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New Support Program to Be Launched for Doctoral and Postdoc Fellows

April 18, 2022

The Sylff Association secretariat is pleased to announce its plan to launch Sylff Research Grant (SRG) in June 2022 to provide financial assistance for fellows who are either doctoral students or postdoc researchers.

SRG is aimed at supporting fellows who need to conduct high-quality research with a view to career development despite the restrictions imposed on their activities by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The details are still under development, but SRG will offer grants for academic research conducted by fellows who are currently enrolled in a doctoral program and those who, having received their doctorate within the past three years, are currently conducting postdoc research. To support fellows’ development as socially engaged leaders, SRG will provide assistance for not only academically oriented research but also activities that can be expected to lead to social betterment.

Please look forward to the official announcement of the program’s launch on the Sylff website and through the Sylff newsletter!

Note: The Sylff Association secretariat is not able to answer questions regarding the details of SRG, including eligibility, application procedures, and application documents, until its official launch in June 2022.

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The European Citizens’ Panel on Democracy: An Opportunity for a Holistic Approach to EU Values

April 12, 2022
By 24301

In this contribution, 2017 Sylff fellow Max Steuer presents his insight on the first session of the European Citizens’ Panel (ECP) on democracy, jointly organized in Strasbourg by the European Parliament, the Council of the European Union, and the European Commission in September 2021, which he attended as a “citizen participant.” He highlights a key risk as well as opportunities of the European Citizens’ Panels for developing a more robust and inclusive democracy in the EU.

* * *

The Conference on the Future of Europe (CoFoE) is a flagship initiative in deliberative democracy and experimentation. The Joint Declaration of the EU institutions organizing the CoFoE speaks about “open[ing] a new space for debate with citizens to address Europe’s challenges and priorities” that will generate authoritative conclusions by 2022, including on the potential needs for a structural reform of the EU. The European Citizens’ Panels (ECPs), of which there are four, are at the heart of the “experimental face” of the initiative: they provide randomly selected citizens with the opportunity to articulate their visions of the EU in a structured environment with the possibility for the outcomes to be taken seriously by policymakers.

While the impact of the expected conclusions from the CoFoE is uncertain, the ECPs can already be seen as a success from a symbolic perspective after the first sessions in September and October 2021; as the European Parliament was the venue for all four meetings, citizens replaced parliamentarians for a (very) short while and presented their ideas in the Strasbourg Hemicycle.

Based on my experience as one of the approximately 200 “citizen participants” of the ECP on democracy (second ECP), I argue that the key challenge ahead of the ECP is an approach to EU values that divides them into separate streams and limits the discussion about them as integrally connected and inseparable. On the bright side, three moments from the second ECP—where an alternative, holistic approach to EU values surfaced in a bottom-up fashion—point to the ECPs’ potential to foster EU democracy.


The start of the first ECP plenary session in the European Parliament Hemicycle in Strasbourg, September 24, 2021. All recordings of the plenary sessions are publicly accessible. (Photo: Max Steuer)

The Procedure in a Nutshell

The second ECP was set out to focus on “European democracy/values, rights, rule of law, security.” The title itself is puzzling, because the list of EU values, as defined in the Treaty on the EU (Article 2), encompasses “respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities”; hence, the rule of law and (human) rights are part of EU values, alongside democracy and others, rather than standing separate from them.

During the first session of the ECP, citizens were invited to articulate their visions of the EU in 2050 by drawing their “EU vision trees” and then “zoom in” on specific questions that they consider important to be debated during the subsequent sessions. Most discussions unfolded in working groups composed of around a dozen citizens. These were accompanied by a few plenary meetings introducing the session, which also included discussions with experts, and a final plenary devoted to approving several main topical “streams” to be addressed during subsequent meetings as they emerged from the “sum total” of the working group discussions.

Thus, the design of the sessions—and that of the ECPs more generally—was intended to work in a bottom-up fashion. The problem here is that democracy does not come with its exclusive pool of questions. All major questions on the EU’s future are also questions of democracy. Moreover, if “democracy questions” are not to be reduced to those of elections, they are integrally related to other EU values, including human rights and the rule of law.

Citizens were not constrained to engage with particular values while formulating the topics. Yet the limitations posed by the separation of individual values became apparent during the final plenary. Here, based on the citizens’ identifications of key questions, the moderators presented the key topical areas (called “streams”) for subsequent sessions. These, in the version voted and approved by the plenary of the panel, encompassed rights and nondiscrimination, protecting democracy and the rule of law, institutional reform, building European identity, and strengthening citizen participation.

A Key Challenge

As noticed by some citizens, questions categorized under human rights could equally be discussed under democracy, and vice versa. For example, the protection of human rights in the context of pandemic-induced restrictions is not merely a question of democracy, and gender equality is not merely a question of human rights. The danger in preparing neat “streams” is that connections between the topics become less visible and the final recommendations less informed.


One of the “EU vision trees” produced in the ECP working groups. Participating citizens were encouraged to place their visions near those of their fellow citizens that are most appealing to their own vision. September 25, 2021. (Photo: Max Steuer)

In addition to topical separation of EU values in the ECP discussions and emerging “streams,” the risk of failing to achieve a holistic approach to EU values stems also from the formal “eligibility requirement” that needs to be met in order to “have a voice” at the ECP: EU citizenship. The exclusivity generated by this requirement comes across as particularly pertinent when “democracy” is explicitly listed in the ECP’s title. In short, the CoFoE that sets out to address the future of Europe is not open to all Europeans. Even if accepting the (by no means obvious) assertion that the future of the EU can be debated between EU citizens on their own, the future of Europe as a continent is hardly limited to EU citizens, with other Europeans standing “on the outside” of democratic deliberations.

While there appear to be no easy solutions to this conundrum, one could potentially be found directly in Strasbourg. The Council of Europe brings together all Europeans (except the citizens of Belarus, whose plight clearly falls within the subject areas of this ECP). Yet there are virtually no signs of collaboration between the Council of Europe and the EU on the CoFoE. Inviting representatives of the Council of Europe, including those of the European Court of Human Rights, to interact with the conference participants could help foster knowledge about both institutions and emphasize their common goals. Furthermore, discussing human rights as sources of legal protections in Europe via an intertwined web of mechanisms and institutions could provide very useful impulses. Ultimately, an involvement of all Europeans, and not just EU citizens, is necessary for an inclusive debate on the future of Europe.

Another possible solution is specific to the five discussion “streams” as they have been approved for the second ECP. An increased focus on noncitizens could also have been part of their formulation. While migration is one of the main themes of the fourth ECP, it should not be absent from the ECP addressing EU values.

Three Signs of a Unique Opportunity and Potential

The impact of the second ECP on the discussions about democracy as an overarching basis for all ECPs remains to be seen. Challenges ahead encompass the capacity to foster holistic approaches to EU values and inclusive conversations. This does not require embracing the unity of value, but it does invite discussions that avoid “us” (EU citizens) versus “them” (everyone else without EU citizenship) dynamics.

