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Tuesday 20 June 2023

Turkey’s general elections 2023: What next?”

On the 14th of June 2023, the European Studies Centre hosted its final event of the academic year, entitled “Turkey’s general elections 2023: What next?” The panellists were Mehmet Karli (SEESOX), Karabekir Akkoyunlu (SOAS University of London), and Dimitar Bechev (Oxford School of Global and Area Studies). Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College, Oxford) chaired the event.

In his presentation, Karli reviewed voting trends in Turkey and outlined six reasons for the failure of the united opposition to Erdogan. He pointed out that Erdogan’s vote share has stayed more or less the same since 2014, and that the only difference in this election was that the opposition had consolidated. Despite this achievement and other factors, such as the recent earthquake and the floundering economy, the opposition has lost yet another election. On the parliamentary level, the AKP scored one of its worst results in recent history, but this was made up for by other parties in the ruling alliance. Meanwhile, the CHP received a historically low share of MPs despite staying on a similar level.

The first reason for the opposition’s failure was Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Rather than choosing a consensus candidate, the CHP insisted on fielding Kılıçdaroğlu and alienated a number of voters from the allied IYIP. Secondly, entering the parliamentary elections as a unitary alliance proved to be a failing strategy. Most of the traditional conservative Islamists who could have voted for one of the smaller parties decided not to vote for opposition candidates because they were running under the CHP banner. Furthermore, As the Kurdish party left the alliance and did not put forward a candidate, its voting share went down significantly.

Monday 29 May 2023

Reconciliation by stealth: How people talk about war crimes

On the 24th of May, Seesox welcomed Denisa Kostovicova (European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science) to present her new book “Reconciliation by Stealth: How People Talk About War Crimes.” Marilena Anastasopoulou (Pembroke College, Oxford) chaired the meeting. The discussants were Jessie Barton Hronešová (University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill; Ca’ Foscari University in Venice) and John Gledhill (Oxford Department of International Development).

The new book, Kostovicova explained, is about what happens after mass atrocity. When do people start looking for justice? And is it possible to have reconciliation after conflict? Justice has traditionally been viewed as an emancipatory concept, promoting peace and reconciliation while strengthening democracy and the rule of law. It is often said that there is no peace without justice.

Since the end of the Cold War, however, scholars have observed the negative effects of transitional justice. War-time trials, truth commissions, and other such initiatives have not always brought clear benefits to society. Scholars have shown how the pursuit of transitional justice can further divide societies, antagonise groups, and slow down democratisation. Often, suspects brought before the Hague are hailed as heroes at home.

Kostovicova’s book takes a new look at the topic, asking: might there be something we are not noticing because we are looking only at the negatives? In her case study, she looks at the RECOM process in the Balkans, a civil society initiative advocating the founding of a Regional Commission for Establishing the Facts about War Crimes and other Serious Human Rights Violations in Yugoslavia from January 1991 to the end of 2001.

Monday 13 March 2023

Democracy promotion and safeguarding after accession: Does the EU matter?

On the 7 March 2023, the European Studies Centre welcomed Eli Gateva (DPIR, Oxford) to present her paper on democracy promotion and safeguarding by the EU. The event was chaired by Jonathan Scheele (SEESOX), with Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College, Oxford) and Mihail Chiru (DPIR, Oxford) serving as discussants.

Gateva’s paper speaks to a broader literature on the EU’s responses to democratic backsliding. Most academic research on the topic tends to focus on sanctions. However, Gateva’s article proposes a novel framework to study the EU’s impact after accession, analysing the post-accession trajectories of Romania and Bulgaria under the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). Conceived as a short-term instrument to address several ‘outstanding issues’ in the areas of judicial reform and the fight against corruption, the mechanism is yet to be revoked.

Gateva points out that despite the limited sanctioning power of the CVM, the trajectories of Bulgaria and Romania have diverged. Romania is traditionally seen as the success story of democratisation, while Bulgaria’s record is patchier. This challenges the received wisdom that EU interventions only matter before accession. The article argues that identifying and exploring the key mechanisms through which EU membership can empower and constrain domestic actors is critical to understanding the differentiated impact of EU democracy promotion and safeguarding.

As Gateva explained during her presentation, Bulgaria and Romania joined the the EU in 2007. However, what set them apart from the countries that joined in 2004 was an additional safeguard clause known as the ‘super safeguard clause’ which allowed for the postponement of their accession by one year. Although the EU didn’t postpone their accession, it decided to establish to establish the CVM. The mechanism was envisaged to last last up to three years, but it is still in place. This raises the question: how successful has the EU been in influencing developments in the two countries?

Monday 27 February 2023

Old Stories in new ways: Using the TV documentary form to revisit national history

On 22 February 2023, the European Studies Centre welcomed Stathis Kalyvas (All Souls College) to talk about his TV documentary series “Disasters & Triumphs.” The talk, entitled “Old Stories in New Ways: Using the TV documentary form to revisit national history,” was chaired by Marilena Anastasopoulou (Pembroke College).

Kalyvas began his presentation by outlining a widespread view of Modern Greek history according to which the country is frequently depicted as an unworthy successor to a great ancient civilisation, and its modern trajectory is viewed as stumbling from one disaster to another. Unhappy with this traditional account, Kalyvas conceived the idea for his 2014 book of moving away from this pessimistic view of modern Greece. His goals for a TV documentary series were threefold: to build on the thesis of his book; to do so in a research-based way; and yet to do so in an accessible and attractive fashion.

Such an endeavour naturally poses many challenges. National histories follow powerful conventions and scripts that are difficult to change, as people are highly attached to them. However, such stories can be frequently both deceptive and dysfunctional. Furthermore, public history has to contend with a world of social media that often dumbs down and polarises debates.

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Why are Albanians coming to the UK? Push and pull factors

SEESOX organised a panel discussion on the 8th of February 2023 entitled “Why are Albanians coming to the UK? Push and pull factors.” The meeting was chaired by Eli Gateva (St Antony’s College, Oxford), and featured Andi Hoxhaj (University College, London), Peter Walsh (The Migration Observatory, Oxford), and Fabian Zhilla (Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime).

Andi Hoxhaj began the discussion with a broad historical and sociological introduction. Albania’s history of mass migration began in the 15th century, when the Ottoman invasion caused a quarter of Albania’s population to migrate to the Dalmatian coast, Greece, and Italy. Another migration wave followed in the 19th century, with large diaspora communities established in Athens, Bucharest, Cairo, Istanbul, and Sophia. This was followed in the 20th century by migration to more distant countries, such as the US, Argentina, and Australia. In the 1940s, around 60,000 Albanians moved to the US.

The communist regime in Albania (1945-1990) put a stop to migration, making it an offense punishable by imprisonment. Due to poverty, unemployment, and political, legal, and economic instability, the first wave of post-communist migration happened in 1990-1992. 600,000 Albanians migrated to Greece, and another 500,000 moved to Italy during the 1990s. A second wave of Albanian migration followed in 1997-1999, when the growth of Albania’s economy – much of it financed through pyramid schemes – came to a grinding halt. The total damage to the country’s GDP was estimated at 45-52%. The economic downturn led to a rise in organised crime networks and violent deaths. In addition, one million ethnic Albanians fled to Albania in 1998-1999 due to Serbia’s war in Kosovo.