E urope was shocked by the newsthat a boat full of migrants sunkinto the Mediterranean Sea takingwith it 57 people. The episode occurredwhen the Italian Navy vessel ‘Sibilla’, inits effort to protect the common EUborders collided with the migrants’ boat.Some serious debates took place then,raising questions as to whether it wasan accident or part of a political effortto stop the flow of migrants or whetherthe Italian Navy could have intervenedand rescued the migrants. The year was1997 and the non-EU migrants wereAlbanians fleeing the 1997 civil war thatfollowed the collapse of the ‘pyramid’banking system in their home country.This incident is known as the Otrantotragedy.
It is one of history’s ironies that the name‘Sibilla’ refers to the ancient Greekprophetesses or Oracles who foresaw thefuture. Almost twenty years later as the Alba-nian together with most other European gov-ernments are sealing off their borders torefugees, sinking boats and dead migrantstrying to enter the EU are a commonphenomenon in the Mediterranean.Obviously the then Others, who did nothave the right to enter into Europe, were of a primarily different ethnic origin than thecurrent Others; yet, the persistent refusal of the right to mobility and, more generally,the border securitization regime currentlybeing witnessed was rehearsed and shapedin the early 1990s. Although the exactlocation of this border has moved, qualitat-ively the border regime of ‘FortressEurope’, as we know it today, remains thesame over the last decades, protecting thecore of Europe and its strategic peripheries.The issue is that at the moment, this is theonly spatial pillar of post-cold war Europethat remains intact and even enhanced.
Arguably one should clarify that we have aseries of ethnographic studies that reveal themicro-dynamics, the flexibility and perfor-mativity of these post-cold war spatialities,e.g. borders (e.g. Green 2005). In thecurrent brief note there will be minimumengagement with such material or with thediverse conditions and the complex relation-ships under which such spatialities were pro-duced. The dramatic events of 2015/2016along the South-Eastern European bordersreminds us tragically that despite the actualdiversity of experience, such spatialitiesmatter concretely for those who are excluded.Hence, although schematic and slightly rigid,the current text aims to be heuristic due to theurgency of the matter examined.
Historically, the 20thcentury has witnessedtwo major pan-European constructionprojects that have taken place over theentire length and width of the continent,renewing its built environment. The firstone is the post-World War II reconstructionof the Old Europe powers and the secondone is the post-Cold War ‘reconstruction’.Besides being a much larger-scale project,the post-WWII project had an explicitlytwo-fold character. The two sides of theCold War divide were each building theirown urban and infrastructural materiality.Via this material reconstruction, they aimedto engineer their respective social and politi-cal entities. Moreover, the constructionproject of the 1940s and 50s was to (re-)build a devastated continent. The ensuingphysical construction project, from the1990s to the 2000s, was tied to the metaphys-ical destruction of the Communist regimes’infrastructure and materiality — its veryethos. Thus the building construction waspart of the destruction both physical andsymbolic of the defeated enemy.
We have detailed ethnographies of thesocio-material transformations that occurredin Eastern Europe at that time (Buchli 1999;Dalakoglou 2016), and these have also beenrecorded and recreated in art. For example,the celebrated film ‘Goodbye Lenin’(Becker 2003) describes on a fictional level,this process of deconstruction of theenemy’s material culture and its replacementby the capitalist version, which was novel tothe former socialist countries. The movie’shero is desperately trying to reconstructEast Germany’s material reality for hismother who wakes after a long coma - shemust not get shocked to find the world haschanged lest she fall ill again. He tries torecreate the GDR’s material culture andwith every passing moment this becomesmore difficult as the material samples of theprevious world are systematically erased.Beyondfiction,theColdWarwasawarandat the end its outcome was one that most warsshare: the winner occupied the territory of theloser. Because this war was waged betweentwo economic/political systems, this ‘occu-pation of territories’ meant the instant trans-formation of the vast majority of immobileresources and real estate of socialist countriesfrom state, public or cooperative hands toprivate ones. The enormous influx of resources into the west European capitalisteconomy resulted in its overnight expansion.Another type of resource that was added tothe capitalist European economy was themassively impoverished parts of EasternEuropean populations who either migratedto the West or worked in their owncountries—often for Western Europeaninterests and in the interest of the new localcapitalist elites who replaced the nomencla-ture of the socialist period—whilst drawingon the private property of productive meansas yet another source of power. This vastinflux of real estate and labour power fueledthe European capitalist economy andespecially unskilled and low-skilled labourmarkets all over the continent. Thus it wasonly a matter of time until the constructionsector evolved into the ‘steam-engine’ of economic growth during the 1990′s and2000's, occupying an increasing percentageof GDP all over Europe. Indeed, after 1990Western Europe witnessed some of thelargest construction projects, both in termsof publicly funded works and in terms of private contracts. Within this context thewhole phenomenon must also be linkedwith the emergence of the infrastructuralmega-event of which the European continentsaw three over the period of twenty years to2012 (Olympic Games of Barcelona,Athens, London) which fundamentallychanged the profile of three of its metropo-lises in the West.This particular project of the built environ-ment’s reconstruction not only created profitbut also engineered the new socio-culturalcapitalist subjectivities and relationships. Forexample, in the case of Eastern Europe, thesesubjects had to get used to the world of private automobility, the private housingmarket, the cosmology of super markets ormalls, the new capitalist social hierarchies,etc. Similarly, the West was being reengi-neered socially, first of all quantitatively,thanks to the intake of human and financialresources and accelerated growth, but alsoqualitatively. This is evidenced via the influxof a new inferior ‘social class’: ‘The EasternEuropeans’. These were often added toWestern Europe’s previous ‘inferiors’: themigrants from the Mediterranean countriesor those from the former colonies. However,in some cases the influx of Eastern Europeanmigrants added an entirely new social classand social category of immigrants that didnot exist previously, e.g., in Greece with theinflux of Albanian migrants during the1990s. This transformation caused by EastEuropean migration was such that the word‘Albanian’ became synonymous with theunskilled, underpaid manual worker, withphrases such as ‘He made me work like anAlbanian’ appearing in Greek everydaylanguage. Of course, during Greece’s enor-mous economic and construction boom(mid-1990s to mid 2000s) immigrants fromAlbania dominated the sector’s workforce.Thus, Western Europe’s periphery acquiredits own Others, thereby solidif ying its newlyfound identity of ‘Westerness’1.
