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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.