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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Deliberative Polling® as a Means of Improving Public Knowledge

April 27, 2016
By 19648

Otgontuya Dorjkhuu, who received a Sylff fellowship in 2009 at National Academy of Governance, served as a moderator in Mongolia’s first deliberative poll. Drawing on this experience and on the results of deliberative polls conducted in six countries including Mongolia, Otgontuya discusses why the concept of Deliberative Polling® is crucial and how citizen participation plays a key role in public policy.

* * *

Deliberative Polling® is a novel concept for most people, even though experiments have been conducted in many countries around the world, including the United States, Britain, other countries in the European Union, Australia, Japan, South Korea, and Ghana. A broad range of issues are discussed in a DP event, such as the economy, education, health, the environment, elections, and political reform. This method of polling is especially suitable for issues about which the public may have little knowledge or information or where the public may have failed to confront the trade-offs applying to public policy. It is a social science experiment and a form of public education in the broadest sense (Center for Deliberative Democracy, December 2003).

Mongolia’s First Deliberative Poll

Mongolia’s first deliberative poll was held on December 12–13, 2015, under the title of “Citizens’ Participation: Tomorrow’s City.”

Mongolia’s first deliberative poll was held on December 12–13, 2015, under the title of “Citizens’ Participation: Tomorrow’s City.”

On December 12–13, 2015, a scientific random sample of residents of Ulaanbaatar1 gathered for two days of deliberation about major infrastructure projects proposed in the capital city’s master plan. The program consisted of small group discussions and plenary sessions exploring arguments for and against 14 large projects that would require borrowing, during which questions were posed to experts. All of the deliberative events were broadcast live on three television channels in Mongolia.

The 317 individuals who completed the two days of deliberation can be compared in both their attitudes and their demographics with the remaining 1,185 who took the initial survey. No significant differences were seen between the two groups in gender, education, age, employment status, marital status, or income (CDD, January 2016).

The three project proposals that received the highest ratings after deliberation share an environmental focus on clean energy, energy efficiency, and waste disposal. The top proposal, “improved heating for schools and kindergartens,” had a mean rating of 0.94 out of 1. It consisted of upgrading the insulation and technology used in public school heating systems. The runner-up proposal, “protection of Tuul and Selbe rivers,” featured preliminary efforts to improve water flow and rehabilitate the rivers. Although support for the project went down somewhat after deliberation, its rating was still the second highest at 0.93. The rating for the third most popular proposal, “an eco park with two waste recycling facilities,” was largely unchanged after deliberation at 0.92.

These results are consistent with the public’s strong environmental priorities expressed in other questions in the survey (CDD, January 2016). Both before and after deliberation, participants were highly focused on policy goals aimed at reducing air, water, and land pollution. Air pollution is the biggest issue for all citizens of Ulaanbaatar city, especially in winter.

Evaluating the Process

Evaluation is one of the most important aspects of the Deliberative Polling process. For comparison, I selected six countries in different regions (Asia, Africa, and North America) where deliberative polls had been conducted.

Participants in all of these countries rated the process highly. On average, 91.6% approved of “the overall process” in the six selected countries. Evaluations of the small group discussions and plenary sessions were similarly high, with anywhere from 86.7% to 93.0% of participants giving positive responses to all of the questions. An average of 91.3% felt that their group moderator “provided the opportunity for everyone to participate in the discussion,” while 90.3% thought that their group moderator “sometimes tried to influence the group with his or her own views.”

Participants in Mongolia, Britain, California (United States), and Ghana felt that they had learned a lot about people who were very different from them. Mongolian, British, and Ghanaian participants rated the process more highly than those of the other three countries .

Table 1. Evaluations of the Deliberative Polling Process by Country




South Korea




The overall process







Participating in the small group discussions





Meeting and talking to delegates outside of the group discussions




The large group plenary sessions





My group moderator provided the opportunity for everyone to participate in the discussion.






The members of my group participated relatively equally in the discussions.




My group moderator sometimes tried to influence the group with his or her own views.






I learned a lot about people very different from me—about what they and their lives are like.





Notes: Figures in the table are collected from the reports on Deliberative Polling conducted in each country. With regard to the first four items in the list, respondents were asked to rate on a scale of 0 to 10 (where 0 is “a waste of time,” 10 is “extremely valuable,” and 5 is exactly in the middle) how valuable each component was in helping them clarify their positions on the issues. For the latter four items, they were asked how strongly they agreed or disagreed with each statement.

Knowledge Gains

The knowledge index can be used as an indicator to explain changes in opinion on policy goals. In most of the cases that I reviewed, the percentage of those who correctly answered questions rose significantly after deliberation. For instance, in the case of Mongolia, correct responses regarding the percentage of households in Ulaanbaatar city that live in apartments increased by 12 points from 47% before deliberation to 59% after (CDD, January 2016).

