region before and after the disintegration of Yugoslavia. Dejan Jović argued that Yugoslavia’s disintegration was not only the collapse of the federal republic but also of its three central republics, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The third panel was dedicated to economics. Adam Bennett described the “impossible marriage” between microeconomic worker self-management and macroeconomic management. Milica Uvalic told us what happened to worker self-management, and how the successor states’ handling of market economic and democratic reforms led to divergent paths. Peter Sanfey examined the question whether the successor states are on the path to becoming sustainable market economies.

After the conference, there was a keynote address in the ESC, given by Norman Davies on the question which lay behind the symposium: Do countries ever really disappear?

The goal is to produce an edited volume based on the presentations on Yugoslavia and the successor states, and highlighting the central theme of continuities and discontinuities between past and present.

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

Monday 27 November 2017

Technocratic government—challenges and legacy: the case of Romania

On 22 November 2017, SEESOX hosted a panel discussion with Dacian Ciolos (Prime Minister of Romania 2015-17), Raluca Pruna (Justice Minister, 2015-17) and Dragos Tudorache (Interior Minister 2016-17). Heidi Maurer (LSE and DPIR, Oxford) was Discussant; Jonathan Scheele (St. Antony’s College) chaired the discussion.

Introducing the session, Scheele noted that technocratic government is usually defined as government by experts, not elected by the people, but accountable to Parliament. Most political scientists do not approve of such an arrangement, since it seen as a cop-out by the political class. There is also debate as to whether such governments actually work, or whether they just kick difficult issues down the road. In Romania in October 2015 a night club fire had killed over 100 people. It was seen as due to corrupt licensing procedures, and there were protests across Romania. The Prime Minister resigned on November 7. The President called in Dacian Ciolos and asked him to form a government; on November 17 the new technocratic government was sworn in. It ruled until 4 January 2017, when it handed over to a new elected government. By February 2017 there were again protests, over government plans to change the law on corruption.

Dragos Tudorache, who had also worked for the EU, was first Head of Chancery for the PM and later Interior Minister; he explained the initial challenges. They had had 2-3 days to put the programme together, with people who largely did not know each other. He had been helped by mechanisms already in place but never used — for instance, EU money had been spent to develop sophisticated IT tools, which were then left dormant. He set common ownership and objectives for his team, and made the work accountable to the media and the people.

This was the first time a whole government had been formed of technocrats, and derived from the fact that none of the political class wanted to form a government at that point. He had found it hard to change existing mentalities, so set up a Chancery where strategic thinking could be developed. He had interesting discussions with counterparts in other countries, including the UK. In the first few weeks the phones did not stop ringing, with calls from people all over the world who wanted to come back to Romania to help; this was very motivating. 

Monday 6 November 2017

Frontline Turkey: the conflict at the heart of the Middle East

On 1 November 2017, Ezgi Başaran, award-winning Turkish journalist and coordinator of the Programme on Contemporary Turkey at SEESOX, launched her book Frontline Turkey: the conflict at the heart of the Middle East. The event was chaired by the BBC journalist and author of the book The New Turkey, Chris Morris.

In presenting her book Ezgi Başaran narrated the history of the Kurdish problem in the context of a decade and a half of AKP rule in Turkey. She described how Turkey’s most troublesome and persistent conflict had brought Turkey’s democratic institutions to a state of collapse just when a solution seemed in sight. As a journalist who had been following the Kurdish issue in Turkey for more than ten years, she had interviewed almost all of the prominent figures who shaped the course of the Kurdish movement in the country. Based on this unique material she outlined the chronology of events leading to the launch of a peace process between Turkey’s President Erdogan and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party), and focusing on the dramatic and very intense period that followed, up to the collapse of the process in 2015and the coup attempt in 2016.

According to Başaran, Turkey’s peace process with the Kurds collapsed principally as a result of both the expansion of the Syrian Kurdish cantons adjacent to the Turkish border and the ambitions of then Prime Minister Erdogan to create an executive presidency for himself. Opposed to the YPG, the mainly-Kurdish militia in Syria that had rescued the Yazidis and fought with US backing in Kobane, President Erdogan saw no problem in having an open border policy for the Jihadists in Syria from the end of 2013 to 2015. This turned Turkey into a hub for Jihadists from all over the world, including ISIS recruits, creating huge security vulnerabilities for the country and, by extension, for Europe as a whole. In addition, the collapse of the peace process triggered a series of events that made politics and social life in Turkey particularly volatile, exacerbating the turmoil in Syria, and also bringing international relations between Turkey and several countries in the West and the Middle East to their lowest ebb. Başaran argued however that those on the other side of the table, the Kurds - and PKK in particular – should also share the blame by miscalculating their actions from the moment the peace process failed. 

