Citizenship in motion
1. Lessons in Otherness?
Reflecting on colonial history then is ridden with 'new tensions and violence' while potentially writing what Balibar calls a 'lesson of otherness' into the fibre of European citizenship: the European recognition 'of otherness as an indispensable element of its own identity, its virtuality, its 'power'' (Balibar, L'Europe, l'Amérique, la guerre. p. 38)
Balibar's valuable considerations prompt a number of questions: what is new in this 'lesson of otherness?' In post-colonial studies otherness is widely recognised as an 'essential element' of European identity since the beginning of modernity. As Bhabha or Spivak taught us, a movement of contamination, transits, and metissage contradictorily coexist within colonial experience and anticipate the 'postcolonial' present.
In themselves, metissage and 'hybridisation' - rather than exclusively referring to experiences of emancipation - can also describe particularly brutal manners of exercising domination and articulating exploitation. Instead of the constitutive relation between otherness and European identity, the question then is a recognition of otherness that historically would entail a self-criticism of Europe. There is no trace of this self criticism and recognition in the manner in which political Europe relates to contemporary migration: neither in national legislations on the issue, nor in the directives of the Commission, nor on the articles on European citizenship in the project of a constitutional treaty discussed and not approved at the Brussels intergovernmental conference of last December. The only signal of a counter-trend is the very presence of migrants in Europe. Shall we interpret this presence as that of a social movement that keeps challenging the policies that would make of Europe a 'fortress' and that thus creates the possibility for an 'other' European citizenship while also providing it with a material example? What are the resonance effects of this social movement on other social practices and other questions of citizenship that are equally cancelled out of the institutional configuration that European citizenship is contradictorily taking on? What are the constituent perspectives opened up on this terrain for the movements present in Europe today, which in the context of a global movement of insubordination struggle against 'neoliberalism' and war? In my view, these are the issues worth exploring.
2. European borders.
Regarding the war, while a discussion on the constitution of a new European border police ensues and the 'war against terrorism' opens an internal war trench of which migrants (in Europe as in the US) are the first victims, the struggle continues on the European borders. Human rights organisations calculate that in the last ten years almost four thousand refugees and migrants have lost their lives, drowned in seas and rivers, exploded on mine fields, suffocated in containers while trying to cross those borders. It is hard to quantify the similar fate of those in the process of approaching European borders, crossing the Sahara for instance. What is this if not a war, and a much dirtier one in not being waged in conventional terms? Is indignation enough when one is faced with the reality of this war and with the cruelty of 'human traffickers' and 'new merchants of slaves '? Is it more opportune to underline that unlike traditional slaves the majority of women and men on rafts and broken fishing boats did not choose to be there?
Around this issue we place the question of recognition: the recognition of contemporary movements of migration as social movements that are motivated, though faced with conditions of poverty and social and political devastation, by specific stances of freedom and demands for citizenship. What happens on the European borders is far from being of 'marginal' importance. The very notion of border - the practices of its government as much as its 'localisation' - seems to have changed fundamentally in the course of 'globalisation'. On the one hand, borders are projected to the outside and cast their shadow hundreds of miles further from the geographical lines that delineate an area such as Europe (or the US or Australia). Tony Blair's latest proposal to institute Transit Processing Centres is a metaphor for real detention centres in key conflict areas such as Asia and Africa, where to assess asylum-seeking applications of potential refugees. It is the most recent instance in a process that for the last fifteen years has permitted an increasingly invasive intervention of national and European authorities in the policies of borders control and migration movements in strategically placed Third World countries. On the other hand, borders are continuously decomposed and recomposed; they project their shadow onto the heart of 'cities' and no longer simply signal its external perimeter. Detention centres for migrants awaiting expulsion are placed all over Europe. They can no longer be seen as an anomaly but as a founding institution for an emerging European citizenship. They are only the most visible forms of a complex process through which the European apartheid that Balibar has relentlessly denounced in the last few years is taking shape.
A further differentiation is thus introduced, this time also formally, within European citizenship: its effects on the labour market can be clearly seen in the competition between African and Polish workers for 'deskilled' and seasonal jobs in agriculture in the south of Spain. As citizens of a country bidding to access the EU, the Polish are already in a relatively privileged position.
3. Which European citizenship?
The condition of migrants constitutes a privileged point from which to observe and investigate the trend towards selectively decomposing the figures of citizenship that, the moment when European citizenship starts assuming clear contours, is placed at its centre and deeply influences what we might call its material constitution. From this derive fundamental and inevitable issues: the closure of detention centres and the regularisation of sans papiers, two crucial elements for the united day of action for the rights of migrants decided at St. Denis on the 31st of January this year. Another crucial issue linked to this is the separation of residence permits from work contracts and of European citizenship from the citizenship of countries enjoying membership in the Union.
It is on this gap that we need to focus. The issue is one of constitutional politics: our first aim cannot be a European constitution with its demos conceived according to the classical categories of European constitutionalism; we need to prevent the closure of this constituent process and keep opening it up when it seems to come to a halt, so that within it, through struggle and political action, all the elements of material constitution that have been accumulating throughout time can be continuously called into question.
Translated by Arianna Bove for MakeWorld#4