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Monday, 21 June 2021

A Citizen’s Guide to the Rule of Law

Book discussion with authors, Kalypso Nicolaidis and Adis Merdzanovic


On 17 June 2021, in collaboration with the European University Institute, SEESOX organised a book roundtable moderated by Alexander Stubb (School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute) for the recently-published “A Citizen’s Guide to the Rule of Law”, authored by Kalypso Nicolaidis (School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute) and Adis Merdzanovic (School of Management and Law, Zurich University of Applied Sciences).

Sarah Nouwen (School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute) first presented the book and underlined that the rule of law is the most precious human invention of all times – for this reason, it should be accessible to everyone. She explained that the book engages citizens in a clear and direct way and raises awareness on the shared responsibility for threats directed towards the rule of law. While the book focuses on the rule of law in Europe, many of the lessons of this book should be applied for EU rule of law promotional activities beyond the Western Balkans. The fundamental argument of the book is that on one hand, the EU should be more ambitious in promoting the rule of law, while on the other, it should be humbler. The book identifies the areas where the EU should be more ambitious and where it should be humbler, supporting its arguments with suggested alternatives.

Monday, 7 June 2021

Emigrants and emigration states: A contested relationship?

The webinar ‘Emigrants and emigration states: A contested relationship?’ was given by Alexandra Délano Alonso, Associate Professor and Chair of Global Studies at The New School (New York City) that took place on 3 June 2021, within the context of the SEESOX/COMPAS webinar series ‘The Politics of Emigration: Representations and Contestations’; it focused on Mexican migrants in the U.S. The seminar was chaired by Manolis Pratsinakis (SEESOX/COMPAS). Robin Cohen, Emeritus Professor and Former Director of the International Migration Institute, University of Oxford, acted as discussant.

In her presentation, Professor Délano Alonso focussed on what diaspora policies reveal about tensions and contestations over policies and politics that are negotiated, as well as how diaspora policies can be a space of accountability, in relation to other aspects of migration. She used the uniqueness of the Mexican case, given the space it shares in relation to the US and also that it is a country of emigration, asylum and transit, as well as of return. Recalling that Mexico’s relationship with its diaspora dates back to the 19th century, she pointed to the strong consular network that protect diasporans’ rights. Most of the policies in their origins focused on documentation, emergency responses on issues of confrontation with US authorities, need for repatriation, and promotion of Mexican culture. Over time there was a shift in the focus towards issues such as expanding consular services, extending ties with migrant organizations (in come cases with practices of control and co-optation), and strengthening the Mexican-American population as a potential lobbying power. They also shifted towards giving rights to Mexicans abroad, such as symbolic recognition (naming them as heroes, talented diaspora), offering voting rights, dual nationality, support through matching programmes for investment (e.g., 3 for 1 programme), in some cases allowing them to participate in the design of programmes that concerned them through the creation of the Institute for Mexicans Abroad and its Advisory Council. She also focussed on consular programmes that support access to social rights in the country of destination, mainly in the US, highlighting the shift from the idea of returning to the reality that most migrants were staying and settling in the US.

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Is emigration a blow to liberal democracy?

A webinar on this subject was held by SEESOX and COMPAS on 27 May. The main speaker was Ivan Krastev, Chair of the Centre for Liberal Strategies, Sofia and Permanent Fellow, Institute of Human Sciences, IWM Vienna. Discussants were Maria Koinova (University of Warwick) and Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College, University of Oxford). Jessie Barton Hronesova, also of Oxford, chaired.

