Migration and solidarity in South Eastern Europe


Communist solidarity – imposed, but impossible

         Pavlik Morozov was a Soviet youth who lived in the first decades after the Bolshevik revolution. A fervent participant in the youth communist movement, he denounced his father by accusing him of supporting the enemies of the revolution with forged papers. His family could not forgive Pavlik and murdered him.

This young man’s dramatic story and the choice he made take us straight into the heart of the Bolshevik idea of solidarity. Pavlik’s story became part of the mainstream art of the time – his short and tragic life was glorified in six biographies, several theatre plays, many songs, a symphony, and even an opera – it was one of the important pillars of communist propaganda.

This example presents a synthesis of the three pillars of the communist understanding of solidarity:

  • Detonation of the traditional source of solidarity – the family. Trust, affection, and mutual support are perceived as something natural in the close interpersonal relationships between relatives. Family is at the centre of traditional society as well as the core of the communitarian idea of social solidarity. It plays such a significant role, that even liberal thinkers such as John Rawls and J. S. Mill acknowledge that small communities are a favorable medium for social capital and morals.  The ambitious political project of communism destroyed this key traditional source in order to provide the space for a new understanding of solidarity;
  • “Expropriation “of solidarity from the social and its inclusion in the political. Its spontaneous displays are being punished while its formal manifestations are encouraged;
  • Introduction of a radically different idea of solidarity based on political and party loyalty, rather than interpersonal relationships;

Communist understanding of solidarity is paradoxical. On the one hand, solidarity is being promoted to a significant position in official ideology. Its remarkable high ranking is related to its close interconnectedness to the concept of homogenizing of the social individual. The purpose of the gradual diminishing and elimination of the differences between workers, peasants, and intellectuals was widely promoted. The more homogenous the society, the quicker the variety of interests would disappear and solidarity and mutual support would become more natural and widespread. The communist ideal[1] “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” represents the utopian vision of perfect solidarity: there is no direct connection between inputs and outputs, between contribution and benefits. This direct connection is not even sought as it refers to a different type of society which is meritocratic in its essence and has the individual at its centre. This utopian communist ideal creates the vision of a social world based on the principle of solidarity.

On the other hand, solidarity was suffocated where is most spontaneously originated and flourished: the family and the small communities. The various free associations – clubs, cooperatives, guilds, etc. – did exist, but were anything but free. A variety of associations used to exist: professional unions of architects, writers, scientists; cooperatives of agricultural workers; chess clubs or folk singing groups – all of them, however, were part of the network of organizations officially approved, as well as officially controlled, by the communist party and state.

In both cases we see the third characteristic of the communist model of solidarity manifested: the top bottom approach.

This contradictory idea led to an ambiguous result: the more solidarity was imposed from the top, the more the micromechanisms that turn solidarity into a producer of trust and social capital, were suffocated.


Post-communist solidarity – marginalized, but possible

         Post-communism radically turned the situation upside down – solidarity was not a priority any longer, but there were no restrictions for it to develop and spread in its spontaneous and varied forms.

There are three groups of factors which determine the attitude of reserved distance towards solidarity: ideological, sociological, and political. The first are related to the dominant role of liberalism, the second – to the widespread display of individualism, and the third – to the peculiarities of post-communist social democracy.

A typical characteristic of the post-totalitarian transition was that the ruling communist ideology was not immediately replaced by actual pluralism, but by a radical re-positioning of the pendulum in the opposite direction towards liberalism, including its extreme, libertarian versions.

Liberties – both positive[2] and negative[3], and not solidarity, are at the centre of the universe of the liberal political philosophy.

It is important to highlight the fact that post-communist departure from solidarity is part of the more general tendency of liberal skepticism towards the concept, which Klaus Rippe defines as “Diminishing solidarity” (1998):

„A look at the modern classics of liberalism (such as Ronald Dworkin or John Rawls) appears to confirm that  justice, and not solidarity, individual rights and not social ties or mutual obligations are the central themes of these theories” (Rippe 1998, pp. 355-356).

