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Potters’ Locality: The Socioeconomics of Bankura’s Terracotta

August 26, 2019
By 21711

This report is based on the master’s research by Soumya Bhowmick, a Sylff fellow at Jadavpur University, India, in 201415. It originally appeared in FIRSTPOST. a web-based leading media in India. Bhowmick, currently research assistant at Observer Research Foundation’s Kolkata Chapter, continues  writing on the changing socioeconomics of the potters’ community known for the terracotta Bankura Horse, which  is historically valued in Indian society, especially West Bengal.

* * *

The norwesters in the potters’ village of Panchmura is magnificent in ways more than one. The extremely dry atmosphere during the summer months of April–May make one compare the place to a hot desert with red dust smeared all over your clothes. This period is marked by the holy time of Baisakh, when the potter’s wheel is stopped as it is believed that during this time Lord Shiva appears from the wheel. Many justify it with a scientific reason: that the terrible heat easily exhausts the artisans and causes cracks to develop in the pottery items. After a heavy rainfall, the sweet petrichor is one of the strongest in this part of the town owing to the large amounts of terracotta clay all over the place. The potters are relatively free during these months and are very eager to have a chat with you over tea in their workshops.

An artisan uses the potter’s wheel in Panchmura village.

Mahadeb Kumbhakar, 56, proudly proclaims, “The trademark Bankura Horse [uniquely styled terracotta horse made in Bankura] came into existence because people would offer them as a mark of devotion to different deities and even on the tombs of Muslim saints. It is used as the official crest motif of the All India Handicrafts Board.” He woefully adds that a large number of youngsters in the area, including his own son, have moved to Kolkata not only because of the money but also because of their inability to commit to the labor required for this kind of artistry. Mahadeb justifies that there is no harm in working in an office while at the same time being a marginal potter. That way, the skill is never wiped out from the family.

Unfinished Bankura Horses at Panchmura village.

Panchmura village near Bishnupur, Bankura District, is one of the main hubs of terracotta in West Bengal. Historically, the politically stable Malla Kingdom indulged in a lot of cultural activity and invited high caste Brahmins, expert craftsmen, and masons to Bishnupur, and through the amalgamation of religion and culture, these people contributed largely to the trade and commerce of the region. The Bankura artisans gradually scattered to different parts of the country, but today only the few remaining in Panchmura are still striving to keep this art form alive.

A usual day in Bishnupur.

The origin of terracotta in India can be traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. Terracotta came into existence in Bengal due to the unavailability of stones and large endowments of alluvial soil left by the main rivers in the Bankura District: Damodar, Dwarakeshwar, and the Kangsabati. The soil thus gets a perfect blend and density for it to be crafted intricately and fired in order to produce the required terracotta products. A Panchmura artisan says that a Durga idol made in Bankura is at least three times as heavy as an idol of the same size made in Kolkata because the soil found in Bankura is much more dense and mineral rich, making the crafting process extremely laborious.

The cultural transformation in the community is well captured through the terracotta craft embossed on the walls of various temples, towers, and smaller objects in the region. Many scholars have interpreted this as a translation of the primitive Sanskrit literature into mainstream Bengali narratives that allowed the emergence of such popular cults in Hinduism as Durga, Krishna, and Kali. The terracotta temples in Bankura are mostly Radha-Krishna temples, which drew inspiration from Vaishnavism.

The Munshiganj District in Bangladesh, which is close to the confluence of the Padma and Brahmaputra rivers, is a storehouse of terracotta work on the other side of Bengal. Almost all the temples are dedicated to Shiva, and the temple roofs are distinctly different from the ones found in Bankura, as the ones in Munshiganj are more longitudinally conical.

A terracotta temple in Munshiganj District in Bangladesh.

Narratives on terracotta were sources of both information and entertainment for the people, depicting stories from the mythological texts of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Hitopodesha, Jataka, and Panchatantra. There has been emphasis on scenes indicating rural life, farming techniques, male and female dancers, musicians, and village gardens. Bengal architecture is uniquely different from the architecture that coincided with the Muslim rule in India, and by the end of the sixteenth century a new Bengali style of temple art became prominent and established itself as an artistic Hindu expression.

The exquisite Rash Mancha in Bishnupur.

Unlike most of the other art forms that emerged with the purpose of aesthetic value in creativity, terracotta was made to serve practical purposes, such as food and water storage, weapons, and utensils. From being necessary commodities of daily use, these artifacts evolved into something more creative imbued with a high level of craft, making terracotta a cultural commodity with great marketing potential.

A shop in Bankura.

The Bankura District is known for its popular handicrafts in the form of terracotta, the Dokra handicrafts of Bigna, the stone craft of Susunia, and the Baluchari silk of Bishnupur. The global interest in Indian terracotta can also be found in a letter by Swami Vivekananda regarding the time when Okakura Kakuzo, the famous Japanese scholar, visited India in 1901–1902. Okakura was extremely impressed by the craftsmanship of a common terracotta vessel used by the servants and, owing to the fragility of these handicrafts, he requested Swami Vivekananda to replicate the piece in brass for him to carry it back to Japan.

Terracotta is still of high interest in the global market, and Panchmura, Surul, Chaltaberia, and Shetpur-Palpara are the major villages in West Bengal that export terracotta to international markets. However, the artisans face a number of key problems that are crippling the market for this kind of artwork, including the issues of equipment, transportation, and other logistical problems; the lack of interaction between the artisans and the urban consumers in Kolkata; and the high dependence of terracotta artisans on local patronage. Moreover, the inadequate capital, sluggish marketing, and falling demand are causing these marginalized artisans to become extinct, and the lack of interest from the new generation along with insufficient government schemes further add to the woes.

Terracotta craftwork in progress at Bishnupur.

Toton Kumbhakar, 30, says, “We get some idea of consumer preferences in the handicrafts fair in Kolkata every year, where people mostly demand the Bankura Horse, since it has a certain traditional value as a regular showpiece in the Kolkata households.” The potters admit that they charge much more for the handicrafts in Kolkata and are also financially dependent on the various regional festivals, for which they make large idols for relatively hefty prices.

The terracotta temples in Bishnupur show a much better quality and precision than the artifacts being produced today. For example, the details on the terracotta tiles used in the temples are much more intricate and portray a more complex network of lines, curves, and dots. How is this possible despite improvements in technology and intruments? The extinction of skill-specific labor is the answer to this. According to the locals, the process of terracotta production in Bankura previously included three major classes of workers: the clay collectors and sievers, who would give a fine texture to the clay; the artisans, who would add the intricate details; and finally the market traders. There is no specific class of labor anymore for each of these three roles.

Ancient temple architecture in Bishnupur.

“Bankura is my native place, and so terracotta has a special place in the lives of my family members,” says an urban consumer in Kolkata. “Apart from items to decorate the house, we use terracotta items for daily use. For example, in summer we do not drink cold water from the refrigerator but instead use an earthen terracotta vessel. My mother makes it a point to do a certain fish preparation in spite of it being time consuming, so that she can use the particular terracotta utensil.”

In the urban milieu, the demand for terracotta goods in Kolkata households has reached a saturation point. As the central government actively pushes for the promotion of various handicrafts from different states, art forms of other regions, particularly Madhubani paintings and Rajasthani handicrafts, are certainly very popular. Bankura’s terracotta seems to be lagging behind in this regard.

Bankura’s terracotta is a classic case of a dying cultural heritage. Sustaining the art is a social responsibility. Unlike the rest of West Bengal, the parliamentary constituency of Bankura has voted against incumbent leaders and political parties twice in the last decade, which is a major indication of people’s awareness and urgency of development in the region.

Culture is a matter of recognition, and aesthetics is more about perception than materiality. Very recently, the West Bengal state government has reportedly nominated Bishnupur’s terracotta temples for the UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This should be considered as a massive step toward drawing attention to this part of Bengal’s history and culture. However, only time will tell how efficiently such measures could facilitate the socioeconomic advancement of the potters’ community in Bankura.

(Note: All the pictures used in this article were taken by the author in Bankura District, India, and Munshiganj District in Bangladesh during the surveys.)

 Reprinted, with editing, from FIRSTPOST, https://www.firstpost.com/living/bankuras-terracotta-can-timely-measures-facilitate-socio-economic-revival-of-potters-community-7001001.html.