Krastev described the background and context. In Central and Eastern Europe, there was, broadly speaking, a fear of immigration; but the real trauma was emigration and population loss. The countries were shrinking demographically. Surveys showed that Poland was shrinking by 15%, BiH by 29%, Bulgaria by 40%. These declines were unprecedented in the absence of war and natural disasters. One economic effect was shortages in labour markets. COVID -19 revealed the devastation caused in the health sector, with the loss of medical professionals to countries where they were better paid.  This also meant the loss of money invested eg in the education of medical professionals, and the invisible transfer of money from the periphery to the centre. Governments were unsure how to react.  Strong nationalist rhetoric was employed, like the Berlin Wall, to stop the exodus of people.  There was also a major generational imbalance, with the young especially likely to leave: and a political effect, with the tendency of pro-EU voters to leave. The very fact of going abroad and making a living outside a country was seen as a success; just as under Communist rule moving from country to city was seen as a move-up. Illiberal governments, eg in Hungary and Poland, were not closing their countries to foreigners, rather welcoming them as guest workers; but were not giving them political rights, thus divorcing labour markets from politics and the nation.

Monday, 17 May 2021

Challenges and opportunities for the Biden Administration in South East Europe

On 13 May, SEESOX hosted, jointly with the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies at Harvard, a webinar on Challenges and Opportunities for the Biden Administration in South East Europe. Speakers were Thomas Countryman (former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State with responsibility for the Balkans), Valerie Hopkins (former South East Europe Correspondent for the Financial Times), and Ivan Vejvoda (Head of Europe’s Futures Programme, Institute for Human Sciences, Vienna). Othon Anastasakis (SEESOX) and Elaine Papoulias (Minda de Gunzberg Center) co-chaired.

Countryman began by underlining that the aims of US policy in the region had remained unchanged across different administrations since Dayton: to support the aspirations of West Balkan countries to integrate into the Euro-Atlantic structures (NATO, EU) and prevent any recurrence of conflict. Thus, while there would be no significant policy change from Trump to Biden, the new administration would seek to restore US credibility with its allies and in its alliances. He pointed out that, even under Trump, and despite frictions with Richard Grenell, the US and EU had in fact worked well together and achieved results – the North Macedonia name issue, Montenegro accession to NATO, and Albania’s progress towards EU accession. However, the EU accession perspective had lost credibility (Kosovo non-recognition by some EU member states, hesitations over opening accession negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia), while Hungary’s Potemkin democracy did not encourage reform in SEE.

Monday, 10 May 2021

Emigration states, existential sovereignty, and migrant responses

On 6 May the first seminar of the joint SEESOX/COMPAS Trinity Term Seminar Series ‘The Politics of Emigration: Representations and contestations’ took place, addressing the theme ‘Emigration states, existential sovereignty, and migrant responses’. The panel included Dace Dzenovska (University of Oxford) and Elena Genova (University of Nottingham) and was chaired by Manolis Pratsinakis.

The presentation of Dzenovska was based on a chapter in the edited volume The Everyday Lives of Sovereignty by R. Bryant and M. Reeves. Drawing on ethnographic research on Latvian migrants in the UK, she argued that sovereignty should not be seen solely as an attribute of state power but also as a claim and desire exhibited by people. According to Dzenovska, Latvians consider the Latvian cultural nation and the state as embattled. This sense of embattlement is a legacy of the Russian occupation and derives from two threats: proximity to Russia as a potential aggressor, and the presence of a large Russian-speaking minority in the territory of Latvia. However, in the post-socialist period another threat appeared; Latvia lost one third of its population to emigration, which intensified existential fears about the viable existence of Latvia as both a people and a state.

Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Protests in the Balkans: Do they have an impact?

The SEESOX seminar series on “The Quality of Democracy” ended with the event “Protests in the Balkans: Do they have an impact?” focusing on popular, participatory democratic activities and their consequences. The speakers were Danijela Dolenec (University of Zagreb, Croatia); Chiara Milan (Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy); Julia Rone (Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH), University of Cambridge); and Daniel Smilov (University of Sofia, Bulgaria. Othon Anastasakis (SEESOX) and Jessie Barton Hronesova (Oxford Department of International Development) chaired the discussion.

Anastasakis introduced the seminar by stressing the role of protest as a means to address issues that are neglected—or even created—by national elites and established institutions. “Bottom up” movements can be a vital source of innovation and a bulwark of democracy.

