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Identifying Core Values of Neoliberal Folk Justice to Build a Theoretical Argument for Policy Consensus

May 14, 2024
By 30626

It appears that global opinion has been shifting toward a preference for neoliberal policies over the past half century, despite growing inequality in many major economies. Dai Oba (Waseda University, 2020) used an SRG award to advance his research at the University of Oxford to investigate complexities behind  this trend among British voters, who appear to have embraced a loosely defined set of attitudes that the author calls “neoliberal folk justice.”

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In May 2023, Onward, a center-right think-tank in the UK, described millennials as “shy capitalists” based on the results of a questionnaire survey. Although millennials are thought to hold egalitarian values and downplay the importance of economic growth and individual effort, Onward found that they also prefer policies of low taxes and less redistribution.[1] This is a good example of how people’s economic views can be quite complex, defying neat categorization into right or left. Similarly to this finding, my research looks into people’s complex views that I call “folk justice”.

In the past half-century, the world seems to have become gradually and increasingly more “neoliberal,” by which I mean an orientation emphasizing the role of the market and associated ideas of the economic right, such as efficiency, personal responsibility, and autonomy. To be clear, most people do not necessarily identify themselves as adhering to a coherent set of beliefs like libertarianism. Rather, many tend to hold beliefs that are loosely defined and not always coherent, which might be described as neoliberal folk justice.

My research is focused on this loosely defined set of attitudes that seems to have a strong and stable hold on a large segment of the population. Increased support for the left, on the other hand, has been relatively rare and short-lived. This is surprising because the comparative merits of egalitarian institutions seem rather indisputable for the majority of the working public, especially in the aftermath of major economic crises in 2008 and 2020. How can this be explained? Is there anything we are not seeing?

 As a political philosopher, I am primarily interested in theories of justice and equality. But in analyzing the neoliberal trend, I wished to start with what folk neoliberals on the street believe. Clarity and coherence are extremely important for theories, but people’s beliefs and attitudes can often be unclear and incoherent. So, I wanted to first identify the core beliefs of neoliberal folk justice and build theoretical arguments from the bottom up in the hope they can serve as resources for reasoned democratic deliberation that are accessible to ordinary citizens.

In the following, I will describe my findings of an investigation into neoliberal folk justice, conducted with the help of an SRG award.

People’s deeply held convictions inform their political attitudes. Photo by Dylan Bueltel, https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-red-jacket-holding-a-cardboard-with-message-5233241/.

Complex Attitudes Toward Inequality and Wealth

The complexity of neoliberal-leaning attitudes has been documented by many scholars, whose research reveals some common themes.

Jonathan Mijs, for example, has noted the paradoxical acceptance of inequality in the face of fast-growing inequality and an apparent correlation between such acceptance and levels of inequality. Using International Social Survey Program (ISSP) data covering 23 Western countries and three different periods (1987–88, 1991–93, 2008–12), Mijs tested hypotheses regarding people’s acceptance of rising inequality. He “argue[s] that what explains citizens’ consent to inequality is their conviction that poverty and wealth are the outcomes of a fair meritocratic process.”[2] People’s belief in meritocracy tends to be stronger as society becomes more unequal because, Mijs claims, the affluent and the poor live increasingly separate lives in an unequal society. He posits that greater inequality goes hand in hand with stronger meritocratic beliefs and that stronger meritocratic beliefs, in turn, lead to reduced concerns about inequality.

He also tested the inverse relationships between inequality and notions of structural inequality (that is, lower inequality correlates with stronger awareness about structural factors of inequality, and stronger beliefs about structural inequality correlate with greater concern about inequality). He confirms the hypothesis, with the effect of meritocratic beliefs being stronger than the effect of beliefs in structural inequality. Mijs’s key finding is that economic inequality tends to be seen as acceptable when people believe their society embodies meritocratic principles, a belief which, in turn, is strengthened by a rise in inequality.

While Mijs’s findings suggest links with the idea of procedural justice, the notion of meritocracy is a vague one. In fact, Mijs construes meritocratic beliefs rather narrowly as people’s belief in the importance of hard work as a factor for economic success. There can be some variety in what people mean by the “importance of hard work” ranging from, for example, hard work in employment and non-paid work to being responsible and prudent in managing their finances and “giving back” to society.

 Regarding what makes inequality (appear) legitimate, Rachel Sherman conducted interviews with 50 wealthy couples in New York and found that the affluent feel a strong need to be able to justify their wealth. Her interviewees had household incomes within the top 5% in New York City—the most unequal large city in the US—and were characterized as the “new elite” who “believe in diversity, openness, and meritocracy rather than status based on birth.”[3] To Sherman’s surprise, many affluent New Yorkers expressed moral conflicts about their privilege and shared various narratives to demonstrate their worthiness, which she broadly categorized into three types.

The first narrative is that of the hard worker marked by such redeeming qualities as productivity, self-sufficiency, discipline, and independence. The second narrative is that of the prudent consumer. The rich New Yorkers cast themselves and their spending habits as “normal” in an attempt to distance themselves from the negative image of the “leisure class.” In line with the Protestant ethic, disciplined spending is considered part of the meritocratic ideal and thus a legitimator of their wealth. The third narrative is that of someone actively “giving back” to society typically by donating their money or time to charitable organizations.

We can see certain aspects of folk neoliberal values underlying these research findings, namely, the idea of meritocracy, under which economic success is ascribed to an individual’s personal merits; the value placed on hard work over idleness and dependence; the ideal of prudence and responsibility; and the imperative of “giving back” to society.

Four Values of Neoliberal Folk Justice

Rather than describing the minute details of people’s complex attitudes, I focused on the following two claims as being the core beliefs of neoliberal folk justice, namely, that redistribution is unfair and that government should not intervene in the market.

These claims can be unpacked  into the following four normative values. First, social cooperation should be on a quid pro quo basis, and freeriding  should not be allowed. This requires that there is  a certain equity between contributions and benefits. Second, those who rely on welfare do not deserve further assistance because they lack a sense of personal responsibility. This claim points to a  personal virtue of using of resources (including time and talent) in a prudent and thoughtful manner. Third, market outcomes are morally fair. This can be understood as an expression of trust in the market mechanism and its ability to legitimate distributive outcomes. Fourth, each person is the sole author of his/her life, and the government should not interfere or even offer any help. This expresses the moral ideals of self-sufficiency, independence, and, most importantly, the ability to advance one’s life as his or her own project and no one else’s.

In sum, the four core values of neoliberal folk justice are (1) reciprocity, (2) responsibility, (3) procedural fairness, and (4) autonomy.

Survey Findings

What do people believe about just economic policies? Photo by Karolina Grabowska, https://www.pexels.com/photo/quote-board-on-top-of-cash-bills-4386367/.

I conducted an online opinion survey of 2,065 adults living in Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) to directly test the above selection of core values. Along with two dummy values (“solidarity” and “efficiency”) and after explaining what each value stands for, I asked respondents to rate the importance of the four values when thinking about economic policies that are fair for everyone  (respondents were asked to select from ‘very important’, ‘fairly important’, ‘not very important’, ‘not at all important’, and ‘don’t know’).

The results of the survey confirmed my selection of the above four values. Comparing the percentages of those who answered “very important” or “fairly important,” the four values all scored 70% or higher (79% for “procedural fairness,” 78% for “responsibility,” 71% for “reciprocity,” and 70% for “autonomy”), while the dummy values scored significantly lower (59% for “efficiency” and 58% for “solidarity”). Additionally, correlations with respondents’ past voting behavior revealed that for both the 2015 and 2019 general elections, those who voted for the Conservatives supported the four values significantly more than those who voted for Labour (the difference ranging from 10 percentage points to 30 points). This supports my hypothesis that the four values have particularly strong resonance with folk neoliberals.

Toward Theoretical Arguments and Policy Consensus

Based on the above findings, the next stage of my research will offer repertoires of theoretical arguments regarding the four values of neoliberal folk justice, each of which represents a potential salient political position that citizens may adopt. As a final output, I aim to describe potential areas of policy consensus between those different arguments, showing that reaching an agreement on desirable and feasible social welfare policies for the twenty-first century is a realistic possibility.


[1] Jim Blagden and Sebastian Payne, “Missing Millennials,” Onward, May, 2023, https://www.ukonward.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/missing_millennials-1.pdf, accessed 19 October 2023.

