social conflicts

One of the most important concepts is fear in the ‘refugees/migrants versus Europe’ debate. It is not entirely clear whether Europe is against the migrants, or migrants are against Europe. But it is more than obvious that at the level of generalization both sides fear the other contrary to Jean-Claude Juncker’s call for collective courage. He is worried by ‘the fear directed against these people by some parts of the European population’ and concludes that ‘Europe fails when fear prevails’. As if it was simply a matter of choice.

One must admit that we social scientists – just as human rights activists – know very little about fear regardless to our knowledge on its consequences, such as violence, war, population movements, suicide and so on. Politicians, at least as much instinctively as cynically, know much better what fear is about in Europe thanks to the various public opinion polls. The language spoken for example by the Hungarian PM, Viktor Orban is seen much less unrealistic and provoking today than a month ago. His arguments are at least as much, if not better, shared by a significant part of the European public (opinion) and politicians as judged by others, certain media outlets, journalist, politicians, scholars or activists included. Orban’s gambling builds not only on how many people in Hungary think about foreigners coming from remote countries, but also on a more general European resentment rapidly growing against the new-comers let them be migrants or refugees.

When Le Figaro, the second second-largest, right-leaning national newspaper in France asked whether its readers agree with the Hungarian decision to build a fence on the Hungarian-Serbian border (to keep refugees and migrants away), 88% of the respondents said  yes (the sample is not representative, but big enough, the number of voters was as high as 56250). On a more representative side, the latest available Eurobarometer survey (the poll was conducted in May with over 30,000 people interviewed) found that immigration jumped to the top of the most frequently cited EU-level concerns with 38% (+14 points). It is now way ahead of the economic situation (27%, -6 points) and unemployment (24%, -5 points) too. While the immigration of people from other EU Member States evoked a positive feeling for more than half of Europeans, the opposite was true in the case of immigration of people from outside the EU. Their (economically-motivated) immigration evoked a positive feeling for only about a third of Europeans (34%) and a negative feeling for 56%. It is not surprising that close to three-quarters of Europeans said they were in favour of  a common European policy on migration (73%). Results of the next survey (due in November) will likely be even more ‘anti-European’ and fearful in light of the late-Summer developments in Europe.

What is fear?  Fear is a very normal human emotion induced by a threat or any negative stimulus. Neuro- and cognitive science says that fear is automatic, unconscious, spontaneously generalized and resistant to extinction. The perception of threat leads to neural changes in the brain and indirectly in behaviour as well: it leads to hiding, freezing, or running away from traumatic events. It is fear which makes people run away from Syria, Afghanistan or Turkish refugee camps. And it is fear – and not simple hatred – which makes other people, Europeans, reluctant to receive and integrate them in large scale. Is this fear real or imagined? It depends. But new arrivals bring not only their human rights with themselves. They also carry their history, collective memory, tragedies and traumas, culture and religion and a lot else. And while there are generous and ‘fearless’ European individuals being busy with offering a helping hand, a great part of the general public is quite much concerned about opening borders and integrating strangers with complicated past. One of the most important human feeling – fear – seems to be shared by refugees and Europeans as well. Describing fear as abnormal, coward, egoistic or anti-European may take into consideration some significant political events of European history. However, it ignores not only other, less glorious historical facts, but scientific evidence on human nature as well. Fear is not only very normal, but hardly a matter of choice. Equally, it is not simply a matter of moral(ity). If Europe needs more refugees and immigrants – but even if the opposite is true, there is no straightforward answer to this question – it should focus on understanding this very human feeling instead of building further rhetorical fences and trenches.


Legitimacy can be understood as a ‘state of appropriateness’ ascribed to an entity (actor, system, structure, process, action) stemming from its integration with institutionalized norms, values and beliefs. ‘Collective support’ and obedience are considered to be important elements of legitimacy: they refer to people’s beliefs about political authority and their own obligations. This descriptive (empirical) approach reflects Max Weber’s understanding of legitimacy: ‘the basis of every system of authority, and correspondingly of every kind of willingness to obey, is a belief, a belief by virtue of which persons exercising authority are lent prestige’.[1] Legitimacy is widely understood as popular acceptance, obedience and recognition of the authority of a regime, whereby authority has political power through consent and not through overt coercion.[2] Regime authority always depends on the combination of legitimacy and organized coercion. In Weber’s account it is the state which as a community ‘successfully claims authority’on the legitimate use of physical force. The monopoly of violence is ensured via the process of legitimization by means of which the citizens accept that only the state can apply force, which made Rustow define political stability as the function of legitimacy of institutions and personal legitimacy of rulers.[3] When legitimacy vanishes entirely, the regime loses the means of coercion,[4] which leads to destabilization. Social conflicts – uprisings, (attempted) revolutions and civil wars alike – can be explained by weakened legitimacy. A political system will be destabilized, when ‘discontented social groups come to feel that it is acceptable to engage in disobedience and violence’[5] against the regime perceived to be illegitimate. The question is, how various social groups – broadly understood: political parties, military establishment(s), civil society organizations, etc – are influenced (and financed) by foreign powers.