The speakers shared an understanding that protests can have important impact in several areas, namely:
  • Politics, for example by shifts in voting patterns and party structures;
  • Policies and economics, where resources may be reallocated and incentives adjusted;
  • Culture and norms, when the standards of behaviour adjust;
  • Biography, in the sense that the lives of protesters can take on new directions; and
  • Networking and society, as when new nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) emerge from protest movements.

Monday, 8 March 2021

Turkey’s constitution: The President’s monopoly over state power and the shrinking role of the parliament and judiciary

On 3 March the SEESOX webinar ‘Turkey’s constitution: The President’s monopoly over state power and the shrinking role of the parliament and judiciary’ focused on the diminishing role of both vis-à-vis the executive in the context of Turkey’s ‘new constitution’. The panel included Bertil Emrah Oder (Koç University), Ersin Kalaycıoğlu (Sabancı University), Murat Sevinç (Author); it was chaired by Mehmet Karli (St Antony’s College, Oxford). Introducing the seminar, Dr Karli noted that the panel would examine, among others, the functioning of this system over the last three years, following Turkey’s 2017 constitutional changes.

The first speaker, Bertil Emrah Oder, the Dean and Professor of Constitutional Law at Koç University Law School, unpacked the role of courts, and especially the role of the Constitutional Court in checking and balancing the use of power by the President. In addition, she examined the impact of the current system on the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms, explaining how Turkey could be seen as a case study to identify the dynamics of judiciary politics and constitutional reviews. She situated this case study in the broader literature on electoral autocracies and on comparative scholarship on the role of courts in the light of the third wave of autocratisation. Drawing on a range of examples, from cases of human rights defenders, journalists’ detention, and freedom of expression of academics, she analysed the judicial qualities and behaviour of Turkey’s Constitutional Court. She argued that the influence paradox, employed by the Court, masks autocratisation in Turkey and leads to the compliance of legitimisation advantages and the contestation of disadvantages for the populist autocracy. She concluded that the tensions embedded in this complexity are associated with the role of the constitutional judiciary in electoral autocracies, ultimately revealing the fragility of the Court and its dependence on political forces.

Monday, 1 March 2021

Legacies of Yugoslavia on the region’s post-communist transition

Legacies of Yugoslavia on the region’s post-communist transition

On 24 February, Ivor Sokolic (LSE), Ljubica Spaskovska (Exeter University) and Milica Uvalic (Perugia University) spoke at a SEESOX webinar on this subject. All had contributed to the volume “ The Legacy of Yugoslavia: Politics, Economics and Society in the Modern Balkans”, (I.B.Tauris 2020) co-edited by Othon Anastasakis, Adam Bennett, David Madden and Adis Merdzanovic. The book concentrated on continuities and discontinuities between former Yugoslavia and the successor states. Othon Anastasakis and Adis Merdzanovic co-chaired the session.

Ivor Sokolic addressed civil society, with case studies on Croatia and Serbia. Civil society provided checks and balances on nascent democratic states and institutions. It was an advocate of human rights and freedoms, and contributed to the deepening of democracy. The emergence and existence of civil society provided the true test of discontinuity. In Croatia, the effects on transitional justice were mixed: civil society both supported and opposed democratisation. The key insight was the role that the legacy of ethnic conflict played in leading to these diverging outcomes. In Serbia, civil society was the key political battleground since the collapse of Yugoslavia. It was similar to other civil societies in Central and Eastern Europe but weaker. It was more of a nascent political society than a civil society. Discontinuity from Yugoslavia was evident, but so was the shadow of the legacy: dissidence and the legacy of eg the Croatian Spring was a clear example of continuity. In Croatia and Serbia, there was a shared legacy of conflict and slow transition. Civil society both challenged and supported democratisation.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Media in Greece Free or dependent?

Media in Greece: Free or dependent?