[2] Jonathan Mijs, “The Paradox of Inequality: Income Inequality and Belief in Meritocracy Go Hand in Hand,” Socio-Economic Review, vol. 19, no. 1: 7–35 (January 2021), p. 29.

[3] Rachel Sherman, Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, Princeton University Press, 2017, pp.13–15.

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The Role of Cooperatives in Promoting Interethnic Dialogue and Peaceful Coexistence

March 12, 2024
By 28817

Given their emphasis on collective work, democratic decision-making, and dialogue in promoting members’ economic and social well-being, cooperatives encourage an openness to others, which can also enable different ethnic groups to work together toward common goals and achieve peaceful coexistence. Rui Lora (University of Coimbra, 2020-21) writes that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, cooperatives were a major factor in overcoming discrimination and fostering reconciliation.

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The economic, social, and political benefits of the cooperative movement—launched with the founding of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in 1844—have long been recognized. In recent years, such benefits have also been observed in such fields as international relations, diplomacy, and even peace studies (Macpherson and Paz 2015; Emmanuel and Macpherson 2007; Cooperatives Europe 2019). One way of identifying the nature of these contributions is to analyze the movement through the lens of what is called diatopic hermeneutics. This allows cooperativism to be perceived as an actor in international relations from the perspective of “cosmopolitanism”—which views all people as being entitled to equal respect and consideration, regardless or citizenship or other affiliations.

The concept of diatopic hermeneutics was first presented by Panikkar (1982) and later expounded by Santos (1997). It is based on the principle that one culture cannot understand another from just its own viewpoint. Rather, it is “necessary to understand the other without assuming that it has our same self-knowledge or knowledge base” (Santos 1997). Diatopic hermeneutics thus seeks to “bring into contact radically different human horizons” in order to achieve true dialogue and the interaction of cultures (Santos 1997). It can be understood as the reciprocal translation of values, knowledge, and beliefs and is needed because the commonplace rhetoric of a given culture or tradition is often incomplete, incompatible, or potentially challenging from the perspective of another tradition. There must be dialogue between diverse cultural perspectives to enable the reciprocal translation of values, knowledge, and beliefs.

An examination of traditional principles of cooperativism reveals that they have much in common with diatopic hermeneutics. In fact, the cooperative might even be regarded as a practical instrument of the concept. The principles of cooperativism, for example, emphasize the importance of collective work, democratic decision-making, and dialogue in promoting the economic and social well-being of members. Such principles are aligned with the approach of diatopic hermeneutics in implying an openness to understanding the other and valuing cultural diversity.

Expanding Scope of Cooperatives

Historically, cooperativism has been a movement that, from the beginning, sought to build alternative economic models to capitalism through its emphasis on collective ownership and democratic management, while at the same time avoiding a state-centered economic model (Namorado 1999). Since its emergence after the Industrial Revolution, cooperatives have addressed a plurality of community needs, including in times of crisis (Vieta and Lionais 2015). In addition to making economic contributions, cooperativism is usually and directly related to many aspects of the social and solidarity economy (Singer 2018).

However, over the years, and particularly more recently, the scope and performance of cooperatives have expanded to other spheres. This has prompted the need to discuss the role of cooperatives from a cosmopolitanist perspective, as the globalization of the world economy and commercial liberalism have, according to some theoretical perspectives, deepened exclusion and wealth concentration, thereby threatening democracy and peace (Rodrigues 2008). In this context, cooperatives began to assume an increasingly prominent economic and political role with the emergence of an independent civil society around the world (Laville 2009).

The globalization process has greatly modified the way people interact in society in recent years. It has made possible the compression of time and space, reducing distances and speeding up information, and the promotion of the universalization of laws. But it has also highlighted differences in sociocultural identities in response to social homogenization, causing conflict between different human groups (Ioris 2007). This makes discussions of the tools and procedures that allow different segments of society—those with different worldviews—to communicate and meet the challenges of social and political coexistence quite important. Expanding the concept of diatopic hermeneutics with the aim of contributing to this discussion, especially with respect to diversity, may help bring together human groups that are isolated or in conflict due to globalization.

The author, top left, speaking with members of a multiethnic cooperative in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of his SRG project.

Seeing cooperatives as an international actor reveals significant local and even global contributions that can be made by the cooperative movement in allowing actions and initiatives to transcend various disparities. Santos suggests that globalization can be understood through the lenses of “globalized localisms” and “localized globalisms,” referring to global perceptions of local customs and the impact of transnational practices on local conventions, respectively (Santos 1997, 14). These dynamics, characterized by asymmetries between central and peripheral countries, underscore the potential of cooperatives to contribute to regional integration by addressing such disparities.

An Actor in International Relations

In this context, cosmopolitanism emerges as a concept that enables actors, including regions, classes, and subordinate social groups, to interact transnationally in pursuit of common interests (Santos 1997). Cooperatives, rooted in cooperation among themselves and in contributing to the community, are connected to a global network through the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), for example. They play a crucial role in inclusive socioeconomic development and can also serve as a tool for subaltern and insurgent cosmopolitanism, addressing the aspirations of oppressed groups and fostering global solidarity.

Cooperatives can thus be understood as an actor in international relations from a cosmopolitanist perspective, advocating for common interests shared by marginalized, excluded, and subordinated groups globally. When viewed as part of cosmopolitanism, moreover, the principles and values of cooperativism acquire a practical dimension, enabling dialogue and the exchange of experiences among cooperatives and members. The organizational structure of cooperatives, both locally and regionally, as well as their international representation through bodies like the ICA, empowers marginalized groups in global governance mechanisms and contributes to addressing asymmetries in integration processes.

To avoid overly idealistic conclusions, though, it is essential to identify specific situations and contexts where this relationship between cooperatives and cosmopolitanism can be verified, even tangentially. This approach can ensure a more nuanced understanding of cooperatives’ role in fostering regional integration, such as in the Western Balkans. According to the report by Cooperatives Europe (2019), two projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina have demonstrated the capacity of cooperatives to promote interethnic dialogue and economic development of the region: the “Fruits of Peace” project of the Insieme Cooperative in the Bratunac region and the creation in Doboj of multiethnic cooperatives as a consortium of rural producers.

At a meeting with a cooperative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The main success of both projects was the establishment of a flexible and progressive process for forming cooperatives, allowing exchange between different ethnic groups to develop within the cooperatives. The increased dialogue helped to overcome discrimination and promote peacebuilding, providing opportunities to correct misunderstandings and find a path toward peaceful coexistence. By promoting collective work, both projects also enabled the revitalization of sustainable rural economies and contributed to reconciliation by overcoming long-established divisions. Major factors behind their success were that the cooperative ensured continuous training and promoted constant dialogue for both its employees and producers.

An Analytical Lens for Understanding Global Dynamics in Local Contexts

Analyzing these cases from a cosmopolitanist perspective, one can argue that cooperatives have the potential to promote interethnic dialogue and build coexistence in diverse environments. By embodying such principles as cooperation, solidarity, and democracy, cooperatives provide a space for members of different ethnic groups to come together, work toward common goals, and build understanding to achieve reconciliation. The principles of cooperativism thus also incorporate the idea of diatopic hermeneutics, especially in seeking to understand cultural and legal diversity in different geographical contexts, as highlighted in examples like those observed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If, on the other hand, cooperatives are conceived within the framework of globalized localisms and localized globalisms, they can become subject to a complex and unequal power dynamic, which can manifest as oppression, exploitation, and marginalization. This may occur when global influences benefit dominant centers at the expense of those on the periphery. Diatopic hermeneutics can help us understand how these global processes are reinterpreted and experienced locally, and how communities like cooperatives resist and respond to these power dynamics.

In this context, the role of diatopic hermeneutics would be to offer an analytical lens for understanding how global dynamics are interpreted and experienced in specific local contexts, especially by the cooperatives in this case. In other words, diatopic hermeneutics allows an analysis sensitive to cultural, historical, and social differences in different places, recognizing that experiences and interpretations of globalism and localism vary according to geographical and cultural context. It helps us to understand how global influences are reinterpreted and adapted locally, and how these adaptations reflect and shape power relations, resistance, and identity.

