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Transnational Communities Programme

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Citizenship and Belonging: Local Expression of Political and Economic Restructuring

Short summary/long description

Principal Investigators
Dr. Michael S. Stewart
University College London
Gower Street
Dr. Ruth Mandel
University College London
Gower Street
Dr. Susan Pattie
University College London
Gower Street
Dr. Michael S. Stewart
Tel: 0171 504 2442
Fax: 0171 380 7728

Duration of research
October 1998 – December 2001

Short summary

Aims and objectives

In the 21st century states will increasingly face choices between encouraging a single identity and a unitary vision of the nation and, alternatively, providing an environment in which different identities and relationships within and across boundaries may flourish. Nowhere is this more true than in the multi-ethnic states of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union where numerous territorial disputes involving minority diaspora populations still threaten ethnic conflagration. Diasporas inherently challenge conventional notions of citizenship and homeland and this project will examine the negotiation of citizenship requirements, rules of entitlement and sense of belonging in three diaspora populations.

Methodology/study design

In central Europe this project will investigate how the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, Romania and Serbia tries to establish cultural and regional autonomy in the tooth of opposition from the majority population. In Germany we investigate how and why "returning" Kazakhstani ethnic Germans and Jews are treated better than the children of "indigenous" Turkish guest-workers. In Los Angeles, Syria and Armenia the third researcher will examines the pull of ‘competing homelands’ on members of the ancient Armenian diaspora. Each project outlined here will work closely with local organisations and welfare providers, who will be both participants and partners in the research. Several research methodologies will be employedbut the most distinctive is the classic anthropological technique of participant observation of outside investigators in order to uncover the unspoken, non-discursive senses of belonging and identity that we believe are more important in social and political life than other disciplines commonly believe.

Academic and policy implications

In the 21st century states will increasingly face choices between encouraging a single identity and vision of the nation and providing an environment in which many different identities and relationships within and across boundaries may flourish. This dilemma is especially important in a western Europe opening itself to and being opened by novel migrations from the former communist bloc. By comparing eastern bloc diasporas, both old and new, legal and illegal, as they negotiate citizenship requirements, rules of entitlement and their sense of belonging, in the wake of the collapse of the communist bloc this project will provide background data for formulating policies that address these increasing population movements.

An informed debate about rights of membership in the new Europe can only be pursued on the basis of detailed knowledge about the histories, interests and needs of specific groups. The present government's call for the development of an ethical foreign policy can only be given substance through increased awareness of the longer-term responses of particular communities to recent political and economic transformations. This project will make a small but, we hope, exemplary contribution towards these broad goals.

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Citizenship and Belonging: Local Expression of Political and Economic Restructuring

Long description

This is a study of diasporas and transnational peoples and the processesthat generate them and shape their articulation in the context of the new configurations of nations and states arising from the fall of the Soviet Bloc. Taking Clifford’s recent suggestion that a great deal "is at stake, politically and intellectually, in contemporary invocations of diaspora"(1997:244), we propose to study the political, social and cultural definition of citizenship and belonging among diaspora peoples of this region. Concluding an article surveying definitions and conditions of diaspora in the initial issue of the journal Diaspora, Safran asks whether diasporas present particular public policy problems for their host countries. Should countries be concerned about potentially political disloyalty or should they encourage such ties as "socially useful" and eventually regard such diversity as normal? It is possible, he writes, "...that diaspora communities pose a more serious challenge to host societies than do other minority communities..."(1991:97). Nowhere is this more true than in the states that once lay within the Soviet sphere.

One of the challenges concerns the practices and beliefs surrounding citizenship and civil society are particularly uncertain. Citizenship may be framed in an aura of permanency and exclusivity, a bi-polar relationship of responsibility and rights between an individual and a state; the diaspora or transnational experience is neither exclusive nor fixed. What makes diaspora peoples imagine they belong together, wherever they may be living? How do their changing views of a homeland (and return) affect their adjustments to life in the host country? Is it, as Gilroy (1987) suggests, simply a question of learning to live in a different culture on one's own terms or more implicitly a threat to one’s own stability as Safran implies? Conversely, how do different states' policies towards citizenship affect the mechanisms of civil society and participation or disenfranchisement in its workings? This joint project will examine the processes of identity-creation and change at individual, group and state levels, tracing different modes and levels of belonging,  and studying the ways in which diaspora peoples balance lives rooted in a particular territory, however temporary, while also sharing a very different "social space" (Rouse 1991:8).

