Europe and contemporary migrations

, par Rada Iveković

A public lecture at National Chiao Tung University, International Institute for Cultural Studies (ICCS/IICS) of National Chiao Tung University, October 17th, 2019.

Migrations bear a history of discontinuities and interruptions. In reflecting on migrations, i shall necessarily be dealing with discontinuities, non-linearity and interruptions, which are, as concepts, far more promising and exciting than continuity. The latter witnesses a lack of political imagination. When starting from continuities, one is likely to keep in line with conventional power configurations and established hegemony. We choose to opt for discontinuities because they are thought provoking. Discontinuities disclose not only the other side of the medal, but unexpected viewpoints and perspectives too. They uncover alternative histories, possible histories, “unnecessary or useless histories”, deviant stories, subaltern and complementary unconventional stories.
Europe is no exception to the contemporary general closure of borders to people from the global south and the east, but it is a particularly insidious example of what is going on practically worldwide in the 21st century and within the contemporary world-configuration of powers. Although we have been hearing about a massive migration crisis, i would say that there is no crisis of migration, of migrants, of immigrants, but that there is a profound crisis of welcoming and receiving them in Europe and elsewhere. Migrants, passers by could hardly be said to be welcomed, they are parked in temporary and wild camps all over Europe. They face rejection, pushing back (refoulement), racism, violence of all sorts. This crisis of welcoming, refusal to welcome, refusal of elementary hospitality is a corollary of a crisis in representation [1]. Both of representing oneself (Europeans to themselves) and representing the other [2]. Meanwhile, migration as an issue has become highly politicised, in a way different than it had been during the Cold War, when the migrants were supposed to escape from communism and surrender to capitalism, where they would be welcome : but there were only a few of those at that time, in Europe [3].

Migrations happen in all directions but mostly to neighbouring regions and countries, which is something the still hegemonic west/north is happy to ignore. But migrations also occur from the brinks, the fringes and the peripheries towards what are thought to be rich and hegemonic countries, and this is what i shall examine with an eye on Europe and within the context of the now rising populisms as well as, not uncommonly, of extreme right movements. The three, migrations, populisms, extreme right, couldn’t be unrelated. Like in the USA, like in Australia, in Israel and in some Asian countries, those migrations from the planet’s south (and east) are rejected. However, migrations as an ancient human way of being, have always existed. Yet at this time, as an epochal and global issue, they define the 21st century. They do so among other phenomena such as climate change, ecological catastrophes, predation, proxy wars, land grabbing and rising populist nationalisms coupled with staunch state sovereignisms, ICT /New Information and Communications Technologies/, cognitive and financial capitalism, neo-colonial inclination as well as – now – even uninhibited nazism or fascism revivals once the anti-fascist legitimation of WW II has declined. All of these define the latest turn of globalisation. In a globalised world, migrations too should be apprehended globally and as a trans-national phenomenon. In my course at the International Institute for Cultural Studies (ICCS/IICS) of National Chiao Tung University, i shall try to raise some philosophical questions regarding the functioning of exception(s), immunisation and blind-spots within a given political context, and some political questions regarding the responsibility of Europe in this state of affairs. The so-called transition, post-fascism and the outreach of tolerance in capitalism should be addressed, as well as the role of historiography and compared political economy. The problem of sharing and spreading of historic responsibilities within globalisation arises, open to endless debates and controversial points of view. The problem with migrants and for migrants – is that they end up being bereft of rights (i.e. the exception(s)) in a given country, because they are neither nationals nor citizens (and nationals are citizens). They are not sufficiently protected by any international or for that matter national legislation which, in the case of migrants at least – doesn’t work in spite of well-intentioned proclamations of international organisations. Migrants are hors champ, outside the scope of perception and “norm”. Slogans such as “America First” or “Protecting the European way of life [4]” are clearly inimical to immigrants and not only to them. Yet these migrations are not likely to stop, because they are part and parcel as well as the result of the way our world, our economies, our international relations, have been constructed. This is why the deaths at borders, drowning at sea while crossing, and even the killing (or letting be killed) of migrants, who are criminalised and animalised, represent no big issue for the partisans of such principles.
The unwavering rejection of immigration by European countries (most states to various degrees, and big parts of their populations) of which many had until recently been emigration countries, comes within the context of worldwide growing populisms, of new non-progressive, non-liberating and excessively sovereignist nationalisms as well as of new forms of fascism around the world. The end of the Cold War did away with formerly understandable, albeit dichotomically constructed values and political language, leading to new confusionism [5]. In the former “eastern bloc” in Europe, that of countries around the former USSR [6], there has been a social, political and economic degradation which has brought some of them rather nearer to the third world than to the first world.

