Diversity, Security, Mobility: Challenges for Eastern Europe

An introduction to our special feature Diversity, Security, Mobility: Challenges for Eastern Europe.


In this special anniversary edition of EuropeNow, curators Peter Haslinger and Nicole Shea highlight the importance in research and culture of smaller central and eastern European regions. The featured researchers engage the topic of “Minorities, Diversities, and Securities,”[1] providing ample opportunity for reflection upon the theoretical implications from an interdisciplinary point of view. The research presented here assesses the concepts, paradigms, and methods for the re-evaluation of multi-ethnicity, diversity, and mobility in a globalized and “post-factual” era, and seeks to identify factors and agencies that help to explain the current trends towards the obsession with security agendas. The interview with Peter Haslinger further elaborates on the significance of Eastern Europe in the European Studies field, which, traditionally, has been approached from a Western European angle.

The second part of this feature recognizes the cultural significance and contributions from smaller European regions and attempts to strengthen ties with them. By focusing on Bulgaria, this special edition examines the impact of the humanities and the arts in the investigation of what it means to be human and a global citizen. The interview with Bulgarian artists, Lora Tchekoratova and Milena Deleva, focuses on the importance of cultural identity for the well-being of citizens of smaller, lesser-known European regions in the world.

In their introduction to a volume on community, citizenship, and the “war on terror,” Patricia Noxolo and Jef Huymans explain that “the issue of security – what it means and how it can be achieved – is one of the defining questions of the early 21st century. It is a question that has come to affect more and more intimate elements of peoples’ lives, impacting on relationships between states, between individuals and the state, but also between individuals as they interact day by day.”[2] Since the beginning of the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015/16, the discur­sive shift away from multiculturalism and the agendas of ethnic, cultural, religious, and other minorities, to a perspective of assessing risks and challenges that evolve from societal diversity, has even more intensified. In the political sphere, and in print as well as social media in and outside Europe, the theme of migrants and cultural/religious diversity is becoming more and more intertwined with concepts of security, conflict prevention, and anti-terrorist determent. Parallel to that development, there is a tendency to re-frame or re-interpret assumptions on the relations between minority and majority populations. In some countries (like Russia, Hungary, or Poland), official polities even produce side-effects to re-marginalize minority groups by sociocultural, economic, and religious- or life-style-based dynamics of “othering.” As a consequence, security issues and processes of securitization lead to new intersections of social identities, renewed stereotypes, and systems of domination, oppression, and discrimination.

So far, however, security studies have given surprisingly little attention to ethnic diversity and minority groups as a constituent factor in the overall dynamics of security management. Many basic contributions to the field still refer to difference mainly as a source of conflict, and therefore as an object of securitization. As a consequence, cultural codes, linguistic barriers, and processes of self-identification and ethnic grouping, as well as othering of minorities, have not constituted an important aspect of analysis. Especially in multi-ethnic societies, however, affiliations based on cultural and ethnic identities play a crucial role in pre-structuring audiences and security agendas. As Lene Hansen describes, “‘security’, as defined by the Copenhagen School, is not only about survival, it is about collective survival. To argue that something threatens a group’s survival is to engage in a political process: one has to convincingly state that a particular threat is of such a magnitude or unknown quality that action needs to be initiated and normal rules suspended.”[3]

Thierry Balzacq has pointed out that security and emancipation operate under incompatible logics: the one exclusionary and the other inclusive. Since security is often achieved at someone’s expense, the politics of security and the politics of emancipation are therefore of different extract.[4] If we therefore focus on security politics towards minorities, we see the dilemma of security: If one side becomes secure by processes of securitization, others begin to feel a lack of security. It is also important, however, to remember that representatives of minority groups develop their own concepts of societal security (in the sense of the Copenhagen school) independently from the state perspective. Moreover, this approach helps to answer the question of how securitization moves result in the marginalization and exclusion of “unwanted” populations through creating social distance. By the example of the current refugees, in 2015 political scientist Tugba Basaran spoke of a technique for advancing and enforcing indifference toward specific groups through the legal system. “Security requires the collective indifference of the general population toward securitized populations. By limiting third-party assistance to undesired populations,” she holds, “public compassion is discouraged, while collective disengagement and even indifference are encouraged. […] Securitized populations are increasingly isolated spatially, economically, and socially from the general population […]. A generalized form of collective indifference and societal isolation provides the possibility for governing these populations differently.”[5]

Current theories of intersectionality need to be re-evaluated, thereby addressing questions raised from individual empirical studies such as: What are social and political dynamics behind the new links between minorities, cultural diversity, and security issues? What are new trends and national longue-durée developments when we speak of the relation between kin-states, co-national minorities, and the state they live in? How do security issues and the way they are verbalized influence group relations, group boundaries, and individual as well as collective identities? Is there a need to re-conceptualize agency, discourse, communication, and group behavior against this backdrop? And how would we assess the role of European institutions when it comes to their interaction with national polities? All these important questions show that looking at societal diversity through the prism of security issues, as the following research articles and the podcast will, offers more explanatory dimension than most conflict theories.