Our study brings together several different forms of diaspora and transnational identity, but with a common focus on the way old patterns of identity are reconstructed in the face of novel political challenges. One of the applicants will study a diaspora created at the end of World War One by the re-drawing of the Austro-Hapsburg boundaries. The Hungarians of Slovakia, Romania and F.R.Yugoslavia live on what they consider to be ancestral Magyar land, yet border changes earlier this century made them into a new diaspora population. The Armenians of our second study continually seek means of re-defining themselves as diaspora even when finally ‘at home’ in an independent former Soviet homeland. Our third study is of the perplexing attempt by F.R.Germany on the one hand to re-patriate centuries-old diaspora Germans at the same time as creating a new diaspora population in its midst of ‘ethnic Jews’ from the former Soviet Union. At the same time, the massive exodus of ethnic Germans from Kazakhstan accelerates growing ethnic Kazakh nationalism of this new state, where ideas of western-style civil society remain alien. Each study will consider the everyday politics of defining diaspora in the post-socialist context where the rights of nations and national minorities have traditionally been somewhat systematised.

The principal researchers here are anthropologists who have been writing about this area of the world since the early 1980s and are all fluent in the main local languages. They will combine participant observation in contexts specified below with case-study and interview methods (see the detailed outlines). While structured interviews are well suited to uncovering discursive, articulated knowledge, the method of participant observation is particularly important in discovering the connotations and meaning of terms and concepts which are not subject to discursive elaboration. Though political activity is notoriously discursive, more fundamental notions of 'the person’, of ‘the sense of home’ and ‘belonging’ are not similarly articulated and it is only through the qualitative insight participant observation provides that one can garner empirical evidence as to their nature. We will build upon the work of Wust (1993, 1994), Keyes (1991) and Spencer (1990), looking at the ritualised and institutional practices which create citizenship. We will seek in particular to transcend the ‘top-down’ perspective of these authors who tend to see citizenship as an imposition from above rather than constructed from below as well.

Diaspora involves a radical denial or redefinition of place, for so long the first principle of ethnographic inquiry, and calls into question conventional theories and concepts about place--on the analytic level, and in the realm of practice. Simultaneously nowadays diaspora increasingly transcends place - through video, fax, international banking, satellite, the internet, and readily accessible intercontinental travel. In a search for commonalities between these diaspora peoples, and between what may seem to be quite different experiences of diaspora, we suggest the alternative notions of place and space--and the complex relationship between them--that underpin much of what differentiates diaspora peoples from others. Consequently, we expect to observe a movement into a new kind of social space, a space that questions formerly salient identities just as it defines new ones. In addition, related to the critique of place, a study of diaspora peoples implicitly questions first, what Ortner and Appadurai have noted as a localised focus; and second, notions of centre and periphery, which no longer suffice as an analytic framework. These issues are central to our approach to studies of diaspora peoples in a new    global context brought about by the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Two of the peoples to be studied, Armenians and Jews, have been described by Armstrong (1982), as "archetypal diasporas," collectivities which have "maintained a sharp identity for centuries or millennia." His basic definition of diaspora is quite inclusive: a "dispersed ethnic element constituting a minority." Such definitions give the impression of a static phenomenon and reveal little about the mechanics of diaspora, nor about how diasporas become and remain meaningful over time, or can radically change as a result of external political shifts. It also raises other problems, since "ethnic elements" may be ethnic in one place andtime, but not in another (as Stewart has argued for the Rom/Gypsies, ( 1997). A more nuanced approach reveals as much variation within diasporas as between them. The so-called archetypal diasporas, Jews and Armenians, are no exceptions as both groups continue to be sharply divided on political and religious issues as well as encompassing great variation between generations, sexes, and local host cultures, and most importantly, the notion of homeland (Pattie). Markowitz (1993) notes the shifting boundaries of intra-group definitions, as the context for self-reference changes. Similarly, diaspora and homeland relations are often marked by debate over who belongs where under what conditions, or, more fundamentally, who should be able to hold a passport (as in Romania recently for some Magyars).