Monday 30 October 2017

Islamo-liberalism: Turkey and The Life Cycle of a Political Alliance   

Nora Fisher Onar of Coastal Carolina University and Centre of International Relations, Oxford gave a seminar on 25 October 2017 at SEESOX entitled “Islamo-liberalism: Turkey and The Life Cycle of a Political Alliance.” 

Fisher Onar’s lecture commenced with the events of 15 July 2016 coup attempt in Turkey and gave a brief picture of the purge which followed. She highlighted how the West perceives Turkey in the aftermath of the failed putsch, and how supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in turn construct an image of the West. Western pundits, she suggested, tend to read developments in Turkey through a simplistic equation of authoritarianism = Islamism. Pro-AKP pundits, similarly, tend to dismiss all Western criticism as Islamophobic negation of Turkish people’s will and agency. Both approaches, she argued, authorize a reading of pro-religious and liberal political programs in Turkey as irreconcilable. This collusion of Orientalist and Occidentalist frameworks, Fisher Onar contended, serves to empower groups committed to organicist, ethno-religious readings of Turkey’s national identity and international role.

However, according to Fisher Onar, political change in Turkey is actually driven by multiple, shifting factions and alliances, including an Islamo-liberal coalition, which around once every generation drives significant political change before collapsing. Fisher Onar argues that this pattern can be traced across the history of the country starting with Ottoman Tanzimat period in the early nineteenth-century. Over the course of at least eight critical junctures since then, she suggested, pro-religious and pro-secular liberal political actors came together to drive political openings which shaped late Ottoman modernization, the mid-twentieth century transition to multi-party politics, and Turkey’s once vital but currently frozen EU accession process. Highlighting that such coalitions are enabled not by any intrinsic feature of pro-religious or pro-liberal political programs, Fisher Onar suggested that they are driven by the contingent interplay of political ideas, actors, international structures at any given juncture. One conclusion which can be drawn from this study is that, in longue duree perspective, there are enduring resources for political pluralism, if not liberalism per se, in Turkey’s political arena, today’s illiberal turn notwithstanding.

Fisher Onar’s lecture was a synopsis of her book manuscript Pathways to Pluralism, Islam, Liberalism, and Nationalism in Turkey and Beyond.

Ezgi Basaran (Contemporary TurkeyS Programme Coordinator, SEESOX, St Antony's College, Oxford)

Friday 13 October 2017

The contested meaning of Failed States for international order

The first SEESOX Michaelmas Term seminar offered the opportunity to Susan Woodward (City University of New York) to speak on her latest book “The Ideology of Failed States: why intervention fails”. The Discussant was Adis Merdzanovic (St Antony’s), with Kalypso Nicolaidis (St Antony’s) in the Chair.

In her presentation, Woodward underlined that, rather than criticise the concept of a “failed state” (FS) as such – which she had done frequently – she wanted to look more closely at why, despite its obvious flaws, the concept was used so frequently, even casually, particularly by international actors. Looking at its origins, the concept of an FS, perceived as the security threat for international peace at the end of the Cold War, was used as a new basis and organization for more intrusive intervention within countries by the United Nations, as well as a new justification for development aid to poorer countries now that the anti-communist legitimation had no basis any more. This concept had seen off the challenge of alternative analyses favouring a cooperative, developmental approach to international relations that would have entailed major change to the post-war international order. It thus reinforced the system built after World War II, especially the Bretton Woods institutions, NATO and the OECD development donors. But, with the end of the Cold War, the stabilising influence of competitive rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union, which had given poorer countries space for their own development alternatives, was no longer there. The large majority (70%) of development assistance was therefore being spent on technical assistance (highly paid experts from the donor countries) with only a residual 19% (11% in Africa) of discretionary spending by the beneficiary country. In practice, this policy had led to increasing investment in resources and capacities for intervening actors, rather than in the capacity they said they were building in target countries. This increasing institutionalization for policies of intervention by international actors had reached the point where it was now difficult to imagine either any possibility of change for countries where intervention takes place, or the reform of the international order as had initially been hoped in 1989-1992.

Thursday 22 June 2017

Book Launch: Memories of Empire and Entry into International Society

At a seminar on 6 June 2017, Dr. Filip Ejdus, Assistant Professor at the University of Belgrade and Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, presented the volume Memories of Empire and Entry into International Society: Views from the European Periphery (2017, Routledge) which he edited. The event was chaired by Kalypso Nicolaïdis (St Antony’s College); Richard Caplan (Linacre College), Vjosa Musliu (Free University of Brussels) and Jan Zielonka (St Antony’s College) were the discussants.