I have called the contemporary worldwide migrations – epochal. They involve much suffering and too many deaths, and imply delayed, interrupted, and ruined lives for individuals over months or even years in cases of survival (today, in the Mediterranean, one out of 14 individuals trying to cross it, dies), and they characterise an epoch, the historic period of the 21st century, and affect several generations. This epochal on-going and unstoppable flow is characterised by the closure of states and borders such as is going on in Europe and elsewhere within a general contemporary cosmopolitics of closure which corresponds to the limits of our planet having been attained [7]. The latter is certainly a regression with regard to historic periods or ideals and ideologies of greater openness, of cosmopolitanism, of internationalism and even of political multilateralism [8], regardless even of political regimes.

While we shall mainly address the sovereignty response and the dramatic border closure in Europe in the 21st century, it is clear that migrations probably involve even greater numbers within Asia at this time, also related to nationalisms, and that Europe and Asia are communicating vessels operating along the same lines. Today, Europe is waging something i do not hesitate to call a war on migrants. Many of the migrants trying to cross to Europe come from Asia, in the first place from the wars in western Asia, but traditionally from the rest of the continent too, besides Africa. Nobody can tell the exact number of deaths at the borders and in particular in the Mediterranean [9] (because much of it happens out of sight, and we don’t have the numbers of departures), but according to the researcher Claude Calame, a rough estimate is that about 40.000 people disappeared in the Mediterranean since 2000 [10]. The ways states both in Europe as well as in Asia now react to subsequent waves of immigrants is pretty much the same : trying to contain immigration, refining programmes of “chosen immigration” in relation with labour demand, refoulement (pushing back), ethnic or religious cleansing, border closure, attempts at controlling social networks, police brutality, formal and informal camps, hardening the legislation on immigration etc. You could call it a war.