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Rural Restructuring in the Visegrad Group after the Political and Economic Transition

March 30, 2018
By 24143

Specializing in rural geography and socioeconomic modeling, József Lennert, a 2017 Sylff fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, shares highlights of his doctoral dissertation concerning the process and trends of counterurbanization after the fall of socialism in the Visegrad countries: Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Lennert made a comparison with the experiences of Western countries as well as among those of the four Visegrad countries, which pose both similar and distinctive aspects.



Thanks to the long-lasting influence of the romanticized Anglo-Saxon narrative of rural idyll, rural areas are still often perceived as stagnant, untouched by modernity, and resistant to any change. However, this is far from the truth: change never avoided rural areas, its rate simply varied during the course of history. From the 1970s a fast-paced rural transformation process started in the first world, bringing about fundamental changes in many aspects of rurality. These intertwining change processes are often summarized with the umbrella term “rural restructuring.”

Some of these changes included shifts in migration processes. Before rural restructuring, rural areas had been suffering for a long time from rural out-migration (with the exception of some settlements in the vicinity of an urban center, which were affected by suburbanization). Around the 1970s, a new migration trend called counterurbanization appeared in many first-world countries. Counterurbanization meant the (partial) reverse of previous trends, and migration surpluses appeared even in some previously depopulating remote rural areas. One of the driving forces of these new migratory movements was the increasing appreciation of natural and cultural amenities of rural areas—amenity migration. Rural restructuring also had an impact on land use. Instead of a landscape dominated by monocultural, productivist agriculture, a more diverse, multifunctional countryside is now preferred. These changes also opened up new future prospects and development possibilities for many previously neglected rural areas.

While the first world underwent rural restructuring, political and economic transition brought different changes and challenges to rural areas of the former socialist bloc. Realizing this, I set the main goals of my research as follows:

  • to analyze the transformation of rural areas of the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition;
  • to distinguish those processes similar to Western rural restructuring from those processes derived from the political and economic transition;
  • to identify the similarities and differences between the four countries and explore the role of historical backgrounds;
  • to map the spatial structure of rural areas in the light of the aforementioned processes; and
  • to determine whether the development policies in place are capable of addressing the ongoing transformation processes and territorial differences.

To achieve these aims, I conducted my research in the following manner:

  • I analyzed trends in migration processes and changes in land cover in the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition;
  • I created a typology of the rural areas of the Visegrad Group; and
  • through a case study, I examined how the allocation of European Union funds varied between different types of settlements.

In the following sections, I would like to share some of the most important findings of this research.

Material and Methods

Figure 1. Urban areas, commutable rural areas, and remote rural areas of the Visegrad Group. Own elaboration.

To examine the processes at the lowest possible level, I conducted my analysis in the spatial level of local administrative units (LAU 2). While my units of analysis are not completely analogous with the municipalities and settlements of the four countries, I will refer to them as such for the sake of a more straightforward discussion.

To achieve the goals stated above, I used a two-step delimitation method. I considered all units of analysis with less than 5,000 inhabitants, as well as those municipalities that have higher populations but do not possess city rights, to be rural (regardless of administrative status). Based on the Western experiences of rural restructuring, I made a further distinction between commutable rural and remote rural areas. I defined remote rural areas as rural areas that require 45 minutes or more of driving to reach the nearest city with at least 50,000 inhabitants; the remaining rural settlements are considered commutable rural (Figure 1).

According to this definition, even though most units of analysis can be considered rural, only 28.9%  of the population of the Visegrad Group lives in commutable rural areas and another 11.5% in remote rural areas. Among the Visegrad countries, Slovakia was characterized with the highest and Hungary with the lowest share of rural residents.

For the purposes of analyzing migration trends, I used data from the statistical offices of the four countries: Központi Statisztikai Hivatal (KSH) in Hungary, Główny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS) in Poland, Český Statistický Úřad (ČSÚ) in the Czech Republic, and Štatistický úrad (ŠÚ) in Slovakia.

Figure 2. The typology of the selected rural settlements. Own elaboration.

The Corine Land Cover database was used to analyze land cover changes of the Visegrad Group. From the original 44 land cover categories, I created 8 aggregated categories: artificial surfaces, arable land, vineyards and fruit cultivations, grasslands, heterogeneous agricultural areas, forests, wetlands and other natural areas, and water bodies.

To analyze the allocation of funds from the European Union, I used Hungary as a case study. I randomly selected 50 commutable rural and 50 remote rural municipalities. Based on the results of the previous analysis, I classified them into groups with distinguishable migration and land use characteristics. I also took into account the state of the built environment, which is a good indicator of ongoing social changes (Figure 2). Finally, I analyzed EU-supported projects from the 2007–2013 programming period for the selected 100 municipalities.


Figure 3. Rural migration trends in the Visegrad Group after the political and economic transition. Own elaboration based on data from KSH, GUS, ČSÚ, and ŠÚ.


The results indicate that the transition brought about drastic changes in the rural migration trends of the Visegrad Group. While rural out-migration dominated in the decades of state socialism, after 1990 the rural areas can be characterized with an increasingly positive balance (Figure 3). However, this surplus was mostly limited to the commutable rural areas. These results indicate the widespread emergence of suburbanization: the concentration of the population in suburban settlements around the central city of an urban agglomeration (Figure 4). Whereas in Western Europe and North America this process had already begun to take wings in the early twentieth century, it was restrained to a great extent in the centrally planned economies until the transition. After the fall of socialism, however, the former constraints lifted, and a rapid urban sprawl took place. This partially controlled process also had an impact on land cover change.

Figure 4. Rural migration trends in the Visegrad Group at the municipality level. Own elaboration based on data from KSH, GUS, ČSÚ, and ŠÚ.


Counterurbanization had a central role in the rural turnaround of the first world, but the appearance of this process in the research region is limited to a few destinations. Rural depopulation still persists in a large part of the remote rural areas of the Visegrad Group. Also, some remote rural locations became migration destinations for the socioeconomically disadvantaged. This unfavorable process is driven by economic necessities: those who are excluded from the work market are sometimes left with only one solution—to sell their former residence for a less valuable location and use up the difference for day-to-day expenses. Ultimately, this movement reduces their chances of reintegration into the labor market and leads to their further deprivation.

Figure 5. Land cover change trends in the Visegrad Group between 1990 and 2012. Own elaboration based on Corine Land Cover data.


The increase of artificial surfaces and forests and the decrease of arable land were already present during the decades of state socialism, and the results of the analysis show that the political and economic transition did not alter these long-term trends in land cover change (Figure 5). After the political and economic transition, however, the loosely controlled urban sprawl led to more chaotic expansion of artificial surfaces than in previous decades.

While some general trends are common for each country, we can still observe significant differences in the rate of change and in the spatial patterns. For example, despite the general shrinkage in the acreage of arable land, we can still identify areas of increase in the eastern regions of Poland (Figure 6). In these areas small-scale family farming persisted during the socialist era. The relatively low unemployment of these regions indicates that many former industrial workers returned to subsistence farming. This safety net function explains why market-controlled land abandonment did not reach the region.

Figure 6. Changes in the area of arable land between 1990 and 2012. Own elaboration based on Corine Land Cover data.


The significant transformation from arable land to grassland in the Czech peripheries stands in stark contrast to the trends in Eastern Poland. Behind this, we can once again find region-specific reasons. This area was inhabited by Sudeten Germans since the Middle Ages, but after World War II the Czechoslovak government expelled the vast majority of them. This event was shortly followed by the reorganization of agricultural land into state farms and cooperatives, thus preventing the new residents from forming emotional ties with their land before the socialist transformation of agriculture. After the restitution, this lack of attachment led to land abandonment in the changing market environment, where farming was no longer profitable.

These two examples reveal that in regions with divergent socioeconomic and historical backgrounds, even similar challenges can induce radically different changes, leading to further differences in the socioeconomic circumstances of the localities.

The results discussed above pose the question of whether the allocation of EU funds takes into account the differences between rural communities. In order to close the development gap, disadvantaged settlements should be favored, and the implemented projects should reflect the unique needs of these settlements. Fund allocation in the 100 municipalities selected for the case study shows us a mixed picture. Generally, the per capita fund allocation favors the disadvantaged (e.g., remote rural) municipalities. However, the combination of several socioeconomic challenges (e.g., small population coupled with rural out-migration) can lead to insufficient human capital and completely prevent the absorption of the EU funds.

