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Report on Panel Discussion ‘Decommunization and the Reshaping of National Memory in Ukraine’

By Blog Admin, on 8 November 2016

 

On 1 November 2016 UCL SSEES hosted a panel discussion on recent memory politics in Ukraine, organised in collaboration with the Ukrainian Institute in London. The speakers on the panel were Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist, Andrii Portnov, a historian based at the Forum Transregionale Studien and Humboldt University in Berlin and a well-known commentator on Ukrainian memory politics, and Alina Shpak, Deputy Director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance (UINR).

Uilleam Blacker of SSEES, who chaired and co-organized the event, reports on it here for SSEES blog. Video excerpts can be seen here:

The focus of the discussion was a set of laws redefining state memory politics that were introduced in 2015. The four laws, known in the shorthand as the ‘decommunization’ laws, entail the following:

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Russian Montparnasse: Transnational Writing in Interwar Paris

By Blog Admin, on 16 August 2016

Dr Maria Rubins, Senior Lecturer in Russian Literature

Russian Montparnasse

Transnational Writing in Interwar Paris

Palgrave Macmillan, 2015

[Revised and expanded Russian translation is in print at the NLO Publishing House in Moscow.]

 

Today, the famous Montparnasse cafés have become quite upscale establishments, and it is hard to imagine that in their heyday a homeless apatride could nurse a single drink on a café terrace for the entire night. During les années folles, as the interwar period was dubbed in France, “Le Dôme,” “La Rotonde,” “La Coupôle” and other brasseries near the intersection of Boulevard Montparnasse and rue Vavin were the epicenter of transnational modernist culture. Legendary artists and writers of the time – Modigliani, Soutine, Aragon, Chagall, Man Ray, Hemingway, Picasso – all passed through Montparnasse. The star of Parisian music halls, the American dancer Josephine Baker, would sometimes arrive in a café in the company of her pet leopard. And many a painter’s muse, the model Kiki, would take a dip in a water basin at the centre of “Le Dôme” to cool down after a champagne-drinking marathon.

Barely conspicuous in the bohemian crowd, young Russian émigré writers also thrived in this cosmopolitan and provocative environment. Alienated from their homeland, marginalized in their adopted country, and feeling constrained by conservative aesthetics prescribed by the émigré literary establishment, these young men looked toward European avant-garde for inspiration. Montparnasse offered a unique site where they could interact with Western peers and observe contemporary life, where hierarchies were suspended and where all cultural, ethnic and linguistic hybrids with unstable identities and precarious legal status could get a sense of belonging and relative freedom.

 

OPL1153075 Brasserie Cafe du Dome, Paris, 1920 (b/w photo) by French Photographer, (20th century); Private Collection; French, out of copyright

OPL1153075 Brasserie Cafe du Dome, Paris, 1920 (b/w photo) by French Photographer, (20th century); Private Collection/Bridgeman Images

The Montparnasse genius loci left an indelible mark on the style, thematic repertoire and personal lives of the young Russian writers. Many pages in the works of Gaïto Gazdanov, Vasily Yanovsky, Nikolai Otsup, Serge Sharshun, Boris Poplavsky (nick-named the “Prince of the Kingdom of Montparnasse”), and others contain colorful descriptions of a café scene, where, in Elsa Triolet’s words, “amidst the cigarette smoke permanently hung a scandal”.

In this book I treat Montparnasse not just as a place of gathering or a background depicted in interwar art and fiction but as a creative locus that generated its own aesthetics and discourse. Born out of exile and existential anxiety, Montparnasse literature responded to unprecedented cataclysms that shook the world, and also reflected technological and cultural shifts of the interwar period. Arguably, the real shock of modernity occurred in the 1920-1930s. This was, by David Trotter’s definition, the first “media age,” when radio and telephone entered the homes of millions. Air travel, symbolized by Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight from New York to Le Bourget, altered conventional perception of distances, geography, and the rhythm of human existence. World wars, mass migration, flows of refugees; widely popularized scientific discoveries, including radioactivity; the rise of mass culture and commodification of artwork; the dominance of cinema and progressive visualization of culture in general; the cult of celebrity; skepticism about positivist ideas; and discrediting any rational forms of self-knowledge under the impact of Freudian theories – these were the key processes that marked a drastic break with tradition and defined the world as we know it. In the interwar period, due to new communication technologies, artistic styles, fashion, music and ideologies began to circulate rapidly around the globe. As the “cultural capital of the world,” Paris was at the nexus of these trends.

