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Wednesday, 7 December 2022

Ukraine, Europe and the Future of World Order

On 19 November, as part of a conference on War and the future of Ukraine, there was a panel discussion on Ukraine, Europe and the Future of World Order. Timothy Garton Ash (St Antony's College, Oxford) chaired. Kateryna Zarembo (New Europe Center, Kyiv), Roy Allison (St Antony's College, Oxford) and Jonathan Holslag (Free University of Brussels) spoke.

Kateryna Zarembo spoke mainly about EU/Ukraine: EU normative positions, hierarchy, and the EU “you must do your homework” mantra.

Roy Allison spoke of Russia’s war of choice against Ukraine and its people. This went directly against the UN Charter, globally accepted principles, sovereignty, and the world and European security order. This explained the extraordinary level of support for Ukraine. There were many unanswered questions about the future, and the wider reaction to Russian revisionism and revanchism.

Jonathan Holslag examined the role of China: how would Russia’s invasion of Ukraine affect Chinese thinking about and planning for policy towards Taiwan.

In discussion there were many points about the NATO role. There was mainly a coalition of the willing under the broad NATO umbrella/consensus. NATO was built on interests, but above all on VALUES: this was strength. 


David Madden (Chair, SEESOX Steering Committee)

Monday, 5 December 2022

Globalizing the Greek-Turkish 1922: Displacements, population movements and the coming of the national state

On 19 November 2022, the European Studies Centre, in cooperation with SEESOX, hosted an event marking the centenary of the conclusion of the Greek-Turkish War in Asia Minor. Titled Globalizing the Greek-Turkish 1922: displacements, population movements and the coming of the national state, the discussion was chaired by Faisal Devji (St Antony’s College). The speakers were Georgios Giannakopoulos (City University, London), (University of Leeds), and Marilena Anastasopoulou (Pembroke College, Oxford).

Giannakopoulos’ presentation focussed on the population exchanges between Greece and Turkey in the aftermath of the Greek-Turkish War. His guiding question was whether the Greek expansionist project was an effort to protect Greek populations, or an imperialist venture. The motivations behind the post-war settlement were a “unique blend” of imperialist, nationalist, and internationalist imageries, with various figures representing different faces of the endeavour: Nansen as the humanitarian, Curzon as the imperialist, and Venizelos as the nationalist.

At the same time, he situated the developments in Greece and Turkey within a broader international context. The “Global 1922,” he pointed out, included a number of state-forming events, such as Egypt’s declaration of independence, the creation of an Irish Free State, and the official establishment of the USSR. The infamous March on Rome also happened in the same year. According to Western commentators like Toynbee, disquiet in Asia Minor threatened the West with a new kind of “Moral Balkanisation.” However, the presenter argued that this global perspective challenges myths of Western homogeneity.

Giannakopoulos concluded that the Treaty of Lausanne was not a departure from previous treaties but the logical conclusion of the politics of territoriality. Lausanne, he said, proposed 19th century solutions to 20th century problems, but would simultaneously become a template for resolving minority issues in the future. As Frank would detail in his presentation, authoritarian countries such as Germany, Italy, and the USSR drew inspiration from Greece and Turkey, though they did not study Lausanne closely as a legal precedent.

Diaspora engagement in times of severe crisis: A European comparative perspective

On Tuesday 8 November 2022, SEESOX, in cooperation with the European Studies Centre, convened a discussion entitled Diaspora engagement in times of severe crisis: A European comparative perspective, with Othon Anastasakis (Director, European Studies Centre) and Manolis Pratsinakis (COMPAS, Oxford) appearing as speakers. Contributing author Irina Laphsyna (Ukrainian Catholic University) delivered a presentation on her chapter, and Maria Koinova (University of Warwick) offered her comments on the volume. The event was convened on the occasion of the publication of the new book Diaspora engagement in times of severe economic crisis: Greece and beyond (2022, Palgrave Macmillan) by Othon Anastasakis, Manolis Pratsinakis, Foteini Kalantzi, and Antonis Kamaras. Kalantzi.