Using diatopic hermeneutics to understand cooperativism in a cosmopolitanist scenario thus enables us to capture the nuances of the relationships between globalism, localism, and subalternity, providing a more holistic and contextualized approach to analyzing issues of justice, power, and social transformation in a globalized world and supporting the argument that cooperatives can contribute to interethnic dialogue.



Charles, Lorraine, and Kate Denman. 2013. “Syrian and Palestinian Syrian Refugees in Lebanon: The Plight of Women and Children.” Journal of International Womens Studies 14.5: 96-111.

Cooperatives Europe. 2019. Cooperatives and Peace: Strengthening Democracy, Participation and Trust. A Case Study Approach. Cooperatives Europe and Cooperatives Europe Development Platform.

Emmanuel, J., and MacPherson, I., eds. 2007. Co-operatives and the Pursuit of Peace. British Columbia: New Rochdale Press.

Gijselinckx, Caroline, and Matthias Bussels. 2014. “Farmers’ Cooperatives in Europe: Social and Historical Determinants of Cooperative Membership in Agriculture.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 85.4: 509-530.

Ioris, Rafael Rossotto. 2007. Culturas em choque: a globalização e os desafios para a convivência multicultural. Annablume.

Larkin, Craig. 2012. Memory and Conflict in Lebanon: Remembering and Forgetting the Past. Routledge.

Laville J. L. 2009. A economia solidária: um movimento internacional. Revista Critica de Ciencias Sociais 84.

MacPherson, Ian, and Yehudah Paz. 2015. “Concern for Community: The Relevance of Co-operatives to Peace.” Joy Emmanuel, ed. Victoria: Turning Times Research and Consulting.

Madulu, Ndalahwa F. 2003. “Linking poverty levels to water resource use and conflicts in rural Tanzania.” Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/C 28.20-27: 911-917.

Menashri, David. 2001. Post-Revolutionary Politics in Iran: Religion, Society, and Power. Routledge.

Namorado, Rui. 1999. Estrutura e Organização das Cooperativas. Oficina do Centro de Estudos Sociais de Coimbra 138.

McNally, D., 1993. Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique. London: Verso.

Panikkar, Raimundo. 1982. “Is the Notion of Human Rights a Western Concept?” Diogenes 30.120: 75-102.

Rodrigues, Roberto. 2008. “Cooperativismo: Democracia e Paz – surfando a segunda onda.” OCB.

Santos, Boaventura de Souza. 1997. “Uma concepção multicultural de direitos humanos.” Lua Nova 39: 105-124.

———. 2004. “Para uma sociologia das ausências e uma sociologia das emergências.” In Santos, B. de S, comp., Conhecimento Prudente para uma Vida Decente: ‘Um Discurso sobre as Ciências’ revisitado. São Paulo: Cortez, p. 777‐821.

Singer, Paul. 2018. Ensaios sobre economia solidária. Leya.

Vergalito, Esteban. 2009. “Acotaciones filosóficas a la ‘hermenéutica diatópica’ de Boaventura de Sousa Santos.” Impulso 19.48: 19-29.

Vieta, Marcelo, and Doug Lionais. 2015. “The Cooperative Advantage for Community Development.” Journal of Entrepreneurial and Organizational Diversity 4.1: 1- 10.

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Popular Identity of the Czech Political “People”

September 22, 2023
By 29662

Democracy rests on the idea of popular sovereignty, but how can the collective will of a social construct called “people” be accurately ascertained? Lukáš Lev Červinka (Charles University, 2021) used an SRG award to conduct a survey on Czech popular identity, finding unexpectedly strong identification with state actors and also some disturbing corollaries about ethnocentric nationalism.

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All concepts of modern democracy regard self-governance by the people as a cornerstone of this system of government; without it, there is no democracy. However, even though democracy presupposes the existence of a “people” expressing its collective will, claims to represent such will are usually treated with caution, given that “good” dictators and authoritarian régimes want to assert that their policies reflect the general will (volonté générale) of the people.

People as a collective is an elusive beast whose nature is tricky to identify, but at the same time, it is generally assumed that if there is democracy, then there must be people as a ruling entity—a collective with a will, sense of membership, values, memory, goals, and everything else that is usually associated with a collective or group. However, how can we define “people” without succumbing to oversimplification, generalization, or even mythicization?

Research Focus and Objectives

My first goal in launching the Establishment Research Project,[1] supported by a Syllf fellowship, was to find a theoretical framework that would enable me to treat people as a collective and study its inner processes and values. This led me to the social systems theory of Niklas Luhmann,[2] the social imaginaries of Charles Taylor,[3] and the imagined communities of Benedict Anderson.[4] By adapting those theories, I have conceptualized “people” as an autopoietic organizational system—in other words, a social construct that is determined by its decisions. The people as a democratic sovereign is, therefore, not to be understood as individual citizens or inhabitants but as an imagined community of those who participate in its self-governance by making the decisions through which their identity as a collective is established.

In my Sylff-supported PhD thesis on Anti-Establishment Political Parties: Threat to Democracy or Chance for Its New Equilibrium, written at the Faculty of Law of Charles University in the Czech Republic and at Ca’ Foscari University in Venice, Italy, I concluded that the decisions that articulate the popular identity of a people are not only participation in elections, referenda, demonstrations, strikes, and, sometimes, revolutions but also appropriation of cultural products, such as songs and the constitution. Through these decisions, the “people” can manifest themselves as a collective body and create an identity that articulates their social demands and values.

To test the viability of this theory and determine whether it can be used in practice, I have conducted a survey, funded with an SRG award from the Sylff Association, to explore which actors articulate the popular image of the Czech people, what decisions determine their identity, and on which values this identity is built.


When surveying which actors articulate the image of the Czech people, the most positive score (the difference between the percentage answering that an actor articulates values of the Czech people and the percentage saying it does not) was +44.8 received by “scholars and scientists.” This is of little surprise, considering the technocratic nature of Czech society, which places a high value on formal education, academic titles, and expert knowledge. This is supported by the much lower score (+14.1) received by “experts outside of academia.” Quite striking, though, was the high scores received by actors of the state, such as “courts of justice,” “police,” “armed forces,” and the “president of the republic” (see table below).

How Well Do the Following Actors Articulate the Values of the Czech People?



Political parties


Scholars and scientists


Religious organizations


Experts outside academia


Public media


Private media




Trade unions




Courts of justice




Armed forces


President of the republic


Note: Scores are the percentage of respondents identifying an actor as articulating the values of the Czech people minus the percentage saying it does not.


Interestingly, the answers regarding the values represented by such public holidays as New Year’s Day, Czech Statehood Day, and May Day suggest not only a strong nonreligious (or even antireligious) nature of the Czech popular identity but also people’s strong identification with state actors—despite the fact they are often depicted as an enemy of the people in Czech pop culture. This demonstrates that the Czech state is considered a tool of the Czech people in articulating their social demands and defending their interests. 


An image generated by using the prompt, “Czech state-people intertwinning,” by Midjourney (https://docs.midjourney.com/).


The close relationship between the Czech state and Czech identity is not in itself bad, but survey results using the modified Bogardus social distance scale[5] showed some disturbing patterns. When asked whether they would allow a Czech citizen of Roma ethnicity to stand for the office of the president of the republic, only 82.1 % of respondents said yes. The results were even more worrying for a Czech citizen of Ukrainian ethnicity (65.5 %) and a Czech citizen who cannot speak Czech (51.1 %).


An image generated by using the prompt, “Ethnic-centred Czech people,” by Midjourney (https://docs.midjourney.com/).


Finally, when asked where to put the Czech people regarding their values, most of the respondents chose the Visegrad Group countries (Czechia, Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary), rather than the Euroatlantic space. This, unfortunately, supports the argument that the Czech people still find themselves inside the post-Habsburg space of conservative nationalism and bureaucratic étatism.

The SRG-funded survey revealed not only the usefulness of the theoretical concept of “people” as an organizational system and a living, democratic sovereign but also the disturbing, ethnicity-centred nature of the Czech popular identity and its deep intertwining with the structures of the Czech state.


[1] More about the project at https://establishment.cz

[2] Niklas Luhmann, Social Systems (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995) .

[3] Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries, 2nd ed. (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004).

[4] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, New York: Verso, 2006).