Apart from this reconstruction of the builtenvironment, the post-Cold War era alsohad another significant spatial dimension.Following 1990, an ongoing process of internal and external reconfiguration of theEuropean borders ensued. Primarily, thenew borders created a new privileged Euro-pean space and identity, which was promisingor even providing the dreams of wealth andgrowth alongside those of a supposed terri-torial/cultural exclusivity. The sudden col-lapse of the main division between socialistand capitalist Europe made the previousinternal Western division between CoreWestern Europe and Peripheral WesternEurope much less significant. Just as theGreeks felt more Western, the Old Westembraced the periphery in the face of theOtherness of East Europe. Thus given thecapitalist past that the entire WesternEurope had experienced, Western peripheryand Western core shared commonalities incomparison to the Easterners. Events suchas the wars in Yugoslavia or the brief Alba-nian Civil War (1997) were attributedmostly to the primary ‘sin’ of communismand were used to confirm the former distinc-tion, where the West had to intervene to ‘civi-lize’ the East of Europe.Despite the various infrastructural cross-border projects between EU and non-EUmember countries on the continent, whichattempted to materialize the new links, thenew United Europe’s identification processesbecame problematic (see Dalakoglou 2009).The division had strong roots as for over 50years the archetypal enemy were the ‘other’Europeans and, as the Otranto tragedyshows, overcoming such old divisions is along and hard process.These EU/non-EU borders became thefavored arena for testing, developing andshaping the policies of ‘Fortress Europe’ inthe first instance. Indeed as more and moreEastern European countries enter the EU orgain potential member status, the geopoliticalborder is constantly redrawn. It is forexample worth noting how within just twodecades the Western governments’ attitudetowards the Easterners who crossed theborders of the old EU of the 12 memberstates, has radically altered. When the firstEastern migrants started crossing the(former) iron curtain towards the West,Western governments perceived this as a pol-itical success and as a positive development,which indisputably manifested the defeat of the enemy—the socialist regimes. However,only a little later, the Eastern Europeansbecame an undesired flow for EU membercountries. Therefore, the borders weresealed off, and by 1999, with the AmsterdamTreaty, the EU member-state borders wereupgraded into common EU borders, securedand sealed by common EU political and poli-cing measures. Despite the gradual inclusionof many Eastern European countries to theEU, the zones of the inexpensive sex or gam-bling industries along the old East/WestEuropean borders are an explicit example of the fact that the whole process is indeedongoing. The initial example we used, theOtranto tragedy, demonstrates how theEastern Europeans were the first to sufferfrom the ‘Fortress Europe’ politics. Eventoday, Great Britain for example treat theEastern European EU members as secondclass Europeans in comparison with the citi-zens of old EU-members.Nevertheless, currently we are witnessingthe turn of Eastern Europe to claim its rightto European-ness and Western-ness over thebodies of the new Others, precisely as theperiphery of Western Europe did in the1990s over the bodies of Eastern Europeanmigrants. In February 2016, the AlbanianPM announced that he would seal off theborders of his country against refugeesusing it as a passage on their way to Northern
Europe via Greece. At the same time, severalBalkan countries came to an agreement withAustria to seal off their own borders, thusclosing down the Balkan corridors to refu-gees from Syria, other Middle East countriesand Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Hungariangovernment highlights a growing trendwithin the Eastern European states of theEU of openly racist and anti-refugee rhetoricand policy. In early 2016 the Dutch Presi-dency of the EU silently accepted all thesetactics and decisions. The Western Europeanstates thus conveniently export their ownracist and anti-refugee politics to the pre-viously excluded Eastern European and newmember states.The confirmation of its European-ness forEastern Europe implies better mobilitywithin Europe but also the violent sealingoff and guarding of the common Europeanterritory. It is not accidental that the mostrepresentative event of the communistregimes’ collapse is the fall and crossing of the Berlin Wall. At the same period, Alba-nians overthrew their socialist dictatorshiprevolting on the street and occupying theembassies in Tirana, demanding the issuingof passports. The core of Eastern Europeans’participation in the new European projectconsisted in the potential of easier mobilityto the West and fewer border controls. Thisdesire has evolved historically as a processsynonymous with the reconfiguration of thecommon European borders into an arena of strict control and violence against non-Westerners echoing the exclusivity of OldEurope. After all Eastern European ‘Other-ness’ may have passed mostly over thebodies of heavily exploited and underpaidemployees, but the non-European ‘Other-ness’ passes largely over the dead bodies of the men, women and children who wash upon Europe’s shores every day.
