Dr. Prof. Anja Matwijkiw, IECLO’s U.S. Scientific Coordinator Contributes Research to Multidisciplinary Conference and Training School

On 11 March 2024, our U.S. Scientific Coordinator Professor Anja Matwijkiw from Indiana University delivered a presentation on “Political Hybridity, Autocratic Legalism and Legal Formalism: Challenges to Conventional Categories” for a week-long conference and training school (March 11-15) on Mass Atrocities and Protection of Victims: Current Conflicts and Political and Legal Responses. The course directors and course speakers followed a multidisciplinary format for the event, which was held at the Inter-University Centre in Dubrovnik, Croatia (see https://iuc.hr/programme/1884).

The course lecture component that Professor Anja Matwijkiw was responsible for showed that current conflicts do not have to translate into mass atrocities that coincide with core international crimes to warrant serious attention. A study of political regime hybridity reveals that accusations of “fake values” in the case of liberal democracy, rule of law and fundamental human rights not only create cultural splits within the EU (with debate and dispute about the Illiberal State), but also introduce controversial issues about transitions from and links between certain types of governance and crimes.

Professor Anja Matwijkiw’s research homes in on such issues. “Together with fellow philosopher and ethicist Dr. Bronik Matwijkiw, I have been involved in many research projects that serve as illustrations of intellectual critiques of (too) conventional assumptions. Now scholars from the social sciences are joining forces with statements about the “tautological” tendency in quantitative statistics concerning liberal democracy or the need for innovative and critical tools of interpretation when it comes to an assessment of political instability and violent conflict/mass atrocities in democratic transition – meaning that we may currently be laboring under a misperception as regards the risks.”

In turn, these remarks led her to identify two publications which recently were included in Danish Racism Research – A Database on Research on Racism in Denmark (see https://danskracismeforskning.dk/?s=matwijkiw),namely Anja Matwijkiw and Bronik Matwijkiw, “Denmark’s Blanket Burqa Ban: A National(ist) Perspective” (published in Law, Cultural Studies and the “Burqa Ban” Trend: An Interdisciplinary Handbook (Anja Matwijkiw and Anna Oriolo eds., Intersentia, Cambridge, England 2021) and, furthermore, Anja Matwijkiw and Bronik Matwijkiw “Illiberal versus Liberal State Branding and Public International Law: Denmark and the Approximation to Human(itarian) Rightlessness” (published in 18 Global Community Yearbook of International Law and Jurisprudence 207-235 (Giuliana Ziccardi Capaldo gen. ed., Oxford University Press, USA, 2019). Both publications are indicative of the dangers inherent in hybridity as a grey zone phenomenon. “Rulers may begin with illiberal rights-restrictions and measures that protect the welfare of their own population while onlookers shrug their shoulders. But, should we ignore such inconsistencies?”

Critical questions like these capture the sort of challenges that Professor Matwijkiw believes experts from many different disciplines are going to have to address and preferably in a multidisciplinary fashion.

“Hybridity is a phenomenon that exists in the gray zone between consolidated liberal democracy and authoritarianism, but if we overlook the non-paradigmatic scenarios, those that do not stick out like a sore thumb, we cannot expect progress,” she cautions. “Some experts think that a hybrid regime is the destination that rulers seek as their telos. Be that as it may, we must try to get to the root of things. As we see things, one of the main problems is majoritarianism and its limits. Even the Draft articles on the Responsibility of States for Internationally Wrongful Acts (ARSIWA) rely on the assumption that peremptory norms of general international law require the acceptance and recognition by a very large and representative majority of States for their identification.We are talking about crimes against humanity and other core international crimes here. Crimes against humanity are wedged between non-aggression and equal sovereignty, interests that are oriented toward the rights of States. It is intriguing to see the tensions at the highest level of international law, which is also the level where internationally applicable values belong. The Drafters of ARSIWA noted that ‘[i]t is not the form of a general rule of international law but the particular nature of the subject-matter with which it deals that may, in the opinion of the Commission, give it the character of jus cogens.’ This downplays formalism and, in effect, puts us on the ethics track,” Professor Matwijkiw said in her remarks.

Professor Matwijkiw makes the various connections because tensions often are recycled, if perhaps in different ways. Autocratic legalism uses law as an instrument. In other words, a hybrid regime that practices autocratic legalism hides its oppression behind a formal legal veil sanctioned by popular support. She is aware of the danger of pushing analogies. That said, she is also aware of the danger of steering clear of contentious notions. “Somebody has to discuss these things – and philosophers and ethicists are more or less obliged to do so,” she concluded her thoughts on the importance of taking about philosophy and ethics in the multidisciplinary conference and training school in Dubrovnik where students and scholars from many countries gathered to discuss current conflicts.