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Monday, 6 February 2017

Authoritarian turn: The Western Balkans’ move towards EU membership and away from democracy

On 1 February 2017, Florian Bieber (University of Graz, Austria) spoke at SEESOX about the authoritarian turn in the Western Balkans and how the region simultaneously moves away from democracy and progresses towards EU membership. The event was part of SEESOX’s Hilary Term seminar series dedicated to the rise of illiberalism in South East Europe and chaired by Richard Caplan (Linacre College, Oxford). 

Bieber started his talk by recalling the ten rules a contemporary Machiavelli would give the Balkan princes, a blog he wrote two years ago that still seems very relevant today––so relevant indeed that it recently received an update. In fact, there is widespread consensus that Western Balkan states have been moving backwards in terms of democratisation in the recent decade and particular states such as Serbia or Macedonia are more authoritarian today than they have been ten years ago. Yet EU officials still claim that the process of EU integration is intact and progressing, in defiance of the realities on the ground. 

Monday, 30 January 2017

Exit from democracy: Illiberal governance in Turkey

Kerem Oktem and Karabekir Akkoyunlu of the University of Graz presented on this theme on 25 January: David Madden chaired.

Kerem described the overlapping democratic backsliding in Turkey and its various neighbourhoods after the June 2015 elections when AKP lost its absolute majority. There followed the rise of populism and authoritarianism, the November 2015 elections, the de facto executive Presidency, the attempted coup of 15 July 2016, the state of emergency and suspension of the rule of law. This was against the background of the progressive retreat of liberalism in the US and the EU; and the return of Russia as a power centre of illiberal governance. As a second key theme he outlined the peril of secular middle class nostalgia for Kemalism. Kurds, non-Muslims and Alevis had always experienced a different Turkey, even during the space for freedom in the early 2000s; and the Kemalist project collapsed because of the contradiction between enlightenment and racism. Thirdly, the arrangements which assured AKP power and popular support, through a government- dependent civil society, might now be dissolving.

Friday, 2 December 2016

Turkey’s 1974 Cyprus military intervention: Can it be evaluated in the context of responsibility to protect (R2P)?

On 30 November, Altuğ Günal, who is an assistant professor at Ege Univeristy, Izmir, and an Academic Visitor at St Antony’s College, gave a talk on the events preceding the 1974 Turkish intervention on the island of Cyprus. David Madden, a Distinguished Friend of St Antony’s, was the discussant, while Yaprak Gürsoy, Academic Visitor at St Antony’s and Associate Professor at Istanbul Bilgi University chaired the seminar.

At the outset of his talk Altuğ Günal stressed the different ways the Greek and Turkish sides of the conflict interpret the same events. He also stated that he prefers to use the term Turkish “intervention” of July-August 1974 instead of “invasion,” as the Greek side believes, or the “peace operation”, as the Turkish side claims.

The main question of the talk was whether the Turkish intervention of 1974 had the right elements to call it a “just war”. The “just war” doctrine, which forms the basis of the more recent concept of “responsibility to protect” (R2P), has 6 criteria: (1) Just cause, (2) Right intention, (3) Right authority, (4) Last resort, (5) Possibility of Military Success or Reasonable Prospects, and (6) Proportionality. Although the concept cannot be used retrospectively to judge past events, seeing the intellectual rewards of such an exercise, Altug Günal applied each one of the 6 principles, which is also shared by the R2P, to the events of the “hot summer”.

Friday, 25 November 2016

The economic challenges to Greece: What does the future hold?

David Madden (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

Jens Bastian spoke on 23 November about The economic challenges to Greece: What does the future hold? Yaprak Gursoy was the discussant, and Kalypso Nicolaidis chaired.

He said that the Greek economic crisis had not gone away. It had been a programme country since 2010, with the third programme due to expire in 2018. This deeply affected the country and how it viewed itself. By contrast, Portugal, Ireland and Cyprus had each had one programme and then finished the process. Greek GDP had shrunk by 27%: this was unprecedented in peacetime. Unemployment was over 23%, with two thirds unemployed for over 12 months (benefits ceased after a year). Greece had become a high tax country, and tax arrears were rising. The elephant in the room was sovereign debt: Greece owed 323 billion euros, 85% of it to official credit institutions. Germany was owed 108 billion euros, and opposed debt relief, though the IMF favoured it. Migration added to Greece’s difficulties: with the closing of the Balkan route, over 63,000 refugees were trapped in Greece, which had changed from being a transit country to a hotspot. On the other hand, tourism was strong, Piraeus flourishing (the second largest European port after Rotterdam), there were potentially beneficial developments in the regional energy sector, and resilience in some business sectors e.g. start-ups.

Yaprak wondered about a Keynesian solution of pumping money into the economy. On the political side she detected signs of the deconsolidation of democracy in Greece (unlike eg in Spain and Portugal), with Golden Dawn the most extreme, fascist and violent party in Europe. Recent public opinion surveys had even picked up some evidence of nostalgia for the Junta. The sharp reduction in the granting of TV licences was a new issue.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Conversations with Milošević

Slobodan Milošević was one of the central figures in the story of Yugoslavia’s disintegration and the wars that surrounded it. One of the few Western diplomats that had constant and direct access to him during this time was Sir Ivor Roberts, the former British representative in Belgrade and current president of Trinity College, Oxford. Roberts’ new book ‘Conversations with Milošević’, which he presented on 17 November at a SEESOX seminar chaired by Sir David Madden (St Antony’s College), chronicles the forty-odd meeting that occurred between the two men. For many, as Madden told the audience in his introduction, the book’s title echoes Milovan Djilas’ contribution entitled ‘Conversations with Stalin’, for like him Roberts presents a detailed account of encounters with an autocrat.

As Roberts explained at the beginning of his talk, the book was written some time ago but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office only recently gave permission for it to be published. Given that the book details meetings with ‘many unpleasant people’ and is full of ‘dark pages’, as Roberts said, this is maybe may not surprising. When Roberts came to Belgrade in early 1994, the posting had been described to him as challenging and Milošević’s reputation as ‘the butcher of the Balkans’ was firmly lodged with him. His assignment was to get to know how and what Milošević thought, for the latter was seen as a solution to the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

The democratic challenge of social reform in Greece under SYRIZA

Jonathan Scheele (Senior Member, St Antony's College, Oxford)

On 15 November 2016, George Katrougalos (former Minister of Labour and Social Security, now Alternate Foreign Minister in the Greek Government) spoke, with a panel of discussants: Bernhardt Ebbinghaus (Mannheim University), Marek Naczyk (Kellogg College) and Pavlos Eleftheriadis (Mansfield College). Kalypso Nicolaidis chaired the session.

Katrougalos explained the context of Greek pension reforms and his perception that SYRIZA had taken what he described as a “neo-liberal” commitment, contained in the MoU signed with the EU and the IMF, and incorporated it into a “progressive” pension reform. 

His presentation of the context of the reforms took in aspects of Greek politics – characterised by a clientilistic culture and general popular distrust of the traditional political parties – and what he described as the EU’s apparent lack of democracy – Syriza perceived the EU as determined to make an example of Greece to prove that only one economic policy was possible and that any deviation from this would lead to failure. The SYRIZA government’s painful dilemma was a choice between no agreement, leading banks to close and pensions not to be paid, and the painful compromise of signing an MoU containing policies it was hostile to. The MoU contained two types of policy – reforms of clientilistic [practices, which they supported wholeheartedly, and neo-liberal reforms that they considered dangerous to Europe itself; SYRIZA’s rejection of the MoU only related to the latter.