One of the women captains who have been saving migrants in the Mediterranean and who is being prosecuted in Italy for the “crime of rescuing [11]” the shipwrecked, addressed to the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, the following letter :
“« Paris, I love you. I love you for all the free and solidarian people that live in you. Fighting for their freedom everyday, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, distributing blankets, friendship and solidarity. I love you for those who are sharing their homes, love and struggles everyday – regardless of their nationality, regardless if they have papers or not.
Madame Hidalgo, you want to award me a medal for my solidarian action in the Mediterranean Sea, because our crews ‘work to rescue migrants from difficult conditions on a daily basis’. At the same time your police is stealing blankets from people that you force to live on the streets, while you raid protests and criminalize people that are standing up for rights of migrants and asylum seekers. You want to give me a medal for actions that you fight in your own ramparts. I am sure you won’t be surprised that I decline the médaille Grand Vermeil.
Paris, I’m not a humanitarian. I am not there to ‘aid’. I stand with you in solidarity. We do not need medals. We do not need authorities deciding about who is a ‘hero’ and who is ‘illegal’. In fact they are in no position to make this call, because we are all equal.
What we need are freedom and rights. It is time we call out hypocrite honorings and fill the void with social justice. It is time we cast all medals into spearheads of revolution !
Documents and housing for all !
Freedom of movement and residence ! »
Pia Klemp [12]
On August 20th, 2019, a tribunal in Sicily called off the decree issued by the then Italian vice-Prime Minister and Interior minister Salvini prohibiting boats with refugees from docking in Italian ports. First nearly twenty under age non-accompanied youngsters were finally disembarked in Lampedusa (Italy) on August 19th, then the tribunal ordered to let the rest the of refugees-migrants (initially 134), who were still on board of the Open Arms, disembark on August 21st, 2019. This was at least a temporary defeat of the strong man in power, the fascist and national-populist politician who soon provoked a political crisis and toppled his own government, claiming absolute power. Salvini made the prohibition of entry to migrants his single political issue in Italy, and continues with it since he fell from power. In a divided country, his positioning with respect to the migrants’ issue has many supporters. It also has much resonance around Europe with the extreme right formations. The health and security situation, the psychological, moral and material conditions on the rescue boat which was not equipped for accommodating over a hundred people, was dire, as she had been at sea for some 19 days without refurbishment and with passengers in need and extremely strained and anguished in a humanitarian urgency, especially in fear of being sent back to Libya where they suffered torture (although no Mediterranean SAR boat, all made illegal by Salvini, would actually take them back to Libya). As the Open Arms was being emptied of her temporary occupants, another rescue boat, the Ocean-Viking, had been waiting for three weeks between Lampedusa (the southernmost Italian island) and Malta, not allowed to dock in any port in Europe. Having learnt from the experience of the two rescuing women captains prosecuted by Italian courts, from the Aquarius, and the Sea-Watch-3 rescue ships, the Ocean-Viking, a boat better equipped with radars etc., will not dock without authorisation. They said that she was now prepared to stay at sea for a longer period, availing herself of medical aid on board, with food, water, fuel, etc., although they said that there is a limit to what they can do. But not all RAS boats have even this possibility for want of material support, in a politically hostile environment. The Ocean-Viking had 356 passengers on board [13], in an equally difficult condition. In 2019, there is no-one who knows what is really happening off the Libyan coast, while there must have been at least 800 dead in the first half of 2019 only [14]. No European state accepts those migrants although 400 people would be nothing for the 500.000 inhabitants of the rich E.U., and in any case there is no permanent or principled a solution in view, while the few rescue boats, hindered by European immigration politics, carry surviving stranded migrants every day. Indeed Thomas Piketty, the Nobel Prize economist, calculated that Europe could easily integrate one million people every year, should the integration be well prepared politically, economically and socially. The few remaining rescue boats err at sea without solution in view. The Ocean-Viking proceeded to four rescue operations at sea during August 2019, and she still had those almost 400 people on board on August 21st, not allowed to let them get off.
The problems we face are international and new. In Italy, after so many exaggerations and bad calculations, Salvini finally ingloriously falls from office together with his party the Lega (la Lega), in August 2019, when a new government (a binary of the 5 Stars Party + Democratic Party, with the same prime minister and of course the same president), is installed. Governments are generally instable in Italy. But this is probably not the last we hear from Salvini, who will probably carry on with his social fascism and populism.

