Tag: Conflict

What More Besides Weapons Does Ukraine Need to Survive as a Nation?

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As of today, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has persisted for a year. While several countries have helped Ukraine with military, financial and humanitarian aid, Ukraine requires additional assistance to endure the conflict with Russia. What other forms of support and aid are needed for Ukraine’s survival? And how can the EU and Sweden support Ukraine’s victory?

The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) hosted a seminar in which Ukraine’s needs were discussed from an economic and political science perspective by several leading economists, including:

  • Nataliia Shapoval, Director of the KSE Institute at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE)
  • Torbjörn Becker, IVA member and Director of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics at the Stockholm School of Economics (SITE)
  • Fredrik Löjdquist, Director of the Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS)
  • Maria Perrotta Berlin, Assistant Professor at the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics.

Nataliia Shapoval, Chairman of the KSE Institute at the Kyiv School of Economics, joined the seminar from Kyiv to share her views. According to Shapoval,

“Tougher sanctions across the board, hefty sanctions on energy, additional sanctions on trade, and more control over financial transactions with Russia are required by the outside world right now.”

As Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has lasted for a year, seminar experts advocated for tougher sanctions against Russia and discussed Ukraine’s needs from an economic and political science perspective.

About IVA

The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) is an independent academy with a mission “…to promote engineering and economic sciences and the advancement of business and industry for the benefit of society.” Read more: IVA website 

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed during events and conferences are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Higher Education and Research in times of War and Peace: Key Insights from the 2022 FREE Network Conference

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More than thirty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Europe is struck with war following the Russian aggression on Ukraine. Russia’s war on Ukraine entails lost human capital, both in actual lives lost and due to major disruptions to key functions of the society, such as education and research. In light of this, the FREE Network, together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE), hosted the public conference “Higher Education and Research in War and Peace“ in Warsaw on the 10th of September 2022. This policy brief is based on the presentations and panel discussions held during the conference.

The large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine has disrupted an entire society, including the education system, with Ukrainian schools just recently partially welcoming back students to the classrooms for the first time since the 25th of February 2022. Closing schools has severe impacts on a population, as highlighted by the recent Covid-19 pandemic. The lockdown and closure of schools around the world following the virus have had and will continue to have massively negative consequences globally, with severe losses in human capital due to lost years of education. This is especially in countries where access to online education is limited or of poor quality. Inequalities also rise following the closure of schools and girls return to school in fewer numbers than their male counterparts. The disruption to the Ukrainian education system will result in lost human capital and lowered levels of knowledge among the population. The war has further restricted access to relevant information for many Ukrainians but also for Russians, making people susceptible to the increased Russian propaganda and misinformation about the war on Ukraine depicted within and outside of Russia.

In light of this, the FREE Network gathered representatives from its affiliated institutions and other relevant actors in the region to discuss the relevance and necessity of continued support for higher education and research within social sciences in Ukraine, and more broadly in Eastern Europe and post-Soviet countries. The conference and the overarching theme related back not only to the original ambition of the FREE Network, namely to support outstanding academia within economics and relate it to policy work but also to the current situation in Europe and the existing threat from Russia to this objective.

This brief will initially cover the work carried out by the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in response to the Russian aggression, followed by thoughts on Russia’s role in the evolution of knowledge and human capital in the region. The brief continues by covering the benefits and positive outcomes of investments into education and research and lastly concludes with reflections on the role of the FREE Network.

The Kyiv School of Economics’ Response to the Russian Aggression

The war on Ukraine put the spotlight on the importance of high-quality academic institutions as a safety net for the government to maintain vital functions to society. The Vice President for Policy Research at KSE, Nataliia Shapoval, gave a brief overview of how KSE’s work has changed since the Russian war on Ukraine and its implications. Shapoval initially painted a picture of the disruption to the Ukrainian society caused by the Russian aggression, explaining how KSE stepped up during the first months of the war, in some areas doing the work of ministries. While the government has mainly taken back some duties, the KSE is still providing policy advice in areas related to the effects of sanctions, estimates of damages, and food security among others. KSE is also highly active within the areas of education and health, working with Ukrainian schools through the KSE Charitable Foundation (KSE CF) to ensure students can safely return to the classrooms.

Another important aspect of the work carried out by KSE concerns spreading knowledge about and shedding light on the situation in Ukraine. Through the various networks, by talking to colleagues within academia but also to the media, KSE is trying to explain what has happened and is still happening in Ukraine. According to Shapoval, there is a need for delivering correct information and to keep attention fixed on the situation in Ukraine such that people are kept aware of what is going on in the region.

Shapoval also regularly returned to the role of education and research for the present and future Ukraine. According to Shapoval, avoiding brain drain and ensuring Ukrainians are equipped with the necessary knowledge is key to rebuilding a future Ukraine founded on well-functioning democratic institutions. To facilitate this, the KSE is offering two programs, Memory and Conflict Studies (a multidisciplinary field concerned with how the past can be understood and remembered, and how it might impact the present transformation of societies) and Urban Studies, both aimed at covering the future need for competence within these fields. Further mentioned by Shapoval is the fact that, due to the war, many Ukrainians have left the country and are being educated elsewhere. While this partially ensures intellectual human capital is not lost, these students must be kept anchored to Ukraine through networks to ensure they will return back to help rebuild Ukraine. This is especially important in order to counter the ongoing evolution in Russia.

Thoughts on the Role of Russia in the Region

While the recent developments in Ukraine have of course disrupted education and research in more severe and tangible ways, the situation for independent researchers in Russia has also deteriorated. Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, emphasized how several Russian colleagues in exile still collaborate with the FREE Network on policy work and research. Becker also further stressed how they will be paramount once Ukraine wins the war, as will the role of partnerships for a future transformation of the Russian society. Acknowledging that there are many Russians (especially amongst academics in exile) who oppose the war, Shapoval however stressed the disturbing fact that many Russians do seem to support the Russian aggression and that the role of Russia as a destructive force in the region cannot be understated. This was seconded by Tamara Sulukhia, Director of the International School of Economics at Tbilisi State University (ISET). Sulukhia argued that Russian politics slow down and disturbs the free states within the region, and hampers organizations and countries from moving in the right direction in regard to democracy, economic evolution and integration toward Europe. Both Shapoval and Sulukhia reminded the audience that even with a Ukrainian victory, and this in a war which is defining the future of democracy in the region, Russia will persist. Russia has proven time and again, by effectively occupying 23 percent of Georgia as of 2008, with the occupation of Crimea in 2014 and with the most recent war on Ukraine, to be a real military threat to post-Soviet countries. Even though Russia losing the war would shift the power dynamics in the region, the ever-present threat of Russia is not only of a military character. Russia also attempts to impact education, research and knowledge more generally by promoting a Soviet-style education and by altering reality through propaganda and false information.