Yet the first session of the second ECP still generated several particularly promising moments for a holistic, as opposed to fragmented, understanding of EU values. One is the connection between democracy and key societal issues that were not originally anticipated to be discussed by the second ECP—notably, climate change and socioeconomic development. Discussing climate change as a question of democracy, fundamental rights, and the rule of law might yield refreshing perspectives and facilitate bridges with the other three ECPs, reinforcing the impact of all of them on the CoFoE plenary.

Secondly, an emphasis on connecting economic security to democracy, understood as the possibility to effectively participate in public life, was added as a result of the “feedback round” to the thematic streams preceding the final plenary. This indication of a more democratic understanding of security may open the door for including security as a public good into the discussion on EU values and democracy, rather than seeing it as potentially justifying restrictions on fundamental rights that are the bedrock of democracy.

In front of the EP Hemicycle after the end of the ECP, September 26, 2021. (Photo: Max Steuer)

A third promising moment lies in the emphasis on education on democracy as a matter of EU values. As pointed out during one of the expert presentations, one is not born a democrat but learns to be one. Education as a tangible life experience of the ECP participants may raise awareness of the importance of free media and open communication, fostered by independent institutions, and encourage a “tree-like” perspective, much in the spirit of the “EU vision trees” drawn by the working group participants.


This post is an edited and abridged version of a contribution that appeared via, a major forum for debates on constitutionalism in Europe and beyond. Since its publication, the ECP on democracy completed its work in December 2021 with a series of recommendations that are currently being considered by the CoFoE plenary.

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The COVID-19 Pandemic in the Islands

April 6, 2022
By 30091

Maria Riwana Sahib, a 2012–13 Sylff fellow, looks back on how the COVID-19 situation unfolded in her native Fiji. As has been the case everywhere, the pandemic’s impact on the Fijian economy amplified the issues of domestic violence, unemployment, and xenophobia and affected school education. But the silver lining, Sahib says, has been the revival of the barter system, which has helped many weather the pandemic storm.

 * * *

Living in the Pacific Islands has many advantages and disadvantages. It is probably one of the most unsafe places when it comes to infectious diseases. Historically, populations have been depleted by infectious diseases due to our geographical location, that is, our isolation. But COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, has changed the course of history in the modern age of technology and globalization. It has certainly caused a paradigm shift in terms of how we conduct our business and our lives. It is one of the many experiences throughout my life that has been etched in my memory, and as a millennial, it is one of the most interesting times.


Departing Majuro

I have worked and lived in the Republic of the Marshall Islands away from my island home of Fiji for the last seven years. In early 2020, I was contemplating returning home, unsure of my future and unaware of the realities that would follow. The novel coronavirus was declared a pandemic in March 2020, right around when I booked my flight back to Fiji. The flight was during the week in which the Marshall Islands declared that it was closing its borders. Subsequently, all flights going into and out of the islands were canceled. In this haste of closing the borders, many tourists in Majuro, the capital of the Marshall Islands, were stranded with no guarantee of the next available flight out. Among the stranded was me! My heart sank as I read the email from Nauru Airlines two days prior to the flight day, in which it provided options for the next available dates of flights going out of Majuro. I felt helpless and frustrated. I remember my friends Laisa, Kelesi, and Melba encouraging me and filling me with positivity. I believed more in their faith than I did my own.

I would like to believe that their prayers and mine were answered, as I sat in the last flight out of Majuro two days later. It was an eight-hour flight with two stopovers before I finally reached Nadi, three hours away from Suva, my home. Although I had come back numerous times before, it had never felt the way it did that day when the plane landed at Nadi International Airport. I was home, finally! The anxiety, the fear, the dreading had all been over, and I felt a weight had been lifted from my chest. I was finally home to see my beautiful daughter. She was initially the reason for my return, but I think the pandemic fueled my decision to return promptly.

Fiji went into lockdown one week after my return, as a case was soon discovered. People immediately went into panic mode, and naturally, panic buying followed. During the lockdown, a curfew was implemented together with movement restrictions and social distancing. These actions resonated with many countries where the coronavirus had spread. This was when reality hit home—that we were as vulnerable as the most developed countries, where the virus had far worse effect. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a way of mother nature telling us that we needed to slow down our development and put a brake on exploiting our natural resources, contributing to the greenhouse effect, and harming our planet.

The economic downturn due to the virus had serious implications for the tourism industry (the largest revenue generator) in Fiji, and this affected thousands and thousands of Fijians. COVID-19 has led to an increase in social issues such as domestic violence, unemployment, and even xenophobia toward the Chinese people. The restriction measures brought out the best and worst in people including me. Fearing for the lives of our loved ones and taking to social media to hit back at people who broke the restriction measures were some of the traits displayed that I am sad about. I, for one, always try to empathize with people and their situations, but during this particular occasion it became clear that the worst in us could be brought out even when we try to the find the best in others.


Sahib and her daughter.

COVID-19 also affected the way education was conducted. My daughter’s private school was prepared to provide full-time online classes, as they already were using online platforms for learning at school. The transition to schooling full-time from home was a big adjustment for both my daughter and me. I am a single parent. Firstly, home is a place for relaxation, and it did not mesh well with the idea of schooling. Secondly, focusing on your own work while supervising your child’s schoolwork can sometimes be challenging when you both have deadlines to meet. It took me a while to adjust myself first before I could start focusing on my child. So instead of writing up a schedule, I followed a routine while flexibly switching the times of doing assignments and researching. My daughter usually had her scheduled Zoom classes (Zoom became a boom in 2020) in the early mornings. That would leave me some time to get my work organized.

I could not help but wonder about those who did not have the convenience of good Internet connections and those who could not afford the Internet. Schools were closed indefinitely as the government kept extending the opening date of normal school hours. The government went into overdrive and maximized their resources to provide subject lessons via Walesi, Fiji’s digital television service. This proved useful but to some extent only; students still had to print their notes and submit assignments at school, which meant mobility and exposure to the virus. The pandemic undeniably brought many social challenges, and it has been an economically trying time for many.

There is always a silver lining in a grim situation, they say. An ancient system was reintroduced in Fiji called the barter system. In the eighteenth century Adam Smith, a Scottish economist, philosopher, and author, argued that markets and economies existed before states. The father of modern economics believed that money was not created by governments but from bartering for goods and services. Anthropologists argued otherwise, saying that exchanges of goods and services occurred between strangers for reciprocity and redistribution. In any case, the pandemic revived this ancient trading system through Barter for Better Fiji, a Facebook page created by Marlene Dutta, a Fijian, in the spirit of giving when money has been tight and employment tough to find. This innovation through the use of technology connected people all over the country and the world, bringing solidarity to the human race in the belief that we are all in this together. This form of trading of goods and services without the use of money has assisted hundreds of people across the nation. For instance, in exchange for goodwill and groceries, six men known as K9E from the western side of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island, provide services ranging from indoor work such as maintenance, clearance, painting, moving homes, and light plumbing work to outdoor work such as grass cutting, farm preparation, backyard land cultivation, chicken shed construction, flower bed preparation, cutting, trimming, and pruning of trees, firewood collection, and fishing.

