Eastern Europe is here: transnational linkages among East European migrants in Berlin

Project coordination: Dr. Tatiana Golova and Prof. Dr. Gwendolyn Sasse

Russian souvenirs in a Berlin supermarket. © Tatiana Golova.

The starting point for this project are three current crises in German and European politics which suggest that we should anticipate better the political significance of migrant communities:

1. The foreign and domestic policy resonance of the purported rape of a female ethnic German immigrant from Russia, which drew attention to this group of migrants. The group is socially heterogeneous and frequently overlooked in debates about migrants, yet it is of significance numerically and politically within Germany and for Russia. This group has a lived experience of transnationalism between Germany and Russia, which makes it an interface between the two countries.

2. The Brexit referendum in Britain has demonstrated that certain political conditions can promote a political, media and social mobilisation against a group of immigrants. Lessons can be drawn from the Brexit episode, as it reveals how quickly the debate about migrants can turn negative, even in a country used to immigration.

3. Recent developments in Turkey have mobilised migrants and citizens of Turkish background in different, often competing ways, for example in Berlin.

Notice board in Berlin-Lichtenberg. © Tatiana Golova.

The project is informed by the transnationalism debate being conducted in the field of migration research in the social sciences. The simultaneous nature of the interrelationships in the direction of the original homeland and between it and the country of emigration has been emphasised in more recent research. Migrants are frequently analysed from an overly homogenizing perspective.  The realities of socially diverse individuals and sub-groups is inadequately empirically researched. Political events and crises in the homeland, filtered by the media and personal networks, resonate within a “group” of migrants classified under an ethnic banner, and shape the relationships with migrants of other “groups”. The pilot study works with qualitative methods (focus groups with Russian-speaking, Ukrainian and Polish migrants and narrative interviews with migrants of the three “groups”). A follow-up project could extend this combination of qualitative methods to other cities in Germany and use the results of the Berlin study as the basis for the development of a quantitative survey (in Berlin or throughout Germany).