Total Pageviews

Monday, 29 January 2018

Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans

On 24 January 2018, SEESOX hosted Jasmin Mujanović (EastWest Institute), who came to present his new book Hunger and Fury: The Crisis of Democracy in the Balkans. Danijela Dolenec (University of Zagreb) acted as discussant, while the seminar was chaired by Adis Merdzanovic (St Antony’s College, Oxford).

Mujanović started his presentation by outlining the major themes of the book. As he explained, the process of democratisation never truly began in the Balkans, even though particularly Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo had been poster children for top-down state building. His book, therefore, is a critical intervention on what needs to happen for true democratisation to start. It centres on two arguments. The first one concerns the nature of democracy, which cannot be reduced to mere institutions and practices, but needs to be understood as a generational project that necessarily includes a bottom-up, citizen-activist component. As Mujanović said, it’s a process that includes both the ballot box and the public square.

The second argument centres on the question why the quality of “democracy” in the region is so poor, and, in fact, has been steadily declining for the past decade. How was that possible? According to Mujanović, one of the central parts of the explanation concerns agency, particularly the agency of local elites. In a process that he termed “elastic authoritarianism”, ideological movements and foreign empires have come and gone in the region, but the elite structures remained largely unchanged. The elites were capable of transforming their ideologies because they were so good in understanding when hegemonic orders are falling apart. Understanding how they did it and what consequences their strategies had are thus very important for a future push towards the successful establishment of a democratic regime that truly includes the demos, the people.

With respect to the future, Mujanović outlined two possible scenarios: the first, pessimistic one concerns a possible marriage between the local authoritarian tendencies with new, similarly authoritarian international patrons, particularly in Russia, China, Turkey, or the Gulf states. The second, optimistic scenario may be found in a different kind of politics, which Mujanović sees emerging in the region. Recent public protests and demands for reform, elite and regime changes in Slovenia, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have made clear that there is a bottom-up, activist surge happening at the moment. Its goal is to make democracy, as the rule of the demos, a reality in the region. Citizens seek to transform the polis through an antagonistic, popular opposition to the current elites. While Mujanović, therefore, sees reasons to be cautiously optimistic with respect to the future of the region, he emphasised that this as well was a generational project.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The Rise of Erdogan: The Crisis of Turkey

The Hilary Term Core Seminar Series kicked off with Soner Çağaptay’s seminar entitled “The Rise of Erdogan: The Crisis of Turkey” on 18 January 2018. The talk was chaired by Ceren Lord (Oxford University), with Gareth Winrow as Discussant.

Çağaptay is a prominent Turkey expert and the Director of Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute. He is a historian by training and received his Ph.D. from Yale University. His latest book focuses on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and where he sits in the sweep of Turkey’s political history. As he did in his book, Çağaptay gave an overview of Erdogan’s rule since 2002 and told the story of an increasingly authoritarian and Islamic Turkey. In his view, Turkey has become a bipolar country, with one block consisting of conservative AKP voters who adore Erdoğan, and the other made up of mostly left-leaning people who detest him.

The July 2016 coup attempt consolidated this societal divide. President Erdoğan has become the unchallenged leader of the country, while those who refuse to support him have been portrayed as enemies of the state. Çağaptay argued that there are two motives behind Erdoğan’s authoritarianism. Firstly, even though he has turned out to be the most powerful leader since Atatürk, Erdogan still feels an existential threat. Therefore, in his thinking and rhetoric, authoritarianism is required to survive. The second reason behind Erdogan’s tight grip, Cağaptay contended, can be found in his working-class roots in Istanbul’s Kasımpasa neighbourhood. Çağaptay considered that he and his pious family – like all devout families - were treated as second-class citizens by the secular establishment. Thus, he consolidated his power by claiming that he is the only one who has restored - and will restore - Muslim dignity in Turkey.