Homeland is a negotiable idea, often ideologically motivated, which may be delimited according to political expediency or historical revision.  While the return and re-establishment or re-consolidation on soil claimed by the group has been central to the raison d’être of some classic diasporas this does not apply in any straightforward way to any of our groups. These, diasporas violate contemporary political categories and what is popularly understood as the "naturalness" of the nation-state. This points to an essential paradox: diaspora can be understood as the quintessential Other of the nation-state (Tololyan 1991); the enduring, perennial outsider role of many minority diaspora peoples--such as Jews and Gypsies--attests to this, just as the diaspora state reinforces suspicion of divided if not diluted loyalties to the nation-state. The changing global conditions brought about by the end of the Soviet empire have seen an unprecedented movement of peoples, borders, nationalities, identifications. Peoples who once felt part of the Soviet Union, by definition an international union of what were termed "nationalities," now find themselves part of forced diasporas; others are now titular nationals of new nation-states. Malkki (p.448) observes that since more and more of the world lives in a "generalised condition of homelessness"; there is an intellectual need for a new "sociology of displacement", a new "nomadology". But this is not to deny the importance of a notion of place in the construction of identities, for de-territorialization and identity are intimately linked. Our project seeks to extend this discussion, through an ethnographic study of these processes and phenomena.

Diasporas and citizens

Diasporas inherently challenge conventional notions of citizenship, as the frequent questioning of Jewish ‘loyalty’ in Britain around WWII attests. New modes of citizenship are being refined and redefined by transnational agents carving out new economic and social spaces for themselves. In some cases, e.g., the Russians of Russia's 'near-abroad', the non-Russian states of the former Soviet Union, populations find themselves to be national minorities overnight in de facto diasporas created not by migration but by the collapse of Russian hegemony in the far reaches of the USSR. Similarly, the Hungarian minorities of Slovakia, Romania and F.R.Yugoslavia are forced to renegotiate their relations not only with these newly defined states, but also with the Hungarian motherland, a state that is still debating how to define itself vis-à-vis this diaspora.

Former Soviet Germans and Jews of Kazakhstan, arriving as recruited new immigrants in Germany, are welcomed and cosseted by generous state social welfare coffers. However, they find themselves in conflict with the 35-year old community of two million Turkish Gastarbeiter, the guest workers who, unlike the Russian-speaking new immigrants, still are not allowed to change their status from migrant to immigrant. Due to German constitutional laws regarding citizenship, ancestry and ethnicity, a civil definition of German has yet to be realised. 

Armenians from the former Soviet Republic of Armenia now have the opportunity to join the well-established diaspora communities of London and Los Angeles. Yet they find themselves in a problematic relationship with these communities in many respects. Political and cultural differences nurtured in dissimilar social structures foster conflicting attitudes and expectations towards the host societies and fellow Armenians in the communities. Civil Society, Citizens and Belonging - R. Mandel

German government policy encourages Germans from the former Soviet bloc to immigrate to Germany where they claim the rights and privileges of German (and EU) citizenship. Germany's constitution defines a German as one who can prove descent from a German ancestor according to jus sanguinis (Mandel, 1994). The German Embassy in Kazakhstan deals with huge numbers of applicants hoping to immigrate to Germany. Since 1991 100,000 have left per year. In the absence of records proving German descent, ethnic authenticity tests are administered orally in interviews with the hopeful Kazakhstanis claiming German "nationality" (the local term). Thus the process of ethnic determination follows from the ethnic determinism of Germany's constitution, introducing issues central to the research, namely, civil society and the nation-state's role in the production, inclusion and exclusion of citizens and non-citizens.

Mandel will also investigate the Jews of the former Soviet Union who Germany places in a privileged category: "contingent refugees," part of a policy to increase Germany's Jewish population. Beset with historical ironies, a German diplomat administers ethnic authenticity tests to Jews, winnowing out the 'genuine' from the 'spurious,' in order to determine whois ethnically fit for immigration. Research will take place among the German and Jewish communities in Kazakhstan, and will monitor the German policies towards them. This will include participation in ethnic organisations and activities, interviews, and case studies with families prior to emigration.