Sources and further reading: [1] Weber, M. (1964) The Theory of Social and Economic Organization. Edited by Talcott Parsons. New York: Free Press, p382; [2] Weber, The Theory of Social, 124. In Weber’s account, the ‘ability’ ensuring legitimacy can be of three types: traditional, charismatic and rational-legal, all of which has distinct sources of authority; [3] Dankwart Rustow, A World of Nations: Problems of Political Modernization. (Washington: Brookings, 1967): 27 and 157; cited by G. Hossein Razi, ‘Legitimacy, Religion and Nationalism in the Middle East’, The American Political Science Review 84, no. 1 (1990): 69-91; [4] Sedgwick, M. (2010) Measuring Egyptian Regime Legitimacy. Middle East Critique 19 (3): 251-267.; [5] Cited by Theda Scocpol, States and Social Revolutions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979): 25.

The message, conveyed by Taysir Khaled, a member of the PLO Executive Committee on a press conference in Ramallah says much more about the nature of aid(ing) than about the Palestinians’ negotiating positions. Repeating, again, Olav Stokke foreign aid is used as a ‘lever to promote objectives set by the donor whom and that the recipient would not otherwise have agreed to’ (Stokke 1995: 11-12). Political blackmailing is part of the aid experiment, not only in the Palestinian case. And this ‘feature’ is more relevant from the recipient’s perspective than for example, the length of roads paved or the number of schools built by donor money. Conditionality is about rejecting social values, norms and beliefs, the very being of the recipient.

The same logic would have applied to the EU-Israeli negotiations on Israel’s participation in Horizon 2020… if  the official explanation of the long-delayed agreement would not have gone as follows: ‘The negotiations were never about getting either side to subscribe to the other side’s principled positions, but about defining practical ways to allow Israel’s participation in an E.U. program governed by E.U. rules. This is what we succeeded to do’ (Maja Kocijancic, spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the E.U. foreign commissioner, quoted by Science Magazin).

Adiv, Sterman (2014) ‘Kerry threatens to cut PA aid if no peace deal signed. Times of Israel, January 10, 2014

Cordis (2013) Israel will take part in Horizon 2020. December 2, 2013.

Rettman, A (2013) EU-Israel talks fail to agree on science funding. EU Observer, September 13, 2013.

Stokke, O. ed (1995) Aid and political Conditionality. London: Frank Cass

Vogel, G (2013) European Union and Israel Reach Deal on Funding Program. Science Magazin, 27 November 2013,

The project focuses on foreign aid (and its role in the MENA region) and has not been so much interested in other forms of ‘international communication’ such as, for example, sanctions or boycotts, even if they could be understood as ‘negative aid’. Watching Ari Lesser’s Boycott Israel, but if you do, boycott all those other evil countries too, one can count almost 40 countries blamed for committing human rights violations (to mention a few: North Korea, China, Japan, Vietnam, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Congo DRC and some other countries from SSA, numerous Latin-American countries, former CCCP (post-soviet) countries and Middle Eastern states). Three of the listed countries belong to the ‘West’ (Germany, US, Japan), two of them are mentioned due to their crimes committed in the first part of the 20th century (Germany and Turkey) and Japan is being held responsible for ‘slaughtering innocent’ whales. The Palestinian Authority (PNA) is not mentioned, probably for some sort of political correctness, even if it has also been liable for human rights abuses regardless to the question ‘who’ represents the PNA. Bypassing the obvious question (on the rationality of boycotts being a sort of ‘excommunication’ to use a Christian, religious term), it is worthwhile to compare this arbitrary list of countries with another one prepared by the World Bank.