Moreover, disadvantaged settlements that receive a sufficient amount of resources may nonetheless not use them in the most efficient way. In socially and economically balanced settlements, a significant percentage of the resources are spent on increasing the competitiveness of local business. But this is not true for the disadvantaged settlements; there the emphasis is shifted to investments in settlement infrastructure and local services. While these are important aims, without a more dynamic local economy, there is little to stop the decline and decay of these settlements.

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Chinese Investment in Central and Eastern Europe

February 25, 2016
By 19675

Ágnes Szunomár, a 2015 Sylff fellow at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, summarizes her research on the recent trend of Chinese investment in Central and Eastern Europe. In her article, she describes how it differs from investments by other Asian and European countries.

* * *


Chinese outward foreign direct investment (OFDI) is one of the most spectacular developments in recent international economics in terms of its rapid growth, geographical range, and takeovers of established Western brands. Chinese firms mainly invest in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, where they search for markets and natural resources. They have also been active in the developed economies of Western Europe and the United States, however, that offer markets for Chinese products and assets that Chinese firms lack, such as advanced technologies, managerial knowledge, and distribution networks. Chinese firms are also increasingly investing in Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs). These investments are quite a new phenomenon and still constitute a small share of China’s total foreign direct investment (FDI) in Europe (10%), but since 2006 we have seen a growing influx of Chinese investments into the region, which is expected to increase further in the future (see the figure below).

The aim of my research was to analyse the motivations and location determinants of Chinese FDI in the largest recipient countries within the CEECs, with a special focus on the role and impact of host country macroeconomic and institutional factors.


China’s rise is often compared to the postwar “Asian Miracle” of its neighbors. An analysis of the internationalization experiences of Japanese, Korean, and Chinese companies reveals several common features as well as some differences. One of the main common characteristics shared by all three is the creation and support of the so-called national champions, that is, domestically based companies that have become leading competitors in the global market. In fact, during their developmental period, both the Japanese and Korean governments gave strong state financial support to their companies in order to protect and promote them as well as to strengthen them for international competition. China has followed this example in subsidizing domestic industries and supporting their overseas activities, for example in the form of government funding for OFDI.

Although the CEECs differ in many respects, they do have some features in common as possible locations for East Asian investors. Their economies have been in the process of catching up over the last decades, defined mainly by European powers. FDI has played a key role in their restructuring. Investment from East Asian countries in the CEECs began as early as the 1990s (with a Japanese Suzuki factory in Hungary).

In the past decade most of these countries became increasingly interested in boosting trade and attracting investments from East Asian economies. The global economic and financial crisis of 2008 intensified these ambitions. The largest recipient countries of East Asian investments within the CEECs are Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Around 90% of foreign investments in the four countries are from Europe, with an average of only 7.4% of FDI from other countries, mainly from the USA, South Korea, Japan, and China.

Utility of the Research

Typically, the international literature examines the motivations of Chinese OFDI on a global basis, and most previous studies have focused on China's growing investments in the developing world. Studies dealing with the characteristics and motivations of Chinese FDI in Europe rarely deal with the Central and Eastern European region. Although significant research has been done on FDI flows to the CEEC region, most of these studies do not include Chinese investments. The literature is thus incomplete, and detailed description and analysis of this issue is lacking. The primary aim of this research was therefore to complement the literature.

Besides complementing the literature, my results also have an inherent message for CEEC corporate decision makers and policy makers. For the CEECs, the Chinese relationship is increasingly a priority, especially since the economic and financial crisis of 2008. Most countries in the region see a closer relationship with emerging economies such as China as a promising way of recovering from the recession. The further development of corporate or government strategies in this regard may be supported by the results of this research.


Given the broad concept and geographical scope of Central and Eastern Europe, instead of focusing on the relations of all the region’s countries with the main East Asian investors, the research concentrates on a fair sample of CEEC countries: the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia. These countries were selected in consideration of their size, reflecting their proximity, growing business ties, and geographic location, as well as their political and economic relations with China. The Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia are the most developed and most important players in the CEEC region and are members of the Visegrad Group as well as the EU and the Schengen Area.

At the beginning of the research I reviewed theories and literature on FDI location determinants with a special focus on FDI determinants in the CEECs. The next step was to analyze the changing patterns and motivations of Chinese and other East Asian OFDI as I tried to find similarities and differences between the characteristics and motivations of Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean FDI in the CEECs. In addition, I provided a detailed description of the impact of both macroeconomic and institutional factors based on case studies and interviews with East Asian firms established in the CEECs.

To continue this research in the near future I also prepared an online opinion survey on East Asian companies' investment patterns, which will be sent out to several Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean companies operating in the CEECs to collect more information on their activities, motivations, and strategies.

Research Results

My investigation into the motivations of Chinese OFDI in the CEECs shows that Chinese investors mostly search for markets (market-seeking investment). Investors are attracted by the relatively low labor costs, skilled workforce, and market potential. EU membership allows Chinese investors to avoid trade barriers, and the countries serve as an assembly base due to the relatively low labor costs (efficiency-seeking investment). However, in parallel with the increasing number of mergers and acquisitions in the region, strategic asset-seeking motives have become more important for Chinese companies in recent years. Chinese investments are also motivated by the search for brands, new technologies, or market niches that they can fill in European markets. For example, in early 2012 Liugong Machinerys acquired Huta Stalowa Wola’s construction equipment division and its distribution subsidiary, Dressta. Secondly, in 2013 China’s Tri Ring Group Corporation acquired Polish Fabryka Łożysk Tocznych (the biggest Chinese investment in Poland so far), a producer of bearings for the automotive sector.

Chinese investment has flowed mostly into manufacturing (assembly), but over time services has attracted more and more investment as well. For example Hungary and Poland are home to branches of the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, as well as offices of some of the largest law offices in China (Yingke Law Firm and Dacheng Law Offices). Regarding the Chinese entry mode, there are examples of greenfield or quasi-greenfield investments (Huawei, ZTE, Lenovo), as well as mergers and acquisitions (Wanhua) and joint ventures (Orient Solar, BBCA).

Having examined the CEEC-East Asian economic ties, my conclusion is that while Japan and South Korea previously had larger roles, China has increasingly come to the fore in recent years. Analyzing the difference in motivations before and after the global economic and financial crisis suggests that although the crisis did not have a direct impact on East Asian investments in the CEECs, there was an indirect impact since it was in the aftermath of the crisis that the CEECs started to search for new opportunities to help them recover from the recession. For example, Hungary's “Opening to the East” policy was initiated after (and partly as a result of) the crisis, but the crisis also made Poland look eastward. China took these opportunities and has increased sectoral representation of Chinese firms in the CEECs in recent years.

The results of my research suggest that the characteristics, motivations, and location determinants of Chinese investments in the CEECs differ somewhat from Western as well as other East Asian investors’ motivations. While macroeconomic factors, such as labour costs, market size, and corporate taxes, had and continue to have a decisive role in selecting FDI locations for investors from other countries, Chinese firms seem to attach greater importance to institutional factors. Country-level institutional factors that impact Chinese companies’ location choice within the CEECs seem to be the size of the ethnic Chinese population, as well as investment, privatization and public procurement opportunities, but also good political relations between the host country and China. One example is Hisense’s explanation of the decision to invest in Hungary. Besides traditional economic factors, this decision was apparently motivated by the “good diplomatic, economic, trade, and educational relations with China, the sizable local Chinese population, Chinese trade and commercial networks, and associations already formed.” Another example is the Nuctech company, which established its subsidiary in Poland in 2004 and participated in public procurement.

My research also suggests that the CEEC region is not homogeneous and that there are differences in the economic relations between the CEEC countries and China. Moreover, the CEECs often view each other as competitors rather than working together to achieve shared goals (that is, to attract more Chinese investment). This is unfortunate, since according to the literature on the perceptions of the CEEC region among Chinese, many Chinese business investors consider the region to be a unified bloc.


