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IMISCOE Research Series 

Martin Baldwin-Edwards 
Riki van Boeschoten Editors 

Migration in 
the Southern 

From Ottoman Territory 
to Globalized Nation States 


extras.spri ng 


Springer Open 

IMISCOE Research Series 

This series is the official book series of IMISCOE, the largest network of excellence 
on migration and diversity in the world. It comprises publications which present 
empirical and theoretical research on different aspects of international migration. 
The authors are all specialists, and the publications a rich source of information for 
researchers and others involved in international migration studies. 

The series is published under the editorial supervision of the IMISCOE Editorial 
Committee which includes leading scholars from all over Europe. The series, which 
contains more than eighty titles already, is internationally peer reviewed which en- 
sures that the book published in this series continue to present excellent academic 
standards and scholarly quality. Most of the books are available open access. 

For information on how to submit a book proposal, please visit: http://www. 

More information about this series at 

A welcome addition to the migration scholarship on this little-known, fragmented but 
globally important region. Taken together, the contributions offer a rich blend of history, 
politics, sociology and anthropology, alongside studies of memory, mobility and ethno- 
linguistic identity. 

Russell King, University of Sussex and Malmo University 

This well researched volume is a welcomed addition to our understanding of cross border 
migration over time in the southern Balkan region. The focus on the transformation of so- 
cial identities is a testimony to the long term historical processes that underpin large scale 
population displacements which are far richer than mere ‘migration crises ’. 

Eftihia Voutira, Professor, Anthropology of Forced Migration, Department of Balkan Slavic 
and Oriental Studies, University of Macedonia, Thessaloniki 

Migration is a ubiquitous phenomenon in the modern world. This thoughtful book stud- 
ies migration patterns and intercultural exchanges within the transnational region of the 
Southern Balkans against a deep historical background, offering fresh and alternative 
readings of the past two centuries. From the final decades of the multicultural Ottoman 
Empire, through the homogenizing efforts of several nation states, to new forms of ethnic 
and cultural diversity imposed through globalized networks, this important collection of 
original essays successfully brings together two separate fields within migration studies, 
those of forced and voluntary migrations. A genuinely transnational volume, both in its 
scholarly approach and the makeup of its contributors. 

Maria Todorova, Gutgsell Professor of History, University of Illinois at Urb ana-Champaign 

Hans Vermeulen • Martin Baldwin-Edwards 

Riki van Boeschoten 


Migration in the Southern 

From Ottoman Territory to Globalized 
Nation States 

Springer Open 

Riki van Boeschoten 

History, Archeology and Soc. Anthropology 
University of Thessaly 

Martin Baldwin-Edwards 
Former Director 

Mediterranean Migration Observatory 




Hans Vermeulen 
Emeritus professor 
University of Amsterdam 
The Netherlands 

Additional material to this book can be downloaded from 

IMISCOE Research Series 

ISBN 978-3-319-13718-6 ISBN 978-3-319-13719-3 (eBook) 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 

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The idea for the current volume emerged in a working group on migration of the Via 
Egnatia Foundation ( 1 This working group was es- 
tablished during a conference the Foundation held in Bitola in February 2009. One 
of the purposes of the Foundation is to promote communication and understanding 
between the countries belonging to the ‘catchment area’ of the Via Egnatia — that 
is, Albania, the (former Yugoslav) Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria, Greece, and 
Turkey. In this book the term ‘Southern Balkans’ refers to these five countries. 

In the early nineteenth century the Southern Balkans was still part of the Ot- 
toman Empire. This started to change when the small Greek state was founded in 
1830. Almost 50 years later the region saw the birth of another new nation state — 
Bulgaria (1878). In the period up to the Balkan Wars both states gained new terri- 
tory, but the Ottomans still controlled a broad corridor from the Albanian coast on 
the west to Istanbul in the east (Fig. 1). This corridor or belt — consisting mainly of 
Albania, Macedonia and Thrace — might be called the Via Egnatia region since the 
Via Egnatia runs straight through it from Diirres in the west to Istanbul in the east. 
The countries of the Via Egnatia region share a memory of a fairly recent Ottoman 
past involving at least part of their national territories. It can be considered a distinc- 
tive region especially in terms of the population movements during and following 
the Balkan Wars (1912-1913). 

1 For the results of the conference see Via Egnatia Foundation (ed.) (2010), Via Egnatia Revisited: 
Common Past, Common Future. Skopje: Kolektiv. 

vi Preface 

As social scientists and others have remarked, the history of the region — both the 
narrower Via Egnatia region and the Southern Balkans as a whole — has resulted in 
conflicting interpretations of the past and the present which are often the product of 
narrow national(ist) frameworks. The linguistic diversity of the region also makes it 
difficult to widen one’s horizons and take other national perspectives into account. 
Researchers from outside the region confront these problems as well. Since the 
fall of the Berlin Wall, both communication and mutual understanding have slowly 
started to improve. The increasing internationalization of the social sciences and the 
associated increase in the use of English in scientific publications in past decades 
has also contributed to these positive developments. 

This book contains three maps. The first two black-and-white maps were made 
by Vasilis Soliopoulos who did this with dedication and without remuneration. We 
thank him for his excellent contribution to this book. The third map is in colour and 
is placed at the end of the book. We have included this well-known map by Carl 
Sax to give the reader a strong impression of the ethnic complexity of the Southern 
Balkans — a complexity with tremendous consequences for the character and vol- 
ume of intra-regional migration. 

Note on Transliteration 

In transliterating Greek words and texts we have followed the system used by the 
Journal of Modern Greek Studies with one exception: we have left out the stress 
accents. For the transliteration of texts in Cyrillic script we use the ISO standard of 
transliteration, as used by the Ethnologia Balkanica journal. In the case of names 
of authors and institutions we have usually maintained the way these names are 
spelled in Latin script by these persons or institutions, so as to make it easier for the 
reader to find these in bibliographies. 



1 Introduction 1 

Martin Baldwin-Edwards, Riki van Boeschoten and Hans Vermeulen 

2 The Balkan Gurbet: Traditional Patterns and New Trends 31 

Petko Hristov 

3 Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies in Interwar Bulgaria 47 

Raymond Detrez 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity 

Construction: The Case of Thracian Refugees in Bulgaria 63 

Nikolai Vukov 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to 

Turkey: A Historical Account 85 

Ahmet igduygu and Deniz Sert 

6 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’: Post-1989 Labour 

Migration from Bulgaria to Turkey 105 

Ayse Parla 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City: Spatial ‘Invisibility’ 

and Identity Management as a Strategy of Adaptation 123 

Ifigeneia Kokkali 

8 Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: 

A Case of Last Resort? 143 

Julie Vullnetari 


x Contents 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender 

Identities: Albanian and Bulgarian Migrants in Greece 161 

Riki Van Boeschoten 

10 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between 
Bulgaria and Greece: The Evolution of a Cross-Border 

Migration System 183 

Panos Hatziprokopiou and Eugenia Markova 

Appendix 209 


Martin Baldwin-Edwards Former Director, Mediterranean Migration 
Observatory, Athens, Greece 

Riki van Boeschoten Department I.A.K.A., University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece 

Raymond Detrez Slavistiek en Oost-Europakunde, Ghent University, Ghent, 

Panos Hatziprokopiou Department of Spatial Planning and Development, 
Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece 

Petko Hristov Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic 
Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Moskovska, Bulgaria 

Ahmet Igduygu MiReKog, Kog University, Istanbul, Turkey 

Ifigeneia Kokkali Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, 
University of Florence, Florence, Italy 

Eugenia Markova The Faculty of Business and Law, London Metropolitan 
University, London, United Kingdom 

Ayse Parla European Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Sabanci 
University, Istanbul, Turkey 

Deniz Sert Department of International Relations, Ozyegin University, Istanbul, 

Riki van Boeschoten University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece 

Hans Vermeulen University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

Nikolai Vukov Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, 

Julie Vullnetari Geography and Environment, University of Southampton, 
Southampton, United Kingdom 


Chapter 1 


Martin Baldwin-Edwards, Riki van Boeschoten and Hans Vermeulen 

Previous studies of migration in the Southern Balkans have been fragmented not 
only along national but also along disciplinary lines. Moreover, the fields of study 
of ‘forced’ and ‘voluntary’ migration have been separate, with few interconnec- 
tions. Our collection intends to bring these different traditions together, and in ad- 
dition aims to promote mutual understanding between the citizens of the countries 
of the region, who are now increasingly linked through transnational and globalized 
networks. In order to achieve this goal, the volume adopts a dual approach to the 
study of migration in the area. On the one hand, it focuses on migration flows and 
intercultural exchanges exclusively within the region; on the other hand, it looks at 
contemporary migration against the background of historical developments during 
the last two centuries, while at the same time proposing alternative readings of this 
history. From a methodological point of view, this study reserves a special place for 
aspects of cultural history often lacking in the literature of migration — most nota- 
bly, religion, personal name strategies, gender, family strategies, and ‘memory’. It 
takes an interdisciplinary approach to migration — with insights from history, an- 
thropology, sociology, economic geography, political economy, and oral history — 
and utilizes empirical studies of the societies and polities under examination rather 
than more theoretical elaborations. Our aim is to go beyond the narrow focus of 
national narratives that have dominated historiography in the region, by identifying 
transnational or trans-regional bonds from Ottoman times until the present day and 
also by bringing in comparative perspectives, where appropriate. We consider that 

M. Baldwin-Edwards (ISI) 

Former Director, Mediterranean Migration Observatory, Athens, Greece 

R. van Boeschoten 

Department I.A.K.A., University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece 

H. Vermeulen 

University of Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 1 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 1 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

migration patterns, coping strategies of individual migrants, and public discourses 
on migration in the present cannot be explained solely by contemporary develop- 
ments, since they are deeply influenced by cultural traditions from the past. 

The remainder of this chapter — like the contributions that follow — is organized 
historically. We start with a short discussion of migration in the Ottoman Empire, 
also considering some aspects of the late Ottoman Empire that are relevant to issues 
of migration in subsequent historical periods (such as heterogeneity versus homo- 
geneity and the issue of nationalism). This is followed by a brief discussion of the 
implications of World War II and its aftermath for migration in the region. Next, we 
look at migration during the Cold War period and developments since the collapse of 
the communist regimes in Eastern Europe. We conclude by looking briefly at some 
consequences for intra-regional migration of the economic crisis that started in 2008. 

1.1 Migration in Ottoman Times 

Immigration, emigration, and internal migration all played a crucial role in the his- 
tory of the Ottoman Empire. Immigration was a characteristic of the hey-day of 
the Ottoman Empire when many people found a safe haven and better economic 
prospects there. A typical case was that of the Spanish Jews who fled persecution in 
Spain and arrived in large numbers in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, 
settling in urban centres in the Balkans — especially in Salonika and Constantinople 
(Mazower 2004, pp. 47-52). In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, 
when the Empire was in decline and disintegrating, many Ottoman subjects (mainly 
Christians and Jews) left for the USA (Ipek and £agayan 2008). From the very be- 
ginning the Ottoman Empire was a ‘moveable empire’, as Kasaba (2009) phrases it, 
and the diverse populations in the Empire were frequently on the move — either vol- 
untarily or forced by the authorities. The remarkable population transfers ( siirgun ) 
organized by the Ottoman authorities in the early period of the Ottoman Empire 
involved transfers of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish populations within the Empire 
(see, e.g., Hoerder 2002, pp. Ill, 113, 117), while the devsirme — the levy of young 
Christian boys for service in the Ottoman army — also implied migration over large 
distances within the Empire, in this case of individuals (Lucassen 2009, pp. 21-22). 

Besides these population movements between different parts of the Empire, 
there was also considerable movement within the (Southern) Balkans itself. Sea- 
sonal movements of agricultural labourers or of shepherds between winter and sum- 
mer pastures, as well as the migration of itinerant artisans and traders, were all part 
of everyday experience. Part of this itinerant population subsequently settled in new 
locations. In Chap. 2, Petko Hristov describes these traditional forms of migrant 
labour, focusing on the Slavic-speaking part of the Southern Balkans and more spe- 
cifically on Sopluk and Mijak, two mountainous border regions with a long tradi- 
tion of migrant labour. There was also an almost continuous movement from the 
mountains to the plains, or in the opposite direction, depending on the security and 
health conditions prevailing in the Empire. The late Ottoman period saw new mi- 

1 Introduction 


gration movements. Following the growth of trade in the late seventeenth century, 
thousands of Greek merchants established themselves in the cities in the northern 
part of our region as well as in the Northern Balkans, Central Europe, and southern 
Russia (Vermeulen 1984, p. 230). During the nineteenth century, cities in the Slavic- 
speaking regions — previously inhabited mainly by Turks, Greeks and Jews — saw 
their religious and ethnic composition transformed owing to the increasing migra- 
tion of Slavic and Vlach speakers (Sahara 2011). 

While the creation of nation states erected barriers to the free movement of shep- 
herds, itinerant merchants, and all those who wanted to try their luck across state 
borders, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the volume and state regulation of 
cross-border migration within the Southern Balkans in the early phases of state 
formation. Some sources suggest that cross-border migration greatly diminished. 
Fatsea (2011), for example, found no evidence of the presence of foreign labour in 
the Athenian labour market during the founding phase of modern Athens (1830— 
1850). 1 A clear case of cross-border movement is the migration from the small and 
poor Greek state to Asia Minor in the years immediately after independence (1832). 
This migration — a continuation of migration flows since the eighteenth century — 
contributed significantly to the growth of the Greek population there (Adamr 2009, 
p. 64; Kitromilides 2008, p. 287). 

1.2 Heterogeneity and Homogeneity in the Southern 
Balkans During the Last Period of Ottoman Rule 

The frequent migrations during the Ottoman period contributed to the heterogeneity 
of the Southern Balkans in terms of language, religion and the origin of its inhab- 
itants. 2 The ‘ethnic’ diversity of the Southern Balkans in Ottoman times is often 
perceived as being due to two factors. The first factor is the large number of ‘ethnic’ 
groups living there — a complex situation that many authors describe using the same 
ethno-national categories as we use today, such as Greeks, Turks, Bulgarians, Serbi- 
ans, Montenegrins, Albanians, Gypsies and Jews. Second, these groups did not live 
side by side in neatly separated territories, but were to a large degree intermingled, 
especially in Macedonia and Thrace (see Sax map in the Appendix). Though such 
a picture gives some idea of the ‘ethnic’ complexity and cultural diversity of the 
region, it is potentially misleading, because it applies present-day categories to the 

1 Most of the skilled labour force in the building sector at that time was recruited from the Greek 
islands (Cyclades). Several authors, however, mention the presence of Bulgarian and Macedonian 
workers (masons) in Greece in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see, e.g., Miller 1905; 
Grigorova and Zaimova 2012). 

2 Brunnbauer and Esch (2006, p. 14) make the same point for both the Ottoman and Habsburg 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

past. People at the time did not see themselves in terms of such categories, although 
they slowly learned — and were taught and obliged — to do so. 