While discussing the current situation of higher education within economics in Belarus, Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director of the Belarusian Economic Research and Outreach Center (BEROC), regularly came back to the negative impacts from Russia on the quality of education and research. Where the western style education is free but also differential, Soviet-style education is centred around learning how to fulfil instructions, according to Kruk. The Belarusian educational system is anchored to Russia and as a result Belarusians today have what Kruk referred to as a “spoilt mental map”. The necessity of free education and research outside the Russian alternative (which is mainly published in Russian and with a post-Marxist view of the world) is vital in order to equip people with the tools to respond to the new types of dictatorship evident in the region. Young people within academia who have experienced freedom and have had the opportunity of thinking for themselves will also be vital on the future path toward democracy. Kruk’s opinions were furthered by Shapoval stating how education must and should counter the risk of brainwashing in the region and in the world as a whole. Shapoval argued the necessity of countering propaganda with the help not only of education but also the legislation of media and social media and enforcement of international laws in general. The necessity of ensuring new values for intellectuals and students in times to come is of paramount value and, according to Shapoval, as important to halting the Russian imperialist visions today as it was some thirty years ago. Shapoval further argued that the threat from Russia’s ambitions should be met not only with education and research but also through installing a sense of hope and prosperity among young people.

Investments into Education and Research as a Safeguard and Development Driver

While countries within the turbulent region differ, not least in regard to overall political ambitions and structure, in most of them investments into education and research have been paying off. KSE’s expertise allowed it to work closely with the Ukrainian government, standing strong in their fight against Russia. The impact from investments into education and research in the region is also evident in both Georgia and Latvia.

Sulukhia argued ISET to be, and to have been, a key contributor to human capital among Georgians as well as others in the Caucasus region. Sulukhia argued this to be especially important when under occupation, mentioning how Georgia has, since the occupation of the two regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in all ways possible tried to ensure that the human capital of internally displaced people is not lost. ISET have ten folded its intake of students and is today providing world-class education in the Georgian language, effectively counteracting brain drain. Post-graduates are working in major institutions providing relevant knowledge and competence in key areas of not only the Georgian society but also other countries in the Caucasus. A similar picture was painted by Anders Paalzow, Rector at Stockholm School of Economics in Riga (SSE Riga). Paalzow specifically pointed out how the investments in education made in Latvia in the 1990s have truly paid off, with graduates having been absorbed into relevant parts of the Latvian society and the Baltics for decades.

Having previous students in key positions in society to ensure sound policy work (such as good fiscal and audit control of the countries in question etc.) is however not the only benefit of investing in education and research within the region. As emphasized by Sulukhia, institutes within the FREE Network and other networks alike are strategically vital in the sense that they ensure knowledge and evidence for policy makers and as they convey evidence-based messages for the general public. This is especially important in a time when the message of the developmental direction for the countries within the region has to be reinforced in order to stand against Russian misinformation and propaganda as well as voices questioning the benefits of European integration. Sulukhia emphasized how it is of importance that the relevance of education and research is rooted among the people and not only within academia to evade the risk of preaching to the choir. Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow at St. Peter’s College at the University of Oxford, further argued it is necessary for academia to be much more policy oriented than what is the reality today. Researchers should comment on political events and public policy to ensure the outreach of knowledge and information, not just to help the public have a greater understanding of complex issues but also to help inform experts. According to Myhnenko, other researchers are keen on getting context-relevant knowledge and insights from economists working within the region.

The necessity of communicating the outcomes from investments within economics education and research and more broadly within social sciences was a recurring theme during the conference. Presenting the University’s engagement in various programs such as Erasmus+, Horizon Europe, The European Strategy for Universities etc., Professor Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak from the Warsaw School of Economics (WSE) outlined the importance of funding from the EU. Chłoń-Domińczak highlighted how EU support has enabled greater partnerships and internationalization and pointed out that while the transfer of knowledge and internationalization of students and researchers are of the essence, there is a need for also ensuring capacity building among other staff when building sound institutions. Internationalization through the exchange as a hedge against brain drain and as a means of improving the quality of academia was further emphasized by Michal Myck, Director of CenEA.

Chłoń-Domińczak, alongside Paalzow and the Swedish Ambassador to Poland, Stefan Gullgren, further argued the necessity to bridge between business and academia. This, especially as investments in social sciences, as compared to investments in natural sciences or technology cannot be commercialized. Additionally, the former havs payoffs in the long run which lowers investment incentives for firms making it even more crucial to communicate the large benefits to society of investments into the sphere. Ensuring consistent and continued support requires not only a good connection to businesses but also proper legal structures in place. As argued by Gullgren, the Swedish model with private businesses funding about 70 percent of research and education in Sweden, is made possible largely thanks to the fact that many investments are funnelled through foundations that are exempt from taxation when set up to finance research grants and education. Thus, one should consider not only business, academia and investors when thinking about future funding for research and education, but the legislative framework as well, especially in contexts such as the future rebuild of Ukraine.

As for how the benefits from investments into social sciences best are communicated, opinions shifted among participants throughout the day. On the one hand, Becker’s argument of being visible not only in traditional media but on social media alike was met by Shapoval, highlighting the need for a regulatory framework for both platforms. On the other hand, Myhnenko’s argument for more policy oriented and outreaching research was met by Kruk claiming there is a risk of researchers within economics deviating too far from research within the field. Kruk also addressed the argument of being available on social media by countering that in his view, researchers should refrain from work based on what generates clicks or reads.

The Relevance of the FREE Network in times of War

Considering the evidence brought forth during the conference by colleagues within the FREE Network, be it the suppression of BEROC in their efforts of founding a School of Economics in Belarus, the effects on the KSE from the war on Ukraine, or the rise of anti-European expressions in Georgia, the necessity of the network was at the end of the day perhaps clearer than ever. As highlighted by virtually all speakers during the conference, internationalization through networks such as the FREE Network fosters open minds, allows for improvements within all aspects of academia, and enables the exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences. Although the heterogeneity of the region should not be overlooked and investments made in accordance with this, the similarities between the countries within the FREE Network outnumber the differences. The immediate threat from Russia must be met with knowledge and fact-based information as well as high-quality education and research being made available among the population in the region as a whole. To ensure a continued transition within the region, the risk of brain drain must be evaded through continuous support to the social sciences, as these have the power to truly transform nations.

Concluding Remarks

The FREE Network public conference in Warsaw was the first in-person conference since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. The benefits of meeting in person were however overshadowed by the ongoing Russian aggression on Ukraine and ultimately on democratic ideals, including those of independent academia. We hope to welcome all FREE Network institutes to next year’s conference in Kyiv, to further discuss how outstanding education and research can help rebuild a sovereign Ukraine.

List of Participants

  • Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE
  • Agnieszka Chłoń-Domińczak, Professor at WSE
  • Stefan Gullgren, Swedish Ambassador to Poland
  • Dzmitry Kruk, Deputy Academic Director, BEROC
  • Michal Myck, Director of CenEA
  • Vlad Mykhnenko, Fellow, St. Peter’s College, University of Oxford
  • Anders Paalzow, Rector SSE Riga
  • Nataliia Shapoval, Vice President for Policy Research at KSE
  • Tamara Sulukhia, Director of ISET

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Gender-Based Violence in Conflict

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The eruption of war exposes women to increased gender-based violence, in the immediate conflict area as well as in the countries where they seek refuge. Acknowledging the specific conflict-related risks that women face is important, in order to target interventions, especially considering that the actors that sit at peace negotiation tables are predominantly or exclusively men. In this policy brief, we discuss the implications of conflict for gender-based violence, with a special focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine. We also outline some policy interventions that might help mitigate the risks that women face, holding those responsible to account, and building a more gender-equal society from the reconstruction efforts. Our discussion draws from existing academic literature and inputs from the special panel session on conflict during the FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”.

