Terminal 2: The joke is on us

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Perhaps one of the most common jokes that are circulating lately in Bulgaria is the one that depicts emigration as the most relevant escape from the politico-economic crisis. The joke goes something like this:

Question: “What are the possible exits out of the crisis?”

Answer: “Terminal 1 and Terminal 2”

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Author: Christo Komarnitski. Source: (http://www.ideyazabulgaria.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4264:-2013-&catid=55:karikaturi&Itemid=107). The caricature captures Terminal 2. In the line on the left is a protestor from the February events. On the right is a protestor from the June mobilization.

 

Sofia airport has two terminals: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2. The former handles low-budget flights and usually “welcomes” the Bulgarians who are being “voluntarily returned” from countries such as France. Terminal 2, a newly built corpus attached to Sofia’s airport which predominantly serves external flights, represents an eclectic mixture of meanings. Terminal 2 could be seen as a prophet; the pre-figurative image of one’s future as a subject bound to sell her labor power abroad; the not-yet-to-come, where one’s social reality is locked in between the present, the future, and the past possibilities of escape. Terminal 2 has come to represent a social and political-economic reality that haunts Bulgarians in the past 23 years. The metaphor of Terminal 2 however, could be scrutinized to also represent the constructed split between the February mobilizations and the June/July protests. The former being the revolt of the poor, badly educated and lost in controversial demands, whereas the latter being the much celebrated product of the ones who are well-educated, able to pay their bills, and with solid vision of how to bring high morals in the corrupted Bulgarian politics. The funky aftertaste that necessarily comes with such moralistic language translated even to the topic of the outward migration of Bulgarian citizens, where a strong stand is taken in regard to the immorality of emigration and especially when this emigration is somehow linked to the poor Bulgarian beggars who jeopardize the good image of Bulgaria. These latter sentiments were easily taken up by the emigrant community in Munich for example, where some of the students and “middle class” Bulgarians hurried to distinguish themselves from the mass of “begging” and “cheating” Bulgarians.

The juxtaposition of the “true,” “educated working Bulgarians” who have remained home against the criminal and poor émigré, comes as an apologetic to what has been often described as immigrant scapegoating taking place in mostly the U.K, Germany, and the Netherlands and which is especially well pronounced in the praxis of hunt-and-deport of Bulgarian and Romanian citizens. The most visible such praxis came with the infamous and scandalous deportation of Roma people from France in 2010, which sparked small-scale protests in Bulgaria. These practices have intensified in the last years but largely go unnoticed because of an established consensus that the returns are “voluntary,” thus moral.

In 2014 the remaining of European labor markets will open their doors to Bulgarian citizens, meaning that these nationals will not be required to seek work permits in order to reside and be employed in the EU. As the event approaches, space has been opened up for intense contests over the phantom “threat” which is expected to haunt the European space. David Cameron announced in early March, 2013 that the U.K cannot afford to open its labor market to the “29 million” Bulgarians and Romanians that are knocking on his gate and that he will not allow “benefit tourists” to pour into the U.K. even with the price of extreme changes in the U.K.’s social security system. A galloping move which will most probably result in further stagnation of the ruins of the welfare state. Heinz Fischer commented on March 9th that “We do return to their countries these people [Bulgarian and Romanian], but nobody stops them from coming back immediately.[1]” Besides the proposition that border control in Bulgaria has to be stricter for the country’s citizens, Fischer further recommended that indeed those Bulgarian and Romanians, the poor ones, need to be restricted from movement for a year or two after their deportation. As a response, on March 7, 2013, Tsvetan Tsvetanov, Bulgaria’s former Minister of Interior, blamed those same “benefit tourists” for being the main reasons behind Western Europe’s unwillingness to welcome Bulgaria into Schengen[2]. One such benefit tourist, as it turns out, is Ivan Danov, a minister-in-proposition under the Oresharski cabinet, who benefitted 15,000 € out of the French social system. Tsvetanov went further than expected however. Despite the political turmoil that took place in early 2013 in Bulgaria, the leader assured the “western” elite that Bulgaria will undertake measures against this “social benefit tourism” and firm actions will take place in order to prevent it. The Rotterdam mayor even visited a Bulgarian town in order to seek possibilities to prevent Bulgarian emigration into his city[3]. The functionality of the Bulgarian border multiplied overnight. In addition to the role of the country to protect the EU from outside intruders, it now also had to protect from inside such, from “its own.” Exploitation, as inherent in the concept of the border, surfaced.

The protesters who are taking to the streets of Sofia, despite their arguably heterogenous composition, share an affection in common: Europe! From building and subsequently destroying a symbolic Berlin Wall, through mass marching to the German embassy and crying “Danke Schon!”, to calls for “Reding President!” and “Europe, save us!”, the protestors express their deep admiration towards the European Union and its institutions, which is in turn not only celebrated by both liberal intellectuals in Bulgaria and welcomed by the western media, but it prevents any significant debate over some European countries’ role into the destruction of economies in the Balkans and some of the reasons behind Bulgarians’ fleeing abroad. The overt adoration towards the European Union is an expression of this deep controversy and overall confusion of where the foe shall be looked after.

What crystallizes in these recent events is not the utopian prospects of “just”, “free” and “secure” Europe, as many in Bulgaria would like it to believe, but the true face of European integration which is the result of class struggle[4], where borders and mobility play a significant role. Moral clashes that come to the surface as for “freedom of movement” and against further fortification of the European space are regularly played out not only when “Europe” is concerned with the so-called third-country-nationals but also when it comes to EU citizens. The figure of the migrant has become a mishmash of different (post)liberal morals. On the one hand, the migrant subject is one who deserves our unlimited love and protection as seen in the proliferation of humanitarian and charitable initiatives. On the other, s/he is the Intruder par excellence. The subjectivation of migrants in these ways conveniently overlooks past but also ongoing structural changes in countries such as Bulgaria and Romania, mostly seen in the face of deep de-industrialization and privatization of major sectors of the economy and the subsequent waves of outward migration which continue to pierce through.

There really are two exits out of the crisis. The first is more of the same: austerity measures, “business-friendly environment,” capitalist accumulation in a nutshell. The other is a radical rupture out of the current economic model and a fundamental break which divorces us from the current regime conveniently labeled “transition” and “corruption loaded” entwined with utopian promises about “real” capitalism and “real” democracy. In the moment of writing another important event is taking place in Bulgaria which contrary to the beach party that is happening in front of the Parliament is not receiving as much attention, to put it mildly. Roughly 100 km away from Sofia, in Simitli, two miners were buried alive. After sixteen days of racing with time and impossible natural conditions, the remaining two miners are nowhere to be found. They lost their lives not because of a natural disaster per se but because of the structural disaster that stripped industries out of elementary protections. Let’s spare further martyrdom.



[1] BNT. 2013. “Germany Insists on Visas for Poor Bulgarians and Romanians.” (In Bulgarian) http://bnt.bg/bg/news/view/96645/germanija_nastojava_da_ima_vizi_za_bedni_bylgari_i_rumynci

[2] Vesti. 2013. “The Political Situation leaves us out of Schengen.” (In Bulgarian) <http://www.vesti.bg/index.phtml?tid=40&oid=5586691>

[3] Trud, 2013. “There is a little Shumen growing in Rotterdam” (In Bulgarian) <http://www.trud.bg/Article.asp?ArticleId=1887152>

[4] On European integration as class struggle see Bieler, A. “What future Union? The struggle for a Social Europe.” Paper presented at the workshop Concepts of the European Social Model in Vienna/Austria, 9 June 2006.