How did the peasants — the overwhelming majority of the population — see them- 
selves before the nationalist world-view reached them? Let us look briefly at the 
Orthodox population of the Balkans. 3 Simple peasants at the time would have seen 
themselves first of all as members of a family and village. Next, they would have 
identified themselves as members of a religious community — in our case, the Chris- 
tian Orthodox one. The Ottoman Empire was organized into religious communi- 
ties, the so-called millets. The Orthodox millet was known as the Rum millet and 
those who belonged to it called themselves Christians or — less frequently — Rum 
(in Turkish), Romios (in Greek), or some equivalent in another Balkan language. 
Though a religious label, the term also had a Greek connotation. The Orthodox mil- 
let was dominated by a Greek-speaking elite and the Greek language, called Romei- 
ka in Greek at the time, was the language of the church or millet and of the schools 
run by it. Besides the Orthodox millet, there were Jewish, Armenian and Muslim 
ones: each consisted of people speaking different languages. However, peasants 
were not only members of families, villages and religious communities. There were 
many named groups at an intermediate level, between village and religious commu- 
nity, such as the Hashiots (very poor, Greek- speaking Orthodox Christians), Donme 
(Jewish Muslims), Vallahades (Greek- speaking Macedonian Muslims), Gagauzes 
(Turkish-speaking Orthodox Christians), and Pomaks or Torbesh (Slav-speaking 

Before the rise of nationalism the term ‘Bulgar’ (or some variant of it) did exist, 
but usually had the connotation of ‘poor Slav-speaking peasant’. Upwardly mobile 
Slav-speakers became Hellenized and no longer considered themselves Bulgars. 
Greek- speakers usually referred to themselves as Romios , but a Bulgar as a member 
of the Greek-dominated Orthodox Church or Rum millet could do so as well (see, 
e.g., Detrez 2013). The notion of ‘Turk’ also had a different meaning than it has to- 
day — being used for Muslims, even when their native language was not Turkish but 
Albanian, Greek or Slav. It also had connotations of status. For the Ottoman elite, 
the Osmanli, the term ‘Turk’ had the connotation of country bumpkin (see, e.g., 
Lewis 1971, pp. 19-20; Mazower 2001, p. 51). 

Gellner (1997, p. 20) argues that cultural diversity or differentiation as well as its 
maintenance over time was central to agrarian societies like the Ottoman Empire: 

Agrarian society encourages cultural differentiation within itself. Such differentiation 
greatly helps in its daily functioning. Agrarian society depends on the maintenance of a 
complex system of ranks, and it is important that these be both visible and felt, that they be 
externalised and internalised. If they are clearly seen in all external aspects of conduct, in 
dress, commensality, accent, body posture, limits of permissible consumption and so forth, 
this eliminates ambiguity and thus diminishes friction. 

Notwithstanding the enormous cultural differentiation and complexity, the student 
of the Southern Balkans can hardly miss the cultural similarities that also existed 
across linguistic and religious boundaries (Detrez 2013), and in this case migration 

3 The following description is mainly based on Vermeulen (1995, 1984). See also Detrez (2013). 

1 Introduction 


played a role as well. Weakley (1993, p. 130) provides us with a good example. 
Writing about the houses constructed by Greek itinerant builders over a vast area 
in the Southern Balkans, he comments on people speaking different languages and 
professing different religions: 

The differences are seen in slight variations in plan and in certain detail elements.... The 
key design element was a single housing form for a pluralistic and diverse culture (ibid., 
italics original). 4 

This unity of Balkan culture can be observed not only in architecture, but also in mu- 
sic, cuisine, kinship, religious beliefs and practices, and in other cultural domains. 5 
Perhaps most remarkable are the linguistic similarities. According to specialists like 
Friedman (2011), the Balkans constitutes a linguistic area with common character- 
istics: Balkan languages, despite their diverse origins, show many similarities in 
their grammar, called Balkanisms. 6 Perhaps more important for our introduction is 
the domain of religion: there is abundant evidence of syncretic religious beliefs and 
practices in regions where Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in close proximity. 
Syncretism existed in many places in the Balkans and the rest of the Ottoman Em- 
pire. 7 Remnants of such syncretism still exist in the region and are visible, for exam- 
ple, in the sharing of sacred places (Albera and Couroucli 2012; Duijzings 2000). 
In Chap. 7, on Albanian immigrants in Thessaloniki, Ifigeneia Kokkali considers 
syncretism in Albania and Albanian history. In an attempt to explain the remarkable 
way in which Albanians integrate into Greek society — and more specifically the 
role that religion plays in this process — she looks at the context of reception as well 
as Albanian history and the ‘cultural baggage’ that Albanians bring with them. A 
certain ‘syncretic attitude’ towards religion is one element of her analysis. 

1.3 Creating National Identities 

Before the advent of nationalism, the major identity split in the Balkans was be- 
tween Muslims and Christians. Most Muslims were Turkish-speaking, but those 
who spoke other languages were often also called Turks and could identify them- 
selves as such. There was a similar correspondence between Christian and Rum. 

4 Slav-speaking and Greek-speaking itinerant builders moved roughly in the same geographic re- 
gion. It could well be that the building styles of Greek and Slav-speaking builders differed only 

5 Regarding kinship see Kaser 2008. Kaser’s study includes Albania, Macedonia, northern Greece 
(Epirus, Thessaly and Macedonia), and the western part of Bulgaria (2008, p. 12). Turkey is not 

6 Balkan linguistics was the first modern approach that ‘attempted to deal theoretically with the 
consequences of language contact’. As a consequence ‘no general work on language contact can 
avoid mentioning the Balkans’ (Friedman 2011, p. 276). 

7 Kitromilides (2008, p. 259) refers to the ‘extensive religious syncretism at the grass-roots’ among 
the Greeks of Anatolia and mentions the well-known early study by Hasluck (1929). For the Bal- 
kans see, e.g., Stavro Skendi (1967) and Duijzings (2000). 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

In the early phases of Balkan nationalism when the Rum millet was still intact, 
Orthodox Albanian and Slav speakers tended — as Rum — to participate in the Greek 
struggle for independence, though some of them subsequently became fervent na- 
tionalists of their own linguistic nation. 8 Whatever assimilation existed in the Ot- 
toman Empire occurred mainly within the millets. Among native Muslim groups 
this tendency continues to exist in some places to this day. Smaller Muslim groups 
tend to identify with, and to assimilate to, the dominant Muslim minority within a 
particular country or region rather than the dominant Christian majority. 9 This il- 
lustrates that ‘in many ways the legacy of the Ottoman millet system has endured as 
religion continues to be an important differentiating factor among people’ (Poulton 
1997, pp. 20-21). 

The unity of the Orthodox community started to break down when the Greek 
national Church was founded in 1833. The real split came, however, with the foun- 
dation of the Exarchist Church in 1878. Although the original goal was ‘only’ to in- 
troduce the Bulgarian language in the liturgy, the church soon became an instrument 
in the Bulgarian national struggle. From that moment, Bulgarian-speaking peasants 
were confronted with a difficult choice: to remain in the Greek-dominated Patriar- 
chist Church and ‘become Greek’ or to go over to the Exarchist Church and become 
Bulgarian. Whole villages, particularly in areas to the south bordering on the terri- 
tory of Greek-speakers, became divided into Greek and Bulgarian parties. Similar 
processes took place in Albanian- speaking and Aromanian-speaking Orthodox vil- 
lages (Van der Plank 2004, p. 90; Vermeulen 1984, pp. 242-243). Schools played 
a major role in inculcating a national identity: during the nationalist campaigns in 
Macedonia, at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, the 
number of Greek, Bulgarian and Serbian schools increased dramatically. 

Greek-speaking Orthodox individuals, belonging to the culturally dominant 
group within the Rum millet, were confronted with such difficult choices to a much 
lesser extent, but even they had to learn to be Greek. As Kitromilides (1989, p. 169) 
writes of the Greek communities in Asia Minor, the identification with the Greek 
nation ‘had to be instilled and cultivated, or “awakened”, as older nationalist histo- 
riography might say, through a crusade of national education’. Dragostinova (2008, 
2011) writes in a similar way about the Greeks who lived on the Bulgarian Black 
Sea coast. Though most of these Greeks supported the Greek national idea, they 
had strong ties to their places of birth, were reluctant to emigrate and some opted 
for Bulgarian nationality. Moreover, the Greek government organized there ‘a mas- 
sive enterprise of national persuasion by dispatching activists’ (Dragostinova 2008, 
p. 167; 2011, pp. 24-31). 

8 Examples are Vasil Aprilov (Stavrianos 2000, p. 371) and Grigor Parlitcheff (Grigorova and 
Zaimova 2012). 

9 See, e.g., Marushiavoka and Popov (n.d.) for Bulgaria. 

1 Introduction 


1.4 Unmixing Populations and ‘Cleaning’ the National 
Territory: Forced and ‘Voluntary’ Migration 
in the Age of Nation State Formation 

The rise of nationalism in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had great 
consequences for the Southern Balkans. In the early nineteenth century, the entire 
region was still part of the Ottoman Empire; by 1923 the Southern Balkans were 
divided between five nation states — Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Albania and Turkey. 
Greece was the first to break away with its War of Independence of 1821-1828, 
ultimately achieving recognition of a small territorial state (consisting of Attica, the 
Peloponnese and the Cycladic islands) in 1830-1832. Further territorial expansions 
included the Ionian Islands (1864) and Thessaly (1881). 10 Nevertheless, by 1912 
over five million Greeks (mostly Ottoman citizens) remained outside the territory 
in Macedonia, Epirus, Thrace, Asia Minor, Cyprus, the Aegean Islands, Crete and 
southern Russia (Petsalis-Diomidis 1978, p. 15). In 1912 the Balkan League, con- 
sisting of Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece and Montenegro, attacked Ottoman troops in 
an attempt to expel the Ottomans from the peninsula. This was succeeded by the 
Second Balkan War, started by Bulgaria (see below). As a result of these two Balkan 
wars, Greece’s territory expanded massively to include Crete, much of Macedonia, 
Epirus and the Aegean Islands. Sovereignty of the Aegean Islands was finally con- 
firmed by the Treaty of Sevres (1920), although the disastrous Greco-Turkish war 
that followed resulted in considerable loss of territory * 11 as determined by the 1923 
Treaty of Lausanne. 

Following the Greek pattern, Bulgarian revolutionaries engaged in a series of 
uprisings against the Ottomans, but were unable to dislodge Ottoman power. It was 
not until Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire that the peace of the San 
Stefano Treaty (1876) created the first Bulgarian state. This was bitterly opposed 
by the Austro-Hungarian and British empires, and in 1878 the Treaty of Berlin re- 
duced the new Bulgarian state to a ‘principality’ that was 37.5 % of its original size, 
returned Macedonia to Ottoman rule and created a new autonomous state of Eastern 
Rumelia — also Ottoman territory (Crampton 2005, pp. 81-83). Just seven years 
later, Eastern Rumelia’s military coup of 1885 reunited it with Bulgaria; this was 
formalized in Bulgaria’s declaration of full independence in 1908. As a result of the 
subsequent First Balkan War, Bulgaria greatly expanded. Dissatisfied with the divi- 
sion of the spoils in Macedonia, however, Bulgaria then attacked Greek and Serbian 
positions, thus starting the Second Balkan War. It lost this war, as well as most of the 

10 For a detailed exposition of the evolution of the Greek Kingdom, see Wagstaff (2002, p. 65-112). 

11 As a result of Greek military conquest in Western Anatolia after World War I, the Treaty of 
Sevres confirmed acquisition of most of the Aegean islands and the entirety of Eastern Thrace 
excluding Constantinople, established procedures for the transfer of all Dodecanese islands to 
Greece, and awarded autonomy of Smyrna and the Asia Minor littoral to Greek administration 
under Ottoman sovereignty, along with a procedure for its incorporation into Greece after a period 
of five years (Wagstaff 2002, p. 90). 

M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

territorial gains obtained as a result of the first war. The net result of both wars was 
not insignificant, though: Bulgaria had obtained Eastern Thrace and its access to the 
Aegean Sea. Ten years later, at Lausanne, it would lose this as well. 

Albanian nationalism had no equivalent of the Philhellenism of the European 
elites, or even the pan-Slavist movement in Russia (Vickers and Pettifer 1997, 
pp. 1-2); with no support from the ‘Great Powers’ (i.e., the international commu- 
nity), Albanian independence was to be both delayed and fractured. 12 From the very 
outset, Albanian aspirations conflicted with Greek ones, and initially this strength- 
ened Albanian support for the Ottomans. After the 1908 rise to power of the ‘Young 
Turks’, by 1909 the Albanian Kosovars were in revolt, and by 1911 Kemal had 
agreed in principle to Albanian demands for autonomy — in line with those con- 
ceded to other Balkan nationalities (Kondis 1976, p. 54). However, an Albanian 
provisional government was achieved only as a consequence of the two Balkan 
wars and the 1913 Treaty of Bucharest. After a period of anarchy, the borders of 
Albania were finally settled with the Corfu Protocol of 19 14. 13 Before this could be 
applied, World War I broke out, leaving a poorly-equipped new Albanian state to 
cope with it (Kondis 1976, pp. 132-133, 137). 

What is now the Republic of Macedonia 14 was for a very short time part of ‘San 
Stefano Bulgaria’ until it was returned to the Ottoman Empire by the Congress of 
Berlin in 1878. After the Balkan Wars, with the Treaty of Bucharest (1913), Mace- 
donia was divided between Greece, Serbia and Bulgaria. When the Kingdom of 
Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was formed after World War I, it became part of the 
federal state that during World War II was transformed into the Socialist Federal 
Republic of Yugoslavia. During both world wars the Yugoslav Republic of Macedo- 
nia — as well as Greek Eastern Macedonia and Thrace — was temporarily occupied 
by Bulgaria, which still claimed it as its own. Macedonia gained its independence 
only in 1991, after the break-up of Yugoslavia. 

The modem Republic of Turkey is, of course, what remains of the former Otto- 
man Empire. As a member of the Axis Powers, the Ottoman Empire belonged to the 
camp of the losers of World War I. In 1919, Kemal Ataturk started a revolt against 
both the Ottoman government and the occupying allied forces: the Turkish War of 
Independence (1919-1923) resulted in the end of the Ottoman Empire and the cre- 
ation of modem Turkey. 

Carving out more or less homogeneous nation states was not an easy task, es- 
pecially in the Via Egnatia region with its mosaic of cultures characterized by hy- 
bridity and syncretism. No wonder it became an arduous and cmel process, not- 
withstanding the emphasis on heroism and national glory in the historiography of 

12 By 1914, Albania had the support of both Austria-Hungary and Italy, who were keen to limit the 
size and power of a Russian-backed Serbia (Kondis 1976, p. 137). 

13 However, this agreement left substantial Albanian minorities in Serbia (Kosovo) and Bulgaria 

14 It should be noted that the name of the country remains disputed by Greece, and its constitu- 
tional name — Republic of Macedonia — is not recognized by Greece or the UN. The provisional 
name agreed in 1993 was the ‘former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’, which Greece abbrevi- 
ates as FYROM. 

1 Introduction 


the individual nations. Creating homogeneous nation states and national cultures 
required a lot of work in many domains: a national history had to be written and 
the national language, religion and landscape had to be purified — freed from ‘for- 
eign’ elements. Religion and national identity became strongly linked, especially 
in Turkey and Greece, with Albania constituting the only real exception. There, 
the continuing co-existence of Islam and Christianity in its Orthodox and Catholic 
variants prevented a close link between national identity and religion while leaving 
some space for the continuation of syncretic attitudes and practices. 

Purifying the nation also implied demographic engineering, the unmixing of eth- 
no-religious populations, or the ethnic cleansing of the new national territories’ ‘for- 
eign populations’ (Sigalas and Toumarkine 2008; Zurcher 2008). Landscapes were 
nationalized by giving places with ‘foreign’ names new, ‘national’ names. Cultural 
monuments that evoked the presence of others were often used for new purposes 
or neglected, if not destroyed. Forced migration and other, more obnoxious, ways 
of ethnic cleansing such as massacres and the burning of villages were recurrent 

In the Southern Balkans, the Greek War of Independence marked the beginning 
of this process, leading to the deaths not only of soldiers but also of many civilians. 
The Greeks, perceiving they were on the winning side, seized their chance and cru- 
elly murdered many Turkish civilians — for example, at the massacre of Tripolitsa. 
The Turks took revenge in Constantinople, Smyrna and on the island of Chios (see, 
e.g., Rodogno 2012, p. 66), with this last massacre, especially, gaining much atten- 
tion in Europe at the time. Woodhouse (1977, p. 136) concludes, ‘On both sides 
atrocities were appalling.’ Those Muslims who had been able to save their lives 
fled the small independent Greek state and migrated northwards to Ottoman-held 
territory (McCarthy 1995, pp. 10-13). In the Russian-Turkish War (1877-1878) the 
victorious Russian troops, supported by Bulgarian irregulars, took revenge on the 
Turks (McCarthy 1995, pp. 65-81). Large numbers were killed and many fled to 
Ottoman territories. Cities like Thessaloniki and Istanbul were flooded by masses of 
refugees (see Akyalgin-Kaya 2011 for Thessaloniki). According to Mazower (2001, 
p. 11), over the period 1878-1913 some 1.7-2 million Muslims migrated volun- 
tarily or involuntarily from the Balkans to what later would become the Republic of 
Turkey. By the 1880s, the Ottoman administration had already sent experts to sensi- 
tive border areas such as Thrace to see if refugees could be settled there to make 
these areas more Turkish (Adamr 2006, p. 177). 

