Mediterranean nightmares and Freudian ships: how Europe externalizes its migration anxiety

EU interdiction

These days news outlets around the world are plastered with images of Southern European countries’ coastguard vessels intercepting rickety dinghies trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. This practice is one of the most notable instances of what Aristide Zolberg calls ‘remote control’, or the array of policies and practices aimed at managing migratory flows before they reach a country’s territory. The externalization of migration management is not a new phenomenon, and not unique to Europe. The Unites States, after all, ‘invented’ the concept of interdiction in the high seas as way to stem the flow of Haitians, Cubans and other undesired migrants heading to El Norte. Yet there is something new about recent developments, both in terms of breath and scope. More problematically, these policies remain highly controversial, raising various ethical and legal issues for the governments that implement them.

All this raises the question: why are these policies so popular? The typical answer offered, the one favoured by politicians – is that it is a very efficient way to address the challenge of unwanted migration. If migrants cannot be managed after they reach their destination, why not contain them before they get there? These policies have also the great advantage of taking place outside the legal boundaries that constrain liberal democracies, thus relieving receiving countries from potential liabilities. They also allow to shift the burden to countries of origin and transit, which are invested with the sole responsibility (with only limited financial and logistical support) of dealing with unwanted migrants.

It is a very simple and appealing logic. It also seems very rational. In this sense it echoes what economists would call ‘externalization’, the idea that in order to maximize profits a business may  off load indirect costs to a third party. Whether this strategy is really effective when applied to the migration realm is, however, debatable. The cost of setting up remote control operations and supporting them with all the latest technological gizmos is ballooning. There is also no easy way to measure success. (More detections on the high sea? Or less?). Certainly, it raises serious issues of fairness. While they do receive some (meagre) compensation, sending and transit countries often do not really have a choice when confronted with their powerful counterparts’ requests. And opposition from various quarters (not just the usual suspects, such as the NGOs galaxy, but also greater sections of the European population) is mounting as well. I wonder, however, if the answer to the question of why these policies are so popular among policy-makers has not much to do with rational calculations, but something more subtle and thus less apparent. After all, economists are not the only ones talking about ‘externalization’. This concept has been famously explored by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. From a Freudian perspective, externalization is an unconscious copying mechanism aimed at soothing the anxieties that engulf our daily lives. This process occurs when we find a target – be it a person or an object – in which we project our own characteristics, often negative ones. This mechanism has an important ‘positive’ function. Without the relief that it offers, we would soon reach a state of chronic neurosis. Its sides effects are equally nasty, however, since it can have deleterious consequences on the subjects of our projections, our relations with them and, more generally, on our public image. The silver lining in this phenomenon is that it is typically temporary and that it can be reversed when our level of anxiety gets under control. Whether this is possible when dealing with cases of collective externalization (that is, when it is not just an individual involved but an entire community) is another story. Envisioning Europe’s remote control saga through a psychoanalytic lens, however, points to the fact that politicians’ fascination with these highly toxic policies has more to do with ‘internal’ reasons than external ones. If Europe really wants to confront its uncomfortable relationship with migration, it might have to start by looking at itself in the mirror.

Waging the Euro-Russian ‘visa war’

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It would be a bit of an understatement to say that relations between Russia and European governments have recently turned rather frosty. Indeed, we now typically hear references to a new ‘Cold War’, with Ukraine acting as battleground in this revamped East-West rivalry. Despite the militaristic undertones that characterise their relationship, the growing tensions between the two sides have not led to open conflict. Both, after all, would have a lot to lose from this confrontation. This state of affairs, however, does not mean that another type of war, one not involving tanks and missiles, is being waged. It is a war over mobility of people, fought through an unlikely weapon of mass disruption, namely visas.

European governments have in fact created a ‘black list’ of Russian public officials who are deemed personae non gratae and banned from entering the EU. European officials present this move as an initial warning shot before harsher measures (i.e. economic sanctions) are introduced as a means to put pressure on their Russian counterparts. Whether these threats of escalation will materialise is a matter of debate. It is no secret that Europeans are divided on what to do with Russia, and it is unlikely that they would irreparably antagonise their bilateral relations with Moscow. There is a good chance then that visas will remain Europe’s sole offensive instrument deployed in this conflict. Europe’s mighty arsenal may therefore largely consist of nothing more than a piece of paper.

Still, we should be careful not to underestimate the power of this ‘soft’ weapon. For the Russian elites (be they tycoons or well-connected public officials) access to Europe is a sensitive issue, given their enduring fascination and extensive (and often murky) economic dealings with the Old Continent. Europeans are well aware of this soft spot, and it is therefore not surprising that they are trying to take advantage of it as much they can.

