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Liberals against nationalism in Eastern Europe? It would have been a nice idea

Sean LHanley25 July 2018

Protesters in Sofia standing on statue of a lion wave EU flag

Photo: Tourbillon [CC BY-SA 3.0 ]

Some commentators say East Central Europe’s liberals made the fatal mistake of cutting themselves off from traditional nationalism. Seán Hanley and James Dawson disagree.

Ivan Krastev  recently argued that East Central Europe’s liberals had made the error of taking an anti-nationalist stance from some point in the late 1990s. This, argued Krastev, occurred when the region’s liberals drew the lesson from the wars in the former Yugoslavia that all nationalism leads inevitably to bloodshed and violence.

By following the German example of avoiding public displays of flag-waving and treating nationalism as a creed that ‘dare not speak its name’, he claims, these liberals unwittingly forced moderate nationalists into the ‘illiberal camp’, opening the door for the illiberal backsliding that blights the region today.

This would be a compelling story – if it bore any resemblance to the actual behaviour of East Central European liberals in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

But it doesn’t. Anti-nationalism hasn’t been tried and failed in East Central Europe, it has never been tried.

In the 1990s, much as today, the most significant barrier to the realisation of an inclusive, pluralistic vision of liberal democracy was the taken-for-granted idea that the national state is the property of and instrument for titular national majorities. Both the EU and their liberal partners in Central and Eastern Europe knew this, yet both opted to accommodate ethnic nationalism at the time rather than oppose it. (more…)

Brexit and FDI: Facts Checked

7 June 2017

Dr Randolph Bruno, Senior Lecturer in Economics

The BREXIT debate, that we see unfolding within the UK parliament, the European Parliament, the media, British as well as international news outlets and more generally in public speeches on the campaign trail, is in many ways bewildering. It is in particular surprising that despite its importance it is very difficult to understand where each and every politician really stands on the issue of Brexit (e.g. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-politics-40088892/jeremy-paxman-grills-theresa-may-and-jeremy-corbyn). Negotiations strategies and possible outcomes remains very difficult to predict, as do the impact of the process on future relations with the EU . The confusion is further worsened by the circulation of alternative facts on social media, which may be contributing to a polarisation of views in society. The recent increase in hate crimes after the referendum is possibly one of the most worrying symptoms of these exacerbated social tensions.

Hate Letter

A Polish family in Plymouth received what police described as a “hate-filled” letter.

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Eurovision Comes to Kyiv, Ukraine Gets Three-Quarters of the Way to Europe

17 May 2017

Prof Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

I am in Kyiv for the Eurovision Song Contest final. All marvellous fun, though I have done some work too. Ukraine has embraced the official slogan ‘Celebrate Diversity’ with apparent ease; not least because it is the perfect symbol for the new Ukraine and its European aspirations – multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-confessional and tolerant.

Eurovision 1

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Ukraine: Waiting for Donald, worrying about the EU

16 March 2017

Prof Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

This commentary was originally posted on ECFR.eu on 18th January 2017

Ukraine’s prospects are under threat from developments on both sides of the Atlantic.

Something is stirring in Ukraine. The most obvious cause is Donald Trump’s imminent inauguration on 20 January, and the widespread fear in Kyiv that his push for some kind of Yalta 2.0 agreement with Russia will be at Ukraine’s expense.

But another parallel cause is the fear that the European Union is losing interest in Ukraine. After Dutch voters rejected the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement at a referendum in April 2016 (though many were really voting about the Netherlands and Europe), the price of bringing the Dutch government into line was high. In fact, it took a triple reassurance just to get PM Mark Rutte to take the issue back to parliament for a vote to overturn the referendum result.

Those reassurances came in the European Council’s resolution of 15 December, which declares that ‘the Agreement does not confer on Ukraine the status of a candidate country for accession to the Union, nor does it constitute a commitment to confer such status to Ukraine in the future’. Furthermore, it ‘does not contain an obligation for the Union or its Member States to provide collective security guarantees or other military aid or assistance to Ukraine’. And finally, it ‘does not grant to Ukrainian nationals… the right to reside and work freely within the territory of the Member States’. While this resolution does not roll back existing, modest, European commitments to Ukraine, it was interpreted as a major setback in Kyiv.

‘Ukrainian Eurointegration’: The Ukrainians are barred entry to the locked doors of the ‘EC’(EU).#

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Immigration in London after the EU Referendum

BlogAdmin7 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.

