ELF 2013 Final Report - Migration and Integration


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Migration and integration – an eternal topic for populists or a chance for liberals to improve their human rights agenda?

Report on ELF seminars in Belgrade, Opatija and Osijek
By Dušan Gamser

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ELF 2013 Final Report - Migration and Integration

  1. 1. Migration and integration – an eternal topic for populists or a chance for liberals to improve their human rights agenda? Report on ELF seminars in Belgrade, Opatija and Osijek By Dušan Gamser European Liberal Forum (ELF) from Brussels, in cooperation with the Office for Western Balkans of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) and local partners from Serbia and Croatia, organized three seminars in 2013 on the topic „Migration and integration – an eternal topic for populists or a chance for liberals to improve their human rights agenda“. Seminars were held in Belgrade, Serbia (18-19 June) and in Croatian towns Opatija (8-10 November) and Osijek (23-24 November). The participants were young elected liberal politicians from Serbia, Croatia, BiH or Montenegro. The project was supported by the European Parliament. The goals of the seminars were to increase the awareness of young liberal politicians from the region of Western Balkans of migrations as a political topic and to enable them to offer stronger liberal arguments, especially when debating with populists. During the seminars, participants were able to meet renowned experts in the field of migrations. Through the presentations on the history or on the current situation in the field – on examples and experience of Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, etc – participants were to learn about the changes that EU accession process would bring to the region, in that one country after another would become predominantly a country of immigration instead of emigration, as well as about the major migrations-related human rights issues in Western Balkans. Besides, through working groups, participants were able to formulate several draft strategies on how to better integrate immigrants into the destination communities as well as how to counter balance populists in the public debate over the issue. Rich history of migrations offers lots of food for thought Balkan peninsula had been, for centuries, a region where-out more people had emigrated from than immigrated into. People from Balkans migrated to Central or to Western Europe, or to overseas countries. But notable migrations back and forth were also there across the Adriatic, which considerably influenced identity building of the population on both sides of the sea. And, of course, migrations within the Balkans unveiled all along. Not all of them were voluntary. Some were government-driven and part of a broader ethnic, demographic, economic or other social engineering. Sometimes they happened as dreadful refugee crises, or as long and painful return-migration processes. In 20th century, migrations had different causes: wars, ethno-political homogenization encouraged by authorities, ideological or political, economic, socio-cultural, et alt. A keynote speaker to all three seminars, an Italian professor Emilio Cocco from the University of Teramo, analyzed thoroughly the key factors that had led to several different waves of migration from Western Balkans to West European countries (in particular to Italy, Austria, Germany or Switzerland) since WW2. Especially notable was Cocco`s presentation on the Italian migrations to and from Croatia and the role that those migrations had played in creating ethnic and national identities in the two countries. There were three kinds of trans-Adriatic migrations: traditional, “physiological”, pre-
  2. 2. 20th century ones (mainly economically motivated); “state building” ones (since mid-19th century), which were to non-neglect part not least encouraged but also imposed by governments; and contemporary migrations motivated by pursuit of political, economic and/or cultural elements of human well-being. The rationale for the analysis was not just understanding the present situation on both sides of Adriatic (itself nowadays being to large part an “internal” sea of the EU), but comparing this turbulent history with the current developments in the Mediterranean region. With increased numbers of both legal and illegal migrants crossing it, Mediterranean Sea has become a sort of a “new frontier”, a strong medium of inter-state migration, and sadly, at the same time, something worse than a battle front, whereat thousands are dying each year in their attempt to reach the EU, which is, at least for many of them, actually the “fortress Europe”. Looking backward into the history of Adriatic region allows us to view those recent developments, illustrated by sad numbers and sad images from the island of Lampedusa, in a different light, namely, as an opportunity to pull ourselves together in for more openness and in search of a common Mediterranean identity and future for all the people living on its shores. With membership in the EU the focus switches from emigration to immigration In previous centuries, millions of Italians migrated to overseas destinations in the USA or Latin America (in particular Argentina), as well as northbound to other European countries. However, after the WW2, Italy gradually became a desirable country and predominantly a destination for immigrants rather than source of emigration. Similar switch has happened in Slovenia after her breakup from Yugoslavia and her subsequent accession to the EU (even though, to tell the truth, Slovenia had been, for decades, a desirable destination of internal migrants in Yugoslavia). Modern migrations, that included brain drain of the most talented and influx of a number of immigrants of various educational levels, either as asylum seekers or as proper legal or illegal immigrants, have posed a number of new challenges for politics. The protection of human rights of economic migrants has become an important issue for liberal politicians. In Slovenia - aside of the already “old” problem of the “erased” residents who had struggled for so long to regain their citizenship rights, which had been lost with the dissolution of Yugoslavia - there arose new problems too, such as those of the economic or other human rights of temporary, visitor workers, in construction or various other service industries, especially regarding the incidence of the shadow economy in those sectors. ELF President Felicita Medved - herself also the founder of the Slovenian NGO think tank Novum, which is advocating enhanced rule of law, protection of human rights and innovative practices in the economy – analyzed various aspects of emigration from and immigration to Slovenia. She stressed that the “Battle for Talent” was the main aspect of the contemporary developments in the field of migrations, world-wide. The developed countries, including EU members, desired for young, talented and educated people, as well as for established experts, while they often used to close their doors to other immigrants, fearing that a huge influx of people would have disturbed the anyway troublesome labour market, driven the wages downwards and additionally burdened the social security system. But, in Slovenia, there is also xenophobia, present in the labour market. Vis-a-vis ca. 200 unemployed medicine doctors, there are around 600 vacancies in the village ambulances throughout the country. Thereby, Felicita Medved concluded that the attitude of many Slovenians towards more robust immigration of the needed workforce, such as medicine doctors, into their country, would have to become yet more tolerant.