The sociological factor is linked to the rise and flourishing of individualism.  In “The Care of the Self” Michel Foucault (1994) defines individualism in three aspects: individualistic attitudes; the absolute value attributed to the individual; the intensity of the relations to self in order to transform, correct, and purify oneself.

The new post-communist individualist is less tempted by the existential dimension and is much more attracted by the liberation from social commitments and the proud asserting of the self as the centre of his/her own world.  There is an advertisement which illustrates this ambitious credo: “Some observe the rules, we create them” (Krasteva 2008). The post-communist individualist transgresses the moral standards of society in order to announce his/her own rules. Such an egocentric world does not provide enough space for solidarity.

The third factor is related to the lack of a convincing political discourse on solidarity. In the early stages of transition, post-communist socialist and social democratic political parties were not explicitly compliant with the left-right distinctions; they tended to promote a specific vision of social change relying on gradual and not radical transformations, rather than social justice. Solidarity did not manage to become one of the key messages of the left-wing parties.


Reinventing solidarity:

new relations in a new field

Is solidarity possible in a society which does not place collective values and shared responsibility on a pedestal – neither before, nor after the democratic changes? The present article aims to give a moderately positive answer to this question.

The invention of solidarity presents a challenge to post-communist countries. The current situation is a mirror image of the previous regime: solidarity is not part of the new ideology, but does not interfere with it on the social level. The political and social priorities, on the one hand, put forward liberalism and individualism. On the other hand, the developing pluralism – both political and social – differentiates society and creates space for alternative political values.

In summary, the ever more democratic political scene in Eastern andSoutheastern Europe, does not promote solidarity as a key value and a mobilizing factor, but does provide the spaces required for its development.

I will discuss the invention of solidarity in the sphere of migration and integration. I choose this particular case study because of three sets of reasons: ontological, symbolical, and cultural.

The ontological reasons are linked to the extremely intensive flows of the 90ties, which made the West Balkans the most dynamic region inEurope:


The Balkans constitute one of the most remarkable regions of the world for the complexity and extent of its recent refugee and migration movements. Between 1990 and 2000, over 10 million people — out of a total population of some 80m in theBalkan Peninsula—had moved. Furthermore, these population movements, unusually, had ramifications for security within the Balkans and also forWestern Europe, thus implicating both the EU and NATO (Baldwin-Edwards 2005, p.31).

Every second inhabitant of Bosnia and Herzegovinaenters the flow of people seeking asylum. Many other citizens, both voluntarily and by force, become migrants of all sorts – refugees, internally displaced persons, or economic migrants. Various types of migrations are differentiated: forced, ethnic, circular, labor, trafficking. [4] The pattern of migration in the Balkans is rather interesting both in its typological and diachronic aspects. The beginning of the new century was marked by new tendencies: from forced migration to return, from ethnic to economic logic, from permanent to temporary migration (Krasteva 2010).

The second set of reasons – the symbolic – is related to the excessive production of foreignness. Over a few yearsYugoslavia disintegrated into 7 states.  New borders cut through the already fragmented territories: in addition to the larger number of national borders, we now have the European ones ofSlovenia,Bulgaria, andRomania. Entry visas for neighbors who were able to travel freely until recently increased the symbolic distances between the inhabitants of the Balkans. Free movement around the territories of the former federation has nowadays been transformed into migration and recent fellow citizens have become foreigners. This multitude of new borders, divisions, and foreignness needs to be counterbalanced, need bridges and new relationships.

The third set of reasons constitutes the cultural ones.  The ethnocultural differences on the Balkans have traditionally been regarded in terms of minorities, of populations who have lived on the territories ofSouth Eastern Europe for tens or hundreds of years.  Over the past decade a new phenomenon is beginning to unfold – immigration. The Eastern Balkans but alsoCroatia andSlovenia have started attracting immigrants. In the new member states of the EU this process is complemented by the free movement of citizens from other European countries. This new source of ethnocultural differences demands the creation and implementation of a new type of integration policies, the invention of new forms of solidarity.

