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Friday 30 November 2018

British-Turkish relations after Brexit: A strategic partnership?

For the final SEESOX seminar of the 2018 Michaelmas term Simon Wardman (King’s College, London and Istanbul Policy Centre) considered how UK-Turkish relationships would evolve after Brexit; Yaprak Gürsoy (Aston University) acted as discussant.

Simon Wardman’s presentation was based on his work at the Istanbul Policy Centre, almost the last independent think-tank in Turkey. He stressed that he had not experienced any interference in his work. He began by defining “strategic partnership”—this is a specific term, deriving from management studies, involving sharing of resources, and with the aim of improving profitability of both partners. It has been used in international relations since the end of the Cold War, for instance as regards the EU and China. The term as regards UK-Turkish relations was first used by Gordon Brown; Cameron also made mention of it, considering Turkey to be “Europe’s BRIC”, and a model democratic Islamic state.

After 2013 however “the bubble burst”. The IMF loan, under which Turkey had made a range of democratic reforms, was paid off. There were large scale investigations into corruption, which the government blamed on Gulen. Protests in Istanbul over the redevelopment of a park were broken up with force. The South East degenerated back into violence with the ending of the PKK ceasefire and the suppression of the Kurdish political party. On the economic front, the government sought to assert increasing control, for instance to reduce the independence of the central bank by challenging its interest rate policy. All these factors intensified after the 2016 attempted coup.

Monday 19 November 2018

The Macedonia name issue: Solved at last?

On 15 November 2018, SEESOX hosted a lunchtime seminar given by Marilena Koppa of Panteion University, Athens, on the Macedonia name issue. Jonathan Scheele was in the chair.

Koppa had been involved with this issue since the mid-1990s. She began by setting out the historical background to the issue, which went back to the Treaty of Bucharest in 1913. The Ottoman region of Macedonia had been divided into four unequal parts, with the largest part going to Greece, about one third to Serbia, and the remainder to Bulgaria (mostly) and Albania. The small share allotted to Bulgaria (9%) had been the basis for continuing Bulgarian irredentism and led to Bulgaria joining the Central Powers in 1914. Across the entire region, Greek had been spoken in the towns and cities, while the rural population spoke a Slavic language.

After 1913, Serbia had not managed to assimilate the population it had acquired, so had followed a policy of ensuring they didn’t feel Bulgarian, by promoting a Macedonian identity. This gradual transformation of a geographical into a national identity had been formalised in the 1945 Federal Constitution of Yugoslavia. The myth of an Ancient Macedonian identity had developed to exclude Bulgaria.

Friday 16 November 2018

Centralisation of Power in Turkey: Is it sustainable?

On 12 November 2018, ESC hosted a panel discussion organised jointly by SEESOX and PEFM, entitled “Centralisation of Power in Turkey: Is it sustainable?” The discussion was chaired by David Madden (SEESOX), and the speakers were Ezgi Başaran (SEESOX), Mehmet Karlı (SEESOX) and Charles Enoch (PEFM).

In Başaran’s presentation on “Structural Inconsistency and New Constants in the New Turkish Foreign Policy”, she pointed to the factors leading to the emergence of a new foreign policy, which marked a radical shift. These included the complete erosion of domestic checks and balances, parliament’s loss of its role in foreign policy, the subduing and suppression of any critical views on foreign policy, and the erosion of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ traditional role as a strong foreign policy actor. Consequently, the new policy is highly transactional, personalised and temperamental. Başaran highlighted three cases which revealed the changed character of foreign policy: the American-Turkish crisis over the arrest and the eventual release of pastor Brunson; the crisis in Turkish-EU , and not least Turkish-German, relations following the 2016 coup attempt and the recent rapprochement following Turkey’s economic crisis; and Turkish-Russian relations, especially in the context of the Syrian crisis. Finally, Başaran also questioned whether there are any constants in the new foreign policy. She argued that a vague Middle Eastern orientation, prioritisation of international criminal co-operation to contribute to Turkey’s domestic security operations, and continuing paranoia regarding the Kurdish role in international relations, appear to be the constants in this otherwise fluid policy framework. 