If counties are ranked on the basis of net ODA received between 2009-2013, (1) Afghanistan (6,7 billion USD/year, average), (2) Congo DRC (5,5 billion USD/year), (3) Vietnam (3,5 billion USD) can be found on the top of the list. It continues with (5) Pakistan (3,5 billion USD), (6) India (3,22 billion USD) and (7) Turkey (3,19 billion USD). Ten of the top 25 ODA recipients (measured by net ODA and receiving at least 1 billion USD annually) are ‘qualified’ participants of the Lesser-video. There are quite many countries violating democratic and human rights (for example, Nigeria and Bangladesh) that are not mentioned by Lesser but being among the top 25. It must also be acknowledged that there are ‘differences’ in terms of the parameters of violence. Certain states, to be more precise, certain governments do not protect women and their rights, others tolerate executions for blasphemy or widely arresting or detaining persons (in most cases their own citizens) arbitrary. Lesser and those liking his performance blames the international community for applying double standards vis-à-vis Israel. He is concerned with the unproportional international attention devoted to the Palestinian rights. Or he may worry for those not getting enough international attention. 

In more general terms one might also ask about the ‘collective blindness’ of the international community which (countries, governments and public alike) not only ignores state sovereignty, responsibility and ‘national’ self-determination by providing institutionalized (mainly humanitarian, but also development) aid for those that should be cared by their own leadership, but also plays into the hands of the very same leaders committing various crimes against their own people (at least according to Western and/or universal standards). If the Western argument evolves about the ‘responsibility to protect’ principle related to humanitarian intervention, one may think about further ‘rights’ and ‘duties’ related to the abstract ‘social contracts’ existing (at least hypothetically) between a foreign (developed) country and a citizen of another (developing) one. It is much easier to ‘protect’ by providing aid than to provide conditions for a meaningful life for the rest of the world (too). And it is more likely that societies are divided due to their members’ uneven access to aid than kept together – provided that ‘community’ among the people ever existed within the (nation)state boundaries.

Ari  Lesser (2013): Boycott Israel. (accessed: 9-12-2013)

SPME (2013): Boycott Israel: Interview With Ari Lesser. (accessed: 9-12-2013)

World Bank (2013): Net Official Development Assistance Received. Online database

Gifts, in ancient and modern societies alike, serve the purpose of establishing relationships and maintaining hierarchies (Mauss 2002, Kolm 2006a). Equally, foreign aid, loans and grants alike, preserves hierarchical relations between the developed and developing world (Hattori 2001; Rist 2003; Karagiannis 2004; Paragi 2012b). Aid is an instrument to control peaceful and less peaceful developments in developing states the extent to which it helps control, among others, conflicts by means of prevention or resolution. It is a means to control (in)security and to manage risks; it is not merely ‘a technical system of support and assistance, but part of an emerging system of global governance’ (Duffield 2001: 2).

This control-function is usually exercised by setting conditions; some of them are explicitly stated, others are less visible (on peace conditionally see: Boyce 2002). Conditions are usually applied in order to maximize utility, to ensure that foreign aid is used in an efficient way, in line with the overall objectives of a given contract, for example, an aid agreement (on conditions, conditionality and pressure see: Sørensen 1993; Sørensen 1995; Stokke 1995; Killick 1998). Conditions entail at least two consequences. First, costs can be minimized by giving only to recipients that deserve generosity and trust (cf. the EU’s ‘more for more’ formulation vis-à-vis the Middle Eastern countries). Second, the donor can focus on the return of investment in order to see certain significant political, economic or social changes in the recipient country, such as, for example, stability and/or democracy in recipient countries.

To take the example of aid relations, donor ‘participation’ in the political and institutional structures of the recipient countries ‘required a conceptual framework which would allow for wide-ranging donor interventions in the political and economic affairs of the recipient economies. (…) Since the mid1990s, aid [its effects and effectiveness] is no longer considered an isolated economic variable but, instead, a function of the recipient country’s economic (and political) policies’ (Taghdisi-Rad 2011: 22). Setting and accepting conditions attached to the contract and the subsequent money transfer implies the giver’s involvement in the recipient’s life, let the recipient be a state, nation, people, authority, institution or any individual beneficiary.

Boyce, J. K. (2002) Investing in peace: aid and conditionality after civil wars. London: Institute for Strategic Studies

Duffield, M. (2001). New Wars: The Merging of Development and Security. London: Zed Books

Killick, T. (1998) Aid and the Political Economy of Policy Change. London: Routledge

Kolm, S-C. (2006a): ‘Introduction to the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity’ in Serge-Christophe Kolm – Jean Mercier Ythier (eds): Handbook of Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity. Vol1., Elsevier B. V. pp. 4-114

In light of the ‘new’ elements in EU (aid) policies, it is worthwhile to recall Palestinian views on international assistance, support, participation, influence and/or intervention (recorded in 2010). It must be emphasized, that the cited qualitative interviews were conducted before the ‘official’ beginning of the Arab Spring. Foreign aid aimed at improving the Palestinian socio–economic conditions and building institutional system of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Its utmost objective has been supporting the Oslo Peace Process and any related Israeli-Palestinian efforts for returning to the negotiation table in the past decade. They have become open and visible in the Palestinian case since 2006 when the donor community (the Quartet) set three infamous conditions in exchange for accepting the results of the parliamentary elections [i]. However, donors provided foreign aid, in form of official development assistance and humanitarian aid for getting something back since the early 1990a: to see their agendas and conditions to be met (in general: Duffield 2001; in the Palestinian case: Nakhleh 2004; Said 2005; Le More 2008; Taghdisi-Rad 2011; Paragi 2012b).