What is shared by the three sets of reasons is the novelty of the phenomenon. And this is the particular goal of the present article: to study solidarity as a new value in relation to the new tendencies in migration[5].

I am going to discuss the relationship solidarity – migration in tree problematic areas:

  • solidarity versus security;
  • solidarity versus individualism;
  • solidarity versus citizenship.

A specific issue concerning migration will be at the centre of each of the different themes as follows: human rights; remittances; return. Each theme will analyze the manifestations of solidarity as part of a different social cross-section: the first in civil society; the second in interpersonal relations; and the third – in the relationship of the state towards citizens.

Solidarity is conceived in the sense defined by C. Arnsperger and Y. Varoufakis:

“Solidarity is about identifying a condition which makes those who ‘suffer’ it worthy of one’s concern independently of (a) who those people are, (b) whether or not one cares for them personally” (Arnsperger and Y. Varoufakis 2003, p. 158).

The present chapter will analyze solidarity in relation to migration. Migrants can be members of our family, friends and relations, but as a general rule they are strangers who often lead a life completely different from our own. This is why it is essential to understand one other dimension of solidarity, namely its impersonal character:

Solidarity may, of course, coexist with reciprocity, person specific sympathy and Kantian duty. The point is, however, that solidarity motivates generosity independently (that is, even in the absence) of these other-regarding motivations (Arnsperger and Y. Varoufakis 2003, p. 171).


Solidarity versus security

         Arevik, an Armenian young woman from Armeniaand David, an Armenian young man from Bulgariameet on the Internet. Arevik visits David in his country, virtual love becomes real and she cannot imagine life away from her beloved. Love is blind – in this case the saying has a real power to describe the situation: the two young people in love forget the fact that they do not have the required papers.[6] The romance is brutally interrupted, the girl’s visa has expired and she is shut in a temporary detention centre. This is where Arevik realizes that she is pregnant. She lives through hard times, but is not discouraged. A student in Fine Art, she fills her time in confinement by drawing portraits – of other detained migrants and superintendents.

Civil society in the country engages in a widespread campaign in support of Arevik – a young lawyer specializing in migrant rights advises her, a subscription appears on the Internet, activists organize demonstrations outside the detention centre. The story is beautiful and romantic enough for the media to engage as well. Pressure becomes large-scale and powerful, the institutions give in. The girl is set free.[7]

This contemporary story of Romeo and Juliet of migration clearly singles out several elements, essential for the present analysis:

  • concerns about security come first and are a priority in migration policy. Even in cases where there is no threat to national security whatsoever the strictest measures provided by the law are applied, such as expulsion order or detention, instead of lighter measures, such as daily subscription at the local police office;
  • civil society, and not the state, is the main proponent of the values of human rights and is able to display high levels of mobilization to support them;
  • the protagonists of the story are very young, beautiful and so much in love that they unquestionably provoke strong sympathy and this explains the support “front” that appeared naturally amongst the non-government sector, the media, and the people. The question remains whether civil society would demonstrate the same levels of maturity and solidarity if the migrants were not so irresistibly attractive.

This case is an introduction to the first problematic area in which the relationship between migration and solidarity will be analyzed through the prism of human rights. It will be structured in three parts: Europe and the concept of human rights; the three waves of non-government organizations inEastern Europe; and typology and characteristics of the migration NGOs.

Europe’s contradictory signals

         Zhelju Zhelev, the first Bulgarian president, promoted Husserl’s idea ofEuropenot as a geographic reality, but as a spiritual entity whose intellectual substance was philosophy and whose political realization – democracy. The post-communist transition was inspired by the high ideal ofEuropeseen as the birthplace of human rights. The adoption of international practices for the protection of immigrant rights was perceived as part of the democratization process.

The International Convention of the UN on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families was signed on 18 December 1990. It declares that the states should provide “sound, equitable, humane and lawful conditions” in relation to the management of migration flows. The Convention regards migrants not just as workers or economic units, but also as social subjects who have families and “have the right to have rights”.[8]

The overlap between the beginning of post-democratic democratization and the adoption of the international legal framework concerning migrants is a historical contingency, but it carries a significant symbolic importance for the present analysis.