It has not all been hunky dory as far as the bartering goes, as there have been reports of dishonesty and fraudulent services. One of the challenges of dealing with strangers is that there is risk involved. Nevertheless, it has brought to many the assistance they desperately needed. Bartering has even assisted university students who suddenly had to stay home and study remotely. Although there has been a huge economic downturn in Fiji and across the globe, bartering has helped many to survive this pandemic.

One can only hope and pray that we can all bounce back from our situations and improve in 2022. Our new normal is the one in which we need to collectively support each other during a time of crisis, and perhaps bartering is a result of the new normal.


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The Sustainability of Food in Japan

March 28, 2022
By 19606

Motivated in part by his experiences living in Japan, 2002 Sylff fellow David D. Sussman conducted a review of current research about the sustainability of food in the country. Here he shares his findings, observations, and recommendations for improving Japan’s food sustainability—in a nutshell, eat less meat, consider the origin of food and associated energy use, and reduce waste in food and packaging.

* * *

Japan is renowned for both its popular cuisine and the health and longevity of its population. At the same time, present concerns about planetary health and climate change are receiving more attention than ever, with food playing an essential role in achieving sustainability. Given these circumstances, what does a review of existing research (in English) reveal about steps that Japan can take to increase the sustainability of its food?

My research on this topic is motivated by personal experiences while living in Japan, as well as my work as a fellow at the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies. I conducted a review and assessment of the latest literature, both international and within the country, about the sustainability of food in Japan. This summary presents relevant research findings, alongside some personal observations, and provides three key evidence-based recommendations. The observations are not a critique of Japan—as an American, I know that my own country’s per-capita ecological footprint is more than 1.5 times that of Japan.[1] Instead, my approach is one of noting the current situation and thinking about how Japan can apply some of its cultural strengths, such as planning, attention to detail, cohesion, and following social norms, to improving the sustainability of its food.

Importance of the Topic

While there is now overwhelming evidence that humans are influencing the Earth’s climate, what might not be at the forefront of everyone’s mind is the important role that food plays in sustainability. In short, to be sustainable means using natural resources in a way that is balanced in the present but also enables them to be preserved for future generations. However, the global threat posed by climate change is now readily apparent, and the food system accounts for approximately 18.4% of all carbon emissions. This is an astounding number—with these emissions from “agriculture, forestry and land use” in the ballpark of those from energy in industry (24.2%), transport (16.2%), and energy in buildings (17.5%).

Another important reason for examining food is its basis for human health. If we were to eat in a way that is planet friendly by consuming more plant-based food and cutting back on meat, there would also be health benefits amounting to, by one estimate, more than ten million lives saved annually.[3] As Johan Rockstrom, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, stated in 2018 at a sustainability conference in Yokohama, “If we get it right on food, we get it right for the planet.”[4]

What is the current situation with food in Japan? When living in Tokyo, I have seen both Japan’s prosperity, such as a large spread of food at a restaurant meal with friends, and its profligacy, with the same event leading to half a plate of unfinished items that would be thrown away. My curiosity about food and sustainability in Japan was another motivation for to this investigation.

Food waste in Japan. (photo: Kyodo news)

What Can Be Done

Food can be considered “from farm to fork,” which means analyzing how it is produced, manufactured, transported, sold, and used—and also disposed of. The research I reviewed suggested a focus on core areas where actions could best be implemented and make a difference—namely in diets and choice of eating, the production of food, and the issue of food waste.

Food Choices

Japanese (as with denizens in many other industrialized countries) generally view having a piece of meat or fish as an integral part of every meal. Some restaurants—like popular ramen places—do not offer a nonmeat option, with the broth also based on pork or beef. Bento box lunches found at school, social, and business gatherings inevitably include meat or seafood. Anecdotally, I have found many Japanese to be unaware of or uncertain about vegetarianism, whereas it is commonly offered as a meal option in the United States.

Increased meat consumption in Japan is not surprising given the post–World War II time period when hungry populations benefited from food imports, while advertising companies also presented Western plates of food as an ideal.[5] Over the following decades, supplies of meat increased 5.8-fold and trade pressure from the United States led to further imports, ranging from beef to oranges.[6]

As a basic step to increase sustainability, people can eat more vegetarian meals. Food is personal and for that reason accessible as a means for change. Multiple times a day, what we eat is an opportunity that we (in more developed countries where access to food options is generally not a concern) have to make an impact on the Earth—or at least to lessen our impact.[7] In the aggregate, our individual choices make a difference, and when we eat morning, noon, and night, we can see it as an opportunity for choosing the more sustainable option.

Food Production

Japan’s level of productivity and development is special given that more than 80% of its land consists of mountains. It is not surprising that many foods need to be imported, with approximately 63% of food calories coming from outside the country. What happens, inevitably, is that Japan’s reliance on food from overseas leads to the use of land, energy, fertilizer, and fuel for transport, which are associated with carbon emissions embedded within the foods. As such, the Japanese could further consider the origin of their food. With high levels of imports, there are sometimes significant production- and transportation-related carbon emissions.

Conversely, it is also worth noting that some foods grown in Japan are very energy intensive; in some cases, it would therefore be more eco-efficient for them to be grown elsewhere, in warmer climates. A 2011 study of hydroponically grown lettuce in Japanese greenhouses found that its CO2 emissions per kilogram were seven times greater than those grown in open fields in California, United States.[8] A BBC story titled “Japan’s Obsession with Perfect Fruit” featured a melon grower who said that despite his extremely careful methods, only 3% of his melon produce achieved the top grade, even as his three medium greenhouses burned through more than 50 liters of oil on a daily basis.[9]

In the end, the complexity of the food chain is apparent. Even though food is an essential part of our daily lives, we rarely know how something was grown and where it traveled from before ending up in our supermarket. What we have better control of is our use of the food after purchase and on our plates.

Food Waste

Waste associated with food occurs across the supply chain, from farm to fork, and must include all waste that happens from production onward. Related to this investigation, “significant quantities of food waste are generated by supply chains originating outside of Japan.”[10] Within Japan, the previously mentioned focus on perfect-looking fruit means that more resources are expended on producing them and items that are not up to an exacting standard discarded. Composting is still rare, meaning that food scraps and leftovers end up being incinerated with other trash.

Japan, as with other industrialized countries, prizes convenience, and this leads to a reliance on pre-prepared meals. The presentation and packaging of food in Japan is readily apparent to outsiders, with a commonly cited example being the plastic-enclosed bananas (which already come with their own natural protection) or individually wrapped apples or pears. It is not anything new to say that Japan is big into cleanliness—and with this comes a reliance on single-use products as well as packaging. Plastic or foam bento boxes are almost always single-use disposables. When it comes to drinks, vending machines seem to be on every corner and plastic bottles ubiquitous. In modern society, little thought is given to using something for a minute, or ten minutes, and then tossing it away.