The driving question of the new book is: how do severe economic crises impact diaspora-homeland relations? The present volume addresses this question by exploring diaspora engagement in Greece during the protracted post-2009 eurozone crisis. It looks at the crisis as a critical juncture in Greece’s relations with its nationals abroad. The contributors explore aspects of diaspora engagement, including transnational mobilisation, homeland reform, the role of diasporic institutions, crisis driven migration, alongside comparisons with other countries in Europe.

Anastasakis began the discussion with a general overview of the work. He situated the new wave of Greek emigration within the context of the 2009 economic crisis, the sharpest decline the country has seen since the 1930s. With a 25% decline in GDP and unemployment reaching 27%, the country introduced severe austerity measures. What followed was a wave of outward migration and severe brain drain, as public trust in the system plummeted.

He then outlined several sub-questions within the book. Firstly, to what extent, and in which areas, was the crisis a cut-off point and the catalyst for different modes of diasporic engagement? Secondly, what types of engagement do we identify and how do these differ from the pre-crisis ones? Thirdly, did the crisis result in missed opportunities or even disengagement between homeland and particular diaspora actors and cohorts? Finally, was the Greek crisis an exceptional and unique case, or is it generalisable and relevant to other similar or parallel interactions of homeland-diaspora engagement in Europe during the years of the financial crisis?

Friday, 17 June 2022

Free: Coming of Age at the end of History with Lea Ypi

On 13 June 2022 SEESOX was delighted to host Lea Ypi (London School of Economics), a professor of political theory at London School of Economics and the author of the much acclaimed book Free: Coming of age at the end of history. The event was chaired by Ezgi Başaran (St Antony’s College), and the discussants were Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College) and Paul Betts (St Antony’s College). Free tells the story of Ypi as a little girl, growing up in Albania as the country transitions from communism to a free market economy.

After Başaran’s introduction of the author and the book, Lea Ypi read the first few pages to the audience and then provided some historical context. She explained that the part she read takes place in December 1990 - one year after the fall of the Berlin Wall and that one of the reasons why Albania was not immediately touched by the events taking place in other parts of Eastern Europe at the time was the fact that it had a peculiar communist history, namely a history that made it believe that it was the only truly communist country in the world. This self-understanding was derived from being one of the two countries in Europe – the other one being Yugoslavia - that had liberated from the Nazi fascist occupation without help from either the Allies or the Soviets. The idea of living in a country that stands up to super powers had a central role in the main character’s identity as a child as well, believing that she is part of the only truly free country in the world because all of the others have sold out. Yet, during the time in which the changes in Western Europe reach Albania and economic protests turn into political protests, the character discovers via different responses to the protests that the two points of view that she has always assumed were somehow aligned with each other – the one of her family and the state – were in fact pulling in opposite directions. This occasion triggers a re-visiting of all other occasions of unalignment and turns into a coming of age story of the discovery of truth about freedom and non-freedom in which the character has lived both as it applies to her family and the state. At the same time, the process of self-discovery and trying to understand what freedom actually is characterizes not just the character but the country as well. Freedom, which is the central concept that animates all of the dialogues and conflicts in the book, often appears as an ideal, as an illusion and disillusionment. Through the relationships between the child and the parents, and the parents and the society, the book portrays different understandings of freedom at play, both from an institutional perspective as it is captured by the respective ideologies of two different systems, but also as a kind of moral ideal that people still believe in regardless of how it is actually captured by these different ideologies. The author noted that the reason why she chose this format, with a lot of dialogue and conflict within and between characters, was to draw attention to the agency of people, which they exercise by making moral decisions and trying to find the truth even in very constrained and oppressive regimes.

Tuesday, 14 June 2022

South East Europe in the shadow of the war in Ukraine: Part 2

Panel 2: Security challenges within the region


The second panel, chaired by Kalypso Nicolaidis (European University Institute), discussed security challenges in the region, in its changing global environment.

