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"По-лесно е да си представяш края на света, отколкото края на капитализма." Фредрик Джеймисън
Europe: 3000 kilometers hurdles

As one of the most frequently used routes for people who travel towards Germany and Austria is the Turkey-Bulgaria-Serbia-Hungary one, the building of a wall between Hungary and Serbia, in addition to the one between Turkey and Bulgaria, ultimately creates a Europe that resembles more of a hurdling playground than a champion of liberty and freedom.

The distance between Turkey and Germany is approximately 3000 km. It is a secret to nobody that for the most part, refugees who are caught at the Turkish-Bulgarian border are headed towards countries such as Germany and Austria. The same applies to the Hungarian-Serbian border. The recent decision of the Hungarian PM, Victor Orban to build a wall at the latter is gibberish. He only needs to turn a blind eye and to let the people who cross his border to go on their way to the core capitalist countries in order to lower the numbers of those who seek asylum. Orban, however, fears that once this is done, European sanctions will follow. The political loss that comes with the allowing of further movement into the core, for the countries on the periphery of Europe, is much greater than the inhumane sealing of borders. In Bulgaria, for example, we are often reminded by Germany that the rate of investments is proportional to the quality of border security. Capital in this case, is in fact, the real border guard. In a similar light, once Europe uttered “sanctions,” Orban withdrew his threat to stop receiving Dublin returnees.[1] There is no controversy between Orban’s wall building and EU’s apartheid-like practices and we need once and for all to remember this. 

In this light, the European Commission (EC) needs to stop pretending that the measures undertaken by Bulgaria and Hungary are not part and parcel of the larger European strategy towards those who seek refuge in Europe. Orban’s latest drastic decision is in fact in accordance with the European Union’s consensus that migrants have to be pushed away by a range of tactics: push backs, increased and unsanctioned violence, extreme poverty, and programs such as the assistant voluntary returns that represent a quick socially exhaust-and-return schemes of the EU.  What is taking place before our eyes is not a heroic gesture on part of Orban to protect the citizens and the workers of Hungary. It is not an angry EC, which scolds him either. It is the obsession with the Migrant that is increasingly marking the basic ontology of what surrounds us.



Schematically placed, between the 1980s[2] and the very early 2000s, the obsession with the figure of the migrant was marked by the need to recognize the ‘objective’ reasons behind one’s escape. Is it voluntary or forced? Is it economic or political? Today, this obsession has taken another angle. There is a constant need to convince us that the people who cross the European borders are here because of “subjective economic reasons” and not because of “objective fear of political persecution.” They are, hence, economic migrants and not refugees.

Just think of Orban’s premises on which his entire anti-immigration campaign is based. The wall between Hungary and Serbia, we are told, will be built because there is a need to protect Hungary from “illegal” migrants[3]. In Orban’s words, "There is a know-how in Hungary about how to differentiate between a refugee running for his life and an economic migrant…The phenomenon now faced by Europe and Hungary is essentially the problem of economic immigration[4]." Now, we can all make the math and see that walls are not as smart (yet!) so as to distinguish between those who flee because of structural adjustments imposed by the IMF/ World Bank or because of head hunters and rapists such as the ISIS. Wall prevents crossing on an equal basis.

The National Consultation organized by Orban in April 2015, follows the same political approach. In Orban’s rationale to the Consultation, we read: “Economic migrants cross our borders illegally, and while they present themselves as asylum-seekers, in fact they are coming to enjoy our welfare systems and the employment opportunities our countries have to offer.” François Crépeau of the UN has a similar understanding of migration. Right after the tragedy in the Mediterranean from April 2015, he states, “There are two categories of people we’re talking about. There are clearly refugees… The second group of people we have to address are the economic migrants.” Trickstery is always already presumed when the ‘outside’ is concerned.[5] 

This boundary has a special place in the ways Europe[6] approaches its ‘outside,’ the excesses of that ‘outside.’ This boundary shapes political struggles to a large degree. In the first place, it names the people who can cross a border and remain at a certain place and is much related to the extensive character of particular class relations within particular configurations of power. This is of course tightly linked to the way production and distribution is organized and the mechanisms through which human excesses of the above are racialized. Secondly, this boundary creates a vacuum within which a competition is being established between the different categories of migrations (e.g. are you named to be an asylum-seeker or a social benefit tourist) as they are differentially included[7] within legal systems, labor markets, health-care and the crumbling welfare state. The abolition of this boundary, its ultimate destruction, has the potential to eliminate the often taken for granted differentiation between ‘inside’ (national) and ‘outside’ (foreign) labor and enhance a strong labor movement. 