Imperfect fruit does not have to be thrown away. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Japan, however, is also a leader in terms of its focus on food waste through policy initiatives. A Food Waste Recycling Law, for example, led to measurable improvements, though more at the level of manufacturers. While households account for about half of the food waste that is incinerated, “there has been little behavioral change towards food waste reduction at the consumer level.”[11] In the end, “food waste and loss remain a critical issue, owing to the country’s low food self-sufficiency rate and shortage of available landfill sites for waste disposal.”[12]

Next Steps

The sustainability of food in Japan can be seen as a challenge but also as an opportunity. In particular, the country’s food sustainability is worth considering because it may be a harbinger of the future. A highly industrialized country, “Japan’s diet and demographics make it a bellwether for other Western and Asian nations” in that the population is highly urbanized, aging, and eats foods that is less traditional and more processed and convenient.[13]

When Japan sets its focus on something, it can really make terrific progress. Its rebuild and development after World War II is a classic example. More recently, we have seen how it started more slowly on COVID-19 vaccines but steadily progressed so that it now stands as one of the most vaccinated countries in the world. Its approach to food and sustainability can be the same. There are available options, and it is now a matter of aligning policy with the most planet-friendly options—shifting people’s preferences so that they eat less meat, focusing on environmentally sound growing practices, and cutting down on waste. It will be exciting to see what the country does in the coming years.


[1] “Ecological Footprint by Country 2022,” World Population Review,

[2] Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, “CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,”, last revised August 2020,

[3] Walter Willett et al., Summary Report of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (Stockholm: EAT-Lancet Commission, 2019), 3, 14,

[4] International Forum for Sustainable Asia and the Pacific 2018, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies.

[5] Atsushi Watabe et al., “Uneaten Food: Emerging Social Practices around Food Waste in Greater Tokyo,” in Food Consumption in the City: Practices and Patterns in Urban Asia and the Pacific, ed. Marlyne Sahakian, et al. (New York, NY: Routledge, 2016), 162–3.

[6] Watabe, 163–4.

[7] Kate Hall, Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen (New York, NY: Rosen Publishing Group, 2009), 5.

[8] Eugene Mohareb et al., “Considerations for Reducing Food System Energy Demand while Scaling Up Urban Agriculture,” Environmental Research Letters 12, no. 12 (December 2017),

[9] Roland Buerk, “Japan's Obsession with Perfect Fruit,” BBC News, March 15, 2012,

[10] Chen Liu et al., “Food Waste in Japan: Trends, Current Practices and Key Challenges,” Journal of Cleaner Production 133 (October 2016): 563,

[11] Liu et al., 562.

[12] Liu et al., 558.

[13] Keiichiro Kanemoto et al., “Meat Consumption Does Not Explain Differences in Household Food Carbon Footprints in Japan,” One Earth 1, no. 4 (December 20, 2019), 465.

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Politics of Anxiety and Faith: Hindutva in War with Gandhi’s Soul

February 24, 2022
By 28804

“Our target is to make India Hindu Rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here...So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here."                                 
         (Rajeshwar Singh, RSS office-bearer, cited in Islam, 2020)

It was not long ago when communal harmony and religious pluralism were synonymous with India. Mahatma Gandhi united a deeply religiously diverse Indian population to fight against British rule. Gandhi, a religious Hindu, mobilized diverse Indian citizenry to an inclusive, tolerant, and religiously plural discourse which helped religious minorities affirm their faith in an inclusive India. Gandhi tried to address the ontological (in)security of religious minorities who were unsure about their security in a Hindu majority nation. The idea of Ontological security (Gidden, 1991) refers to a ‘person’s fundamental sense of safety in the world’, it includes a basic trust of other people and, it is intimately connected to emotions.

It is important to note, Gandhi was murdered on 30th January 1948 by a member of RSS (Venugopal, 2016) Nathuram Godse, who abhorred the idea of Hindu-Muslim unity. Gandhi's long-cherished idea of communal harmony was disrupted when Prime Minister Narendra Modi – a Hindu nationalist leader – rose into power in 2014. Modi moved Hindutva (also known as Hindu nationalism) from the political margins to mainstream politics. So, one can naturally ask, what is the relationship between Hindutva and Gandhi’s inclusive nationalism regarding ontological (in)security and, what different emotional atmosphere Hindutva create compare to Gandhi's interculturality. Possibly, an analysis of the emotional process inscribed in the ontological (in)security script could help to find an answer.

An ontological (in)security approach could provide an interesting insight into the emotional processes of Hindu electorates which has helped Hindutva populists leader Narendra Modi elected as the Prime minister of India and reconfirmed, despite knowing his complicity in the Godhra communal riots (The Guardian, April 7th 2020) when he was the chief minister of the Gujrat state in 2002. An ontological (in)security approach helps in understanding the emotional environment created by such extremist’s (Hindutva) ideology and its violent response against the ‘Others’. Hindutva thrives through the emotional governance (Richard, 2007) communication through emotional messages, and provides emotional security to an insecure Hindu electorate through religion and nationalism while stigmatizing Muslims and Christians. The ontological security approach considers that humans are security seekers by nature, they are always in search of stability, and security while seeking to reduce their 'fear' and 'anxiety'. In this context, 'religion' and 'nationalism' are the two most important identity-signifier (Kinnvall, 2019) which provide stability and security in times of the perceived crisis. 

The aggressive rise of Hindutva in the 1980s is a crucial turning point for a secular Indian state, which is on the verge of becoming a Hindu authoritarian state where calls for genocide of Muslims (Aljazeera news, December 24, 2021) and their mob lynching is normalized. Hindutva is radically far-right, hierarchical, authoritarian, and based on the idea of Hindu supremacy. On different levels, Hindutva seeks to repress dissenting views, expunging religious pluralism and secularism from the Indian political discourse. Religious minorities in India, currently, live under the constant fear of being attacked by Hindu extremist organizations such as RSS.

The discourse of Hindutva consists of a populist narrative of nativism, nationalism, and religion. Its appeal became particularly relevant in the time of perceived economic, social and political, or psychological crisis, in which ontological insecurity arises from the attempt to put identity and autonomy in question with anxiety, insecurity and alleged dangers (Laing 1965). In this context, Hindutva leaders frequently incite Hindus by portraying Muslims as rapist and violent, setting a narrative of fear that the Muslim population will take over India in fifty years (Soz, 2016), thus, Hindus will be a minority in their own country; this appears to create ontological insecurity among Hindus who may perceive that their religious identity and autonomy is in danger, thus, they react by supporting Hindutva extremists leaders, and sometimes are complicit in violence against Muslim minorities.

Hindutva followers with Hindutva saffron flag taking its procession in Varanasi.