Dimitar Bechev (Oxford School of Global and Area Studies) cited three pieces of evidence of a new multipolarity. The first is obviously the war in Ukraine, where key regional players are not taking sides. The second is the pandemic, where China’s role in medical supplies to the region is salient, despite the EU’s doing the heavy lifting. And the third is the current role of Turkey, which has evolved from an EU candidate to a bona fide independent regional player. Unsurprisingly, regional elites are seeking to leverage the new geopolitical situation for external support, domestically or for neighbours, or to scare the West. This game-playing—of which Putin is a master—has historical precedents (e.g., Tsipras’s unsuccessful bid for Russian support to improve Greek bargaining power with Brussels). A main point here is that, in the region’s small countries, all politics continue to be local. Twenty years of EU reform efforts have not changed local elites’ incentives to maintain a lucrative independence and resist changes to the status quo.

Milos Damjanovic (Balkan Investigative Reporting Network) took on the question of whether Serbia is acting as a Trojan horse in the region. He argued that Serbia will ultimately align with the West, although pro-Russian sentiments in Serbia are at an historic high, and Serbia has not imposed sanctions. Historically, Serbia has more often been pro-western, with the pendulum swinging as national interest dictates. Current Russian support dates from the NATO bombing of the 1990s. Even then, Serbia remained pro-EU and kept Russia at a distance until Western recognition of Kosovo forced Serbia to rely on Russian support. The dilemma is a difficult one for domestic politics: how can Serbia side with the countries that invaded its territory, while condemning Russia for invading Ukraine? Vucic would prefer to be invisible (‘crawl under a stone’) but in the end, if Serbia has to choose sides, it will align with the West. Most Serbs want to join the EU. Damjanovic agreed with Bechev that a ‘waiting room’ for EU accession, or other second-tier membership, would carry a real danger of allowing regional elites to continue milking the system without pursuing reforms.

Monday, 13 June 2022

South East Europe in the shadow of the war in Ukraine: Part 1

Panel 1: The relationship between the EU and the countries of the region

The main event at the SEESOX Twentieth Anniversary Day, on 8 June 2022 was a pair of panels looking at the implications of war in Ukraine for the region.

The first panel was chaired by David Madden (SEESOX); it discussed the region’s changing relationship with the EU, consequent on the war in Ukraine.

Michael Emerson (Centre for European Policy Studies, Brussels) began by recalling that the Commission would be presenting three Opinions next week, on the accession applications by Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia; the European Council would discuss them on 23 June. Since the applications had been lodged, both President Macron and European Council President Michel had put forward proposals for involving new states in a form of political community, in the latter case as a complement to accession, while the former was more ambiguous. These applications were reviving interest in West Balkans enlargement, where CEPS had put forward a template for “staged accession”. The European Council would have to resolve a complex simultaneous equation, addressing the new three, the western Balkan six, and EU internal organisation. As regards the applications themselves, CEPS saw all three countries as broadly on a par with most of the West Balkans candidates, but ahead of Bosnia and Kosovo. The war created a moral obligation for the EU to react positively on Ukraine, as things could not wait until after the war; but granting candidate status could not be a short cut for regular accession negotiations thereafter. Moldova, while economically weak, had recently shown remarkable progress on the political front. Georgia was a paradox; while its economy was in better shape than the other two, there was growing evidence of state capture and of press freedom restrictions; these should disqualify it from candidate status.

Monday, 6 June 2022

Getting Older: Demographic challenges in South East Europe

On June 1, 2022, a SEESOX panel, chaired by Kristijan Fidanovski (Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Oxford), examined the causes and consequences of Southeast Europe’s rapidly ageing population. While all European populations are graying, the Balkans are ageing in the context of absolute population decline over the last few decades, with potentially serious ramifications for the intergenerational social contract in South East Europe.

Arjan Gjonça (Department of International Development, LSE) took stock of the three drivers of population ageing: low fertility, growing life expectancy, and net emigration. Fertility is much below the replacement rate (1.3 to 1.8, instead of 2.1 births per woman)—despite earlier marriages and first births than the EU average—and regional life expectancy is quite long. However, it is clear that the main driver of distortion in the population pyramid is the significant net emigration from the region in the past thirty years. In Albania, the most extreme case, one-third of the 1989 population has since emigrated.