My book was initially intended as a study of the prose fiction of the younger émigrés of the first wave, but then evolved into a reflection on the spirit and legacy of transnational modernism. Montparnasse became a metaphor for the interwar cultural production across Europe, which articulated the experience of modernity. It gradually became clear to me that Russian Montparnassians could not be understood only as an extension of the Russian national tradition, but had to be read against Hesse, T.S. Eliot, Aragon, Breton, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Bataille, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and other writers who best expressed the sense of civilizational collapse and the advancement of a new era. Such works Georgy Ivanov’s nihilist “The Atom Explodes,” for example, condemned as provocation in Russian émigré circles, shares an aesthetic and conceptual lexicon with modernist texts like T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and Breton’s Nadia. Ivanov, Yanovsky, Felzen, Bakunina, Adamovich, Poplavsky and other Montparnassians were among the first to realize that the Russian classical tradition was inadequate in the post-apocalyptic reality, and to set out to create a new language.

 

CHT253043 Cosmopolitan bohemia at Cafe La Rotonde, Montparnasse, 1924 (litho) (b/w photo) by French School, (20th century); Bibliotheque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France; (add.info.: La Boheme cosmopolite;); Archives Charmet; French, it is possible that some works by this artist may be protected by third party rights in some territories

Cosmopolitan bohemia at Cafe La Rotonde, Montparnasse, 1924 by French School, (20th century); Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France. Archives Charmet/Bridgeman Images.

While Russian Montparnasse literature was no less vibrant or experimental than coeval writing in other tongues, it long remained practically unknown beyond a narrow circle of Russian readers. To a much greater extent than other expatriates in interwar Paris, Russians lacked cultural networks, a vast audience in their homeland, translations and opportunities for marketing. But low visibility was also a self-fulfilling prophecy: the young writers called themselves the “unnoticed generation,” driven by the Surrealist discourse of anonymity and the myth of the “lost generation.”

Russian Montparnasse is a book about a transnational literary community that simultaneously drew upon, blurred and transcended Russian and foreign traditions and amalgamated different cultural lexicons and national narratives, anticipating more recent trends of cultural globalization. Their corpus of texts raises questions about the role in artistic expression of migration, borders, and dual identities. Today, the migrant has come to occupy a central place in arts and political discourse, prompting critics to rethink the relevance of conventional “national” affiliations for many authors and texts that thrive in the no man’s land beyond nation-states, languages and cultures – Rushdie, Nabokov, Kundera are just a few of the names that spring to mind in this regard.

I came to think of Russian Montparnasse as an early unconscious attempt to open Russian culture to a transnational dialogue, to transcend the national agenda and to reconfigure canonical values. Exile, which these writers saw as their curse, in fact allowed them to discover new directions in verbal art.

 

Further information from the Palgrave Macmillan site:

Maria Rubins

RUSSIAN MONTPARNASSE: Transnational Writing in Interwar Paris

Published by by Palgrave Macmillan in the Series “Palgrave Studies in Modern European Literature”

ISBN 9781137508027

This book is a case study in transnational modernist literature generated by exile, dislocation and cross-cultural exchanges, focusing on the younger writers of the interwar Russian Parisian diaspora, known as Russian Montparnasse. Maria Rubins argues that their hybrid, bicultural and bilingual writing transcended the Russian national master narrative, anticipating more recent diasporic tendencies. The book sets the Russian Montparnasse corpus into trans-cultural and intertextual dialogues with key Western and Russian texts to demonstrate that their artistic response to the main challenges of urban modernity and cultural rupture resonated with broader aesthetic trends in interwar Europe. By systematically reassessing the role of Russian Montparnasse in the articulation of modernism, this study expands our knowledge of the evolution of the transnational literary canon, contributes to the academic debate about national vs. transnational analytical approaches to bicultural artistic production, and challenges the conventional status of language as the chief marker of literary affiliation.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL, SSEES or SSEES Research Blog.

 

 

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Czech Republic – President Zeman and the ‘Czexit’ referendum question

By Blog Admin, on 1 August 2016

By Dr Philipp Koker, Honorary Research Fellow at UCL SSEES

This blog originally appeared at http://www.presidential-power.com and is reproduced with kind permission

The result of the ‘Brexit’ referendum in the United Kingdom on 23 June has created waves across and beyond the British Isles and the European continent. As many still tried to come to terms with the UK’s (almost) inevitable withdrawal from the European Union, several representatives of populist and fringe parties across Europe already called for similar ‘exit’ referenda for their own countries. The Czech Republic is particularly interesting in this regard as it was Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka who was first credited with floating the possibility of a ‘Czexit’ in February this year but then publicly distanced himself from the possibility. Now, president Miloš Zeman has reignited the debate by calling for a public vote on EU (and NATO) membership of the country.

President Miloš Zeman (left) meets Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament | © 2013 by hrad.cz

The UK referendum on EU membership has given rise to many calls for a similar votes in other countries. Far-right and populist leaders and presidential hopefuls, such as Marine Le Pen, have already called for a ‘Frexit‘ referendum in France and other variations of ‘-xit’ referenda in their countries. Although the anti-EU sentiment is most strongly represented in parties of the (far) right, demand for referenda has also come from the left and ideologically less defined populist actors, most prominently from Czech president Milos Zeman.

