East: bodies, borders and zonification

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In the context of crisis, which is not only economic but at the same time political, existential, institutional, spiritual, environmental, etc. its global dimensions affect various spheres of our collective existence. But living under exceptional conditions and its normalization in the Global North its nothing new for the countries of the Global South and East. In the last years, mostly from the countries in war and military conflict zones (Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Eritrea, Somalia, Kurdistan, Ukraine…), the arrival of refugees and migrants to the EU through the African, Mediterranean and Balkan routes increased. Thousands of people died in their intent to cross the militarized borders of Fortress Europe, which continue to build new walls between Hungary and Serbia, Bulgaria and Turkey, Slovenia and Croatia, Austria and Slovenia, while Germany is negotiating with Turkey the blockade of the routes towards the EU and deportations in exchange for liberalization of visas for Turkish citizens. The system of asylum is paralyzed and inefficient and refugees and migrants are trapped on their ways, detained in different concentration camps and border centres, experiencing the situation of systematic abandonment and intensified processes of racial discrimination.

In this situation migration as well is defined in terms of crisis to be managed.Calling the current reality “refugee crisis” rather than the crisis of European politics of systems of production of truth, human rights, citizenship, nation-state and colonial epistemology of sex-gender binary, points to dimension that today depoliticization has (Gržinić, 2015; Kurnik, 2015; Preciado, 2016). Instead of Europe without borders, we have Europe of concentration camps, sealed and militarized borders, walls and barbwires and increasingly sophisticated system of control (Greif, 2008).

How, then, the way we conceptualize Europe change if we rethink the silenced colonial/imperial history of European migration politics through the West-East relation of repetition, together with the coloniality of gender, the control of subjectivity and knowledge, the most extreme forms of exclusion and politics of death today? What potentialities for resistance are coming out from such analysis?


In relation to the topic of this event, “Right to move/Libertad de movimiento”, and in opposition to the established political and economic models, modes of thinking, perceiving and acting that are being reproduced globally today, we have to point to current forms of conflict through the analytic reconnection of capitalism and colonization, that is, to coloniality.[1] Why? Within these processes is inscribed the colonial history of European colorblindness, although the concept “race” has its geographic and intellectual origin in Europe. While there is no talk about racism or it is silenced or presented as a marginal problem (as well by the social movements like 15M or Slovenian uprising), and because of the difficulty to talk about racism in Europe, we have to emphasize that racialization prevails as the main logic of global capitalism today, which regulate and differentiate the social, political and economic space (Goldberg, 2009; El-Tayeb, 2011; Gržinić y Tatlić, 2012; Essed, 2014).

Racialization is the process of colonial capitalist differentiation between the first and second-class citizens (racialized citizens, LGBTQI, sex workers, disabled…); non-citizens (refugees) and migrants, who are in violent ways discriminated under living conditions that hegemonic system and capitalist labour market impose on global scale. That is to say, the violent processes of selection of migrants in terms of racial, class, gender, sexual, religious categories, construct us as subhuman through the processes of dehumanization (Gržinić, 2015).

As Philomena Essed writes, “The European unification has been foremost a project of whiteness (…). The turn of the century has been witness to the emergence of what I call entitlement racism: the idea that majority populations have the right to offend and to humiliate the “Other”.  Expressions of this form of racism vary according to racial, ethnic and religious group attributions and can range from assimilative paternalism to extreme cultural humiliation.” (Essed, 2012)

Referring to Essed it is possible to argue that racialization is the main logic within the organization of European apartheid. With her thesis I want to relate in continuation the fragments of two videos that allow us to think about borders of Europe and Western democracy, not in opposition to totalitarian dictatorship, but in relation to colonialism/imperialism. At the same time they expose the logics of coloniality in relation to gender and technology.

The first fragment is from the video entitled “Normality 1-10”(2001) by Hito Steyerl, artist, writer and professor of Art and Multimedia at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Berlin. From 1998 on, Steyerl participates with her artistic projects in different international festivals, art exhibitions and symposia about new media, art, politics and critical theory. In her book “The Wretched of the Screen”, published in 2012, Steyerl speaks about new forms of alienation, political imagination and collective desire from a materialist position, understanding the images not as representations but as fragments of real world which participate in its creation, modification and/or subversion.