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

The EU as a State-Builder in international affairs: The case of Kosovo

On 18 May 2022, SEESOX hosted the first of its Trinity Term Seminars, in hybrid format, on The EU as a State-Builder in international affairs: The case of Kosovo. The speaker was Labinot Greiçevci (Research Institute of Development and European Affairs, Pristina) with Belina Budini (European University of Tirana, and SEESOX) as discussant. The session was chaired by Richard Caplan (DPIR, Oxford).

Greiçevci was presenting his recently-published book, bearing the same title as the seminar, which looked at the role of the EU, and other international actors (USA, NATO, Russia, China, and Turkey) in state-building, using Kosovo as a case study, but looking also at other countries in the region, each of which had its own particularities. The book was based on research begun in 2006 and continued at various points through to 2021; it involved, among other techniques, elite interviews in Kosovo, Brussels and Berlin, including local and international officials, CSO reps, media and academia. He had developed a ranking for failure or success in state-building efforts running from 1 (failure) to 5 (complete success).

Recalling relevant theoretical perspectives – Liberal Peace Theory (LPF) and Normative Power Europe (NPE) – his work had attempted to combine both, looking at diffusion mechanisms, both overt (physical presence/political role) and through transference (technical assistance, funding). His analysis distinguished two separate stages, from 1999 to 2008, prior to Kosovo’s independence declaration, and from 2008 to 2020, looking at both tangible and normative impact in the first stage, and only at normative impact in the second (since tangible impact was complete with institutions in place after independence). In both stages, he had distinguished between the key and the assistant role of the EU and other actors.

Monday, 23 May 2022

The future of European security after the war in Ukraine

On 17 May, Lord Robertson, former NATO Secretary General, gave the annual SEESOX/ESC lecture in St Antony’s college. The Directors of the ESC and SEESOX, Hartmut Mayer and Othon Anastasakis, chaired jointly.

Lord Robertson began by describing Russia as an immensely complicated entity. It was important to distinguish fact from fiction. The 9 May Victory Day parade in Moscow was impressive, but had nothing to do with the facts on the ground in Ukraine. The Ukrainians - part of anti-Nazi fighters in the Second World War- were now fighting Russia. And the Russian Army was apparently no longer capable of fighting against people who didn’t want them.

The parade prompted three observations: victory in the war was not Russia’s alone, but equally we should recognise Soviet losses; there was a danger of conflating Russia and Putin – the Putin clique was not representative of his people; Russia was given insufficient credit for allowing a peaceful transfer of power in Poland and a peaceful conclusion of communism. The contrast with China and Tienanmen Square was stark.

Putin gave a totally dishonest characterisation of Ukraine: because of his emotionalism and messianic obsession with Russia. But the West should avoid provoking the thin-skinned Putin into even more reckless behaviour. He appeared convinced that NATO was a threat; but if so, why had he moved all troops away from the NATO frontier?

Monday, 14 March 2022

Turkey Under Erdogan: How a Country Turned from Democracy and the West

SEESOX held its last hybrid event of the Hilary 2022 Term, taking its title from, and focusing on, Dimitar Bechev’s latest book. The event was chaired by Ezgi Başaran (St Antony’s College, Oxford) who introduced the book as a tour-de-force of events and critical junctures in the past two decades in Turkey, as the country succumbed to authoritarianism and nationalism, and as it further distanced itself from the West. The author and speaker Dimitar Bechev (Oxford School of Global and Area Studies (OSGA)) was accompanied by the discussants Mehmet Karlı (St Antony’s College, Oxford) and Kerem Öktem (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice).

Bechev began by commenting on Turkey’s role as a critical player in the war in Ukraine. The Turkish government is currently stuck in the middle, given the tremendous economic challenges it is facing, the pressure from a united opposition, the discontent brewing among the Turkish society, and now a geopolitical crisis in its neighbourhood where it has robust connections to both parties.