Such differentiation, however, is being continuously (re)constructed even among pro-migration voices. Often, leftists and liberals readily react as based on their humanitarian impulses. They oppose Fortress Europe (as we all should) and instead argue that Europe has the obligation to provide safe corridors for those fleeing persecution. The position of the leftists is opposed to (1) the militarization of Libya, which will eventually end up in creating possibilities for more deaths and (2) to the creation of offshore asylum spaces as this inevitably only displaces the violence. Instead, they call for freedom of movement and humanitarian ferries that will ensure the safe travelling of migrants. This perspective does not necessarily differentiate between true refugees and bogus such, or between political and economic migrants, even though, as somebody who has spent much time participating and observing political movements that surround issues of fly, I have to say that on a very practical level, this differentiation is played out even though unconsciously. Even when voices within this political perspective claim the need to overcome the humanitarian-securitization nexus, they often fall under the duality of legal/illegal, mobilized/immobilized and hence, end up offering treatments where the medicine to illegalization is legalization, to securitization – freedom of movement. Tazzioli for example,[8] after an astonishing and detailed analysis of the humanitarian-securitization nexus, makes the argument that Europe needs to take into consideration what takes place after migrants have successfully made it to Europe and not focus solely on what takes place at sea. Fair enough. These two are equally important. Tazzioli ends up suggesting, however, that freedom of movement and the choice of safe space where to live is a must in this situation. If we limit ourselves to such suggestions, we will end up calling for going beyond freedom of movement and safe spaces in no time.  There is no safe space in Europe. We find (over)exploitation and rampant racism everywhere. One only needs to look at the situation of the so-called internal (to the EU) migrants and their struggles to question the centrality of freedom of movement and safe space to our common struggles. The main enemy in large parts of leftist migration movements is immobilization. We should look in other directions as well. This approach leaves aside people who do have the right to move.

Secondly, liberals think migrants as either being or not being value producers. This became very apparent in 2013, a year before the opening of the labor markets to Bulgarians and Romanians, when Cameron’s proposition to restrict the freedom of movement of these two groups was met by fierce criticism on the side of liberal thinkers. The rationale behind this criticism was that migrants in fact contribute more to our economies, they pay in revenue more than they receive, they will not come in such big numbers, in fact the GDP in Bulgaria and Romania is increasing, they are good and disciplined workers, and as the demographic situation in Europe is dare, we need to keep them.[9] This particular debate arrests the differentiation between those fleeing political persecution and those fleeing because of “lack of economic opportunities” in the abstraction of the market.  François Crépeau for example, wants “clean labor market” (i.e. fight against the grey sectors) so as to destroy one of the pull factors as found in irregular jobs. This, he believes, will protect the irregular migrants (sick!). Here, the starting point is the market.

(Seemingly) in opposition to this latter position stands Orban’s fantasizing about some sort of a “national” labor market, where economic migrants dressed as refugees come to suck on welfare and steal jobs. 

To briefly summarize, in the first position there is no theoretical distinction between refugees and economic migrants, even though in its practice it exists…with clear political effects. The second proposition differentiates in order to “clean” the market so value producers can do their job in a protected way, in the meantime denying that semi-proletarianization has become even more pronounced with neoliberalism where more and more people fall into accumulation strategies which strive on the so-called “grey sector.” The third position, which denies the existence of asylum-seekers and fantasizes about some kind of a national labor market, where those crossing from the supposed outside can be just turned into servants.[10]


How did trickstery become inseparable from migration?