The second fragment is from the video entitled “Naked Freedom”(2010), by videoartists Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid who collaborated from the 80s on in more than forty audiovisual projects and new media installations, presenting their work in numerous festivals and exhibitions around the world. Aina Šmid is art historian and writer; Marina Gržinić is philosopher and researcher at the Institute of Philosophy ZRC SAZU (Research Centre of Academy of Science and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia), and professor of Post-conceptual Art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. In her book “Necropolitics, Racialization and Global Capitalism” written together with Šefik Tatlić and published in 2014, Gržinić and Tatlić analyse global capitalism by problematizing the historicization of biopolitics, a turn towards necropolitics, while exposing that the criminalization of every segment of our lives operates together with depoliticization of social conflicts.

“Normality 1-10”

“Normality 1-10” is a series of ten short video essays that interrupt the silence by recording everyday violence, increasing anti-Semite and racist attacks and its normalization in Austria and Germany, to question the historic and current relations, and dominant media representations in the context after the fall of the Berlin wall.

(transcription of the video in annex)

In this video fragment, long before the beginning of crisis in 2008, migrant activists point out that democratic universality of human rights is closely associated with a particular national belonging (Balibar, 2004), that is, with whiteness. As the title indicates, -“Normality 1-10”-, in the last years we are witnessing the intensification of hate speech and attitudes that are being normalized and easily go with the neoliberal capitalist machine. Silence, as Agnes from The Initiative of Asylum Seekers in Brandenburg says, is encouraging fascism and racism, but also evokes the politics of apartheid that is being formed at the same time as European citizenship.

With the demonstration migrants stress that while the 10th anniversary of German unification and the “disappearance” of borders is being celebrated, new borders multiply. This situation makes visible the way in which the EU (governed by financial oligarchs, technocrats and oligarchs of nation-states) manage the situation of refugees and migrants, -through the hierarchic inclusion/exclusion, establishment of hierarchies of the citizenship status and the multiplication of internal borders that are constitutive of the labour division on the global scale. The colonial/racial division that is being applied to citizens has two categories: one is biopolitical (first-class and second-class citizens of nation-states in the EU), and the other, necropolitical, given to the refugees after their death in the EU territory (Lampedusa, October 12, 2013). While some are made equal, others are abandoned to death or their second-class citizenship status is completely normalized in the EU (Gržinić, 2015).

“Naked Freedom”

The video “Naked Freedom” speaks about the concept “freedom” from the analysis of capitalism, coloniality, gender and new technologies, to rethink the idea of local community (who forms part, who is being excluded) and the potentialities for repoliticization of our lives and resistance. Pointing to the geopolitical aspects of social organization, in the second part filmed during the workshop “Education, Development, Freedom” at Duke University (Durham, USA), organized by the Centre for Global Studies in February 2010, Marina Gržinić in dialogue with Kwame Nimako, director of Ninsee (The National Institute for the Study of Dutch Slavery and its Legacy) expose two thesis:

Kwame Nimako: “We are here (in EU) because you were there (in Africa!)”

Marina Gržinić: “We are here (in EU) because you want to go there (in Eastern Europe!)”[1]

These enunciations question the history of relations and its connections to the current political situation in Europe, based on historic hegemonic mechanisms of division, today forgotten but still colonial/imperial and therefore murderous. Here the following argument arises: In a moment, when it is said that Eastern Europe no longer exists, when Western Europe is also named “former”, the process of disappearance of certain borders implies its simultaneous multiplication and conversion into zones, border regions or territories. East is today operating as one of them.

(transcription of the video in annex)


From our double consciousness we have to elaborate a double critique, of Western Europe and Eastern Europe. In this relation, Nimako points to two important questions to take into consideration: Eastern Europe, named after the fall of the Berlin wall former Eastern Europe, is subjected to the process of political reorganization, integration, subordination to the Western model and servitude (on the political and economic level its servitude is being reactivated on the basis of the EU demands by implementing directives and legislation) through the relation that we can name, following Gržinić, the relation of repetition. The repetition of Western Europe, its political and economic model, its structures of government (governmentality), its modes of life and modes of death, the institutional and migratory control, its system of knowledge (theory) and aesthetic regimes (art), etc. This process of coloniality is what allows “former” West to fulfil itself by deforming what is actually suppressing: the materiality of our anti-fascist, anti-colonial and feminist history, memory, theoretical reflections (knowledge) and practices of resistance. Further, by making the division West/East “obsolete” after the fall of the Berlin wall, it reactivates the repetition and multiplication of Occident/Orient division. It is about new form of re/construction of the EU as unified entity (One), while it produces its non-white population, migrants, refugees, LGBTQI of color, – Orient and its modes of life – as “Other(s)” (Dietze, 2012).