In Japan, the overall knowledge gains were substantial and statistically significant; an average knowledge gain of 7.4% was seen in the six questions that were asked. Participants who correctly answered what percentage of Japan’s electricity generation comes from nuclear power (about 30%) increased 13.7 points from 47.4% to 61.1% (CDD, September 2012).

In Ghana, only 21.6% of participants knew prior to deliberation that the percentage of the Tamale population with daily access to potable water was about 40%. After deliberation, the percentage rose significantly to 37.6%, an increase of 16 points (CDD and West Africa Resilience Innovation Lab, December 2015).

Among the California participants, correct responses to the eight questions asked increased substantially by 18 points overall (CDD, October 2011). The knowledge index clearly showed relevant and substantial knowledge gains among the participants.

The Moderator’s Role

The members of Group 10, which was moderated by Otgontuya Dorjkhuu (back row far right) with the mayor of Ulaanbaatar city and Professor James Fishkin of Stanford University seated at front row center.

The members of Group 10, which was moderated by Otgontuya Dorjkhuu (back row far right) with the mayor of Ulaanbaatar city and Professor James Fishkin of Stanford University seated at front row center.

Deliberative Polling is an attempt to use public opinion research in a new, constructive, and nonpolitical manner, and moderators play a key role in the process. They ensure fruitful and civil exchange between participants and let all points of view emerge. With their help and support the participants can find their voices, discover their views, and develop their own opinions (CDD, December 2003). In the Ulaanbaatar event, the 317 deliberators were randomly assigned to 20 small groups led by trained moderators2. The moderators helped deliberators go through discussions of all projects according to the agenda presented in the briefing materials. The two-day process alternated between small group discussions and plenary sessions until all 14 projects were discussed.

The project proposals were rated3 on the same scale before and after deliberation. Citizen opinions both before and after indicated that all of the proposals were thought to be desirable.

In Conclusion

Deliberative Polling is a useful approach to increase citizens’ participation and voice in the policy making process. Following the deliberation in Ulaanbaatar, the participants changed their views in many statistically significant ways, had greater knowledge, and together identified specific policy solutions that could help address the country’s priority issues.

As a moderator for Mongolia’s first deliberative poll, I found that participants were very enthusiastic and exchanged their views without reservation. My observations from the event leads me to believe that, given an opportunity like this to participate in discussions on critical issues, people would be willing to express their opinions anytime on any topic. According to reports on Deliberative Polling events that have been conducted in other countries, the overall knowledge gains after deliberation were substantial and statistically significant.

Finally, it can be concluded that Deliberative Polling not only is a form of public consultation but can also serve as a means of improving public knowledge.


Center for Deliberative Democracy (December 2003). What is Deliberative Polling®? Retrieved December 13, 2015, from http://cdd.stanford.edu/what-is-deliberative-polling/
Center for Deliberative Democracy (January 2016). Mongolia's First Deliberative Poll: Initial Findings From "Tomorrow's City."
Center for Deliberative Democracy (January 2012). First Deliberative Polling in Korea: Issue of Korean Unification, Seoul, South Korea.
Center for Deliberative Democracy (January 2010). Final Report: Power 2010—Countdown to a New Politics.
Center for Deliberative Democracy (October 2011). What's Next California? A California Statewide Deliberative Poll for California's Future.
Ulaanbaatar City. Retrieved December 13, 2015, from ulaanbaatar.mn
Center for Deliberative Democracy and West Africa Resilience Innovation Lab (December 2015). Deliberative Polling in Ghana: First Deliberative Poll in Tamale, Ghana.
National Statistical Office of Mongolia (2015). Statistical Yearbook 2014.
Center for Deliberative Democracy (September 2012). The National Deliberative Poll in Japan, August 4–5, 2012 on Energy and Environmental Policy Options.

1Ulaanbaatar city had 1,363,000 residents as of 2014 (National Statistical Office of Mongolia, 2015).
2Before the event, Professor James Fishkin of Stanford University delivered a day of training to all moderators. Moderators were trained not to give any hint of their own opinions. Their role was simply to facilitate an equal, mutually respectful discussion of the pros and cons of the various proposals.
3The final results provide a ranking of priorities from 0 (extremely undesirable) to 10 (extremely desirable), with 5 being exactly in the middle.

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Anti-immigrant Policies in Arizona and Their Impact on Mexican Families

March 23, 2016
By 19613

As media coverage of the 2016 US presidential election has shown, recent terrorist attacks and the ongoing influx of immigrants into Europe have caused an increase in xenophobia and related phenomena.

Eduardo Torre-Cantalapiedra, a Sylff fellow at El Colegio de México, used an SRA grant to research the impact on Mexican immigrants of the highly controversial anti-immigrant laws passed in Arizona in 2010. Can enforcing immigration laws decrease the number of undocumented immigrants? Should the living conditions of undocumented immigrants be ignored because their stay is illegal? This article reveals the true difficulties they face, as experienced by the immigrants themselves.

