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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.