The second issue Nimako points out is the process of zonification. We can say that the European politics of apartheid transformed former Eastern Europe into a border-zone in the way that the territory of former socialist countries functions as a buffer zone to control and block migrations from Africa and Asia, while migrants from former Eastern countries are at the same time subjected to control, discrimination (employment), and processes of deportation from “former” Western Europe.

The countries of former Eastern Europe transformed into subsidiary States, periferialized in its servile relation to the EU politics show on the one hand, contempt and hatred towards those hierarchized through these processes as below them, and on the other hand, the intensified servitude towards the murderous colonial/imperial centres. Ethno-nationalism and differentiation as a mode of organization of social and political life, presented as “liberation” from what was supressed during decades of communism/socialism, accelerate the processes of hierarchization and labour division on global scale. Here we have to emphasize that this situation is due to a direct effect of politics and social structures, which on the level of production of goods and subjectivities reproduce for the global market its social and territorial function. To this ethno-national construction, the construction of cosmopolitan European abstract universalism is being counter-posed. The latter is the expression of the processes of differentiation and division of European space, of those societies and territories that enrich themselves through the politics of hierarchic integration (Močnik, 2012; Kurnik, 2015). Moreover, now, when Western Europe is also naming itself “former”, it seems that it does not have to be conscious nor responsible of its own regimes of power, – historic (colonialism, slavery, anti-Semitism, exploitation) and contemporary (coloniality, racialization and capitalist accumulation). West needs East to project itself as a free space, as a space of hospitality culture and respect for human rights, while it points to former Eastern Europe as pathologic space, where racism, fascism, homo-transphobia prevail as essential characteristics of the region.

This dominant imaginary that is today being questioned by social movements still intents to cover up the fact that the politics of austerity and reforms to undo social rights and links in the countries of South and East, imposed by the European North, at the same time encourage fascistization of these societies. The EU insists on Dublin Convention that delegates to periferialized countries the criminal praxis of selection of migrants for the interest of labour market in the North. While in Greece, Spain, Hungary, Macedonia, etc. the police and military brutally attack refugees and migrants, in North they talk about human capital for capitalist accumulation. Today the two poles of European politics, technocratic and ethno-nationalist operate at the same time, subjugating us to paternalist assimilation, extreme conditions of exploitation, racist identifications, violations, tortures, deportations and death.


“Naked Freedom” refers with this expression –in counter position to the concept by Giorgio Agamben “Naked Life”- to the state of mind and life, especially present in the West, that is empty while the freedom is understood only in the sense of being consumer, a part of capitalist system. That is, one is “free” only within the neoliberal system of liberties defined by global capitalism. Furthermore, by understanding the racialization contextually and racism as fluid, we can say that freedom and opportunities for some people are generally acquired on expenses of “Other(s)”. In this relation naked life is the other side of naked freedom, the situation in which tens of thousands of people find themselves today, being systematically discriminated and/or abandoned to death.

When we say “migrants” or “refugees” we have to ask ourselves, who are we, and what are the possibilities to construct networks of solidarity and common struggle. The category “migrant” is being formed by hegemonic politics that tries to identify, explain and classify us. In this process of production of “Other(s)” the complexity is being reduced, situating us in the a-historic context and outside of geographic and political frame, that converts us in the object of white hegemonic subject (Gutiérrez Rodríguez, 2009).

At the same time, in relation to this homogenizing identification I want to highlight that the body-political aspects of migratory control apparatus regulate the selection of bodies in relation to belonging to determined ethno/national, racial or religious group, and also gender and sexuality, reproducing oppressive sexual norms that are gendered, racialized and classist. If we take into account the coloniality of gender (Lugones, 2008), we have to think how the modern/colonial technologies of production of body and subjectivity operate, which are these processes that we want to experiment with, who can experiment and who cannot. The logics is perverse, “former” Western Europe, its politics of racialization and discrimination now integrate within its borders those “Other(s)” who were discriminated in the past (women, LGBTQI…), and who in many contexts continue living without the full recognition of their rights, while at the same time produces new “Other(s)” in the EU, – migrants and refugees from other parts of the world and of other religions.

Here, our consideration around five basic notions that determine if people who demand asylum are victims of persecution, – political convictions, nationality, race, religion, belonging to a particular social group – has to take into account as well gender. Instead of a linear progressive narrative of LGBTQI liberation that starts in the West, we have to shift it and rethink gender and sexuality from the imposition of sex-gender binary model and heteronormativity as a part of the Western capitalist colonial project that started with conquest of America, the moment from which the first regulations and punishment laws, prohibition of homosexuality and multiplicity of gender expressions were introduced.