The online seminar ‘Media in Greece: Free or dependent?’ on 17 of February 2021 focussed on the character and nature of Greek media, within the wider context of the Hilary Term seminar series on the quality of democracy in Southeast Europe. It was chaired by Tim Vlandas, Associate Professor of Comparative Social Policy in the Department of Social Policy and Intervention. Othon Anastasakis, Director of SEESOX, in introducing the seminar, commented on the fact that media issues seem to be ubiquitous when we talk about the quality of democracy in SE Europe; examples include media repression in Turkey, or a very strong executive control, fake news, or misinformation elsewhere. He pointed out that the Greek case is a hybrid experience of a long tradition of free speech, with at the same time many connected interests and linkages between the state and the media landscape. 

The first speaker, Lamprini Rori, Lecturer in Politics at the University of Exeter and Jean Monnet fellow at the EUI, stressed that there is no absolute answer to the question; the media in Greece are neither completely free, nor completely dependent and like in most countries, there is a dynamic interdependence between politics and media. This relationship is reciprocal, the particular equilibrium of which defines three factors: media freedom, the quality of journalism and the quality of the political class. The arguments in her presentation drew on primary research and the comparative data she put forward, looked at perceptions on media freedom. She argued that there is a lack of trust in traditional media, and more people compared to other countries use digital media; when it comes to information, Greeks prefer online rather than offline media. The reasons for this distrust relate to political and commercial biases, the poor quality of journalism, the perceived notion that social media give a broad spectrum of political views, and that social networks have a self-correcting capacity. She then focussed on systemic and institutional parameters, like polarised pluralism - strong state, weak civil society, clientelism, lack of clarity of the legal framework, media-political parallelism -, state paternalism and mediatisation of political life.

Sunday, 14 February 2021

The Struggle for Redress: Victim Capital in Bosnia and Herzegovina

As part of the SEESOX seminar series on the quality of democracy and rule of law in South East Europe, on 10 February Jessie Barton-Hronešová presented her recently-published book on the efforts for redress of the victims of the wars in Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH), which is a contribution to the literatures on transitional justice, conflict studies, and BiH.

The book was based on the results of Dr Barton-Hronešová’s intensive field research in the country as well as her academic studies in Oxford. It looks at victims’ journeys to secure redress in a post-war state, and examines the role of various social actors in influencing the policies of transitional justice. Initial questions included how victims have influenced reconstruction in a post-conflict state: what were their aims, and how did they go about achieving them? Why and how has redress been adopted in such a complex and piecemeal manner in BiH? It has involved one-off payments, and prioritization for employment or for education, but there is not even consensus on the types of redress or what to call it.

An initial stage of the research was to divide the victims into five categories: military war victims; civilian war victims; families of missing persons; victims of torture; and victims of sexual violation. Some groups are recognized at the state level, some at the level of the BiH entities. The victims of torture are still unrecognized at the BiH level. The process of achieving redress is still ongoing.

Dr Barton-Hronešová’s research centred on a comparative study of the experience of these five groups. “Victim capital” can be seen as the social, political, and economic leverage and influence attributed to each of the victim groups. This in turn boils down to the moral authority, mobilization of resources and the international salience of the various groups, which in turn reflects the agency of the victims and their allies.

Monday, 8 February 2021

Strengthening the Rule of Law in South East Europe and the EU: Instruments, challenges and lessons learned

On the 3 February, SEESOX in cooperation with the School of Transnational Governance of the European University Institute (EUI), organised a panel on the strengthening of the rule of law in the EU and South East Europe. The panel included Marko Kmezic (Graz University), Eli Gateva (University of Oxford) and Carlos Closa Montero (EUI) and was chaired by Kalypso Nicolaidis (EUI/Oxford). All panellists engaged with the EU’s focus on the the issue of the rule of law in the member states, especially in countries with weaker institutions, and the renewed emphasis of the European Commission on the pre-accession and post-accession rule of law conditionality including the linkages with the disbursement of the EU funds. However, despite an enhanced strategy and a broad mix of instruments, the deterioration of the rule of law in some member states and the candidate countries is a worrying trend and reveals the inability of the EU to address this important issue. With these initial assumptions, the panel discussed the efforts of the EU’s to spread rule of law practices in areas such as justice, fight against corruption and organised crime, emphasising South East Europe - Western Balkans, Bulgaria and Romania – and engaging in a critical assessment of the appropriateness and effectiveness of the instruments at its disposal.