The Convention’s merits can be seen working in several directions:

  • it is a sublimation of the philosophy of human rights which emerged gradually after 1948, stating that fundamental rights should be accessible to all irrespective of nationality or status;
  • it complements and renders more specific other international documents such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
  • it acts as counterbalance to globalization that is powered by and benefits mainly large corporations. Migrants’ problems and their rights are sent to the periphery of globalization and the Convention aims to serve as a corrective to this injustice. (Gauchteneire et Pecoud 2008, Batistella 2008, Taran 2008);
  • it supports the idea that irregular migrants also have rights.

The role of the Convention is invaluable for all citizens, organizations, and institutions striving to carry out and implement policies for the integration of migrants, based on the respect of human dignity and rights.

The signals that Europe sends out to the new member states and to candidate countries fromSoutheastern Europeare contradictory. On the one hand, the European Union is a geopolitical area, which not only gave the world the idea of human rights, but still provides the highest standards for their observance. On the other hand, the EU adopts policies leading in the opposite direction. Markets and security are the two pillars of European policies. Both of them seriously undermine the normative and political significance of the Convention of 1990, as well as the holistic approach to the protection of human rights.

The market seeks labor that is cheap, obedient, temporary and easy to dismiss. The market approach treats migrants only as labor force which has to fulfill the demands of the labor market, only when and to the extent that is needed.

Security has been raised high as an unquestionable priority and the centre of European policies.  Migration is discussed from the perspective of control, sanctions, and criminalization of irregular migrants. An expression of this restrictive approach is the unwillingness of EU member states to ratify the Convention of 1990. The fact that the new member states easily adopt the security approach is indicative. A profound explanation would require a separate analysis, but here we could briefly mention that the communist regime relies on security and this is why post-communist elites master this lesson much more easily and quickly than the message of solidarity and human rights.

How are these contradictory signals understood and “translated” in SEE?

The waves of the civil sector

         The undisputable bearer of the idea and the discourse on human rights in the post-communist countries is the civil sector. A panoramic view of its development would reveal four directions. They could be examined both typologically – according to the priority areas on which the NGO’s efforts are concentrated, and chronologically – as periods, or waves, each one of them focusing on a specific issue:

  • Minorities and conflict resolution. Ethnic and religious tensions were the typical conflicts from the beginning of the transition which escalated into wars and ethnic cleansing in formerYugoslavia. It is only natural that reconciliation activities are at the centre of civil organizations aimed at restoring trust, building bridges, and display solidarity;
  • Anticorruption. The lack of responsibility and accountability in the dealings of the various types of elite requires counterbalancing on the part of the civil sector;
  • Environment. Civil society “going green” stretched the borders of solidarity to include nature and our responsibility for the future generations;
  • Migration. These NGOs come closest to the first group and this is why they are often their logical continuation. They face a new challenge: to formulate, defend and realize a new understanding of solidarity which includes not just “our own”, but “the foreign” as well.

The NGOs focusing on migrationdiversification of the forms of solidarity

         Solidarity is a trademark of the civil sector. There is a variety of numerous associations, organizations, and initiatives that operate within it. I would differentiate among five types of migration NGOs: humanitarian, those for human rights, the information hubs, those for intercultural dialogue, and the migrants’ own organizations.

The first group is formed by the humanitarian organizations. They are mainly focused on the most vulnerable groups among migrants: those looking for asylum, internally displaced persons, and victims of forced migration. The activities of these organizations are of primary importance in (post)conflict situations such as the wars in formerYugoslavia.

The humanitarian domain is the preferred field of action of religious charities. Representatives of various religious communities play an active part in the process of reconciliation and in the setting up of spaces for dialogue between the different communities in post-warBosnia and Herzegovina. A characteristic feature here is that this key mission is adopted both by representatives of the big religious communities: Muslims, Catholics, Orthodox, and by small minorities such as the Jews.