To conclude, I found that:
(1) The role of Chinese investments within the CEE region increased significantly after the crisis, and investment from China will be increasingly important for the countries of the region in the future, as the Chinese share of total inward FDI in the CEECs increases.
(2) Chinese investments in the CEECs differ somewhat from other countries’ investments in the region in terms of motives, which in the Chinese case are driven by both political and economic factors.
(3) The level and warmth of political relations with the host country have an increasingly important influence on Chinese companies’ investments in the region. And (4) the CEE region tends to be seen more as a unified block than as a group of countries by the Chinese. Greater cooperation among the CEECs might therefore help to increase the chances for successful economic relations with China.

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The Socioeconomic Dimension of Irrawaddy Dolphin Conservation

November 9, 2015
By 19660

Sierra Deutsch, a Sylff fellow at the University of Oregon, went to Myanmar and Cambodia to assess the two countries’ different approaches to natural resource management. In this article, she describes the preliminary findings of her research and argues that the experiences of local people affected by natural resource policies are important and may have implications for the success of those policies.

* * *

The Mekong

The Mekong

As concern has grown over the alarming acceleration of environmental problems since the emergence of the industrial era, the science of natural resource management has evolved in an effort to confront such issues. In recent years, conservation efforts have shifted from a focus on individual species to an ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach. With this change, the concept of the “human dimensions” of resource management—which emphasizes the diverse forms of knowledge and beliefs of stakeholders and their incorporation in conservation policy1—has come to the fore2,3. It is now widely recognized that natural resource management is really about the management of natural resource users 1,3,4. Taking it a step further, recent research has pointed to the importance of socioeconomic analyses in conservation research strategies 5,6.

Historically, the question “Is this conservation project working?” has often been answered without considering the perceptions and experiences of the people whose livelihoods are most directly affected by conservation policies 7,8. While biological indicators are obviously an important part of conservation work, understanding how conservation programs are perceived and experienced by the local communities most affected by them is also vital—both for the sake of the communities themselves and because support from those communities may have important implications for the long-term success of conservation efforts.

Cambodia critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Cambodia critical dolphin habitat and research sites

The Status of the Irrawaddy Dolphin

The Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) inhabits rivers throughout Southeast Asia and coastal waters in the Indian and Pacific Oceans from the Bay of Bengal to the Philippines 9. The species is listed as “threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with five sub-populations listed as “critically endangered.” Since the dolphins are not hunted directly for consumption, they are considered a “nonconsumptive” resource.

The main threats to their survival are upstream industrial pollution, accidental catches by gillnet fishing, and mortalities resulting from electro-fishing 9,10,11,12.

Myanmar: Critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Myanmar: Critical dolphin habitat and research sites

Conservation measures that seek to aid in the recovery of Irrawaddy dolphin populations must therefore address the socioeconomic factors that indirectly affect their survival, making Irrawaddy dolphin conservation projects an ideal focus for a study on the socioeconomic dimension of conservation initiatives.

Conservation measures for the Irrawaddy dolphin vary by country. They include attempts to mitigate habitat degradation, restrictions on the fishing practices and gear that endanger the dolphins, educational outreach, poverty alleviation through development, encouragement of tourism, and formation of fisher cooperatives 9,10,12. Each country has had varying success in conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphin and, because of its widespread distribution in multiple countries, the Irrawaddy dolphin is also an ideal subject for a cross-country comparison of conservation projects.

Diversification vs. Preservation: Two Contrasting Approaches

Fisherman on the Ayeyarwady River (Myanmar)

Fisherman on the Ayeyarwady River (Myanmar)

Cambodia’s approach seeks to preserve the status quo of privatized resources and focuses more on the diversification of livelihoods and the economic development of rural communities 13. Meanwhile, Myanmar has focused more on the preservation of livelihoods in rural communities 14. Cambodia’s approach seems to be failing and the imminent extinction of its dolphin population has been predicted 15, while Myanmar’s approach seems relatively successful 14. Yet the perceptions and experiences of these policies by the people that are most directly affected, while taken into consideration during planning and implementation 4,14, seem to have been largely ignored once the policies have been implemented.

Bringing Local People into the Discussion

Fisherman on the Mekong (Cambodia)

Fisherman on the Mekong (Cambodia)

I used questionnaires to gather data for the hypotheses I have about different perceptions of conservation among the participants. But I also wanted to make sure that participants were given an opportunity to highlight what was important to them. Too many well-intentioned Western researchers go to “developing”countries and make assumptions about the needs and desires of their participants without bothering to ask the local people in those countries what they think. Of course, I had to set out with at least a few questions and expectations in mind—if only because it is virtually impossible to get funding without them! But I purposely chose to carry out personal interviews and focus-group discussions—in addition to questionnaires and participant observation—to allow participants to tell me what was important to them and what they wanted foreign researchers to help with in the future.

Preliminary Findings

At the conclusion of my fieldwork, I had a total of 128 individual interviews, 275 completed questionnaires, and 25 focus-group discussions. These came from 8 riverside villages in Myanmar and another 8 in Cambodia (16 villages in total). The data are still in the preliminary stages of analysis: All of the audio recordings still need to be transcribed in Burmese and Khmer and then translated. (I felt this was a more accurate way of assessing the data, since the interpreters I used on-site may have left out some of what was said, assuming it wasn’t important enough to repeat). However, I have already seen several themes emerge and hope to confirm them once I have the full translations.

One of the research villages Myanmar

One of the research villages Myanmar

First, virtually all participants seem to think fondly of the Irrawaddy dolphin and expressed a desire to continue to protect it. Second, many participants in both countries seemed to express frustration with ongoing corruption—law enforcement often takes monetary bribes in exchange for “looking the other way” when illegal fishing gear (which unintentionally harms dolphins as well) is used in the river. Many of those participants seemed concerned for the future of the river and its ability to supply the fish that is their primary source of protein. Third, while participants in both countries seem to feel that conditions in their communities have improved over the last 10 years, I was surprised by the differences in how participants expressed that improvement.

Many of the people in Cambodia—where they have experienced a shift toward capitalism since the early 1980s—tended to emphasize the presence and role of money in their lives, often discussing improvements in terms of people having bigger houses, owning motorbikes or cars, and having more money in general (basically, the standard symbols of Western “wealth”). In contrast, participants in Myanmar—where they have just recently begun to experience a shift toward capitalism since 2010—seemed to place more emphasis on community enrichment, frequently discussing improvements in terms of things like better schools, improved medical treatment, and the construction of flood walls. While these are only preliminary findings that need to be confirmed, they are also just a few of the themes immediately obvious from the data. I am confident that many exciting and important findings remain to be made.

Encouraging the Involvement of Underrepresented Groups

Traveling has always been one of my great loves. As I spent more time traveling, particularly in developing countries, I gradually became aware of a desire to address the social and environmental problems that seemed to be everywhere. I had the opportunity to meet many people along the way from diverse geopolitical regions, cultures, ethnicities, religions, genders, and ages who were contributing to solutions for these social and environmental problems.

Around the same time, I began to become aware of my undeserved privilege as a middle-class, white North American to access resources—such as education and the ability to travel abroad—that are not available to the vast majority of the world’s population. Because of this awareness and because of these interactions with the people who inspired me, I decided that even though I enjoyed studying whales and dolphins immensely, I felt a deep responsibility to use the resources available to me to contribute to the peace and well-being of humankind and the planet.

It is my hope that the results of this study will encourage more involvement of underrepresented groups in assessing the effectiveness of environmental and other policies on a local, regional, national, and global scale. I believe that acknowledging the diverse ways in which people experience and perceive conservation initiatives is especially important where conservation policy appears to be failing. The addition of alternative worldviews to a collective analysis may ultimately lead to more effective approaches to, and better solutions for, the environmental problems that affect us all.

Literature Cited

1 Decker, Daniel J, Riley, Shawn J and Siemer, William F (2012) Human dimensions of wildlife management, JHU Press.

2 Berkes, Fikret (2012) ‘Implementing ecosystem-based management: evolution or revolution?’ Fish and Fisheries, 13(4), pp. 465–476.

3 McLeod, Karen and Leslie, Heather (2009) ‘Why ecosystem-based management’, in McLeod, K. L. and Leslie, H. M. (eds.), Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans, Washington, D.C., Island Press.