There is another aspect of this conflict that often goes unnoticed, however. The visa issue is not a matter of concern only for Russian elites. The most recent statistics published by Frontex, the EU border agency, are revealing in this regard. As shown in Chart 1 below, by far the largest percentage of short-term uniform visas issued for Schengen countries are for individuals who are based in Russia, at 41.7 per cent of the total in 2012. The country with the next largest percentage of visas issued is Ukraine, at only 9 per cent of the total.

Chart 1: Percentage of short-term uniform visas issued for Schengen countries by country of issue/application (2012)

Visa 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: European Commission Directorate-General Home Affairs

In turn, as Chart 2 shows, the rejection rate for Russian applicants is among the smallest of the top 20 countries where visas are issued. Of those applications for a Schengen visa made in Russia in 2012, only 0.9 per cent were refused. For comparison, the country with the largest refusal rate, Algeria, had 26.7 per cent of applications being refused.

Chart 2: Visa refusal rate for top 20 countries where Schengen visas were issued in 2012

Visa refusals 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: European Commission Directorate-General Home Affairs

This being the case, a cynic might argue that an appealing alternative avenue to intensify the pressure on the Kremlin could well be making it harder for ordinary Russians to obtain the sought-after pass to Europe. And yet banning a rich source of income for a continent still recovering from a devastating crisis does not seem be such a smart move. The potential for such a move to backfire is undoubtedly high.

This route should not be completely dismissed, however. European officials could use the visa issue as a bargaining chip in their dealings with Russia. Indeed, something along these lines is already happening. One example of this is that the EU has refused to allow residents of Crimea to apply for visas via Russian institutions and instead will only provide visas to these citizens if they apply in Ukraine – despite the annexation of the peninsula by Russia. The Commission has justified this by stating that it will issue visas via Ukraine because “Crimea is a part of this country”.

European officials could also include in the mix a possible revival of the longstanding discussion over the lifting of visa requirements for Russian nationals, which even before the latest events in Ukraine had hit some road blocks. The EU suspended negotiations over a visa-free arrangement with Russia in March, after the Crimean crisis began. All things considered, the story of the EU-Russian visa war may just be getting under way.

Mapping Schengen Art – Part IV

Here is the fourth instalment of Schengen border artan ongoing project in which I try to map the multifarious ways in which the Old Continent’s (real and imaginary) frontiers have been represented/performed/subverted.

 

Blue in Morocco – Blue (2012, wall art)

Blue artist

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.madnesswall.com/2012/04/blu-in-morocco-new-wall-near-spanish.html

 

Caution border – AA.VV. (2009, installation)

Brussels - art 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.cultura21.net/karamoja/html/art/index.php

 

Without borders? – Kontekst and h.arta (2009, exhibition)

main-julius1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://workshopwithoutborders.wordpress.com/exhibition/

 

Undocumented Apparel – Julio Salgado (2012, illustrations)

uni_salgadoundocumentedapparel_wmain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://juliosalgadoart.bigcartel.com/

 

Schengen-Funk – Sprutbass (2013, music)

Sprutbass

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.nofearofpop.net/blog/sprutbass-schengen-funk-melkeveien-remix

 

 

 

Mapping Europe’s border art – Part III

Here is the third instalment of Schengen border art, an ongoing project in which I try to map the multifarious ways in which the Old Continent’s (real and imaginary) frontiers have been represented/performed/subverted.

 

Schengen – Helmy Nouh (2013, film)

 

Schengen film

 

 

 

 

 

http://schengenfilm.com/

 

 

Migrants moving history: Narratives of diversity in Europe (2007, documentary)

 

Migrant Moving history

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.migrants-moving-history.org/documentary.htm

 

 

The list – Banu Cennetoglu (2006, installation)

 

banu_cennetoglu_listamsterdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://edno.bg/en/sofia-contemporary-2013/program/759

 

Permanent Waiting Room (2008, Installation)

 

Container

 

 

 

http://www.kitch.si/livingonaborder/node/7

 

Melilla – Flo Razowsky (2007, photos)

 

detentionyard_spain_border_ceti_melilla_1207_BW_small

 

 

http://www.lightstalkers.org/galleries/contact_sheet/9398

 

New Voices from Europe and Beyond’ – ARC Publications/ Literature Across Frontiers (Poetry Anthology Series)

 

Catalan-Poets-front-cover-cropped-493x273

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.lit-across-frontiers.org/activities-and-projects/project/new-voices-from-europe-and-beyond/

 

Mapping Europe’s border art – part II

In my previous post I presented the project Schengen border art. What follows are some more examples of creative representations and performances of/about European frontiers. Enjoy!