* * *


In recent years, Arizona has passed some of the harshest anti-immigrant policies in the United States. The Republican Party has adhered strictly to its doctrine of “attrition through enforcement,” and Democrats have done little to stop them. This policy has caused serious damage to Mexican families and to the population in general in that state, (My own estimates based on the American Community Survey suggest that there were approximately 248,000 Mexican households in Arizona in 2010). The doctrine is based on the idea of making everyday life for undocumented migrants so difficult that they will be motivated to go back to their countries of origin. In response to Arizona's anti-immigrant policies and the hostile environment they have generated, Mexican families have developed a set of strategies to make the difficulties more bearable. Some families have also decided to migrate from Arizona to other parts of the United States.

Fieldwork Evidence

Sheriff Joe Arpaio in front of the federal courts in Phoenix.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio in front of the federal courts in Phoenix.

The fieldwork I carried out in Phoenix, Arizona, has allowed me to make a diagnosis of the situation. I now have a clearer idea of the problems that these anti-immigration policies have caused for Mexican families and for the social environment in Arizona. The main results of my fieldwork will be incorporated into the central chapters of my dissertation. My basic finding is that these state policies have not achieved the goal of making immigrants "without papers" leave the state. However, they have meant the systematic violation of civil rights of the migrant families. The police have been one of the largest sources of abuses and violations. US District Judge G. Murray Snow issued a sweeping decision finding that that Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his agency (Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office) had relied on racial profiling and illegal detentions to target Latinos during immigration sweeps and traffic stops (ACLU, 2015). Most of the people I interviewed told me they had been stopped while driving simply because of their skin color and physical appearance. Most had been subjected to heavy fines or had had their vehicles confiscated for a month. Several were subjected to deportation proceedings, even though they had never been convicted of any crime.

Undocumented migrant workers have also been pushed into the informal economy and have been forced to take increasingly precarious jobs. Manuel1 preferred to work as a day laborer rather than work without papers because he was afraid of being accused of identity theft if he used another person’s social security number. José was fired from the restaurant where he worked when the chef started to use the E-Verify system. (Arizona has required that most employers use the E-Verify system to verify the migration status of employees since 2007.) Because of this same system he could not find a new job in another restaurant. He now spends his time cleaning yards and does not earn enough money to support his family. Ramón spent two years unemployed, occasionally working small jobs for friends and acquaintances to get by.

In addition, family members are often afraid to contact the police to report crimes—even when they witness felonies, of which in many cases they are also victims. Marta's car was stolen in front of her house, but she never ventured to report the crime to the police. Manuel, an undocumented immigrant, was too afraid to go to the police to report an attempted rape of his daughter (still a minor) for fear that the police would ask about his immigration status. He was finally able to report the incident to the police with the support of a family member who is a US citizen.

Mural showing a Latina student, Phoenix.

Mural showing a Latina student, Phoenix.

The entire state has been affected by the implementation of the anti-immigrant policies. Underutilization of labor, strengthening of racist and xenophobic groups, the breakdown of the social fabric and severe economic losses are just some of the major problems that these policies against undocumented immigrants have caused.

Young people have also been affected by anti-immigrant policies. One law decided that undocumented immigrants must pay out-of-state tuition for their education. Some of the students I interviewed told me they were finding it very difficult to continue their studies because the tuition had increased by 300%. Others had already given up their studies. Only when President Barack Obama approved a new policy that deferred action for certain undocumented young people who came to the United States as children did some of them decide to continue their studies.

Protest against anti-immigrant policies, Phoenix, April 23th 2015

Protest against anti-immigrant policies, Phoenix, April 23, 2015.

My study also documented the adaptation and mobility strategies that families have developed to deal with the anti-immigrant policies in Arizona. These strategies have included staying away form public spaces to avoid the risk of deportation, using members with some kind of legal status to attain certain benefits, seeking measures that allow them to circumvent the prohibitions on driving and working in the state, and others. María was so afraid of being deported and separated from her family that for many months she refused to leave her house except when it was absolutely necessary. Some families decided to emigrate from Arizona to other part of the United States. Some of those who had emigrated told me that enforcement of immigration laws by police in other states is different: they do not stop your car in the street simply because you look Latino. Interstate migration of foreign-born migrants is therefore not motivated only by social networks and economic issues. The varying immigration policies of different states provide another powerful incentive for some families to move.