[5] The Bogardus scale was adapted to show the social distance of excluded communities within Czech society, that is, those not regarded as part of Czech self-governance.

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The Rise of Civilizational States: Civilizational Discourse in International Relations

December 20, 2022
By 29256

Tamas Dudlak, a 2021 Sylff fellow from Corvinus University of Budapest and a recipient of a Sylff Research Abroad grant in 2021, here discusses the concept of the civilizational state, developments surrounding it, and how it is exploited in politics. Confrontational civilizational narratives serve to create group cohesion by building on a sense of in-group pride, Dudlak points out, but efforts feeding on such differences cannot be the basis for peaceful coexistence.

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The discourse on civilizations has taken hold in international politics since Samuel Huntington’s famous book on the “Clash of Civilizations.” The emergence of the multipolar world order and the cultural turn in the 1990s has enhanced the importance of civilizational differences. The prominence of civilizational identity is not only a reaction to globalization but is itself part of the globalization process. The globalization process pluralized the identities within and beyond the state. Although civilization as a unit of analysis is highly contested, its importance lies in its frequent usage in cultural and political debates[1] and is often considered “an institution and an actor in international politics” (Yeşiltaş 2014, 69). Drawing on Johann Arnason, Fabio Petito (2011, 767) argues for “civilizations, defined in a fundamentally culturalist-religious sense.” Civilization is an essentially cultural entity based on imagined and/or actual cultural links between societies (nations) (Tetik 2021, 4).


Ideas Surrounding the Concept of the Civilizational State

As the political theorist Christopher Coker (2018) noted, we now live “in a world in which civilization is fast becoming the currency of international politics.” In his book, Coker analyzed the idea of the civilizational state through the examples of Western civilization, Japan, China, Russia, India, and the Muslim civilizations. The phrase “civilizational state” was popularized by the British writer Martin Jacques (2012), and Weiwei devoted a book to explaining the phenomenon in contemporary China based on “a new model of development and a new political discourse” (Weiwei 2012, x).

The discourse on civilization has been reactivated by three developments of global implications:

  1. The crisis of the Western liberal establishment and Western countries. Europe’s crises continue after the global economic crisis. The West “lost its monopoly over the globalization process” as significant development models and opposing value systems exist (Sherr 2008, 9). A series of crises have shaken the Western world and the European Union: the identity crisis of the Union in the aftermath of the EU constitution referenda, euro crisis, financial crisis, weakening liberal democratic ethos, unfulfilled economic promises in East-Central Europe, foreign policy failures in the Middle East and Ukraine, migration crisis, and Brexit (Öniş and Kutlay 2019, 2–4). These events and processes have weakened the EU’s soft power, its main strength in the international arena. It is “a crisis of Western values, or defined more broadly, of the Western system” (Moreh 2016, 3).
  2. The rise of identity politics and populism as cultural resistance (Kriesi et al. 2008) and the global resistance against the neoliberal mainstream parties—in the form of both right- and left-wing parties. Chryssogelos (2018) argues that the content of populism is ideologically not cohesive. However, the different national populisms are unified in their practices of defining themselves in opposition to the conception of an “internationalized state” (heavily influenced by international actors), and they promote the so-called “new sovereign state.”
  3. The economic and political rise of Asian nations with large populations and historically significant independent cultures or civilizations (India and China) (Acharya 2020, 140). In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, modernization and Westernization went hand in hand, which in practice meant that the Western “recipe” for economic and political development was adopted. The rise of alternative and successful economic and political systems beyond the West (especially in Asia) has disrupted the unity of modernization and Westernization and given rise to the idea that it is no longer necessary to adopt Western “values” in order for a nation, community, society, or civilization to be economically and politically successful.

The discourse of civilization makes it possible to thematize the constant confrontation and cultural conflicts of values that affect the everyday course of life. These sites of disputes are exploited by strong leaders who take the lead as the central character of the narrative, creating their story through their rhetoric (wordcraft) and their performative action (stagecraft) (Uhr 2014). Confrontational civilizational narratives build on a sense of in-group pride, exceptionalism, and an essentialist understanding of a particular civilization. The rich and complex cultural foundation of a given civilization can be selectively used for the intended political purpose.

The importance of antagonisms lies in the fact that it is along these lines that the political identity of a group can crystallize and separate itself from its environment. The creation of group cohesion is the goal of all political actors. The most significant part of political image-building is about highlighting differences and putting things in antagonistic terms: “in-group versus out-group, good versus evil, moral versus immoral, nation versus anti-nation, pure people versus corrupt elite, and patriots versus traitors” (Selçuk 2016, 5).

The civilizational discourse is usually centered on the idea of restoration, feeding on the image of greatness in the past, its moral and material success, and its predictability. (The historical time is divided into two sections: the first is the recent past that must be changed, and the second is the distant past, which provides the ideal for changing the recent past.) The civilizational state discourse places the past in a macro-historical perspective and thus seeks to “restore” the meaning of history (Coker 2018, 18). The attachment to the past also indicates future possibilities and directions for action in the present. Moreover, the past is not only a guiding line in the present but is often projected “as an aspirational vision for the future” (Akçalı and Korkut 2012, 611).


The Hagia Sophia Museum—originally a Christian church, converted into a mosque in 1453—was reconverted into a mosque in the summer of 2020. This step manifests the serious commitment of the Turkish government toward the Ottoman past. Photo taken by the author in Istanbul in 2015.


Use of Civilizational Discourse by Governments

In one of my recent works, supported by a 2022 SRA grant, I utilize the concept of civilizational state based on Coker (2018) to understand the domestic and foreign policy choices of the current Hungarian and Turkish governments. The civilizational discourse is the narrative that civilizational states employ, and it constitutes a political-ideological formation relying on the idea of distinctive identity traits and the representation of these identity constructions in the international arena. The civilizational discourse of the Hungarian and Turkish governments is connected to the global rise of identity politics and serves to strengthen the power of the states amid the constant challenges against state sovereignty. Both the Turkish and Hungarian political systems rely on a mixture of national and religious legitimacy (Islam and Christianity, respectively) and use these to extend the scope of foreign policy activism. Acharya (2020, 141) calls this self-aggrandizement and identifies it as one of the critical features of civilizational states. These states can enlarge their area of interest and influence through extensive identity politics.

To be effective, the discourse does not have to be valid or accurate; what matters is its plausibility. Civilizational states selectively draw on their respective civilizational “heritage” to create a thorough and coherent Weltanschauung, a worldview that can be projected onto everything, making political struggles more palpable for the audience. These narratives function as simple storytelling so that one can live, connect, and empathize with the story. A successful narrative explains past grievances and offers a tale of the future. Yuval Noah Harari argues that in the age of mass media, political communication needs to tell a story whose coherence, rather than its veracity, is essential (Harari and Kahneman 2021). The coherence must be both internal and emotional. The former implies that while having its own logic, the story has a specific explanatory power, while the latter principle requires that the story contain the clash between good and evil. In politics, therefore, the success of political organizations increasingly depends on effective communication rather than ideological and political coherence.


The Hungarian Parliament refurbished in “Eastern” style, referring to the growing interest of the Hungarian government in Eastern powers. Photo taken by the author during the ARC 2021 exhibition in Hungary.


The culture war, or the practice of securitization of culture, is based on resistance to the free flow of culture. Supporters of culture war aim to confront identity groups within and outside the country to change the mainstream and achieve cultural hegemony by taking identity politics to an imagined cultural battlefield. Culture war starts from the premise that the political opponent has a coherent cultural system, but its intellectual and philosophical foundations are inappropriate (disconnected from reality). These are means in the hands of ideational regimes to challenge their opponents over the meaning and principles of politics. For example, in the discourse of the current Hungarian government, the stakes of the liberal versus conservative debate have risen to the level of civilization, as the two opposing sides fight each other over the interpretation of the philosophical foundations and values of Western civilization.

The conflict between civilizations is far from inevitable, as many claim. Indeed, peaceful coexistence between civilizations has dominated daily life for most of history. However, invoking antagonism between civilizations in an age of uncertainty is undoubtedly simple. To strengthen the identity of political-cultural communities, the question “Who are we?” and “Who are we not?” must be answered. But efforts that deepen the differences between civilizations cannot be the basis for peaceful coexistence.