The two Balkan Wars (1912-1913) mentioned above were a combination of 
fighting, burning villages, massacring people and putting people to flight. As the 
International Commission to Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan 
Wars wrote, ‘The Turks are fleeing before the Christians, the Bulgarians before the 
Greeks and the Turks, the Greeks and Turks before the Bulgarians, the Albanians 
before the Servians’ (Carnegie 1914, p. 154). 

World War I (191 4- 191 8) brought new population movements, mainly as a re- 
sult of changing state borders, and was followed by the Greco-Turkish War which 
was at least as violent as the Balkan Wars. Until the Balkan Wars, the main (forced) 
migration movement had been that of Muslims from the Balkans to Turkey. As a 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

result, by 1 923 over 20 % of the population of Turkey consisted of people with 
muhacir (that is, refugee) background (Ziircher 2003, p. 6). The wars ‘caused a 
staggering refugee problem that was estimated by independent observers to have 
involved up to three million people’ (Kitromilides 2008, p. 256). 

Although a cynic or fervent nationalist would perhaps say that the formation of 
nations and national identities had made a big leap forward after (and as a result 
of) all these wars, violence, ethnic cleansing and mutual hatred had increased as 
well. Those who did not belong to the dominant nation became minorities, and 
usually enemies ‘within the walls’ as well. Moreover, in several cases these mi- 
norities lived in border areas, claimed by the neighbour. Under the circumstances, 
the best solution politicians could think of was the exchange of populations — a 
method considered legitimate at the time (see, e.g., Brunnbauer and Esch 2006, 
p. 11). And ‘despite the great human hardship engendered by population exchanges, 
the improvement in regional stability cannot be ignored’ (Barutciski 2003; see also 
Clark 2006, pp. 223-246). The largest and most well-known of these exchanges is 
that between Greece and Turkey (1923) and it is also the one that is best studied, 
though mainly from the Greek perspective. In Turkey there used to be little inter- 
est in the exchange, although interest in the topic is increasing (Kitromilides 2008, 
p. 269). The Greek-Turkish population exchange was laid down in the ‘Convention 
concerning the Exchange of Greek and Turkish Populations’ signed in Lausanne on 
30 January 1923. It came into force when it was included in the peace treaty of Lau- 
sanne (24 July 1923). Greeks were defined as ‘Turkish nationals of the Greek Or- 
thodox religion established in Turkish territory’ and Turks as ‘Greek nationals of the 
Moslem religion established in Greek territory’ (Hirschon 2003, p. 8). Most Greeks 
of Istanbul and Turks from Western Thrace — about 100,000 in each case — were 
excluded from the exchange. The convention covered all those who had become 
refugees since 18 October 1912. This included about 1.2 million Greek Orthodox 
persons and slightly fewer than 400,000 Muslims. Since many Greek Orthodox 
people had already left Asia Minor over the period 1912-1923, the number actually 
falling under the conditions of the exchange (that is, those leaving after 1923) was 
considerably lower — around 350,000. The corresponding number for the Muslims 
was about 190,000. 15 

As the Greek-Turkish population exchange is better documented, and also as we 
are more interested in the region where the five states involved in our book bor- 
der each other — the area we call the Via Egnatia region, we consider here mainly 
the other two cases of population exchange, between Bulgaria and Turkey and be- 
tween Bulgaria and Greece, respectively, agreed in September 1913 and in Novem- 
ber 1919. Here we will not go into detail on these exchanges since both cases are 
well-treated in Chap. 3 by Raymond Detrez, who shows how the expulsions and 
exchanges of populations relate to nation-building and irredentist policies. Vukov’s 

15 According to Ladas (1932, pp. 438^139) between 1923 and 1926 189,916 ‘Greeks’ — defined 
as Greek Orthodox — were transferred from Turkey to Greece and 355,635 Muslims in the other 
direction. Eddy (1931, p. 201) gives slightly different figures, resp., 192,356 and 354,647. These 
sources — one or both — continue to be referred to in (fairly) recent publications (e.g., Adamr 2006, 
p. 187; Barutciski 2003, p. 28; Hirschon 2003, p. 14). 

1 Introduction 


contribution (Chap. 4) also relates to the population exchanges in which Bulgaria 
was involved, although his interest is less in the population exchanges themselves 
and more in what happened to Bulgarian refugees from Thrace and their offspring 
long after they settled in Bulgaria. He demonstrates that many people of Thracian 
origin are still involved in Thracian organizations and in claims for compensation 
for lost property. 

There is a clear legal difference between the three population exchanges: the 
first two were voluntary, the last one obligatory. Many of the people involved in 
the Bulgarian-Greek and Bulgarian-Turkish exchanges were nevertheless forced 
to leave, either before, during or after the exchange. In practice, the difference is 
one of degree. The main criterion of selection in the Bulgarian-Turkish and the 
Greek-Turkish exchanges was religion. In the language of the day and also in many 
subsequent publications, Turks are said to be exchanged for Greeks; however, the 
selection criterion was not language as West Europeans would expect, but religion. 
The Karamanlides (Turkish-speaking Christians in Anatolia), for example, were 
forced to migrate to Greece; and the Vallahades (Greek-speaking Muslims from 
what is now Greek Macedonia) had to leave Greece for Turkey. 

There are some characteristics that these population exchanges have in common, 
and these are points which also recur in the contributions by Detrez and Vukov. All 
three states involved in the exchanges were very keen on ‘cleaning’ border regions 
from populations considered to be a fifth column or ‘foreign element’. The border 
regions were, moreover, considered ideal locations for settling incoming refugees, 
returning kindred peoples from afar. If the original population was removed, these 
refugees could be settled in those houses; and if native but ‘alien’ local groups were 
still living there, they could be induced or forced to leave. It was sometimes con- 
sidered important to keep a claim on territories on the other side of the border. In 
these cases, ethnic kin living just across the border had to remain there, rather than 
‘return to the fatherland’ as, for example, in Venizelos’ policy regarding the Greeks 
in Western Thrace when this region came under Bulgarian control (Adamr 2006, 
p. 1 82). Another recurring theme is that people often had to migrate more than once. 
This happened, for example, to the Greeks on the Turkish coast, to the Bulgarians in 
Thrace, and to the Turks after the Russian-Turkish war. A final point to note is the 
radicalization among refugees — for example, the muhacir, who played an important 
role in the expulsion of Greeks from the Aegean coast before the Greek-Turkish war 
(see, e.g., Van der Plank 2004, p. 73). 

Though the exchanges of populations contributed to the security of the region, 
the human price paid for it was tremendous (see, e.g., Clark 2006, pp. 223-246 on 
the Greek-Turkish exchange). Kitromilides (2008, p. 266) sees yet another draw- 
back to the exchange of populations as a policy of ethnic cleansing: 

By reducing ethnic pluralism through such radical means, the exchange prevented the mod- 
em national societies that emerged from it from learning the skills and internalizing the 
values necessary for the practice of toleration, mutual respect of social groups and recogni- 
tion of otherness. 

Ultimately, this had consequences for the way that immigrants — not only those 
from other Balkan countries — were received in the 1990s. 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

1.5 World War II and its Aftermath 

The Axis Occupation, resistance movements and the civil wars of the 1940s had a 
deep impact on the societies of the Southern Balkans. At the end of the decade, the 
establishment of communist regimes in Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria led to the 
onset of the Cold War which would seal off Greece from its northern neighbours 
for half a century. Economic hardship, violence and demographic politics led to 
mass migration, both within and across the borders of nation states. Although the 
Occupation created a new situation, some of the issues that had divided Balkan 
nations in the past continued to play a crucial role — territorial claims, irredentism, 
ethnic minorities, and the consequences of the interwar exchange of populations. 
Some of the events of the 1940s are the source of continued tensions between states 
in the Southern Balkans up to the present day, most notably the Macedonian Issue 
and the expulsion of the Albanian- speaking Muslim minority of Greece (Chams) to 

The war created a major split between the states: while Albania, Greece, and 
Yugoslavia were occupied by the Axis Powers and developed coordinated resis- 
tance movements, Bulgaria actually joined the Axis and facilitated the invasion of 
Greece and Yugoslavia by German troops. Through this move, Bulgarian troops 
were allowed to occupy Serbian Macedonia, the eastern part of Greek Macedonia, 
and Western Thrace. This temporary annexation was seen by Bulgarian nationalists 
as a reunification of the Bulgarian nation. Italian troops occupied Albania and most 
Greek territory, while the Germans occupied Central Macedonia, Athens, Thessa- 
loniki and the island of Crete. After the surrender of Italy in September 1943, Ital- 
ian-held territory came under German control, but most of Italy’s weaponry ended 
up in the hands of the partisans. In September 1944, following a change of regime 
in Bulgaria, Bulgarian troops evacuated Greek and Yugoslav territory and took part 
in the final battles of the war against Nazi Germany. Turkey remained neutral until 
the last months of the war, when it joined the Allies. 

Many of the migration movements during World War II were of a temporary na- 
ture. 16 Between 1941 and 1943 nearly 23,000 Greek citizens fled to Turkey. Among 
them were soldiers of the defeated Greek army and partisans who had received an 
order to join the Greek forces under the command of the Greek government- in- 
exile in Cairo. The rest were refugees from islands of the Northern Aegean who 
fled in panic as the Germans approached or were driven by hunger. They remained 

16 Although the ‘final solution’ enforced by Nazi Germany on the Balkan Jewish population does 
not fit the regional frame of this volume, it would be inappropriate to ignore it altogether. Greece lost 
between 75 and 88% of its Jewish population (Matsas 1997,, 
one of the highest percentages of loss in Europe. In stark contrast to Greece, nearly all Albanian 
and Bulgarian Jews survived the Holocaust, with one exception. In March 1943, about 4,000 Jews 
from Eastern Macedonia were deported by the Bulgarian occupation forces to Bulgaria. From 
there they were sent to Treblinka, where all were killed immediately. Only 60 Jews from Eastern 
Macedonia survived by going into hiding (Kotzayeoryi-Zymari 2002, pp. 155-167; Matsas 1997, 
pp. 75-81). 

1 Introduction 


in Turkey for the rest of the war. 17 Similar temporary movements of refugees also 
occurred in the border areas between Greece and its northern neighbours, Albania, 
Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. Towards the end of the war, the newly created People’s 
Republic of Macedonia received increasing numbers of refugees from the Macedo- 
nian minority in Greece. Among them were many families from the border area, but 
also Macedonian resistance fighters who had served within the ranks of the Greek 
Partisan Army ELAS, as they had been promised equal rights after the war. In May 
1944, however, they came into conflict with the ELAS leadership and joined the Yu- 
goslav Partisan Army. In 1945 there were 8,500 Macedonian refugees from Greece 
in Yugoslav Macedonia. The next year, with the outbreak of violence by right-wing 
irregulars, which often specifically targeted Macedonian villages, their numbers 
swelled to 20,000 (Michailidis 2004, p. 46^47). 

By far the most important migration waves during the war years occurred as a 
result of the Bulgarian occupation of Eastern Macedonia and Western Thrace. The 
Bulgarian occupation forces adopted everywhere a policy of forced Bulgarization. 
In contrast to what happened in Yugoslav Macedonia, in Greece these Bulgarization 
policies were particularly harsh, as the majority of the inhabitants, after the interwar 
exchange of populations, were Greek- speaking. People were forced to acquire a 
Bulgarian identity card, an early uprising in September 1941 was bloodily sup- 
pressed and Greeks were forced or encouraged to sign applications for ‘voluntary 
migration’ (Aarbakke 2004, p. 38, 2005, p. 167; Kotzayeoryi-Zymari 2002, p. 139). 
Others, especially army officers, academics, and civil servants, were forcibly ex- 
pelled (Kotzayeoryi-Zymari 2002, p. 140). As a result of these pressures, about 
150,000 Greeks left their homes and moved west to German-held territory. In 1941 
another 12,000 Muslims from Western Thrace fled to Turkey (Kotzayeoryi-Zymari 
2002, p. 152-155). 

Bulgarian authorities further pursued their Bulgarization policies by bringing 
in about 1 00,000 Bulgarian settlers, many of whom were former inhabitants of the 
region. Associations of Thracian Bulgarians in Bulgaria played an active role in 
these policies. In a proclamation of May 1941 their representatives condemned the 
way in which they had been ‘expelled’ from the area under the Neuilly Treaty and 
claimed the right to return to their homes in the now ‘liberated’ area (Aarbakke 
2004, p. 384). In September 1944 all the settlers returned to Bulgaria, together with 
about 9,000 Bulgarian-speaking residents of the area who became refugees for the 
first time. The stream of refugees from Eastern Macedonia and Thrace continued 
over the following months, and at the end of 1944 there were some 100,000 refu- 
gees in Bulgaria (Aarbakke 2004, p. 386). 

Even more dramatic was the fate of the Albanian-speaking Muslim minority 
(Chams) of Epirus during the war. In 1940 about 20,000 Chams lived in this area, 
which had become part of the Greek nation state in 1913. Most of them inhabited 
the fertile lowlands, and frictions over land subsequently became a source of con- 
flict with their Christian neighbours. Although in 1926 the Chams were exempted 
from the exchange of population foreseen in the Lausanne Treaty, large portions of 

17 Documentary Asia Minor Over Again by Tahsin Isbilen (2008). 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

Cham lands were expropriated and distributed to Greek refugees from Asia Minor 
or to local landless peasants. Others sold their properties, being led to believe they 
would be included in the exchange and forced to leave for Turkey. As a result, large 
numbers of the now landless Chams fled to Albania, where they formed a restless 
community. When war broke out in 1940 between Italy and Greece, the Italian 
authorities exploited the feelings of bitterness among the Cham communities both 
in Greece and in Albania and set up special Albanian- speaking military units to 
help them fight first the Greek National Army and later the Resistance. After 1943 
the German army followed their example. Some Chams, however, fought together 
with Greek partisans in the left-wing Resistance units of ELAS. During 1943-1944 
violence escalated and atrocities were committed by both sides. Between June and 
September 1944 the non-communist resistance organization EDES launched a ma- 
jor attack on Cham communities, in which about 2,000 Chams were massacred, 
women raped, and mosques and houses burnt to the ground. The survivors of these 
massacres, about 18,00-20,000 individuals, fled to Albania. The Greek census of 
1951 registered only 77 Albanian-speaking Muslims in Greece. After the end of 
communist rule in Albania, the Cham Issue resurfaced, when Cham communities 
in Albania and the diaspora launched an international campaign to reclaim their 
properties. 18 

The second half of the 1940s produced new waves of mass migration within the 
Via Egnatia area. The establishment of communist rule in Albania, Yugoslavia and 
Bulgaria led many Muslims of these countries to seek refuge in Turkey, mainly be- 
cause of the restrictions on religious practices (Icdygu and Sert, this volume). The 
largest streams of refugees, however, were linked to the violence of the Greek Civil 
War. By the end of 1947 there were already 25,000 refugees in Albania and 18,000 
in Yugoslavia (Danforth and Van Boeschoten 2011, p. 46). During the same period, 
327 refugees, mostly women and children, arrived in Bulgaria. In 1948 the left- 
wing Democratic Army forcefully evacuated villages from border areas under its 
control to Albania and Bulgaria (Danforth and Van Boeschoten 2011, pp. 53-54). In 
the same year, the partisans evacuated about 20,000 children from northern Greece 
to Albania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria (Danforth and Van Boeschoten 2011). After 
the defeat of the Democratic Army in August 1949 the number of political refugees 
who had left the country reached a total of 140,000. However, as the neighbouring 
countries were unable to cope with the enormous flows of destitute and hungry 
people, the majority of the refugees were moved to other countries of Eastern Eu- 
rope, where most of them would remain for over 30 years. About 4,500 refugees 
stayed in Bulgaria (Aarbakke 2004, p. 392) and 30,000 in Yugoslavia (Kofos 1964, 
p. 168). Most of the refugees in Yugoslavia were Macedonians who settled in the 
People’s Republic of Macedonia. 

