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Report from the Inequalities and Migration in Post-Communist Societies workshop

On 21-22 September 2010 at the main building of Institute for Western Affairs in Poznan a two-day-long workshop took place under the banner: Inequalities and Migration in Post-Communist Societies. This was a joint endeavour of the Polish Sociological Association, the Department of Sociology at the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, the Institute for Western Affairs in Poznan and the Centre for Migration Studies (CeBaM) the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan. The project was supported by the International Sociological Association, the Polish-German Foundation for Cooperation and GESIS Service Agency Eastern Europe.

The workshop’s title refers to questions raised even by proto-sociologists on the issue of social inequalities. These questions, which have been present throughout practically the entire history of the discipline of sociology, have acquired particular significance in the age of globalisation when the  dissemination of a whole host of cultural models has highlighted so clearly economic, political and cultural differences. While the opposition of centre and periphery is nothing new, globalised culture inscribes a consciousness of inequality into the lives of the majority of peripheral societies, thus symbolically providing a shortcut to the world of the Global North.

The position of the former Eastern bloc countries is particularly interesting in this context. The historical and geographical proximity of Western countries made issues of inequality particularly visible and, to some extent, was responsible for an intensification of migration processes. These became even stronger following the abolition – by both countries typically home to migrants and also by host countries – of the fundamental administrative and political barriers to migration within the EU. At the same time, while remaining a net emigration region, Central and Eastern Europe began to accept migrants from outside the Schengen zone. Hence questions on the links between inequalities and migration processes in the context of Central and Eastern European countries appear to be highly urgent and highly relevant.

The Inequalities and Migration programme responds to the pressing need for research on this area. The workshops featured thirty one speakers from thirteen European countries who presented a total of twenty five papers during themed panels. The workshops managed to bring together sociologists from various generations and also from both the fifteen older EU member states and from the new members belonging to the former eastern bloc – and this can be considered a realisation of the Organisers’ aim of working towards a supranational sociological discourse.

The papers were divided into five themed panels:
1/ An analysis of migration processes in the context of gender
2/ Migrants’ identities
3/ Migration and inequalities
4/ Economic migration
5/ Immigrants within host societies

The workshops were opened with a talk by Prof. Piotr Giliński, the Chair of the Polish Sociological Association. The first session featured three presentations: Ingrid Jungwirth of Berlin’s Humboldt University on changes in normative systems for describing the gender roles of highly-qualified female migrants in Germany; Alena Parizkova from the University of Plzen, who presented the results of her research on Czech migrants in Ireland and the United Kingdom, which indicated a shift away from a purely economic motivation for migration; and, finally in this session, Marek Nowak from Poznan’s Adam Mickiewicz University who presented a statistical analysis of the motives for migration, concentrating in particular on the disproportions between  what the welfare state can offer and the standard of living.

The following plenary session began with a presentation by Agnieszka Wenninger on what GESIS can offer researchers from Central and Eastern Europe working in the social sciences. This was followed by a paper by a Polish-British research team represented by Paul Chambers and Łukasz Doleczek. The speakers presented the results of their research on the functioning of the Polish community in the Welsh town of Llanelli. They were followed by Guglielmo Meardi from the University of Warwick who analysed the relations between economic migration and changes in working conditions and also the activities of labour organisations. The final paper of this session was presented by Michał Nowosielski of the Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznan, on Polish NGOs in Germany.

The afternoon session of the first day of the workshops was dedicated to the question of the inclusion/exclusion of migrants within host societies. The first paper was by Mónica Ibanez-Angulo (AFIL) and dealt with the civil rights of Bulgarian migrants. She was followed by Konrad MIciukiewicz of UAM Poznan who analysed the relations between legislation and the situation of new migrants from Central and Eastern Europe. The session was concluded with a presentation by Marta Kolankiewicz-Lundberg of Lund University on racism experienced by immigrants to Poland who possess different ethnic characteristics to members of the Polish host society. This presentation subsequently generated stormy discussion.