[1] Lately, the French president Emmanuel Macron attached importance to the “civilizational battle” for defending liberal values and democracies. “We must give content, perspectives and meaning to our liberal values, in the political sense of the term, in the philosophical sense of the term, and show the strength of our democracies. … It is the backsliding in the minds and mentalities. And as such it is a cultural, civilizational battle that we must fight.” (Petrequin 2021)


Acharya, Amitav. 2020. “The Myth of the ‘Civilization State’: Rising Powers and the Cultural Challenge to World Order.” Ethics & International Affairs 34, no. 2 (Summer): 139–56.

Akcali, Emel, and Umut Korkut. 2012. “Geographical Metanarratives in East-Central Europe: Neo-Turanism in Hungary.” Eurasian Geography and Economics 53 (5): 596–614.

Chryssogelos, Angelos. 2018. “State Transformation and Populism: From the Internationalized to the Neo-Sovereign State?” Politics 40, no. 1 (February): 22–37.

Coker, Christopher. 2018. The Rise of the Civilizational State. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Harari, Noah Yuval, and Daniel Kahneman. 2021. “Daniel Kahneman & Yuval Noah Harari in Conversation.” YouTube, April 13, 2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yhg7NmTeVg.

Jacques, Martin. 2012. “China Is a Civilization State.” The Economic Times, July 19, 2012. http://www.martinjacques.com/when-china-rules-the-world/china-is-a-civilization-state/.

Kriesi, Hanspeter, Egar Grande, Romain Lachat, Martin Dolezal, Simon Bornschier, and Timotheos Frey. 2008. West European Politics in the Age of Globalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moreh, Chris. 2016. “The Asianization of National Fantasies in Hungary: A Critical Analysis of Political Discourse.” International Journal of Cultural Studies 19, no. 3 (May): 341–53.

Öniş, Ziya, and Mustafa Kutlay. 2019. “Global Shifts and the Limits of the EU’s Transformative Power in the European Periphery: Comparative Perspectives from Hungary and Turkey.” Government and Opposition 54, no. 2 (April): 226–53.

Petito, Fabio. 2011. “In Defence of Dialogue of Civilisations: With a Brief Illustration of the Diverging Agreement between Edward Said and Louis Massignon.” Millennium: Journal of International Studies 39, no. 3 (May): 759–79.

Petrequin, Samuel. 2021. “Macron: EU Needs to Fight ‘Illiberal Values’ inside Bloc.” Associated Press, June 25, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/europe-government-and-politics-5467b6be4d12a71764fa48788eb30740.

Selçuk, Orçun. 2016. “Strong Presidents and Weak Institutions: Populism in Turkey, Venezuela and Ecuador.” Southeast European and Black Sea Studies 16 (4): 571–89.

Sherr, James. 2008. “A Dangerous Game.” The World Today 64, no. 10 (October): 8–10.

Tetik, Mustafa Onur. 2021. “Discursive Reconstruction of Civilisational-Self: Turkish National Identity and the European Union (2002–2017).” European Politics and Society 22 (3): 374–93.

Uhr, John. 2014. “Rhetorical and Performative Analysis.” In The Oxford Handbook of Political Leadership, edited by R. A. W. Rhodes and Paul ‘t Hart, 253–66. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Weiwei, Zhang. 2012. The China Wave: Rise of a Civilizational State. Hackensack, NJ: World Century Publishing Corporation.

Yeşiltaş, Murat. 2014. “Turkey’s Quest for a ‘New International Order’: The Discourse of Civilization and the Politics of Restoration.” Perceptions 19, no. 4 (Winter): 43–76.

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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 Verfassungsblog.de, 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 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, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/ecological-footprint-by-country.

[2] Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser, “CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” OurWorldInData.org, last revised August 2020, https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions.

[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, https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/eat-lancet-commission-summary-report/.

[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), https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aa889b.

[9] Roland Buerk, “Japan's Obsession with Perfect Fruit,” BBC News, March 15, 2012, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-radio-and-tv-17352173.

[10] Chen Liu et al., “Food Waste in Japan: Trends, Current Practices and Key Challenges,” Journal of Cleaner Production 133 (October 2016): 563, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2016.06.026.

[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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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, https://time.com/5264170/the-strongmen-era-is-here-heres-what-it-means-for-you/, and “How Democracy Dies: Lessons from the Rise of Strongmen in Weak States,” The Economist, June 16, 2018, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/06/16/lessons-from-the-rise-of-strongmen-in-weak-states.

[2] https://www.dailysabah.com/turkey/2019/10/01/turkeys-streak-as-most-generous-country-in-the-world-continues

[3] https://hungaryhelps.gov.hu/en/

[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, https://www.jica.go.jp/jica-ri/publication/workingpaper/jrft3q00000022dd-att/JICA-RI_WP_No.2_2010.pdf.

[5] HírTV, “Tusványos 30 – Orbán Viktor teljes beszéde” [Tusványos 30 –The Full Speech of Viktor Orbán], YouTube video, July 7, 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4KPjPCUAUk.

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Role of Water in Geopolitics

July 8, 2021
By 28927

Eliska Ullrichova, a 2019 Sylff fellow, offers an overview of the concept of water wars and its implications. Given the rise in water scarcity—the major causes of which include overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change—diplomacy has an important role to play in easing tensions over water supplies and managing international relations, Ullrichova assers.

* * *

Water does not respect political boundaries and, therefore, may be a source of leverage for upstream riparian states over those downstream. However, it is important to underline that water encompasses not only rivers, which are primarily associated with it in international relations, but all surface and groundwater. Based on the concept of water wars and related terms, this short paper illustrates what role water plays in geopolitics.

Water might play a manifold role in a violent confrontation.

Water Wars

The concept of water wars identifies three dimensions of water in geopolitics. Firstly, water resources or infrastructure are prone to be casualties of a violent confrontation either intentionally or accidentally. As an example, pollution of water resources is a well-known consequence of a conflict. Secondly, water resources may be used as a tool in achieving one side’s political, economic, or military interests (Pacific Institute 2019). The weaponization of water was a dominant military strategy of the Islamic State (IS) to achieve its military and political objectives. The IS contaminated water supplies of its enemies and, in particular, used large dams—such as the Fallujah Dam on the Euphrates in Iraq—to either cut off supplies of cities downstream or flood the area above or below the river flow. In addition, the IS used water infrastructure, especially dams, as their military command headquarters or prisons. This hindered the capture of IS positions, because what adversary would lead an airstrike over a dam, knowing that doing so would devastate the surrounding area (Mazlum 2018; van Lossow 2020)? Thirdly, water may cause a dispute over control of water resources and, in the worst-case scenario, the disagreement could lead to an outright and violent conflict (Pacific Institute 2019).

Using dams in a conflict is one of the most common examples of water weaponization.

The third element of water wars—water as a trigger of a violent confrontation—is widely discussed in the academic literature (see Dinar and Dinar 2000; Spector 2000; Postel and Wolf 2001; Gregory 2013). Interestingly, scholars agree that, firstly, water-related issues tend to be a source of an intrastate conflict rather than an international one (e.g., Spector 2000; Postel and Wolf 2001). Secondly, outright strife is rarely triggered by a single variable; they are usually triggered by a set of issues, among which access to water supplies may be included (Postel and Wolf 2001; Farnum 2018). In other words, it is often difficult to classify a violent clash as a war over water, since many other variables alongside it may play a role in the confrontation. However, it does not mean that water is not a catalyst for a conflict at all. Examples can be found as early as 2525 BC in Mesopotamian times between two city-states, Lagash and Umma. Umma repeatedly refused to pay for renting downstream Lagash’s territory for crop cultivation in the water-rich delta of Tigris. In response, Lagash damaged the irrigation system leading to the leased area. Umma could not cultivate crops without water supplies and thus attacked Lagash, which resulted in several successive military confrontations. After the defeat of Umma, the water treaty was reestablished and the canal system reconstructed (see the water conflict map made by the Pacific Institute 2018).

A Solution to a Conflict over Water?