Gender-Based Violence During Conflicts

During war, as in peacetime, women are exposed to different forms of violence, and to a different extent, as compared to men. In other words, there are gender-specific aspects of conflict-related violence, both in immediate conflict areas and in the places where affected populations might seek refuge.

One form of violence against women in conflict areas is sexual violence and rapes perpetrated by combatants. Scholars and policy analysts tend to portray this violence as a weapon of war (Eriksson and Stern, 2013), meaning that it is a way of humiliating and demoralizing the enemy as individuals and as communities. Differently put, the narrative that portrays sexual violence as, for instance, the consequence of unmet sexual needs among soldiers is increasingly less accepted. Sexual violence against women perpetrated by armed forces in conflict areas is tragically prevalent. While proper quantification of the phenomenon is hard for obvious reasons, it is estimated for example that at least 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide, and 50,000 during the war in Bosnia (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022).

Another form of gender-based violence in conflict is that women who are uprooted by war tend to confront a high risk of sexual violence during their journey away from home and in the places where they seek refuge. Vu et al. (2014) estimate, through meta-analysis, that approximately one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings experienced sexual violence. The study also highlights the need for more data to shed light on the characteristics of perpetrators. The presence of aid workers among them appears to persist through several humanitarian crises (Reis, 2021).

Further, women and children fleeing war areas are vulnerable to the risk of trafficking and exploitation for sexual or other work (as highlighted in the FROGEE conference panel). Traffickers and criminal organizations tend to exploit the combination of a mass movement of people in precarious economic situations and the decreased scrutiny generated by the humanitarian emergency.

Finally, war heightens the risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) in conflict areas as well as among refugees and displaced individuals, by causing stress, trauma, economic hardship and increased substance abuse, all of which lead to deterioration in mental health and the quality of relationships (Conference panel). An actual or perceived sense of impunity can also undermine victims’ propensity to report IPV at such a time. A systematic review of the published literature on gender-based violence in conflict finds that estimated rates of IPV across most studies are much higher than the rates of rape and sexual violence perpetrated outside the home (Stark and Ager, 2011).

The consequences of conflict on IPV can be long-lasting. Evidence from post-genocide Rwanda shows that women who married after the conflict were more likely to be victims of spousal abuse; skewed sex ratios that reduced women’s bargaining power in the marriage market appear to be the relevant channel (La Mattina 2017). Another important factor is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans: a study of US military personnel shows that assignment to combat in the Global War on Terrorism is associated with higher incidence of domestic violence and lower relationship quality (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). The increased availability of small weapons can also lead to more frequent or more violent instances of domestic abuse (Conference panel).

The War in Ukraine

Reports from the US State Department and Amnesty international document episodes of sexual violence from armed conflict actors in Donetsk and Luhansk since the start of the conflict in 2014 (Amnesty International, 2020). Both Russian and Ukrainian military were involved, speaking to the tragedy that the population close to the “contact area” have witnessed since 2014.

At present, growing evidence is emerging that Ukrainians, especially but not exclusively women and girls, are victims of rape, gang-rape and forced nudity perpetrated by Russian military troops invading the country (United Nations). It is notoriously difficult to collect and verify data and facts on sexual violence during wartime, but these early accounts, and the experience from previous conflicts, call for a high level of scrutiny and readiness to help. Research also suggests some potential factors that aggravate the prevalence of sexual violence in conflict. Guarnieri and Tur-Prats (2020) show that armed actors who hold more gender-unequal norms are more likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence, and that the incidence of sexual violence is highest when the parts in conflict hold gender norms that differ substantially (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022). Survey data show that the share of people who appear to hold gender-unequal norms in Russia remained high over the years, based on questions on the effectiveness of women and men as political or business leaders (Figures 1 and 2), or the desirability of women earning more than their husbands (not shown).

Figure 1. Men make better political leaders than women do, % agreement

Source: World Value Survey

Figure 2. Men make better business executives than women do, % agreement

Source: World Value Survey

Evidence on the evolution of norms in Ukraine is more mixed (see Figures 1 and 2). All in all, surveys of gender-role attitudes suggest that gender stereotypes persist in Russian society, but it is not obvious that the prevailing gender norms are starkly different between Russia and Ukraine. On the other hand, attitudes toward IPV in the two countries might be evolving differently, at least among the respective elites, based on the fact that legislation on domestic violence recently changed in opposite direction in the two countries. Specifically, Russia decriminalized minor forms of domestic violence in early 2017. Conversely, Ukraine strengthened the legal response to domestic violence in early 2019, in particular making minor but systematic domestic violence criminally punishable, and extending criminal punishment beyond physical violence to include emotional and economic violence.

As a consequence of the war, almost 13 million Ukrainians have left their homes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022, according to the United Nations. Almost all of them are women and children, since men and boys aged 18 to 60 are required to stay in Ukraine to defend the country. Women traveling alone with their children, especially when fleeing to foreign countries where they often have no connections, are clearly at risk of assault and exploitation. Such risk is heightened by the exceptional speed of the refugee influx, whereby an impromptu response from the host countries is by necessity reliant on individual independent participation. Private hosts have spontaneously been opening their homes to accommodate for days or even weeks Ukrainians fleeing the war. Proper vetting of these offers is made difficult by the sheer number of people who are being welcomed in bordering countries, for instance Poland, as well as by the exceptional response from private individuals. Within a little more than a month from the start of this crisis there had already been a few episodes of sexual violence against Ukrainian refugees in their host countries (specifically in Poland and Germany).

While the current death toll in the war in Ukraine is unlikely to lead to dramatically skewed sex-ratios, this aspect might become more relevant as events evolve, in light also of the fact that nearly the universe of those who fled the country so far consists of women and children.

Finally, in the post-conflict period, the presence of small weapons, which have been made available to civilians to defend the country, is an additional risk factor for IPV (Conference panel).

What Can Be Done?

Academics, international organizations, activists and female politicians from Ukraine have made specific requests to improve the system of protection and accountability in the face of sexual violence against women living in or fleeing from conflict zones. These suggestions include ensuring that the system of transitional justice that will govern the post-conflict period establishes proper investigation and punishment of every form of sexual violence performed by armed actors during the war. To this end, some steps have already been taken. The UN Resolution in favor of the creation of an International Commission of Inquiry refers explicitly to the need to recognize the gender dimension of violations and abuses.

Beyond the horizon of the war, the safety of Ukrainian women in their homes relies on the protection offered by State legislation against domestic violence. In this respect, the Ukrainian government has recently taken a few measures in what the international community deems to be the “right direction”. A very important reform taken in the summer of 2021 allows for the military to be prosecuted for domestic violence on a general basis rather than on the basis of the disciplinary statute as it was before. This is especially important in light of the findings of increased risk of domestic violence in families of veterans (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). However, some critical aspects remain. In the current context, a crucial factor might be the limit of 6 months to prosecute the crime from the occurrence of the violence. An extension of such a period at a time when the normal functioning of many institutions is suspended or subject to delays can attenuate the perception of impunity that the exceptionality of the circumstances creates.

When it comes to refugees, there is as mentioned a need for better vetting of private hosts, although the urgency of action that the current circumstances require makes this a particularly challenging task. State effort in this direction has been complemented by civil society initiatives. For example, in Sweden, Facebook groups that lined up to coordinate the offer of housing are now organizing themselves to create a system for verifying housing and hosts.