The first speaker, Marko Kmezic, noted, on the one hand, the significance and potential contribution of the EU in this field and, on the other, the considerable democratic backsliding in the Western Balkans. While the European Commission since 2018 intensified its focus on the rule of law in the EU accession process of the Western Balkan states, through increased conditionality relating to the adoption of the relevant negotiation chapters 23 and 24, the success of its approach has been very modest and has met with implementation problems, use of inappropriate interim benchmarks and lack of membership credibility. In addition, he argued that this ineffectiveness was worsened by the resistance of local veto players and stressed the need for alternative opposition political dynamics and the inclusion of the civil society actors.

Strengthening the Rule of Law in SE Europe and the EU: Instruments, chal...

Monday, 1 February 2021

Can elections bring (real) change? Lessons learned and prospects for the...

Can elections bring (real) change? Lessons learned and prospects for the Western Balkans

The second webinar of the SEESOX Seminar Series Hilary Term 2021 was held on 27 January 2021, asking “Can elections bring (real) change? Lessons learned and prospects for the Western Balkans”. It was chaired by Tena Prelec (University of Oxford) and it brought together Florian Bieber (Graz University), Donika Emini (Civikos Platform), Borisa Falatar (Nasa Stranka), Vujo Ilic (CRTA, Serbia), and Jovana Marovic (Politikon Network, Montenegro).

Tena Prelec set the stage by noting the frustration felt by those who study and live in South-Eastern Europe that nothing brings about fundamental change and elections seem to legitimize the status quo. She gave the examples of Serbia and Montenegro, which have been downgraded from semi-democratic to hybrid regimes by Freedom House in 2020 (a hybrid regime, according to their definition, is a democracy which only meets the minimum standards for the selection of national leaders). However, recent events have challenged this assumption. She gave the counterexamples of the August-elections in Montenegro that ended the thirty-year rule of Milo Dukanovic, and the parliamentary and municipal elections in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina that challenge this notion that elections do not really bring about change. Asking “Even when things seemingly change, how long will they last?”, “If this change ends up being disappointing, will there be a backlash?”, and “What have the reactions of citizens been to the change?”, Prelec handed over to the speakers to unpack these questions.

Monday, 25 January 2021

Democracy in South East Europe: Backsliding or new normal?

On 20 January, SEESOX hosted the first in its Hilary Term 2021 Seminar Series on The quality of democracy in South Eastern Europe. The opening webinar, on “Democracy in South East Europe: Backsliding or new normal?” brought together Milada Anna Vachudova (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), Damir Kapidzic (University of Sarajevo) and Dimitar Bechev (DPIR, Oxford; Russia Institute, King’s College, London), with Othon Anastasakis in the chair.

Vachudova began by identifying the varieties of populism. While all populists ground their appeals in the opposition between “people” and “elites”, she saw populism on the economic left as involving an inclusionary conception of the people, while that on the cultural right was an exclusionary “ethnopopulism”. In the latter case, while the “people” shared some form of common identity (ethnic, cultural, national, religious, or racial), their “enemies” were both domestic and transnational elites. Ethnopopulism legitimizes political power by using intense majoritarianism in defence of the “will of the people”. It differs from ethnic nationalism in its flexibility in identifying any enemies that could help it to gain and consolidate popular support. It exploits “bottom up” discontent at changes in social and economic lived experience, reinforcing this sentiment through the “top-down” creation of “enemies”, and control of the information environment, to polarise society.