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The Rise of Civilizational States: Civilizational Discourse in International Relations

December 20, 2022
By 29256

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

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


Ideas Surrounding the Concept of the Civilizational State

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Use of Civilizational Discourse by Governments

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

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


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


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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

April 12, 2022
By 24301

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

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

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

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


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

The Procedure in a Nutshell

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

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

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

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

A Key Challenge

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


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

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

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

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

Three Signs of a Unique Opportunity and Potential

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

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

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

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

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


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

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The Sustainability of Food in Japan

March 28, 2022
By 19606

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

* * *

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

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

Importance of the Topic

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

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

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

Food waste in Japan. (photo: Kyodo news)

What Can Be Done

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

Food Choices

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

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

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

Food Production

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

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

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

Food Waste

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

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

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

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

Next Steps

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

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


[1] “Ecological Footprint by Country 2022,” World Population Review, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/ecological-footprint-by-country.

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

[3] Walter Willett et al., Summary Report of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems (Stockholm: EAT-Lancet Commission, 2019), 3, 14, https://eatforum.org/eat-lancet-commission/eat-lancet-commission-summary-report/.

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

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

[6] Watabe, 163–4.

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

[8] Eugene Mohareb et al., “Considerations for Reducing Food System Energy Demand while Scaling Up Urban Agriculture,” Environmental Research Letters 12, no. 12 (December 2017), https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aa889b.

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

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

[11] Liu et al., 562.

[12] Liu et al., 558.

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

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

January 11, 2022
By 29256

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

 * * *

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

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

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

Landscape of Foreign Aid in Turkey and Hungary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emerging versus Traditional Donors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] See, for example, Ian Bremmer, “The ‘Strongmen Era’ Is Here. Here’s What It Means for You,” Time, May 03, 2018, https://time.com/5264170/the-strongmen-era-is-here-heres-what-it-means-for-you/, and “How Democracy Dies: Lessons from the Rise of Strongmen in Weak States,” The Economist, June 16, 2018, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/06/16/lessons-from-the-rise-of-strongmen-in-weak-states.

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

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

[4] Jin Sato, Hiroaki Shiga, Takaaki Kobayashi, and Hisahiro Kondoh, “How do ‘Emerging’ Donors Differ from ‘Traditional’ Donors? An Institutional Analysis of Foreign Aid in Cambodia.” JICA-RI Working Paper no. 2, JICA Research Institute, March 2010, https://www.jica.go.jp/jica-ri/publication/workingpaper/jrft3q00000022dd-att/JICA-RI_WP_No.2_2010.pdf.

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

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Role of Water in Geopolitics

July 8, 2021
By 28927

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

* * *

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

Water might play a manifold role in a violent confrontation.

Water Wars

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

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

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

A Solution to a Conflict over Water?

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Insights into the Dynamics of Diplomacy in the Future

April 14, 2020
By 19817

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

 * * *

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.

 * * *



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.