He then zoomed back from the current situation to talk about the evolution of Turkish foreign policy since the end of the Cold War. Turkey had reinvented itself from being an EU-applicant to a central player with connections throughout the Middle East, the Balkans and the Black Sea. Turkey had been very confident that it could shape its neighbourhood and its image, bringing together Islam, democratic experience, economic growth and a populist leadership style, until it discovered its limitations and faced a pushback. Despite the lessons learnt, Turkey still wants to influence its environment and to play a central role in the balance between the West, Russia and China. Turkey’s process of becoming an ambitious regional player as a result of domestic politics, geopolitics, and ideology, is one of the major themes in the book.

Monday, 28 February 2022

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Has the international community lost the plot?

On February 23 SEESOX held a panel discussion on recent political developments in Bosnia and Herzegovina (B&H) and the role of the international community. As indicated by moderator Jesse Barton Hronesova, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Ca’ Foscari University, the panel took place amidst one of the largest political crises in B&H, whose constitutional framework is being challenged in at least two respects. These include the increasingly secessionist rhetoric by Bosnian Serb member of the B&H presidency, Milorad Dodik, but also the insistence for comprehensive electoral reform by ethnic Croat leaders, who argue that they are inadequately represented in the presidency, where the ethnic Croat member of the presidency is elected jointly by ethnic Croats and Bosniaks alike.

The panel addressed at least four key aspects of the topic. The first one relates to the actions of local actors and what their long-term goals and strategies might be. The panelists expressed a joint concern about the lack of care among local leaders about the negative effects of ethnocentric rhetoric on B&H’s already fragile political structure. Jelena Dzankic, a part-time professor at the European University Institute, reminded the audience that B&H’s power-sharing constitutional framework has been vulnerable to ethnic entrepreneurs from all three dominant ethnicities ever since its creation with the Dayton Agreement in 1995. Nebojsa Vladisavljevic, a professor at the University of Belgrade, pointed out that ethnocentric leaders have their own vested interests in preserving B&H in its current format, given the expected lack of international tolerance for any unilateral action on the ground, but also because their political fortunes have already thrived despite – and perhaps because of – B&H’s power-sharing structure. Yet, Jasmin Hanic, an assistant professor at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, expressed his concern about the recent lack of cooperativeness by ethnic Serb actors even in legislative areas where they have traditionally acted in a constructive fashion.

Monday, 21 February 2022

Venizelos: Crete to Athens, The Great War and schism, Peace Conference and after

Dr Michael Llewellyn Smith spoke on this theme at a SEESOX seminar on 16 February, on the occasion of the publication of the first volume of his biography Venizelos: the making of a Greek statesman 1864 to 1914, and the reissue of Ionian Vision. The discussants were Othon Anastasakis, Director of SEESOX, Marilena Anastasopoulou (St Antony’s and Worcester), and Helen Katsiadakis (Academy of Athens). David Madden (St Antony’s) chaired.

Michael Llewellyn Smith noted that 2022 was the 100th anniversary of the Asia Minor catastrophe and interest in Greece was already building up on Venizelos, the disaster, and in particular on who was to blame. He would concentrate on two themes: the early career of Venizelos, particularly in Crete; and the Asia Minor catastrophe. He would seek to answer three questions: what of Venizelos’s time in Crete bore on his later career? When did Venizelos first consider venturing into Asia Minor? And what caused the catastrophe?

Venizelos was Cretan in his bones: it was 45 years before his definitive move to Athens. And Crete was his apprenticeship in politics as a deputy in the Cretan assembly, in journalism, and in legal practice: the last in particular bringing him into contact with other groups (Muslims, Jews etc). He inherited Greek citizenship from his father, who was slow to allow him to attend Athens university, where he studied law, enlarged his friendships and gained the legal knowledge which allowed him to write two Cretan constitutions, and later a Greek Constitution. Venizelos was in too much of a hurry to master Cretan politics: but his clash with Prince George, the High Commissioner of the great powers, got him noticed in Athens, especially by the junior officers; and their take-over in 1909 took him to Athens and opened the way for the rapid development of his political career. A massive majority allowed his new constitution, an alliance with Serbia and Bulgaria in the Balkan Wars, and the beginnings of a focus on Greater Greece.