This distinction between economic and political migrations forecloses the larger secession of the economic from the political and hence one of the major structural divisions in capitalist societies. The separation between the polity and the economy. This division, as many have pointed[11], is an effective separation in the way we think of the economic coercion as separated from political coercion. We see this in the separation at hand as well. Just think of what Orban tells us when he invokes this distinction: “Hey, we, as European community, have a strong obligation towards those who are persecuted under the pursue of political powers and crazy dictators, however, when it comes to the market, we can rest, and we can step back. The market is uncontrollable, we don’t have any moral or political responsibility when it comes to the surplus of that same market.”

The divide between refugees and economic migrants took place in the aftermath of the WWII, when, institutionally speaking, the International Labor Organization was exempted from its initial plan to maximize some kind of an autonomous role when it comes to the international regulation of movement.[12]  Instead the protection of refugees was detached from ILO’s functions and given to the UNHCR (I say given because it was the United States that insisted on this separation). In this way, the ILO started dealing with labor on the move, whereas the UNHCR with the refugee surpluses. In other words, one institution undertook the responsibility to deal with the “economic” surplus and the other with the “political” surplus. This is certainly a long story made short, but we can see that in the aftermath of WWII, this division between the political and the economic, was built in the international institutions dealing with migrations. And even though we can agree that such a division is artificial, nonetheless, ever since, it has been a foci of conflict[13], where people mobilize to challenge or defend it. We are again in this particular historical moment. [14]

Orban’s seemingly illiberal demand to prevent migrants crossing is in fact based on the very liberal logic that the economic is something quite separate from the political. In migration, this translates as the register that Europeans have no moral responsibility towards the excess to the uncontrollable market. And where the market is uncontrollable, its surplus has to be controlled in all possible ways and in its entire range of different shades. The proliferation of migratory categories such as benefit tourists, mafia beggars is precisely subcategories of the category of the economic migrant. The continuous multiplication of these categories allows for infinite fragmentations in the working force.

[1]According to the Dublin agreement, asylum-seekers are returned to their first country of entry (and where their initial asylum application is received). This prevents the (stable) movement of asylum seekers from peripheral countries such as Hungary to core ones such as Germany.

[2]A period, I argue, that is marked by the gradual disarticulation of the figure of the worker from the migrant-worker to eventually stay on its own.

[3]The political language of European migration management translates “illegal” as “economic migrant.”

[4]I have taken this translation from the NYTimes. Yet, it has been brought to my attention that the category frequently used by Orban and his fellows at Fidesz is the “benefit migrant” one. The latter is a recent discursive mark to imply that immigrants are here to steal social benefits. Of course, in addition to jobs.

[5]No matter if the ‘outside’ comes from ‘within’ as is the case with the “social benefit tourist” and the “benefit shopping.”

[6]Certainly, Europe is a complex construct. When I say Europe I mean the complex of practices and hegemonic strategies that regulate the international movement of people and the naming of these people.  The outside here is not necessary the excess coming from outside the borders of the EU. Internal migration within the EU follows very similar antagonistic relations.

[7]For the concept of differential inclusion see Mezzadra and Neilson’s Border as Method.

[9]For an overview see: “Romanian and Bulgarian migration to Britain: Facts behind Fear by Franck Duvell https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/franck-d%C3%BCvell/romanian-and-bulgarian-migration-to-britain-facts-behind-fear

[10]One of Orban’s suggestions is that migrants pay themselves for their stay in Hungary. This is not linked to the acquisition of work permits. On the contrary.

[11]See for example Ellen Woods’ Empire of Capital.

[12]On this point, see Karatani.2005. How history separated refugee and migrant regimes: in search of their institutional origins. Oxford Journals. See also Pahuja’s Decolonizing International Law: Development, Economic Growth and the Politics of Universality for a similar point on international law in general.

[13]See for example my piece on the way the German Greens played out this differentiation.

[14]Three are the very important periods where these conflicts have been very visible at least when somehow migration is concerned: in the aftermath of 1973s oil crisis when Germany suspended the Gastarbeiter programs, in the process illegalizing a number of people and subsequently making asylum the only possible channel to reach the country; the 1990s when the final liberalization of markets took place in Eastern Europe and when Germany had to change its asylum law in a way so as to prevent Eastern Europeans from applying for asylum by introducing the safe third-country principle, and of course today, when the battle is concentrated on making more and more people fall into the category of the economic migrant or when privileging one migratory category against another.

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