A typical example of a humanitarian organization is the story of the creation and the work of Group 484 in Serbia. The idea was proposed by Jelena Šantić, a famous ballet dancer. In 1995 she set up an organization to help 484 refugees and their families who had found asylum inSerbia after fleeing Krajina and Operation “Storm” of the Croatian Army.  This humanitarian gave the name to the organization in order to express its aim to continue helping the victims of forced migration. The founder of the organization was awarded the Pax Christi International Annual Peace Prize in 1996. This organization is a vivid example of the vitality of civil society in which particular individuals achieve formidable results by relying on their willpower, their desire for solidarity and their ability to mobilize others.

Group 484 has so far been able to help more than 100 000 displaced people, refugees, and migrants. The solidarity they promote is looking back in time – trying to relieve the consequences of forced migration and empower migrants; at the same time it is looking ahead through the active work with the young generation directed towards the formation of tolerant and open attitudes towards cultural differences.

The second group of NGOs comprises those which focus on migrants’ rights. We need to stress that all migration organizations are based on the philosophy of human rights and develop various initiatives to protect them. There is a group of NGOs, however, for which this is central. A typical example is the Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. It has organizations in all the Balkan countries. Its activities are directed against discrimination of all types, including ethnic and religious. Some of the national organizations have dedicated departments to deal with migrants’ issues.

Some small-scale local initiatives which originate without considerable international funding and are the result of the commitment and voluntary participation of young activists are even more interesting. I would like to single out two organizations from Sofia: the Legal Clinic for Refugees and the Centre for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria. Both are the creation of young legal professionals who work pro bono to provide free legal advice to asylum seekers. It is amazing to notice the discrepancy between the lack of substantial financial support and the significant public activity such small organizations are able to carry out. An important strand in the organizations’ activities is the sensitizing of public opinion and exerting pressure on Parliament for the stricter application of human rights standards in legislation.

The third group of organizations could be defined as information, coordination, and migration policy development hubs. They are not typical of the region and are a relatively new phenomenon. Their emergence is determined by the geopolitical fragmentation of the Balkans and by the need to establish mechanisms for coordinated activities and policies. The initiative to set these up often does not originate from the actual civil society, but from international organizations.

An interesting example is MARRIMigration, Asylum , RefugeesRegionalInitiative. Its members are six countries form the Western Balkans –Albania,Bosnia and Herzegovina,Macedonia,Montenegro,Serbia, andCroatia. It was formed in 2003 based on an idea of the Stability Pact. Its aim is to develop the capacity of the Balkan countries to cooperate, align their policies and contribute to the stabilization and development of the region.

The next group of NGOs I would describe as organizations for intercultural understanding and dialogue.  The distinctive feature of the migration phenomenon in SEE – which differentiates it from the classical immigration countries – is its relative novelty, as well as its substantial differences in comparison to immigration inWestern Europe. It is essential that the actors of solidarity are not “lost in the translation” of intercultural differences. The first step that is needed is the accumulation of expertise, research, and analyses on which the understanding of migrants will be based. The second is the invention of new forms of solidarity with the new form of intercultural differences – immigration.

A characteristic example of this type of organizations is CERMESthe centre for refugee and migration studies in Sofia.[9] Its primary mission is the overturning of research priorities: the numerous researches on emigration need to be complemented by the study of immigration[10]; a transition from the loss of the own towards welcoming the foreign, from identity towards solidarity, needs to take place. The other mission of the organization is to provide immigrants a voice so that they are not the subject of public debates[11], initiatives[12], and forums, but their active initiators and implementers.

The last group of NGOs are the migrants’ own organizations: most often they are formed on the basis of nationality: Ethiopian, Syrian, Chinese; in some cases – on the basis of gender – women migrants; and in other cases depending of the type of migration – there are special organizations of refugees because of the specificty of their problems. The palette of their activities is varied and ranges from setting up of clubs and schools, to publishing of newspapers and magazines, and mediating the relationships between migrant communities and the institutions.