Shortly after the results of the UK vote broke, Zeman declared that – although in favour of EU membership – he would do everything for citizens feeling otherwise ‘to express themselves’, also with regard to NATO membership (a demand already made in February 2016 but quickly forgotten). Support for EU membership and trust in the EU institutions in the Czech Republic tends to be below average in comparison to other member states, yet is far from ranking lowest in the table. In the last year, criticism of and dissatisfaction with the EU has primarily been associated with the refugee crisis and the EU’s decision to impose quotas on its member states. The populist movement ‘Dawn’ recently submitted a motion to debate the possibility of a Czexitreferendum in parliament and the election of an MEP of the eurosceptic fringe Party of Free Citizens (SSO) in 2014 indicates that there is a part of the electorate that responds to anti-EU rhetoric.

Nevertheless, the Czech president does not possess any power to call referenda at will (a power reserved for only few presidents around the world) – the Czech constitution also only mentions referenda in a clause inserted to allow for the EU accession referendum in 2003 (in which case a special organic law was passed to allow for the referendum – the only one held in the Czech Republic to date). Furthermore, the government has made it clear that it opposes any public vote on EU membership. A Czexit or even a referendum on the Czech Republic leaving the European Union thus seems unlikely. Nevertheless,  EU membership (and to a lesser degree NATO) membership presents a political cleavage which could be successfully mobilised in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections (2017 and 2018, respectively), particularly in conjunction with the refugee crisis. After Zeman’s approval had dropped sharply a year ago due to his position in the Ukraine crisis and a series of gaffes, his ratings have since improved and stabilised once again around 57-58% over the last months. By calling for a EU referendum yet supporting membership at the same time, Zeman could thus try to dance at two weddings at once – attract Eurosceptic voters (who will probably vote for a fringe candidate in the first round but could prove decisive in a potential runoff) while not losing too many mainstream voters.

The do-over the Austrian presidential election might provide a first test of how such a tactic might work out. Far-right presidential candidate Norbert Hofer initially suggested that the Austrian people should be given a say over further EU integration and in his campaign greatly benefited from anti-EU sentiment related to the refugee crisis. Following statements by his decidely pro-EU challenger, Alexander Van der Bellen (independent/Greens), last week he was however forced to acknowledge that it would disastrous for Austria if the country left the EU. In order to maintain the momentum of his campaign and keep the anti-establishment vote, Hofer must nevertheless try to balance pro- and anti-EU voters which could – if successful – provide a template for Zeman and the Czexit referendum question.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author(s), and do not represent those of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog

 

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Russia’s Civil Society: From Democracy Backpedaling to Informal War

By Blog Admin, on 30 July 2016

 

alena blog images Alena blog 3 alena blog 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Professor Alena Ledeneva

Across Central, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, democracy and civil society in the post-communist era are being diverted by informal ties, networks, practices that hide behind democratic institutions. The main problem with powerful informal obligations to family, friends, colleagues and bosses is that they also compromise the state, governance and civil society, especially where clear boundaries between public and private cannot be drawn. Imagine official positions that take over private lives, or having to choose between being a good bureaucrat and a good brother.

I’ve presented my research into informal practices in my trilogy on Russia: Russia’s Economy of Favours, How Russia Really Works, and Can Russia Modernise. In these three books, I take an ethnographic approach towards studying informal practices at different levels and periods, from the Soviet Union to Putin’s Russia. I view communism, its collapse, and the formation of a new system from the perspective of informal practices, and question the predominant discourses of the state, democracy, and civil society, associated with formal institutions.

There are three strands to my argument.

Firstly, the 1990s’ liberal reforms in Russia were originally thought to allow civil society to emerge and get grounded in already existent networks, yet this was not what happened. It turned out that Russia’s informal networks operate according to the ‘us versus them’ logic that is largely self- or network serving, and thus not conducive to civic values.

Secondly, the double standards widespread under the communist oppressive system continue to operate even after the fall of such a regime. The post-communist vacuum was hard to fill, and after a short blip of enthusiasm for democracy in late 1980s and early 1990s, the informal practices in politics – black PR, kompromat, krugovaya poruka (joint responsibility) – have increased people’s cynicism towards the new democratic institutions.

Thirdly, the non-civic nature of informal networks in Russia has also had effects on those in power. On one hand, Putin’s power networks served themselves and reproduced the culture of privileges, which is detrimental to civil society. On the other hand, Putin’s restrictive laws of 2006 and 2011, which, although damaging to existing non-governmental organisations, had the unintended consequence of benefitting civic initiatives emerging ‘bottom-up’. This was illustrated by the Blue Buckets campaign for equality on the roads, and the anti-Putin protests of 2011. The internet has become an important tool for activism, such as the Last Address initiative, whereby people commemorate victims of Stalin’s purges by putting a plaque on their building.