In the aftermath of the Greek Civil War, many political refugees were stripped of 
their nationality and their properties were confiscated. Deserted villages of the bor- 
der areas — especially those formerly inhabited by Slavic-speakers — were resettled 

18 On the history of the Chams of Greece during the interwar period and the 1940s, see Kretsi 
(2002, 2003) and Margaritis (2005). On the Cham issue today, see Vickers (2007). 

1 Introduction 


with people from other areas of Greece, deemed to be of ‘healthy national beliefs’. 
Until 1974 the majority of political refugees settled in Eastern Europe were not 
allowed to return to Greece. Therefore, in the 1950s and 1960s tens of thousands 
moved to Bulgaria and Yugoslav Macedonia, in order to be closer to the villages 
of their birth and to enjoy the milder climate. Mass repatriation became possible 
only after 1981 when the Socialist Party PASOK was voted into power. However, 
a decree of 1982 restricted the right of repatriation to ‘Greeks by birth’. Since then, 
many Macedonian refugees have been refused permission to enter Greece even for 
short visits (Danforth and Van Boeschoten 2011, p. 36; Monova 2008). This painful 
legacy of the past is at the core of the Macedonia Issue which has poisoned relations 
between Greece and its northern neighbour. 

1.6 The Cold War Period (1947-1989) 

The political architecture of Europe that resulted from World War II was absolutely 
central for Balkan countries and their management of borders. The Yalta Confer- 
ence had placed Greece unambiguously in the western sphere. Under the Truman 
Doctrine, both Greece and Turkey, despite the latter’s ambiguous position prior to 
and during the war, were increasingly seen as strategically important to the West; 
moreover, the Marshall Plan of 1 947 nudged Turkey into a more pro-Western posi- 
tion. In contrast, the Balkan countries to the north had all initially fallen under the 
Soviet sphere of influence in 1945: by 1949, Tito had distanced Yugoslavia from 
Soviet influence and received substantial western aid and loans, followed in 1953 
by a friendship treaty with Greece and Turkey (Jelavich 1983, p. 328). Albania 
broke relations with Yugoslavia after 1948 and became the most doctrinaire and iso- 
lated country in the region, closely allied with Moscow until 1960, when it shifted 
its allegiance to China (Jelavich 1983, pp. 331-333). Bulgaria was a close ally and 
adherent to Stalinist policies, remaining the region’s closest ally of Moscow right 
until the final collapse of the communist bloc. 

Albania became the first regional target of US and British security services, 
which recruited some 300 Albanian dissidents from Greece, Italy and Egypt and 
sent them in as guerrillas to organize anti-communist uprisings over the period 
1950-1952 (Jelavich 1983, pp. 378-379). All were killed, and Albania effectively 
sealed its borders and isolated itself from the entire region until 1991. Thus, there 
was no migration of any sort for the duration of the Cold War. 

Greece, despite the largest US investment in the world from the Marshall Plan 
and military aid (Mazower 2001, p. 119), suffered from a very weak economy, even 
with massive capital inflows. This led to extraordinary levels of emigration — ini- 
tially to the USA and after 1960 to northern Europe, primarily Germany (Vermeulen 
2008). Migration flows within the region followed the general Balkan pattern of 
ethnic rationalization (i.e., creating a mono-ethnic state), with removal of Greek 
citizenship from minority groups, the emigration of minorities to Bulgaria, Yugosla- 
via and Turkey (see I^duygu and Sert, this volume), and the immigration of ethnic 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

Greeks. In particular, as political relations between Turkey and Greece soured over 
Cyprus, the Greeks of Istanbul became vulnerable. Just under a third of them did 
not possess Turkish citizenship, and in March 1964 Turkey denounced the 1930 
Convention on Establishment, Commerce and Navigation and began deportation 
of Greeks on the grounds of national security (Alexandris 1992, pp. 280-281). By 
September 1965, over 6,000 Greeks had been deported from Turkey; many were 
wealthy businessmen who arrived penniless in Greece (Alexandris 1992, pp. 284- 
285). The fear of political persecution also led Greeks in possession of Turkish 
citizenship to join the ranks of refugees, and an additional 30,000 were reported by 
the Turkish press as having left Istanbul. Naturally, this had a massive impact on 
the size of the Greek community in Istanbul and contributed to the ongoing ethnic 
rationalization common to both Turkey and Greece. 

Yugoslavia was not only a federal state, but a multi-ethnic one in which his- 
toric ethnic tensions were suppressed through the overarching ideology of the 
Communist Party of Yugoslavia. There were tensions between developed and less 
developed regions, but traditional ethnic rivalries were the major concern. Many 
Muslim Yugoslavs — especially Albanians — took advantage of the improved rela- 
tions between Turkey and Yugoslavia after the signing of the Balkan Pact and vari- 
ous treaties, and just under 200,000 migrated to Turkey during the Cold War period. 
They consisted of Albanians, Slav-speaking Muslims from Macedonia (Torbesh) 
and Bosnians as well as Turks, but all claimed Turkish descent (see Igduygu and 
Sert, this volume). With the creation of the People’s Republic of Macedonia in 
1943, Yugoslavia addressed the long-standing issue of regional identity (although 
the major part of the historical territory lay in Greece). In 1944 the government in 
Skopje declared Macedonian to be the republic’s language and a commission chose 
a Macedonian local dialect that was the furthest removed from Bulgarian and Ser- 
bian (Jelavich 1983, p. 399). An official history and literature were contrived, along 
with an autocephalous Macedonia Orthodox church; ultimately, these resulted in se- 
rious tensions with Bulgaria, in particular. From the early 1950s, Yugoslavia tended 
towards economic liberalization along with greater freedom for its citizenry com- 
pared with the rest of the communist bloc. Citizens were free to travel, and tourism 
was actively welcomed with few visa controls. Labour emigration was also freely 
permitted. By 1975, persistently high levels of unemployment had resulted in over 
a million Yugoslavs and their families working abroad — representing 20 % of the 
actual labour force still in the country (Jelavich 1983, p. 392). Most were working 
in Germany and Austria, but there was a small presence in almost every European 
country. Yugoslavia was the second largest source country for labour migration 
across Europe, after Turkey (Kupiszewski 2009, pp. 427^129). 

Bulgaria had agreed at the end of the war that those parts of Pirin Macedonia 
within Bulgarian territory should be ceded to Yugoslav Macedonia when the Balkan 
federation was established. It even recruited teachers skilled in the new Macedonian 
language that had been selected by the Yugoslav republic (Crampton 2005, p. 190). 
This unpopular policy was immediately dropped when Yugoslavia was expelled 
from Cominform in 1949. Expression of a Macedonian identity was criminalized 
in the 1960s, and the 1965 census was the last one to recognize the Macedonian 

1 Introduction 


language (Crampton 2005, p. 199). At the end of the war, pressure to leave was put 
on ethnic Turks in Southern Dobrudja (acquired in 1940), as Bulgaria wanted the 
land for collectivization. Some 156,000 Turks left in the early 1950s (Marushiavoka 
and Popov n.d., p. 46), although there were still about 750,000 remaining in the 
country in 1965 (Jelavich 1983, p. 368). After Bulgaria and Turkey reached agree- 
ments in 1968 on family reunification, an uncertain number (114,000 according to 
Marushiavoka and Popov) left for Turkey (see Igduygu and Sert, this volume). The 
largest and most dramatic flow of ethnic Turks to Turkey occurred in 1989, as the 
final stage of an aggressive assimilation campaign that had started in 1984, with 
the criminalization of Turkish dress, language and personal names. Some 350,000 
Turks (including Bulgarian-speaking Muslims or Pomaks) fled to Turkey between 
June and August of 1989 (I^duygu and Sert, this volume). Emigration of political 
dissidents occurred primarily in the immediate post-war period — that is, until the 
early 1950s. According to one source of data, some 8,000 Bulgarian political refu- 
gees had been resettled in Europe by the mid-1950s, the largest communities in 
Yugoslavia, Greece and Turkey (IOM 2003, p. 13). Despite its strict adherence to 
the Soviet line, Bulgaria did encourage some temporary migrations. In particular, 
starting in the 1960s, Africans were admitted as university students. From the late 
1960s, links with various African countries facilitated large temporary skilled mi- 
gration flows out of Bulgaria for doctors, teachers, engineers and others (Crampton 
2005, p. 195). By 1981, there were over 2,000 Bulgarian doctors working in Libya, 
for example, providing much-needed foreign currency and remittances. However, 
there was no regional Balkan labour migration either from or into Bulgaria prior to 

Turkey during the post-war period became a major emigration country — in par- 
ticular as Gastarbeiter in West Germany. In the 1970s, after the oil shocks, Turkish 
emigration started to be directed towards the Middle East (Adaman and Kaya 2012, 
p. 5). Turkey also shifted its immigration policy towards discouragement of im- 
migration on the grounds that there was no demographic need. Some ethnic flows 
did occur, primarily from Greece and Bulgaria (see Igduygu and Sert, this volume). 

1.7 The Post-Communist Political Upheavals 
1. 7 . 1 The Early Migration Phase 

Unsurprisingly, the 1989 revolutions in Eastern Europe had major ramifications for 
the Balkans. With the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the region entered a new phase 
of population movements, encompassing ethnic, refugee and economic migrations. 
Perhaps less obviously, the first country to experience emigration pressures was Al- 
bania, which had been the most isolated for the entire post-war period. In June and 
July of 1990, some 5,000 Albanians sought refuge in western embassies in Tirane 
(Vullnetari 2007, p. 31). Subsequently, thousands crossed the land and sea borders 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

to enter Italy and Greece in an irregular fashion. The total number of those who 
illegally entered Greece is unknown, but is estimated at over 200,000 for 1991 alone 
(Fakiolas and King 1996, p. 176). 

Bulgaria’s transition from communist rule followed the general pattern across 
Eastern Europe, although the fall from power of Zhivkov in November 1989 was 
more the result of a ‘palace coup’ than a popular revolution (Crampton 2005, 
p. 212). One of the first acts of the new regime in December was to revoke the ban 
on Turkish names. This led to the return of a third of the 360,000 who had left for 
Turkey earlier in the year. However, as a result of the sharp economic decline — 
especially affecting the ethnically mixed areas of Bulgaria — an additional 150,000 
ethnic Turks left for Turkey over the period 1990-1991 (IOM 2003, p. 14). The 
removal of restrictions on travel also permitted ethnic Bulgarians to move in search 
of work — especially in Western Europe, the USA, Canada, and Australia. However, 
strict immigration requirements and Schengen visa controls meant that only the 
highly skilled could migrate legally. The majority crossed borders illegally (espe- 
cially into Greece) and also were recruited for seasonal agricultural work in Greece 
(see Hatziprokopiou and Markova, this volume). This pattern of irregular and sea- 
sonal labour migration extended subsequently to Italy and Spain. 

The collapse of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, and the complex 
and brutal civil wars that accompanied it, resulted in massive flows of refugees 
and IDPs (internally displaced persons) from and within the region. By the end of 
1995, 350,000 Croatian Serbs had left Croatia; from Bosnia, more than 2.6 million 
were displaced and 1.2 million found refuge abroad. In 1998, 350,000 fled their 
homes in Kosovo, and the following year 350,000 ethnic Albanians fled to Alba- 
nia, 250,000 to Macedonia and 70,000 to Montenegro. Conflict in Macedonia in 
2001 led to 150,000 ethnic Albanians fleeing, mainly to Kosovo (Baldwin-Edwards 
2005, p. 33). Other than the involvement of Albania and Macedonia in these flows, 
the impact on neighbouring Southern Balkan countries was not large. Relatively 
small numbers of refugees arrived in Greece and Turkey. 

Greece had acquired an immigrant population over the 1980s — a complex mix 
of legal, semi-legal, and illegal migrants — from various countries including those 
in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. By 1 990, it was of the order of 2-3 % of 
total population (Baldwin-Edwards and Apostolatou 2009, p. 235) — reflecting the 
country’s increasing political and economic stability. The Greek political reaction 
to irregular border crossings by Albanians en masse in December 1990 was highly 
negative, and reinforced by near-hysterical reports in the mass media which con- 
structed a stereotype of the ‘dangerous Albanian’ (Baldwin-Edwards 2004a). Thus, 
a new immigration law was rapidly drafted to replace the previous one of 1929; its 
primary rationale was the allegation of criminality and the need to protect Greece 
from aliens. The new law made no practical provision for legal immigration, but 
implemented several new mechanisms of expulsion and deportation, as well as im- 
plementing major parts of the Schengen Agreement (Baldwin-Edwards and Apos- 
tolatou 2009, p. 235). Immediately, the Greek police began mounting regular opera- 
tions known as skoupa (broom) to round up undocumented immigrants and expel 
them, generally to Albania. In 1992, 277,000 Albanians were summarily expelled 

1 Introduction 


without legal process, and 221,000 in 1993. From 1992 to 1995, 250,000-282,000 
immigrants (predominantly Albanians) were expelled annually, although there 
were multiple expulsions of the same individuals. Reyneri (2001) has argued that 
this procedure was actually a form of circular migration, since Albanians who 
wished to get a free ride home would ensure that they were detected in the skoupa 
roundups. Small numbers of other nationalities were also expelled, primarily Iraqis, 
Romanians and Pakistanis (Baldwin-Edwards and Fakiolas 1998, Table 7). Despite 
these repressive measures, the stock of unregistered immigrants in Greece (primar- 
ily Albanians) climbed rapidly and by 1995 had reached an estimated 600,000 of 
which fewer than 100,000 had legal residence (Baldwin-Edwards 2004b, Fig. 1). 

Turkey was a recipient of Muslim refugees from the Yugoslav war — primarily 
from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo (see I^duygu and Sert, this volume). 
While some ethnic migrations within the region continued (e.g., Muslims from 
Greece and Bulgaria), the predominant character of immigration into Turkey began 
to change into that of (unauthorized) labour migrations. In particular, small migra- 
tion flows from Albania to Turkey started with the Albanian ‘embassies crisis’ of 
1990, with later family reunifications and other flows. Starting from this period, 
the phenomenon of ‘trader- tourism’ also emerged as an important survival strat- 
egy: traditionally practised in East European counties, and involving Turkish goods, 
Bulgarians were particularly well positioned to engage in this economic activity 
(Konstantinov 1996). 