Ukrainian politicians have also asked Western countries to be prepared to offer expertise on how to support survivors of rape and other sexual violence in conflict.

Other experts recommend reliance on cultural and linguistic mediators to help refugee women access services for victims of IPV that are already offered by local actors in their temporary host country (Conference panel).

In the longer term, guaranteeing economic safety for refugees is also an effective measure to reduce their vulnerability to exploitation from sex-traffickers and criminal organizations.

Finally, yet importantly, the involvement of women in peace negotiation processes should be sought after. Echoing the discussion on women’s scarcity in leadership positions in peacetime, the gender-unequal composition of peace delegations poses an issue of equality, representativeness, and efficiency (Bertrand 2018). Interestingly, it has been noted that a more truthful narrative of war, which recognizes women’s role not only as victims but also as perpetrators (and the converse for men, although proportions are clearly unbalanced in both cases), might help pave the way for higher female representation at negotiation tables (Conference panel). Relatedly, the European Institute for Gender Equality proposes gender mainstreaming of all policies and programs involved in conflict resolution processes (EIGE). The international community should also consider gender mainstreaming of reconstruction programs, to help build a more gender-equal post-conflict Ukraine.


  • Amnesty International. (2020). Not a Private Matter. Domestic and Sexual Violence against Women in Eastern Ukraine.
  • Baaz, M. E., and Stern, M. (2013). Sexual violence as a weapon of war?: Perceptions, prescriptions, problems in the Congo and beyond. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Bertrand, M. (2018). Coase lecture–the glass ceiling. Economica85(338), 205-231.
  • Cesur, R., and Sabia, J. J. (2016). When war comes home: The effect of combat service on domestic violence. Review of Economics and Statistics98(2), 209-225.
  • Guarnieri, E., and Tur-Prats, A. (2022). Cultural distance and conflict-related sexual violence. Mimeo
  • Reis, C. (2021). Sexual abuse during humanitarian operations still happens. What must be done to end it. The Conversation, October 5 2021. https://theconversation.com/sexual-abuse-during-humanitarian-operations-still-happens-what-must-be-done-to-end-it-169223
  • Stark, L. and Ager, A. (2011). A systematic review of prevalence studies of gender-based violence in complex emergencies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse12(3), pp.127-134.
  • Vu, A., Adam, A., Wirtz, A., Pham, K., Rubenstein, L., Glass, N., Beyrer, C. and Singh, S. (2014). The prevalence of sexual violence among female refugees in complex humanitarian emergencies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS currents6.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The Expectation Boom: Evidence from the Kazakh Oil Sector

Image of Kazakhstan with skyscraper in the middle of the capital city representing oil price

This policy brief shows that an oil price boom may trigger dissatisfaction with one’s income and that this dissatisfaction is independent of the effect of the boom on real economic conditions. Unique data from Kazakhstan allows us to quantify the impact of the recent oil price boom on satisfaction with income. Compared to other households in the country, households related to the oil sector suffer a marked drop in their satisfaction with their income during the period of high oil prices. Based on our results, we argue that an oil price boom creates a gap between people’s expectations of the benefits from the boom and the observed economic conditions. Our results call for researchers, policy makers and companies to devote more attention to the dynamics of satisfaction, not only during resource busts but also during resource booms.

Local Impact of Natural Resources

Often, resource wealth is associated with a curse, slowing economic growth in resource-rich developing countries (Venables, 2016). While traditionally, this relationship has been explored across countries, more recently, the literature started exploiting plausibly exogenous spatial variation in resource wealth within countries (Cust and Polhekke, 2015). We now know that resources can generate local economic wealth (Aragon and Rud, 2013), while also attracting corrupted individuals to power (Asher and Novosad, 2018) and triggering local conflicts (Berman et al. 2017; Rigterink, 2018). But, up to now, we know very little about the impact of resource booms on individuals’ perceptions. Since perceptions and behavioral biases may also drive actions, understanding whether and how resources affect perceptions is key in understanding the local impact of natural resources (Collier, 2017).

In a new working paper (Girard, Kudebayeva and Toews, 2020) we use Kazakhstan as a case study to shed more light on the importance of such perceptions. We document the conditions that preceded and presumably contributed to the violent conflicts in the oil rich districts of Kazakhstan in 2011. We show that periods of high oil prices can actually lead to a drop in reported satisfaction with income. This implies that due to mere changes in perceptions, which are not reflected in economic conditions, a large number of people may experience a significant drop in satisfaction with income, creating a fertile ground for conflicts.

The Zhanaozen Conflict

Our attention to the case of Kazakhstan is driven by the extreme events that took place in 2011 in the city of Zhanaozen, a booming oil town in the west of the country’s desert. In May 2011, after several years of high oil prices, private sector workers in Zhanaozen demanded amendments to the pre-existing collective bargaining agreement asking in particular for a raise in wages. Difficulties in negotiating an agreement resulted in local oil companies dismissing more than 2000 employees in the summer of 2011 and oil production dropping by 7% in the first three quarters of 2011 relative to the same period in the previous year. At the conflict climax, the police tried to clear the central square of Zhanaozen for the upcoming preparations of the Independence Day, resulting in the killing of 17 and the injuring of over 100 people (Satpayev and Umbetaliyeva, 2015).

Oil Price Boom in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan offers an ideal case study for our research question for two reasons. First, the government of Kazakhstan closely monitored citizens’ satisfaction with income throughout most of the 2000s using a representative household panel survey. Using this data allows us to link variation in the price of oil to within household variations in satisfaction with income – conditional on household income, thus, capturing the changing perceptions of household heads regarding their income. Secondly, Kazakhstan is a small open resource rich economy, with sparsely populated and remote districts, whose economic activity nearly exclusively depends on the extraction of oil and gas. The fact that Kazakhstan is a small open economy implies that changes in the oil price may be treated as exogenous to households located in Kazakhstan. The spatial isolation of the oil rich districts allows us to consider the group of household heads employed in the private sector in the oil rich districts as either directly or indirectly involved in the extraction of oil and gas.

Figure 1. Kazakhstan

Source: Resource rich districts are indicated as treated. The information on the spatial identification of oil and gas rich district is taken from the Petroleum Encyclopedia of Kazakhstan and captures more than 90% of total oil and gas production in Kazakhstan (Munayshy Public Foundation, 2005).

Satisfaction With Income

To identify the effect of oil price fluctuations on satisfaction with income, we exploit three sources of variation: location of the household, sectoral employment and time. The group affected by the price of oil is the group of oil-related households. Oil-related households consist of households whose head is employed in the private sector of the oil rich districts of Kazakhstan, and who are thus the closest to the oil sector (by nature of their activity and place of residence). The differential evolutions in satisfaction of household heads employed in other sectors and households located in other districts – in other words, households which are more remote from oil and gas extraction than the oil-related households provide a plausible counterfactual.

The main results are depicted in Figure 2 which represents the relationship between income and satisfaction for 8 groups based on the three sources of variation: oil price (which was low between the years 2001 and 2004, and high between 2005 and 2009), place of residence as indicated in Figure 1, and sector of activity.