Migrants symbolise a currently prevalent condition of humanity in movement, the new universality of exiles and migrations [15]. It is crucial that we should defend the right to movement and to hospitality for all [16]. Who will be the contemporary allies and road companions of the new nomads, of the migrants ? No doubt they will be multiple and will bear no definitive definition of closed numbers. In our view, it is in the interest of women and of contemporary feminist movements worldwide to join the requests of the migrants. Their conditions are the most critical, the most globally widespread and they coincide in many points with those of women whose interests intersect with theirs. In so coinciding, women and migrants alike will also necessarily carry on the struggles of the workers’ movements, of various Occupy and Indignados movements, of engagements of resistance to wars and to violence, as well as of movements against all forms of racism (anti-Black, anti-Semitic, anti-Arab etc.), all forms of discrimination, of exploitation, of degrading and mismanagement of the Third World and of once (or still) colonised countries. The limits of the ideologies theorising failed modernisations (supposedly, in Third World or Socialist countries), whose “failures” are ascribed to cultural, civilizational, psychological features or stereotypes, or to “communism” are now showing their limits [17]. We are constantly told that the failure in modernisation and in capitalism is due to some shortcomings in their bearers in countries that are lagging behind. As Rastko Močnik shows, the neoliberal version of globalisation is not indispensable, but its embodiment in institutions and accumulation regimes has a high price – in wars, terrorism, fascism and post-fascist politics. Močnik distinguishes two aspects of fascism : on the one hand cultural romantic fascism (nationalistic ideologies of the 19th century in Europe), and on the other, technocratic “non-politics”, which is founded on the idea of governance, even of expert governance. He shows how ne-liberalism will open the door for populism and even outright fascism. Such “non-politics” has its hidden ideology in classical liberalism, which is formally supposed to mean freedom, equality, tolerance and multiculturalism. (The thorough history of liberalism is complex and we cannot deal with it here.) The neo-liberal discourse doubts democracy from the very beginning and prefers technocratic politics, through which its authoritarianism is legitimised and functions formally and supposedly impartially. It despises the people and it often, though not always (since companies do need workers and often want them), introduces discriminatory policies in particular towards migrant populations. This description fits perfectly the politics of Emmanuel Macron, the present French president. With regards to the migrants, it fits generally the rejection, the pushback and the expulsion [18] politics of the European Union, of most of its member states and of a great deal of its public opinions. This is where “exception” will be politically theorised through mechanisms of immunisation [19] and made a theoretical shield instrumentalised to salvage (in our case) Europe’s self-esteem and supposed moral superiority.
Today we observe that borders have made their comeback into the Schengen Europe [20] that was supposed to abolish them, and inner European states now even protect themselves against “invasions” of migrants coming from or through their European neighbours. The disaster in the Mediterranean Sea is the result of the European response, or rather, non-response since 2016, to the arrival of a wave of would-be immigrants in 2015, and especially since the access of an extreme right hardliner in June 2018 in Italy, to the position of deputy prime minister, embodying the government. This hardening happened through Salvini’s subsequent decrees (called la legge di sicurezza bis) eventually turned into the law n. 53, voted on June 24, 2019. It is, among other things, a law imposing the closure of Italian ports to rescue ships [21], and of its criminalisation of rescue NGOs, associations, activities and operations. Although such outlawing of rescuing humans had been proclaimed by a single country, Italy, it has had and still has a disastrous domino-effect on the whole region and on Europe. Since the departure of the Italian hard-liner from government, the situation has somewhat eased, rescue ships are now allowed to dock in Italian ports, but the negotiations as to which country will take how many immigrants still take days.
It is under such conditions that we must think (about) migrations and try to understand them within the historic conditions of our times. We should think of ways how to face, both as humans but also as theoreticians, the challenge of our times. We must theorise solutions and possibilities, both short term and long term ones. The short term ones are the most painful.
I shall now spend the last hour with the students in my course.

Rada Iveković


[1Marie-Claire Claoz-Tschopp, interview “Did the "refugee crisis" exist in 2015-2016 ? We can doubt it. The instrumentalisation of statistics, untruths, and the electoral use of the migratory "problem" show in the end a gap between the political world, the media and science. This climate keeps us away from the facts. A spike in arrivals a few months has plunged the EU into alarmist speeches about the "crisis", while the exodus of Syrians or Afghans in autumn 2015 was denied by a drastic drop in arrivals between 2016 and 2018. Angela Merkel’s decision to host 1.1 million refugees in 2015 highlighted not so much the "refugee crisis" as the very restrictive attitudes of other EU member states, including France. and Switzerland, the prevalence of police categories in asylum policies and the lack of a prospective migration policy in the 21st century.” “Vers un imaginaire démocratique radical : réaffirmer les droits à la mobilité et à l’hospitalité”,

[2Journal Hérodote n. 174, Paris, September 2019.

[3See “La cause des migrants”, ed. by Pauline Brücker, Daniel Veron and Youri Lou Vertongen in Revue comparative de sciences sociales, N° 84 juillet-septembre 2019. See in particular the interview with Marie-Claire Caloz-Tschopp, imaginaire-democratique-radical-reaffirmer-les-droits-la-mobilite-et-lhospitalite.