1. 7.2 The Consolidation Phase (1 997-2008): Limited Peace , 
Regularizations and Border Controls 

With the Dayton Accord of 1995, it looked as if the Yugoslav war period was over. 
However, in 1998 civil war broke out in Kosovo between Serb and Albanian Kos- 
ovars. Some 350,000 people, mostly Albanian Kosovars, fled as IDPs or refugees. 
The following year, 450,000 fled to Albania, 250,000 to the Republic of Macedonia 
and 70,000 to Montenegro. According to Kiri§ci (2001) about 18,000 fled to Tur- 
key. With peace in 1999, some 600,000 returned to their homes in Kosovo alongside 
a reverse exodus of Serbs and Roma who fled to Serbia and Montenegro. Two years 
later, conflict in the Republic of Macedonia resulted in 150,000 ethnic Albanians 
fleeing — mostly to Kosovo (Baldwin-Edwards 2005, p. 33). EU governments have 
insisted on refugee returns to the region, although this simplistic policy choice has 
not been feasible for a variety of reasons. Around one million persons had returned 
by 2005, but this did not undo any of the ethnic cleansing created by war. 19 

Over this same period, different migration issues emerged in the other countries 
of the region. For Greece, the issue was the ballooning of an irregular immigrant 
population, of which the majority were Albanian. For both Turkey and Greece, there 
was the problem of irregular transit migration. In both cases, the Northern European 

19 See Baldwin-Edwards (2005) for a discussion of policies and outcomes. 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

countries put political pressure on the countries concerned to deal with irregularity 
of all sorts. In late 1999, in the context of improved Greek-Turkish relations, an 
agreement was signed for cooperation in various matters of combating crime. This 
was supplemented by a protocol signed in 2001 detailing readmission procedures 
for irregular migrants. By this point, Turkey’s application for EU membership had 
stalled and Greek-Turkish relations were less comfortable. As a result, Turkey was 
reluctant to implement the protocol and accepted merely 3-8 % of the requested 
readmissions over the period 2004-2006 (Baldwin-Edwards 2006a, p. 120). Im- 
proved coastguard patrols from 1999 onward deflected irregular crossings from 
Turkey towards the Greek land border and the River Evros, but the numbers were 
still small in comparison with irregular crossings from Albania. By 2007, detected 
crossings from Turkey were beginning to approach those from Albania at 34,000 
compared with 43,000 (Maroukis 2008, Table 16), and this rising trend continued. 
As the numbers of detected irregular migrants climbed from 2006, there was no 
change in the proportion re-admitted by Turkey; in fact, the highest readmission 
number was in the first year of operation, in 2002, at 645 returns (Igduygu 2011, 
Table 2). 

The other major issue was that of visa requirements. Greece had joined Schen- 
gen in 1 999 (fully implemented from 2000) and was required to enforce the Schen- 
gen rules with regard to visas. The other countries in the region followed different 
policies on visas and border controls. All of the countries of the former Yugoslavia 
retained visa- free travel with each other; Albania and the Republic of Macedonia 
granted visas at the border for each other’s nationals; Bulgaria granted visa- free 
travel to citizens of Macedonia (Baldwin-Edwards 2006b); and Turkey allowed vi- 
sas to be bought at the border for citizens of almost all countries in the region, with 
the exception of Bulgaria. The visa requirement for Bulgarian nationals was waived 
in 2001, allowing a three-month stay for tourism (see Parla, this volume). This was 
occasioned by Turkey’s partial adaptation to Schengen; Greece also removed the 
visa requirement for Bulgarians in 2001 (see Hatziprokopiou and Markova, this 

Greece by 1997 had acquired an estimated immigrant stock of some 700,000 of 
which only 60,000 were with legal status (Baldwin-Edwards 2004b, Fig. 1). There 
was considerable political pressure on the government to regularize immigrants — 
since the mass deportations of 200,000 a year had failed to prevent rising num- 
bers (Baldwin-Edwards and Fakiolas 1998). In 1997 Greece started a two-stage 
regularization programme, which yielded the first hard information about irregular 
immigrants in Greece. Out of a total of 371,641 applicants, 241,561 (65%) were 
Albanians, 25,168 Bulgarians and 16,954 Romanians. The total number of persons 
covered (including family members) by the White Card awards was 462,067 with 
an estimated 150,000 who did not apply. Regularization programmes were held 
subsequently in 2001 (with a new immigration law), 2005 and 2007. Immigrants 
started to acquire a more secure presence in Greece. By 2006, the second generation 
of immigrants had reached an estimated total of 220,000 with Albanians at around 
1 1 0,000-representing 30% of Albanian residence permits (Baldwin-Edwards 2008, 
p. 38). 

1 Introduction 


Albanian irregular emigration continued apace, especially to Greece and Italy, 
with another large exodus in 1996-1997 after the economic collapse associated 
with fraudulent investment schemes, the so-called pyramid schemes (Jarvis 1999). 
Whereas the original border crossings into Greece had been over the mountains, this 
was in fact a very dangerous route: mostly men arrived in Greece this way. Women 
and children started arriving in the mid-1990s, mainly through other routes — with 
underground visas, smuggling arrangements and even trafficking. By 2001, the 
predominant mechanism was the purchase of underground visas from the Greek 
consulate in Tirane (Baldwin-Edwards 2004a, pp. 52-53). By 2010, the Albanian 
population had increased to an estimated 700,000 (Vullnetari, this volume). Barjaba 
(2000) formulated an 4 Albanian model of migration’, consisting of survival emigra- 
tion, abnormally high emigration rates, high but decreasing irregularity, volatility, 
back-and-forth migration and strong instability in migrant behaviour. This model 
actually holds for most poor Eastern European former socialist states, including 
Bulgaria (Kupiszewski 2009, p. 446). 

Turkey’s geographical position in the region has always made the country — 
and Istanbul especially — a major conduit for migration flows from the Middle East 
into Europe. In the 1990s the ‘Southern Balkan route’ through Turkey, then Greece 
and onwards to other EU countries, came under political scrutiny (Igduygu 2004, 
p. 309) with respect to irregular border crossings. The situation of Turks of Bulgari- 
an origin is quite fascinating as a case study of both identity and adaptation between 
two countries, in particular, the shift in their status from that of potential citizens to 
systemic irregularity (Parla, this volume). Moreover, with changes in the Bulgarian 
citizenship law in 1998 and 2001, many returned to Bulgaria and applied for return 
of their Bulgarian citizenship. The resulting dual citizenship provided considerable 
advantages — in particular, involving border-crossing and trading of goods. Reports 
suggest that locals on both sides of the border resent what they see as the unfair 
privileges of dual nationals (Ozgur-Baklacioglu 2006, p. 324-325). 

1. 7.3 Post Economic Crisis 

Since 2008, the near-collapse of the Greek economy alongside economic depression 
throughout the region (with the exception of Turkey) has altered the character of mi- 
gration flows. A large number of Albanians residing in Greece returned to Albania 
over the period 2007-2012. Greek statistics are incapable of revealing the extent of 
this, but reports from Albania suggest a figure of 180,000 returns ( Kathimerini , 15 
Jan. 2013), with potential impacts on the weak Albanian welfare system. Albanian 
border guard reports indicate that 64,060 Albanians returned from Greece in 2007, 
along with negligible numbers from other countries (Gedeshi and Jorgoni 2012, 
Table 1). Limited evidence suggests that the degree of rootedness in Greece has 
been the primary determinant of remaining. Thus, it is mainly single migrants (male 
workers) who return to Albania. Border apprehensions indicate that circular (irregu- 
lar) labour migration to Greece has continued, alongside circular migration of those 
with valid Greek permits or citizenship, as well as authorized seasonal employment 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

in agriculture (see Vullnetari, this volume). In the case of Bulgarian migration to 
Greece, Bulgaria’s EU accession in 2007 has made cross-border flows, and circular 
migration patterns, far easier. Thus, the labour markets of Bulgaria and Greece have 
become more interconnected, and flows of capital as well as people have increased 
correspondingly (Hatziprokopiou and Markova, this volume). 

A similar pattern of increasing circular migration can be found in Turkey, where 
border ‘sticker visas’ have facilitated tourism-trading as well as tourism. From a 
recorded total of just over one million tourist arrivals in 2000, by 2009 Turkey was 
receiving 27 million tourists — of which 2.8 million were from the Western Balkans 
(Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Albania and former Yugoslavia), 5.6 million were 
from the former Soviet bloc, and 2.2 million were from the Middle East (Erder and 
Ka§ka 2012, Table 1). Some 32 % gave their reason for visiting Turkey as ‘business’ 
or ‘other’, instead of tourism activities or visiting relatives (ibid., Table 2). With a 
relatively open border policy alongside strict controls on formal employment and 
departure to EU countries, Turkey is an ideal country for informal economic activi- 
ties of all kinds; this includes not only tourism-trading, but illegal employment of 
immigrants and acting as a staging post for irregular migration into EU countries. 
It is for this reason that the EU has been negotiating since 2005 to conclude a re- 
admission agreement and force Turkey into greater conformity with the Schengen 
provisions — despite its not being a signatory to them (Igduygu 201 1). A draft agree- 
ment was initialled in June 2012, and signed in December 2013; the EU is demand- 
ing full implementation before granting a visa waiver to Turkish nationals visiting 
Schengen countries. 

Across the entire region, migration is characterized largely by short-term sur- 
vival strategies in a period of weak economic activity, alongside a small residual of 
ethnic migrations. Sometimes, the two are combined. The small labour immigration 
into Albania, for example, is predominantly from Kosovo, Macedonia and Monte- 
negro, as well as from Turkey (MARRI 2012, p. 56). There have also been some 
short-term and longer-term migration movements from Albania, Bulgaria and Tur- 
key into the Republic of Macedonia throughout the last decade (Kupiszewski et al. 
2009: Annex 1). The principal result of the economic crisis has been to push both 
people and governments into patterns of flexibility, in order to survive the economic 
downturn. The old state-centric model of controlled borders and permanent resi- 
dents has lost its validity, at least within the EU and Balkan regions. The exception 
lies in control of borders concerning ‘outsiders’ from Asia and other lessdeveloped 
regions. There, the EU through its agency Frontex, is persisting with the old model, 
and trying to impose it on the EU candidate country Turkey, as well as overseeing 
its implementation in Greece and Bulgaria. 

1.8 Epilogue 

In compiling this book we have taken a historical perspective, starting from the late 
Ottoman Empire. We have adopted this approach partly because studying historical 
developments in the field of migration is interesting in itself and this makes us real- 

1 Introduction 


ize that international migration in the Southern Balkans is not a new phenomenon 
(as is sometimes argued). However, our primary reason for using a historical lens is 
because it aids us to better understand the present. The phenomenon of nation state 
formation in the Balkans necessitated a brutal process of classifying and ‘reorganiz- 
ing’ the ethno-national groups inhabiting the region. Several means were used to 
reach the goal of relatively homogeneous nation states — such as ethnic cleansing, 
extermination, expulsion, forced assimilation and population exchanges. The enor- 
mous changes that these processes entailed can only be grasped if we realize how 
complicated the ethno-cultural and religious composition was in the Southern Bal- 
kans during the last century of Ottoman rule (see Sax map in Appendix). For a long 
period of time, migrations between the countries involved retained the character of 
‘ethnic migrations’ — members of ethnic minorities leaving their birthplaces to join 
co-ethnics in another country that was in many ways foreign to them. During World 
War II and the Cold War that followed it, the volume of migration within the region 
was restricted; international migration was directed mainly to Western Europe and 
overseas destinations. Whatever migration there was between the countries of the 
Southern Balkans continued to be of the ethnic type or consisted of political refu- 
gees, such as the Greek partisans who crossed the border at the end of the Greek 
Civil War. The major change in migration between the countries of our region came 
with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989. Although the collapse of state 
socialist regimes led to a resumption of ethnic migrations, especially the ethnic 
cleansing of the Yugoslav wars, economic migrations also emerged. Greece became 
the focus of intra-regional migration, particularly from Albania and Bulgaria. That 
was a major change since it contributed to ethnic heterogeneity rather than homo- 

The first three chapters that follow deal with past migrations. In Chap. 2, Petko 
Hristov describes and analyses a traditional system of labour migration known as 
gurbet or pecalbarstvo as it existed in two mountainous regions of the Southern 
Balkans — Sopluk and Mijak. These traditional migration systems, which also ex- 
isted elsewhere in the region, have disappeared; yet, despite their differences from 
modem labour migrations, the word gurbet is still used and the memory of these 
past migrations still plays a role in relating to the present. In Chap. 3, Raymond 
Detrez deals with one of the major population movements in the region in the early 
twentieth century — namely Bulgarians from Greece, Turkey and Romania moving 
to Bulgaria. He discusses the role of population exchanges in the process of nation 
building and irredentist policies in interwar Bulgaria. The refugees were used as 
tools for irredentist claims, and the process of adaptation to their new homeland was 
thereby retarded. In the following chapter, Nikolai Vukov looks more specifically 
at the history of Thracian refugees and their organizations in Bulgaria. He also pays 
attention to the revival of activities of Thracian organizations after the fall of the 
Berlin Wall, the renewed claims to compensation for lost properties and the continu- 
ing and revived memories of their homelands. 

Chapters 5 and 6 are illustrative of the changes over time. The first of these, writ- 
ten by Ahmet igduygu and Deniz Sert, tells the history of migration from the Bal- 
kans to Turkey from the end of the nineteenth century to the present. Like Detrez, 
they relate this history to nation building, but also to economic conditions and spe- 


M. Baldwin-Edwards et al. 

cific Turkish concerns, such as the perceived need for immigration to compensate 
for a declining population at that time. They also show that after 1990, ethnic mi- 
gration decreased and irregular labour migration became more important. This last 
aspect is dealt with in great ethnographic detail by Ayse Parla in Chap. 6. Parla 
shows that over the past two decades the legal status of Turkish migrants from Bul- 
garia changed significantly. While in the past they were received as ethnic kin and 
prospective citizens, today they have become dispensable labour migrants moving 
back and forth between Bulgaria and Turkey. 

Since the early 1990s, Greece has been the major pole of attraction for prospec- 
tive migrants from the Southern Balkans, mainly Albanians and Bulgarians. This 
is why the last four chapters are devoted to Albanian and Bulgarian migration to 
Greece. Ifigeneia Kokkali asks why Albanian immigrants in Greece are so incon- 
spicuous, why they seem to change their names and even their religion more eas- 
ily than most immigrants. In trying to answer these questions she looks not only 
at discrimination, but also at how history has shaped conceptions about national 
identity among both Greeks and Albanians. She examines several aspects involved, 
such as the strong link between national identity and religion among the Greeks and 
the tradition of religious diversity and syncretism among the Albanians. In Chap. 8, 
Julie Vullnetari takes a very different look at Albanian migration to Greece. Her 
interest is in temporary or circular migration — a topic also addressed by others in 
this volume — and more specifically, seasonal migrants in agriculture. These mi- 
grants, drawn from the poorest strata in Albania, constitute an interesting segment 
of the Albanian population in Greece, specifically in view of the renewed interest 
in seasonal labour migration and its relation to the socio-economic development of 
‘sending’ regions. In Chap. 9 , Riki van Boeschoten examines the renegotiation of 
gender identities among Albanian and Bulgarian migrants in Greece. She focuses 
on two major issues that emerge from the life stories of male and female migrants. 
The first is the empowerment of migrant women and disempowerment of migrant 
men, which seems to contradict the ‘patriarchal backlash’ in their home countries. 
The second is the striking differences between the gender identities of Albanian and 
Bulgarian migrant women. Van Boeschoten locates these trends against a backdrop 
of gender relations in Albania and Bulgaria and also the particularities of the mi- 
gration process after 1990. In the final chapter, Panos Hatziprokopiou and Eugenia 
Markova examine the development of labour migration from Bulgaria to Greece 
over the past 20 years — placing it in the context of other forms of human and capital 
mobility in both directions. They argue that in this way the Balkan space is regain- 
ing the unified character it used to have in the Ottoman period. Greece, in particular, 
is also reacquiring some of the ethno-cultural diversity that used to characterize the 
Balkans — notwithstanding the recent popular hostility to immigration and immi- 
grants, not only in Greece but in Europe as a whole. 

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 
Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in 
any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. 

