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Thursday, 22 June 2017

Book Launch: Memories of Empire and Entry into International Society

At a seminar on 6 June 2017, Dr. Filip Ejdus, Assistant Professor at the University of Belgrade and Marie Curie Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, presented the volume Memories of Empire and Entry into International Society: Views from the European Periphery (2017, Routledge) which he edited. The event was chaired by Kalypso Nicolaïdis (St Antony’s College); Richard Caplan (Linacre College), Vjosa Musliu (Free University of Brussels) and Jan Zielonka (St Antony’s College) were the discussants.
As Dr Ejdus explained, the voulme builds on critiques of the English School approach to International Relations (and especially its Euro-centrism) raised by Iver Neumann and Jennifer Welsh, by looking at seven Eastern and South-eastern European states, each analysed in a separate chapter by a native scholar. The starting point of the book is that English School, in studying how non-European states enter into the European society of states, has neglected the European periphery, partly because it was taken for granted as being fully European. By bringing the under-studied cases of Belarus, Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia and Romania into the limelight, the volume applies the critical English School approach to analyse the entry of this liminal space into international society and the role of memories therein.
The volume examines the ways in which these seven states entered international society and what their expectations from this process were, based on their past experiences and memories derived from the empires they were breaking away from, were once members of, or that they could look back to as a “golden age” for their nations. The book covers the Ottoman, Byzantine, Habsburg and Russian empires,  - arguing that memories of them both helped and complicated these small states’ entry into international society.
Dr. Ejdus summarized the book’s main conclusions in four points. Firstly, the volume argues that all nation-builders activated memories of empires and claimed to have special status in international society due to their historical experience. Secondly, the memories of empires were constitutive of the identities of the states as they were being built. “Who is us” and “who is them” were decided based on these memories. While these characterizations delineated territorial boundaries and helped build nations against the external “others”, they also defined and led to conflict between “modernists” and “conservatives” domestically. Thirdly, the memories of empires helped these states to make sense of international society, once they joined the European society of states. Serbia, for instance, rather than viewing international society as “anarchic”, tried to position itself at the centre of its regional order, in a process very similar to the one studied by Neumann. Serbia thought that international politics was about being “central” to the Slavic society of states, re-imagining the medieval Dušan Empire and envisioning the creation of Yugoslavia based on this memory. The fourth and final conclusion of the book is that memories are politically inconsistent and unstable and they change over time. Even today it is not possible to say that synchronization with international society has been completed. These states continue to align their memories with their expectations from international politics.
In their comments, the three discussants complimented the very interesting and rich case studies. In her discussion, Dr. Musliu praised the book’s review of the English school and how it traced the narratives these states used as they were ceasing to be an “other” and becoming part of international society, each competing to present itself as “more European”. Dr. Caplan saw the book as fascinating both in terms of the empirical cases that it covered and in its philosophical discussions. Dr. Zielonka stressed how the periphery is an important part of the Empire and how a lot of ideas of what the Empire is, come in fact from the periphery. There might be an asymmetry of power but not an asymmetry of relationship between an Empire and its periphery. The volume edited by Dr. Ejdus shows this point very well and contributes to a literature that has ignored this key element.

Yaprak Gürsoy, St Antony's College

Click here for the seminar podcast and here to order the book.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Majoritarian futures in Europe and beyond

Ivan Krastev, a political scientist and a renowned public intellectual, who is also the Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, gave the SEESOX Annual Lecture on 24 May 2017. Entitled “Majoritarian futures in Europe and beyond”, the lecture was chaired by SEESOX director Othon Anastasakis. 

Krastev’s lecture kicked off with Jose Saramago’s 2005 novel Death with Interruptions, which tells the story of a country where people suddenly stop dying and death loses its central role in human life. Krastev likened this story to the West’s experience with globalization, a dream that turned into a nightmare.  Suggesting that what we are witnessing worldwide is a revolt against the progressive post-1989 liberal order - defined by the opening of borders for people, capital, goods and ideas - and which takes the form of democracy’s revolt against liberalism, Krastev went on to dissect Francis Fukuyama’s article “The End of History.” Fukuyama had presented the victory of the West in the Cold War as one delivered by history itself. According to Krastev, Fukuyama’s piece captured the zeitgeist well; but one aspect was missing in his famous article. He talked about the free movement of capital, of goods and of ideas, but not of people, at least to the extent that we are experiencing now. The reason for this was, Krastev claimed, Fukuyama’s belief in the resistance of democracy. Fukuyama had believed that people would not migrate because democracy would create favourable environments in their homelands. But this turned out not to be the case. Today, poor and dysfunctional countries had become places in which it is not worthwhile to live, while Europe had neither the capacity nor the will to open its borders to everybody.

Krastev contended that the current refugee crisis in Europe is the most powerful manifestation of both the changing nature of the appeal of democracy, and the rising tension between the principles of democratic majoritarianism and of liberal constitutionalism, both to the public and to the elites. What we are experiencing right now is not simply a movement of people from outside Europe to the continent, or from poor states to richer ones, but also, as Krastev calls them, a migration of voters away from the centre, from left to right and vice versa, and a migration of arguments.  For example, the argument used by 1970s left-wing intellectuals in the West to defend the right of poor indigenous communities in India or Latin America to preserve their way of life, has now migrated to the middle-class communities of the West today.