  3. 3. Did liberals in Serbia do enough to attract ex-refugees? Several hundred kilometers eastwards, in Serbia, there are still problems with refugees or IDPs inherited from the wars of the 1990`s. Independent researcher and human rights activist from Serbia Jelena Grujić portrayed the size of, the main driving forces behind, the post-war developments related to, and the current situation regarding refugees in Serbia. The war in the neighbouring BiH had, in one moment or another, displaced more than half of its population, ultimately leading to the situation where there were one million less inhabitants over there. In Serbia, 30% of the entire population was, at least indirectly, affected by the refugee or IDP crises during 1990`s. It was the ethno-nationalist politics of the 1990`s that prepared people for ethnic re-grouping and likewise migrations and which encouraged them to go ahead with it, even aside of the anyway huge immediate risks of becoming a victim of war or of adjacent crimes. Alas, nationalist politics helped refugees - whom it had previously brought into that situation - very little. Return of refugees, as well as the integration of those who did not want to return, was in their own court - a matter of their own individual or family initiative, or at best, it had been co-facilitated by domestic or foreign civil society organizations. Grujić reckoned that - thereby - political parties, liberal or other “civic oriented” ones in particular, failed to meet their responsibilities. They missed the opportunity to address refugees and attract them, leaving them entirely to populist, ultra-nationalist or other demagogue politicians. Various research have shown that the refugees from BiH were more educated, younger and even more open minded in average, than the average of the domicile population in Serbia. Still, liberal or similar parties such as LDP or DS failed to formulate suitable political messages for those people, many of whom having had meanwhile become voters in Serbia. The participating LDP (including ex-GSS) activists denied ground for such a criticism. In their experience, the refugees had already had been radicalized when they arrived to Serbia in early or mid-1990`s. They were from the very beginning misused by ultra-nationalists or by Milošević`s regime as their iron fist against the democratic opposition in Serbia. Opposition resources were limited, so they had to carefully choose and politically nourish their own target groups. The liberal opposition could do nothing else but develop defensive strategies regarding most of the refugee population. However, throughout the lively discussion, it was concluded that there have been a number of opportunities to formulate proper political messages, especially at the local level (and that there was even some experience gained thereof), of the sort that could have addressed the concerns and needs of the people from the refugee milieu, and thus attracted them into the liberal political camp. Further relaxation of the political climate in the country and the on-going softening of the inherited political divides could enhance this process. Some areas in Croatia face depopulation, some fear of new rows The country which during 1990`s had refugee and IDP problems in both directions, Croatia, nowadays faces twin-fold challenges: depopulation in vast areas of the country and brain drain overall on one, while a growing number of asylum seekers or illegal immigrants who wanted not
  4. 4. just to transit Croatia but to settle there on the other hand. The transitional status of Croatia, itself switching from a predominantly emigrant to a predominantly immigrant country (or at least the one that needed some sort of increased immigration because of the brain drain and of the ageing of population), naturally invited majority of the keynote speakers to analyze that and to formulate a few recommendations. A Croatian political analyst Davor Gjenero spoke about the catastrophic consequences of the 1990`s wars and of the post-war demographic engineering of the-then authorities (the regime of the late President Franjo Tuđman) on the demographic, social and economic situation in the war-stroke areas. Almost two decades after the war, in spite of being proclaimed as areas of special national interest and care, even though being heavily invested into, even though connected by state-of-the-art motorways both to the affluent seaside tourist resorts and to a “normal life” of the central, northern or eastern parts of the country, war-torn counties are still depopulated and have been, year upon year, further ageing. In some municipalities, the average age equals retirement age. In many municipalities, public sector jobs are the only ones available, while competition for them often has got its inter-ethnic dimension, occasionally becoming a form of inter-ethnic cold war. Recently, people in war-torn neighbourhoods are seemingly “coming to their senses”: ethnic Croats from BiH who had been colonized there in late 1990`s by the government, and ethnic Serb returnees from refuge who later faced unexpected and at first very much radicalized new neighbours in their centuries-old habitat, both realized that none of them became lucky winners during the war or post-war games initiated by others. In Gjenero`s view, fiscal austerity measures in Croatia, however necessary, should be tailor-made for each and every region, so as not to destroy any meaningful policies of protecting minorities. Liberals should follow the principles of equitable and sustainable development, of decentralization of decision making and de-concentration of the