4 Beasley, Isabel (2007) ‘Conservation of the Irrawaddy dolphin, Orcaella brevirostiris (Owen in Gray, 1866) in the Mekong River: biological and social considerations influencing management.’

5 Clausen, Rebecca and York, Richard (2008) ‘Global biodiversity decline of marine and freshwater fish: a cross-national analysis of economic, demographic, and ecological influences.’ Social Science Research, 37(4), pp. 1310–1320.

6 Clausen, Rebecca and Clark, Brett (2005) ‘The metabolic rift and marine ecology: an analysis of the ocean crisis within capitalist production.’ Organization & Environment, 18(4), pp. 422–444.

7 Kellert, Stephen R, Mehta, Jai N, Ebbin, Syma A and Lichtenfeld, Laly L (2000) ‘Community natural resource management: promise, rhetoric, and reality.’ Society & Natural Resources, 13(8), pp. 705–715.

8 Moore, Kathleen Dean and Russell, Roly (2009) ‘Toward a new ethic for the oceans’, in McLeod, K. and Leslie, H. (eds.), Ecosystem-Based Management for the Oceans, Island Press, pp. 325–340.

9 Baird, Ian G and Beasley, Isabel L (2005) ‘Irrawaddy dolphin Orcaella brevirostris in the Cambodian Mekong River: an initial survey.’ Oryx, 39(3), pp. 301–310.

10 Smith, Brian D and Hobbs, Larry (2002) ‘Status of Irrawaddy dolphins Orcaella brevirostris in the upper reaches of the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar.’ Raffles Bulletin of Zoology, 50, pp. 67–74.

11 Stacey, Pam J and Leatherwood, Stephen (1997) ‘The Irrawaddy dolphin, Orcaella brevirostris: a summary of current knowledge and recommendations for conservation action.’ Asian Marine Biology, 14, pp. 195–214.

12 Smith, Brian D, Tun, Mya Than, Chit, Aung Myo, Win, Han and Moe, Thida (2009) ‘Catch composition and conservation management of a human–dolphin cooperative cast-net fishery in the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar.’ Biological Conservation, 142(5), pp. 1042–1049.

13 Beasley, Isabel, Marsh, Helene, Jefferson, Thomas A and Arnold, Peter (2009) ‘Conserving dolphins in the Mekong River: the complex challenge of competing interests’, in The Mekong: Biophysical environment of an international river basin, Sydney, Australia, Elsevier Press, pp. 363–387.

14 Smith, Brian D and Tun, Mya Than (2007) ‘Status and conservation of Irrawaddy dolphins Orcaella brevirostris in the Ayeyarwady River of Myanmar’, in Smith, B. D., Shore, R. G., and Lopez, A. (eds.), Status and Conservation of Freshwater Populations of Irrawaddy Dolphins, WCS Working Paper Series No. 31., New York, Wildlife Conservation Society, pp. 21–40.

15 Beasley, Isabel, Pollock, K, Jefferson, T A, Arnold, P, et al. (2012) ‘Likely future extirpation of another Asian river dolphin: The critically endangered population of the Irrawaddy dolphin in the Mekong River is small and declining.’ Marine Mammal Science.

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Sylff@Tokyo:Director Shares Thoughts on New Research Center at UC San Diego

June 26, 2015

Professor Ulrike Schaede, chairperson of the Sylff program at the School of Global Policy and Strategy (formerly the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies), University of California, San Diego, visited the Tokyo Foundation on April 20, 2015.

She met with Tokyo Foundation President Masahiro Akiyama, Executive Director Akiko Imai, Director Takashi Suzuki and Program Officer Tomoko Yamada of the Leadership Development team.

Professor Schaede is an expert on Japanese corporate strategy, business organization, management, financial markets, and government-business relations. She shared with us news of the school’s recent launch of the Japan Forum for Innovation and Technology, a hub for research on contemporary business, science, and technology.

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Response of Indian Industries to Global Environmental Sustainability

April 6, 2014
By 19659

How does the response of one industrial sector affect other sectors of an economy? To gain insights into this question, Shyamasree Dasgupta, a Sylff fellow at Jadavpur University in India, has been analyzing the response over the past four decades of India’s industry to the country’s climate change action plan. In this article, she reports on her research conducted in the United States with an SRA grant has broadened her perspective.

* * *

As a student of social science I always wondered how the response of an individual decision maker shapes up in conjunction with the responses of the bigger community to which the decision maker belongs. It became more interesting to me as I initiated my doctoral research to explore the responses of Indian industries to climate change mitigation goals.

As reduction of carbon emissions is a “global goal,” the most aggregated pledges are taken at the international level (such as the Kyoto Protocol, Copenhagen Accord). Specific climate change mitigation policies are, however, mostly formulated and implemented by the national government or a set of national governments in line with such global pledges. Finally, different economic sectors take their decisions with regard to the pattern of their operations to curb energy use and emissions in line with the pledge and policies.

The response of a particular economic sector (such as the industrial sector) is not a stand-alone phenomenon. The responses are triggered by the actions of other sectors of the economy and at the same time have an impact on the rest of the economy. In fact, the aggregate impact of the decisions taken by one economic sector depends on its relation with the rest of the economy. For example, if an industry substitutes coal by electricity as an energy input, then emissions from that particular industry will come down, but from a macro perspective, aggregate emissions will be reduced only when electricity is produced with a fuel that is less carbon intensive than coal.

My doctoral research seeks to understand how Indian industries have responded during the past four decades under various domestic policy domains, with a special emphasis on the country’s recent climate change mitigation policies. Having estimated such response parameters (for example, price elasticity of energy demand—the change in industrial energy demand when energy price changes), I wanted to explore how the same industrial sector can be expected to behave in a future time horizon while interacting with other sectors in the global economy if some global emission reduction pledge becomes binding.

I got the opportunity to explore this issue with my SRA award along with mentoring and support from my home institute, Jadavpur University in India, and my SRA host institute, the Joint Global Change Research Institute (JGCRI, a collaborative institute of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Maryland in the United States).

An Integrated Assessment Model for India

The author working on the Global Change Assessment Model at JGCRI

The author working on the Global Change Assessment Model at JGCRI

JGCRI has developed the Global Change Assessment Model (GCAM), an integrated assessment model representing the world economy that explores the links between energy, land use, water resource sectors, and a climate model. It incorporates both energy producing (such as electric power) and energy consuming sectors (such as industry). It creates a market where all the sectors are recursively solved for price and quantity, and the amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases emitted are estimated. The model could be used to explore responses of these sectors to several climate change mitigation pledges and policies.

GCAM divides the world into 14 regions, and India is one of them. The existing model employed the aggregated data for the Indian industry sector. Hence the responses towards any mitigation policy—can be so far analyzed only for the aggregate industry sector for India. My aim was to further develop the model with disaggregated industrial sectors for India, breaking up the industry sector into subsectors such as iron and steel, chemicals, and cement, along with a residual subsector named “other industries.” This would enable the user to analyze responses not only at the aggregate level but also for different subsectors in the context of Indian industry. The challenge was to break up the aggregate industry sector in an appropriate manner supported by authentic data so that the model would offer plausible solutions for years up to 2100 for all sectors and regions.

Being new to integrated assessment models, this was a true learning experience for me requiring several trials with different adjustments to obtain valid results! It was a stimulating experience solving the unforeseen errors cropping up during each trial run until I succeeded. I was greatly supported by my mentors and other colleagues at JGCRI in the process. In the course of my research, I came across fellow visiting scholars who were working on or had worked on several other sectors in other countries, including China and Brazil.

The research was greatly supported by the mentors and other colleagues at JGCRI

The research was greatly supported by the mentors and other colleagues at JGCRI

The model also used average values regarding how demand changes in response to changes in price in different industrial sectors. I substituted the average values for those specific to India that I had estimated prior to my SRA. Data were derived from the “Energy Statistics” and “Annual Survey of Industries,” published by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Government of India. The scenario demands a sharp decline in emissions from nonenergy-intensive industries, the phasing out of coal, and a significant increase in the use of clean electricity in industrial production. The use of biofuel emerged as one of the most effective medium-term solutions for Indian industries to meet the mitigation target.