Krastev acknowledged that, for many people worldwide, the idea of change means changing the country they live in, not the government they live under; and therefore, migration is actually the revolution of 21st century - a revolution that inspires a counter-revolution in Europe, led by the right-wing populist parties.
Krastev concluded his lecture by examining the populist tide and how it tends to generate majoritarian democracies all around Europe; we see the majority considering the state as its own private possession, with popular will considered as the only source of political legitimacy. Krastev also noted that the dismantling of checks and balances and of independent institutions are the main features of such majoritarian regimes.

Ezgi Başaran, St Antony's College

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Book Launch: Between Military Rule and Democracy

At a seminar on 11 May 2017, Dr Yaprak Gürsoy, Academic Visitor at SEESOX and Associate Professor at Bilgi University in Istanbul, presented her forthcoming book ‘Between Military Rule and Democracy: Regime Consolidation in Greece, Turkey, and Beyond’ (2017, University of Michigan Press). Chaired by Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College, Oxford) Laurence Whitehead (Nuffield College, Oxford) and Stathis Kalyvas (Yale University) were the discussants.

As Gürsoy explained, the book deals with the origins of democratic and authoritarian regimes in countries in which the military is a significant political actor. Treating the military as an actor in its own right, and with a distinct corporate interest, the book looks at the circumstances of military intervention in the democratic procedure through, for example, short-lived coups d’états, the support or establishment of longer term authoritarian regimes, or by accepting the authority of democratically elected civilians. Building on Robert Dahl’s concept of polyarchy (1971), and particularly the distinction between the costs of toleration and the costs of suppression, Gürsoy argues that elite actors such as military officers support democracy, authoritarianism, or short-lived coups depending to a large degree on their perception of threats with respect to their interests. The power of the elites relative to the opposition, determined partly by the coalitions they establish with each other, affects the success of military interventions and the consolidation of regimes. 

To substantiate these findings, Gürsoy performs both within-case and cross-case comparisons, looking at diverse coups that happened in Turkey and Greece over the past decades. Gürsoy suggested that these two neighbouring countries, both members of the NATO alliance, may be seen as ‘natural laboratories’. Between the 1920s and the end of the 1990s, these cases had no fewer than four episodes of authoritarian regimes, six periods of democratic rule, and at least ten short-lived military coups with varying degrees of success. Archival research, secondary literature, and 150 interviews with decision makers in Greece and Turkey, support the conclusions of the book, which also includes chapters on Thailand and Egypt as shadow cases as well as contemporary analyses of the impact of the Eurozone crisis for Greece, together with the most recent coup attempt in Turkey, on the consolidation of democracy in the two countries.

In their comments, both discussants praised the contribution made by the book. Stathis Kalyvas specifically commended the book’s effort to combine structuralist explanations on the one hand, and agency-based approaches on the other, in explaining the role of the military in democratic transitions. He furthermore emphasised the importance of the Greek-Turkey comparison as these two countries form part of the same matrix with frequent interactions. Finally, he complimented the book’s long-term perspective, going back almost to the beginning of the twentieth century and including some lesser-known coups. In his comments, Laurence Whitehead emphasised the book’s contribution in taking the subject of civilian-military relations forward through its long-term perspective and the paired comparison. He also applauded the effort to place the military in a wider political context and proving the model’s broader applicability by including the shadow cases.

Adis Merdzanovic, St Antony’s College

Click here for the seminar podcast and here to order the book

Friday, 28 April 2017

Mining language and network data for understanding online political networks: the case of the far right and the far left in Greece

This was Lamprini Rori’s inaugural presentation as AG Leventis Fellow at SEESOX. It focused on the online dynamics of radical and extremist political actors on Greek Twitter, and the interactions between and among them, during the turbulent political period of 2014-2016. Lamprini described the decline in levels of trust in mainstream media over time in Greece, especially since the beginning of the crisis, the drastic fall in readership of newspapers, and the closure of a series of important media outlets (TV and press).  A clear shift to social media took place between 2015 and 2016. Greek Twitter offered an important arena of political information, communication and socialization, not only mirroring political change, but to a certain extent producing it.

Lamprini presented her interdisciplinary research work on online political networks, including relevant political phenomena, such as to what extent discussions on social media took place inside echo chambers. She suggested that the rise of new issues during the financial crisis, like opposition to austerity and to the EU, had produced new alignments which cut across/went beyond the historic Left/Right division, without however dissolving it. She further introduced the term “interactive extremism” in order to describe the exchanges between the edges of the political system. She also proposed an innovative method of identifying party advocates online, based on the premise that when individuals retweet political candidates, their action implied a level of endorsement. Through this method of mapping political networks, she examined a series of hypotheses, relating to the cohesion and structure of political networks on Twitter. She explored interactions inside and between political networks on Twitter in the run up to the elections of three different ballots: the parliamentary election of 25 January, the bailout referendum of 5 July, and the snap election of 20 September.

Overall, Lamprini demonstrated that political networks are not static; they change over time not only in terms of size and political context, but also in terms of the nature of their   interactions. The echo chamber thesis was partly confirmed, mainly for networks embracing totalitarian ideologies, like the right-wing extremist Golden Dawn and the orthodox communist KKE. Interactions of political networks took place mainly with ideological neighbours, but also with allies in the bailout/anti-bailout coalitions. Convergence was not only strategic – mirroring decisions of the party elites - but also reflected proximity in terms of ideas. Parts of the political networks overlapped, allowing ideas to travel through among political spaces. In the three periods examined, she showed that polarization decreased cohesion of political networks and increased their external interactions. The most cohesive parties were the ones which also displayed higher levels of issue-ownership, like Golden Dawn on immigration.

David Madden, St Antony's College