The second day of the workshops was organised around parallel panel sessions. The first of these featured three presentations: Iveta Kešāne (BISS, Riga) on the basis of IDI carried out among Lithuanian workers in Ireland, attempted to explore the influence of motives behind migration on individual life strategies. Maria Safonova of the European University in St Petersburg used two-year case studies to analyse the processes of the formation of a new subclass in the satellite regions of St Petersburg comprising both members of the local population and also immigrants from Central Asia. The session was concluded by Agnieszka Zimowska of Göttingen University, who presented a multi-perspective analysis of the experiences and strategies of Polish female migrants working in the German sex industry.

A parallel session dealt with an analysis of migration processes from a gender perspective. The first speaker was Silvia Maja Melzer (IAB, Nuremberg), who explored migration from former East Germany to the west of the country using GSOEP data. Following this was Agnieszka Satola of the Goethe University, Frankfurt, who investigated migration by Polish women of pensionable age to Germany to work in the care service. Francesca A. Viannello of Padua University concluded the session with a presentation of her research results and a proposed typology of the strategies of female migrants returning to Ukraine. It is worth noting that her research was carried out in both the home and host countries.

The subsequent session featured two panels. The first saw three presentations: Tünde Virág of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences spoke on the process of spatial and social exclusion of subclasses in Hungary, including a critical analysis of the role of state social policy. He was followed by Bartłomiej Walczak of Warsaw University who analysed the relationships between economic, gender and class inequalities and the formation of transnational families. Serena Romano’s paper, meanwhile, featured a comparative analysis of social policy and models of poverty in three countries, namely Estonia, Poland and Hungary. A parallel panel explored questions of migrant identities in three papers: Natalya Kadatskaya of Charles University, Prague, presented the results of her research of migrants who left Kazakhstan for Germany; Anna Sosna of the Jagiellonian University, Krakow, explored the situation of Poles born outside Poland migrating to Poland (repatriants); and, finally, Małgorzata Krywult of the Jagiellonian University focused on the Polish diaspora in Canada.

The final session featured two parallel panels: the first dealing with economic migration and the second with the situation of migrants in host countries. There were three speakers on the first panel: Alexander Ganchev (Odessa) presented the results of his research on Ukrainian economic migrants, which investigated not only those who had actually left for Italy, Poland and Finland, but also potential migrants interested in leaving Ukraine. He was followed by David Kostlan of the Slovakian Academy of Sciences, who analysed the peculiar situation of hiding the question of migration in Slovakian public discourse and research. The final presentation was by a research team comprising Cristina Mocanu, Seperanţa Pîrciog and Ana-Maria Zamfir from NISRFLSP (Bucharest) who explored Romanian economic migration with a particular focus on changes in both motives shaping the decision to migrated and also in models of migration.

A parallel panels featured four presentations: Magdalena Muszel (EUI, Florence) explored transformations of transnational families based on case studies of Polish migrants in Ireland; Dorota Osipovič (UCL, London) dealt with Polish migrants’ use of the British welfare state; Michal Ruzicka of the University of Plzen analysed the particular forms of migration among the Czech Roma minority; and, finally, Ovidiu Palcu of Athens University explored the theme of transnationality among Romanian migrants to Greece.

As we can see, the papers presented covered a broad spectrum of themes while remaining within the defined scope – in terms of geographical area and subject matter – of the workshops. Perhaps the thematic coherence of the papers within the sessions could have been better, but any problems on this front might be attributable to changes emerging during the writing process after the submission of abstracts by speakers. It would seem, too, that the chosen mode of presentation turned the workshops into a “typical” conference working according to the pattern of giving a paper followed by discussion at the end of each session. However, it should be stressed that in terms of the quality of organisation and also the academic level of the papers presented, the Inequalities and Migration in Post-Communist Societies workshops should be considered a successful event which supported an exchange of ideas and the establishment of contacts between researchers from various parts of Europe.

Bartłomiej Walczak, University of Warsaw