 

There is no place – Lisl Ponger (2007, photographs)

There is no place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.grenzlinien.com/lisl-ponger.htm

 

Foreigners registration office – Ximena Aburto Felis (2007, video)

Foreign registration

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.endloop.org/videos.html

 

Blue Wall of Silence – Vibeke Jensen (2007, installation)

BWStuesday3s

 

 

 

http://www.thing.net/~vibekeie/bluewall_index.htm

 

Frontiers – You’ve reached Fortress Europe (2008, videogame)

Fortress Europe game

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.frontiers-game.com/

 

Schengen - Raphael Haroche (2006, song)

Rafael Schengen

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9UG-ejy6g8

Mapping Europe’s border art – a project

Art and other creative expressions about European borders have been a recurrent theme in this blog. So much so that I have decided to launch a new side project specifically dealing with this topic. After all, isn’t the end of the year a time for new resolutions? The tentative title of this endeveour is ‘Schengen border art’, and I am planning to develop it in the upcoming months. The goal is to map contemporary artistic performances whose main subject is the Old Continent’s frontiers, be it the ‘real’ boundary demarcations in the political, social, economic realms or their imagined projections, and in the people who cross, build or challenge them on a daily basis. These artistic performances can take different forms: from novels, poems and paintings to photographs, videos, sculptures, land art, simulations, installations, theatrical and other types of  ‘live’ performances. The number of these artistic expressions has mushroomed in recent years as a result of the growing interest in (and controversy over) Europe’s borders and their management. Below you will find a preview of this body of work. And stay tuned for updates on this project!

After Schengen – Ignacio Evangelista (2013)

th-17_pl-cz

http://ignacioevangelista.com/index.php?/seleccion-natural/work-in-progres-after-schengen/

 

Maritime Incidents – Heiko Schäfer (2008).

schaefer04-k

http://www.heikoschaefer.de/projects/start/maritime_incidents.html

 

Migration, Installation – Raul Gschrey (2010)

gschrey02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.grenzlinien.com/raul-gschrey.htm

 

Memorabilia – Sabina Shikhlinskaya (2012)

IMG_4967-n_small-200x300

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://transkaukazja.de/?p=333&lang=en

 

Contained Mobility - Ursula Biemann (2004)

Capture

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.geobodies.org/art-and-videos/contained-mobility

 

Fortress Europe – Asia dub foundation (2003)

Asia Dub foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMXKt99W61A

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Scotland’s independence, Schengen, and today’s border reivers

border_reiversWith this week’s issuing of the white paper ‘Scotland’s Future’,  the Scottish government  has officially launched its campaign for the September 2014 referendum on independence. If successful, Scotland would (re)gain full sovereignty and thus control over its destiny. What that means in practice is that Edinburgh, among other things, would be able to exert control over its newly independent territory, including its borders. The Scottish-English frontier would then become Europe’s latest “t

errible reality” (as Dion back in the 1940s referred to Europe’s post WW2 frontiers). Yet, politicians in the Scottish government have quickly dismissed the claims (rumors?) that a modern day Adrian’s wall would be erected  between modern day Caledonia and Britannia – rumors that originate, not surprisingly, mostly from south of the future border). No new fortifications, no customs and passport checks.  And above all – vade retro satana! – Scotland will be not forced by some nasty (continental) Europeans to join the Schengen regime. Scotland will therefore be free to reclaim its land border. Or maybe not. It would take it back, but just symbolically. The UK (or what would be left without the Scots) will not be compelled to open a northern flank in its battle against the masses of (Continental) Europeans yearning to breathe free (and  work) in modern day Albion. Or maybe they will. After all, an independent Scotland, even if outside Schengen, might still feel like inviting those  irritating (Continental) Europeans. And then who would check whether they’ll be sneaking down south? The twisted nature of this debate (and of the motivations of those behind it), then, seems to conjure the re-appearance in modern  guise of an epic and controversial figure that characterized the lawless territory constituting the pre-Union Anglo-Scottish borderland, namely that of the border reiver. Border reivers were individuals (both of Scottish and English descent) who raided the areas around the Anglo-Scottish frontier and robbed their victims of their belongings with no regards to the victims’ nationality. Crucially, governments on both sides of the border were either turning a blind eye or even actually encouraging their actions, because reivers would do the dirty work against the other side that governments were either unwilling or unable of carrying out. What modern day rulers should keep in mind, however, is that border reivers were notoriously unreliable, switching side when convenient and even plundering those who ostensibly they had vowed their allegiance to.  From wherever side of the Anglo-Scottish fence you might sitting today, a sound piece of advice would be: behold all these novel border reivers!