Balkan Legacies of the Great War: Centenary re-launch

On Wednesday, 14 November 2018, in a year that marks the hundredth anniversary of the ending of the Great War, Othon Anastasakis, David Madden and Elizabeth Roberts, discussed how South East Europe, the region in which the initial spark of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand ignited the War, was irrevocably altered by it. Drawing on the book Balkan Legacies of the Great War which they co-edited in 2016, the three presenters focused on the different ways in which WWI is remembered and framed in the various countries of the South East Europe, as well as on its various legacies that have left an abiding sense of a lack of finality and of closure for the region.

David Madden opened the session by explaining the history behind the book which came about as the result of a symposium at St Antony’s in 2014 to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the Great War. He provided a brief summary of the individual chapters and then explained why ‘the war was first and foremost an eastern European conflict’, as Dominic Lieven has written. The region in fact suffered ten years of conflict which resulted in the fall and rise of states that ultimately shaped the region’s 20th century history. Madden highlighted four historical legacies: First, the Greece/Turkey relationship, which remains uneasy and has spilt over into lack of progress over Cyprus. Second, the whole swathe of issues involving population exchange, population expulsion and ethnic cleansing, and encompassing also such horrors as the Armenian Genocide. Third, diasporas, including the role they play in the thinking and lives of their homelands. And, fourth, the various South Slav questions over the relationships between the successor states and related communities living outside their borders (such as the Serbian, Croatian, Albanian, Bosniak questions), as well as the Macedonian question, which has effectively morphed into the Macedonia name issue.

Friday 9 November 2018

Civil Society on the edge: A discussion of the Greek experience

Xenophon Kappas (Director of the Captain Vassilis and Carmen Constantakopoulos Foundation), spoke on 7 November 2018 on Civil Society on the edge: A discussion of the Greek experience. He offered his long-time experience gained while volunteering for organisations such as Amnesty International, the Hellenic Ornithological Society (Birdlife Greece) and Médecins sans Frontières.

He began by defining “civil society”, a term that first emerged during the Enlightenment, but which also appears in the writings of Aristotle as “politiki koinonia” and of Cicero as “societas civilis”. Adam Smith defended the rights of civil society, and Marx and Hegel, despite their different approaches, supported the idea as well. He noted that neither of the terms “state” or ”family” include voluntary associations and enterprises.

He offered a historical perspective of how the idea of civil society developed in Greece, pointing out that the Enlightenment had played a vital role leading towards the Greek War of Independence, as at its core were the right to free speech and education. He pointed to examples of civil society, such as Filiki Etaireia - established at the beginning of the 19th century as a form of freemasonry. Filiki Etaireia had tried to connect Greeks and Greeks abroad in a common cause. A second example was a peaceful demonstration in 1843, with massive popular participation, requesting a constitution from King Othon. A postcard was even created to mark this day as a national celebration. 

Sunday 4 November 2018

Diaspora and political participation in Greek political affairs

On the 29th of October 2018, the Greek Diaspora Project at SEESOX organised a two-panel public debate entitled “Diaspora and political participation in Greek political affairs” held at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens. The event was put together by SEESOX, in cooperation with the Greek Politics Specialist Group (GPSG) of the Political Science Association, the think tank DiaNEOsis and the Onassis Foundation, and was co-convened by Othon Anastasakis, SEESOX Director and Principal Investigator of the Greek Diaspora Project at SEESOX, Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Director of Research in DiaNEOsis, and Lamprini Rori, Lecturer in Politics at Exeter University, Press Officer of GPSG and associate of the Greek Diaspora Project at SEESOX.

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The issue of the Greek diaspora’s political participation in Greece’s internal affairs is a very important topic given the number of Greeks abroad, including the recent wave of crisis-led migration, estimated at approximately 400,000 people. In addition, Greece is one of the few European countries which – with the exception of European elections – does not allow out of country voting. The event was particularly topical in that it coincided with the creation by the Greek Ministry of a Special Committee of Experts, to discuss and prepare a draft law for the Parliament on the issue of the diasporic vote, in view of the upcoming elections in 2019.