In her research article, Ana Nichita Ivaşiuc argues that contemporary racial Eastern-Europeanization, in which the figure of the Roma abounds as radical and unassimilable other, must be placed in the wider context of the subalternization of Eastern Europe in the process of what has been uncritically described as “Europeanization:” the expansion of the European Union project towards the East, putatively already foreign because in need to be “Europeanized.” In this process, the Western core of Europe was always thought to be superior to its Eastern hinterlands. By focusing on the narrative of Romanian migrants who, conscious of their own subalternity, mobilize an arsenal of racial representations of the Roma in order to negotiate a superior position on Western social hierarchies, the paper highlights the ambivalent role of the EU’s policies and politics towards minority protection in the East, against the racially informed, differential incorporation of migrants at home and official attempts to securitize a putative European identity.

Federica Prina examines Russia’s “virtual” equality. Her article will first point to a tradition, initiated during the Soviet era, of ethnic groups being presented as “equal,” while in reality (Soviet and post-Soviet) minority policies have tended to entrench social inequality. Second, it will look at the overlap between notions of equality of groups and of individuals. Prina’s research will use the results of interviews conducted in Russia in 2015 and 2016 to analyze perceptions of ethnic communities as social collectivities, how individuals position themselves in relation to these groups, and how such perceptions seem to affect notions of equality and institutional arrangements for diversity management in Russian society.

Kaliningrad Oblast – Russia´s “island” in Europe physically detached from the mainland – has now re-entered international discourse in a conjuncture with security-related threats posed by Russia´s growing assertiveness in the Baltic Sea region, as Sergey Sukhankin’s research reveals. In a majority of cases, while addressing threats, dangers and implications posed to the region, scholars and practitioners frequently tend to concentrate on so-called “hard challenges” – intensive military build-up initiated by the Russian side after the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis. As a result, the oblast that used to be deemed as “Baltic Hong Kong” and a “bridge” of cooperation between Russia and Europe has been turned into a formidable Anti Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) “bubble” that poses numerous dangers to the region and alters the balance of powers established after the dissolution of the USSR.

Marina Germane’s research argues that a closer interdisciplinary examination of transnational interethnic minority activism is necessary. From this angle, this is a movement that seeks to resolve the tension between the right to self-determination of peoples and the territorial integrity of existing states. This pluralistic conception of political community aims to contribute to the process of European integration by ensuring minorities’ direct input and participation. Based on the example of two distinct yet related organizations – the Nationalities Congress of the interwar period and the present-day Federal Union of European Nationalities – this paper contemplates the main goals of transnational minority movements, challenges and barriers that they encounter in achieving them, as well as examining the gradually changing response to their endeavor on the part of nation-states and international organizations.

Sebastian Paul’s research focuses on Czechoslovak history during the Interwar Period with a focus on securitization of Czechoslovakia’s “far east,” a province called “Subcarpathian Rus” and its particular minority situation which was unknown to the Czech administration and, thus, complicated the dynamics of securitization Particularly disturbing to the new Czech state representatives was the fact that Ruthenians had been dominated by Hungarian authorities for centuries, fearing their ongoing loyalty. The Czechoslovak nation state tried to counter this perceived loyalty by empowering the Ruthenians yet securitizing local minorities and especially the Hungarian minority as a potential threat for the political stability in that region with unexpected outcomes.

As a follow-up to his previous article published in EuropeNow—which touched on the genealogy of a terrorist/refugee narrative that securitizes associated subjects in terms of the terror that they might produce—James Fitzgerald reflects on how this dynamic has been manifest in a distinctly European context. Centered around the collection of stories at the “migrant aid centre” in Porte de la Chapelle, Paris, the harsh realities of the indefinitely displaced reflect not only a disintegrating duty of care, but also the very conditions—and political logics—that make such moves possible. The article thereby traces across Central/Eastern and mainland Europe the existence of a “terrorist/refugee” narrative in what Mavelli (2015) has called “humanitarian government:” the simultaneous deployment of humanitarianism and security in the government of precarious lives that seeks not to provide adequate security to those refugees and asylum seekers, but to instead „enhance the biological and emotional well-being of host populations” which must be protected from them.[6]

Cristiane Grigore, research scholar and founder of the Roma People’s Project (PPP), puts the campus spotlight on this new Columbia University initiative. Through Grigore’s interviews with Columbia professors Geraldine Downing and Frances Negron-Muntaner, it becomes clear that PPP will house Roma research and projects that examine topics such as identity, mobility, and displacement with the goal to build a digital platform where Roma and non-Roma come together to share their stories and to overcome prejudice.

With “In Motion,” art curator Nicole Shea features three Bulgarian-born artists who experienced the Iron Curtain and the fall of the Berlin Wall as a principal dancer, as photographer, and as multi-media artist. All three were heavily influenced by the cultural shift from communism to capitalism upon their emigration to the United States. Motion and movement connect the works: the wilting of beauty and death followed by renewed growth and life; the idea of boundaries overcome by movement as a liberating force both physically and psychologically; and money as a symbol for granting mobility and growth to foster transatlantic communication and visibility for the cultural wealth of smaller central and eastern European regions.