First, we note that the relationship between income and satisfaction is upward sloping: reported satisfaction with household income increases with income. This is intuitive. Focusing on oil poor districts that appear in the bottom panel, we observe that the relation between satisfaction and income is virtually the same across sectors and time periods of low and high prices of oil. This is, however, not true for oil-rich districts, which are depicted in the top panel. Here, the relationship between income and satisfaction only remains unaffected across time for household heads who are not employed in the private sector. The picture changes if we turn to household heads employed in the private sector, who are the oil-related household heads. The satisfaction with the income of oil-related household heads shifts downwards, compared to other households, in the period of high oil prices (years 2005-2009). This downward shift is even more striking since oil-related household heads valued their income relatively higher than other households during the period of low oil prices (2001-2004).

Figure 2. Satisfaction with Income

Source: Authors’ calculations based on satisfaction with income and household income as reported in the Household Survey of Kazakhstan. The figures above depict the relationship between logged household income per family member and reported satisfaction with income by the head of the household on a scale from 1 to 5. The relationship is depicted conditional on household fixed effects and year fixed effects. The former account for time-invariant household specific characteristics such as individual biases. The latter account for Kazakhstan specific shocks affecting households in oil poor and oil rich districts simultaneously due to political and economic business cycles. As a result, the relationship between logged income per family member and satisfaction is normalized to zero in both dimensions.

Lastly, we document that the negative variation in satisfaction is related to the contemporaneous change in the price of oil. The satisfaction with income is not persistent, it is unrelated to past and future levels of the oil price.


Our results suggest that oil prices fluctuations can be linked to the individual’s perception of income. The fact that oil-related household heads express a strong dissatisfaction compared to other household heads may help to understand what made December 2011 possible, when 17 people were killed and over 100 people were wounded in Zhanaozen. If generalizable, such dynamics of perceived satisfaction with income should be kept in mind by both policy makers and extractive companies not only during resource busts but also during resource booms.


  • Aragon, Fernando M. and Juan Pablo Rud (2013). “Natural resources and local communities: evidence from a Peruvian gold mine.” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 5(2):1–25.
  • Asher, Sam and Paul Novosad (2018). Rent-seeking and criminal politicians: Evidence from mining booms. Working Paper.
  • Berman, Nicolas, Mathieu Couttenier, Dominic Rohner and Mathias Thoenig (2017). “This Mine Is Mine! How Minerals Fuel Conflicts in Africa.” American Economic Review 107(6):1564–1610.
  • Collier, Paul (2017). “The institutional and psychological foundations of natural resource policies.” The Journal of Development Studies 53(2):217–228.
  • Cust, James and Steven Poelhekke (2015). “The local economic impacts of natural resource extraction.” Annu. Rev. Resour. Econ., 7(1):251–268.
  • Girard, Victoire, Alma Kudebayeva and Gerhard Toews (2020). “Inflated Expectations and Commodity Prices: Evidence from Kazakhstan.“ GLO Discussion Paper Series 469.
  • Rigterink, Anouk S. (2020). “Diamonds, rebel’s and farmer’s best friend: Impact of variation in the price of a lootable, labour-intensive natural resource on the intensity of violent conflict.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 64(1):90–126.
  • Munayshy Public Foundation (2005). “Petroleum Encyclopedia of Kazakhstan.”
  • Girard, Victoire, Alma Kudebayeva and Gerhard Toews (2020). “Inflated Expectations and Commodity Prices: Evidence from Kazakhstan” Working Paper.
  • Satpayev, Dossym and Umbetaliyeva, Òolganay (2015). “The protests in Zhanaozen and the Kazakh oil sector: Conflicting interests in a rentier state.” Journal of Eurasian Studies 6(2):122–129.
  • Venables, Anthony J. (2016): “Using Natural Resources for Development: Why Has It Proven So Difficult?” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 30, 161 – 84.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Conflict, Minorities and Well-Being

20180618 Conflict, Minorities and Well-Being Image 01

We assess the effect of the Russo-Georgian conflict of 2008 and the Ukrainian-Russian conflict of 2014 on the well-being of minorities in Russia. Using the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS), we find that the well-being of Georgians in Russia suffered negatively from the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. In comparison, we find no general effect of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict of 2014 on the Ukrainian nationals’ happiness. However, the life satisfaction of Ukrainians who reside in the southern regions of Russia in close proximity to Ukraine is negatively affected. We also show that the negative effect of conflict is short-lived with no long-term legacy. Additionally, we analyze the spillover effect of conflict on other minorities in Russia. We find that while the well-being of non-Slavic and migrant minorities who have recently moved to Russia is negatively affected, there is no effect on local minorities who have been living in Russia for at least ten years.

Militarized conflict affects a myriad of socioeconomic outcomes, such as the level of GDP (Bove et al. 2016), household welfare (Justino 2011), generalized trust and trust in central institutions (Grosjean 2014), social capital (Guriev and Melnikov 2016), and election turnout (Coupe and Obrizan 2016). Importantly, conflict has also been found to directly affect individual well-being (Frey 2012, Welsch 2008).

However, previous research studying individual well-being in transition countries largely abstracts from heightened political instability and conflict proneness, while this has been particularly pertinent in transition countries. Examples of transition countries facing various types of conflicts are abound, such as Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, and so on. Therefore, it is imperative to explore how conflict shapes well-being in transition countries.

In a new paper (Gokmen and Yakovlev, forthcoming), we add to our understanding of well-being in transition in relation to conflict. We focus on the effect of Russo-Georgian conflict of 2008 and the Ukrainian-Russian conflict of 2014 on the well-being of minorities in Russia. The results suggest that the well-being of Georgians in Russia suffered negatively from the 2008 Russo-Georgian conflict. However, we find no general effect of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict of 2014 on the Ukrainian nationals’ happiness, while the life satisfaction of Ukrainians who reside in the southern regions of Russia in close proximity to Ukraine is negatively affected. Additionally, we analyze the spillover effect of conflict on other minorities in Russia. We find that while the well-being of non-slavic and migrant minorities who have recently moved to Russia is negatively affected, there is no effect on local minorities who have been living in Russia for at least ten years.

Data and Results

We employ the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS) which contains data on small neighborhoods where respondents live. Starting from 1992, the RLMS provides nationally-representative annual surveys that cover more than 4000 households with 10000 to 22000 individual respondents. The RLMS surveys comprise a broad set of questions, including a variety of individual demographic characteristics, health status, and well-being. Our study utilizes rounds 9 through 24 of the RLMS from 2000 to 2015.

In this survey, we identify minorities with the question of “What nationality do you consider yourself?” Accordingly, anybody who answers this question with a non-Russian nationality is assigned to that minority group.

We employ three measures of well-being. Our main outcome variable is “life satisfaction.” The life satisfaction question is as follows: “To what extent are you satisfied with your life in general at the present time?”, and evaluated on a 1-5 scale from not at all satisfied to fully satisfied. Additionally, we use “job satisfaction” and “health evaluation” as outcomes of well-being.

Our results suggest that our primary indicator of well-being, life satisfaction, for Georgian nationals has gone down in the Russo-Georgian conflict year of 2008 compared to the Russian majority (see Figure 1). The magnitude of the drop in life satisfaction is about 39 percent of the mean life satisfaction. Our estimates for the other two well-being indicators, job satisfaction and health evaluation, also indicate a dip in the conflict year of 2008. Lastly, our estimates show that the negative impact of the conflict does not last long. Although there is a reduction in the well-being of Georgians both on impact in 2008 and in the immediate aftermath in 2009, the rest of the period until 2015 is no different from the pre-2008 period.

