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.

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

***

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!

 

Saying ‘non’ to Schengen: or how a visa refusal can challenge the system

Image

A Non-Schengen ticket…

“Non, merci”. These simple words have caused a stir, embarrassing France and Europe as a whole in the process. What I am referring to is the symbolic gesture that a young Senegalese woman, Bousso Dramé, performed last week after the French consulate in Dakar had granted her a visa to travel to Europe. She really wanted to go to Paris. And she well deserved it (the trip was the prize for winning a French writing contest). Yet, she declined. We often hear stories about visa applicants, especially in developing countries, being turned down by callous European officials. Not this time. Drame turned them down. And she did not do it silently. She wanted to let the consulate officials know why she did it  – because of the way she was (mis)treated during the application process. She also wanted everybody else (in Africa and beyond) to know. And she wanted to make a statement about the humiliation that many people like her have to endure in order to get to Europe. That is why she put all her bitterness in writing, in a composed yet powerful j’accuse against a ‘system’ that she feels is profoundly unjust, which pretends to be objective but whose main raison d’être seems to be that of keeping unwanted people out of Europe.

Drame’s gesture has made me think about other symbolic performances that target Europe’s visa system, in this case using art as their main ‘weapon’. What I have in mind is what Milevska  calls ‘Non Schengen Art’[1]. The common theme addressed by non–Schengen artists is the impact of the Schengen border regime on the everyday life of Eastern European citizens (those holding passports of countries that are not yet Schengen members). In order to present their work in Western Europe, these artists (themselves citizens of ‘Non Schengen’ countries) need to obtain a visa. To challenge what they perceive as a clamp down on their freedom of expression, they conjure up performances, objects, installations, and video or photography projects that are clandestine attempts for finding a way to trick the political system and bureaucratic procedures. These performances are often based on illegal tactics that mirror the creative ways in which would-migrants try to sneak across Europe’s external borders, such as faking passports, bribing officials, avoiding surveillance cameras, overstaying visas, white weddings, etc. Their criticism of the Schengen regime, rather than overt and outspoken, is evoked by their actions. They are not just representing an illegal migrant in their art; they are performing it. Thanks to these performances, art becomes part of everyday life. But the artists’ objective is not to reify the ‘everydayness’ that Schengen represents, but to disrupt it from within.

The Serbian author Tanja Ostojić, for instance, in her performance Crossing Borders, realized in 2000, the author illegally crossed the border between Slovenia and Austria. When she crossed the border, Slovenia was still a non Schengen country, and its borders with the EU were heavily fortified. According to Ostojić, the journey was possible only because of the help she received from her Austrian friends who accompanied her in the treacherous trek across the Slovenian-Austrian border. The final objective of the work of Ostojić and other members of the Non Schengen Art movement is to unveil Schengen’s exclusionary underpinnings. Their artistic performances thus engage with ‘the system’, if only as a means to debunk it from within. This is precisely what Drame’s ‘spectacular’ gesture seems to be doing. The power of  a ‘non’…


[1]  Milevska, Suzana, “Non-Schengen art: the phantasm of belonging”, paper presented at the UCL school of Slavonic and East European studies 7th annual international postgraduate conference, Inclusion Exclusion, University College London 16-18th February 2006

Schengen blues: critical (musical) notes on Europe

Schengen bluesThere’s something about Schengen that makes it a favourite subject of creative types of all stripes.  What this ‘quid’ consists of may elude us non artistically inclined mortals. After all, what can be so exciting about an utterly dry catalogue of rules regulating travel in and about the Old Continent? Apparently, a lot. The reasons why Schengen has become a source of artistic inspiration, however, are not necessarily as benign as some European policy-makers (especially those who still hail this policy initiative as one of the finest achievements of European integration) would like us to believe. Indeed, Schengen is often the artistic target of trenchant criticism, especially because of its exclusionary practices vis a vis selected individuals (i.e. the unwanted non-Europeans). This critical streak permeates the entire spectrum of the performative art scene. Musicians play a big part in this anti-Schengen chorus. Europe’s free travel area seems to touch a (metaphorical) cord with this category of artists. After all, is there a better way to voice your opinion (and be heard from afar) than through your own voice, especially if screamed out of your lungs? The latest example of this increasingly popular musical genre (‘Schengen blues’?) that I have recently come across is from the Spanish crooner Raphael (by the way, why would the author of 60s’ hits such as “Cuando tú no estás”, “Mi gran noche”, “Tema de amor”, would pen a song – in French, alas! –  on a topic such as Europe’s border control regime is a question that definitely warrants further investigation…). The song, simply titled ‘Schengen’, poetically evokes the painful experience of the typical migrant living in the Old Continent. The result is a rather depressing portrayal of Europe…

(…)

Tellement de nuits sous la paupière
Tellement de forêts abattues
Même sous la mitraille et le fer
Moi je leur ai rien vendu
Et que même dans l’espace Shengen
Ils ont pas voulu de ma peau