As Dr Ejdus explained, the voulme builds on critiques of the English School approach to International Relations (and especially its Euro-centrism) raised by Iver Neumann and Jennifer Welsh, by looking at seven Eastern and South-eastern European states, each analysed in a separate chapter by a native scholar. The starting point of the book is that English School, in studying how non-European states enter into the European society of states, has neglected the European periphery, partly because it was taken for granted as being fully European. By bringing the under-studied cases of Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Romania into the limelight, the volume applies the critical English School approach to analyse the entry of this liminal space into international society and the role of memories therein.

Wednesday 31 May 2017

Majoritarian futures in Europe and beyond

Ivan Krastev, a political scientist and a renowned public intellectual, who is also the Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, gave the SEESOX Annual Lecture on 24 May 2017. Entitled “Majoritarian futures in Europe and beyond”, the lecture was chaired by SEESOX director Othon Anastasakis.

Krastev’s lecture kicked off with Jose Saramago’s 2005 novel Death with Interruptions, which tells the story of a country where people suddenly stop dying and death loses its central role in human life. Krastev likened this story to the West’s experience with globalization, a dream that turned into a nightmare. Suggesting that what we are witnessing worldwide is a revolt against the progressive post-1989 liberal order - defined by the opening of borders for people, capital, goods and ideas - and which takes the form of democracy’s revolt against liberalism, Krastev went on to dissect Francis Fukuyama’s article “The End of History.” Fukuyama had presented the victory of the West in the Cold War as one delivered by history itself. According to Krastev, Fukuyama’s piece captured the zeitgeist well; but one aspect was missing in his famous article. He talked about the free movement of capital, of goods and of ideas, but not of people, at least to the extent that we are experiencing now. The reason for this was, Krastev claimed, Fukuyama’s belief in the resistance of democracy. Fukuyama had believed that people would not migrate because democracy would create favourable environments in their homelands. But this turned out not to be the case. Today, poor and dysfunctional countries had become places in which it is not worthwhile to live, while Europe had neither the capacity nor the will to open its borders to everybody.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Book Launch: Between Military Rule and Democracy

At a seminar on 11 May 2017, Dr Yaprak Gürsoy, Academic Visitor at SEESOX and Associate Professor at Bilgi University in Istanbul, presented her forthcoming book ‘Between Military Rule and Democracy: Regime Consolidation in Greece, Turkey, and Beyond’ (2017, University of Michigan Press). Chaired by Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College, Oxford) Laurence Whitehead (Nuffield College, Oxford) and Stathis Kalyvas (Yale University) were the discussants.

As Gürsoy explained, the book deals with the origins of democratic and authoritarian regimes in countries in which the military is a significant political actor. Treating the military as an actor in its own right, and with a distinct corporate interest, the book looks at the circumstances of military intervention in the democratic procedure through, for example, short-lived coups d’états, the support or establishment of longer term authoritarian regimes, or by accepting the authority of democratically elected civilians. Building on Robert Dahl’s concept of polyarchy (1971), and particularly the distinction between the costs of toleration and the costs of suppression, Gürsoy argues that elite actors such as military officers support democracy, authoritarianism, or short-lived coups depending to a large degree on their perception of threats with respect to their interests. The power of the elites relative to the opposition, determined partly by the coalitions they establish with each other, affects the success of military interventions and the consolidation of regimes. 

Friday 28 April 2017

Mining language and network data for understanding online political networks: the case of the far right and the far left in Greece

This was Lamprini Rori’s inaugural presentation as AG Leventis Fellow at SEESOX. It focused on the online dynamics of radical and extremist political actors on Greek Twitter, and the interactions between and among them, during the turbulent political period of 2014-2016. Lamprini described the decline in levels of trust in mainstream media over time in Greece, especially since the beginning of the crisis, the drastic fall in readership of newspapers, and the closure of a series of important media outlets (TV and press). A clear shift to social media took place between 2015 and 2016. Greek Twitter offered an important arena of political information, communication and socialization, not only mirroring political change, but to a certain extent producing it.