Figure 1. Life Satisfaction of Georgian Nationals in Russia

Source: Authors’ own construction based on RLMS data and diff-in-diff estimates.

Furthermore, when we investigate the effect of the Ukrainian-Russian conflict of 2014, we find no negative effect on the life satisfaction of Ukrainians. One explanation for why the happiness of Ukrainians in Russia does not seem to be negatively affected in 2014 is that the degree of integration of Ukrainians into the Russian society is much stronger than the degree of integration of Georgians. On the other hand, our heterogeneity analysis reveals that in the southern parts of Russia closer to the Ukrainian border, where there are more Ukrainians who have ties to Ukraine, Ukrainian nationals are differentially more negatively affected by the 2014 conflict. The differential reduction in the happiness of Ukrainians is about 19 percent of the mean life satisfaction.

Moreover, we also look into whether there is any spillover effects of the Russo-Georgian and the Ukrainian-Russian conflicts on the well-being of other minorities. We first carry out a simple exercise on non-Slavic minorities of Russia. We pick the sample of non-Slavic ex-USSR nationals that are similar to Georgians in their somatic characteristics, such as hair color and complexion. This group of people include the nationals of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan. We treat this group as “the countries with predominantly non-Slavic population” as their predominant populations are somatically different from the majority Russians, and thus, might either have been subject to discrimination or might have feared a minority backlash to themselves during the times of conflict. This conjecture finds some support below in Figure 2 in terms of violence against minorities. We observe in Figure 2 that hate crimes and murders based on nationality and race peak in 2008.

Our estimates also support the above hypothesis and propose that there is some negative effect of the 2008 conflict on non-slavic minorities’ happiness as well as their job satisfaction, whereas 2014 conflict has no effect.

Figure 2. Hate Murders in Russia over Time

Source: Sova Center

Next, we investigate the spillover effects of conflict on Migrant Minorities. Migrant minorities are minorities who have been living in their residents in Russia for less than 10 years. We conjecture that these minorities, as opposed to the minorities who have been in place for a long time, could be more susceptible to any internal or external conflict between Russia and some other minority group for fear that they themselves could also be affected. Whereas other types of longer-term resident minorities, which we call Local Minorities, are probably less vulnerable since they have had more time to establish their networks, job security, and most likely also have Russian citizenship. Our estimates back up the above conjecture and demonstrate that migrant minorities suffer negatively from the spillover effects of the 2008 conflict onto their well-being captured by any of the three measures, and not from the 2014 conflict, whereas there is no negative impact on local minorities.


In this paper, instead of focusing on the direct impact of conflict on happiness in war-torn areas, we contribute to the discussion on conflict and well-being by scrutinizing the well-being of people whose country of origin experiences conflict, but they themselves are not in the war zone. Additionally, we show that some other minority groups also suffer from such negative spillovers of conflict. Being aware of such negative indirect effects of conflict on well-being is essential for policy makers, politicians and researchers. Most policy analyses ignore such indirect costs of conflict, and this study highlights the bleak fact that the cost of conflict on well-being is probably larger than it has been previously estimated.


  • Bove, V.; L. Elia; and R. P. Smith, 2016. “On the heterogeneous consequences of civil war,” Oxford Economic Papers.
  • Coupe, T.; and M. Obrizan, 2016. “Violence and political outcomes in Ukraine: Evidence from Sloviansk and Kramatorsk”, Journal of Comparative Economics, 44, 201-212.
  • Frey, B. S., 2012. “Well-being and war”, International Review of Economics, 59, 363-375.
  • Gokmen, Gunes; and Evgeny Yakovlev, forthcoming. “War and Well-Being in Transition: Evidence from Two Natural Experiments”, Journal of Comparative Economics.
  • Grosjean, P., 2014. “Conflict and social and political preferences: Evidence from World War II and civil conflict in 35 European countries” Comparative Economic Studies, 56, 424-451.
  • Guriev, S.; and N. Melnikov, 2016. “War, inflation, and social capital,” American Economic Review: Papers & Proceedings, 106, 230-35.
  • Justino, P., 2011. “The impact of armed civil conflict on household welfare and policy,” IDS Working Papers.
  • Welsch, H., 2008. “The social costs of civil conflict: Evidence from surveys of happiness” Kyklos, 61, 320-340.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Independent Media and Contemporary Military Doctrines

Governments often take unpopular measures. To minimize the political cost of such measures policy makers may strategically time them to coincide with other newsworthy events, which distract the media and the public. We test this hypothesis using data on the recurrent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We show that Israeli attacks are more likely to be carried out when the U.S. news are expected to be dominated by important (non-Israel-related) events on the following day. In contrast, we find no evidence of strategic timing for Palestinian attacks.

The role of media in today’s conflicts is enormous. Parties to conflicts use propaganda in state-sponsored media and enroll state-sponsored trolls in social media to gain domestic public support for their military campaigns and, more generally, to raise own popularity. Involvement of Russia in Syria and Eastern Ukraine and its coverage on Russia-sponsored TV is a forceful illustration of this. Some most devastating conflicts used state media to enroll paramilitary. For example, Yanagizawa-Drott (2014) estimated that 51,000 perpetrators in Rwandan genocide were persuaded to participate in mass killings by RTLM radio.

Not all the media are under control of parties involved in conflicts. What is the role of independent media during conflicts? It is one thing to use the dependent media to portray one’s participation in conflict in a slanted manner; it is another to change one’s military strategy in order to improve one’s image in the independent media. Do military choose the timing and the weapon for their offences depending on the expectation of how their actions will be portrayed by the independent media? A statement on June 4, 2002, by Major General Moshe Ya’alon, then the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief of staff designate and until recently the defense minister of Israel, strongly suggests this is the case for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Mr. Ya’alon said: “This is first and foremost a war of ideology, and as such the media factor, the psychological impact of our actions, is critical. If we understand that a photograph of a tank speaks against us on CNN, we can take this into account in our decision as to whether or not to send in the tank. We schedule helicopter operations for after dark so they cannot be photographed easily. … Such considerations are already second nature to us. Officers … must understand that there are strategic media considerations. The tension between the need to destroy a particular building or to use a tank or helicopter, and the manner, in which the world perceives these actions, can affect the ultimate success or failure of the campaign. Even if we triumph in battle, we can lose in the media and consequently on the ideological plane.”

Our recent paper “Attack When the World Is Not Watching? U.S. News and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” (Durante and Zhuravskaya, 2017) forthcoming in the Journal of Political Economy investigates how Israeli military changes the planning of its operations in Gaza and the West Bank in the face of coverage by US media. In particular, we test whether Israeli authorities choose the timing of their attacks strategically to coincide with other newsworthy events so as to minimize the negative impact of their actions on U.S. public opinion by avoiding U.S. media coverage of their military operations, especially when they might lead to civilian casualties.


We compile a list of fully exogenous events from forward-looking political and sports calendars in the U.S. between 2001 and 2011 and verify which of these events actually dominate US TV news, leaving little or no time to coverage of other events. Then, we compare the timing of these events to the timing of Israeli attacks on a daily basis.

We also use another, more continuous measure of whether the U.S. media and the public are distracted by other important events, namely the length of top three non-conflict-related news stories during evening news on three U.S. TV networks, where the evening newscasts are limited to 30 minutes, namely ABC, CBS, and NBC. As Eisensee and Stromberg (2007) point out, due to the competition between networks for audience, we can measure the importance of newsworthy events featured on the evening broadcasts because more important stories appear before less important stories, and they are longer.