Case Study in Climate Mitigation

Another objective of my SRA was to visit an energy-intensive industrial unit in the United States in order to compare its production and mitigation practices with its Indian counterparts. I was put in touch with the US Department of Energy through my mentor at the home institution, enabling me to visit such a facility. Things shaped up well, and I got a chance to accompany members of the American Forest and Paper Association on a visit to a pulp and paper company in Virginia. The day-long visit to the paper mill and discussions with the managers provided insights into their production processes and mitigation practices.

Visiting a paper mill with the members of the American Forest and Paper Association

Visiting a paper mill with the members of the American Forest and Paper Association

The mill was established in 1914 and has gone through changes in ownership and technology. It mainly produces corrugated paper from both raw wood and recycled paper. The pattern of energy utilization became a major issue of concern, as a result of which the mill became more energy efficient with greater emphasis on recycling and enhanced use of renewable energy. Over 80% of the electricity used by the mill is generated internally using multiple fuels, including black liquor, wood waste, and sludge. According to the company, it was the rise in fuel prices, rather than any particular energy or climate policy at the federal or state level, that drove it to reduce its dependence on purchased energy.

The SRA experience was extremely enriching for me. It not only helped me to augment my doctoral dissertation, which I am aiming to finalize in the coming few months, but at the same time provided me with an opportunity to work in the multidisciplinary and multiethnic environment of my globally renowned host institution.

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National Policy in the Local Context
Exploring the Influence of “Guest” Workers in Fernie, British Columbia

November 12, 2013
By 19635

How do national immigration policies influence local communities? Laurie Trautman, a geographer who received a Sylff fellowship from the University of Oregon in 2012, explores how “guest” workers in rural resort economies in the United States and Canada are reshaping local labor markets and community dynamics. In the summer of 2013 she conducted fieldwork in British Columbia, Canada, using a Sylff Research Abroad award, and here she highlights some of her preliminary findings.

* * *

The importation of foreign labor is becoming an increasingly common strategy used by advanced industrial economies to maintain global competitiveness. While guest worker programs are designed to import foreign workers on a temporary basis, such policies have a lasting impact on local economies and communities. Despite these impacts, the bulk of literature on immigration has largely overlooked guest workers, who are perceived as having little long-term influence in the communities in which they work.

While guest worker provisions have been a major source of conflict in the United States since World War II, recent Canadian immigration policies have made a decisive shift away from an emphasis on multiculturalism towards a strategic focus on meeting temporary labor needs. As these changes are occurring, they are producing fundamentally different results that have yet to be extensively examined and compared. Yet, as comprehensive immigration reform is pending in both the US Congress and Canadian Parliament, it is essential that the changing nature of immigration policy—and guest worker programs in particular—is systematically and thoroughly analyzed in a cross-national context.

This article explores the influence of guest worker policy on both the local labor market and community interaction in the Canadian resort town of Fernie, British Columbia. Based on qualitative interviews conducted during the summer of 2013, this project aims to provide a better understanding of this understudied, yet increasingly controversial, element of immigration policy.

This research is part of a broader dissertation project that links national policy discourse and community experience to understand how guest worker policies are evolving in different national contexts in the United States and Canada—a critical issue given current debates over immigration reform in North America.

At the national level, this project analyzes narratives in the United States and Canada over nation, race, and labor, as reflected in federal legislation since 1990. At the local level, qualitative and in-depth research in two case-study “receiving” communities (Fernie, British Columbia, and Sun Valley, Idaho) shed light on how these national dynamics intersect with local economies, leading to a new understanding of the influence of guest workers on local labor markets and social interaction.

Case Study of Fernie, BC

The town of Fernie is located in the Elk Valley of southeast British Columbia and has a population of roughly 6,000 and an economy highly dependent on amenity-based tourism. With a high cost of living, small population base, and seasonal fluctuations in labor demand mirroring the tourist season, Fernie is unable to meet its labor needs locally. In the past several decades, Fernie’s reliance on importing labor from abroad has continued to increase.

Fernie Art Depot

Fernie Art Depot

At the same time, the cost of living in Fernie has skyrocketed alongside second home ownership, which has also created an increased demand for low-wage, low-skilled service-sector jobs. The result is an extremely tight labor market for low-wage labor in a rural location with a high cost of living, which has pushed many local businesses to develop retention strategies ranging from a free ski pass to medical benefits. However, for particular positions, some businesses have gone beyond established channels of recruitment and turned to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to meet their labor needs.

During my research time in Fernie, I conducted 44 interviews and two focus groups with employers, employees, community members, and government officials in order to assess how the presence of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) is shaping the local labor market and community dynamics. I was also involved in participant observation and analyzed local media publications to determine how these dynamics were represented both spatially and socially.

From ferniefix.com

(Photo from ferniefix.com)

I found that, while most employers relied on workers coming with a working holiday visa (primarily from Australia and New Zealand), a small handful of employers are turning to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as the tourist season is extending to include both winter and summer seasons. Up until just a few years ago, most employers were able to meet their labor needs during the peak winter season with young workers coming for the ski season with a working holiday visa, who would then leave in spring, when most businesses either go on vacation or reduce hours. With the demand for labor beginning to switch from a peak season in the winter to more year round needs, employers are searching for a more stable and longer term labor force which, ironically, they are able to find through the TFWP.

Unlike the working holiday visa, which does not tie workers to specific employers, workers coming on the TFWP need to establish employment prior to obtaining a visa, and thus solidify a relationship with an employer who essentially sponsors them. Upon arrival, they are in a committed relationship with their employer. In Fernie, TFWs are occupying specific positions in the labor market that have become increasingly difficult for employers to fill—namely housekeepers, chefs, and fast food workers. At this time, several fast food restaurants and cleaning companies are employing TFWs from the Philippines, establishing a division of labor along both national and racial lines.

Preliminary Findings

As part of my broader dissertation project, I am analyzing 20 years of national policy discourse in both the United States and Canada. A recurrent theme in both Parliament and Congress is the exploitation and victimization of guest workers, who are often described as being “unfree labor.”

This sentiment is echoed in academic literature, much of which highlights a fear that as Canadians increasingly rely on workers with temporary status who have few avenues to permanent residency, “a US-style underclass defined by precarious status and labour market vulnerability” may be emerging (Goldring et al, 2009: 257).

Help Wanted

Help Wanted

A preliminary analysis of my findings illustrates that TFWs in Fernie are not victimized by their status, nor do they lack agency, which complicates the overriding sentiments evident in both political discourse and academic literature. In fact, they are able to negotiate the immigration system through the relationship with their employers to remain in Canada beyond the original duration and purpose of their visa. In some instances, TFWs obtain residency and move into higher paying positions. This is surprising, as technically speaking, there is no path to residency for low-skilled TFWs.

I also found that workers coming on a working holiday visa will utilize the TFWP as a strategy to remain in Canada after their visas expire. Thus, while the TFWP is constructed as a national policy aimed at addressing temporary and acute labor market shortages, in Fernie it is actually a strategy used by both employers and foreign workers to achieve stability and long term employment relationships. For employers, it fills a chronic labor shortage, and for employees it is often a path to longer-term residency. Both of these outcomes are almost the polar opposite of the stated purpose of the policy.

Despite the agency on the part of TFWs, there remains a real materiality to the different categories of TFWs and ”international visitors” on a working holiday visa (WHV), which is evident at the local level. TFWs in Fernie are increasingly Filipino, while those on a WHV are almost exclusively young, white, and middle class. Those on a WHV have both social and labor market mobility, as they are able to change employers and come to Fernie with enough disposable income to enjoy the amenities. Above all else, they are not visibly different from the local population.

On the contrary, the geographic and labor market mobility of Filipinos coming as TFWs is extremely limited both by their employment in low-wage positions, their commitment to their sponsoring employer, and perhaps by their obvious position as ”minorities” in this small, rural mountain town. This quote from one interviewee highlights this lack of mobility:

“People say that there’s this big Filipino community that's growing, but I don't really see it, it’s not out there, you don't see them walking around, hanging out at the bars and coffee shops, so I don't know. They might be serving you a coffee when you drive through Tim Horton’s, but that’s about it.”

