The Mediterranean in the Age of Globalization
by Natalia Ribas-Mateos
(…) I am very glad to be here as part of the event, because I did some research in Greece many years ago and so I was able to see some of the things we talk about now. Today’s issue will be accompanied by a video with which I would like to point out the creative frame of this conference. Referring to academic papers, I thought of this DVD as a chance to visualize the topics in a striking way. I produced it together with my brother who is a camera man. It is about two border cities in the cartography of the Mediterranean: Tangiers in Morocco and Dürres in Albania. You’ll get the chance to see in the backside of the room.
The organised timetable of today is to talk about Mediterranean Europe and its borders. In order to do so I will divide my speech into three different parts. Firstly, I will introduce you to the Mediterranean in a brief way to at least give you some basics about this very complex space and region. I will also turn to focus on the idea of unity and non-unity inside the Mediterranean space. Regarding the Mediterranean, we’ll also make an effort and look at how we locate, how we face the Mediterranean. Contemporary borders in the Mediterranean are especially questioned in this presentation within the framework of economic globalisation changes, most particularly, in terms of changes related to the results of the construction of Fortress Europe. The second part of my talk is a matter of handling with the articulation of Mediterranean borders, and we’ll find specific ways of how to express them. We will examine how we can do through the border of southern Europe and its border cities. And then lastly, in the last part, I will just quickly refer to two case- studies which I did, years back, and that would be interesting for today’s topic and for this overall project. I will talk about what I did years back during my research in Thrace, Greece. We will look here at two interesting examples, the Greek case understood in a Southern European migration model, looking specifically at the case of the different existing communities in Thrace, and secondly, the Albanian case, by showing how a city like Dürres in Albania plays the role of some sort of border-city in such a global scenario. This second example is also connected to my video, to remind once more the artistic frame of this conference. The second example is the case of Dürres, Albania, as a border city. Of course I hope not to go beyond the scope of time.
First case: Thrace
We look at Thrace, a Greek region bordering on Turkey and Bulgaria. Thrace also represents a direct contrast in terms of the concentration of Greek and foreign populations. We understand this case in the Southern European model context (see Ribas-Mateos 2005), changes in the market (intensification of the informalisation trends of the labour market, particularly in the farming and service sectors, among others) and in the family (in terms of gender and generation structures related to the quality of welfare services) are the pillars for an understanding of the situation of foreign immigrants. The intensification of the already existing informal sector in Southern European cities opens up an interesting labour demand for foreign migrants. However, this labour integration means paying a high cost in welfare terms, when migrants have to face low wages and no protection in contrast with welfare coverage in Northern European countries.
This case considers an integrated focus in which two types of policies - social policies affecting the minorities and those designed for Pontian immigrants - reveal the paradoxical strategies involved in the official Greek concept of "difference". Three different themes are taken into consideration in this case: ‘new immigration’, ‘new minorities’, and ‘old minorities’. This case puts forward an unusually integrated approach for viewing the interaction of new immigration and old communities in the new reality of Thrace. ‘Old communities’ here refer to the different communities that have been living in Thrace for many years, and the newly-arrived immigrants called Pontians from the former Soviet Republics that are also old Greek communities. Possibly the main reason for the uniqueness of the Greek case is the fact that the Balkan scenario plays an important role in immigration issues.
An important aspect of the Thracian region is that it has been the main point of arrival and settlement for the Pontians (ethnic Greeks from the former Soviet republics) in Greece. In terms of the ‘old minorities’, the aim is to show how the intricate problem of mixed communities and the impossibility of drawing ethnic boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean area is one of immediate relevance. The Muslim community (Turks, Pomaks, Roma) in Western Thrace illustrates very clearly the problems of trying to differentiate between groups for whom Turkey represents a kin-state. The Greek government recognises only one minority, the “Muslim” minority, living in Thrace and protected under the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. However, most “Muslims” identify themselves as Turks, regardless of their ethnic origin (Turkish, Roma or Pomak origin). The case of the Turkish and Muslim minority in Thrace reveals a minority linked, in terms of education and culture, to Turkey.
First, from the historical perspective, we will argue that current immigration policies are in part a continuation of the demographic policies carried out by the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, it is common knowledge that Pontios communities were made to settle in this specific area in order to balance the presence of the Turkish/Muslim community, given the government concern about the growing birth-rate of the latter.
Secondly, in terms of the historical background we should point out that when referring today to the different communities we should firstly refer to the prevailing organisation of confessional communities during the Ottoman Empire. In this sense, Greeks who lived in the space of today’s Turkey, Pontios (originally from certain areas of the Black Sea) from the ex-Soviet Union, Pomaks, the Turkish population and gypsies all follow the legacy of the Ottoman system in mode of the division of communities, although, inserted today in the context of the construction of the young Greek nation-state.