The Indian case shows us how an illusion of ontological (in)security has helped Hindu extremism rise. Modi have been religiously polarizing Indian electorates; he invoked past traumas (Islamic invasion of India) and glories (fantasies of the greatness of the Ancient India and Kingdom of Rama) of a lost Hindu nation. In his recent visit to Varanasi at the Kashi Vishwanath temple, Modi invoked the greatness of the Indian (Business Standard, December 13, 2021) while underlining the atrocities perpetrated under the Muslim rulers; while laying the foundation stone for the Ram temple at Ayodhya, Modi again invoked (Indian Express, August 5, 2020) India’s eternal glory. Setting the emotional political narrative around restoring the Hindu temples in Kashi, Mathura (The Hindu, December 10, 2021) and Ayodhya are also parts of this ontological security; temples represent the symbolic superiority of the mythic spiritual glory of the ancient Hindu nation, and their fall at the hands of Muslim invaders represents national humiliation (national trauma) of Hindus. This narrative generates an atmosphere of ontological insecurity among Hindus who could vent their anger against Muslims. 

It shall be noted that the Islamic invasion of India (12th to the 16th centuries) and the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 are some big events that are projected by Hindu nationalists as a historical traumatic event in their effort to generate narratives of constant rage, fear and, anxiety among the Hindu majority, which usually results in Islamophobia and, normalization of violence against Muslims. Central to such narrative construction (Kinnvall, 2016) are the collective identity and collective emotions, such as love for the nations or hate, fear, or disgust for the strange others such as Muslims. An ontologically insecure Hindu electorate demands unquestioned loyalty to its imagined nation, to its national history, and its sacred culture. Thus, these narratives of a sacred Hindu land became the objects of the people's imaginations onto which fantasies of national unity are projected to rescue the belief in the core and stable identities (Kinnvall, 2016) which is Hindu religion and culture. The use of violence, coercion and threats are justified by Hindutva to protect their core identities; because of this, Hindutva is also referred to as a muscular nationalism (Banerjee, 2012).

The re-invention of nationhood and religion (Kinnvall, 2019) in Hindutva discourse is aimed at 'healing' several ontological insecurities by which the Hindu majority suffers. Among such fears and emotional responses of Hindutva has been manifested in the forms of; Love-jihad, Corona-jihad (Milli cornicle, April 19, 2020) UPSC-jihad (The Print, November 18, 2020) mob lynching of Muslim (BBC, September 2, 2021) and Dalits, disrupting Muslim prayers (NDTV, December 18, 2021) vandalizing Churches (November 30, 2021) and boycotting Muslims vegetable (News Click, April 13, 2020) vendors and sellers.

Gandhi tried to heal public anxiety and insecurity through his inclusive nationalism. He mobilized people to gain political freedom from British colonialism. Nevertheless, Gandhian nationalism was not narrow or exclusive but meant for the benefit of the whole of humanity.  He tried to make public ontology secure through his idea of inclusive nationalism and intercultural unity. Gandhi believed in inclusive nationalism irrespective of religion, caste, and class. For Gandhi, nation was to improve the living conditions of the people (Patnaik, 2019) or to "wipe away the tears from the eyes of every Indian". Gandhi was inspired by the Hindu religious and spiritual values promoting Hindu ways of life, discipline, fasting method, and mental purity. His political actions (civil disobedience, fasting) were in line with the Hindu religious ideas of truth and non-violence. 

However, Gandhi was concerned about the deep communal tension among communities (Hindu-Muslims, Dalits-Upper castes, rich-poor), thus managing such tensions and averting serious conflict was on top of his political agenda. He believed that communal violence could trigger ontological insecurities among communities and could jeopardize the freedom struggle and communal harmony among them. His religiously plural discourse helped him create an ontologically secure environment and, cementing ties with Muslims and other religious minorities and lower-caste Hindus.

By employing an inclusive intercultural approach based on mutual respect and equal regard, Gandhi stressed the fundamental unity of all religions and tolerance for different faiths. At the ontological (in)security level, these methods, and processes reduced the anxiety and fear among diverse communities, assuaged fear of religious minority from the majority, and helped create a feeling of security. His idea to establish a ‘just society’ (Jahanbegloo, 2020) was also an ontological security provider to all Indians. Contrastingly, Hindu nationalists are instilling ontological insecurity among Hindus to exclude Muslims, to establish Hindu supremacy which has paved a way for an unjust society.

From the aforementioned discussion, it shall be clear that Hindutva, by creating an atmosphere of insecurity and anxiety has made the Hindu public ontologically insecure whereas Gandhi, tried to provide ontological security to the public by building an environment of religious harmony and intercultural faith. This shows that by looking into the emotional process enacted within Hindu nationalism through the idea of ontological (in)security it is possible to outline the major differences between Gandhian inclusive nationalism and the Hindutva exclusionary discourse.



Banerjee, Sikata (2012) Muscular nationalism: gender, violence and empire in India and Ireland, 1914–2004 (New York: New York University Press)

Giddens A, (1991) Modernity and Self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity

Islam, Shamshul (2020) RSS founders 'endorsed' Nazis: It’s well-nigh impossible for races, cultures to 'coexist', Counterview, available at

Jahanbegloo, R (2020) The Mahatma as an intercultural Indian, available at

Kinnvall, Catarina (2019) Populism, ontological insecurity and Hindutva: Modi and the masculinization of Indian politics, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, DOI: 10.1080/09557571.2019.1588851

Kinnvall, Catarina (2016) Feeling Ontologically (in)secure: States, traumas and the governing of gendered space, Cooperation and Conflict, Sage publication, DOI: 10.1177/0010836716641137

Laing R. D (1965) The Divided Self: An Existential Study in Sanity and Madness, Penguin Psychology, Paperback

Patnaik, P (2019) For Gandhi, nationalism was based on understanding what was required for people to be free, available

Richards B. (2007) Politics as Emotional Labour. In: Emotional Governance: Politics, Media and Terror. Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Soz, A. S. (2016) RSS Claims About Rapid Growth of the Muslim Population are Simply False, available at

Venugopal, V (2016) Nathuram Godse never left RSS, says his family, available at

Web resources:

Aljazeera: India: Hindu event calling for genocide of Muslims sparks outrage, available at

BBC: Beaten and humiliated by Hindu mobs for being a Muslim in India, available at

Business Standard: Kashi Vishwanath Dham is testament to India's culture, history: Modi, available at

Indian Express: Ram Mandir Bhumi Pujan: Full text of PM Narendra Modi’s speech in Ayodhya, available at

Indian Express: Delhi: Site of proposed church ‘vandalised’ in Dwarka, religious group returns to Punjab, available at

The Hindu: In Parliament, BJP pitches for Krishna Temple at Mathura, available at

The Milli Chronical: OPINION: Corona-Jihad of Hindutva vs Communists of Kerala

available at

The Print: ‘UPSC jihad’ show offensive, could promote communal attitudes — govt in affidavit to SC, available at

NDTV: 'Must Say Bharat Mata Ki Jai': Gurgaon Muslims Trying To Offer Namaz Told, available at

News Click: Muslim Vegetable Vendor Abused, Thrashed in Delhi, One Arrested, available at

The original article is published in Alice news.