However, since 2012 powerful nationalist propaganda has considerably eroded the atmosphere for bottom-up social initiatives. This was launched by the Kremlin to ensure popular support for the continuing confrontation with the West over the situations in Georgia, Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Syria and now Turkey. The informal war – an undeclared warfare behind the misleading facades – has gone international. This is not surprising, given the decades-long tradition of informal economy and informal politics. The future is even more worrying, as the number of leaders who admire and emulate the Most Powerful Person in the World is only likely to increase.

 

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Note: This article gives the views of the author(s), and not the position of the SSEES Research blog, nor of the School of Slavonic and East European Studies, nor of UCL

Poland – Judicial independence in jeopardy? President Duda refuses appointment of ten further judges

By Blog Admin, on 25 July 2016

By Dr Philipp Koker, Honorary Research Fellow at UCL SSEES

This post originally appeared at http://presidential-power.com/ and is reproduced with kind permission.

The controversy over Poland’s constitutional court triggered by president Duda’s refusal to appoint judges nominated by the outgoing Sejm and passage of legislation to legitimise his and the new government’s behaviour has so far dominated the presidency of Andrzej Duda (for a summary see Aleks Szczerbiak’s post here). Now, Duda is once again in the line of fire following his refusal to appoint ten out of thirteen judges from lower-level courts to higher positions. Thus, although the individuals put forward by the National Judiciary Council (a committee formed of 17 judges, the minister of judges and 5 political nominees) are far from uncontroversial, the relatively unchecked power of the president in the area of judicial appointments and the government’s plan to reform the judiciary continue to be the most prominent battlefields of Polish politics today.

President Duda appoints ‘his’ nominee Julia Przyłębska as judge of the Constitutional Tribunal on 9 December 2015| © prezydent.pl 2015

The Polish constitution, like so many others (irrespective of this being intentional or not), remains vague on a number of presidential duties and prerogatives. Article 179 of the 1997 Constitution thus states with regard to appointments of judges that “judges are appointed by the president on the suggestion of the National Judiciary Council” but gives no further instructions on the procedures or an eventual right of the president to refuse such nominations. Constitutional scholars widely agree that presidents may refuse the nomination of any candidate for public office (irrespective of judge, professor or prime minister) on the grounds of a person’s lack of formal and legally required qualification or reasonable doubts about their loyalty to the constitution. While this generally follows from presidents’ inaugural oath to uphold and protect the constitution, the rejection of nominees for political or personal reasons arguably has no legal basis.

Duda’s refusal to appoint the judges met with particular opposition due to the lack of justification for his decision. Before being proposed candidates for judicial promotions are vetted by the National Judicial Council; if their application is denied they can appeal the decision in court. An additional vetting by the president beyond formalities thus appears not only unreasonable but also adds the complication that there is no prescribed legal way to appeal his refusal to appoint a nominee. Many conflicts over constitutional clauses along the lines of “the president appoints/signs/etc” fall into the category of conflict between two constitutional organs and can be adjudicated by the constitutional court by the ways of a standard procedure. Yet as both the National Judicial Council and the rejected nominees lack ‘organ quality’, neither of them can easily challenge the president’s decision. The latter became clear in the only other case judicial promotions at lower courts were refused by the president. In 2007 Duda’s pre-predecessor Lech Kaczynski (the deceased twin-brother of current Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski), created a precedent for Duda’s actions by declining to appoint nine judges. The nominees’ constitutional complaints were eventually rejected after four years of deliberations as the justification was that the implementation of administrative law by the president does not fall within the remit of the Constitutional Court. The Supreme Administrative Court likewise rejected the complaints and subsequent further constitutional complaints were also rejected so that the case now (still) lies with the European Court of Human Rights (for a longer summary, see the report of the Helsinki foundation here).

Newspapers have speculated on the reasons which led the president to reject the nominations. In fact, some of the nominees are far from uncontroversial. One judge was prominently accused of bribery, another judge controversially dismissed a collective law suit against the financial services provider Amber Gold (which was liquidated following the discovery that is was based on a pyramid scheme), and a third was involved in the widely discussed case of restricting the “parents’ rights” of a couple accused of violence against their children. In addition, one judge was widely criticised for continuously extending the arrest of a football fan for alleged drug-dealing, yet without any verdict being issued over the course of three and a half years. Last, one of the judges whose promotion was denied judged on a case in which Law and Justice party Jaroslaw Kaczynski leader sued fellow legislator Janusz Palikot (then Civic Platform, later founder of ‘Palikot’s Movement’) for insulting him.