When water causes a violent conflict, the zero-sum approach can never resolve it in a long-term perspective. If a river represents the core of the dispute between upstream and downstream states, the conflict will not result in a situation where two countries no longer share the river basin. On the contrary, water creates interdependent geopolitical relations, and an outright and violent conflict over water supplies is therefore not a sustainable solution. It also goes without saying that, just as the concept of water wars indicates, water resources can be contaminated and water systems destroyed in a conflict that is likely to influence all interested parties. In general terms, wars always have harmful consequences for the environment, and water resources are not an exception. Another feature of water in geopolitics is that civilizations are entirely dependent on water resources, because human beings cannot survive without drinking water. Moreover, economic development is associated with water resources (e.g., agriculture and the energy sector). In other words, a violent conflict over water resources cannot lead to a zero-sum victory, and all involved actors would most likely lose to a greater or lesser extent. This is a fundamental reason why it is believed that wars over water will not occur in future decades more frequently than they did in history (Dunn 2013).

However, it is undeniable that water stress has been increasing due to overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change—the most significant causes of water scarcity—even in initially water-rich regions. Nevertheless, as I have discussed above, cooperation rather than conflict is a sustainable solution that could lead to a win-win situation. Therefore, water diplomacy, i.e., ʻusing diplomatic instruments with the aim to solve, mitigate or prevent disagreements over shared water resources for the sake of cooperation, regional stability and peaceʼ (Schmeier 2018), seems to be a promising path to fostering multilateral governance over shared water resources and ensuring water security. In view of these goals, the concept of water diplomacy is not limited to states but underlines the necessity of nonstate actorsʼ involvement that play a crucial role as mediator in negotiations over water-related issues, such as the World Bank, or that may provide essential information via monitoring (see, for example, Honkonen and Lipponen 2018).

Water stress has been increasing due to overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change.

Although there is a consensus in the academic literature that water will not become a frequent catalyst for a violent conflict, it is and will remain a source of tensions in international relations. High water demand from all sectors of human activities (households, agriculture, energy, and so forth) and the reduction of water resources due to overpopulation, overconsumption, and climate change are contradictory phenomena producing unsustainable environments within and among societies. Nevertheless, an outright conflict over shared water resources cannot end in a zero-sum victory. As such, diplomatic instruments are crucial tools for addressing increasing water scarcity and, therefore, tensions over water supplies. Water diplomacy, also called hydro-diplomacy, thus need to be an integral part of international relations more than ever.



Dinar, S. and A. Dinar. 2000. “Negotiating in International Watercourses: Diplomacy, Conflict and Cooperation.” International Negotiation 5 (2): 93–200. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718060020848721.

Dunn, G. 2013. “Water Wars: A Surprisingly Rare Source of Conflict.” Harvard International Review 35, no. 2 (fall 2013): 46–49. https://refnj2014.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/water-wars.pdf.

Farnum, R. 2018. “Drops of Diplomacy: Questioning the Scale of Hydro-Diplomacy through Fog-Harvesting.” Journal of Hydrology 562 (July 2018), 446–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.05.012.

Honkonen, T. and A. Lipponen. 2018. “Finland’s Cooperation in Managing Transboundary Waters and the UNECE Principles for Effective Joint Bodies: Value for Water Diplomacy?” Journal of Hydrology 567 (December 2018), 320–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.09.062.

Von Lossow, T. 2020. “The Role of Water in the Syrian and Iraqi Civil Wars.” Italian Institute for International Political Studies. February 26, 2020. https://www.ispionline.it/en/pubblicazione/role-water-syrian-and-iraqi-civil-wars-25175.

Mazlum, I. 2018. “ISIS as an Actor Controlling Water Resources in Syria and Iraq.” In Violent Non-state Actors and the Syrian Civil War: The ISIS and YPG Cases, edited by Özden Zeynep Oktav, Emel Parlar Dal, and Ali Murat Kurşun, 109–25. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-67528-2_6.

Pacific Institute. 2018. “Water Conflict Chronology Map.” Accessed March 24, 2021. http://www.worldwater.org/conflict/map/.

Pacific Institute. 2019. “Water Conflict Chronology.” https://www.worldwater.org/water-conflict/.

Postel, S. and A. Wolf. 2001. “Dehydrating Conflict.” Foreign Policy 126. https://foreignpolicy.com/2009/11/18/dehydrating-conflict/.

Schmeier, S. 2018. “What Is Water Diplomacy and Why Should You Care?” Global Water Forum. August 31, 2018. https://globalwaterforum.org/2018/08/31/what-is-water-diplomacy-and-why-should-you-care/.

Spector, B. 2000. “Motivating Water Diplomacy: Finding the Situational Incentives to Negotiate.” International Negotiation 5 (2): 223–36. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718060020848749.

White, C. 2012. “Understanding Water Scarcity: Definitions and Measurements.” Global Water Forum. May 7, 2012. https://globalwaterforum.org/2012/05/07/understanding-water-scarcity-definitions-and-measurements/.


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Insights into the Dynamics of Diplomacy in the Future

April 14, 2020
By 19817

Didzis Kļaviņš, a Sylff fellowship recipient in 2012, is a senior researcher at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Advanced Social and Political Research Institute, University of Latvia. He is currently conducting a research project on the transformation of diplomacy in the Baltic and Nordic countries. The aim of the comparative research is to analyze the nature of the changes in the ministries of foreign affairs in six countries: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland. In this article, Kļaviņš shares a number of observations from his ongoing post-doctoral research project.

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During the last two decades, changes in diplomacy have been widely observed. Commercial diplomacy, digital diplomacy, and city diplomacy are just some of the types of diplomacy that characterize the scale and variety of changes. Although sometimes it may seem as though diplomacy—as an instrument of foreign policy and diplomatic practice—has accordingly experienced significant changes or is experiencing them right now, diplomacy development trends in recent years prove that the largest changes are still to be expected. The issue is related with the readiness of each country and its ability to adapt to such changes. By taking the multifaceted nature of international relations and unpredictability into account, this article aims to raise some of the main issues in diplomacy, the meaning of which will continue to grow and require increased attention in the coming years.

Photo of Denmark's Tech Ambassador visiting the United Nations Headquarters.

New Technologies and Artificial Intelligence

Undeniably, in the future, new solutions in technology and communications will significantly change the nature of diplomatic communication. Operativity in the circulation of information and the availability thereof will change the dynamics of diplomatic work by requesting an even faster response on the part of foreign affairs services. More attention will also be paid to the selection of information and the verification of facts by using the newest technological solutions. Moreover, the integration of the information technology (IT) infrastructure of foreign affairs services with the IT systems of other governmental institutions will be one of the most current issues. There is no doubt that the introduction of new technological and communication solutions in each and every ministry of foreign affairs (MFA) will require large investments of financial means in comparison to the benefits acquired by society from the use of such technologies in foreign affairs.

Significant changes in MFAs will be determined by the solutions of artificial intelligence, which are now enjoying their victory procession in the field of technologies and which are used more and more in the improvement of public administration work. It may be that in the coming years, the use of AI in foreign affairs will significantly affect the work of diplomatic and consular services. Already now, the solutions offered by artificial intelligence indicate that changes will be revolutionary. Machine learning, neural networks, virtual assistants, and chatbots will not be unknown in diplomacy, a prediction that is backed by the research published and forecasts expressed during recent years. Thanks to innovative methods and algorithms that efficiently process large amounts of data and ensure significantly high speed, one of the main benefits of AI will be the automation of processes. Although for the time being AI hardly appears on the agenda of foreign policy as indicated by Ben Scott, Stefan Heumann, and Philippe Lorenz (2018), this situation will rapidly change in the very near future, and AI will become one of the central themes in the creation of foreign policy, including the modernization of diplomatic practice.

Bearing in mind the current development of artificial intelligence, it is important not to postpone looking at the issues of how it might be possible to better integrate AI with the needs of the MFAs.

 It is also quite possible that many countries will begin by using AI solutions for the needs of the consular service, commercial diplomacy, and public diplomacy. Examples include the provision of information regarding the work of the consular service, help in emergency situations abroad, safe travel, export possibilities abroad, and the formation of the state image via a virtual assistant or chatbot. The possibility cannot be excluded that AI solutions will be used in the management of crises. In general, the rapid development of technologies and diverse innovations will require a more operative response and operation of the MFAs. It will mean in turn that the possibilities of communication technologies will allow society and mass media to request even faster and more decisive foreign policy actions from the ministries and governments in general, including more operative activities by the foreign affairs services.


