Latest Articles

Miloš Vec

I wanna hold your hand

Controversies over Muslims refusing to shake hands with non-Muslims are typical of the conflicts affecting today's multi-religious societies. Appeals to the law are not the answer: processes of social self-regulation need to take their course beyond formal authority, argues Miloš Vec. [ more ]

Adam Zagajewski

A defence of ardour

Shalini Randeria, Anna Wójcik

Mobilizing law for solidarity

Ira Katznelson, Agnieszka Rosner

Solidarity after Machiavelli

Camille Leprince, Lynn SK

Portraits of three women...

Eurozine Review

Eurozine Review

The destruction of society

'Osteuropa' rages at the destruction of Russian society; 'Merkur' delves into the history of Eurasianism; 'Vikerkaar' is sanguine about the decline of universalism; 'New Eastern Europe' has divided opinions about borders; 'Ord&Bild' finds humanism at sea; 'Il Mulino' debates the difficulties of democracy in Italy and the West; 'Blätter' seeks responses to the whitelash; 'Mittelweg 36' historicizes pop and protest; 'Critique & Humanism' looks at Bulgarian youth cultures; 'Res Publica Nowa' considers labour; and 'Varlik' examines the origins of literary modernism in Turkey.

Eurozine Review

The ordinary state of emergency

Eurozine Review

The Lilliput syndrome

Eurozine Review

The violent closet?

Eurozine Review

Peak democracy?

My Eurozine

If you want to be kept up to date, you can subscribe to Eurozine's rss-newsfeed or our Newsletter.

Share |

Mobilizing law for solidarity

An interview with Shalini Randeria

Legal transnationalization takes place at different paces, setting human rights against trade and property protections, argues social anthropologist Shalini Randeria. The instrumentalization of solidarity by nascent ethno-nationalism must be resisted at the political not the legal level.

Anna Wójcik: Increased border controls have become one of the most important political demands in European politics. But is it possible to eliminate the porousness of borders?

Shalini Randeria: Borders are ambivalent institutions. They are designed to control the movement of people and goods, but fail to do so, or do so only partially and selectively. Under growing public demand for greater security and state control of borders, we see higher walls, larger fences and more expensive surveillance technology being installed on the US-Mexico border, the India-Bangladesh border or the Italian coast. But these remain for the most part cosmetic, populist measures designed primarily to influence public perception. They are unable to prevent people fleeing destitution, civil war and hopelessness from moving across transnational borders in search of a better, more secure existence.

Shalini Randeria, Gdansk, 4 December 2016. Photo: Grzegorz Mehring / Archiwum ECS.

The legal distinction between migrants and refugees has long been rendered obsolete. The porousness of borders also reflects the demand for cheap labour in the economy, be it for domestic work, in the care sector, for low paid agricultural work or stigmatized sex-work. So while the state strives to maintain the illusion of sovereign border control, the demand in all western European countries not only for unskilled labour but also for skilled workers, be they plumbers and electricians, doctors and engineers, top managers and academics, or in the IT or banking sectors, draws these workers from within and outside the European Union on very different terms. In general one could say that those who are better insured are the ones who face the least risk when crossing borders, while those whose lives are at most risk at home and in transit lack any insurance whatsoever.

Why do goods and people not move equally freely?

Borders today control the movement of peoples and goods in highly asymmetrical ways. The entire legal and economic architecture of neo-liberal governance has been established to facilitate the free transnational movement of goods, certain services and capital. Liberalization of trade and capital flows is largely to the advantage of powerful multinational corporations, who are even able to sue states for the violation or undermining of their rights as investors. The rights of citizens, let alone those of migrants or refugees, are not afforded similar protection. Both states and corporations have rendered themselves increasingly unaccountable to citizens.

Does the transnationalization of law further or hinder the prospect of achieving global solidarity?

The transnationalization of law proceeds very differently in different areas, involves different actors and has different effects. Various fields of law are transnationalized at different speeds and in different ways. For example, the contrast between the field of trade law and those of human rights or humanitarian law could not be greater. The transnationalization of human rights law is a bottom-up process involving non-state actors, NGOs and social movement activists, who are the drivers of changes and use the existing architecture of international conventions to which states are signatories, in order to hold them accountable to their commitments. Activists translate and domesticate fundamental rights protection standards in the national or regional context but also enable transnational solidarity. This complex process involves translating international human rights norms and anchoring them in local settings within nation-states. However, those rights may be endangered by the transnationalization of trade or intellectual property protection law, which involves international organizations like the WTO but is also driven by large multinational corporations and governments concluding bilateral agreements. The lobbying interests and the lack of transparency surrounding current negotiations around CETA and TTIP are a case in point.

Visegrad countries have recently come up with the idea of 'flexible solidarity' in response to the refugee crisis, which is meant as an alternative to relocation or migrant quotas. On a practical level, this would involve more humanitarian aid and support for refugees in camps located in countries close to conflict zones. Can solidarity be flexible, or is this a contradiction in terms?