New Policies

To reverse these adverse effects, changes on two levels are necessary. The first step must be to get rid of all laws based on the doctrine of “attrition through enforcement.” The economic boycott, international and domestic pressure, protests against the unconstitutionality of these laws, and other measures, have been partially effective in fighting these laws in the medium and long term. While many local migration initiatives have been repealed, many remain in force today and continue to damage Mexican migrant families in the state. Second, the continuing daily struggle of families against the anti-immigrant policies is essential. Although this struggle stands a good chance of reversing the current policy framework in the long run, it is also needed as a means of empowering migrant families through information about their rights and participation in social movements and organizations that fight for the civil rights of migrants, regardless of their legal status in the United States. We must not forget that “undocumented” status does not mean that migrants have no rights according to United States laws. Among other constitutional rights, for example, an immigrant has the right to due process when he or she is arrested. An immigrant can be indemnified if he or she is a victim of a crime. Undocumented migrant children (K-12 or less) have the right to attend school according to the Supreme Court.

The logo of the Comités de defensa del Barrio.

The logo of the Comités de defensa del Barrio.

During my stay in Phoenix I had the opportunity to participate in activities organized by the Barrio Defense Committees (Comités de defensa del Barrio, or CDB for short). I was able to observe the important work being done by this and similar organizations in mitigating the adverse effects of the policies against migrants "without papers" and their families. CDBs are a genuinely grassroots movement that emerged in response to the attack against resident Mexican families represented by the 2010 Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, or Arizona SB 1070. The ongoing hard work of the CDB has allowed many Mexican families to move out of a position of isolated defense to take actions in defense of their rights along with other family units. As its members argue: Unity is strength ("la unión hace la fuerza").

In short, I am hopeful that the fieldwork I conducted with the support of Sylff Research Abroad will produce valuable information for policymaking in both Mexico and Arizona that will serve to defend the civil rights of Mexican families in Arizona and improve their living conditions, and to repair the broken social fabric by allowing closer links between Mexican and American families who live in the state.

American Civil Liberties Union (March, 2015). Ortega Melendres, et al. V. Arpaio, et al. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/cases/ortega-melendres-et-al-v-arpaio-et-al

1Names have been changed to preserve the anonymity of the people interviewed.

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Narratives of “Change” and “Freedom” in Early Modern Almanacs

March 5, 2014
By 19679

One important source of information in examining the social history of the United States and Europe in the early modern era is the almanac. Using an SRA award, Kujtesë Bejtullahu, a Sylff fellow at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, explored the rich collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century almanacs at the American Antiquarian Society to undertake an in-depth study of how early modern society conceived of two precious and finite values—political freedom and the passage of time.

* * *

Time and politics are two basic categories of life. How do we think them together? How do different societies incorporate them into broader narratives of orientation in a changing world? This puzzles me intellectually, and in my dissertation, I explore the affinity between the notion of political liberty and the way in which modern societies think about their relations and change.

I am particularly intrigued with the revolutions of the late eighteenth century—specifically, the American and the French Revolutions—as two significant events in early modern history that witnessed a struggle to not only reconfigure political values and loyalties but also bring about a temporal reorientation through which such changes could better resonate. By the late eighteenth century, not only were political relations recalibrated and wrapped with the notion of “liberty” from various ends, but the political visions and institutional designs emerging from this realignment were also more boldly projected into the distant future, reaching into peoples, places, and times not present. Thus while the notion of political liberty took center stage, at stake was also the concept of change itself, namely, qualifying the ways in which societies and their social relations could change from the ways in which they could not.

To explore this double recalibration of political values and temporal expectations in socio-historic context, I turned to a medium that was particularly popular in early modern society: the almanac. With the support of the Ryoichi Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund (Sylff), the American Antiquarian Society, and the Library Company of Philadelphia, I examined if and how this transition was recorded, described, or contested in late eighteenth and early nineteenth century almanacs published in the New World.1

The Almanac

Bickerstaff’s New-England Almanack for 1783 (published by John Trumbull). With Britain close to recognizing American independence, this 1783 New England almanac marked the event by printing the Articles of Confederation. A few years later the Constitutional Convention was held to draft the US Constitution and found the United States of America. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

Bickerstaff’s New-England Almanack for 1783 (published by John Trumbull). With Britain close to recognizing American independence, this 1783 New England almanac marked the event by printing the Articles of Confederation. A few years later the Constitutional Convention was held to draft the US Constitution and found the United States of America. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

The early modern almanac has been described among others as a ”miniature encyclopedia,” a village library, or the iPhone of early America.2 It has been reported as being second only to the Bible in popularity and among the earliest works published following the invention of the printing press.3 While the late eighteenth century almanac was rarely without basic astral and meteorological information4 and a calendar to mark the passing of time and the “remarkable” days,5 it also contained information deemed useful or entertaining: medical and agricultural advice, proverbs, moral instruction through essays and anecdotes, excerpts from famous books, historical and geographical narratives, social satire, poetry, scientific articles and practical information, such as schedules of fairs, meetings of courts, and currency tables. The astral and practical information in the almanacs was no doubt important, yet some of the most popular, early modern almanacs were ones that included social commentary, political speculation, or entertainment.