There is no “pure” type of NGO; most of them are a blend of the different types. What is essential for my analysis is the diversification of activities along two axes: the types of solidarity and its subjects. The problems of asylum seekers, irregular immigrants and refugees are so much different from those of economic migrants that they are usually the focus of specialized NGOs. They face the most challenging task of relativizing security by complementing it with solidarity, of asserting the idea that every person has rights, even if they might have entered the country and remained in it without the required papers.

Activities can be summarized in three groups: legal, informational, and intercultural. In the first case solidarity is related to migrant rights; in the second – to policies and the need for them to apply the standards of human rights; and in the third – in regard to integration, inclusion and empowerment of migrants.

Civil societythe discourse that serves as a connection

         Political theory and political ethics rarely look in the same direction. H.-G. Gadamer points at one of the key areas of their divergence:

“Our public life appears to be defective in so far as there is too much emphasis upon the different and the disputed, upon that which is contested or in doubt. What we truly have in common and what unites us remain, so to speak without a voice” (Gadamer 1967, in Walhof 2006, p. 571).

Politics stresses too much on what differentiates between people and creates sources of tension and conflict. The normative approach is seeking voices that are able to unite.

Civil society is the alternative voice that undertakes the mission of creating topoi of solidarity in post-communist societies. Efforts are twofold. On the discursive level, the discourse of security is opposed to the discourse of human rights. If the one legitimates and consolidates borders – national, ethnic, symbolic; the other overcomes them with the idea that the highest level of human security is contained in an environment of sharing and solidarity.

The second level of the creation of solidarity is in the relationship between the receiving societies and migrants, in the accumulation of experiences and multiplication of the practices of intercultural understanding and dialogue.

Civil society in Southeastern Europeneeds to go a long way until it achieves the high goals it has set for itself. Firstly, because of the weaknesses of its own functioning.[13] Secondly, because the mission itself would be unbearably hard to achieve in the foreseeable future. It is essential that, despite of all the deficits, it is civil society, much more than the state, that undertakes to be the herald of solidarity.

Solidarity versus individualism

         “I had the opportunity to work as an engineer abroad. I sent 1 000 dollars to my wife, son, daughter, brother, sister, and best friend each. I did not make any savings, but times were like that. These were years of scarcity forBulgaria: hyperinflation, complete uncertainty about what might happen on the next day. One thousand dollars was a considerable sum, a breath of air until the crisis was over”.

An interview with a former migrant, male, aged 45

The above excerpt from an interview leads us to the next type of solidarity which looks at the migrant as a person concerned about the survival of his/her closest people – relatives and friends, rather than an atomized individual seeking personal prosperity.

One of the antidotes of individualism is sibling solidarity. Researchers highlight two key elements: kinship functions as a social network; the significance of kinship solidarity transcends the narrow limits of the family and corresponds with important social values:

While some aspects of kinship organization appear antithetical to many social institutions in modern society, sibling solidarity is consonant with the equalitarian ethic…” (Graham 1977, p. 177).

Remittances are one of the points of intersection between sibling solidarity and migration. Unlike many other forms of sibling solidarity where geographical proximity plays an important role, with remittances, the lack of the latter not only diminishes, but enhances solidarity between the migrant and the non-immigrants belonging to his/her family.

Remittances can vary within an extremely wide range. According to the calculations of the World Bank, in the decade 1996 – 2005, they represented almost one third (29%) of the GDP of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a considerable part of  Albania’s GDP (16%), and a smaller part of that in Bulgaria (3,6%) and Croatia (3.3%)[14] (Roberts at al 2007). Remittances play a significant role in guaranteeing education for the children or a decent life for the parents when they reach old age; for sustaining the family calendar – provision of funds for significant events such as weddings, etc.; for building and maintaining the family home, etc.

A whole series of arguments around the negative sides of remittances are discussed in the literature as they are seen as discouraging autonomy and creating a dependency. In my analysis I discuss their value as a mechanism for solidarity.