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Martin Baldwin-Edwards was until recently Director of the Mediterranean Migration Observa- 
tory, based at the Institute for International Relations, Panteion University, Athens. Until 2014 he 
was also Senior Researcher at the International Centre for Migration Policy Research (ICMPD) in 
Vienna. He has published widely on migration issues, especially in the regions of southern Europe, 
the Middle East and the Balkans. Recent publications include Labour immigration and labour 
markets in the GCC (London School of Economics, Kuwait Programme 2011) and with A. Kraler, 
eds., REGINE: Regularisations in Europe, Amsterdam University Press, 2009 

1 Introduction 


Riki van Boeschoten is Professor of Social Anthropology and Oral History at the University of 
Thessaly, Greece. Her research interests include memory, refugee studies, migration and ethnic- 
ity, civil war conflicts and post-socialism. She has directed a research programme on gender and 
migration from Albania and Bulgaria ( Her most 
recent book, Children of the Greek civil war: Refugees and the politics of memory, co-authored 
with Loring Danforth, was published by Chicago University Press, 2011. Website: users.ha.uth. 

Hans Vermeulen is emeritus professor of the University of Amsterdam. Until his retirement in 
2001 he was director of research at the Institute of Migration and Ethnic Studies of the University 
of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He used to research in Greece and the Netherlands. His main 
interests and publications are on ethnicity, nationalism, multiculturalism, migration, integration 
and the second generation 

Chapter 2 

The Balkan Gurbet : Traditional Patterns 
and New Trends 

Petko Hristov 

The tradition of temporary labour migrations, particularly among men, has existed 
for centuries in a number of regions of the Balkans. The model by which men earn 
money somewhere ‘away’ or ‘abroad’, 1 but invariably return to their home places 
and families ‘here’, is known in different Balkan languages as gurbet , kurbet , or 
kurbeti and by the South-Slavic term pecalbarstvo 2 (Hristov 2008a, p. 217). Even 
though in the Balkans the term gurbet unifies a wide range of labour mobility pat- 
terns, these all relate to what Baldwin-Edwards (2002, p. 2) has called ‘old-fash- 
ioned temporary migration’, ‘where the migrant’s identity is closely linked to the 
country of origin’ and remains significant for extended periods, regardless of ethnic 
and religious affiliation. The Balkans offers a remarkable variety of such traditional 
patterns: from the seasonal mobility of shepherds, agricultural workers and master 
builders to the temporary absences from home of crafts people and merchants (usu- 
ally for one to three years, typically three 3 ), with the goal of gaining wealth and 
supporting family back home. The names of these patterns are diverse, as are their 
distinctive characteristics in different regions, but all share a number of features that 
make them an important part of what we could call a Balkan ‘culture of migration’, 
following Brettell (2003, p. 3). 

Migration researchers interested in the Balkans, however, confront several dif- 
ficulties. First of all, there is the difficulty of uncovering the reasons for a country’s 
different social groups’ labour migrations, internally or to another country. Then 

1 The ‘abroad’ could be a neighbouring region, the big city, another state/country, or ‘somewhere 
in the Balkans’. 

2 The word gurbet in most Balkan languages comes from the Turkish- Arabic gurbet, meaning 
‘abroad’ (see Turkish-Bulgarian Dictionary, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia 1952, p. 193), 
and the South-Slavic word pecalbarstvo comes from the Slavic pecalba (‘gain’), i.e., to ‘gain for 
a living’. 

3 Sometimes up to seven (see Brailsford 1906, p. 51 for Macedonia). 

P. Hristov (ISI) 

Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Ethnographic Museum, 

IEFSEM-BAS, Sofia Bulgaria 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 3 1 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 2 


P. Hristov 

there are difficulties in tracing the mechanisms of the process. Finally, there is the 
difficulty of determining how changes in these processes are reflected in the mi- 
grants’ everyday life and culture. From a Balkan perspective, both historical and 
contemporary interdisciplinary research are hampered by the frequent politicization 
of migration movements, especially concerning refugees and political emigrants. 
In this respect, Balkan researchers have fallen victim to the tendency of interna- 
tional migration to be a focus of political debate, rather than an analysis of hidden 
dynamics and socio-cultural characteristics (Kearney 1997, p. 324). Furthermore, 
if assumptions are correct about the highly problematic and uncertain nature of 
today’s data and interpretation of numbers regarding Balkan temporary migrations 
(Baldwin-Edwards 2006, p. 9), what must this imply about numbers and interpreta- 
tions in a historical context? 

Patterns of labour migrations in many regions of the Balkans have for centuries 
followed their traditional model and principles of social organization, the latter be- 
ing closely interwoven with family and kin. Given this peculiarity, as well as the 
lack of historical statistical information on seasonal workers in Bulgaria, 4 Serbia, 
and the Ottoman Empire, this chapter presents a historic-ethnographic reconstruc- 
tion of temporary cross-border mobility using predominantly narrative sources. 
Documents from historical archives (mainly in Bulgaria), memoirs, scattered infor- 
mation from regional research (in Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Serbia), and oral fam- 
ily history narratives are the basic sources drawn upon to study the labour migration 
traditions of men from the Central Balkan region. All written sources are cited in 
the text. 

Serious difficulties have also arisen from researchers’ focus being limited to na- 
tional frames, particularly among historians. A number of authors who study past 
labour migrations focus on their own country, writing in their national ‘cages’ and 
failing to look across the borders. Social and cultural exchange and influences are 
often ignored, both in the regions or countries that ‘send’ migrants and also in those 
that ‘accept’ them. Such a view is particularly inaccurate when speaking of the 
Balkans. In a historical context, labour migrations within the Balkans were as a rule 
cross-border and trans-border — ‘border’ in the meaning implied by Barth (1969) of 
the ethnic, religious, cultural, and later, state boundaries of the Balkans. 

This chapter focuses on seasonal and temporary male labour migration ( gur - 
bet/kurbet or pecalbarstvo ) in its socio-cultural and ethnological aspects, showing 
its historical roots, specifics, and stages of development, with the example of the 
Central Balkans See fig. 2.1. This region is the part of the peninsula where today 
the frontiers of three states come together: the Republic of Bulgaria, the Republic 
of Serbia and the FYR of Macedonia. The area is known as Sopluk — a denotation 
without a clearly defined perimeter and including a range of local cultural features 
(Hristov 2004, pp. 67-82; Malinov 2008, pp. 424-436). In spite of this, the re- 
gion shows some common and stable cultural traits, even though local populations 

4 During the entire period after the liberation of Bulgaria (1878) and World War II, the official 
state statistics did not take into account seasonal workers hired for less than six months (Natan 
et al. 1969, p. 408). 

2 The Balkan Gurbet : Traditional Patterns and New Trends 


have had different national identities; over the last 140 years parts of this area have 
changed their state affiliation five times (Hristov 2004, pp. 69-80). National and 
ethnic groups are not determined once and for all; they change over the course of 
history and ‘by definition are modified after changes in state borders’ (Prelic 1996, 
p. 115). At least, this is the way it has been in the Balkans. Among the stable traits 
of social life in the Sopluk region during the entire nineteenth and twentieth centu- 
ries is the temporary labour migration of the male population, which has shaped the 
traditional cultural model of local communities. The region under study here has 
been mentioned only sporadically in previous studies of migration in the Balkans 
(see Palairet 1987, pp. 225-235). 

As a basis for comparison I use materials from my own fieldwork 5 and historical 
research on another border region in the heart of the Balkans, famous in the past for 
its ethnic and religious diversity and for mass labour mobility (seasonal and tem- 
porary) of its male population. This is the Mijak 6 region in north-west Macedonia, 
where the state borders of Albania, FYR of Macedonia and the newly proclaimed 
Republic of Kosovo converge in the present day (see fig. 2.1). 

5 I carried out my fieldwork in north-eastern and north-western Macedonia during the summers of 
2005 and 2009 (see Hristov 2010a, pp. 141-150). 

6 The Mijaks are a specific ethnographic group, inhabiting north-western Macedonia. 


P. Hristov 

2.1 Traditions of Labour Mobility 

Traditional patterns of economic migration in the Balkans are impressive in their 
variety and importance to the social and cultural history of all regions in South- 
Eastern Europe. Despite the turbulent history of the Balkan peoples — marked 
throughout the past 200 years by numerous economic and social catastrophes — 
gurbet migration has never ceased and has been accompanied by an exchange of 
ideas, information, technologies and cultural patterns. For centuries, specific re- 
gions of the Balkans in Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, northern Greece, Turkey, and 
south-east Serbia have been the main places for such seasonal or temporary labour 
migrations, either ‘sending’ or ‘receiving’ migrants. 

This Balkan version of the ‘mobility culture’, 7 practised by generations of men 
who earned their livelihoods away from home, caused a number of transformations 
in the entire model of traditional culture in these regions — related to the temporary 
absence of men from the village. In a number of places, these transformations in- 
cluded the ways of making a living and material culture, as well as everyday gender 
stereotypes and the division of labour between men and women, social organiza- 
tion, the holiday calendar, and rituals related to a person’s life cycle. Some of these 
cultural patterns and their impact on identity, particularly in the border regions of 
the Balkans, are discussed in earlier publications (see Hristov 2009a pp. 109-126). 
Comparative research about gurbet or kurbet in the Balkans is still remarkably 
scarce. A significant challenge to researchers (historians, ethnologists, anthropolo- 
gists, sociologists, and demographers) is to explain whether these traditional pat- 
terns of ‘life in motion’ are being reproduced and transformed in the current context 
of globalization and EU expansion, which give more opportunities for labour mo- 
bility from a European perspective. This research has yet to appear. In this regard, 
the case of Greece is perhaps indicative: it was transformed from being a ‘source’ 
of emigrants in the decades after World War II (see Vermeulen 2008) to become an 
attractive centre for Balkan gurbetchias after 1991. As noted by Baldwin-Edwards 
and Apostolatou (2008, p. 15), ‘Today, immigrants make up around 10% of the total 

2.2 Past Tradition I: Agrarian and Pastoral 
Labour Mobility 

Seasonal and temporary labour movement in the Balkans is a social process that 
developed at varying speeds throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. 
Within the borders of the Ottoman Empire during the nineteenth century, the main 
‘streams’ of temporary labour migration were headed towards the capital city Stam- 
bol (Istanbul) 8 and the other big cities of the Empire; they also headed to Wallachia 

7 I borrowed this term from the French anthropologist Fliche (2006), who studied labour migra- 
tions (gurbet) in Turkey. 

8 In 1863, approximately 32,550 Bulgarians worked in Istanbul and its suburbs. 

2 The Balkan Gurbet : Traditional Patterns and New Trends 


and Serbia (which had already been liberated by that time), to Central Europe and, 
less frequently, to Asia Minor, Egypt, and Persia. 

In the early decades of the premodem age, the main form of seasonal migration 
in the agrarian sphere was the movement of the labour force from the mountains — 
areas which, according to Braudel (1998), were characterized by their ‘archaism 
and poverty’ — to the rich plains and river valleys, mainly during the harvest seasons 
( na zetva 9 ). This process is typical for the entire Balkan-Mediterranean range (ibid.: 
30, 40-43, 51-53). For example, the main destinations for agrarian seasonal labour 
mobility from the mountainous central part of the Balkans (the so-called Sopluk) 
were Wallachia ( Vlasko) and the big farms in Dobmda and the Thracian Valley. 
During the second half of the nineteenth century, the men from entire villages in the 
Bulgaria- Serbia border region (e.g., near the Timok River, Godec, and Berkovica) 
worked on the farms of Wallachian cokoyas 10 (Hristov 2010b, p. 199). This type 
of agrarian labour mobility is not denoted as gurbet and is only sporadically called 

Historical patterns of labour mobility that preceded the classic gurbet are repre- 
sented by transhumant shepherding. Seasonal shepherding and sheep breeding (with 
a calendar framework between the feasts of Saint George in May and Saint Deme- 
trius in October), along with various combinations of agrarian labour, was com- 
monplace throughout the centuries of the Ottoman Empire and its rule in the Bal- 
kans. Enormous flocks of sheep were moved from high mountain pastures to warm 
southern valleys in winter and back again in early spring. This was usually done by 
shepherds hired by the wealthy owners ( kehayas u ). Most distinctive was the shep- 
herd nomadism typical not only of Wallachians, Aromanians, and Karakacans, 12 
but also the Bulgarians from the Rodopa Mountains (towards Aegean Thrace and 
the Upper Thracian Plain) and from the eastern Star a Planina Mountains (towards 
Dobruda). Part of this population had the privileged delepkesan 13 status of suppliers 
of the Ottoman army over the centuries (Grozdanova and Andreev 1986, p. 121). 

The rich shepherds among the Mijaks in Western Macedonia alternated the sum- 
mer pastures surrounding Galicnik and Lazaropole with winter pastures on the Sa- 
lonika Plain. It is no coincidence that one of the best known researchers of labour 
migrations in the Balkans, Michael Palairet (1987, p. 44), mentions Galicnik as 
an ‘archetypal pecalbar community’. Though this village is currently deserted, in 
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries up to 90 % of its men were away, 
engaged in gurbet/pecalba in Salonika, Istanbul, Sofia, Belgrade, Bucharest, and 
even Egypt. A considerable proportion of these temporary migrants owned shops 
(i djukjan ) selling dairy products (e.g., milk and white and yellow cheese) and sweets 

9 In Bulgaria, this traditional movement from the mountains to the valleys received the folklore 
name ‘slizane na Romanja ’ (‘descending to Romelia’, i.e., Thrace). 

10 During the nineteenth century the term ‘cokoy’ was used to refer to rich owners of arable land 
in Wallachia. 

11 A traditional name for rich sheep breeders and traders in the Ottoman Empire. 

12 In Greek, they are known as the Sarakatsani. 

13 The official name for rich sheep breeders and traders in the Ottoman Empire, from Turkish-Ara- 
bic celep (-bi) — ‘flocks and herds trader’ — see Turkish-Bulgarian Dictionary, Bulgarian Academy 
of Sciences Sofia, 1952, p. 75. 


P. Hristov 

in the big cities and capitals of the Balkans, thus creating a market for the products 
of the famous Mijak kehayas. 

Agrarian and pastoral labour mobility had specific age and gender characteristics 
in the different regions of the Balkans, related both to the peculiarities of agricul- 
tural production and market and to the policies of the Ottoman Empire. The fe- 
male version predominantly involved young, unmarried women (‘maidens’). After 
marriage, the woman traditionally stayed with her family in her husband’s house; 
in the regions with male gurbet , she took care of the family’s land and livestock. 
The Sopluk mountain regions were a constant source of seasonal maiden workers, 
who migrated towards the lowlands (around Sofia in Bulgaria and to Ovce Pole 
in Eastern Macedonia) at the times of crop harvest. Intensification of agricultural 
production during the first decades of the twentieth century put an end to this sea- 
sonal maiden mobility; yet, the growing needs of the new bourgeois society in the 
capital forced the rapid development of new types of temporary maiden labour. 
Being a maidservant in a rich urban family became an important part of the so- 
cialization of girls from a number of villages near Sofia (Palairet 1987, p. 34). A 
twice yearly maidservant market (the Sluginski Pazar) was organized in Sofia, at 
the piazza where construction workers typically gathered to find work (the so-called 
‘Dyulgerska Piazza ’) a week after Saint George’s Day and after Saint Demetrius’s 
Day. This became an important location in the capital of Bulgaria after World War I 
(Hristov 2005, p. 87). Parents brought daughters who were too young for marriage 
to the market and contracted them out as housemaids. This was usually done by 
the mothers, who also received the payment for the girls’ labour (mainly house and 
kitchen work). The money was used for the future bride’s dowry (see Hristov 2002, 
pp. 31-32). When the girls reached age 15-16, they were taken back to the village 
to marry. According to my respondents, girls rarely stayed on to live in the city 
and marry into urban families. Successful marriages took place in the village, thus 
marking the end of a young woman’s acquaintance with the urban way of life. But 
the lessons learned from the landlady ( gospoza ) in the city were taken to the village 
in the form of cooking recipes, methods of housekeeping and nursing children, and 
sometimes urban ways of dressing and social etiquette. 