government, they should primarily protect citizens` individual rights and look for political integration of all citizens, as well as try to secure equal starting conditions for all and their share of the benefits of social development. While southwestern parts of Croatia faced depopulation, the easternmost parts, e.g. Slavonia, where many of the refugees of both ethnicities returned, faced problems of parallel ethnic communities between whom relations were tense. Skirmishes over the official use of Serb Cyrillic alphabet in easternmost multi-ethnic municipalities became notorious and have shaken entire society in Croatia. Julijana Adamović, a writer who had took refuge from Serbia to Croatia in 1991, while later settled in Vukovar in 1998, described the findings of her master thesis research on the self-perception by teenagers coming from war-affected families. She discovered – and that is corroborated by numerous other researchers as well – that youngest generations were even more exclusive, xenophobic and nationalistic than their parents. She argued for changes in the education system, whereby children and youths of different ethnicities would have more opportunities to meet, than just in (socially isolated) NGOs or in places of entertainment. Individual versus collective rights Different schools, as well as less measures which de facto produced segregation of ethnic or other minorities, were advocated by yet another keynote speaker, Borislav Ristić from Osijek, renowned independent blogger and member of the Rijeka-based libertarian think tank Adriatic Institute for Public Policies, who himself had taken refuge in Serbia during 1990`s and has subsequently, a few years ago, returned to his hometown. In his view, Croatian education system`s greatest failure is, actually, its orientation to produce government bureaucrats instead of people eager and capable of producing new value. Proliferation of collective minority rights
  5. 5. instead of affirming and strongly defending individual citizen rights for all is often counterproductive. To their part, politicians should practice responsible leadership, i.e. not shy away from their basic obligation to rationalize, institutionalize and facilitate peaceful resolution of the different interests and adjacent conflicts which emerge in society. A liberal member of the Croatian Parliament Ivica Mandić (HNS) spoke about the attempts by Croatian authorities to cope with new challenges posed by their country`s accession to the EU, as regards the attracting of scarce workforce, asylum management and integration of foreigners into Croatian society. He saw – provided they were properly dealt with - migrations rather as an opportunity to have raised living standards and freedom of all than as a threat. He, as well as a Croatia`s MFA official Hrvoje Marušić, pointed out at good examples, such as of Istria County, or the City of Rijeka, as places where integration of newcomers has always had been easier than elsewhere in Croatia, even though they too had – after the war – to rediscover their places as centuries-old crossroads of sailors, businessmen or other hardworking people of all skin colours and from all the corners of the world. Mandić`s political party and parliamentary colleague Igor Kolman, MP, was less optimistic regarding opportunities opened by migrations. More open borders upon the EU accession eased the movement of people, yet they increased the danger of brain drain, demographic meltdown, economic and fiscal downslide and more social and political problems thereafter. He argued that the optimistic view on emigration should be questioned. Migrants rarely return and bring back some new education or skills. Even when doing so, it is mainly those who had failed to prosper in a destination country. Thus, a sort of “negative selection” goes on. Meanwhile, remittances are decreasing due to the destination countries` policies of attracting entire families of the needed experts. Since 1960`s, that has been an important element of the country`s balance of payment. Eventually, it might diminish, as old parents died and young people who had left the country with entire families have got nobody else over there to send money to. As one pro-emigration argument goes, opportunity to work in developed countries has been a strong motivation for people to learn languages and numerous other skills, which helps them even if they do not emigrate. Besides, it allegedly raises expectations and thus the performance of the would-be emigrant country`s schools and universities. Researchers are indecisive on whether or not increased migration opportunities really lead to more or better education and training hence to raising professional standards in countries of origin. Therefore, the only hope for Croatia to have compensated for the enormous loss through the brain drain and to have regained competitiveness of its economy would be to have had a massive immigration of educated and well trained workers from other - mainly Balkan, East European or North African – countries. But, thereby, Kolman is also cautious: for such a switch towards readiness to accept massive immigration of the educated people from countries considerably different than Croatia, no pre-conditions in Croatia are met. There is neither the strategy nor the operation plan on how to attract the skilled. Moreover, tolerance in society – as demonstrated through the “culture wars” over various ethnic or other minority issues, from the use of other alphabets to the LGBT rights – is in such a shape that integration of a considerable number of immigrants at this very moment appears as hardly thinkable.