This mechanism has its historical roots in gurbet – a migration practice of the inhabitants of the Balkans, which today could be translated as circular or temporary migration: the head of the family works abroad during the summer or for a set period of time in order to support it. The interesting fact is that despite the disintegration of the patriarchic model in the sending countries and the much more developed forms of individualism which the migrant enters in the receiving countries, the mechanism of kinship solidarity continues to operate. The second peculiarity is that solidarity not only exists but diversifies and multiplies its forms in terms of gender and generations: not only from the fathers to the wives and children, but from the wife to the husband and children; not only from the parents to the children, but from the children to their parents.

The significance of these funds for the families is invaluable in the material sense of survival, for supporting a decent life and raising the level of well-being. Even greater and all-embracing is their importance in their symbolic sense: as a specific token of kinship solidarity which transcends the separation of space and affirms a real alternative to individualism.

Solidarity versus citizenship

         “I want to return to die at home”.

This is the typical attitude of the first sociologically significant group of returnees to the new countries that inherited former Yugoslavia.[15] It clearly illustrates the interconnectedness between the existential and the political and shows the extent to which the most intimate of impulses can depend on the successful application of returnee policies.

Every policy of return is based on solidarity. As a rule it is generally perceived as “natural” and is seen as lacking any problems: it is our compatriots that are returning and they re-integrate without any trouble. The case I shall analyze is the exact opposite:

“Regrettably, return and reintegration are far from being a “natural” and smooth continuation, especially in post-conflict situations. All fixed concepts of identity, belonging, and territorialization should be deconstructed” (Mesic and Bagic 2010, p. 134).

Let me briefly introduce the context. The wars in formerYugoslaviaproduced a huge number of refugees and internally displaced people:

“At the climax of armed conflict among former Yugoslav nations in 1993, there were around 2.5 million refugees and displaced persons in the region, which made up 1/5 of the total number of forced migrants in the world (15 million). Contemporary Serbia hosts the largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons in Europe” (Bobic 2010).

This complex and traumatic situation makes return a long and intricate process. It is not possible to reduce it to a one-off act and is a subtle process that takes time:

“return as such is not enough, it should be also effective and successful” (Mesic and Bagic 2010, p. 135).

In this type of return solidarity is two-edged: on the one hand, it is problematic because of the ambiguity in the meaning of “own” and “foreign” and the intricate transitions between the two; on the other, it presents a fundamental condition for the actual return to take place and be sustainable.

The challenges, from the point of view of returnees, are of two major types:

  • lowering of the social status. Some of the returnees used to live as part of one of the big nations in the federal state ofYugoslavia, but return to a status of a minority in the newly-formed state. Two thirds of the Serbian returnees toCroatiaare dissatisfied with their position of a national minority (Mesic and Bagic 2010).
  • homogenization of the social space. Having grown-up in a more mixed environment in terms of ethnicities and religions, they have to return to a more homogenous one. The weaker the return, the more ethnically “pure” the environment remains:  before the war 73 000 Croatians used to live in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, today[16] their number is merely 6 500; out of 39 000 Serbs who left Herzegovina, only 9 000 returned to their homes (Marinkovic 2007).

Both the status of a minority and the changed environment of ethnic culture weaken the traditional mechanisms of solidarity and require the creation of new ones. In a post-conflict society, the major proponents of solidarity – and guarantors of its application – are the international community and states such asBosnia and HerzegovinaandCroatia. The latter need to accept as “own” the ones, who during the wars were defined as “foreign”, for example,Croatiaset up programs for the sustainable return of Serbs.

Returnees are expected to display loyalty to the new state, and the state is required to show solidarity towards its new minorities.

This type of solidarity is at the very heart of the new Balkan citizenships. They are formed with a strong nationalistic charge. To be acceptable for the European Union, this ethnic nationalism has to be shaded and balanced by a moderate policy towards minorities, returnees, and immigrants.