None of the above-mentioned controversies would generally justify denial of appointment or other presidential intervention. Thus, it is more likely that they are part of the Law and Justice government’s plan to reform and mould the judiciary in their image. Given that Duda is generally seen as little more than a vicarious agent of Law and Justice leader and Polish politics’ grey eminence (he does not hold any government office) Jaroslaw Kaczynski, it is not unreasonable to assume that the president is now helping to fulfil that plan (while at the same time extending the powers of his office). In a recent proposal made by the government (which was already widely criticised by the Human Rights Ombudsman and NGOs), the National Judiciary Council would have to propose two candidates per vacancy thus considerably increasing the president’s power over judicial nominations. This, together with the conflict over the constitutional court and the government’s decision to once again merge the position of general prosecutor with the minister of justice (the positions were separated by the predecessor government in 2008 and unsuccessfully vetoed by president Lech Kaczynski) highlights the great importance that Law and Justice attaches to judicial reform. Nevertheless, it also shows that judicial independence in Poland might increasingly come under threat – not only, but partially due to president Duda’s activism.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog

 

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Immigration in London after the EU Referendum

By Blog Admin, on 7 July 2016

by Dr Katja Richters (SSEES former post doctoral teaching fellow)

 

Immigration has been one, if not the most prominent topic before and after last week’s EU referendum. Innumerable media reports have painted a picture of leave voters as people who blame immigrants for their problems with housing, access to education and healthcare, unemployment and low wages. While I share these concerns, I strongly believe that neo-liberal policies rather than immigration and EU membership are their causes. As some of the reactions to the referendum result and the worrying outbreak of nationalism and hate speech have shown, voters were not well informed about what kind of immigration the EU facilitates.

Similar confusion also characterises the perceptions of East Europeans held by some of the leave voters that I and my fellow remain campaigners spoke to in Haringey before 23 June. Many of the remarks we heard were spontaneous and unpolished, which is understandable given that we knocked on their doors unexpectedly. Nevertheless, there was a trend towards singling out Poles, Romanians and Bulgarians as the main ‘trouble-makers.’ One woman I spoke to said that she was happy for Germans and French to live and work in the UK, but she did not want Poles and other East Europeans to have the same rights. In her opinion, the latter were lazy, lived off state benefits and prevented Brits from accessing vital NHS treatment. Other Haringey residents felt quite the opposite, i.e. that Poles were making it harder for them to find jobs as they were prepared to work more for less. There was also the perception that Romanians and Bulgarians were causing unspecified problems, spoke little or no English and formed criminal gangs.

Somewhat surprisingly, more than half of the voters who expressed these opinions were either first or second generation immigrants. Haringey is one of the most ethnically diverse boroughs in the UK with sizeable Turkish and Kurdish communities as well as many migrants from Commonwealth states. There are also a number of East European shops and bars dotted around the borough. Voters from a BAME background added a different perspective to the perception of East Europeans as a number of them felt that they harboured racist prejudices. They told us that they were intending to vote leave because they felt that the progress that has been made in combating racism since the 1970s was threatened by the influx of migrants from less tolerant and diverse societies. Some also criticised that the EU facilitates movement only between its member states, but makes it much harder for Commonwealth citizens to live and work in the UK. They consequently questioned why people who do not have a historical connection to Britain enjoyed more rights than those whose ancestors had stood by the UK during difficult times, i.e. two world wars.

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A typical East European food shop, similar to those on Harringay Green Lanes

It would be presumptuous to claim that this relatively small sample of Haringey residents was representative of voters’ perceptions across the country. As a West German who has spent considerable time and energy studying the history, politics, languages and cultures of Eastern Europe – notably Russia and Ukraine – I do not perceive Eastern Europeans as ‘civilisational others’ and I am saddened and worried by the opinions I have summarised above. I would nevertheless draw the tentative conclusion that East Europeans, however defined, face an image problem in the UK that needs to be addressed. As our political elite is wondering how to reshape Britain’s relationship with the EU, I believe it is worthwhile thinking about how we as academics and researchers interested in Central and Eastern Europe could share our passion for the regions and people we study with a wider audience. If we succeeded – and I think we can – in making the hypothetical Joe Bloggs realise that EU migrants come from countries with fascinating cultures and rich histories it would not only be the migrants who would gain from this.

It would also be the academic community because it would give it a powerful answer to the question ‘Why should we spend taxpayers’ money on your research?’

 

 

Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL, SSEES or SSEES Research Blog. 

 

 

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FYRUK? Ukoslovakia? Herceg-Engleska?

By Blog Admin, on 6 July 2016

by Eric Gordy – Senior Lecturer in Southeast European Politics

This post originally appeared on Eric’s personal blog and is reproduced with kind permission of the author.

 

It has become mildly popular, in the wake of the disastrous referendum in which a small majority of a deliberately misinformed public voted to advise the UK government to leave the European Union, to draw parallels between the future of the UK, which would certainly not survive such a dramatic move, and the recent past of the states of the former Yugoslavia.

