Conference reports The Political Representation and Participation of Migrants and Ethnic Minorities

For two days in early June, a team of researchers met up at Södertörn University (CBEES) to discuss different aspects of political participation and political representation of ethnic minorities and migrants in Central and Eastern Europe.

Published on on September 5, 2023

No Comments on The Political Representation and Participation of Migrants and Ethnic Minorities Share
  • Facebook
  • Pusha
  • TwitThis
  • Google
  • LinkedIn
  • Digg
  • Maila artikeln!
  • Skriv ut artikeln!

What do we know about political participation of people belonging to ethnic minority groups in contemporary Central and Eastern Europe? There are significant differences between groups and countries, of course. The Roma population in Europe is frequently depicted as segregated and socially excluded, while for example ethnic Hungarians in Romania are formally recognized in the country’s legal system (even if discrimination occasionally remains a practical reality). Furthermore, minority groups are not the same across countries. Some belong to ethnic minority groups for historical reasons (like border changes); others belong to ethnic minorities as a result of migration.

For two days in early June (5-6), a team of researchers met up at Södertörn University (CBEES) to discuss different aspects of political participation and political representation of ethnic minorities and migrants in Central and Eastern Europe.

Research has dealt with various aspects of these issues. For example, there are studies on the way migrants stay engaged in politics in their homelands, from their new host country. Some studies deal with the way ethnic groups have political parties that look after their interests; other studies have focused on the way ethnic groups are sometimes forced to leave their home countries due wars or political repression. However, in contrast to studies of the majority populations of different countries, existing studies tell us only little about the motivations of migrants or ethnic minorities in Central and Eastern Europe to engage in political participation, how they choose one mode of participation over another, and how important political representation is for them. One aim of the conference in June was to discuss novel theoretical framework that can be used to understand who participates, why and with what consequences. Another aim was to learn about actual empirical cases of political participation, civic engagement and other forms of political manifestations (like public protests) in the region.

The conference was organized by Joakim Ekman (Södertörn University), Sergiu Gherghina (University of Glasgow) and Olena Podolian (Södertörn University) and funded by the Foundation for Baltic and East European Studies (grant 23-CON-0001). After a brief introduction by Sergiu Gherghina, Jelena Ćeriman (University of Belgrade) presented her paper on minority self-governments in Hungary. Her findings clearly demonstrated that the main obstacle to ethic-based participation and representation remains the non-inclusive politics of the Orbán government. Edison Lami (Coventry University) followed, with an presentation on E-governance, using the Albanian ethnic minority in the UK as a case. Drawing on semi-structured interviews, Lami suggested that digital platforms can be a useful medium to find common ground between the home country and diaspora when it comes to engagement and participation in decision-making processes. Nermin Aydemir (Antalya Bilim University) did a presentation on the way minority rights are promoted by members of parliament who themselves have personal minority backgrounds. Nuri Korkmaz (Bursa Technical University) did a presentation on the Turkish minority in Bulgaria and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, which has successfully been able to establish itself as a recognized part of Bulgarian politics.

Two presentations were on Bosnia. Maja Savic-Bojanic and Valida Repovac-Nikšić (Sarajevo School of Science and technology) did a presentation on ethnic diasporas and host-state political participation, drawing on the case of the Bosnian diaspora in Austria and Germany. When it comes to possible motives for their participation, they argued, one has to look beyond motives related to experiences of war or general motives (such as a sense of civic duty), and also be alert to motives totally unrelated to homeland politics. Bosnia was also a part of the presentation by Çağla Demirel (Södertörn University), based on her forthcoming PhD thesis (Competitive Victimhood, autumn 2023). Demirel investigates violent conflicts and the possibilities for reconciliation, and her presentation was about Bosnian Croat narratives in post-war Bosnia-Herzegovina.

The ongoing war also cast its shadow on the conference. Yuliya Biletska (Karabuk Uiniversity) presented her work in progress on the political participation of Ukrainian migrants in Turkey, drawing on individual level data from a survey conducted in spring 2023 among 935 Ukrainian migrants who moved to Turkey between 1993 and 2023. The tentative conclusion was that those migrants who did not feel socially integrated in the Turkish society were more reluctant than others to participate in politics. The time spent in the country also plays a role, but not as high as poor relations with locals. Verena Podolskaia (New York University) did a presentation on civic and political engagement among Russian emigrants, based on surveys and interviews with Russian migrants in Armenia and Georgia. Some of those claimed to remotely support the political opposition in Russia, while others engaged in local volunteer work.

Sergiu Gherghina and Bettina Mitru (Free University Brussels) did the final presentation of the conference. Legislatures are crucial political institutions of contemporary representative democracies, and the relationship between ordinary citizens and parliamentarians have thus been rather extensively investigated. But, as Gherghina and Bettina noted, the extent to which citizens know their representatives is much less explored. The two authors conducted a survey among Romanian migrants presently presiding outside of their home country (in the EU and the UK), to find out who among these actually knew any of their MPs.

The conference ended with a general discussion about future publications based on the contributions to the conference; as well as other future collaborations.

Note: There were more people and presentations than the ones mentioned here and shown in the image.