– “Between Humanitarianism and Security: Displacement in a Perilous State of Exception” by James Fitzgerald

– “Kaliningrad Oblast and Challenges to the Baltic Sea Region” by Sergey Sukhankin

– “Russia’s ‘Myth’ of Equality in a Securitized Context” by Federica Prina

– “Good Europeans or Poor Relations? Transnational Minority Activism in the Age of European Integration” by Marina Germane

– “Securitizations of Identities” by Ana Ivasiuc

– “Securitizing the Unknown Borderlands: Czechoslovak Subcarpathian Rus and Its Minorities” by Sebastian Paul


– “Depictions of Russian Culture in Cold War British Fiction: An Examination of the Works of Irish Murdoch (1919-1999)” by Olga Chuprakova


– TV Socialism, reviewed by Stefan Zimmerman

– A Difficult Death: The Life and Work of Jens Peter Jacobsen, reviewed by Marianne Stecher

– Das Charisma der Weltrevolution. Revolutionärer Internationalismus in der frühen Sowjetgesellschaft 1917-1927, reviewed by Theodore Weeks

– American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Dream, reviewed by Samantha Lomb

– Russian History Through the Senses From 1700 to the Present, reviewed by Steven Marks

– Near Abroad: Putin, the West and the Contest Over Ukraine and the Caucasus, reviewed by Tor Bukkvoll

– Cold War Energy: A Transnational History of Soviet Oil and Gas, reviewed by Nick Ostrum

– Friendship, Family, Revolution: Nikolai Charushin and a Generation of Populists of the 1870s, reviewed by Aleksandr Iakovlevich Gudov

– Disrupted Landscapes: State, Peasants and the Politics of Land in Postsocialist Romania, reviewed by Georgeta Connor

– The Eurasian Wheat Belt and Food Security Global and Regional Aspects, reviewed by Judith Pallot


– “Forging Cultural Centers: An Interview with Lora Tchekoratova and Milena Deleva” by Lillian Klein

– “Minorities, Diversities, and Securities: An Interview with Peter Haslinger” by Lillian Klein


– “Minorities and Securities: Past Experiences, Current Challenges, and Future Scenarios,” moderated by Peter Haslinger

Visual Art

– In Motion, an art series curated by Nicole Shea


– “Launching the Roma People’s Project at Columbia University” by Cristiana Grigore

– “A Digital Space to Imagine What is Possible: An Interview with Frances Negrón-Muntaner” by Cristiana Grigore

– “On Criminalized Identities and Empowering Marginalized Communities: An Interview with Geraldine Downey” by Cristiana Grigore


Peter Haslinger is the Director of the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East-Central Europe in Marburg, Professor of East-Central European History at the Historical Institute of the Justus Liebig University and the Interdisciplinary Center for Eastern Europe in Giessen (GiZo).

Nicole Shea is the Director of the Council for European Studies at Columbia University and the Executive Editor of EuropeNow.



[1] The research articles featured in this edition resulted from a September 28-30, 2017 symposium at the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe in Marburg, Germany. With the Council for European Studies at Columbia University (CES) as the permanent partner in the United States, the symposium will be organized alternately at one of the locations of the four European partner institutions: the Herder-Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe in Marburg (this year), the Instituto Barcelona d’Estudis Internationals (in 2019), the University of Glasgow and Amsterdam University. In order to interlink with the intellectual environment, there were also local co-organizers: foremost the Collaborative Research Center-Transregio Dynamics of Security and the LOEWE-Research Focus Regions of Conflict in Eastern Europe, but also the two Universities in Giessen and Marburg with their respective centers – the Giessen Center for Eastern European Studies, the Marburg Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies and the Marburg Center for Conflict Studies.

[2] Noxolo, Patricia / Huysmans, Jef: Introduction: Community, Citizenship, and the ‘War on Terror’: Securiity and Insecurity, in: Community, Citizenship, and the ‘War on Terror’, ed. Patricia Noxolo and Jef Huysmans, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2009, 1-10, here 1.

[3] Hansen, Lene: The Little Mermaid’s Silent Security Dilemma and the Absence of Gender in the Copenhagen School, in: Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 29 (2000), 285-306, here 290.

[4] Contesting Security. Strategies and Logics, ed. Thierry Balzacq, London / New York: Routledge 2015, 140.

[5] Basaran, Tubga: The saved and the drowned: Governing indifference in the name of security, in: Security dialogue 46 (2015), 205-220, here 215.

[6] Mavelli, L., 2017. Governing populations through the humanitarian government of refugees: Biopolitical care and racism in the European refugee crisis. Review of International Studies, 43(5) pp. 809-832, here 809.




Photo: Totalitarian television, Eugene Ivanov | Shutterstock
Published on December 6, 2017.



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