The almanac, broadly speaking, was a miscellany, filling a variety of roles in a concise and affordable manner.6 But in another sense, it was a window onto a world of relations and how these varied and mattered for ordinary people. It helped instruct people on how to orient themselves in relation to nature and society, adjust to the changes taking place and live better7. It is not unusual to find among the surviving early modern almanacs people’s inscriptions of important events in their lives and changes in the environment8 or interleaved almanacs that also served as personal diaries.

The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1843 (published by the American Anti-Slavery Society). Almanacs addressed such political questions as slavery, with most advocating its abolition and a few endorsing it. Through verse and imagery, the cover of this pre–Civil War almanac draws attention to the persistence of slavery in a country that had declared itself free and was portrayed as the ”cradle land of Liberty.” (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

The American Anti-Slavery Almanac for 1843 (published by the American Anti-Slavery Society). Almanacs addressed such political questions as slavery, with most advocating its abolition and a few endorsing it. Through verse and imagery, the cover of this pre–Civil War almanac draws attention to the persistence of slavery in a country that had declared itself free and was portrayed as the ”cradle land of Liberty.” (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

Not surprisingly, then, early modern almanacs were sensitive to changes in politics and society, often advocating a particular view of politics and social values over others. During the American Revolution, almanacs began to carry more explicit political content such as political prefaces or engravings, politically charged verse, calendars marking critical political events or purposefully omitting previously celebrated historical dates,9 excerpts from political tracts and formal political documents, such as state constitutions, articles of confederation, or treaties.10 The almanac was similarly mobilized during the French Revolution. 11 Particularly keen at using the almanac propagandistically were the Jacobins, who in 1791 organized a contest for an almanac that would best instruct the people about the revolution. The winner, L'Almanach du Père Gérard—written by Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois,12 a revolutionary—became a bestseller.13 Moreover, many of the maxims that Benjamin Franklin popularized in his almanac Poor Richard (later compiled in The Way to Wealth) circulated on both sides of the Atlantic. Translated into French shortly before the French Revolution, La Science du Bonhomme Richard was often praised for its good mœurs and appeal to the common man, while revolutionaries like Jacques Pierre Brissot proclaimed, “Behold how Poor Richard and Franklin were always friends of the people.”14 If some of the French revolutionaries saw in Franklin’s almanac a philosophy for the people, well over a century later, Max Weber also turned to almanac wisdom to discuss the emergence of the spirit of capitalism.15

Time and Freedom as Finite Qualities

The Woman’s Rights Almanac for 1858 (published by Z. Baker & Co.). This nineteenth century almanac on women’s rights contains speeches, historical narratives, and statistics that speak to the efforts and struggles of what was later described as the “first wave of feminism.” (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

The Woman’s Rights Almanac for 1858 (published by Z. Baker & Co.). This nineteenth century almanac on women’s rights contains speeches, historical narratives, and statistics that speak to the efforts and struggles of what was later described as the “first wave of feminism.” (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

What is unique about the almanac is that it was also a finite medium, published annually in rather compact form and with a limited geographic reach as regards its astronomical calculations. Though it contained a miscellany of information, the late eighteenth century American almanac was still a circumscribed window onto the broader world and one offering a finite perspective on the ”good life”. At a basic level, what made life good were two gifts from God—time and freedom. These two were frequently invoked and highly valorized, but also described in finite terms: subject to loss when taken for granted or not vigilantly guarded. As a gift in the form of life, time is irredeemable and can be made meaningful,16 while freedom is something that those who are virtuous can revive or safeguard from being lost.

Generally speaking, there is in many late-eighteenth-century American almanacs a distinct sensitivity to loss and an appreciation of finitude as not merely a condition of life but of the life worth living: the free life. This preoccupation with finitude in its political dimension—that, for example, the freedom acquired by republics is fragile, fugitive, and finite—becomes less noticeable by the early nineteenth century. Increasingly, freedom is projected in more futuristic terms and portrayed as being infinitely resilient under better, enduring laws (such as by being enshrined in the constitution) or with the advent of historical progress.17 As the American colonies declared themselves independent and changed the terms of their political association to constitute the United States, there also arose an eagerness to project their conception of freedom in much more expansive terms, spatial as well as temporal. In retrospect, the American Revolution may well have been the last moment when we thought freedom with finitude.

Early modern almanacs can shed some light on how through familiar notions of liberty and the republic, the articulation of a new experience of “political presence” was coupled with projections of a future in which societies and social relations would advance. This is partly revealed in the transformation of the medium itself. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the almanac began losing its general feel and became more specialized and theme oriented; by the late nineteenth century, it was becoming somewhat obsolete as other mediums—the clock, newspaper, and thematic books—gained new relevance for people’s temporal orientation and for keeping up to date with the faster-production of useful knowledge. It became necessary for people to take bearings more frequently and from a variety of sources, a phenomenon even more prevalent today, as it is ever more necessary to keep updating one’s skills and expectations.