When they arrive in Germany, immigrants receive major benefits from the government but are not accepted by the native Germans, to whom they are simply "Russians." This situation is similar to the transnational communities studied by Pattie (below) who are seen as outsiders vis-à-vis the older generations of this diaspora community. In addition, it resembles the situation of Germany's 2-million strong Turkish guestworker population, who, when they return to Turkey after years in their own diaspora, are stigmatised and called Alamanyali, 'German-ish' (Mandel, 1990). This calls for a reconceptualisation of issues such as shifting identities and definitions of homeland; indeed, the conventional 'centre-periphery' model comes into question in these contexts.  The Berlin-based research will follow several Jewish and German families over three years, and observe the processes of formal and informal integration into existing communities. Research will include attendance at official reception orientations, classes and centres for the newcomers. Mandel will work closely with Berlin's Commissioner for Foreigners office monitoring activities and publications and interacting with those responsible for formulating and implementing policy. In addition, research will take place at quasi-governmental initiatives such as Berlin Senate's "World of Difference" programme, as well as among NGO’s working with foreigners, such as the two major church groups (Protestant and Catholic), the Ronald Lauderer Foundation (aiding immigrant Jews from the former Soviet Union). Formal, structured and informal interviews will complement more intensive ethnographic research and in-depth case studies.

Finally, Mandel's research will juxtapose this new population from the former Soviet Union with the Turkish Gastarbeiter, the guest workers in Germany, the vast majority still holding Turkish passports after 35 years. A second, and now, third generation of marginalised non-German citizens live and work there. A crucial element in this equation is Germany's legal and social technique of distancing and delimiting these resident foreigners is creating an embryonic diaspora. The fact that most of the Gastarbeiter population are excluded from citizenship, suggests a rethinking of the nature of Germany's civil society. A controversy currently rages in Germany around the issue of dual nationality.  According to the German constitution, conflating citizenship with an ethnic, even racialised notion of Germanness, the very idea is a contradiction in terms. Yet, a situation whereby a many people are politically and socially disenfranchised, clearly is not tenable. Foreigner advocates and civil rights workers, now push for a reconsideration of German nationality law. Thus are the issue s of citizenship and belonging, civil society and homeland implicated in the research. Diaspora by definition M Stewart In 1946 Istvan Bibo warned of the continuing dangers to European stability posed by ethnic territorial disputes in central Europe, and as the recent Wars of Yugoslav dissolution demonstrated the situation and treatment of diaspora like minorities living outside their national state ('national minorities') remains the most explosive of all political problems. This part of the study examines the latest and most significant twist in the long standing 'Hungarian question’ as the central European diaspora Hungarians (in Romania, Slovakia and 'F.R.Y.’) learn to redefine 'homeland' while staying put.  From the mid eighties till 1994 Budapest played an increasingly important role as the centre of the imagined community of the Hungarian nation. Former dissidents prominent in human rights issues concerning the Hungarian minority rose to prominence within the post communist Hungarian civil service and government. The 1990 4 head of government notoriously claimed to be 'prime minister of all the Hungarians'. However, the recent signings of fundamental accords with Slovakia and Romania by which Hungary renounces for all time any interest in population shifts or border changes - marks an historical shift in relations between Budapest and the diaspora Hungarians. Now for the first time since Trianon the latter are no longer able to focus on Budapest as the source and goal of political activity. This study will look at the contrasting ways the local Hungarian political and cultural intelligentsia in towns and rural communities are redefining the nature and goals of political activity in Slovakia, Romania and F.R.Y.. Stewart will focus in particular on the explosive issue of mother-tongue teaching in these three countries. He will investigate this issue both at the level of local politics but also within educational institutions (schools) themselves, attempting to test the well-known but little investigated theoretical suggestions of Gellner and Anderson as to the sources of ‘national identification’.