From this analysis of current situation we can say that mobility of borders which corresponds to the process of the EU enlargement and expansion of capitalism on global scale means the fabrication of a new migratory and control regime, based on the logics of racialization and bio-necropolitical technology. These measures make visible the new living conditions in the EU and regulation of processes of migration through the politics of death, – necropolitics (Mbembe, 2003). This new mode of life means pure abandonment: if you have resources you can live, if not, it’s your problem, which means you can die. The surplus value of capital today is based and generated from (the worlds of) death. Besides, also in the West the logic is no more the maximum of life but the minimum or not even that (Gržinić, 2009).


While the current crisis represents the basis from which modern/colonial system has developed our resistance has to be thought as a part of the processes of decolonization, which include new modes of thinking, imagining and acting, in opposition to existent Eurocentric models of Western modernity.

This situation points to the fact that knowledge which is socially ignored, silenced and/or not recognized as knowledge is related to the position of enunciation; -Who can speak? Who is acknowledged to have the knowledge? (Kilomba, 2008)-, and to the ways of understanding how class divisions, racialization, ableism, sex-gender binary and heteronormativity are constructed historically and operate through the existing colonial capitalist institutions today.

Mass media play an important role here in reproducing the discourse of victimization and/or demonization of refugees and migrants, which are two sides of the same fascists and racist coin of power, – technocratic universalist of European values and/or ethno-nationalist. They both originate in the history of European colonialism, eurocentrism and its continuation, and are agents of racism and producers of racist politics (Kurnik, 2015). Against the mass media and administrative capture of image, Abounaddara, anonymous collective of Syrian filmmakers, propose to add an amendment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights so as to recognize image rights as fundamental rights (Preciado, 2016).

The videos by Steyerl, Gržinić and Šmid are important as well in this relation because they work from the analysis of extension of colonial capitalism in the sphere of vision and the sensual, a phenomenon that Achille Mbembe names “Image Capitalism” (Mbembe, 2013). Having in mind that imagosphere (Rolnik, 2007), which today completely covers the planet and makes the subjectivities ready for submission to the hypermachine of capitalist production, has been kidnapped by the economic, political and digital, in the sense that our affects and emotions are more than ever related to the images and the digital mode of production, the artists conceptualize their work as a political intervention in the colonial visual logics, with the intention to produce decolonial imaginaries.

To undo the discourse imposed by the State and capital on refugees and migrants, on our bodies, and the criminalization of resistance, we have to change the terms of conversation and search for new ways to fight the current necropolitical regime. Changing the terms of conversation means to think about refugee and migrant movement, which makes visible the extreme brutality and crimes of the European border and migratory regime, as well as the European integration politics based on hierarchic inclusion/exclusion, as a movement of liberation that is opening a space for all of us. Those who want to transform the system are the ones who lost it all, who don’t have anything else to lose. These are people against whom Europe is building walls, barbed wire borders, concentration camps and the contemporary logics of crisis. Against the depoliticization and humanitarian discourse, refugees and migrants in their pluriversality are opening a political space for a real emancipation, by creating a critical exteriority and by configuring the space for production of practices and relations that make possible a decolonial line of flight through which subjectivity and desire flow.

The question is how from the fractured locus (dwelling in the border), which is common to refugees and migrants, continue to build alliances in order to challenge the colonial logics of dichotomies and create networks of resistance and solidarity among activist groups in Europe, the Global South and East?

Tjaša Kancler, May 2016

This text was presented during the programme “Right to move/Libertad de movimiento”, organized by Goethe Institut-Barcelona in collaboration with Anja Steidinger, 23 – 26 of May, 2016.

[1] Coloniality is a matrix of power which, according to Aníbal Quijano, operates through four interrelated domains: control of economy (appropriation of space, exploitation of labor, control of natural resources), control of authority (institutions, army), control of gender and sexuality (family, education), control of subjectivity and knowledge (epistemology, education, formation of subjectivity). As fifth domain, control of nature is being added lately to the analysis. See Mignolo, W., Lugones, M., Tlostanova, M., Jiménez-Lucena, I. (2008), Género y descolonialidad, Buenos Aires, Signo.

[1] See the vídeo “Naked Freedom” by Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid, http://grzinic-smid.si/?p=413


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1.Normality 1-10 by Hito Steyerl (2001) (fragment)

Protagonists: Agnes, Lee, Christophe, of the Initiative of asylum seekers in Brandenburg

No walls around Europe!
Residence permission for everybody!