There are a few similarities, which might as well be noted. The first of them is that decisions deeply affecting the fate of a great many people were decided after bitter, ethnocentric populist campaigns in a referendum. The second is that they led to the rise into prominence of bizarre and clownish figures from the political margins who would never have a chance if they had to face an informed public or oppose a responsible and engaged elite. And of course the third is that we were able to witness established parties and figures which gave every appearance of being established and cast in stone melt and dissipate as quickly as butter in a skillet awaiting the arrival of a fate-cursed egg.

But there are, after all, more differences. The chronological difference that matters is that in the case of the former Yugoslavia, referenda were demanded by outside actors, undertaken when conditions had already become unsustainable, and regarded as paths to resolution. In the case of the UK the referendum derived from the ongoing social crisis, but predated (by an hour or so) the political crisis. The practical difference that matters is that by the times referenda were held in the Southeast European states, there were already armed groups prepared to affirm or reject the outcome. In the UK, for better or worse, violence has been mostly restricted to small groups of people inspired by the rabble-rousers willing to engage in acts of heroic sacrifice like shooting an MP as she walked out of a library, painting vulgarities on a Polish cultural centre, and sending threatening notes to schoolchildren.

The interesting material is in the space between elements that are similar and elements that are different, where we can see a diverse set of political and social forces trying to push events in one or another direction. The loony right wing of the Conservative party, which Mr Cameron thought he would marginalise in his ham-libidoed miscalculation, is gearing itself up to claim a mandate to govern that it does not have even its own party. Conspirators in the Labour party are doing their best to assure that if the Conservatives go down they will not go down alone. Meanwhile both in London and in Bruxelles a chorus of voices is trying to affirm by repetition the claim that an advisory referendum carries with it inevitable legal finality.

Much of the dispute about whether the outcome of the referendum has to be transformed into basic change – for the worse – in political structures derives from the UK’s idiosyncratic legal system. Its defenders decribe its functioning as an «unwritten constitution,» in which the absence of established rules is compensated by a tradition of interpretation. This contention depends in the first instance on the maintenance of basic stability and continuity in the system, but much more than that on the (invalid) assumption that all participants in the system share similar values and goals. A vocal plurality of EU officials are demanding that the UK government invoke Article 50 of the EU Charter, which would set the actual process of exit in motion. This demand is motivated by a fear of extended uncertainty and the perception that the referendum results reflect a public will that has been expressed and cannot be changed. Inside the country, there is debate over whether invoking Article 50 can be done by the prime minister or must be voted by Parliament, whether the move requires consent of all of the constituent units of the UK, and whether any parliamentary decision could be blocked by the unelected chamber of the parliament or by judicial review.

The principal dilemma here is one that existed in the former Yugoslav cases, but was resolved in those instances principally by force: that is that there are a number of ways of preventing the collapse of the system that are legal, but only one that is legitimate. The legitimate way is to dissolve the parliament and hold new elections, which IF they were won by a party or a coalition pledging a new referendum on the basic of new circumstances and risk, MIGHT result in a repeat of the referendum with a changed result (there are at least five preceedents for this in the short history of EU-related referenda). Vetoes of various types, whether from Scottish parliamentarians, judges or «lords,» are simply tricks that would not address fundamental issues. Legally it could be argued that in a representative system members of parliament have both the authority and the obligation not to follow public opinion when it threatens the integrity of the state, but the political risk of doing this is high enough, and the level of courage among parliamentarians low enough, that this is unlikely to happen. Assuming that the use of force does not shift from thug to systemic scale, this means either new elections or a drawn-out period of confusion, paralysis, weak legitimacy, and decay.

It may be that the most important similarity between the recent violent restructuring of the former Yugoslavia and the coming dissolution of the UK (which will be mostly non-violent, with the violence concentrated on marginalised populations who media and public opinion will systematically ignore) is the parallel set of causes. The earlier set of incidents took place in a part of the world where the managers of a hegemonic ideology had lost the trust of the public and the will to defend their ideas. The present events have their root in a clumsily expressed but similar type of public rejection, in which the greatest proportion of working class support for exit came from people who saw their vote as an act of «rebellion,» and who perceived their own interests as ignored in a political and economic system that over a long period disinvested in their livelihoods, withdrew support for their social needs, and symbolically treated them as marginal. In both instances high levels of social dissatisfaction resulted in the emergence of new political orders which would marginalise the people who supported them even further.

If people in our profession were cynical and self-seeking, they would be pleased with this course of events. Lots of jobs for Balkanologists and involuntary specialists in acquises communitaires and other such strange creatures! Mostly, though, we are not, because we know a little bit about the effects of manufactured disorder, socially approved violence, and recombinant structures of hatred.

 

Views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of SSEES, UCL, or SSEES Research Blog.