Giving Finitude Political Expression

Annuaire Franҫais ou Manuel Du Colon, à l‘usage de Saint-Domingue pour l’An X [1801] (published by Port-Républicain). To mark their break from the ancien régime, the French revolutionaries instituted calendrical reforms that almanacs were compelled to adopt and promote. This almanac for the tenth year of the French Republic informs that the law of 23 Fructidor of year 6 forbids using the calendar of the old era and requires conformity with the law’s spirit, which is “to not leave any trace of the old yearbook”. Published for the colony of St. Domingo (now the Republic of Haiti), this almanac has a unique transatlantic revolutionary feel, recording the insurrections of slaves in the colony, celebrating the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, and printing the constitution of St. Domingo that he promulgated. Controversial and short-lived, this constitution was nevertheless an autonomous act that challenged French colonial policy, prompting Napoleon to secure the capture and deportation of L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture died in prison in Jura, France, in 1803, Haiti achieved its independence in 1804, and Napoleon revoked the French revolutionary calendar in 1806. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

Annuaire Franҫais ou Manuel Du Colon, à l‘usage de Saint-Domingue pour l’An X [1801] (published by Port-Républicain). To mark their break from the ancien régime, the French revolutionaries instituted calendrical reforms that almanacs were compelled to adopt and promote. This almanac for the tenth year of the French Republic informs that the law of 23 Fructidor of year 6 forbids using the calendar of the old era and requires conformity with the law’s spirit, which is “to not leave any trace of the old yearbook”. Published for the colony of St. Domingo (now the Republic of Haiti), this almanac has a unique transatlantic revolutionary feel, recording the insurrections of slaves in the colony, celebrating the leadership of Toussaint L’Ouverture, and printing the constitution of St. Domingo that he promulgated. Controversial and short-lived, this constitution was nevertheless an autonomous act that challenged French colonial policy, prompting Napoleon to secure the capture and deportation of L’Ouverture. L’Ouverture died in prison in Jura, France, in 1803, Haiti achieved its independence in 1804, and Napoleon revoked the French revolutionary calendar in 1806. (Courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society)

Insofar as the almanac helped people orient themselves and relate to changes in society and their surroundings by reminding them often of conditions of finitude, the story of how the medium became politicized in revolutionary times and later driven into obsolescence is revealing of how the very concept of change was, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, being transformed in ways that remain difficult to comprehend. While the tale of the almanac may be thought of as a story of outgrowing finitude through modern technology, the political aspect should not be overlooked. Seen in a revolutionary context, where ideas of how societies can and should change were being recast and when political freedom was increasingly projected as becoming more resilient, this tale is also one of how modern discourses on emancipation became much more concerned with the production of new and different futures than with giving finitude a more meaningful political form.

At a time when we have capabilities to produce conditions of finitude on a much more radical scale and at a much faster rate,18 it seems relevant to once again consider giving finitude meaningful political expression. As we are confronted with it in more intense, accelerated, and unpredictable forms, we nevertheless rarely consider that political freedom is not so much about the negation or overcoming of finitude but a more meaningful affirmation of it. We struggle, more generally, to articulate and experience “political presence” in an increasingly interdependent world, where different people and societies are drawn into relations but often in ways that they cannot be consciously and considerately be present for one another. Indeed, narratives of temporal differentiation—between the developed and developing, the advanced and lagging—and the governance of expectations of change can also obscure our very sense of contemporaneity and appreciation of what is, can, and must be shared and jointly preserved. It is my concern, in other words, that without engaging more meaningfully with the experience of finitude, contemporary international politics will continue to struggle to make relations between different others meaningful in finite time and to make finite time in relationships meaningful.

Given a dynamic and interdependent modern context that we describe as “international” or “global,” it seems relevant to imagine and recast the experience of “political presence” in a different analytical key, not merely scale. History provides no blueprints in this respect. Yet it seems helpful to convoke it for stimulating insight on how much of what is absent is remembered and projected as present and how much of what is or feels present our discourses still keep absent.