Creative Commons licence

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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EU Referendum: Director’s Statement

BlogAdmin30 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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SSEES Brexit Debate

BlogAdmin15 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

Brexit threatens Europe’s mission

Claudia SRoland13 June 2016

By Anna-Cara Keim: a writer and PhD student based in London.

This post originally appeared on Political Critique, and is reproduced with kind permission of the Author.

Britain’s relationship with Europe resembles a broken marriage – but that doesn’t mean these partners should file for divorce.

With the date for United Kingdom European Union referendum steadily approaching, both the campaign for leaving and for remaining in the EU are now in full swing. For someone who, like so many other EU citizens residing in the British capital, will not get a chance to vote on 23 June, the situation is a cause for worry. Those in favour of leaving appear to be much more vocal than those in favour of staying in. The IN campaign claims that a Britain leaving will face massive economic losses and uncertainty whereas the OUT campaign seems to be driven by the fear that staying the EU will mean the British Isles will soon be flooded by refugees and economic migrants. At least at this stage, the outcome of the referendum is entirely uncertain.

The latest polls see slightly more Britons in favour of leaving the EU than wanting to remain part of it. The Economist magazine created an interactive poll tracker based on all recent main polls. 41 per cent of voters are favouring the Brexit scenario whereas 40 per cent support the idea of the UK remaining part of the EU. However, many do not seem to take much of an interest and are unsure if they will vote at all. Turnout on referendum day will therefore be crucial. The general assumption among experts is that a low turnout will aid the leave camp. According to Opinium, almost half of all voters between the age of 18-34 have not made up their mind if they are going to vote or not – although, this age group is a lot more likely to back staying in. Whereas in the group of voters of 55 and over, the number of those who were certain to vote is much greater and more than half of those are intending to support the leave camp. Research also shows that there is huge gender divide with women twice as likely to be unsure how to vote.

Migration, regulation, and sovereignty have become the buzzwords of why Britain should seek a better and brighter future outside of the European Union. But the debate goes far beyond these issues. As the Labour MP Chuka Umunna said, this is a debate about who the British are as a people and where they see themselves in the world.

Yet, perhaps this is precisely the moment to emphasize that being European is something that goes far beyond membership in the European Union. Though it might have been largely forgotten today, there was a lively and interesting debate in Britain about ideas of Europe and the unity of Europe during the interwar period. Indeed, ideas and dreams of Europe and Europeaness are centuries old. Some, like the legend of Europa can be traced back to antiquity.

The Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman has described Europe as a mission. In this mission, Europe has learned its lessons from its past tragedies and constantly moves towards a more cosmopolitan future. Universal human rights, cultural diversity, community relationships and sustainable development instead of unfettered capitalism: these were the ambitions that made Europe the club everyone wanted to belong to during the new member states accession wave in the early 2000s. The “European dream” was seen as the superior alternative to the American dream in the 21st century, something that appears to have been forgotten in light of the financial crisis, the refugee crisis, or the recent terror attacks in Paris or Brussels. Instead, fences have now begun to appear all over Europe and many countries have once again started to look inwards. Small is beautiful. We are better off without the others. So what happened to the European dream or mission, in Bauman’s terms?

Though many keep complaining about immigration, the numbers are nothing compared to the masses of people that were migrating across Europe and beyond in the aftermath of the Second World War. The current immigration discourse is often framed in very negative terms along the lines of “us” versus “them”, with them, the EU migrants seen as socially destructive. Yet it is important to remember the many European migrants who arrived in Britain in the 1930s and after the Second World War and successfully integrated into British society; they shaped the cityscape of London as we know it today and indeed some of their children have become important cultural or political figures in Britain. Examples include the Miliband brothers David and Ed, or Dan Topolski, all of whom have a Polish background. Despite the current anti-immigration discourse, the legacies of migration are part of the very fabric of British society, and often even a source of pride. Londoners confirmed this when they went to the polls on 5 May to elect a new mayor and overwhelmingly voted in favour of the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, himself a son of Pakistani immigrants.

So instead of being defeatist about the current situation in Europe, should we not be visionaries instead? Britain’s relationship with Europe resembles a marriage in which the partners are having a bit of a tough time – but that does not mean one should immediately file for a divorce; rather, both sides should try to solve their problems first. The Brexit debate is a good moment for such “problem-solving” – to challenge and change to current discourse on Europe, to focus on making the EU more democratic, mores sustainable and more transparent.

 

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

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