Timing of Israeli attacks and their coverage in US media

We find that both the incidence and the severity of Israeli attacks increased sharply when U.S. news were dominated by other events, such as US primaries and caucuses, general elections, and Presidential inaugurations. The probability that Israel carried out an attack against Palestinians rose to 53.2% one day before these important U.S. events from 38.7% on days that did not coincide with these events (over our observation period of 11 years, which includes heavy fighting during the Second Intifada). Figure 1 illustrates this finding. Attacks which coincide with the major political and sports events are also more deadly; as a consequence, the number of victims of Israeli attacks per day is 1.51 times higher during the days that coincide with major political and sports events compared to days that do not coincide with major events.

Figure 1. IDF attacks and exogenous predictable newsworthy events in the U.S.

Source: Durante and Zhuravskaya, 2017.

Using another measure, the length of top three non-conflict-related news stories during evening news on three U.S. TV networks, we also find that Israeli attacks are significantly more likely to occur and are more deadly when top three non-conflict-related news are longer on the following day.

Does it matter which military operation?

As some military operations are more costly to postpone than others, one should expect that only attacks that are less costly to more be strategically timed to other important events. This is exactly what we find: the timing of special targeted-killing operations, which are considered as extremely urgent by IDF, is not related to U.S. news cycle. In addition, one should expect military operations to be timed to other newsworthy events only when they are likely to generate negative publicity. As negative publicity about the conflict is mainly associated with civilian casualties, and civilian casualties are more likely when the operations are executed with heavy weapons, we find that the relationship between occurrence and severity of Israeli attacks and U.S. newsworthy events on the following day holds only for operations that involve the use of heavy weapons. We also check that the attacks are only timed to predictable newsworthy events.

Why tomorrow’s coverage matters more?

Israeli attacks get news coverage in U.S. media both on the day of the attack and one day later. Why, then, Israel times its attacks to news pressure on the following day rather than on the same day? To answer this question, we analyzed the content of news broadcasts and found that the type of coverage of Israeli attacks differs substantially between same-day and next-day reports. While the same-day and next-day news stories are equally likely to report information on the number of victims, news stories that appear on the day after the attack are much more likely to present personal stories of civilian victims and include interviews with their relatives or friends. Furthermore, next-day coverage is significantly more likely to include emotionally charged visuals of burial processions and scenes of mourning. Anecdotal evidence suggests that it is both easier and safer for a foreign journalist to get details of the story on the next day; and that the next day affords an opportunity to produce emotionally charged videos of funerals. Figure 2 illustrates these findings.

Figure 2. Comparison of the content of news casts about attacks that aired on the same day as an attack and on the day following the attack.

Source: Here you can write notes to the figure, graph or table. Do not forget to state the source of the figure, graph or table.

Since people react more strongly to personal stories than to statistics and facts, and since information transmitted only through words is less likely to be retained than information accompanied by images, it is not surprising that Israel times its attacks to predictable international newsworthy events expected on the following day, as the next-day news stories are more damaging to Israel’s public image.


These results have broader implications. Policy makers in other policy domains and other countries may also strategically manipulate the timing of their unpopular actions to coincide with other important events that distract the mass media and the public. Examples of unpopular policies characterized by suspicious timing abound: Silvio Berlusconi’s government passed an emergency decree that freed hundreds of corrupt politicians on July 13, 1994, the day Italy qualified for the FIFA World Cup final. Russian troops stormed into Georgia on August 8, 2008, the opening day of the Beijing Summer Olympics. Political spin-doctors often release potentially harmful information in tandem with other important events. This is exemplified by a notorious statement from the former UK Labour Party’s spin doctor, Jo Moore, who, in a leaked memo sent to her superiors on the afternoon of 9/11, said that it was “a very good day to get out anything we want to bury” (see http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1358985/Sept-11-a-good-day-to-bury-bad-news.html (accessed on July 7, 2015) and http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2001/oct/10/uk.Whitehall (accessed on July 7, 2015)).

Overall, policy makers’ strategic behavior may undermine the effectiveness of mass media as a watchdog, thus reducing citizens’ ability to keep public officials accountable


  • Durante, Ruben; and Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 2017. “Attack When the World Is Not Watching? U.S. News and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”, Journal of Political Economy (forthcoming)
  • Eisensee, Thomas; and David Stromberg, 2007. “News Droughts, News Floods, and U.S. Disaster Relief,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 05, 122 (2), 693–728.
  • Nevo, Baruch; and Shur Yael, 2003. The IDF and the press during hostilities, Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Democracy Institute, pp. 84-85, available at http://en.idi.org.il/media/1431355/IDFPress.pdf, accessed on May 18, 2016.
  • Yanagizawa-Drott, David, 2014. “Propaganda and Conflict: Evidence from the Rwandan Genocide,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 129(4), pp.1947-1994.



Culture and Interstate Dispute

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The debate on the impact of culture on the conduct of international affairs, in particular on conflict proneness, continues. Yet, the question of whether markers of identity influence conflicts between states is still subject to disputes, and the empirical evidence on Huntington’s clash of civilizations thesis is ambiguous. This policy brief summarizes a recent study where we employ an array of measures of cultural distance between states, including time-varying and continuous variables, and run a battery of alternative empirical models. Regardless of how we operationalize cultural distance and the empirical specification, our models consistently show that conflict is more likely between culturally distant countries.

In his controversial “The Clash of Civilizations” thesis, Samuel Huntington argues that cultural identity is to become the principal focus of individual allegiance and could ultimately lead to an increasing number of clashes between states, regardless of political incentives and constraints. In the post-Cold War world in particular, Huntington (1993) argues that the main source of conflict will not be ideological, political or economic differences but rather cultural. In other words, fundamental differences between the largest blocks of cultural groups – the so-called “civilizations” – will increase the likelihood of conflict along the cultural fault lines separating these groups.

According to Huntington (1996, p.41), a civilization is “the highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural identity people have.” Huntington argues that the world could be divided into discrete macro-cultural areas: the Western, Latin American, Confucian (Sinic), Islamic, Slavic-Orthodox, Hindu, Japanese, Buddhist, and a “possible African” civilizations. As the list makes clear, the central defining characteristic of a civilization is religion, and in fact, conflicts between civilizations are mostly between peoples of different religions, while language is a secondary distinguishing factor (Huntington, 1996).

This brief summarizes the findings of our paper (Bove and Gokmen, forthcoming), which offers an empirical analysis of the relationship between identity and interstate disputes by including measures of cultural distance in the benchmark empirical models of the likelihood of militarized interstate disputes. By moving beyond simple indicators of common religion or similar language, our findings suggest that conflict is more likely between culturally distant countries. For example, the average marginal effect of international language barrier on the probability of conflict relative to the average probability of conflict is around 65%. Overall, we find that the average marginal impact of cultural distance on the likelihood of conflict relative to the average probability of conflict is in the range of 10% to 129%.

Measuring cultural distance

To effectively capture cross-cultural variations between states, we employ five different indexes along linguistic and cultural distances. First, to capture the linguistic distance between two countries, we use the language barrier index (Lohmann, 2011). It ranges between 0 and 1 where 0 means no language barrier, i.e. the two languages are basically identical, and 1 means that the two languages have no features in common (e.g., Tonga-Bangladesh). Since more than one language is spoken in some countries, we employ two alternative indexes: the basic language barrier, which uses the main official languages, and the international language barrier, which uses the most widely spoken world languages.

