EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Eastern boundaries, money and gender: exploring shifting locations of identity and difference on the European peripheries

Location Victoria Victoria's
Date and Start Time 21 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Sarah Green (University of Helsinki) email
Laura Assmuth (University of Eastern Finland) email
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Short Abstract

This workshop explores boundary transformations of the various Easts (post-socialist, orientalist) within the reshaping of Europe, focusing on how money and/or gender become entangled in boundaries appearing, disappearing or transforming.

Long Abstract

This workshop will explore the social process of generating, redefining, erasing and/or invoking the boundaries of the various Easts (both post-socialist and orientalist) in relation to Europe. Rather than take the existence of these boundaries and their recent political transformations for granted, the workshop will explore how such boundaries sometimes appear, sometimes disappear, sometimes blend or overlap and sometimes shift considerably in their iconic or metaphorical significance. Even if a clear boundary exists in bureaucratic terms (eg the state border between Greece and Albania or the different passports held by Finnish and Russian citizens), its existence as a boundary marking significant differences between the sides, and the nature of the differences it marks, is always contingent. While state and supra-state (eg European Union) policies may define, control, remove and represent formal territorial borders, the process of making these into meaningful boundaries, ones that generate a sense of location, belonging, or alienation is entangled in the relations, practices and perceptions of people as they go about their everyday lives. As such, these boundaries do not, of course, only exist on the geographical peripheries of Europe: they permeate cities, towns and the countryside, they cross political borders, and they travel the world along with the people who find them meaningful. Often, it is in the mundane daily life of villages, small towns and cities where the process of boundary-shaping becomes most evident, rather than on the territorial political borders themselves. Two themes, money and gender, will be the focus of discussion: as both centrally involve relationships and exchange and are also almost invariably drawn upon when evoking differences that generate meaningful boundaries, these themes can provide a useful focus for researchers working in very different European regions (eg the Balkans, the Baltics and Central Europe).

Chair: Sarah Green and Laura Assmuth
Discussant: Yael Navaro-Yashin


Fallen from grace, stuck in place: shifting cross-border hierarchies in Serbia

Author: Stef Jansen (University of Manchester)  email
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Long Abstract

A common self-presentation in Serbia today includes a sense of belated transformation after a collective 'fall from grace' during the 1990s. In this lament on lost expectations of modernisation people overwhelmingly remember themselves--as Yugoslav citizens--as never really Eastern Eastern Europeans. Against the current isolation, relative deprivation, Den Haag search warrants and IMF restructuring packages, a central dimension of this remembered not-so-Eastern 'normality' is the possibility of cross-border movement. While 're-entry into Europe' is widely considered a birthright, there is an acute awareness of its conditionality. Serbia's position is then compared unfavourably with that of 'more advanced' neighbouring Eastern European states--those same (previously 'really Eastern') states that used to function as the counterpoint for a Yugoslav sense of superiority. Aiming to address discourses of 'transition' and of Balkanism, this presentation analyses the everyday life of such reconfigured hierarchies. Focusing on experiences of enforced emplacement brought about by visa regimes--seen as a particularly humiliating reminder of the 'fall from grace'--it investigates dynamics of living standards (here: money) and morality (here: gender/kinship) with regard to old and new borders.

The Balkans and Europe – an uneasy relationship: Macedonia, identities and bodies

Author: Ilka Thiessen (Vancouver Island University)  email
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Long Abstract

My paper will discuss the effects of the disintegration of Yugoslavia on a group of young female engineers in the city of Skopje, in the Former Yugoslavian Republic of Macedonia. The research on which this paper is based ranges from 1988 to 2006. During this time not only borders and political alliances changed but daily exchanges were imbued with new meaning. A new discourse developed in which women's bodies where seen as entrance to Europe, contrasting the Balkans (Albanian women within Macedonia) with Western Europe (young women engineers). New relationships emerge, imitating 'European' relationships, changing daily relationships between men and women. I wish to discuss this particular 'new meaning', its implications in the daily life of my informants, and its raison de être. I wish to show that a political loss of control within independent Macedonia versus their past-identity as Yugoslavs, is juxtaposed with another form of control, the control over women's bodies. The center-point of this new Macedonia identity is the juxtaposition of the West with 'Balkan' and of Macedonians with Albanians. These 'boundary-shapings': where does the Balkan start where does it end, what and who defines Macedonian and Albanian 'identity', these conflicting boundaries are at the heart of the ethnic conflict in Macedonia. This ethnic conflict is not based on 'ancient hatred' but on the specific political circumstances of a United Europe, its border-drawings, and its exclusion of the Balkans in the European Project.