 

Jurmala’s ghosts and the Haunted Houses of Schengen

imagesHalloween. The time when the undead come to town. And when boarded up haunted houses start making eerie sounds and come alive. This year, however, not all of them seem that decrepit and spirited. Some in fact remain relatively quiet. These are the haunted houses of Schengen. Haunted, yet  alluring. Indeed, they can be quite luxurious.  They also do not appear in creepy places (So no Castles in Transylvania – not yet. at least, for Romania is still waiting to join Schengen…). On the contrary, they rise along swanky neighborhoods or exclusive beach resorts. Who lives there? Hmmm, good question. If we had an answer, these houses would not be haunted… A more pertinent question is: why would anybody in their sane mind be so foolish as to own such as a ghostly abode?  Wait a minute: it’s Schengen, stupid! Yes, what makes these architectural ghosts so attractive is that they happen to be in the most sought-after place on earth, namely Europe (Yes, some find the decadent Old Continent still attractive!). And if you are not a European citizen and require a visa to enter Eurodreamland, then why not buy your way into paradise by claiming a fictitious residence there? And here enters Jurmala, the Latvian resort city by the Baltic Sea. In 2010, the Latvian government introduced a program that allows foreign citizens to acquire residency in the country if they are willing to invest at least 71,000 euros. Minimum requirement to maintain residency: have a local address (an apartment in Jurmala sounds good!) and be there one day per year (yeah, the day the haunted houses of Schengen come alive!). And who cares about the sandy beaches (The Baltic sea is not the Caribbean after all). With a local residency in your pocket, the doors of Europe are open to you! No more hassle at EU embassies! No more dealing with these callous and ungrateful European officials! To good to be true. Indeed, in three years, around 7,000 ‘zombies’, mostly well-healed Russians, Chinese and Kazakhs, have taken advantage of this unique opportunity. But like everything else, good things are bound to come to an end. Latvia is now feeling a bit of pressure from its EU partners (should we blame them?) to close this loophole. And they might have another reason to do so. Purportedly, the rationale for this program is to encourage money flows into the country. Yet this money is often laundered and sent back to the ghost’s (ehmm, resident’s) country of origin. So much for Latvia’s gains! None should that surprised then if this year’s Halloween might seal the program’s fate: R.I.P the Haunted Houses of Schengen!

The place to be: Schengen and Europe’s new grand tour

Schengen monumentThe way  ‘Schengen’ has captured the popular imagination around the world does not finish surprising me.   After all, not that long ago the term only referred to a sleepy little village along the river Moselle, known for its wine, and not  much else. And then came the omonimous (and  infamous) treaty that led the way to the creation of a border free Europe. This document, it should be noted, was signed on a cruise ship (the Princesse Marie Astrid), in itself quite an odd feat: how many treaties have been signed on water, and on the move? A rocking treaty indeed! From then, everything was downhill (or downstream, I should say).  Almost thirty years on, Schengen is not just still alive and kicking and an established element in Europe’s political landscape. It has also become part of the collective imaginary among European citizens (NB: that does not mean that everybody is happy with it. On the contrary, there has always been opposition to it, and, of late, this opposition has been mounting. Yet, even for its enemies, Schengen is a real and powerful presence to be reckoned  with. ) Interestingly, this apparently inexorable process of Schengen mythicization is spreading beyond Europe as well. Elsewhere in this blog. I have described this phenomenon, especially through some of its most unexpected expressions in popular culture (see, for instance, my musings on the recently opened Schengen restaurant in Petersburg). I thought I had seen it all. Instead, recently I came across something that pushes the boundaries of the Schengen mythical saga a step further. What I am referring to here is a video, posted  over the summer by a Taiwanese TV channel. The 5 minute clip is a colorful, postcard-like presentation of the town of Schengen as a tourist attraction for a Taiwanese audience. Now, it is true that East Asian international tourism has expanded exponentially in recent years, especially to Europe, and that this new wave of tourists have become more demanding (the classic tour of European capitals does not do it anymore…). Still, visiting a small village in the middle of nowhere?  Why  on earth? Well, as it happens, the main reason to visit is that…. it is the birthplace of the Schengen regime! Of course!  After all, what’s most exciting than visiting the monument that commemorates the agreement, located just outside the town, along the river Moselle (see pic) on a sunny (though the sun is not always guaranteed) European summer day?  Together with the Colosseum, the Tour Eiffel, Buckingham Palace, Schengen is the place to be. Or, at least, this what the TV is telling you. See it to believe it, in your next grand European tour!

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