'Flexible solidarity' is an oxymoron. There can be no solidarity of convenience. Jozef Tischner's resounding call to solidarity in his Ethics of Solidarity is more relevant than ever amidst the politics of fear, resentment, and hostility, which govern futile attempts at building walls to fence ourselves into narrow national territories and cultures. His ethic of solidarity is a universalistic one, though deeply Christian in its roots, and arising from the very particular circumstances in Poland. He asks: Whom should solidarity be directed towards? His answer is: we owe especially deep and strong solidarity to those who have been hurt, wounded by other human beings, and who as a result have suffered avoidable, unnecessary and arbitrarily inflicted suffering.

It would be a travesty of his idea of solidarity if it were turned into a matter of geopolitics and instrumentalized for domestic or international political purposes. There is no contradiction between the EU providing support to the camps in conflict zones and also taking in a certain number of refugees directly from the regions most severely affected by civil war. This would obviate the need for refugees to take recourse to the services of unscrupulous traffickers. And the EU would not have to outsource its human rights obligations to the Erdogan government. Greater humanitarian and development aid for refugees in camps for educational, health and economic purposes is an excellent idea that should be urgently put into practice. For it is the poorer countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East which bear the burden of the world's refugees.

Why are these discussions taking place in Europe now? Why is there a demand for setting limits to solidarity?

Integrating migrants and refugees is proving to be a problem in Europe despite the relatively small numbers who reach our shores, in comparison with those who are in camps in the region, as has been the case for decades. Paradoxically, it is two of Europe's great achievements that are the obstacles to integration, namely liberal democracy and the welfare state. Why do migrants and refugees integrate into working life in the US but into welfare in western Europe? European welfare states grant these newcomers relatively generous welfare benefits, albeit increasingly less so. And complicated legal regulations, language barriers and the need for formal qualifications even for low wage jobs make it very difficult for foreigners to enter the labour market.

Compared to the United States, the naturalization of immigrants in most European countries is a cumbersome and long drawn-out process. Nevertheless, as Donald Trump's electoral triumph shows, xenophobic sentiments can be successfully whipped up even in a country of immigrants. This is especially easy in a situation where political parties and elites have long neglected the plight of the many losers of neo-liberal economic globalization. But anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe also points to the alarming separation of 'liberalism' and 'democracy'. Liberal principles demand adherence to the rule of law and to freedom of movement. Electoral politics in illiberal democracies, however, dictate disrespect for the rule of law and international treaty obligations. Populist parties, who represent themselves as the guardians of European values and Christian civilization, are advocating all over Europe a turn away from liberal principles. Democracy in many European countries, as in African ones, is simply being reduced to multi-party elections.

Can legal instruments be used to counteract the rise of ethno-centric solidarity that diminishes a more universalistic understanding of solidarity?

The rise of ethno-nationalism, with its narrow xenophobic understanding of the political community, is a political phenomenon that requires a political, not a legal solution. One cannot ban such parties or such propaganda in a democratic system, even though the spread of untruths in election campaigns, as seen during the Brexit campaign, pose a grave danger for democracy. The law can help to strengthen the rights of refugees and migrants. By conferring citizenship rights, they could be included in the political community, thus giving them a chance to be involved in processes of collective deliberation. Today European societies also suffer from a democratic deficit, because large numbers of migrants are disenfranchised, they have no political rights although they pay taxes. Moreover, populist policies are whittling away at their social and economic rights as well.

Why does the law fail to adapt to economic and social realities?

The law is Janus-faced; it can be repressive or emancipatory. It can either lag behind or be far ahead of societal norms. It can reflect changes in society, or can work as a catalyst for social change. And often there is a gap between law on the books, i.e. norms as enshrined in the law, and law in practice. In many countries, labour law and anti-discrimination law affords women much stronger rights than they enjoy in practice. Despite the legal requirement of equal pay for equal work, this has hardly been achieved in practice anywhere in the world. Or take the opposite case, in many countries the law does not permit gay marriages but gay and lesbian couples manage to live together nevertheless. The law defines the minimum that needs to be maintained, not the maximum to be achieved, or aspired to.

This interview was held during the 10th Conference on Solidarity / 27th European Meeting of Cultural Journals in Gdańsk, 4-6 November, organized jointly by Eurozine, the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna, the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk and Res Publica Foundation.

In partnership with:
Erste Foundation and Mayor of Gdańsk

Co-funded by:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Poland
Foundation for Polish-German Cooperation
Connected action for the Commons, European Cultural Foundation

Project co-financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland


Published 2016-01-11

Original in English
First published in Res Publica Nowa, Special Edition 'Mobilizing for the Commons' 2016; Eurozine (English version)

Contributed by Res Publica Nowa
© Shalini Randeria / Anna Wójcik / Res Publica Nowa
© Eurozine

Focal points     click for more

Debating solidarity in Europe
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, questions of inequality and solidarity have become intertwined. Over the past year, however, questions of solidarity have also been central in connection to the treatment of refugees and migrants. [more]