Monday, 14 February 2022

Crisis, reform and the way forward in Greece - A turbulent decade’

On 09 February, SEESOX hosted the second seminar of its 20th Anniversary Seminar Series. It addressed the issue of reform, focusing on Greece, a country that agonized over this notion during the recent years of its protracted economic crisis. The seminar built on the recently published book ‘Crisis, Reform and the Way Forward in Greece - A Turbulent Decade’ and the panel included Jens Bastian (Independent Economic Analyst, based in Athens), Michael Mitsopoulos (Hellenic Federation of Business) and Calliope Spanou (National and Kapodistrian University of Athens). It was chaired by Othon Anastasakis.

Calliope Spanou, the editor of the book, began by inviting us to move beyond the narrative of the economic crisis and the problems it exposed in Greece, and take a look at the wider challenges that lie ahead. She first explained the rationale behind the book and how it was conceived. The aim was to assess the extent to which the protracted crisis in Greece revealed (or not) resilience and led to deeper changes. In this context the book offers a reflection on the dialectics of stability and change and of external pressure and domestic agency. The perspective is forward looking: to examine the degree to which Greece is currently better equipped to deal with a global sociopolitical environment characterized by consecutive crises, the ‘new normal’ as the book’s authors call it.

In the remainder of her presentation, Spanou focused on public administration to illustrate (the limits of) Greece’s reform capacity, namely, its ability to endogenously set reform goals and to design and implement corresponding policies. Public administration in Greece, characterized by a series of structural problems, has been held responsible for many of Greece’s ills. Thus, horizontal reform became necessary. Making more specific reference to two critical domains, i.e. 1) budgeting, and 2) human resources management she concluded that the results were unbalanced. Regarding budgeting a coherent management system was introduced, and new instruments were developed under the auspices of the general accounting office of the Ministry of Finance, which assumed a central role. Overall, fiscal transparency was strengthened. Regarding human resources management, new digital tools were put in place and the whole technological infrastructure was upgraded with positive results. However, reform fell short in bringing the needed changes. Even less efficient was reform in terms of policy substance. In this domain, the status quo was largely reproduced. For instance, mobility remained individually centered and not in the interest of the service, while depoliticization was not implemented. The more recent appointment of ‘permanent secretaries’, who sit across the politically appointed general secretaries in Ministries, represents a potentially important step towards strengthening the civil service but will have to be tested against future government alternation.

Monday, 7 February 2022

What’s in a name? The classical Greek and Jewish diasporas and their implications for the present

On 2 February 2022, SEESOX hosted the first of its 20th Anniversary Seminar Series, as an online webinar, on What’s in a name? The classical Greek and Jewish diasporas and their implications for the present. It consisted of a conversation between Robin Cohen (Kellogg College, Oxford) and Manolis Pratsinakis (Centre on Migration Policy and Society – COMPAS). The session was chaired by Renee Hirschon (St Peter’s College, Oxford), with Othon Anastasakis (SEESOX) as co-chair.

Cohen began by pointing out the timeline of the classical Jewish diaspora, beginning with the destruction of Solomon’s temple in 568 BCE, through the founding, in 332 BCE, of Alexandria - a city whose Jews constituted more than a third of the population. The term “diaspora” had been attributed to the translators of the Bible into Greek in the Third Century BCE. He pointed out that, at the time, the Greek colonies in the Mediterranean and Black Sea broadly overlapped with the concentrations of the Jewish diaspora.

Noting that Thucydides had used the term “diaspora” with reference to dispersions of Greek populations, he wondered how distinct the two diasporas – Jewish and Greek – actually were. He felt that the Jewish diaspora often tended to be mischaracterised as linked solely to the dispersion after the destruction of Solomon’s Temple; in fact, while 25% of Jews went to Babylon, 75% remained in Judea and many later went elsewhere - to Alexandria and to the rest of the Mediterranean. Thus, the Jewish diaspora was in part involuntary and in part voluntary, thus resembling the Greek diaspora to some extent. The term “Greek civilisation” was an 18th Century invention; could diaspora likewise be used retrospectively?