Agnes: We have organized this demonstration to voice our discontent and criticism towards racism that is going on here in Germany. As an international group of women, we are very much concerned of the rise of neonazism and fascism in Europe as a whole and especially in Germany. Some of our women and people have already suffered racist attacks, whether it is verbal or if it’s physical. It’s really a pity that this will happen in Hannover, in the city which is supposed to be internationally well known as an export city.

3.10.2000 (music: the European anthem, Ode to Joy)
Ten years of German reunification at the Expo in Hannover
flags: 10 years united Germany

Lee: As African Women, we have eradicated oppression and racism in our own countries by all this colonial powers. We will not tolerate it in other countries. We will come in, like you have just witnessed, we will come back inside and eradicate racism in oppressive colonial countries like Germany.

Christoph: We consider this is a form of apartheid, because the racism in the law has made us second-class citizens, -you are always open to attacks or racism on the streets. Most of the authorities base their minds on racism on the streets, but we want to tell them that they have racism in the law and they have racism in the institutions.

Agnes: Around Europe there should be no wall and there should be rights for everybody in this world, and I think its very timely that while Europe is raising its own Fortress against foreigners and saying that is all border free within Europe, we should all start to think that Europe should be free for all.

In the last few days of the occasion of this anniversary we are talking about the borders. In the minds and in our hearts, are they still in effect? I don’t think so. Not when it comes to the people in Germany.

3.October 2000, Deutscher Tag/German day

Agnes: When Germany invites foreigners its very clear that they are continuously kept out of its door. Europe is building a Fortress around itself. Europe is calling itself white Europe. There is no place for people of color, there is no place for Black people. We are here today with the refugees, with Black people and people of color who are asking for asylum, asking to be free and safe from persecution because they were courageous enough to stand up.

Where is world economy justice? Where is justice? Where are human rights?

European capital is running all over the world, it is inverting in the worst kind of industries, in the kind of technology that displaces Black and migrant people all over the world.

Silence is the most threatening thing of today. Silence is the most threatening thing of our time. You may not be racist and fascist in your actions, you may not be open in your racist attitudes, but your silence is exactly encouraging fascism, your silence is telling to fascist that it is ok what they are doing. It is time that we all break this silence and say to those people who are perpetuating racism that they have to stop.

Germany, year 10.

2. Naked Freedom by Marina Gržinić and Aina Šmid (2010)(fragment)

Duke University, Durham, USA
Feb. 25-27, 2010

Kwame Nimako: “We are here (in EU) because you were there (in Africa!)”
Marina Gržinić: “We are here (in EU) because you want to go there (in Eastern Europe!)”

Marina Gržinić: You said a very interesting point that was formulated theoretically, activistically and politically as “We are here because you were there.” I thought that for Eastern Europe, it is possible to say, as this is today our situation of condition “We are here because you want to go there.” This is what European Union is all about … the allocation of capital…

Kwame Nimako: I mean what was the issue of “We are here because you want to go there” is very correct. Because when the Berlin wall fell, Africa would be a trouble for Europe. I said why? Because “former” Western Europe had claimed Africa within the context of the ACP (African-Caribbean-Pacific) group of nations, as its – backyard. South-East of Asia was seen by the G7 as the sphere of influence of Japan, and Latin America as the sphere of influence of the United States. This was the “gentlemen agreement” within the G7. Within Europe itself Africa was seen as the future supplier of agriculture products. As the »former« Western European agricultural productivity had reached 94%, Western Europe could not grow more. Asia has reached productivity of 60% and Africa has reached productivity of 25%. Therefore this meant more room for Africa to grow from the point of view of agriculture. This is how in the time of the Cold War things were constructed. Now that the Berlin wall had fallen they had Eastern Europe to go and they could do away with Africa. Africa was no more relevant. Africans started to be migration controlled; this is the major preoccupation of Europe today. It is about how to prevent Africans from coming to Europe. Now Eastern Europe has become the source of full agricultural production. In that sense you are correct by saying “we are here because you want to go there.”

Another factor is the civilization mission of the “former” Western Europe in Eastern Europe. They are going to civilize the Eastern Europeans to teach them democracy, to teach them how to treat the Roma citizens, to teach them about race relations and human rights. They are bringing that to Eastern Europe. That also means that you cannot discard the issue of race in “former” Western Europe. As Western Europe “solved” all these problems, the problem of education, the problem of development, the problem of freedom and it is the rest that has to be taught. From the point of view of race relations it also marginalizes the Black community; because once Europe becomes larger the Black community becomes small.