Immigration policies cannot be detached from the socio-economic situation of the different communities already living there. Furthermore, the concept of the Greek diaspora becomes essential not only for understanding the idea of Greek national construction but also for understanding better the outline of immigration policies especially aimed at the Pontios. The Pontios affirmation of identity is more clearly witnessed from the seventies onwards in the shape of cultural and religious identity, where identity is mainly inherited through an extended family system. The memory of this diaspora is based on the loss of an original territory, which for the Pontios is often dramatically evoked due to the memories of the genocide suffered at the hands of the Turks.
Both Greek and Turkish nationalism have used the issue of demography as a political weapon. In the case of the Greece, the programme for the settlement of Pontios would appear to respond to a demographic rationale. In fact, we wish to argue that immigration policies towards Pontios pursue a change in the demographic population balance. Secondly, the discourses of homogenisation and nationalism are employed by the Greek nation-state. The word omogueneis (those who belong to the nation, in contrast to those who do not belong, allogeneis) is widely used for Greek immigration policies directed at the Pontios, despite the fact that Greece was always a mix of different origins. The model chosen so far is based on a representation of an ethnically homogenous society, with common traits not only in language and culture but also from a generalised myth of being descendants of an old civilisation, in this case, Ancient Greece.
Second case: Durrës in Albania
Border cities are in this presentation to be found in relation to the limits of Southern Europe (as one of the main closing doors of the intensified Fortress Europe, the borders of the Schengen construction). I found through the notion of the border city how I could focus on nodal points, a very specific type of place, that serve a border function to Fortress Southern Europe. First, in relation to circulation, transit, waiting place and restriction. Secondly, in relation to a socio-historical context, communism, colonialism, Islam. Thirdly, in relation to a global commodity chain framework (border economy, clothing manufacturing and international subcontracting, telecom circuits, commodification of the body), which is deeply articulated with processes present in the global economy.
In this border scenario, Albania has always been often considered as a place apart. Albania had always represented the closed border not only towards the Mediterranean but also towards the rest of the world. It followed a policy of extreme isolation resulting from the fear of the big powers attacking small Albania. The common stereotype for the country was that of the only Stalinist and atheist country in the world, with non-productive and uncivilized people. Nevertheless, communism was not the only factor to blame - the isolation of the Albanian people had taken place before then, and partly as a result of the country's geography. Books on the country's history and geography make constant reference to the fact that it is isolated by mountains, and how for centuries these mountains have exercised the function of a natural border. However, the isolation of Albanian people is often a myth. We can see, for instance, the tradition of the kurbet system in the 19th and 20th centuries, or the position of the Albanians in the Ottoman empire.
Transformations occurring at different times have subsequently resulted in sudden leaps from one system to another: from feudalism to communism, and from communism to extreme capitalism. In this age of rampant capitalism, Albanians lament the loss of their community values, and some are even relatively nostalgic for the austere life they used to lead, and for the greater value that was placed on friendship in the time of communism. The first decade after the collapse of communism led to the opening up of a globalized world which has had dubious effects. As Fuga highlights, in the fields of technology, production methods, commercial exchange, social services and cultural life the country is more traditional now than in the times of communism (Fuga 2000:35). Nowadays, in contrast, the values of the individual prevail: “everyone looks out for himself”(my informants repeat). It is also recently that burgeoning trafficking networks and new Mafias have sprung up and proliferated, all deriving from the vigorous dismantling of the State (a fact which is repeatedly mentioned by many Albanians and foreigners living in Albania).
Economic globalization simultaneously leads to a reshaping of cross-national economic integration at different scales, such as transnational economic development areas or new forms of regionalisation that challenge the classical divisions of the Mediterranean. Here I concentrate on the borderland sites of Southern European migration. Globalization features are here seen to bring into focus the reinforcement of national borders from two specific sites in the North–South Mediterranean divide: like in Durrës in Albania. However, these cities are not at the world command level; indeed, they occupy a variety of niches in the capitalist network economy, especially when one considers border regions.
I focus here on borderlands as research sites, encompassing the very specific friction, the liminal sites of globalization processes. These sites offer the possibility of exploring the globalization process in great detail, within a bounded setting and with its contradictory features. Simply put, global economic activities such as the mobility peculiar to the export processing zones, can be also very embedded in place. It is where global processes become structured by the local constraints of border cities (especially those which restrict mobilites to some nationals by the states and their policing powers) as well as by their own characteristics that define the heterogeneous forces.