Lamprini presented her interdisciplinary research work on online political networks, including relevant political phenomena, such as to what extent discussions on social media took place inside echo chambers. She suggested that the rise of new issues during the financial crisis, like opposition to austerity and to the EU, had produced new alignments which cut across/went beyond the historic Left/Right division, without however dissolving it. She further introduced the term “interactive extremism” in order to describe the exchanges between the edges of the political system. She also proposed an innovative method of identifying party advocates online, based on the premise that when individuals retweet political candidates, their action implied a level of endorsement. Through this method of mapping political networks, she examined a series of hypotheses, relating to the cohesion and structure of political networks on Twitter. She explored interactions inside and between political networks on Twitter in the run up to the elections of three different ballots: the parliamentary election of 25 January, the bailout referendum of 5 July, and the snap election of 20 September.

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Illiberalism and post-ideology party politics in South East Europe

On March 8 2017, Dr. Adis Merdzanovic and Dr. Othon Anastasakis presented two separate papers and shared the findings of their recent research in a SEESOX seminar, chaired by Nancy Bermeo.

In his presentation, Dr. Merdzanovic, who is a junior research fellow at SEESOX, first provided definitions to the key concepts of the seminar. The first concept he explained was “party politics,” which he argued was linked with the concept of “cleavages.” Merdzanovic agreed with assessments that the four ruptures that Lipset and Rokkan in their seminal piece (1967) stressed, has been reduced to two dimensions in most European countries, as argued by Kriesi et al. (2006).  The two cleavages that seem to matter the most are the economic and cultural, with the latter’s exact content being contested and spreading from materialist versus post-materialist values to the cosmopolitan versus communitarian values. The second and third concepts Merdzanovic explained were “ideology” and “illiberalism”. He argued that illiberalism was not an ideology, but a mode of political rule which negated liberal values through rhetoric and took action against liberal rules and practices, targeting institutions.

Moving on to his case studies and the region of SEE, Merdzanovic argued that in South East Europe (SEE) recent research conducted by Szöcsik and Zuber (2014) demonstrates that economic issues are not salient within the party systems, meaning that the parties do not differ much on this dimension. What matters more is cultural polarization along two dimensions: (1) the libertarian/post-materialist versus traditional and authoritarian, and (2) ethnonationalism, in other words, the majority versus minority nationalisms. These two dimensions, however, are highly correlated, suggesting that any types of concerns get channeled through political culture.

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Assessing varieties of populism: From Europe to Asia

On 1 March 2017, Dr. Yaprak Gursoy (St Antony’s College, Oxford) gave a seminar on variants of populism in a comparative perspective at SEESOX with Prof. Michael Freeden (Emeritus, Mansfield College, Oxford) as discussant. In the seminar titled “Assessing varieties of populism: From Europe to Asia,” Gürsoy compared Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), Thailand’s Thais Love Thais Party (TRT) and India’s People’s Party (BJP). The event was part of SEESOX’s Hilary Term seminar series dedicated to the rise of illiberalism in South East Europe and chaired by Karolina Wigura. Gürsoy kicked off by mapping the vast array of definitions currently attributed to populism. There are three approaches to defining populism: Populism as an ideology, populism as a strategy and populism as style.

While Cas Mudde in his 2004 work considers populism as a thin-centered ideology that separates society into two ‘homogenous and antagonistic groups’ as ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite,’ Jan Müller describes the populist world view as “morally pure and fully unified –but … ultimately fictional—people against elites who are deemed corrupt or in some other way morally inferior.” (Müller 2016) As Gürsoy argued populism being an ideology is contested but considering populism as a strategy does not provide an intact definition of the phenomenon either, but it correctly emphasizes the importance of leaders. On the other hand, through this approach, populism can be seen as adaptive to neoliberalism due to its low institutionalization agenda which is also directly linked to the charismatic leader factor who “reaches the followers in a direct, quasi-personal manner that bypasses established intermediary organizations, especially parties…» (Weyland 1999, 381)

Thursday 23 February 2017

Social constraints and the decision to leave: Emigration from Greece at ...

Manolis Pratsinakis’ presentation, his inaugural as SEESOX/Onassis fellow at the Department of Politics and International Relations, focused on the determinants of the decision to migrate in the context of the currently unfolding big wave of Greek emigration and brain drain. This presentation was based on research conducted in the context of the EUMIGRE project, funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme (Marie Skłodowska Curie grant no. 658694).

Recession and austerity has made migration a survival strategy for several people who are finding it hard to make ends meet in Greece. However, there are others in less pressing need who are also leaving the country and present their migration as something they were considering already long ago. Focusing on the latter category, Manolis outlined how the crisis in Greece has altered the everyday discourse on emigration and loosened up social constraints towards long distance mobility, ultimately changing the emigration mentalities in Greece. 