'It's a good time to be Hungarian': geopolitical temporalities and Economic Nationalization in Post-Mečiar Slovakia

Author: Brian Schwegler (University of Chicago)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper explores the confluence of iconic, metaphorical, and institutional structures of differentiation between Slovak and Hungarian national spaces, identities, and economic formations in Slovakia during the late 1990s-early 2000s. In Slovakia, it argues, the weakening of state economic sovereignty following the 1998 defeat of populist premier Vladimir Mečiar paradoxically strengthened the social significance of conceptions of Slovak and Hungarian national economies. Grounded in fieldwork conducted in an ethnically mixed town on Slovakia's border with Hungary, it argues that local residents' perceptions of Slovakia's stasis and Hungary's progress in EU accession negotiations and postsocialist economic transformations underscored understandings of discrete national economic formations within the global economy.

Ethnographic data for the paper was collected during the transition from Mečiarist economic protectionism to post-Mečiar neoliberalism and the rise of the Slovak economic 'tiger.' Transformations in economic policy manifest a geopolitical progression for Slovakia from postsocialist Eastern European marginalization to Central European membership in the EU, OECD, and NATO. This process of boundary erasure underscored conceptions of the national economy as a nexus of social and political change that produced referents for local, intimate processes of social differentiation. Residents of the border region in Slovakia performed ethnic, postsocialist, and European selves by moving between sites and practices they ascribed to Slovak and Hungarian national economies—e.g., through commercial crossings of the political border, by maintaining linguistic boundaries between state bureaucratic and local commercial interactions, and through educational choices for themselves and their children.. These diverse acts formed an idiom of demarcation that incorporated the geopolitical temporalities of postsocialist transformation, EU accession, and Central and East European belonging into the production of local social boundaries.

Asymmetries of gender and generation at a post-Soviet borderland

Author: Laura Assmuth (University of Eastern Finland)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper aims to show how the intertwined perspectives of gender and generation can shed light empirically on the analysis of borders and life in the borderlands. It does so by presenting an ethnographic case study from an Eastern European area where the state borders are relatively recent outcomes of deep-going political, economic and social changes brought about by the end of state socialism. Our studies at the post-Soviet borderlands between Russia, Estonia and Latvia have focused on everyday practices and ideals connected with the new state border. We have observed local men and women of different generations in their practices of border crossing, cross-border trade and shopping and other transnational activities; and we have asked all these people how the new border affects their lives and what they think of it. How do gender and generation influence people's understandings and experiences of the border? What are the gendered and generation-related border practices like in this particular area? What kinds of asymmetries persist, what kinds of new dividing lines develop between groups of people? And how do the local people's life trajectories relate to the development of and relations between the states in question?

Pensions and social tensions in Dhermi/Drimades of the Himara area, Southern Albania

Author: Natasa Gregoric Bon (Research Centre SASA, Slovenia)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper examines how monthly pensions are related to the process of construction and reconstruction of social boundaries in the village of Dhermi (official name) or Drimades (local name) and how these boundaries define their meaning. Particularly it focuses on Greek pensions that majority of elderly people of Greek minority in Dhermi/Drimades of Himara area in southern Albania receive from the Greek government. In contrast to the latter, Albanian constitution does not recognize the people of Himara area as being a part of Greek minority. This discord creates tensions in Himara where many people whose ancestors derive from this area strive to be recognized as a minority by Albanian government. This is one of the reasons - besides economical ones - for massive migration of young residents to Greece where they live and work and visit their home place only in summer. While during most of the year the population in Dhermi/Drimades does not reach more than 700 inhabitants, in summer it doubles. Those inhabitants who stay behind are pensioners and newcomers from other places in Albania who moved in the village during the time of communism and after it. Many newcomers living in Dhermi/Drimades regard Greek pensions as unjustified. They see them as creating disparities between 'fake' ethnic Greeks and Albanians. On the other hand, many of the pensioners are grateful for the social support of Greek government as their pensions are higher than Albanian ones, which they also receive. The paper illustrates how monthly pensions and their circulation create distinction between 'us' or dikimas (Drimadiotes, Himariotes, Elines, Europaios) and 'strangers' or ksenos (Alvanos, Turkos, Balkanos). These distinctions are vital in the process of construction, reconstruction and negotiation of collective and individual identities with differences existing not only between but also within groups.

Eating, milking and clogging things up: on the uses and values of money on the Greek-Albanian border

Author: Sarah Green (University of Helsinki)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the way certain kinds of social relations, inequalities and differences are both talked about and generated through discussions of the use and circulation of money during both formal and informal attempts to develop (in the widest sense) the Greek-Albanian border region of Epirus. The most common accounts of peoples' use of funds from a variety of sources for 'development' were cynical: repeatedly, there was talk of how some (usually politically powerful and well placed) people in the border area continually 'eat money' or 'milk money', and that this had the effect preventing the smooth flow of relations and activities in the region, generating an almost visceral sense of slowing things down, or clogging them up. The perspective that this particular form of the circulation money has the effect of blocking rather than allowing a flow of relations, activities and exchange, has been noted for many parts of the world; this paper will focus on the way such talk simultaneously has the effect of reshaping the now post-socialist Greek-Albanian border region: a means of defining the difference in values (both moral and material) that the border marks. The paper argues that the re-opening of the border raised the possibility that there was no significant difference anymore; the talk about the use and abuse of money reintroduced the difference as a meaningful one.