The preliminary findings from this case study will be compared with research in Sun Valley in the United States, in order to assess how guest worker policies are influencing both labor markets and community dynamics in different national contexts. The final stage of this dissertation project will analyze national policy discourse in the United States and Canada since 1990, comparing how 'guest worker' policy is constructed within the context of broader immigration objectives.

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Sylff@Tokyo: Elections and Economic Cycles in Autocratic Regimes

August 28, 2013

Higashijima, center, with the Tokyo Foundation program officers

Higashijima, center, with the Tokyo Foundation program officers

Masaaki Higashijima, who received a Sylff fellowship from Waseda University in 2008, visited the Tokyo Foundation on August 12, 2013. Masaaki is enrolled in PhD programs at Waseda and Michigan State University and is currently writing a dissertation at MSU.

His research analyzes the correlation between elections and economic cycles on the assumption that leaders tend to adopt an expansionary fiscal policy before an election, resulting in post-election slowdowns. Masaaki is paying special attention to autocratic regimes, although the trend had been considered applicable exclusively to multi-party democracies. He is trying to demonstrate that a correlation between elections and economic performance also exists in autocratic regimes.

We believe that Masaaki’s profound analysis can help shed new light on the ties between politics and fiscal policy and wish him all the best with his dissertation.

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Bulgaria and Japan: From the Cold War to the Twenty-first Century

August 14, 2013
By 19617

The following article is based on Bulgaria and Japan: From the Cold War to the Twenty-first Century, an exhaustively researched 2009 book by Evgeny Kandilarov—a Sylff fellow at Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski,” who used his fellowship to conduct research at Meiji University in Japan in 2005. The Tokyo Foundation asked the author, who is now an assistant professor at his alma mater, to summarize his findings, which have revealed intriguing patterns in the history of bilateral ties and international relations over the past several decades.

* * *

The book Bulgaria and Japan: From the Cold War to the Twenty-first Century is almost entirely based on unpublished documents from the diplomatic archives at the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In order to clarify concrete political decisions, many documents from the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party, Comecon, and State Committee for Culture were used. These documents are available at the Central State Archives of the Republic of Bulgaria. For additional information, memoirs of eminent Bulgarian political figures and diplomats who took part in the researched events were also used.

This article aims to give a brief overview of the political, economic, and cultural relations between Bulgaria and Japan during the Cold War and the subsequent period of Bulgaria’s transition to democracy and a market economy.

Exhaustive research on the bilateral relationship between Bulgaria and Japan have revealed specific reasons, factors, and causes that led to fairly intense economic, scientific, technological, educational, and cultural exchange between the two countries during the Cold War. Furthermore, the study raises some important questions, perhaps the most intriguing one being: Why did the relationship rapidly lose its dynamics during the transition period, and what might be the reasons for this?

The study also poses a series of questions concerning how bilateral relations influenced the economic development of Bulgaria during the 1960s and 1980s, throwing light on the many economic decisions made by the Bulgarian government that were influenced by the Japanese economic model.

Five Distinct Stages of the Relationship

The analysis of Bulgaria-Japan relations can be divided into two major parts. The chronological framework of the first part is defined by the date of the resumption of diplomatic relations between Bulgaria and Japan in 1959 and the end of state socialism in Bulgaria in 1989, coinciding with the end of the Cold War. This timeframe presents a fully complete period with its own logic and characteristics, following which Bulgaria’s international relations and internal policy underwent a total transformation at the beginning of the 1990s.

The second part of the analysis covers the period of the Bulgarian transition from state socialism to a parliamentary democracy and market economy. This relatively long period in the development of the country highlighted the very different circumstances the two countries faced and differences in their character.

The inner boundaries of the study are defined by two mutually related principles. The first is the spirit of international relations that directly influenced the specifics of the bilateral relationship, and the second is the domestic economic development of Bulgaria, a country that played an active role in the dynamics of the relationship. In this way, the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s (through 2007, when Bulgaria joined the EU), and the years since 2007 represent five distinct stages in the relations between Bulgaria and Japan.

The first stage began with the resumption of diplomatic relations in 1959. This was more a consequence of the general change in international relations in the mid-1950s than a result of deliberate foreign policy. After the easing of Cold War tensions between the two military and political blocs and the restart of dialogue, the whole Eastern bloc began normalizing its relations with the main ideological rival, the United States, as well as with its most loyal satellite in the Asia-Pacific region—Japan. From another point of view Japanese diplomatic activity toward Eastern Europe, including Bulgaria, was motivated mostly by the commercial and economic interests of Japanese corporations looking to extend their markets.

This period in Bulgarian-Japanese relations in the 1960s was characterized by mutual study and search for the right approach, the setting up of a legislative base, and the formulation of main priorities, aims, and interests.

Analyses of documents from the Bulgarian state archives show that Bulgaria was looking for a comprehensive development of the relationship, while Japan placed priority on economic ties and on technology and scientific transfer.

Budding Commercial Ties

One of the most important industries for which the Bulgarian government asked for support from Japan was electronics, which was developing very dynamically in Japan. In the mid-1960s Bulgaria signed a contract with one of Japan’s biggest electronics companies, Fujitsu Ltd. According to the contract, Bulgaria bought a license for the production of electronic devices, which were one of the first such devices produced by Bulgaria and sold on the Comecon market. The contract also included an opportunity for Bulgarian engineers to hone their expertise in Japan.

In the 1960s the first joint ventures between Bulgaria and Japan were established. In 1967 the Bulgarian state company Balkancar and the Japanese company Tokyo Boeki create a joint venture called Balist Kabushiki Kaisha. Another joint venture that was established was called Nichibu Ltd. In 1971 these two companies merged into a new joint venture, Nichibu Balist, engaged in trading all kinds of metals and metal constructions, forklifts and hoists and spare parts for factories, ships (second hand), marine equipment, spare parts, electronics, pharmaceuticals, and chemical products.

Bulgarian prime minister Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Prime minister Eisaku Sato, 1970, Japan.

Bulgarian prime minister Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Prime minister Eisaku Sato, 1970, Japan.

In 1970 Bulgaria and Japan signed an Agreement on Commerce and Navigation, which was the first of its kind signed by the Bulgarian government with a non-socialist country. According to the agreement, the two countries granted each other most-favored-nation treatment in all matters relating to trade and in the treatment of individuals and legal entities in their respective territories.

At the end of this stage of Bulgarian-Japanese bilateral relations, by participating in the Expo ’70 international exhibition, Bulgaria already had a clear idea of the “Japanese economic miracle” and how it could be applied to Bulgaria’s economic growth.

The Bulgarian government led by communist ruler Todor Zhivkov were very much impressed and influenced by Japan’s industrial, scientific, and technological policy, which led to the so called Japanese miracle. That is why the economic reforms and strategies adopted in Bulgaria over the following few years, although conducted in a completely different social and economic environment, were influenced to some extent by the Japanese model, especially in the field of science and technological policy.

Peak of Political and Economic Activity

The second stage in bilateral relations in the 1970s marked the peak of political and economic activity between the two countries. The goals set during the previous period were pursued and achieved slowly and steadily. The legislative base was broadened, and the number of influential Japanese partners increased. The international status quo in East-West relations, marked by the Helsinki process, presented the possibility for Bulgaria and Japan to enjoy a real “golden decade” in their relations.

In 1972 the Japan-Bulgaria Economic Committee for the development of trade, economic, and scientific and technological ties between the two countries was established in Tokyo. Committee participants included a number of large Japanese manufacturers, financial institutions, and trading companies. The head of the Committee was Nippon Seiko (NSK) President Hiroki Imazato. The same year in Sofia, Bulgaria established the Bulgaria-Japan Committee for Economic, Science, and Technical Cooperation, headed by Minister of Science, Technologies, and Higher Education Nacho Papazov.

In the mid-1970s the Bulgarian government undertook some legislative changes regarding the rules for foreign company representation in Bulgaria. These changes were influenced mainly by the attempt by the Bulgarian government to encourage the further development of Bulgarian-Japanese economic relations. After the legislative changes Japanese companies received the right to open their own commercial representative offices in Bulgaria, and in just a few years 10 Japanese companies opened offices: Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo, C. Itoh, Fujitsu, Tokyo Maruichi Shoji, Nichibu Balist, Marubeni, Nissho Iwai, and Toyo Menka Kaisha. In 1977 the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) also opened an office, greatly contributing to the promotion of the trade and economic relations between Bulgaria and Japan.