Solidarity presents a major challenge and a key condition for the evolution of the civil spirit from an ethnic to a civic model.


the new topoi of solidarity

         “Among the tasks of politics today, I think a top priority should be to make us more generally aware of our deep solidarities. This is particularly crucial in the age of interrelated foreignness, where we do not even know our neighbors” (Gadamer 1999, in Walhof 2006, p. 572).

Gadamer singles out solidarity as a key political priority. The present text unfolds precisely in the spirit of that understanding which, on the one hand, gives proof of solidarity’s political role, and on the other, connects its understanding to otherness.

Migration is one of the areas which have the greatest difficulty in producing solidarity because, as a rule, the latter is bound to nationality. Even more problematic is its appearance and protection in post-conflict countries or in societies in transition which are not prepared enough or are not enough focused on the integration of migrants. It is this less favorable context that makes the identification of new topoi of solidarity in the new sphere even more significant.

One of them is the family. Remittances are a mechanism of solidarity which unfolds on the level of the social structure of society and creates antidotes to the escalating individualism both in sending and receiving countries.

The other mechanism of solidarity – provision of conditions for the return of individuals who have been forcibly displaced or have left as a result of ethnic conflict and wars – is realized on the level of public re-integration policies. It involves two key political subjects – the national state and the international community.

The third mechanism of solidarity – the protection of migrant rights and the forms of intercultural understanding and dialogue – is fundamental as it contributes to the development civil society. It is fundamental because of three reasons. The first is that it covers the huge social space between individuals, on the one hand, and the state, on the other. The second is that, especially in a civil society, immigrants can be actors in and not just subjects of integration practices.

And the third and most substantial reason is that it is the civil society in post-communist countries that heralds the noble mission to produce the public discourse of connectedness and solidarity.

Arnsperger  C. and Y. Varoufakis (2003) Toward a theory of solidarity.- Erkenntnis, vol 59, N 2, 157 – 188.

Baldwin-Edwards M. (2005) Balkan migrations and the European Union: patterns and trends.-

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[1] This ideal remained totally separated from the actual social situation from the very beginning until the end of the communist regimes.

[2] According to I. Berlin, the positive concept of liberty attempts to answer the question “What, or who, is the source of control or interference that can determine someone to do, or be, this rather than that?” (1969, pp. 122).

[3] The negative concept of liberty refers to the question: “What is the area within which the subject — a person or group of persons — is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons?” (Berlin 1969, pp. 122).

[4] The Balkans have also become the main migration route for human trafficking, but the detailed discussion of the issue would take us in a direction that is opposite of the current analysis.

[5] The migration profile of the West and East Balkans during the communist regime is very different:Bulgaria andRomania (Albania as well) were the typical closed countries, rarely allowing and strictly controlling inward and outward streams of people;Yugoslavia’s policy was much more open. These differences are not subject of the present analysis.

[6] David has lived inBulgaria for 18 years; his parents – Armenian immigrants – are honest citizens who regularly pay their taxes and have never broken the law; David still has no identity papers or leave to remain inBulgaria.

[7] The detention is replaced by daily subscription at the police office.

[8] As in Hannah Arendt’s famous expression.

[9] which the author of the present text has created and has the honour of managing.

[10] Krasteva A. (ed) Immigration inBulgaria. ; Krasteva A. (ed) From ethnicity to migration

[11] CERMES organizes regular public debates to strengthen the relationships between the separate migrant communities and the receiving society: “Being a refugee inBulgaria”, “Being a foreign woman inBulgaria”, “Being and Afghan inBulgaria” and many others.

[12] Such as intercultural festivals of the migrant communities relying on the open and active form of participatory art.

[13] See Krasteva 2009 on the imbalance between professionalization and civic engagement and other weaknesses of civil society.

[14] The challenges of measuring remittances and the unreliability of most of the data, including those of big international organizations, are not the subject of the present analysis.

[15] One in three Serbs returning toCroatia (37%) is aged over 65. 11% of those registered as returnees after 1996 have already died   (Mesic and Bagic 2010).

[16] Data from 2007.


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