1Mostly almanacs from the American colonies and the United States, and some from Canada, Haiti, and Jamaica.
2 See Molly McCarthy, “Redeeming the Almanac: Learning to Appreciate the iPhone of Early America,” in Common-Place, Vol.11, No. 1 (October 2010).
3 Together with the printing of the Bible in Latin in the 1450s, Gutenberg also printed an almanac in 1457 in Mainz.
4 Such as eclipses, tides, lunations, weather prognostications, the influence of stars and planets, and the zodiac.
5 “Holy” days, historical events, etc.
6 See Marion Barber Stowell, Early American Almanacs: The Colonial Weekday Bible (New York: Burt Franklin & Company, 1977) ix; Bernard Capp, Astrology and the Popular Press: English Almanacs 1500–1800, (London: Faber & Faber, 1979), 23; Louis K. Wechsler, The Common People of Colonial America As Glimpsed Through the Dusty Windows of the Old Almanacks, Chiefly of New-York (New York: Vantage Press, 1978).
7 See the preface to Geneviève Bollème, Les Almanachs Populaires aux XVIIe et XVIIIe Siècles (Paris : Mouton & Com, 1969).
8 Births, deaths, marriages, wars, harvest failures, etc.
9 For example, marking events like the Declaration of Independence and the French Revolution and omitting coronations and birthdays of royalty.
10The French alliance of 1778, for example.
11 See Lise Andries, “Almanacs: Revolutionizing a traditional genre” in eds. Robert Darnton and Daniel Roche, Revolution in Print: the press in France 1775-1800 (University of California Press, 1989), 203-222
12 Jean-Marie Collot d’Herbois participated in the Paris Commune and the National Convention of 1792, but is more commonly known for his involvement with the Committee for Public Safety, in particular the 1793 Reign of Terror in Lyon.
13 See Michel Biard, “L'Almanach du Père Gérard, un exemple de diffusion des idées jacobines,” Annales historiques de la Révolution française; No. 283 (1990) pp. 19-29.
14See Alfred Owen Aldridge, Franklin and His French Contemporaries (New York: NYU Press, 1957) 46.
15 See Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans. T. Parsons (1930), Ch. 2.
16 Almanacs provided much instruction on temporal values and discipline, such as how to make the best use of time.
17 Or as Proudhon later articulated, “the theory of Progress is the railway of liberty.” See the Foreword to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, The Philosophy of Progress (1853).
18 Such as through nuclear weapons and environmental degradation.

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In Search of the New Historians: Fieldwork in the ‘Holy Land’

November 19, 2013
By 19633

Khinvraj Jangid, a Sylff fellow at Jawaharlal Nehru University from 2009 to 2011, used his Sylff Research Abroad (SRA) award to research Israel’s “New Historians” and their views, who challenged traditional interpretations of the first Arab-Israel War of 1948. He conducted his field research at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be’er Sheva, Israel, and his findings formed the core of his doctoral dissertation. A summary of research and field work are presented below.

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Ben-Gurion University of the Negev 1

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (1)

The case of the contested history of the 1948 War, or the first Arab-Israel War, within Israel is the subject matter of this research. It focuses on a group of Israeli historians who challenged the traditional understanding of the 1948 War on the basis of declassified documents from Israeli archives. The leading scholars of this group are known as the New Historians. The word ‘New History’ is applied to their historical writings and their school, which primarily included Benny Morris, Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, and Tom Segev. Due to Israel’s liberal declassification laws, many archival materials became available from the late 1970s, enabling access to the original war papers and documents of the 1948 War.

However, this alone does not explain the critical reexamination of Israel’s role in 1948. Some crucial social and political events played important roles in prompting the historians to take a renewed look at the country’s past. These include the June 1967 War, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and the outbreak of the first Intifada in 1987. A generational change was also one of the factors behind the emergence of the critical reflection of the past. The generation born around or after the 1948 War was more self-critical and less attached to the emotional aspects of the war, as this was the first generation that did not participate in the war or witness its hardships.

The contested issues of the 1948 War between the new and conventional1 views of history can be summarized in the following points:

  • The conventional version stated that Britain tried to prevent the establishment of the Jewish state; the New History argued instead that Britain tried to prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
  • The conventional version claimed that the Palestinians fled their homes of their own free will or at the behest of their leadership; the New History countered this by stating that the refugees were either compelled to flee or were chased out.
  • The conventional version stated that the balance of power during the 1948 War was in favor of the Arabs; the New History contested the claim and argued that Israel had an advantage, both in terms of manpower and arms.
  • The conventional version narrated that the Arabs had a plan to destroy Israel but failed to execute it; the New History suggested that the Arabs were not united as commonly understood but were divided and fought for their individual gains, not for securing the Palestinian state.
  • The conventional version maintained that Arab intransigence prevented peace; the New History insisted that Israel is primarily to be blamed for the deadlock at the end of the war.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2)

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (2)

The fieldwork enabled me to interview the New Historians as well as their critics in Israel. The conversations with many scholars and historians, such as Benny Morris, Avraham Sela, Jose Brunner, Eyal Naveh, Yoav Gelber, Yosef Gorny, Rafi Nets-Zehngut, Dani Filc, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin, and David Newman illuminated the various contours of the academic debate of the historians. For the interviews, I travelled to other prominent universities in Israel, including Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, and the University of Haifa. The chance to speak with the historians about their work and their ideological and political underpinnings was very fruitful, providing answers to some of the key questions that had guided my research, such as:

  • What is the significance of Israel’s preoccupation with the historical interpretation of the 1948 War?
  • How does the self-critical historical narrative of New History affect the Israeli polity and society?
  • What is the relevance of the New History? Where is its place within Israeli society and politics, two decades after the emergence of the New Historians?