These agrarian migrations were ended by the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 and 
the new political boundaries that divided and separated the territory of the former 
Ottoman Empire. 

2.3 Past Tradition II: Seasonal Labour Migration 
( Gurbet ) of Builders 

Crafts people — especially masons — in a number of Balkan mountain regions have 
a tradition of temporary labour migration lasting from a few months to a few years. 
Often their seasonal 14 travels — aiming primarily at pecalba (‘gain for living’) — also 

14 Labour mobility of artisans, specifically of builders, had a seasonal character and traditionally 
spanned the period between Saint George’s Day in spring and Saint Dimitri’s Day (or Saint Thom- 

2 The Balkan Gurbet : Traditional Patterns and New Trends 


stemmed from attempts to overcome land shortages in the mountains (Palairet 1987, 
pp. 225-235; Brunnbauer 2004, pp. 141-142). Labour mobility of artisans had par- 
ticular characteristics as well, especially among builders, potters, bakers, 15 and tin- 
kers, whose travels covered the entire peninsula. In this aspect, several regional cen- 
tres were formed in eastern Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, 16 and in northern Greece 
(see Nitsiakos 2000, pp. 5-13) which ‘emitted’ waves of men for gurbet every year 
throughout the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century. Possibly the old- 
est such centre is north-western Macedonia, specifically the Debar and Tetovo kaaza, 
which is home to the Mijaks. The other centres — such as Tran in midwestem Bul- 
garia, Crna Trava, and Bosilegrad in today’s eastern Serbia, and Kriva Palanka and 
Kratovo in Macedonia — still preserve the tales of the legendary builders ( djulgers ) 
of the capitals Belgrade and Sofia who were said to have acquired their skills from 
Debarlias , originating from the region of Debar (the so-called Arnautluk 11 ) (Hristov 
2008a, p. 219). Traces of the Debarlias can be found among the wandering dyulgers 
from other regions of Bulgaria — in Bratsigovo in the Rodopa Mountains and in the 
central Stara Planina Mountains, where the centres were Dryanovo, Tryavna, and 
Gabrovo. An example of this phenomenon occurred in 1870 when the first railway 
was built in Bulgaria (between Varna and Rousse). Most workers were ‘Christians 
from Albania who swarm [ed] all over European Turkey and return [ed] home in the 
winter months, but faithfully returned each year’ (Barkley 1876, pp. 56-57). 

Traditional seasonal labour migrations of men in Bulgaria and Macedonia are not 
only part of the centuries-long common history of different ethnic, religious, and 
language communities of the Balkans. They are also part of folklore (see Karovski 
1979; Pistrick 2008, pp. 97-110), of local and family narratives and of the individu- 
al biographies of prominent local historical figures, some of which have been cele- 
brated as cultural heroes in tales and legends (Hristov 2008b, pp. 315-323). The in- 
tensification of male gurbet in the late Ottoman Empire was caused, in my opinion, 
by the break-up of the Empire’s agrarian system and by the socio-economic crisis of 
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries that led in the mountain regions to 
a decline of the well developed and state-maintained network of sheep breeders that 
supplied the army and large cities (Hristov 2008a, p. 219). This resulted not only in 
loss of privileges, income, and markets, but also in widespread economic desola- 
tion and insecurity in the emigration regions. Furthermore, there was the economic 
collapse that followed decades of feudal violence at the end of the 1 8th and the first 
two decades of the nineteenth century. 18 Local Mijak folk myth tells a different 

as’ Day in the central part of Bulgaria) in the autumn, i.e., six to seven months of the year. We call it 
‘seasonal’ to distinguish it from the collective term ‘temporary’ for traders and other crafts people. 

15 The term ‘bakers’ includes a range of bakers, pastry cooks, boza -makers, and halva -maker. 

16 The name ‘Macedonia’ denotes the geographical area Macedonia, which is populated by various 
communities in terms of confession, ethnicity, language, and culture. 

17 During the centuries of the Ottoman Empire, the name Arnautluk was applied mainly to Alba- 
nian-populated regions. 

18 For example, the rule of Kara Feiz, one of the gang leaders of former government soldiers and 
mutineers — so-called kurdalias — and his son Ali in the Sopluk; and the persistent raids by various 
villain gangs — called kacaks , especially in Western Macedonia (Petrov 1909, p. 3; Cvijic 1931, 
p. 134, 162, 169, 199). Kurdalias were a Bulgarian version of ‘bandits from the fields’, from the 


P. Hristov 

version, however, relating the beginning of male gurbet at the end of the eighteenth 
century to the legendary Gjurcin Kokale. Appointed as mayor ( kodabasija ) of Laz- 
aropole at a young age, Kokale is said to have ruefully witnessed the poor harvests 
from local lands; one autumn, the story goes, he piled up and set fire to the ploughs 
of all landowners in Lazaropole, thus ‘ordering’ the men to become traders and to 
feed their families by ‘earning abroad’ 19 (Hristov 2008b, p. 318). 

In the mountain regions of the central peninsula, gurbet and pecalbarstvo of 
craftspeople was both widespread and traditionally prestigious (Bobcev 1902, 
p. 107; Petrovic 1920, p. 18; Cvijic 1931, p. 134). This was especially true in the 
region known as Sopluk: legends are still told of masters who ‘could shoe a flea 
and split the sole leather into nine’ (Cvijic 1906, p. 194). The temporary labour 
migrations of the pecalbars is well documented in the period after the Crimean 
War (1853-1856). The Austrian vice-consul in Sofia, Von Martrit published a re- 
port in 1853 stating, ‘[T]he Christian citizens of the region around the town of Tran 
are so poor they can hardly pay their taxes, therefore in the spring many of them 
leave their places of origin seeking opportunities to earn money in Istanbul, even 
Asia Minor. They return as late as winter’ (Mihov 1943, pp. 331-332). After the 
Liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, Konstantin Irecek was reportedly told that ‘during 
the time of the Ottoman Empire, a group of 5,000 men regularly went to Serbia to 
work as masons in summer’. Later, he added, ‘The area around the town of Tran as 
well as around Radomir and in Kraiste is inhabited by mason- vagrants who work in 
bunches of 40 to 50 people’ (Irecek 1978, p. 559). In the area of Tran, the seasonal 
workers in free Serbia were called ‘Sumadiers’ ( Sumadinci ) in order to differenti- 
ate them from ‘Stamboldias’ ( stamboldii ) 20 working in the villages surrounding the 
capital of the Empire (Petricev 1940, p. 150). 

These masters travelled from early spring to late autumn throughout the Bal- 
kan peninsula: from Serbia (Morava region, Sumadia, Belgrade) and Wallachia to 
Istanbul and Asia Minor (Smirna) as djulgeri (builders), dzidari (masons), ciglari 
(tile-makers), kaljavci (potters), and crepari ( crepnja or podnica , those making 
flat clay baking pots), and also as stone-cutters from some villages (see Nikolic 
1910, p. 29; Mironova-Panova 1971, p. 65; Palairet 1987, pp. 23-46). The seasonal 
outpouring of mountain male populations (‘i/ pecalbu\ meaning ‘to gain’, and ‘u 
rabotu\ meaning ‘to work’) to other parts of the Balkan peninsula made for sta- 
bility at a time of complex family households ( zadruga 21 type) and increased the 
importance of women’s position in the family (Brunnbauer 2004, p. 144). However, 
the deeply-entrenched traditional social role models for men and women in this 

Turkish kir — ‘field’ — cf. Turkish-Bulgarian Dictionary, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences Sofia, 

19 As told by Trajko Changoski in Lazaropole, the last descendant of Gjurchin Kokale ’s kin. 

20 Meaning ‘people who travel to Sumadia’ and ‘people who travel to Stambol’, respectively. 

21 Zadruga is a South-Slavic term for what social anthropologists call the ‘extended family house- 
hold’, when different kin families do not separate but continue to live together in a single household 
after the sons have married. I agree with Brunnbauer (2004, p. 144) that ‘the so-called zadruga was 
the prevalent household pattern only in areas with specific conditions — most notably insecurity 
and the existence of patrilineages’; this is exactly the case in the regions here under study. 

2 The Balkan Gurbet : Traditional Patterns and New Trends 


patriarchal socio-cultural milieu inhibited, to a certain extent, rapid modernization 
in these pastoral communities. It is a fact, though, that entire villages were left in 
women’s hands for entire seasons. Palairet (2002, p. 173) quotes Irecek, who calls 
Koprivstica (in Bulgaria) ‘a female town during winter’. In addition, men’s labour 
mobility, their seasonal absence from the local village community and their continu- 
ous work away from the home region contributed to the great strength of kinship 
networks in these regions. Even when settled in the big cities some decades later, 
as refugees after World War I or in the years of accelerated urbanization following 
World War II, these migrants constructed proverbially efficient social networks for 
mutual help, based on kin and local origin. 

An important condition for the continued preservation and significance of the 
family and kin structure for the overall life of the village was the traditional orga- 
nizational form of the migrant groups (pecalbarska tajfa) of construction workers. 
These were based on the kinship principle and up to the beginning of the twentieth 
century knew no written regulations (of the guild type). Traditionally, migrant male 
labour groups followed the norms of customary practice: a hierarchy of masters 
( majstor ), journeymen {half a), and apprentices ( cirak ) was selected mainly from 
among the kin and, rarely, the wider village community. This peculiarity of the 
social organization of the migrant groups continued for a long period of time, both 
in Bulgaria and in Macedonia — in some places it remained as late as World War II. 

2.4 Past Tradition III: Cross-Border Labour Mobility 

The directions, destinations, and character of the temporary labour of male migrant 
groups changed a number of times in the nineteenth and the first decades of the 
twentieth century along with the turbulent and complicated historical destiny of 
this part of the Balkans (Manolova-Nikolova 1997, pp. 159-173; Stojancevic 1995, 
pp. 283-331). Before the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, the most attractive centres 
for migrant groups from today’s border region (Sopluk, including Cma Trava, Tran, 
Caribrod, Pirot, Leskovac, Vranje, Luznica, Kumanovo, Kratovo, and Kriva Palan- 
ka) were Sumadija in Serbia and Vlasko (Wallachia) in today’s southern Romania). 
These were already independent and within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire. 
Also attractive were the region of Zagore near the towns of Vidin and Lorn in the 
north-western part of today’s Bulgaria, Dobruda in the north-eastern part of today’s 
Bulgaria, and Istanbul, which was the Empire’s capital. In their travels across the 
Balkan peninsula, the skilled master builders left traces of their work everywhere. 
Examples range from the popular Wallachian houses of rammed earth ( bienica or 
punjenica , see Mironova-Panova 1971, pp. 69-70) to modem buildings in Istanbul 
and Belgrade and the large port cities of the Ottoman Empire. In a number of (then) 
border cities in free Serbia (Paracin, Jagodina, and Cuprija) and Wallachia (Craiova, 
Gjurgiu, Braila, and the capital Bucharest), temporary migrants from Bulgaria and 
Macedonia established entire communities of their own. Many of them actively par- 
ticipated in the revolutionary stmggles, uprisings, and wars that led to the liberation 


P. Hristov 

of their home regions from Ottoman power, as well as their inclusion within the 
borders of the new nation states in the Balkans (Hristov 2008a, p. 222). 

After the liberation of Bulgaria in 1878, the new capital Sofia quickly became 
an attractive destination for temporary labour migrants from the central Balkans, 
including Macedonia. Most of the seasonal construction workers in Sofia were from 
mountain villages along the Bulgarian-Serbian border and from the regions of Kra- 
tovo and Kriva Palanka in Macedonia, which remained within the Ottoman Empire. 
The most famous construction contractors in the Bulgarian capital were born in 
Tran (a western Bulgarian border region) or in Macedonia (Petrovic 1920, p. 23). 
The seasonal construction workers had Their own’ gathering and hiring spot — the 
Dyulgerska Piazza which was mentioned earlier as the venue of the twice-yearly 
‘maidservant markets’. It became an important location in the capital city as early 
as the end of the nineteenth century (Hristov 2005, p. 86). At the beginning of the 
twentieth century, construction workers were still ‘seasonal guests’ in the big city: 
they worked and earned in the capital, but spent winter months in their home vil- 
lages. Soon after the Ilinden Uprising in Macedonia in 1903 many of these men 
became refugees from their home regions, arrived in large Bulgarian cities (Sofia, 
Plovdiv, Varna, and Russe) and with their own communities and separate quarters 
there. The decades-long destinations of the male pecalbars traced a route similar to 
that of the refugees from the central part of the peninsula. 22 

Organized on the basis of kinship or local communities, groups of temporary 
migrants (so-called pecalbarska tajfa) developed their own subculture in the big 
cities (Istanbul, Thessalonica, Belgrade, and Sofia). The seasonal workers had spots 
where they congregated, such as the famous ‘Znepole’ 23 hotel (for the pecalbars 
from Tran) and the ‘Razlog’ 24 restaurant (for those from Macedonia) in Sofia. Dia- 
lects came to be language markers both in Bulgaria and in Serbia (Cvijic 1922, 
p. 219). Some groups developed their own ‘secret’ language, such as the so-called 
Fornicki speech of those from the north-eastern Macedonian village of Slegovo, 
near Kratovo (Filipovski and Kitanovski 1984, pp. 67-135). Local populations 
on both sides of the (political) frontiers also considered the migrant groups from 
Sopluk to be autonomous communities, and their seasonal moving, from early 
spring to late autumn, was compared to the flocks of migratory birds: they were 
called ‘cranes’ (dialectal kurkavci ) (see Hristov 2005, p. 85). These communities of 
male craftspeople traditionally had a closed subculture. Workers from other regions 
rarely could penetrate into their construction groups even into the 1940s. 25 

At the beginning of the two Balkan Wars and during World War I, many 
pecalbars from the central regions migrated to America to avoid military service. 

22 Here is only one example: out of 74 construction workers in Sofia from the village of Radibus 
(the Kriva Palanka region in present-day FYR of Macedonia), 72 enrolled as volunteers in the 
‘Macedonian’ volunteer corps of the Bulgarian Army to participate in the First Balkan War, hoping 
to liberate Macedonia (personal fieldwork records). 

23 Znepole is the geographic name of the Tran Valley in the westernmost part of Bulgaria. 

24 Razlog is the name of a town in Bulgaria, in the geographic area of Pirin Macedonia. 

25 It is still said in Sofia that you can only ‘steal’ but not learn the craft from the Tran masters. 

2 The Balkan Gurbet : Traditional Patterns and New Trends 


As early as the end of the nineteenth century, the USA became an attractive place 
for the region’s unemployed labour force — first for those from Macedonia, and later 
for those from Bulgaria and Serbia as well (Petrov 1909, pp. 3-6). Some of these 
‘Americans’ returned home in the 1920s, but most remained in the USA. 

Time transformed local cultural tradition in the regions with traditional male 
labour mobility in accordance with the men’s seasonal absences from their homes. 
In Sopluk, the builders’ groups ( tajfa ) started their journey on the days of some of 
the great spring feasts around Durdovdan (Saint George’s Day), but traditionally 
men were solemnly seen off by their families on the first Monday of Long Lent, the 
so-called Cist Ponedelnik (‘Clean Monday’). By mid-May — Saint Constantine and 
Helen’s Day — they were already at work (‘ u rabotu ’) (Petrovic 1920, p. 14). Their 
earliest return was around Saint Demetrius’s Day or Randelovdan (Saint Michael 
the Archangel’s Day in November). That is why most family and kin feasts (of the 
svetac type, the feasts of the family patron saints, see Peseva 1960, p. 739) were 
grouped in the period from Saint Dimitri’s Day to Saint John’s Day in January (see 
Hristov 2001, p. 193). Weddings were similarly concentrated in the winter period, 
and in this region most children were bom in autumn. 