 

 

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EU Referendum: Director’s Statement

By Blog Admin, on 30 June 2016

2015-12-03 19.28.32

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear All,

In the light of the referendum’s result I want to reaffirm – first of all – SSEES’s steadfast commitment to the principles of international collaboration and solidarity. They constitute the unchallengeable base of our educational mission. Our staff and students come from all over the world and we cherish this soul and mind nurturing diversity. We will do everything we can to make sure that Brexit will not impact negatively our multi-national culture and the network of trans-European partnerships and collaborations.

It is not clear how SSEES’s multiple relations with various European institutions will be affected, however, it is clear that no change is imminent. There is no timetable for renegotiation of our collaborative agreements and no instructions on how and when we should adjust the existing arrangements affecting fees for EU students. UCL has, however, confirmed that it has no plans to change the tuition fees for EU students that have already been published for 2016/17. EU students who are registered at the university in 2016/17 (either as a new or continuing student) will continue to be charged the home rate for tuition fees for all subsequent years of their programme. As further details become available, we will publish information on our website.

See UCL’s statement in response to the referendum result

Allow me please to quote from the Provost’s statement: “In the short term, I would like to reassure our staff and students that barring unilateral action from the UK government, the vote to leave the European Union does not mean there will be any immediate material change to the immigration status of current and prospective EU students and staff, nor to the UK university sector’s participation in EU programmes such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+. Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty foresees a two-year negotiation process between the UK and other member states, during which time the terms of the UK’s exit from the European Union will be decided.”

Like UCL, SEEES is a proud member of the global and pan-European community of scholars committed to the pursuit of intellectual excellence and the ideals of human solidarity and mutual respect.

I very much look forward to welcoming our staff and all our students, old and new, this September.

JAN KUBIK

DIRECTOR OF UCL SSEES

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The price of solidarity: is Brexit worth it?

By Blog Admin, on 21 June 2016

by Professor Jan Kubik, Director of SSEES. This post originally appeared on OpenDemocracy  and is reproduced with kind permission of the Author.

 

A misunderstanding of history and of historical time has put European solidarity on the chopping block. Think carefully before allowing the axe to swing.

Marina Shemesh/publicdomainpictures.net. Public domain.

In his review of Niall Ferguson’s Kissinger, Graham Allison quotes from the book: “in researching the life and times of Henry Kissinger, I have come to realize that my approach was unsubtle. In particular, I had missed the crucial importance in American foreign policy of the history deficit: The fact that key decision-makers know almost nothing not just of other countries’ pasts but also of their own. Worse, they often do not see what is wrong with their ignorance”. Allison continues: “Ferguson’s observation reminded me of an occasion three years ago when, after an absence of four decades, Kissinger returned to Harvard. Asked by a student what someone hoping for a career like his should study, Kissinger answered: ‘history and philosophy’ – two subjects notable for their absence in most American schools of public policy”.

There is a very similar deficit in the Brexit debate. It has come to be dominated by economic and immigration questions. Moreover, it is not easy to find clear answers in the flood of simplistically and often erroneously argued debates. The only thing we know for sure is that most economists argue against Brexit while most Brexiters argue against immigrants. So, what wisdom is to be found away from economics (where the majority of practitioners argue against Brexit) and the emotionally draining albeit facts-deprived immigration debates? Is there any “Brexit wisdom” to be gained from peeking into history and philosophy?

Where history meets philosophy

At an intersection of philosophy and history one can hunt for some useful clues. Among the most promising are those that lead toward the concept of solidarity. I have no doubt that Brexit constitutes a powerful threat to continental solidarity. I do not have space here to explicate a full argument about the value of such solidarity. It is sufficient to realise that Brexit will send all the wrong signals to the enemies of the liberal democratic order that is the foundation of the peaceful, prosperous, and increasingly solidary post-WWII Europe.

Brexit may mean the beginning of the end of the most successful transnational organisation ever attempted by human beings without conquest.

It will embolden those who work to restore strong nation states built around excessively overblown, exclusivist nationalist identities. After Brexit, the next Austrian election will go the other way, most likely. I wish the Brits would pause their increasingly myopic, inward-directed debates on the narrow economic or political benefits of leaving the EU and consider the fate of Europe, a continent that for a while has been on the track of healing old wounds and consolidating itself. A continent they helped to save so valiantly in world war two and in whose post-war reconstruction they participated so ably.

What is the cost of this solidarity? We know that British insistence on special treatment has already been acknowledged and amply rewarded. Consider the rebate, the exclusion from Schengen, and the retention of pound sterling. Consider that the Brits arecontributing less to the common European pot of funds than almost every other country, if you measure contributions as percentages of Gross National Income. This is not to say that membership is costless, but to ask whether a relatively modest cost of remaining is worth it, particularly if you are able to think beyond the important though somewhat narrow concern of access to the common market.