The research methods will combine participant observation in the political life (offices, meetings) of the main Hungarian political parties in the three countries, with similar on-site research in schools - focusing on the construction of notions of citizenship. In each country a locale will be chosen where the educational issue is keenly contested (Cluj in Romania is already known to the applicant), not just between the minority andmajority but within the minority itself. Observation will also be made of a Hungarian World Congress meeting. Interviews will be carried out at Duna Television (Hungarian transnational TV for the region which plays a crucial role in maintaining ‘Hungarian-ness’). The selection of sites for research will be carried out with local researchers who are in two cases themselves politically active within the liberal (anti-ethnic) wing of their Hungarian parties. The research and writing up will be done by Dr. Stewart together with local, post doctoral research assistants. This project has been designed by Dr. Stewart in collaboration with the Regional Research Centre in Miercurea Ciuc, Romania and with the Instituteof Ethnology, Bratislava. Competing Homelands S. Pattie In 1991 Armenia achieved independence and one of the world's oldest diasporas gained a state-based homeland. Before independence, it was the focus of many Armenians' hopes but competed with other visions of homeland for the dispersed people (see Pattie, 1994), among these the more intimate connection with a particular ancestral village or town. This study begins with such a village, Kessab in northern Syria, beginning with the flow of migration to North America after the early twentieth century massacres and deportations. The survivors rebuilt Kessab but in 1947, nearly half of those remaining left during a period of "repatriation" organized by Soviet Armenia. This idealistic "Return" to the homeland their ancestors had never known is hotly debated. In the 1980s, and increasingly following independence, many of these same people and their families left Armenia for Los Angeles to join a large Armenian community. Close contact between Kessab, Armenia, and Los Angeles has continued including triangular business connections, a flow of charitable resources to Armenia from the diaspora, and, for some, active political interests.

This study will examine the changing ways in which homeland and diaspora have been positioned and imagined, focusing on how those living in the east and their relatives and friends in the west mediate their cultural and political differences. During the Cold War years, Kessabtsis living in both east and west maintained limited contact with each other but from the 1980s, more intense contact led to expressions of disappointment by diaspora Armenians at what they term as the "russification" or "sovietization" of those people they believed to be most ethnically pure, living in an environment where 97% of the people call themselves Armenian. In an interesting contrast with the Kazakhstani Germans "returning" to Germany, this role reversal involves the diaspora applying the litmus test of authenticity and finding the representatives of the homeland to be deficient in Armenian-ness. Using different standards, those from Armenia are equally critical of the diaspora.

The identity of "Kessabtsis" (someone from Kessab) itself is a strong one and remains so for those generations removed from this last village in the western diaspora. In the United States, Kessabtsis publish their own annual telephone directory, including short articles, and in Armenia, Kessabtsis congregate in a particular neighbourhood, and continue to speak the village dialect. In both places new generations are taught to think of the village as a veritable paradise. 

Though Kessab was never considered part of the historic Armenian homeland, the recognition of international, permanent boundaries with the independence of Armenia has meant the loss of hope for the western territories (now eastern Turkey). This has led to an increasingly rapid cultural and physical deracination of diaspora Armenians from their traditional Middle Eastern space and neighbours. Like the Hungarians outside of Hungary, diaspora Armenians are now coming to terms with the new official version of identity, broadcast by the burgeoning ethnic media, political parties, schools and the church. In a similar case, the Boyarins present the creation of the state of Israel as a subversion of Jewish culture, rather than its culmination, encouraging a particular, territorially-based definition of Jewish identity. They maintain that there is strength in diversity, both for the diaspora and for their hosts.  This will be a main avenue of study, relating these issues to questions of security, competing claims to loyalty, and the viability of pluralist states.

Dr. Pattie will conduct research in the three locations, using techniques of participant-observation, interviewing, and the collection of life histories. A small number of families with members in each of these places will be chosen, following their network of relations and interaction over time. Dr Pattie’s previous research in the Armenian diaspora and a research trip already made to Kessab will ensure a careful selection of informants for this project. Kessabtsis have produced books, pamphlets, and articles on the village and its people and these will be included in the research, along with personal memoirs and letters, and a set of some 25 interviews video-taped with elderly Kessabtsis in the 1980s, conducted by the Zoryan Institute. Important sites, such as Camp Kessab in California, and celebrations, such as the Feast of the Assumption in Kessab, will be visited. Dr. Pattie will do the research and writing up with the assistance of a local researcher in Yerevan and in conjunction with ongoing projects conducted by M. Kurkjian of Yerevan University, Dr. C. Mooradian in France, and Dr. A. Bakalian in the US.

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