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Othering Britain: The Czech Quest for a New Role in the Radically Changing World of World War II

February 15, 2022
By 27520

As part of her dissertation on “The Image of Britain in Czechoslovak Media Discourses between 1939 and 1948,” 2018 Sylff fellow Johana Kłusek—with the help of an SRA award—reconstructed a “test” discourse on the British image of Czechoslovaks based on resources at the British Library. Among her findings is that whereas Czechs admired just about all things British, the Brits did not reciprocate that interest.

 *  *  *

The origins of thinking about the Other as “the other culture” (and only more recently “the other nation”) can be traced back to medieval times. Any travelogue or chronicle would include remarks on the Others, whether the inhabitants of a faraway country, citizens of a nearby city, or members of a different ethnic or religious group. For a long time, stereotypical images were perceived as objective categories through which one could reconstruct an ethical and aesthetic worldview of different cultures or nations (Leerssen 2016). In Europe this tendency was accelerated in the nineteenth century. The continent witnessed a rise of three phenomena: the birth of mass media, self-determination of nations, and antagonistic understanding of international relations (Hahn 2011). The combination of these factors led to a deepening of both heterostereotypes (opinions that a group holds about other groups) and autostereotypes (opinions that a group holds about itself). However, a full realization of the threat that these often dangerously ingrained mental concepts pose to intercultural and international relations emerged only as a result of World War II and the Holocaust.

Despite the fact that outright stereotypes are today less present in public discourses, they keep influencing interactions in milder forms between individuals as well as groups. People tend to generalize about various outgroups based on deep-rooted preconceptions, distorted individual experiences, and media images propagated by different power groups. By observing and analyzing the making of stereotypes in history, we can better understand how dangerous othering can be when propelled by negative sentiments as well as by positive ones. On a more general note, research focused on discourses about the Other can reveal the mechanisms through which we naturally orient ourselves in the world.

Conciliation of Conservatism and Socialism in the Czechoslovak Image of Britain

In my dissertation research I examine Czechoslovakia in the period of its major existential crisis. Britain is studied as a significant Other, onto which Czechs projected their visions and hopes as well as fears and frustrations during World War II. The image of Britain between 1939 and 1945 is prevalently appellative and corresponds with the main features of the traditional European stereotyping of the country, as described by Ian Buruma (1998). Czechs admired British conservatism, adherence to principles, rule of law, tradition, and taste, as well as their humor, friendliness, and openness to other cultures. The history of ascribing those qualities to the British is long, and the Czech discourse (created mostly by the exile community in London) does not come with any radical novelties.

The image also proves Buruma’s thesis about the utilitarian usage of Anglophilia, as continental observers tend to attach themselves to British culture when they get disappointed with old referential Others. In this way Anglophilia allowed for the liberation of Czechs from the German-Russian geopolitical captivity. Also, Churchill’s “sweat and tears” mentality provided a much-needed role model in the time of the debilitating German occupation.

Most importantly, though, the image illustrates a strong need to find a new role in the radically changing world. During the quest, Czechs were interestingly able to combine admiration for the classic conservative features of British culture (or its distorted images) with admiration for the new left-wing ideas and policies born from the war circumstances. In this way, they could easily look up to the West and the East at the same time. One can thus confidently claim that the road to the embrace of the Soviet Union (as seen in the Communist Party’s victory in the parliamentary election of 1946, followed by the communist coup d’état of February 1948) was simplified by the conciliation of highly contradictory discourses that are seemingly unrelated. Britain serves here as a polarizing projection screen.

SRA and a “Test”Discourse

To conduct the prime research briefly discussed above, I use discourse analysis of a number of Czech newspapers of the time (including Čechoslovák, Nová svoboda, and Mladé/Nové Československo). However, to interpret the data correctly and precisely, I needed to reconstruct a “test” discourse on the British image of Czechoslovaks. Sylff Research Abroad allowed me to do that and to gather relevant articles from resources of the British Library. The findings helped me to partly answer such questions as: Did the British share the affection that Czechs felt—or expressed in the media discourse—toward them? Was their relationship in any way special?

Cover of the Czechoslovak in England, featuring President Masaryk and a combined panorama of Prague, London, and Paris.

In the end, three major sets of observations were made. Firstly, the British interest in Czechoslovaks and their culture changed over time. At the beginning of the war, coverage of the cultural output of Czechs living in the country and general interest in the recent as well as older history of Czech lands was strong, but it decreased in later phases of the war. A broader wartime spirit of allyship played a significant role in these dynamics. The spirit was massively encouraged by the propaganda of both the British government and the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, primarily during the bombing of Britain in 1940 and 1941. Secondly, there is no evidence that the British were interested in Czechoslovakia disproportionally more than in other allied nations. Thus, if there was any “special relationship” between the two nations, it was rather one-sided. Thirdly, articles collected from British wartime newspapers (The Times, Manchester Guardian, and Daily Telegraph) prove that British discourse regularly used stereotypes about Czechs. The image consisted of highly idealized concepts of the country defined by a love of liberty, as a country that has always bravely striven against the threats from outside. The positive nature of those stereotypes is comparable to the nature of the stereotypes expressed at the time by Czechs when referring to the British and British culture.

Studies of opposite discourses such as the one I have just presented allows us to observe the efficiency of national propagandas, the longevity of stereotypes, and changes in their understanding as well as their usage.  Their value also lies in the fact that they allow us to look at things from less obvious angles. As discourses are often influenced by many subconscious motives of many individuals, they tend to reveal tendencies of whole societies that would otherwise remain unnoticed. The Czechs’ largely blind admiration of everything British is good proof of that. 



Hahn, H.H. 2011. Stereotypy—tożsamość—konteksty: Studia nad polską i europejską historią. Poznań: Wydawnictwo poznańskie.

Leerssen, J. 2007. “Imagology: History and Method.” In Imagology: The Cultural Construction and Literary Representation of National Characters, edited by M. Beller, and J. Leerssen, 17–32. Leiden: Brill.

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Humanitarian Assistance in Middle East and North Africa: The Cases of Hungary and Turkey

January 11, 2022
By 29256

Tamas Dudlak, a 2021 Sylff fellow, offers a comparative view of the foreign aid policies of Hungary and Turkey, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. The former focuses its efforts on protecting Christians, while the latter primarily supports Sunni Muslims, each with a different set of motivating factors. Dudlak also discusses differences between these “emerging donors” and traditional Western donors, such as in their approach to aid distribution and how they are seen by recipients.

 * * *

Recently, many have suggested similarities between Turkish and Hungarian political developments in the recent decade.[1] However, few have attempted an in-depth comparative analysis of the political systems of the two countries. In my research, I compare the characteristics of and recent trends in the foreign aid policies of Hungary and Turkey, focusing specifically on their activities in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

This issue is particularly relevant in the era of mass migration and the existence of a conflict zone along Europe’s southern and eastern borders. It is essential that Hungary, as part of the European Union, and Turkey, as a stable political system in the Mediterranean, coordinate their development policy concepts concerning the southern and eastern crisis zones. To do so, it is necessary to understand the factors that motivate each to develop an increasingly prominent humanitarian policy.