Ukraine: Beyond conflict stories
Follow the critical, informed and nuanced voices that counter the dominant discourse of crisis concerning Ukraine. A media exchange project linking Ukrainian independent media with "alternative" media in Germany, France, Spain, Italy and Greece. [more]

Russia in global dialogue
In the two decades after the end of the Cold War, intellectual interaction between Russia and Europe has intensified. It has not, however, prompted a common conversation. The focal point "Russia in global dialogue" seeks to fuel debate on democracy, society and the legacy of empire. [more]

Ukraine in European dialogue
Post-revolutionary Ukrainian society displays a unique mix of hope, enthusiasm, social creativity, collective trauma of war, radicalism and disillusionment. Two years after the country's uprising, the focal point "Ukraine in European dialogue" takes stock. [more]

Culture and the commons
Across Europe, citizens are engaging in new forms of cultural cooperation while developing alternative and participatory democratic practices. The commons is where cultural and social activists meet a broader public to create new ways of living together. [more]

2016 Jean Améry Prize collection
To coincide with the awarding of the 2016 Jean Améry Prize for European essay writing, Eurozine publishes essays by authors nominated for the prize, including by a representative selection of Eurozine partner journals. [more]

The politics of privacy
The Snowden leaks and the ensuing NSA scandal made the whole world debate privacy and data protection. Now the discussion has entered a new phase - and it's all about policy. A focal point on the politics of privacy: claiming a European value. [more]

Beyond Fortress Europe
The fate of migrants attempting to enter Fortress Europe has triggered a new European debate on laws, borders and human rights. A focal point featuring reportage alongside articles on policy and memory. With contributions by Fabrizio Gatti, Seyla Benhabib and Alessandro Leogrande. [more]

Vacancies at Eurozine     click for more

Eurozine is seeking an Online Editor and Social Media Manager for its office in Vienna.

Preferred starting date: February 2017.
Applications deadline: 31 January 2017.

Conferences     click for more

Eurozine emerged from an informal network dating back to 1983. Since then, European cultural magazines have met annually in European cities to exchange ideas and experiences. Around 100 journals from almost every European country are now regularly involved in these meetings.
Mobilizing for the Commons
The 27th European Meeting of Cultural Journals
Gdańsk, 4-6 November 2016
The Eurozine conference 2016 in Gdańsk framed the general topic of solidarity with a focus on mobilizing for the commons. The event took place in the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk and thus linked contemporary debate to the history of a broad, non-violent, anti-communist social movement which has started in the city's shipyard in 1980. [more]

Support Eurozine     click for more

If you appreciate Eurozine's work and would like to support our contribution to the establishment of a European public sphere, see information about making a donation.

Eurozine BLOG

On the Eurozine BLOG, editors and Eurozine contributors comment on current affairs and events. What's behind the headlines in the world of European intellectual journals?
In memoriam: Ales Debeljak (1961-2016)
On 28 January 2016, Ales Debeljak died in a car crash in Slovenia. He will be much missed as an agile and compelling essayist, a formidable public speaker and a charming personality. [more]

Time to Talk     click for more

Time to Talk, a network of European Houses of Debate, has partnered up with Eurozine to launch an online platform. Here you can watch video highlights from all TTT events, anytime, anywhere.
Neda Deneva, Constantina Kouneva, Irina Nedeva and Yavor Siderov
Does migration intensify distrust in institutions?
How do migration and institutional mistrust relate to one another? As a new wave of populism feeds on and promotes fears of migration, aggrandising itself through the distrust it sows, The Red House hosts a timely debate with a view to untangling the key issues. [more]

Editor's choice     click for more

Jürgen Habermas, Michaël Foessel
Critique and communication: Philosophy's missions
Decades after first encountering Anglo-Saxon perspectives on democracy in occupied postwar Germany, Jürgen Habermas still stands by his commitment to a critical social theory that advances the cause of human emancipation. This follows a lifetime of philosophical dialogue. [more]

Literature     click for more

Karl Ove Knausgård
Out to where storytelling does not reach
To write is to write one's way through the preconceived and into the world on the other side, to see the world as children can, as fantastic or terrifying, but always rich and wide-open. Karl Ove Knausgård on creating literature. [more]

Jonathan Bousfield
Growing up in Kundera's Central Europe
Jonathan Bousfield talks to three award-winning novelists who spent their formative years in a Central Europe that Milan Kundera once described as the kidnapped West. It transpires that small nations may still be the bearers of important truths. [more]

Literary perspectives
The re-transnationalization of literary criticism
Eurozine's series of essays aims to provide an overview of diverse literary landscapes in Europe. Covered so far: Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Estonia, Ukraine, Northern Ireland, Slovenia, the Netherlands and Hungary. [more]

Debate series     click for more

Europe talks to Europe
Nationalism in Belgium might be different from nationalism in Ukraine, but if we want to understand the current European crisis and how to overcome it we need to take both into account. The debate series "Europe talks to Europe" is an attempt to turn European intellectual debate into a two-way street. [more]

Multimedia     click for more
Multimedia section including videos of past Eurozine conferences in Vilnius (2009) and Sibiu (2007). [more]

powered by