It is worth it if you believe – as I do – that Brexit may mean the beginning of the end of the most successful transnational organisation ever attempted by human beings without conquest. A voluntary union forged to diminish the chances of conflicts, lower the level of antagonism, facilitate exchanges, build mutual understand and friendship, and improve security by providing a solid social and cultural platform for a military alliance (NATO). The EU has never been only or predominantly about trade and economic efficiency. Its overarching goal has always been to serve as a platform for building piece and stability. Indeed, even as severe a critic of EU’s economic policy as Yanis Varoufakis understands this and warns against Brexit.

The Pyrrhic victory of a Brexit

As much as I can see, the proponents of Brexit see five types of benefits from leaving the EU, beyond the putative economic gains: (1) recovered sovereignty, (2) improved security, (3) better democracy, (4) less bureaucracy, and (5) fewer immigrants.

I understand the argument about ‘recovered sovereignty’ in as much as it is emotionally satisfying to quite a few people. But, upon a moment of reflection, it should strike everybody as a folly to opt for ‘isolated’ sovereignty in the world of pooled sovereignties, designed to increase the security of partners at the cost of relatively trivial diminishment of sovereignty (Britain has a veto power over many EU decisions). Why would a reasonable public favor an infinitesimal gain in sovereignty (Britain intends to remain in NATO) over better security? There is no doubt that the EU suffers from democratic deficit, but listening to Boris Johnson one could think that the bloc is an authoritarian madhouse run exclusively by unaccountable bureaucrats. How on earth did Britain manage to win all those special privileges in such a hostile and unresponsive environment?

I also do not buy the argument that Brexit will help to reduce bureaucracy. The Brits are more than capable of producing their own bureaucratic shackles. Complaining about bureaucratic excesses has become my favorite pastime since I have moved to London from the US. And I have yet to meet a Euro-bureaucrat. And finally immigration. It has been shown time and time again that immigrants, by and large, are beneficial for the British economy. The arguments against them are based on observing difficult situations in some “overcrowded” communities. It is not wise to deny that such problems exist, but it is imperative to warn against hysterical exaggerations of the scale of such problems. Excessively emotional and factually erroneous presentations of the immigration dilemma help to solve few real problems, but for sure fuel anti-foreigner sentiments underpinning more extreme forms of nationalism.

You can’t roll back the clock

The arguments Brexiters often repeat, that Britain will be able to return to a better, pre-EU position or situation is based on a complete misunderstanding of the nature of historical time. “You cannot step twice into the same river”, Heraclitus wrote famously. Each period or moment in history has its own constellation of political power, interdependencies of economic interests, and specific cultural dynamics. Human societies are products of accumulations of habits, rules, and predilections that are difficult to reverse. Social scientists talk about path dependence and sunken costs. There are no reversals and abrupt changes of direction that are without costs, as whole societies need to retool themselves.

Self-determination is not the same as democracy.

Since most economists do not see any economic gains in leaving the EU and other arguments do not seem to be convincing why would you leave? Why would you risk taking what will most likely amount to the first step in the unraveling of European solidarity, which was so costly to create in terms of time and treasure?

People argue that Brits will be able to rule themselves and thus have more democracy. Perhaps. But self-determination is not the same as democracy. Since Brexit will almost certainly destabilise the situation in Europe and beyond for quite a while, more self-rule may not turn out to mean stronger, safer, and more stable democracy. Democracy is a delicate institutional system that thrives in stable, predictable environments, both internal and external. If Brexit emboldens radical populist and largely anti-liberal forces, as it almost certainly will, the liberal foundation of the rule of law and tolerance, so indispensable for modern democracy to thrive, will come under attack. Moderation, the chief virtue of democracy – as we know since Aristotle – will be hard to obtain and practice.

British democracy will survive but it will take political energy to defend it. Another cost. So, why? I still do not understand. I am writing these words horrified by Jo Cox’s murder by a madman screaming “Britain First”. Of course Nigel Farage and bellicose Brexiters are not directly responsible for this tragedy. He is, however, responsible for helping to create a cultural climate in which sick minds go beyond their ‘breaking points’.

Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the organisational views of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog. 

 

 

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SSEES Brexit Debate

By Blog Admin, on 15 June 2016

On 9th June 2016, SSEES hosted a debate on Brexit. We were lucky enough to have Liam Halligan of the Telegraph as our chair for proceedings.

Our panel of experts consisted of: SSEES Director Professor Jan Kubik, Pro-Vice Provost and Professor of Slavonic and East European Studies; Professor Anne White, Professor of Polish Studies and Social and Political Science; Dr Felix Ciuta, Senior Lecturer in International Relations and Professor Martyn Rady, Masaryk Professor of Central European History.

We would like to invite our readers to relive the engaging and lively debate below. Let us know what you think in the comments – are you voting In or Out?

 

 

Please note: All views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of UCL, SSEES or UCL SSEES Research Blog.SSEES RB logo