A Syrian neighborhood in Hatay, visited by the author in 2016.

Landscape of Foreign Aid in Turkey and Hungary

Various government-affiliated and government-related organizations and projects in Turkey and Hungary are prominent in distributing different types of foreign aid. These are, on the Turkish side, AFAD (Disaster and Emergency Management Presidency), TİKA (Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency), Diyanet (Presidency of Religious Affairs), and Türkiye Bursları (scholarship program of Turkey for international students); and on the Hungarian side, Hungary Helps, Hungarian Red Cross, Stipendium Hungaricum (scholarship program of Hungary for international students), and various humanitarian programs of the Hungarian churches. The fields of action of these state agencies and government-related organizations range from disaster relief aid, education assistance, post-conflict reconstruction, and direct investment to culturally related assistance (in such areas as language or religion) for conflict-ridden communities.

Turkey has already pursued an active policy in its neighboring Syrian territories during the expansion of the Middle Eastern conflict zone (especially from 2011 onward) and has engaged in an increasingly broader humanitarian policy during the protracted war in its immediate neighborhood.

Compared to Turkey, the Hungarian leadership realized the importance of active and coherent humanitarian action in the Middle East. This was because the 2015 migration crisis prompted a reassessment of the role of the potential migrant-sending countries in the Hungarian political discourse, making it in the country’s interest to assist conflict-affected areas. In the Hungarian government’s view, given the country’s limited financial and material capacities and limited public support for such activities in remote areas, this can best be done by assisting Christians in the Middle East and Africa to minimize migration in these conflict-affected areas.

Another reason for the increased Hungarian and Turkish activism in these previously neglected areas is that both countries have started to build up their relations with governments and local representatives of emerging countries beyond their traditional Atlantic relations, a development that undoubtedly serves economic and political interests (diversification of relations). The economic crisis of 2008 and the shift in international power (the growth of China and the rise of regional middle powers) have further reinforced the process whereby the European periphery—Hungary and Turkey—is forging its own mechanisms for direct relations with developing countries.

In the case of underdeveloped bilateral relations, one of the most effective ways of doing this is to provide targeted assistance to these countries in the form of joint investments or development projects, as such joint platforms also help to get to know each other and thus pave the way for institutional (permanent) economic and political relations.

As emerging donors, both Hungary and Turkey have a strong humanitarian presence relative to their economic and political weight, and the MENA region is a priority area for their humanitarian aid programs. Turkey is often referred to as the most generous country. This is evidenced by the fact that in 2017, Ankara spent the world’s highest proportion (1%) of total GDP on humanitarian assistance.[2] This active engagement is an integral part of international image building for Turkey, which is aspiring to be a global peace broker and a development state.

Hungary’s niche policy is mainly conducted through the Hungary Helps program,[3] which focuses its humanitarian action on a specific type of community, namely persecuted or endangered Christian communities in the Middle East. As this target group represents only a minor part of the populous Middle East, Budapest could achieve spectacular successes with a relatively small amount of money even while minimizing its political interventions in the target countries.

Emerging versus Traditional Donors

There is a difference between the “Western”actors, referred to in the literature as “traditional donors,” and the “emerging donors” in their approach to foreign aid distribution.[4] Traditional donor countries have a rather strategic approach, working in well-defined, “safe”areas where the impact of their activities can be well assessed and unnecessary complications with local powers can be avoided.

A Syrian neighborhood in Ankara during a visit by the author in 2016.

By comparison, new aid donors have adopted a more structuralist-functionalist approach. They tend to rely on the cultural links with locals, shared experiences, and common identities (soft power elements). New types of donors often take risks, both in terms of the choice of the target area and in terms of the lower degree of cooperation, or embeddedness, with local authorities. The latter is clearly due to their lack of contacts and, in this context, their weaker political advocacy skills.

Turkey and Hungary are “new” donors with a relatively clean slate and are more reliable for the locals than traditional Western donors with imperialist ties. These two countries have the advantage of implementing services of Western quality and techniques with a non-Western attitude and background—that is, they do not attach conditions to humanitarian aid such as the rule of law, democracy, and some degree of liberal market economy.

For both countries, the areas in which they are active in their foreign aid policies—supporting Sunni Muslims in the case of Turkey, the protection of Christians in the case of Hungary—play an essential role in the domestic process of seeking identity. The political leadership of both countries is striving to serve as a model for the international community. Although the aim of humanitarian aid is the same (civilizational discourse), the emphasis differs: for Turkey, active foreign aid policy is more an attribute of its middle power status and a cornerstone of its security, while for Hungary, growing involvement in humanitarian activities is primarily intended to strengthen the coherence of the government’s migration policy.

Accordingly, potential migrant communities should be assisted locally and thus encouraged to stay in their original environment, which requires development of infrastructure (such as schools, hospitals, churches, and public utilities) in the war-torn countries of the Middle East. Moreover, the Hungarian government defines itself as a Christian democracy; thus, it cannot be indifferent to Christians living under persecution and in conflict-ridden areas. This is reinforced by the discursive effort of Viktor Orbán to present Hungary as a “defender of Christianity.”[5]

Hungary and Turkey constitute emerging donors with vast opportunities in the international humanitarian aid arena. The current governments of the two countries made significant steps toward improving the visibility of their respective countries in line with the ideological background of the political leadership. These are only the first steps toward lasting relationships between donors and recipients, and only the future can tell the pace and direction of institutionalization of humanitarian assistance policies in these countries.

[1] See, for example, Ian Bremmer, “The ‘Strongmen Era’ Is Here. Here’s What It Means for You,” Time, May 03, 2018,, and “How Democracy Dies: Lessons from the Rise of Strongmen in Weak States,” The Economist, June 16, 2018,



[4] Jin Sato, Hiroaki Shiga, Takaaki Kobayashi, and Hisahiro Kondoh, “How do ‘Emerging’ Donors Differ from ‘Traditional’ Donors? An Institutional Analysis of Foreign Aid in Cambodia.” JICA-RI Working Paper no. 2, JICA Research Institute, March 2010,

[5] HírTV, “Tusványos 30 – Orbán Viktor teljes beszéde” [Tusványos 30 –The Full Speech of Viktor Orbán], YouTube video, July 7, 2019,

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Sylff News 2021: Best Wishes for the Holiday Season from the Sylff Association Secretariat!

December 22, 2021

Standing, from left, are Keita Sugai (director), Sachiko Matsuoka, Mari Suzuki (executive director), and Chie Yamamoto; in the front row are Yumi Arai and Maki Shimada; and on the screen are Yue Zhang and Yoko Kaburagi.

As we approach the end of 2021, we take a look back over the past year through Sylff News.

COVID-19 continued to rage in countries around the world, prompting the Sylff Association secretariat to implement a second round of financial support called COVID-19 Relief for Fellows 2021 and introduce Sylff Research Abroad without Oversea Travel for FY2021. We were happy to support many fellows who had a difficult time finding employment or continuing their studies and research. Members of the Sylff community pitched in with donations to support pandemic-affected fellows.