Corridors and borders
After the outbreak of the European FinancialCrisis in 2008, one of the main spatialdimensions of the post-Cold War Europe--the qualitative transformation of the builtenvironment and real estate—has either beenderegulated or has slowed dramatically. Inlight of such events the only main spatial axisof reference of post-Cold War Europe thatremains intact is the border securitization.Hence, the sudden transformation of theBalkans from Europe’s proud border to anexpress corridor for countless refugees in2015 was perceived as an expression of amajor crisis for the entire Europe. All thecross-border infrastructures that were builtin order to cement (quite literally) therelationships between EU and non-EUmember states during the post-Cold Warperiod, including port facilities, cross-border highways, border control stationsand pan- and trans-European transport corri-dors suddenly became infrastructure corri-dors for refugees. This activity has gravelycalled into question the planned commercialand touristic purposes of these infrastruc-tures, but most importantly challenged theentire European project.Thus Frontex, the European Border Police,has for some time now taken the right tooperate in the region. This has proved insuffi-cient, however, and as the EU does not haveits own Navy, in February 2016 a decisionwas taken to allow NATO to take over theguarding of the sea borders between Greeceand Turkey. NATO will officially patroland control the borders between twoNATO member countries, aiming to showexplicitly where exactly Europe’s bordersare located. Indeed, the notion of bordersbecomes more important than Europeanmembership itself, as the Greek governmentsubmits the control of the country’s bordersto NATO in the name of the hypotheticalthreat coming from the 1 million refugeesfrom war-torn countries that have crossedthe European borders during 2015–16.In early 2016 the whole humanitarianrefugee tragedy that unfolded along theSyrian-Balkan corridor was of little impor-tance—if any at all- compared to the questionof the region’s border policing. Europe’s leaders have spent their time negotiatingwhere exactly the European borders lie, towhich countries Europe will externalize therefugees and how it will guard its commonborders in order to decrease the flow of refu-gees. The life of a few million human beingsseems to be a secondary question to bedebated by the European leadership—accep-table collateral damage for the protection of European spatial exclusivity. On the onehand, this securitization of the common EUborder is one of the last things that mighthold Europe together; on the other hand,this process exhibits more and more explicitlyelements from what Marc Mazower (1999)has called the history of our ‘Dark Conti-nent’. Europe is not only the continent thatbecame, in the Post-World War Two era,the champion of human rights, refugeerights, bourgeois democracy, etc., but alsothe continent that produced Nazism andFascism, and previously had produced colo-nialism, imperialism and the genocide of various populations characterized as inferiorand undesired ‘Others’.
I wish to thank Anna Christofides, ChristosFilippidis, David Harvey, Anna Richter andBob Catterall for discussing with me someof the ideas appearing in this article over thelast three years. The first notes for this brief paper were written during my visiting pos-ition at CUNY Graduate Center; the paperwas completed for my Lecture in AmsterdamAnthropology Lecture Series at Vrije Univer-sity Amsterdam. I am thankful to the col-leagues in these two institutions. Part of thisperiod I was funded by ESRC with aFuture Research Leaders grant for theproject Crisis-scapes.net. This paper was pre-sented for the first time in its current versionin the workshop ‘Greece in Crisis’ organisedin Oxford University, thus I would like toalso thank the organiser Dimitris Papaniko-laou and the rest of the participants for theircomments and help.
1 Notably, the experience for these migrants hasmultiple layers, e.g. see Dalakoglou 2009.
Becker, W. 2003. Good-bye Lenin . Berlin: X-Filme Crea-tive Pool.
Buchli, V. 1999. An Archaeology of Socialism. Oxford:Berg.
Dalakoglou, D. 2009. “Building and Ordering Transna-tionalism:The ‘GreekHouse’ in Albania as a MaterialProcess.” In Anthropology and the Individual: A Material Culture Perspective , edited by D. Miller,51–68. Oxford: Berg.
Dalakoglou, D. 2016. The Road: An Ethnography of (im)mobility. Space and Cross-Border Infrastructuresin the Balkans. Manchester University Press.
Green, S. 2005. Notes from the Balkans: Locating Magrinality and Ambiguity on the Greek-AlbanianBorders. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Mazower, M. 1999. Dark Continent . New York: Vintage.
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