Second, we adopt Kogut and Singh’s (1988) standardized measure of cultural differences, as well as an improved version provided by Kandogan (2012). Although the degree of cultural differences is notably difficult to conceptualize, Kogut and Singh (1988) offer a simple and standardized measure of cultural distance, which is based on Hofstede’s (1980) dimensions of national culture. In particular, Kogut & Singh (1988) develop a measure of “cultural distance” (CD) as a composite index based on the deviation from each of Hofstede’s (1980) four national culture scales: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity/femininity, and individualism.

These dimensions of culture are rooted in people’s values, where values are “broad preferences for one state of affairs over others […]; they are opinions on how things are and they also affect our behavior” (Hofstede, 1985). As such, by explicitly taking into account the values held by the majority of the population in each of the surveyed countries, these dimensions can effectively capture differences in countries’ norms, perceptions, and ways to deal with conflicting situations. Higher cultural distance pertains to higher divergence in opinions, norms, or values.

Third, to cross-validate our empirical findings on cultural distance and to duly take into account societal dynamics and changes in the composition of societies, we use another popular quantitative measure of cultural distance based on The World Values Surveys (WVS). From 1998 to 2006, we use the composite value of two dimensions of values, traditional vs. secular-rational values and survival vs. self-expression values, which account for more than 70% of the cross- cultural variance (Inglehart and Welzel, 2005). The traditional vs. secular-rational values dimension captures the difference between societies in which religion is very important or not. The second dimension is linked to the transition from industrial society to post-industrial societies. Societies near the self-expression pole tend to prioritize wellbeing and the quality of life issues, such as women’s emancipation and equal status for racial and sexual minorities, over economic and physical security. Broadly speaking, members of the societies in which individuals focus more on survival find foreigners and outsiders, ethnic diversity, and cultural change to be threatening.

Impact of culture on militarized interstate dispute

We estimate the benchmark model of Martin et al. (2008), which uses a large data set of military conflicts in 1950-2000. We choose this model over other alternatives as it possibly has the most exhaustive list of controls that can potentially affect the probability of militarized interstate disputes (MIDs). We assess the impact of our cultural distance measures on conflict. All five measures of cultural distance have a positive effect on conflict involvement. In other words, culturally more distant states fight more on average. In column (i) of Table 1, we see that Language Barrier positively affects conflict, although insignificant. When we take into account International Language Barrier in column (ii), however, it has a positive and significant effect on conflict involvement. This should not come as a surprise as the part of the culture of a country that is reflected in a language should be more related to the spoken languages rather than the official ones.

To assess the magnitude of the effects, we calculate for each model the standardized marginal effect as the average marginal effect of a cultural distance variable on the probability of conflict relative to the average probability of conflict, which is about 0.0066. This effect is sizeable for International Language Barrier and is around 65%. When we use the Cultural Distance (Kogut) measure, instead, the results are qualitatively similar. The standardized marginal effect, however, is reduced and is now about 14%. The standardized marginal effect of Cultural Distance (Kandogan) on conflict probability is similar at 11. The effect of Cultural Distance (WVS) is also positive and significant. However, the large standardized marginal effect should be interpreted with caution, as the number of countries that are in the WVS is limited due to data availability. All the results from our cultural distance measures considered together, evidence suggests that cultural distance increases the likelihood of interstate militarized conflict.

Table 1. Cultural distance and International conflict

Slide1Additionally, in Figure 1, holding all other variables constant, we see a 25% and 19% increase in the odds of conflict for a one-unit increase in Cultural Distance (Kogut) and Cultural Distance (Kandogan) variables, respectively; while the same increase in Language Barrier raises the odds of conflict by 52%.

Figure 1. Odds ratio of coefficients in Table 1

Figure1Note: Cultural distance (WVS) is scaled down by 100 for the sake of readability.

Discussion and conclusion

Samuel Huntington’s thesis on the “Clash of Civilizations” is one of the most fascinating and debated issues in the field of international relations, and has sparked a long-lasting debate about its validity among academics, practitioners and policy-makers. The scholarly literature on international studies has long grappled with how to define, characterize, and analyze his thesis. Although some of the seminal works provided little support to Huntington’s thesis, later studies seemed to partially confirm it. While most of these studies use Huntington’s measure of the concept of civilizations, his classification was tentative, imprecise and difficult to operationalize. Moreover, previous studies rely on a “dichotomization” of civilizations, which is a continuous concept, and treat it as an immutable object, while it is certainly subject to variation over time.

Political events in recent years, such as the NATO-Russia confrontation over Ukraine, Russia’s attempts to resurrect its cultural and political dominance in the former Soviet sphere, the unprecedented rise of Islamic extremism in the Middle East, the foundation of an organization like ISIS with a declared aim to build a Muslim caliphate and wage war on Western civilization, or the rise of independence and anti-EU movements in Europe, have been attributed by many political observers to cultural clashes. We argue that whether and how identity impacts the likelihood of MID hinges crucially on the definition and operationalization of “civilizations” or cultural similarity.

We therefore introduce a number of ad-hoc measures of cultural distance in the benchmark empirical models on the likelihood of MIDs. Regardless of how we deal with the definition of cultural distance, the empirical evidence points consistently towards the importance of cultural distance in explaining the odds of interstate conflict. Although the extent of evidence for an effect of cultural distance on conflict clearly depends on model specification and data considerations, in particular the size of the effect, our results suggest that conflict is more likely between culturally distant countries.

Our study highlights the importance of the awareness of the impact of culture in international relations. Culture can be an important determinant of foreign policy as pronounced differences in social norms and behaviors of collective groups might create frictions between states and shape the way they interact. Thus, educating people in cross-cultural sensitivity should be a policy priority. That is to say that the knowledge and acceptance of other cultures are important to avoid tensions and potential conflicts.


  • Huntington, Samuel P. 1993. “The clash of civilizations? Foreign affairs”, 22–49.
  • Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. “The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order”. Penguin Books India.
  • Inglehart, Ronald, & Welzel, Christian. 2005. “Modernization, cultural change, and democracy: The human development sequence.” Cambridge University Press.
  • Kandogan, Yener. 2012. “An improvement to Kogut and Singh measure of cultural distance considering the relationship among different dimensions of culture.” Research in International Business and Finance, 26(2), 196–203.
  • Kogut, Bruce, & Singh, Harbir. 1988. “The Effect of National Culture on the Choice of Entry Mode.” Journal of International Business Studies, 19(3), 411– 432.
  • Lohmann, Johannes. 2011. “Do language barriers affect trade?” Economics Letters, 110(2), 159–162.
  • Martin, Philippe, Mayer, Thierry, & Thoenig, Mathias. 2008. “Make trade not war?” The Review of Economic Studies, 75(3), 865–900.

Is War Good for a Country’s Political Institutions?

Author: Tom Coupe, KSE.

Recent research suggests that experiencing war violence might make people more likely to turn out during elections. Using data from the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, we show, however, that people who were injured or had close friends or relatives killed or injured were less likely to turn out at the 2014 parliamentary elections. We also show that the impact of violence on turn out and political views depends on the type of violence one experienced.