[4Surprisingly, Ursula von der Leyen, the new president elect (2019) of the European Commission, proposed to create a new European “ministry” of “Protecting our European way of life” (instead of the former and softer “Migration, home affaires and citizenship”), presided by Margaritis Schinas, himself a right-wing vice-president of the European Commission. Now, this would surely be a regression as compared to the former mandate, and has been widely criticized including by the EU politicians. The proposal may fail at the European Parliament, but it is a warning about a general tendency that opposes “the European way of life” to “migrants”, as was remarked by the present president of the EC, Jean-Claude Juncker, who disapproved it in an Interview to “Euronews” on Sept. 13, 2019, as much as did Thomas Piketty in his interview on the programme “28 minutes” on Arte TV on Sept. 14, 2019.

[5Serge Halimi, “Comment échapper à la confusion politique” Monde diplomatique, May 2015, pages 1 and 16, ; Benoît Bréville & Pierre Rimbert , “Une gauche assise à la droite du peuple”, Monde diplomatique, March 2015, pp. 8-9.

[6Since the parting of ways between Tito and Stalin in 1948, Yugoslavia was not a part of it although you get the opposite “information” on Wikipedia and all over the Internet.

[7Michael Hardt, Tony Negry, Empire, Harvard, HUP 2001.

[8Goran Fejić, public lecture on Nov. 27, 2019 at ICCS/IICS, National Chiao Tung University in Hsinchu, Taiwan, “The demise of multilateralism in a multipolar world, why ?”

[9The Mediterranean Sea is itself a border or rather a large frontier area. It hides the number of dead.

[10Claude Calame, “Près de 40000 personnes exilées mortes en Méditerranée : un crime contre l’humanité”, in Médiapart, Jan. 8, 2018, . See also the 10 theses by Calame on forced migrations into Europe, “Migrantes et migrants en situation d’exil contraint : dix thèses”, Médiapart, March 25, 2019, . See also Jacques Terrenoire, “L’inaction du gouvernement français face aux morts en Méditerranée est une honte”, .

[11In French, délit de solidarité. Pia Klemp is threatened with up to 20 years’ imprisonment for it.

[12Quoted from Yannis Youlountas’s Blog on August 20, 2019 : ; see also Le Monde, “Migrants : la Ville de Paris propose à la capitaine du « Sea-Watch 3 » de « discuter » après son refus d’être décorée”,

[13Marie Verdier, “De ‘L’Open-Arms’ à l’’Ocean-Viking’, l’errance des bateaux humanitaires”, in La Croix, 19-8-2019,

[14Marie Verdier, « En ce moment il n’y a personne pour voir ce qui se passe au large de la Libye » an Interview with the president of SOS Méditerranée François Thomas in La Croix, 16-8-2019,

[15Rada Iveković, Les citoyens manquants. Banlieues, migrations, citoyennetés et construction européenne, Al Dante, Marseille 2015.

[16Marie-Claire Caloz-Tschopp, “Vers un imaginaire démocratique radical : réaffirmer les droits à la mobilité et à l’hospitalité”,

[17Maria Todorova, “Re-imagining the Balkans”, chapt. 4 in Srećko Horvat & Igor Stiks (eds.), Welcome to the desert of post-socialism. Radical politics after Yugoslavia, London, Verso 2015, pp. 85-102. Rastko Močnik, Spisi o suvremenom kapitalizmu, transl. by Srećko Pulig and Vesna Arsovski, Zagreb, Arkzin 2016.

[18Saskia Sassen, Expulsions, Harvard, HUP 2014.

[19Roberto Esposito, Immunitas : The Protection and Negation of Life, Polity Press 2017.

[20“Schengen refers to the EU passport-free zone that covers most of the European countries. It’s the largest free travel area in the world. (...) A Schengen visa is a short-stay visa that allows a person to travel to any members of the Schengen Area, per stays up to 90 days for tourism or business purposes.”

[21First a series of decrees by the minister of interior Salvini, this law that mainly addresses migration, the security of borders and general “security” has been voted, expanded and applied since on several occasions since 2017. It sanctions with the confiscation of the boat and a minimum of 15.000 Euros to a maximum of 1 million Euros the captain who should enter a closed port “in case of violation of the decree of prohibiting entrance, transit or stop-over in Italian territorial waters”. The captain is arrested in flagrancy in the case of the “offense of resistance or violence against a warship” as happened in the case of captain Carola Rackete.