The Significance of Diplomacy in Public Administration

Although nowadays more or less every government  ministry and agency directly cooperates with other public administration institutions, it is predicted that in the future even more involvement in the coordination of foreign policy issues and involvement of other state institutions in solving external issues will be expected from every MFA (Rana 2011; Hocking, Melissen, Riordan, and Sharp 2012, 2013). With regard to the provision of support to other state institutions, great importance will be given to the use of the “whole of government” approach (WGA) in the formation of international issues and administering of public administration. It for the MFA to no longer perform the “gatekeeper” role between foreign policy and interior policy and to become a support institution or a platform for other public administration institutions instead. The types of support may vary from the coordination of interinstitutional issues to servicing all government institutions. Tom Christensen and Per Lægreid (2007) are just two of the well-known WGA researchers who underline the significance of horizontal coordination. In the future, many MFAs are expected to focus on coordinating foreign policy issues between the institutions involved; this is in line with the nature of the national diplomatic system, namely, the MFA as a part of the wider governmental system in the implementation and coordination of foreign policy issues (Rana 2011; Hocking, Melissen, Riordan, and Sharp 2012, 2013; Hocking and Melissen 2015; Hocking 2016, 75).


Dynamics of Change in Diplomatic Representations

Looking at the possible development of diplomacy, it may be predicted that employees in diplomatic missions abroad will have to deal with wider themes—for example, use of the newest communication technologies in the creation of the country’s image, use of artificial intelligence in the promotion of national competitiveness, and the formation of science and innovation diplomacy—which means acquiring new and diverse knowledge. Emphasis will also be placed on the implementation of WGA, which in turn means that employees from other ministries and agencies will be working more and more in embassies and other representations. It may be further predicted that the functions of ambassadors will become broader, because they must also support the activities and operations of the representatives of other institutions in the host country along with new agenda issues in foreign affairs. According to Kishan S. Rana (2011, 136), an ambassador will fulfill the role of the leader of the state team abroad. There is no doubt that diplomats abroad will have to be even more involved in the creation of the country’s image by using innovative communication solutions, including AI technologies.

The importance of public diplomacy will also become more topical. Along with the foregoing, diplomatic services will be required to promote economic and commercial diplomacy even more. In order to be able to promote export growth and attract investments, the MFAs will be forced to more actively use the accrued contacts and communication with representatives of the diaspora. The study by Ieva Birka and Didzis Kļaviņš (2019) on the role of diaspora diplomacy in the Baltic and Nordic countries is a good example of the importance of dialogue with diaspora communities abroad, including launching initiatives for growth and export purposes.  It is predicted that in the future, all abovementioned activities of the diplomatic service will be more deeply integrated with the model for performance management and activity reporting.


In Conclusion

By projecting the transformation of diplomatic practice in the coming years, it may be predicted that, in general, diplomacy that includes a variety of themes and functions—which is described as integrative diplomacy in the literature—will become dominant (Hocking, Melissen, Riordan, and Sharp 2012). Demand for the proactive service of foreign affairs and the implementation of WGA will promote structural and functional changes in the MFAs of many countries. Taking into account the fact that services will become even broader, it cannot be denied that one of the innovations could be the establishment of more and more specialized ambassadorial positions (for example, the designation of Tech Ambassador in Denmark). It may also be predicted that more external experts will be attracted to the field of strategic communications and creation of the country’s image.

Since September 2017, Casper Klynge is the first Tech Ambassador in Denmark and the world to be spearheading the government’s decision to elevate technology to a foreign policy priority as part of the Danish “TechPlomacy” initiative. (Photo courtesy of the Office of Denmark’s Tech Ambassador, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark)


Scott, Ben, Stefan Heumann, and Philippe Lorenz. 2018. Artificial Intelligence and Foreign Policy. Berlin: Stiftung Neue Verantwortung.

Rana, Kishan S. 2011. 21st Century Diplomacy: A Practitioner’s Guide. London: Continuum, 2011.

Hocking, Brian, Jan Melissen, Shaun Riordan, and Paul Sharp. 2012. “Futures for Diplomacy: Integrative Diplomacy in the 21st Century,” Clingendael Report 1: 1-79.

Hocking, Brian, Jan Melissen, Shaun Riordan, and Paul Sharp. 2013. “Whither Foreign Ministries in a Post-Western World?” Clingendael Policy Brief 20: 1-7.

Christensen, Tom, and Per Lægreid. 2007. “The Whole-of-Government Approach to Public Sector Reform,” Public Administration Review 67 (6): 1059–1066, doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2007.00797.

Hocking, Brian, and Jan Melissen. 2015. “Diplomacy in the Digital Age,” Clingendael Report: 1-58.

Hocking, Brian. 2016. “Diplomacy and Foreign Policy.” In The SAGE Handbook of Diplomacy, edited by Costas M. Constantinou, Pauline Kerr, and Paul Sharp, 67-78. London: SAGE.

Birka, Ieva, and Didzis Kļaviņš. 2019. “Diaspora Diplomacy: Nordic and Baltic Perspective,” Diaspora Studies, Epub ahead of print, doi.org/ 10.1080/09739572.2019.1693861.

Note: This work was supported by the European Regional Development Fund project “Post-doctoral Research Aid,” project title “Comparative research on foreign ministries in Baltic States and Nordic Countries (2012–2015),” research application Nr. and research agreement Nr.



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Supporting Two Families: Remittance-Sending and the Integration of Immigrants in the United States

March 14, 2017
By 19606

David D. Sussman, a 2003 Sylff fellow of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, reengages the findings from his master’s thesis, which analyzed how remittance-sending affected the integration (self-sufficiency) of immigrants in Boston, and interprets them given the current political environment in the United States. This article was written in early January 2017.

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During the recent presidential election in the United States, the topic of immigration was once again brought to the forefront of political discussions. One candidate, Donald Trump—now president-elect—called for building an impregnable wall on the country’s southern border, limitations on refugee admissions, the deportation of millions of immigrants, and a registry of all Muslims. Putting aside debates over the sensibility (not to mention the legality) of these propositions, we might focus on the lives of refugees and immigrants who already reside in the United States and thereby test the critique that they are not integrating into society quickly enough.

Do we fully appreciate the difficult financial situation of immigrants in the United States? How might our perspectives shift if we better understand the double bind that some of them face, to improve their local situation while also caring for family members overseas? Despite ideological differences between liberals and conservatives on the positives and negatives of migration, each side can agree in hoping that new arrivals improve professionally and educationally. Notwithstanding the passage of time, the research presented here, from my Sylff-supported master’s degree, remains relevant. This article provides relevant background explanation, an overview of my approach, and a summary of findings and briefly reflects on the implications, given present-day political and economic circumstances.

An investigation of this topic was inspired by previous work as a resettlement case manager with the International Rescue Committee in Boston. During my time working with refugees from Africa and Latin America, I was moved by their ongoing struggles. Beyond needing to learn about a new city and culture, and often burdened by traumatic past experiences, US government protocol required them to quickly find any possible job, often at the minimum wage. They worked long hours in such positions as grocery baggers, hotel bellhops, or, if fortunate, as nursing assistants. Their expenses for rent, food, and other basic necessities stretched them to their limits, as Boston was and remains to this day one of the most expensive places to live in the United States. At the same time, nearly all of the refugees sent weekly or monthly remittances to loved ones they had left behind. Often, they received phone calls at all hours of the day and night, from friends and family pleading for further support. The financial challenges faced by these resilient and hard-working refugees was readily apparent, and I knew that, if given the chance one day, I wanted to further study and better understand their circumstances.


For millions of persons who cross borders to seek a new and better life, the memories of and commitment to friends and family back home lead them to maintain connections with their place of origin. In many situations, remittances (financial resources that migrants wire back to their country) serve as the primary purpose of migration, while for those coming from conflict-affected countries, it is primarily safety and freedom that they seek, with remittances as a significant secondary objective. My research examined the potential impact of sending money on immigrants’ integration, as measured through financial and educational “self-sufficiency.”

