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Monday, 6 December 2021

'Open Balkan’ and/or European integration: An answer or a diversion?

On 2 December 2021 SEESOX in cooperation with The European University of Tirana hosted an online panel discussion on the European and regional state of play of the Western Balkan countries entitled: “Open Balkans and/or European integration: An answer or a diversion?” Speakers included Albin Kurti, Prime Minister of Kosovo, Dritan Abazovic, Deputy Prime Minister of Montenegro, Zef Mazi, Albania’s Chief Negotiator to EU, and with Jessie Barton Hronesova, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as a discussant. Othon Anastasakis, Director of SEESOX and Belina Budini, Dean of Faculty of Humanities, Education and Liberal Arts at European University of Tirana, co-chaired the event.

In his introduction Othon Anastasakis pointed out that the Open Balkans Initiative, like many other initiatives in the past, is based on ambitious principles of open borders, labor mobility and integrated regional market. But as many things in the region, it has also generated criticism and the mere fact that some countries are in and some countries not, is a testimony of the ambivalence of the project; some see it as an asset, while others as a liability and in competition with the European integration process.

Belina Budini, in her introduction of the topic pointed out that the Open Balkan Initiative, aiming at the creation of an open regional market, and signed by Albania, North Macedonia and Serbia, unavoidably raises the issue of compatibility with the European integration of the Western Balkan countries and their accession to the EU. Even though the project is represented as a call for action in response to the delay in obtaining EU membership, it has also attracted criticism on the grounds that it makes the region more vulnerable. 

Friday, 3 December 2021

Bulgarian elections: Third Time Lucky?

On 24 November there was a hybrid seminar at SEESOX on the recent Bulgarian elections: entitled “Third Time Lucky?” Speakers were Eli Gateva, DPIR, Oxford University: and Kyril Drezov, Keele University. Jonathan Scheele, St Antony’s College, chaired.

Eli Gateva reported the extraordinary sequence of three Parliamentary elections in the period April to November. The first produced no coalition government. Likewise, the second in July: but there was a clear picture of weakening support for GERB and Borisov and strengthened support for “There is such a people” (ITN) - which at that stage seemed to be favouring minority government rather than a coalition. The third elections in November saw another new party “Continuing the Change” (PP) emerge as surprise winners, with 25.3 % of the vote. GERB and BSP, the two previously leading parties, again failed to recover their popular support from elections in the previous decade, but GERB still won 23% and a respectable second place (BSP fared much worse with 10.2% and a fourth place). This time a coalition looks possible as the ongoing talks between ‘Continuing the Change’ (PP), ‘There is such a people’ (ITN), Democratic Bulgaria (DB) and the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP)’ are focusing on what they have in common.

Drezov asked the question: why the proliferation of new parties? In 2009 Borisov had seemed “new”: 12 years down the line he was seen by many as worn out, narcissistic and corrupt. His GERB had failed to become a normal party, retaining a reputation as a rent-seeking clientele. The Bulgarian Socialists were equally seen as а fossilised part of the status-quo. The leaders of ‘Continuing the Change’ (PP) had gained a reputation by being in power as Ministers rather than as politicians; their winning formula was the promotion of right-wing economic policies to achieve left-wing social objectives. They relied heavily on social media, but also toured the country and actively campaigned in the traditional manner.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

The Greek Military Dictatorship: Revisiting a Troubled Past, 1967-1974

On 17 November, SEESOX hosted a seminar on The Greek Military Dictatorship: Revisiting a Troubled Past, 1967-1974. Speakers were Othon Anastasakis (SEESOX), Foteini Dimirouli (Keble College, Oxford), and Kostis Kornetis (Universidad Autonoma de Madrid). Katerina Lagos (California State University, Sacramento) chaired.

Lagos recalled the history of the 1967 coup and its aftermath, noting that the seminar was taking place on the anniversary of the Polytechnic uprising on 17 November 1973 which contributed to the discrediting and the eventual downfall of the military junta. The seminar marked the publication of a volume of the same name (edited by herself and Anastasakis), a book which contained contributions on the history, internal and external policies of the Greek military regime.

Anastasakis focused on the junta’s policy towards education. At first, he drew a distinction between authoritarian and totalitarian regimes in how they treat education and youth; while totalitarians seek to dominate education totally and mobilise youth around their totalitarian ideology (i.e. Nazi and fascist regimes), authoritarian regimes focus on restricting and controlling liberties – a more limited aim – and show reaction and scepticism towards education and youth. In the case of Greece, a textbook military dictatorship, they sought to deal with the education system in a reactionary way, reversing earlier democratic and liberal reforms. This was based on no particular beliefs other than ultranationalism, with the Army as the embodiment of national consciousness, and a fixation on the purified Greek language (Katharevousa) as the official language, with Demotic Greek described as “semi-barbarian”. Alongside this, there was censorship of a long list of publications, they sought to suppress the youth movement, infiltrate the universities and impose their own clientilistic and loyalist networks.