In the first part of his talk, he provided a broad overview of the nature and identity of this wave of Greek emigration. Placing it as part of the current crisis-ridden Greek economic environment and complex migratory landscape, he outlined its differences from previous emigration flows and described its magnitude, dynamics and demographic make-up. In the second part of the presentation Manolis shifted the attention to the micro and meso level of analysis. 

Drawing on 30 in-depth interviews which he conducted with Greek migrants in Amsterdam and London and empirical material from participant observation at the Greek Community House in Amsterdam, he explored how migration decisions are actually taken by families and individuals. He pointed that the decision to leave lies somewhere between choice and necessity. The sudden increase in the emigration outflows after the deepening of the crisis in Greece allows for easy assumptions of a direct link between the two. However, Manolis explained that the increase of migration is actually strongly mediated by developments that we would analytically categorize as falling within the “social realm”. Exploring emigrant’s aspirations, social networks abroad and the reactions of friends and kin back home on their decision to leave, he highlighted the paramount significance of "the social" in the decision to migrate, relativizing mono-causal theories that make claims for the deterministic significance of economic factors. 

Lamprini Rori, AG Leventis/SEESOX fellow, St Antony's College, Oxford

Monday 20 February 2017

A Faustian Pact? Selling the Rule of Law in South East Europe

The third of the SEESOX Hilary Term core seminars, on 8 February 2017, on the rise of illiberalism in South East Europe looked at Rule of Law and how it can be promoted in the region.  Speakers were Kalypso Nicolaidis (St Antony’s), Damir Banović (University of Sarajevo) and Mehmet Karli (St Antony’s), with Francis Cheneval (University of Zurich) in the Chair.

Kalypso Nicolaidis gave a general introduction to the promotion of Rule of Law. She characterised it as defined by its absence; we only recognise it when we lose it.  It is more than a legal technicality – it is about people’s lives. The EU’s 2007 enlargement had led to the entrenchment of the RoL problems in Romania, with later backsliding in Hungary, Poland and perhaps others Member States. The EU faces a challenge in dealing with this, and its failure to do so undermines the EU’s original contract – a “cathedral of limitations” where the basis for mutual trust and recognition is  the implicit recognition of EU Member State capacity to make and implement laws.
But the dilemma of RoL is that the EU tends to proceed through a means-based, institutions-focused approach, while RoL can only be consolidated if it is outcomes-based and citizen-focused. And the EU is ill-placed to promote RoL, since itself, it  falls outside a normal legal order consistent with definitions of RoL. For Kalypso, the remedy must lie at the level of the individual, through a bottom-up approach, rather than a top-down one led from the EU’s centre.

Monday 6 February 2017

Authoritarian turn: The Western Balkans’ move towards EU membership and away from democracy

On 1 February 2017, Florian Bieber (University of Graz, Austria) spoke at SEESOX about the authoritarian turn in the Western Balkans and how the region simultaneously moves away from democracy and progresses towards EU membership. The event was part of SEESOX’s Hilary Term seminar series dedicated to the rise of illiberalism in South East Europe and chaired by Richard Caplan (Linacre College, Oxford). 

Bieber started his talk by recalling the ten rules a contemporary Machiavelli would give the Balkan princes, a blog he wrote two years ago that still seems very relevant today––so relevant indeed that it recently received an update. In fact, there is widespread consensus that Western Balkan states have been moving backwards in terms of democratisation in the recent decade and particular states such as Serbia or Macedonia are more authoritarian today than they have been ten years ago. Yet EU officials still claim that the process of EU integration is intact and progressing, in defiance of the realities on the ground. 

Monday 30 January 2017

Exit from democracy: Illiberal governance in Turkey

Kerem Oktem and Karabekir Akkoyunlu of the University of Graz presented on this theme on 25 January: David Madden chaired.

Kerem described the overlapping democratic backsliding in Turkey and its various neighbourhoods after the June 2015 elections when AKP lost its absolute majority. There followed the rise of populism and authoritarianism, the November 2015 elections, the de facto executive Presidency, the attempted coup of 15 July 2016, the state of emergency and suspension of the rule of law. This was against the background of the progressive retreat of liberalism in the US and the EU; and the return of Russia as a power centre of illiberal governance. As a second key theme he outlined the peril of secular middle class nostalgia for Kemalism. Kurds, non-Muslims and Alevis had always experienced a different Turkey, even during the space for freedom in the early 2000s; and the Kemalist project collapsed because of the contradiction between enlightenment and racism. Thirdly, the arrangements which assured AKP power and popular support, through a government- dependent civil society, might now be dissolving.