Though we could not meet Sylff fellows in person, we received twice as many articles as last year for the Sylff website (50 Voices articles). Submissions to the Voices from the Pandemic and COVID Vlog series were full of insights and warm thoughts. We look forward to receiving COVID Vlog messages from many more fellows through the end of February 2022.

We wish you all a safe, healthy, and happy New Year.

Follow the links to the Sylff News articles uploaded in 2021:

News from the Sylff Website

Jan 21, 2021
Nairobi Fellow Wins WTO’s Trade Economist Thematic Award

Apr 1, 2021
Sylff to Offer New COVID-19 Relief for Current, Recently Graduated Fellows

Apr 23, 2021
Applications, Donations Now Being Accepted for COVID-19 Relief 2021

Jun 25, 2021
Thank You for Your COVID-19 Relief Donations

Sep 1, 2021
Sylff Research Abroad (SRA) without Oversea Travel Launched for FY2021

Sep 29, 2021
COVID-19 Relief for 2021 Provided to about 300 Current and Recently Graduated Fellows

Oct 22, 2021
Call for COVID Video Messages from Fellows

Dec 13, 2021
Deadline of “COVID Vlogs” Extended to February 2022

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Deadline of “COVID Vlogs” Extended to February 2022

December 13, 2021

The Sylff Association secretariat is grateful to all fellows who have shared their experiences, thoughts, and messages concerning COVID-19 through their video clips. They provide new insights into what people in different countries have been experiencing and offer clues to how we can overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic.

There are many fellows who expressed a wish to deliver their messages but were unable do so due to the difficulties caused by the pandemic.

We have thus decided to extend the deadline for COVID Vlog submissions to February 28, 2022. The resurgence of cases and the spread of the Omicron variant are causes of fresh concern, and the need for emotional support has increased. We hope that many more fellows will take this chance to share a video message through this project. Your message will help others overcome the difficulties they are facing in these uncertain times.

Please read the complete instructions (Video Sharing Instructions_updated Dec 13, 2021) before you share your videos.

We look forward to receiving your videos!


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Short Report on Online Colloquium Series: “Eastern Europe at Lunch”

December 3, 2021
By 23904

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Association of Leipzig University Sylff Fellows (A.L.U.S.) held its annual meeting online, making the best of a challenging situation. This led it to organize “Eastern Europe at Lunch,” an online forum in which current and former fellows could discuss their projects. W. Arno Trültzch, a 2017–18 Sylff fellow and president of the A.L.U.S. board, reports on how this came about.

* * *

The first online colloquium “Eastern Europe at Lunch” on November 2, 2020, at the closing of the final discussion after Paula Beger’s presentation. (Clockwise from upper left corner) Kathleen Zeidler, W. Arno Trültzsch, Zsófia Turóczy, Paula Beger, (below) Felix Böllmann.

In March 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit Europe for the first time. As in the rest of the world, life was affected negatively in serious ways. Besides familiar working environments, having colleagues around in one spot, and various leisure activities, academic and all other social events were canceled or had to be moved into the world of online meetings, phone calls, and cloud computing.

Our local association of former and current Leipzig University Sylff fellows usually met in person at least once a year for our annual meeting, always on our common ground in the city of Leipzig. Due to the pandemic, the meeting—which should have taken place in April or May 2020—was canceled. Surrounded by the daily struggles that the lockdowns and other restrictions imposed on our daily lives, like nursing or home-schooling children, we continued working from our very own desks, trying to cope with the situation. The current Sylff fellows could not start their research abroad and, during the most severe restrictions, could not even use the university’s library to study and write. The canceled annual meeting was postponed without a fixed date.

As we are a full legal entity under German law, a legal notification of the responsible “Amtsgericht” (district court), which manages our association records, reminded us of the still outstanding annual meeting in July 2020. They told us that we are obliged to either elect a new board or confirm the current members by a vote during our fixed annual meeting, mentioning that online gatherings and voting are acceptable during the pandemic. The existing board, consisting of Felix Böllmann, Paula Beger, and me, used this external impetus and scheduled an online meeting.

We met via Zoom on September 29, 2020, with a record-breaking attendance of nine members. Although attendance at our annual meetings has always been good, some of us had hardly managed to make the journey to Leipzig even once a year, living too far away. The pandemic thus surprisingly made attendance easier. During the annual meeting, we confirmed the existing board with a clear majority of votes in favor of it. We also engaged in some creative brainstorming on what to make out of the situation. Having thought about a LANS (Local Association Networking Support) or other form of workshop for the Sylff members in Europe, we decided to downsize our plans and expectations. Instead, we used our experience gained from the various online forms of work, meetings, and discussions that we were already exposed to in our daily lives.

Thus, we as the board of A.L.U.S. initiated an online forum in the form of a Zoom colloquium, giving our members and the current Sylff fellows the opportunity to discuss their PhD projects or other current undertakings that they would like to share. During the preparations, our board member Paula Beger came up with the catchy title “Osteuropa in der Mittagspause” (“Eastern Europe at Lunch”) for the endeavor. Although the procedure of finding a common date proved to be rather lengthy, we met for the first time on November 2, 2020, for about an hour from 12 pm.

This very first colloquium was led by our board member Paula Beger, who presented her well-advanced PhD topic on the development of asylum policies of the so-called Visegrád states (Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland) prior to and shortly after their accession to the European Union. With a maximum of nine participants, we had a good head start and concluded with an insightful discussion. Two of the current three Sylff fellows at Leipzig University joined us in the colloquium, which means that it was more than a typical alumni association event. Given this positive outcome, we—the three board members—decided to continue this format.

The second online colloquium “Eastern Europe at Lunch” on March 2, 2021, during the presentation of Zsófia Turóczy’s PhD project. (Back to front) Felix Böllmann, W. Arno Trültzsch, Zsófia Turóczy, Paula Beger (missing in the screenshot: Makhabbat Kenshegalieva).

After initial problems in finding a suitable second date to gather as many alumni and current fellows as possible, we wrapped the process up and agreed on a date a little further into 2021. Thus, on March 2, 2021, we held our second colloquium, this time with former fellow and A.L.U.S. member Zsófia Turóczy talking about her particular PhD project on the freemason networks in Southeastern Europe around the turn from the nineteenth century to the twentieth. Her focus is on the connections between the Hungarian and Ottoman freemason lodges and how their entanglements corresponded with current events in the region, especially in trade, politics, and culture. With five participants, the setting was a little more modest. However, we greatly enjoyed Zsófia’s presentation and could again engage in an insightful discussion. We are determined to continue with the format, hoping to make it a regular event every two to three months.

We love to engage with the Sylff community, even if only online. Further participants and guests are very welcome, although talks and discussions are usually in German. In this vein, we have made the best out of the challenging situation of the global pandemic, hoping to keep the spirit of Sylff alive in our Leipzig-centered network.