Foreign aid, understood as ‘symbolic power politics between donor and recipient’ (cf. an earlier post) was much less symbolic in the minds of Palestinian recipients than it appeared to be in theory. It was simply seen as non-symbolic and evident means of control. Neither was it widely interpreted as being ‘innocent’ nor ‘altruistic’ gift provided without expectations to return. Donors’ support for the peace process was primarily perceived as something which aimed at asserting their own interests, let this interest mean altruistic support for a just cause or a less altruistic move to achieve foreign policy goals. Conditions were set to ensure Palestinian cooperation needed to meet these objectives. Palestinians, by accepting foreign aid were obliged to undertake commitments and to comply with conditions in exchange for foreign aid. While our respondents (in 2010) acknowledged that the West, honestly or not so honestly, was trying to help the Palestinian people build a state, the ‘conditions’ attached to foreign aid were understood as a means for ‘controlling the Palestinian aspirations’ by ‘creating dependency.’ Perceived Western agendas covered a wide range of conditions starting with ‘not expecting’ Israel to give up ‘her positions’ within the occupied territories, through supporting the peace process, and convincing the PNA to marginalizing less moderate elements, such as Hamas. For the Western world was ’not so keen on pressuring Israel into a solution,’ their cooperation with the Palestinians became ‘conditional on the [domestic, Palestinian] support for the peace process’ and ‘survival of PNA/Fatah’. It is worthwhile to note, that this argument was diametrically opposed to the one suggested not just by the Western diplomats and international press, but also by the academic literature emphasizing that it was the peace process – the Oslo Accords – which required financial support.

Palestinian respondents agreed that the PNA and the Palestinian people were obliged to pay the price of getting access to official development assistance. And the price to be paid was giving up elements of their national identity by means of complying with donor-set conditions. Conditionality, as an NGO leader put it: ’[r]esults in more division in the society. (…) If one wants to work with a certain donor, one will need to comply with certain policies, the donors’ policies. PFLP and Hamas will not get money from donors. (…)This creates an ‘imbalance’ between the people that receive funding from donors and all others’ [ii].

Cooperation, solidarity or cohesion between the donors and the Palestinian recipients (PNA and official bodies, NGOs benefiting from aid) prevailed at the expense of unity and agreement among the main beneficiaries, namely, Palestinian subgroups and individuals. This conviction was clearly shared by other respondents too: ’as long as we achieve their [donors’] interests, we are moderate. It diminish[es] [hurts] our national values’ [iii], or ’[t]hese donations … are the price of our [moderate] political stands’ [iv], or ’aid is a method [a means] to pressure the PNA to accept certain things. This happened when the international community forced the PNA to form a new government after the elections [in 2006]. Since the Palestinians are fully dependent on this aid, most of them became unemployed or poor [after the elections]. All this helps Israel and harms the Palestinian national aspirations’ [v].

More about the Palestinian perceptions on conditionality: Paragi 2012b.

Notes, sources and references:

[i] Two legislative elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip since the beginning of the Oslo Peace Process, the first in 1996, the second in 2006. At the January 2006 parliamentary elections, Hamas (List of Reform and Change) won a decisive majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council (it gained 74 seats of the 132) defeating the PLO-affiliated Fatah party, the main partner for peace with Israel and partner for cooperation with the donor community. Reactions from Israel and the Western (OECD DAC) donor community led to governmental crisis and the split between Hamas (gaining control over the Gaza Strip) and Fatah (keeping its position in the West Bank). In June 2007, Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the government led by Ismail Haniye, and appointed Salam Fayyad as a prime minister. This move and the reforms implemented by Fayyad (and financed by the donor community) led to further rifts between the leadership sponsored by the international community and the PLO/Fatah.

[ii] Interview with the Palestinian leader of an international NGO, Ramallah, August 3, 2010

[iii] Interview with a tribal judge, hamula (extended family) leader and PNA official, Bethlehem, August 1, 2010

[iv] Interview with a former PLC member, Bethlehem, August 7, 2010

[v] Interview with the director of a Palestinian NGO, Gaza City, August 12, 2010