The conversations provided me with the knowledge of the personal journeys of the New Historians which explained the nuances of their ideological or political evolution. For example, Benny Morris spoke of his disenchantment with the other fellow New Historians like Ilan Pappe and Avi Shlaim in the aftermath of second Intifada (2000-2004). The New Historians had more differences than commonalities right from the beginning. But an event like the second Intifada revealed how the New Historians came under influence of the political events. On the other hand, the conversations with the critics of the New Historians made me realize to look at the works of the other historians who made significant contribution to the body of knowledge pertaining to the issues of the 1948 War like Avraham Sela and Yoav Gelber.

The debate about the 1948 War ensued with the New Historians influenced Israeli society. First, they brought about a change in the teaching of history in Israeli high schools. The inclusion of the Palestinian version of the 1948 War in school textbooks and mentioning the reasons why the Palestinians call the 1948 War a “catastrophe” paved the way for a mutual understanding of those events. The younger generation is more aware of what happened to the Palestinians in 1948. Since a nation’s collective memory and collective identity are shaped through history textbooks more than through any other means, the teaching of a more balanced account of the 1948 War at the school level signifies an important contribution by the New Historians.

Second, the New Historians have enabled the general Israeli public to understand how Arabs perceive Israel and how they view the common past. The redefining of the Israel-Palestine relationship through historical revisionism has helped society understand the “other” in a more compassionate manner and not in antagonistic terms. The rise and growth of the debate in academia and the media is a good indication of the attention it received in Israel and abroad. The opportunity to bridge the narratives of the Palestinians and Israelis through a fuller knowledge of history is a noteworthy consequence of the work of the New Historians.

Third, they inspired sociologists in Israel to take a critical view of Zionism as a political ideology. A recent development in Israeli academia has been the rise of revisionist sociologists known as post-Zionists who have been re-examining the evolution of Zionism and suggesting limiting its influence on state policy.

Thus, the New History was instrumental in shaping a new understanding of the 1948 War. After provoking debate, it was integrated into the Israeli academia, where it was examined, debated, and eventually accepted. But while the New History has had a discernible impact on Israeli society, it has thus far had no tangible impact on policymaking.

The Past as a “Foreign Country”

The experience of conducting research abroad was meaningful in more ways than one. Academically, it required me, a student of international relations from India, to interact in a society that was foreign and unknown. Studying the history of the 1948 War was a process of understanding the birth of the state of Israel. It explained the origins of the protracted conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In the history of modern international politics, the Israel-Palestine conflict stands out as one of the most complex examples of the formation of a nation-state through the use of force. Sovereignty and territorial issues between Israel and Palestine are far from being resolved, and they also offer a challenge to international conventions and organizations.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (3)

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (3)

On a personal note, staying in a dormitory with Israeli, a few Palestinian, and other students gave me precious opportunities for interaction. The conversations I had reminded me that a wide gap still separates the perceptions of history held by most people and the findings of scholars. University life at Ben-Gurion University was an invitation to interact with the younger generation of Israeli society. Many of the students I spoke with understood the role of the past and of historians in helping resolve present-day conflicts. The role of historians is considered critical in any society. But how much impact do they really have on society?

The younger generation tends to think of the past like events in a “foreign country.” The debate of the historian was too political for the generation which is getting apolitical. They feel that what happened in 1948 has only a minor role in their lives. Nevertheless, university life was full of political and ideological encounters. In May 2012, on the occasion of the annual Palestinian demonstration of Nakba (meaning catastrophe, a term used by the Palestinians for the 1948 War), there was a heated debate that university space was being used against Israel’s national interests. The on-going debate in the social sciences pertaining to the Arab Spring was another example of the attention being given to regional political events and their impact on the State of Israel.

For this research work, Sylff fellowship and SRA award made significant contribution. The year 2009 when I was selected for Sylff was a turning point for me. I was born and brought in a framing family in Rajasthan. Being considered part of an international fellowship and the prestigious association with Tokyo Foundation inspired me for the academic world.

1It is important to clarify that there is not a well-explained and established body of work called “conventional history” in Israel. The history written prior to the New History is considered a conventional or traditional account of the 1948 War. (The word “official” is used by the New Historians.)

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

November 12, 2013
By 19635

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

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

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

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

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

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

Case Study of Fernie, BC

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

Fernie Art Depot

Fernie Art Depot

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

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

From ferniefix.com

(Photo from ferniefix.com)

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

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

Preliminary Findings

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

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

Help Wanted

Help Wanted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 14, 2013
By 19617

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

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

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

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

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

Five Distinct Stages of the Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

Budding Commercial Ties

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peak of Political and Economic Activity

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

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

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

Historic Summit Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1980s: Broadening Spheres of Cooperation

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

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

1990s: Transformation of the Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

Nurturing a New Partnership

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

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

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

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