Immigration remains part and parcel of the United States. As a nation founded by immigrants (at the expense of indigenous populations), new waves of arrivals to the United States over the past two centuries led to continual processes of adjustment and varied degrees of inclusion in the country’s social and economic fabric. As of 2010, more than one in eight persons in the country had been born abroad.1 The foreign-born population remains quite diverse today (53.6% from Latin America, 28.2% from Asia, 12.1% from Europe, and 6.5% from elsewhere),2 though among new entrants, Asians now outnumber Latin Americans.3 The historic role of Massachusetts and the Greater Boston region as host to immigrant populations continues to the present day. The state’s number of immigrants nearly doubled to 1,046,155 between 1990 and 2013,4,5 such that it now has the eighth highest percentage of foreign-born residents, rising from 9.5% in 1990 to 15.6% in 2013.6 In the state’s urban areas, such as Boston (Suffolk County), 27.4% of persons were foreign born as of 2013.7

Globally, remittance amounts have risen dramatically over recent decades—from less than $2 billion in 1970 to $70 billion in 1995,8 and despite a brief slowdown during the global financial crisis, to more than $430 billion in 2015.9 Sending remittances is a high priority among the financial decisions that immigrants face. The 2003 National Survey of Latinos in the United States found that many respondents remitted before taking care of their bills, others paid for their household expenses first, and only a few did not consider sending funds to be important.10 According to one Mexican interviewed, “Before anything, I send them the money because they count on it. Then afterwards I pay my bills, my rent, but the first thing I do is send it.”11

Economic self-sufficiency is often defined simply, as when immigrants’ wages attain levels similar to those of native populations.12 In reality, it can also be measured in various other ways, particularly education and social achievement. For example, the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development’s assessment form to determine self-sufficiency demonstrates the complexity of factors influencing the measure; areas of focus include employment, education, health, childcare, family development, housing, income management, transportation, resident participation, and nutrition.13


Centro Presente

Centro Presente

For my research I focused on studying Somali refugees and Salvadoran economic migrants (among a broader range of Latin Americans) living in Boston due to their significance as immigrant groups and, with preliminary evidence showing that they remitted at high levels, the potential for differential findings between them. To connect with potential respondents, I volunteered in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at two community organizations supporting immigrants, Centro Presente and the Somali Development Center. In this way, it was possible to meet clients who felt comfortable agreeing to qualitative interviews (16 Somalis and 19 Central Americans, 6 of them Salvadoran). Notably, those who visited the agencies were probably both a) poorer and more in need of support than more wealthy families and yet b) better connected and more successful than other persons in that community who did not have knowledge of or the ability to attend a social service agency.

Somali Development Center

Somali Development Center

The thesis research was unique because it 1) conducted extensive one-on-one interviews, using qualitative as opposed to quantitative analysis, 2) focused on the economic and educational self-sufficiency of the immigrants, which was a narrower approach than the multiple factors that other authors had investigated, and 3) considered the impact of remittance sending by both refugees and economic migrants.


Overall, the study found that sending remittances could be correlated with a difference in the self-sufficiency of migrants. In short, sending money abroad reduced immigrants’ available resources for advancing their careers and pursuing education, thereby making them less likely to become self-sufficient. In a number of cases, interviewees directly noted that they saw how their lives were impacted by remitting, potentially reducing opportunities.

The interaction between individual household characteristics and remitting is depicted in the figure I created below, which I refer to as the “Remittance/Self-Sufficiency Cycle.” A combination of financial, educational, and social factors lead to the attainment of household self-sufficiency and influence the amount of money that immigrants have available to remit if they wish to do so (see no. 1 in the figure). The sending of money to friends and family overseas can affect the ability of a family to achieve self-sufficiency; the monies that would have otherwise been invested in such areas as education, housing, and job skills are instead remitted (see no. 2).

Interestingly, there also appeared to be an important distinction in the approach to self-sufficiency. While Somali refugees hoped to get jobs and thought about the long-term, a significant number of the Central Americans wanted to remain in the United States long enough to earn money and then return to their country of origin. The Latin Americans pursued education to improve their job prospects but seemed less focused on aspects of permanent relocation. It is possible that differences in the economic situation of the two groups existed because, as refugees, Somalis qualified for a period of government assistance, whereas many Latinos (particularly those who entered illegally), as economic migrants, did not.

As such, the impact of remittances can be studied at two points: at “basic self-sufficiency” and at “long-term self-sufficiency.” The majority of the immigrants interviewed made sure that they addressed some but not all basic needs before sending remittances. Considering the elements of basic self-sufficiency, food and housing were priorities. Education and language abilities, however, often came second to sending monies overseas. Looking at long-term self-sufficiency, few immigrants were able to consider these needs. For most of them, if not all, the purchase of a house was beyond the realm of possibility, as was buying items like cars and computers. While a number improved their education level and advanced in their employment, they remained at relatively low wages. Nevertheless, when immigrants reflected on their life in the United States, they often made a comparison to their country of origin and so, despite their present difficulties, considered themselves fortunate to be in the United States.


We live in a mobile world, and the long-term prognosis is that migration pressures will continue. The significance of this study’s findings is that they show how, given economic obligation to family members, migrants are doubly responsible for both their relatives’ livelihood and their own well-being.

In light of the recent transfer of power from a Democratic to a Republican administration, this deeper understanding of immigrants and their self-sufficiency remains particularly important. On the one hand, liberals can look at the struggles of immigrants as evidence that more (e.g., legal protection and social services) is needed to support their successful adjustment to life in the United States. There are challenges, however, and with deepening inequality as a broader societal concern, one question is whether some immigrants, burdened by caring for families across borders, may become trapped as an underclass.

On the other hand, conservatives may point to difficulties in achieving self-sufficiency as evidence of the need to restrict certain types of immigration to the United States. They may believe that when many immigrants have a hard time attaining a middle-class lifestyle, it exemplifies their failure to work hard and succeed in the US economy. This misconception may lead to anti-migrant policies under the Trump administration, but even if there are limitations on immigrant entry, millions of foreign-born residents will still possess a legal right to remain in the United States.

Under these circumstances, what is in citizens’ control—regardless of government policy—is their support and welcoming attitudes toward newcomers, and a steady pressure placed on policymakers. In this way, their individual or collectively organized actions can make a positive difference in the lives of new arrivals, and society at large.

1U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. “The Foreign-Born Population in the United States: 2010,” p. 4.
3Pew Research Center. 2015. “Asians Projected to Become the Largest Immigrant Group, Surpassing Hispanics,” accessed at: http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/modern-immigration-wave-brings-59-million-to-u-s-driving-population-growth-and-change-through-2065/ph_2015-09-28_immigration-through-2065-05/.
4Uriarte, http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/28/modern-immigration-wave-brings-59-million-to-u-s-driving-population-growth-and-change-through-2065/ph_2015-09-28_immigration-through-2065-05/Miren et al. 2003. “Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans and Colombians: A Scan of Needs of Recent Latin American Immigrants to the Boston Area,” edited draft, May 12, 2003, final report of the 2003 Practicum in Applied Research of the PhD Program in Public Policy at the John W. McCormack School of Policy Studies at the University of Massachusetts Boston, p. 3.
5 American Immigration Council. 2015. “New Americans in Massachusetts: The Political and Economic Power of Immigrants, Latinos, and Asians in the Bay State,” accessed at: https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/new-americans-massachusetts.
6 Index Mundi. N.D. “United States—Foreign-Born Population Percentage by State,” accessed at: http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/all-states/foreign-born-population-percent#chart. American Immigration Council. 2015.
7Index Mundi. N.D. “Massachusetts Foreign-Born Population Percentage by County,” accessed at: http://www.indexmundi.com/facts/united-states/quick-facts/massachusetts/foreign-born-population-percent#chart.
8Taylor, J. Edward. 2000. “Do Government Programs ‘Crowd In’ Remittances?” Inter-American Dialogue and Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.

9World Bank. 2016. “Remittances to Developing Countries Edge Up Slightly in 2015,” accessed at: http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2016/04/13/remittances-to-developing-countries-edge-up-slightly-in-2015.

10Suro, Roberto et al. 2002. “Billions in Motion: Latino Immigrants, Remittances, and Banking,” Pew Hispanic Center and Multilateral Investment Fund, p. 7.
12Borjas, George. 1999. “The Economic Analysis of Immigration,” accessed at: http://www.ppge.ufrgs.br/giacomo/arquivos/eco02268/borjas-1999.pdf, p. 22.
13Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development. “Massachusetts Family Self-Sufficiency Scales and Ladders Assessment Form.”