Ce que j’ fais là moi
Je sais pas
Je voulais juste marcher tout droit
Ce que j’ fais là moi
Je sais pas
Je pense à toi depuis mille ans

(…)

(NB: full text and English translation are available here)

Inside Schengen’s contradictions

How (popular) music reproduces the ‘Schengen myth’

Can music, and popular music in particular, contribute to the reinforcement of the myth of Schengen as emblem of ‘freedom, security and success’, as EU officials often claim when referring to Europe’s border control regime? I think it does, although this suggestion needs some clarification (and a certain leap of faith, I would add) [1].  Let me start with some general thoughts about the myth-music connection in general. Most people would agree that music has historically played a central role in the creation of myths, including political myths. Through the articulation of social values in specific musical repertoires, this performative art has in fact often functioned as means of transmission of a dominant ideology. The relation between music and myth is apparent not just in musical compositions (e.g. the mythical figures in Richard Wagner’s works), but also in the socio-cultural milieu in which music is created and performed. Music has been influenced by existing social standards and norms, and in turn it has influenced the society surrounding it. At the same time, music and society interact with and mediate one another within and across socio-cultural boundaries. This is not just the case for a society’s high culture, but also its popular expressions. This has always been the case, but contemporary music is one of the domains in which the blurring of distinction between ‘high’ and ‘popular’ culture has been more marked, especially in the West.

Not let’s turn to a concrete example involving Schegen. The subject that I consider here (a contemporary British band) carries with it an explicit reference to Europe’s border control regime. It is in fact called (you guessed it) ‘Schengen’. On their website, the band members explain the origins of their name by writing that they “stumbled across it in reference to the Schengen Treaty”[2]. Thus there is a direct link between the band and the ‘original’ Schengen. This ‘marriage’, however, seems rather casual. The band carries this particular name because its members “liked the sound of the word”: there is no apparent conscious attempt to link their music to the Schengen regime, or to make any particular political statement. The genre of music the band plays seems to support this claim. Reviewers have described the ‘Schengen sound’ as “lush, relaxed, gorgeously atmospheric electronic…” and “(s)eizing, atmospheric and unique” (all quotes are from the band’s website), characteristics that seem far removed from those we might experience when visiting Europe’s bustling and chaotic external frontiers. In what sense then is it possible to argue that the band helps to support the establishment of the myth of Schengen?

What follows might seem a bit far fetched. But let’s see if I can persuade you about this unlikely connection. The contribution of Schengen (the band) to the construction of the myth of Schengen (the border regime) can be better understood if we move away from the emphasis on music per se and its textual dimension, and shift to its performative dimension. This is the kind of move that a growing number of authors in Performative Studies (musicology being one of its sub-disciplines) have recently suggested. Traditionally, music and performance were often presented in music literature as separate. The new practice-oriented paradigm advocated in contemporary Performance Studies stresses the extent to which signification is constructed through the act of performance, between the performers themselves, and between the performers and the audience. Performative meaning is thus a process and cannot be reduced to product.

In the present example, when Schengen (the band) is playing (‘performing’), it is contributing to the reproduction of the Schengen myth. The same could be said of other rituals surrounding the band, such as selling music, touring, interacting with fans, etc. As with the hotel in Beijing, these activities represent a microcosm of Europe’s border regime. Through them, the band is indirectly ‘promoting’ the Schengen regime, helping cement its standing in popular culture. Although the band’s sound does not seem to echo the Schengen regime’s script, arguably the band embodies a music genre that indeed reflects a borderless Europe, a cosmopolitan blending of (European) sounds. After all, the band can freely (that is, without visas) tour across Europe, and the fans (if holding an EU passport) can freely follow them. This would not happen in the same way if the band and its fans were not from the EU.

The political implications stemming from Schengen (the band)’s existence and the rituals surrounding it do not end here. It should be noted that the band’s members, as British citizens, are actually not part of Schengen (the free travel area). Thus, when playing outside continental Europe, ‘Schengen is outside Schengen’, as it were. Since Schengen is a British band, its members are allowed to travel to the Schengen area, because the (Schengen) visa for British citizens is waived. Still, the band’s members need a passport to enter Europe’s free travel area. In these circumstances, what we see is an instance of ‘Schengen entering Schengen’. As in a case of transubstantiation, the band is both Schengen and in Schengen. The most ironic aspect of this situation is that the band is British, and the British government (and the majority of the population in the UK) is notoriously skeptical (if not outrightly opposed) to the Schengen regime, especially the idea of abolishing national border controls, which the regime supports. Hence, although the choice of the band’s name was not strictly speaking ‘political’, its implications clearly are. Is this enough to convince you about the link between music and Schengen myth?


[1] NB: the following ruminations (shamelessly) borrow from an essay I have published some time ago on the subject of Schengen myth making. Here is the link to the full article .

[2] The band’s website can be found here.

Putin and the Eurasian Schengen…

A post soviet Schengen? Putin thinks it is a good idea. Whether Russia’s neighbours agree is to be seen…

http://rt.com/politics/promotes-schengen-first-article-991/

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