Historic Summit Meeting

Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Prime minister Takeo Fukuda, 1978, Japan.

Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Prime minister Takeo Fukuda, 1978, Japan.

A political expression of the peak of Bulgarian-Japanese relations during the 1970s was the first official summit visit in the history of bilateral diplomatic relations—the visit by Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov to Japan in March 1978 for a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.

During the visit, the two sides agreed to establish a Joint Intergovernmental Commission for Economic Cooperation, which has held working sessions every year, engaging both governments to further promote and extend the bilateral economic relationship.

Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Emperor Hirohito, 1978, Japan.

Bulgarian state leader Todor Zhivkov and Japanese Emperor Hirohito, 1978, Japan.

Following the state visit by Todor Zhivkov, the Bulgarian government created a very detailed strategic program for the development of Bulgarian-Japanese relations for the decade up to 1990. The main focus of the program was the following idea: “The strategic direction in the economic relations between Bulgaria and Japan consists in the rational use and implementation of modern and highly effective Japanese technologies, equipment and production experience for the promotion of the quality and efficiency of the Bulgarian economy.”

 The Crown Prince Akihito during his official state visit in Bulgaria, October 1979.

The Crown Prince Akihito during his official state visit in Bulgaria, October 1979.

Another key point was that the Bulgarian government would focus its efforts on strengthening cooperation with leading Japanese companies in such fields as electronics and microelectronics, automation and robotics, heavy industries, chemicals, electronics, and engineering.

In response to the Bulgarian state visit in 1978, the next year, in October 1979, Bulgaria was visited by Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko as the official representatives of Emperor Hirohito.

1980s: Broadening Spheres of Cooperation

During the third period of Bulgarian-Japanese relations, the momentum of the preceding stages still kept the relationship stable and growing. The sphere of cooperation and mutual interest widened, and the Bulgarian government relied more on the Japanese support and the advantages offered by the Japanese economic model.

At the beginning of the 1980s the Bulgarian government undertook another step toward the liberalization of the Bulgarian economy. It gave an opportunity for Western companies to invest in Bulgaria by concluding contracts for industrial cooperation and creating associations. These changes in the Bulgarian economy caused great interest among Japanese economic circles, and within the next few years six Bulgarian-Japanese joint companies were created. The names and activities of the joint companies were as follows:
Fanuc-Mashinex with the participation of Japanese company Fanuc Co: Service and production in the fields of electronics, automation, and engineering.
Atlas Engineering with the participation of Japanese companies Mitsui, C. Itoh, Toshiba, and Kobe Steel: Design, supply, and implementation of projects in Bulgaria and third countries in the fields of mechanical engineering, chemicals, and metallurgy.
Sofia-Mitsukoshi with the participation of Japanese companies Mitsukoshi and Tokyo Maruichi Shoji: Production and trade in the field of light industry as well as the reconstruction of department stores.
Tobu-M.X.: Manufacture and sale of machinery for magnetic abrasive treatment of complex-shaped parts. Production was based on Bulgarian technology, and the products were sold in Japan and in third countries.
Medicom Systems with the participation of Japanese company Tokyo Maruichi Shoji: Research, production, and sale of equipment and software for the medical and education markets.
Farmahim-Japan with the participation of Japanese company Marubeni: Collaboration in the pharmaceutical field.

1990s: Transformation of the Relationship

The subsequent crisis in East-West relations in the 1980s, the growing economic crisis in the Communist bloc, and changes in the political leadership in Moscow brought about the end of the Cold War and the beginning of a new era in international relations. During the 1990s, these new factors completely transformed the relationship between Bulgaria and Japan.

In the next period, during which Bulgaria began a long and arduous transition to a democratic political system and functioning market economy, an abrupt switch came about in the direction of Bulgarian foreign policy. The governing parties during this period made every effort to incorporate Bulgaria into the Euro-Atlantic military and economic structures, namely, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.

This required a great deal of effort to transform the political and economic systems. The focusing of national energy on these social transformations created a totally different environment for Bulgaria-Japan relations. Bulgaria became a developing country and was placed in an unequal position in terms of the international hierarchy. For a long time, relations between the two countries consisted largely of Japanese disbursements of official development assistance (ODA).

Despite the dialogue between Bulgaria and Japan from 1959 to 1989, the 1990s was a period of steady decline and stagnation in the bilateral relationship, being reduced, to a large extent, to one between donor and recipient.

All this led to a paradoxical situation: economic relations between Bulgaria and Japan were much closer when the countries were politically and ideologically far apart than during the period after 1989, when they stood in the same ideological framework. The underlying reasons for this are related to the question of what were the driving forces of the relationship during the Cold War.

Nurturing a New Partnership

A detailed study of the relationship between 1959 and 1989 shows that for the most part the initiative came mainly from the Bulgarian side, which showed keen interest in and reaped benefits from the relationship. Bulgaria was driven by commercial and economic interests and the need for scientific and technological cooperation. Moreover, Japan was both a good model and a suitable partner for Bulgaria. Japan saw in Bulgaria and other socialist countries an opportunity to expand its export markets and to import cheaper food commodities and raw materials.

At the same time, ties with a highly developed country like Japan provided an opportunity for the Bulgarian government to identify the defects and shortcomings of the closed, centralized, planned economy. This underlined a persistent set of problems, the major one being the lack of competitiveness of Bulgarian products stemming from poor quality, low labor efficiency, poor level of technology, unstable stock exchange, limitations in the number and variety of goods, mediocre design, and the failure to adapt to a highly dynamic and competitive market environment.

As late as January 1, 2007, both countries took a step to set up a new partnership framework on equal terms. After Bulgaria joined the EU, relations between the two countries became almost entirely dependent on the geopolitical, economic, and to some extent cultural interests of the respective counties in the region. From this perspective, the starting points of the relations between Bulgaria and Japan at the beginning of the twenty-first century did not seem very strong. This could be clearly seen in the empirical data on Japanese investment in Bulgaria, financial transactions, the traffic of tourists, cultural presence, and other areas, as well as in the peripheral position of Bulgaria in Japan’s foreign strategy toward the region, underlined by then Japanese foreign minister Taro Aso’s 2006 concept called the Arc of Freedom and Prosperity.

Unfortunately, even almost seven years after Bulgaria joined the EU there has not been any significant change in Bulgarian-Japanese relations, which remain very much below their optimal potential. The reasons for this can be found both in the lack of political and economic stability in Bulgaria as well as in the continuing economic instability of Japan over the last 20 years. Whether Japan and Bulgaria will once again see a merging of interests and revive a mutually beneficial relationship is a matter for another analysis. The most important thing is that there is already a very good base for a fruitful relationship, even though it was set during the Cold War, and it should be used as a starting point in the attempts by the Bulgarian government and its Japanese partners to find a more efficient and beneficial approach in developing bilateral relations.

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Sylff@Tokyo: Latvian Fellow Seeking Keys to Innovation

May 15, 2013

Ilona, center, with Tokyo Foundation program officers

Ilona, center, with Tokyo Foundation program officers

Ilona Dubra, a Sylff fellow at the University of Latvia, visited the Tokyo Foundation on May 9. She is now in Japan to conduct research at Waseda University using an SRA (Sylff Research Abroad) grant.

At the Foundation, she made a presentation of her recent research activities not only in Japan but also in the United States and Portugal. She is examining the factors that influence corporate innovation. During her stay in Japan, she hopes to identify the main factors behind successful innovations at Japanese enterprises.

She believes that there is a need to ensure the growth of the national economy through the creation of value-added products and services and to increase efficiency through the promotion of innovation. She hopes to make use of her research findings to foster innovative activities among Latvian enterprises.

Learning about Japan’s postwar economic growth.

Learning about Japan’s postwar economic growth.

A lively discussion with Tokyo Foundation program officers followed her presentation. She was also given an overview of Japan’s postwar economic growth by Tokyo Foundation Research Fellow Zentaro Kamei.

We were very pleased to learn that the SRA award has contributed to her research and has helped to sustain her enthusiasm for future improvements in her own country.

Sylff fellows and steering committee members are welcome to stop by the Foundation’s office while visiting Tokyo.