  6. 6. Building open and tolerant society is crucial for making Croatia attractive to highly educated people, domicile or foreign alike. A specific culture of respect for human rights and of respect for individual freedom should be developed. More tolerant society would have led more people to bring the decision to have come to Croatia, while at least some of those who decided to emigrate would probably reconsider it. Possible liberal strategies However, liberals could do a lot in order to both keep some of the would-be expatriates home and attract some badly needed experts to migrate into Croatia. Liberals should not shy away from the debate with populists over migration issues, because it is their own ground, where they have actually held a high ground. During the seminar in Opatija, participants, divided into two working groups, discussed and presented several liberal solutions to the above challenges, especially on how to help immigrants better integrate into society and on how liberals could successfully match populists in the debate over migrations. Migrations are impossible to stop. Liberals are against bans and against walls. They welcome the movement of people in pursuit of happiness, to the places where they are welcome, needed and expected. Investing strategically in education, linking education to the needs of economic and social development would expectedly create experts capable of producing new value. Using investments into education as a leverage to encourage young experts to stay home might be a part of the solution. But, creating free, open, secularist and tolerant society also matters: few people who were in position to choose would rush to migrate into a country which has had unresolved problems with several different minorities of hers. Those strategies would be equally important in order to integrate immigrants better. The focus should be on the universal human rights and civil liberties, including economic freedom and adjacent opportunities, while not on special interests and collective privileges. Subsidiarity should be thereby respected. Regulation should be clear and simple. Politicians should fully accept and assume their responsibility for peaceful and integrative resolution of social conflicts. Anchored to the above principles, liberals could successfully counter populist rhetoric against migrations while showing up as responsible political leaders. The common place of the entire debate throughout the three seminars was that a switch from the predominant position of a country of emigration to the one of immigration, already witnessed in Italy and Slovenia, might soon happen in Croatia. If Serbia, BiH, or Montenegro - whose numerous youths nowadays dream of moving to EU, even if it were to Croatia - further advanced towards the EU, they could also face such a switch. Market forces and the need for economic growth will catalyze movements of labor, whereby good communication and cooperation between business community and governmental bodies is essential for an optimal influx of the scarce labor profiles. Civil society, as well as political parties, could help mainstreaming immigrants (in case of Serbia also ex refugees or IDPs) into destination communities. Thereby, the identity - including citizenship - issues still wait for more sustainable solutions. Two opposing models of identity management, the populist one (demanding acculturation of immigrants) and the multicultural one (creating parallel societies) are either inacceptable from the liberal standpoint or hardly applicable in Europe. Liberals should look for other models, primarily those which, albeit protecting the collective ones, put individual rights in the first place.
  7. 7. Hence, multiple identities belonged primarily to the individuals themselves, to have been subsequently harmonized in open, free and tolerant society. As for the asylum management, there should certainly be solidarity with people looking for refuge from wars or heavy human rights` violations. EU should not fall into temptation to isolate or to otherwise act inhumanely. The focus should be put on removing the causes of asylumdriven migrations, at the very roots of the problems, as well as to help asylum seekers accommodate closer to their home countries. As for the misuses of the asylum mechanism, again the best strategy would be to address the problem at its roots: to enhance domicile communities so that they became more attractive to people to stay, while offering to those who anyway wanted to migrate more legal channels, and different modalities through which labour could move, or attitude to study be satisfied, in an organized and controlled manner, causing least problems in the domicile or in the destination country. These three seminars provided food for thought to young liberals and deepened their understanding of the issue of migrations within or towards the EU. They helped produce more sophisticated arguments in favor of freedom of movement, labor mobility and market solutions to the challenges of migrations.