Oral Presentation Session
Invited by: Post-Communist Cultural Studies Interest Group
Primary Theme: Race
Secondary Theme: Identity and Equity
Western liberal democratic governments have long sought to restrict migration through brash assertions of exclusion, as seen most recently in state responses to Europe’s “refugee crisis” (beginning in 2016) and President Trump’s “Muslim ban,” enacted during his first year in office (2017). In Central and Eastern Europe too, populist and far right politicians have seized onto anxieties about cultural difference, portraying Muslim immigrants and other minorities as threats to national identity and security. Hungary, Poland, and Russia, for example, have all gained international attention for their pronatalist, anti-immigrant rhetoric.
This panel examines the politics of difference from another perspective. Rather than seeing the rise of the right and anxieties about race and difference as emanating eastward from Russia and Eastern Europe, what if we were to see the process in reverse? By comparing case studies across socialist and post-socialist Albania, Romania, Russia, and China, we will examine anxieties about race, representation, and migration in the context of nearly 75 years of socialist narratives of internationalism and “friendship of peoples” and affirmative action policies intended to diversify socialist spaces (Martin 2001; Rivkin-Fish and Trubina 2010; Lemon 2002; Resnick 2016; Reeves 2012). How are anxieties about race expressed in contemporary debates about citizenship in Russia and Central and Eastern Europe? How does the Soviet or post-socialist context influence these debates? (Does it lend specificity?)
We begin by analyzing how Soviet authorities sought to address issues of representation and equality in a newly socialist, multi-ethnic society. In his paper, Zhuravel traces the postcolonial implications of this project (Chari and Verdery 2009), examining Soviet representations of African immigrants in children’s literature. We ask, what are the Soviet/socialist origins of racial hierarchies and how are these hierarchies reproduced and maintained today? West Ouheri, Woodard, Wamsiedel, and Speier then examine the legacies of socialist exchange programs, migration patterns, and forms of mobility through ethnographic case studies of the rise of a new Egyptian political party in Albania, the racialization of immigrants in a Russian sitcom and Roma in Romanian hospitals, and Chinese fertility tourism to the US.
In line with the conference theme of “Resistance, Resilience, and Adaptation,” this panel pays special attention to not only how racism is constructed and experienced in post-socialist contexts but also how immigrants and minorities respond, adapt, and resist. Through comparison across post-socialist contexts, this panel will contribute to anthropological scholarship on race, migration, and diversity. Soviet and socialist commitments to equality make post-socialist societies unique case studies for examining contemporary debates about migration and belonging, one with implications for understanding race, citizenship, and belonging throughout Europe and beyond.