Local cultural tradition shows a stable ‘migrant’ ritual complex, connected with 
seeing off the groups of men leaving on gurbet. Seeing off the migrants took place 
in the following way: the oldest woman of the household scattered live coals from 
the hearth on both sides of the front gate, which the men then had to cross to acquire 
magical protection. This important ritual is similar to the seeing off given during 
traditional weddings: when men from the bridegroom’s family left their home to 
fetch the bride and her dowry ( ruba ), they jumped over live coals from the hearth 
for magical protection (Mironova-Panova 1971, p. 181). Seeing off the groups of 
men as they left for gurbet was a ritualistic occasion, involving female tears and 
wishes for great gain. 

In other regions of traditional seasonal labour mobility, the intensity of the yearly 
feast cycle was reversed. Among the Mijaks in Western Macedonia, weddings were 
held only once a year, when the young men returned to their homes on the day of the 
village church celebration (e.g., Saint Peter’s Day in Galicnik 26 and Saint Elijah’s 
Day in Lazaropole). If the young couple ( verenici ) did not manage to marry on 
that day, they had to wait an entire year until the next church celebration; the only 
‘reserve’ option allowed by tradition was that of the feasts dedicated to the Virgin 
Mary (Hristov 2010a, p. 147). As late as the mid-twentieth century, these mountain 
villages were entirely closed and endogamous; for some the endogamy was inter- 
village, but in a local circle. Young men returned to their homes to find brides, and 
weddings as a rule were only ‘among their own’ (in a village and regional aspect). 

26 During the last decades of the twentieth century the Galicnik wedding was transformed into a 
folklore performance. Even now, however, those who really want to marry in Galicnik can do so 
in the local church only on Saint Peter’s Day. In summer of 2005 on Saint Peter’s Day in Galicnik 
I witnessed three consecutive weddings. Galicnik locals still remember years with more than 30 
weddings on this day. Saint Peter is the patron saint of the biggest church in the village, and Saint 
Peter’s Day is the most important feast for the entire village. 


P. Hristov 

Even today local women are said to marry in summer when the descendants of the 
former pecalbars from Europe, America, and Australia return home to find wives. 

Also in these mountain regions of Western Macedonia, a stable gurbet ritual 
complex developed related to sending off and welcoming back the groups of mi- 
grant workers. Women and children would follow their husbands, sons, and fathers 
far outside the village, to a spot traditionally marked as a boundary of the region, 
where groups of departing men gathered. One can map these migrant toponyms for 
each of the villages and regions to create a particular ‘landscape of gurbet mem- 
ory’ (Pistrick 2008, p. 103), part of what Nora (2004, p. 37) calls the ‘milieux de 
memoire’ as social and collective memory. The names of these places were often 
related to ‘crying’ (such as the Bridge of Crying near Zelino, Tetovo region and the 
Tree of Crying near Lazaropole; see Hristov 2009b, p. 93) and bring to mind touch- 
ing scenes of (temporary) family separation. Local memory recalls that even the 
Tezkoto dance, traditional in Western Macedonia, was performed at these places as 
the men started out on their journey. 

This gurbet toponymy was not confined to Western Macedonia. Pistrick (2008) 
found gurbet toponyms in the Zagoria area between Albania and Greece to also be 
predominantly related to separation. Particularly well-known are the so-called Guri 
e shkembive ; these are porous limestone rocks covered with small holes said to 
have been made by the tears shed by mothers of leaving migrants (ibid.: 103). This 
reminds us of the famous Sopolivi kamanye (‘Rocks of Tears’) in the Koprivstica 
vicinity of Central Bulgaria, described by Irecek (1899, p. 96) in the late nine- 
teenth century. There are other similarly ringing Bulgarian gurbet toponyms like the 
Oplaci kamak(‘ Stone of Crying’), Placi-mogila (‘Hill of Crying’) and Placi-topola 
(‘Poplar of Crying’). In this regard, Irecek (1978, p. 48) makes note of the erstwhile 
well known Kurbet Mountain which separated the Sopluk mountain regions from 
the Sumadia valley in Serbia. It probably received its name precisely as a location 
for gurbet separation and reunion. 

Gurbet toponyms can be characterized as Tieux de memoire’ (to use Nora’s 
terms), created by the piling up of collective memories of particular persons and 
events. As a result, these spatial loci turn into an ‘environment of memory’ (‘mi- 
lieux de memoire’) and function as elements and pivot points of collective identity. 
In the future study of cross-border migrations, drawing a ‘landscape of gurbet mem- 
ory’ in the Balkans, as part of what Assmann (2001, p. 37) calls collective memory, 
is part of the challenge that researchers are currently facing. 

2.5 Past Traditions and New Trends 

The new political borders in the Balkans after the Balkan Wars and World War I, the 
restrictive national legislation in the individual countries, and the complex political 
environment in most Balkan countries (both victorious and defeated in the wars), 
further intensified by nationalist propaganda, led to a drastic decrease in trans-bor- 
der labour mobility of men from the regions studied. Between the two world wars, 

2 The Balkan Gurbet : Traditional Patterns and New Trends 


the Balkan market for seasonal trans-border migrants virtually collapsed: the USA 
closed as ‘the pecalbar Eldorado’ and the social situation in Bulgaria, the Kingdom 
of Yugoslavia and Greece drastically reduced opportunities for labour migration 
(Palairet 1987, p. 34). This led to a change in the model of labour migration among 
men from these regions. Their movements were redirected towards the big cities at 
the hearts of their own countries. Still, this labour mobility had the traditional char- 
acteristics of gurbet : the men were earning in the city but their families stayed in 
their home villages throughout the Sopluk where the men spent the inactive winter 
months. However, this increase of ‘internal’ temporary labour migration laid the 
social foundations for permanent emigration to the cities (or urbanization), which 
became a reality after World War II and was stimulated by the intensive industrial- 
ization undertaken by the new socialist governments of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. 

After World War II, the Central Balkans became a region of the new ‘People’s 
Republics’. These dramatically changed the labour market situation and charac- 
ter of labour relations in Bulgaria, Serbia and Macedonia. The accelerated indus- 
trialization of the 1950s turned the seasonal migrants into ‘socialist workers’ and 
resulted in the mass depopulation of villages. The builders became city dwellers, 
bringing their families to the big cities and gradually losing their connection with 
the land. Only elderly people remained in the villages. In Bulgaria this contributed 
to the forced mass collectivization of arable land, which in turn led to the villagers’ 
loss of their land. 

The century-long traditional model of male labour mobility ( gurbet ) under- 
went further drastic change during the 1960s, when a number of Western European 
countries invited ‘guest workers’ from the Mediterranean countries — including 
Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia — turning men into legal temporary migrants. A 
considerable proportion stayed in the host countries and the migration process then 
continued through family reunification, with most Western European countries suc- 
cessively becoming countries of immigration (Guentcheva et al. 2003). During this 
period, temporary migrants from the territory of (former) Yugoslavia, Greece, and 
Turkey settled permanently in Western Europe. The traditional gurbet model of sea- 
sonal and temporary migrations and labour outside the region was thus transformed 
from the beginning of the 1 960s into the pecalbar model of the Gastarbeiter cul- 
ture, especially in Serbia and the FYR of Macedonia. 

Actively joining this pan-European process of labour mobility from the early 
1990s were Balkan countries, like Albania, Bulgaria, and Romania — which until 
then had been closed within their centralized economies and state-regulated labour 
movements. While in the 1990s seasonal and irregular migration had been directed 
mainly towards neighbouring Greece, at the beginning of the new millennium and 
especially after the removal of Schengen visa restrictions for Bulgarian citizens, 
a great number of Bulgarians — Christians and Muslims, Bulgarian Turks as well 
as Macedonians with Bulgarian citizenship — found themselves drawn into labour 
migrations of a range of durations to the countries of the EU, especially Germany, 
Great Britain and Spain. Time will tell whether these migrant workers will adhere 
predominantly to the circular migration model (see Baldwin-Edwards 2006, p. 9) 
that has its background in traditional Balkan gurbet , or if these people instead be- 
come permanent migrants in the host countries. 


P. Hristov 

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 
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any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. 


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(Vol. 1). Sofia: Nauka i izkustvo. 

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16. Belgrade: Srpska Kraljevska akademija. 

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Sofia: Dom na naukite za coveka i obstestvoto. 

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P. Hristov 

Palairet, M. (2002). The Balkan economies c. 1800-1914: Evolution without development. Cam- 
bridge: Cambridge University Press. 

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Balgaria [An ancient family feast: Celebrating the svetec in north-western and western Bulgar- 
ia]. In V. Lekov (Ed.), Ezikovedski-etnografski izsledvanija v pamet na akad. Stojan Romanski 
[Linguistic and ethnographic studies in memoriam of acad. Stojan Romanski ] (pp. 731-754). 
Sofia: Bulgarska akademija na naukite. 

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unteers in the Serbo-Turkish war of 1876]. In R. Todorov (Ed.), Transki kraj [ Tran district ] 
(pp. 147-162). Sofia: Druzestvo ‘Ruj’. 

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America]. Kulturno edintvo, 7-8, 3-6. 

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trict ]. Belgrade: Tipografija. 

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Petko Hristov is Associate Professor at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore Studies with Eth- 
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kinship, the construction of identity and political anthropology, 
php?u=p_hristov&l=en 1 

Chapter 3 

Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies 
in Interwar Bulgaria 

Raymond Detrez 

The expulsion of entire populations from their native lands because of their ethnic- 
ity is a practice probably as old as humankind itself. From the nineteenth century 
onwards, however, although the appropriation of arable land and houses remained 
a major incentive, the removal of ethnic groups occurred for ‘modem’ reasons. Na- 
tionalism had become the main motivation, or at least a commonly accepted ratio- 

Gellner (1993, p. 1) defines nationalism as ‘primarily a political principle, which 
holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent’ . This implies that 
all members of the nation — which in Eastern Europe, as a mle, is an ethnic nation — 
should live within the borders of their own nation state. A corollary of nationalism is 
irredentism, a foreign policy that aims at incorporating within the national territory 
any adjacent areas that are populated — if only partly — by co-ethnics. The ‘con- 
gruence’ of nation and state also supposes an ethnically homogeneous population 
within the state’s borders: ethnic groups differing from the dominant one are re- 
moved through assimilation, ethnic cleansing (a particular variant of which appears 
to be population exchanges), and — in extreme circumstances — genocide. With the 
nationalist state concept prevailing, minority rights are given reluctantly. 

Irredentism and the (mis)treatment of minorities are interdependent in yet an- 
other way: a policy aiming at the elimination of minorities is often inspired by 
the fear of irredentist aggression on the part of the neighbouring state(s), while 
steps taken to eliminate the minority enhance the irredentism of the neighbouring 
state(s) — now presented as a protective measure — rather than diminish it. The as- 
signment of minorities’ rights is facilitated, or complicated, if both states contain 
minorities of each other’s populations, in which case the minorities are treated more 
or less as hostages or potential objects for bargaining. In a similar way, refugees 
after having found shelter in their ‘own’ nation state, are often instrumentalized by 

R. Detrez (E3) 

Slavistiek en Oost-Europakunde, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 47 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 3 


R. Detrez 

the governments of these states to support claims on parts of the territory of the state 
from which the refugees were expelled. 

After World War I, population exchanges were generally considered to be an 
appropriate way to ethnically homogenize a population, to eliminate problems of 
minorities, and to avoid territorial conflicts. From the point of view of political sci- 
ence, international relations, and diplomacy, population exchanges in a number of 
instances did indeed substantially contribute to improved relations between states, 
as they removed at least the ethnic component of territorial conflicts. 1 

However, the idea that a lost territory was originally inhabited by ‘our people’ 
has continued to incite strong emotions of being wronged and to increase the sup- 
port of ‘revanchist’ and ‘revisionist’ parties which have often been tempted to stir 
them up whenever induced by domestic or international political threats or oppor- 

This chapter investigates some aspects of how within Bulgaria in the interwar 
period, in spite of all sincere human concerns about the deplorable fate of the refu- 
gees, the ‘refugees question’ ( bezanskijat vapros ) was (ab)used in order to serve an 
irredentist and revisionist foreign policy that met nationalist aspirations rather than 
the refugees’ real needs. In Bulgaria, owing to the harsh treatment meted out at the 
Paris Peace Conference (Treaty of Neuilly) in 1919, nationalist frustrations and re- 
vanchism were particularly strong. Nevertheless, Bulgaria was not an isolated case. 
Similar emotions existed, for instance, in Greece concerning Northern Epirus and in 
Albania concerning Kosovo. After depicting Bulgaria’s national frustrations about 
the territories it lost or failed to acquire and the massive influx of refugees from 
these territories, this chapter proceeds to examine the strategies that subsequent 
Bulgarian governments, instrumentalizing the refugees and their organizations, ap- 
plied to undo the suffered injustices. 

3.1 Early Population Exchanges 

In the first quarter of the twentieth century, forced migrations often occurred with 
the consent, or even insistence, of what we are now used to calling ‘the international 
community’, that is, the Great Powers or respected international organizations. Af- 
ter World War I, the League of Nations monitored implementation of not only mi- 
norities’ rights, but also treaties and conventions concerning population exchanges. 

1 Currently, international law experts, economists, sociologists, and anthropologists are more 
sceptical about the benefits of population exchanges. Evidently, from a moral perspective, nowa- 
days they are totally unacceptable. Population exchanges cause immense suffering not only be- 
cause people had to leave their native lands where their ancestors were buried, along with loss of 
immovable properties and most of their belongings, but also because their adaptation to a new 
and often hostile environment was a traumatizing experience (see e.g. Clark 2006 and the ‘assess- 
ments of Lausanne’ in Hirschon 2004, pp. 9-12; for the legal aspects of population exchanges, see 
Barutciski, ‘Lausanne Revisited’ in the same volume). 

3 Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies in Interwar Bulgaria 


In the Southern Balkans, there were three major such population exchange 
agreements: the Treaty of Constantinople (1913) between Bulgaria and the Ottoman 
Empire (never fully implemented), the Convention between Bulgaria and Greece 
Respecting Reciprocal Emigration of Minorities of 27 November 1919 (signed at 
the same time as the Neuilly Treaty), and the Convention Concerning the Exchange 
of Greek and Turkish Populations added to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne. As a re- 
sult of ethnic cleansing and bilateral agreements in Macedonia and Thrace — the re- 
gions focused on in this chapter — during the period 1912-1924, large-scale demo- 
graphic transformations occurred in what is now Greek Macedonia. On the eve of 
the Balkan Wars, the number of Bulgarians amounted to 119,000; after the Balkan 
Wars, 104,000 Bulgarians were left, further declining to 77,000 between 1920 and 
1924. The number of Greeks increased from 513,000 to 1,277,000 over the period 
1912-1924. In Western Thrace, the number of Bulgarians over the same period 
declined from 35,000 to 23,000, while the number of Greeks grew from 87,000 to 
reach 189,000. Finally, in Eastern Thrace the entire Greek population of 235,000 
people disappeared and the number of Bulgarians shrank from 50,000 to 1,000. The 
fate of the Muslim population was even worse: the number of Muslims (Turks and 
Pomaks) in (Greek) Macedonia was reduced from 475,000 to 2,000 and in Western 
Thrace from 111,000 to 84,000; in Eastern Thrace the number of Muslims grew 
from 223,000 to 370, 000. 2 

The economic and social disruption and human tragedies caused by these co- 
erced demographic changes were all the more painful as Macedonia and Thrace al- 
ready had a history of ethnic cleansing. By the time of the Russian-Ottoman War of 
1877-1878 (known in Bulgaria as the War of Liberation), more than half a million 
Turks had been expelled not only from the Principality of Bulgaria, but also from 
the Ottoman autonomous province of Eastern Rumelia, both created by the 1878 
Treaty of Berlin (McCarthy 2001, p. 48). Although the Treaty envisaged the return 
of the refugees, covertly the temporary Russian administration and the Bulgarian 
authorities tried hard to prevent their homecoming. The aim was twofold — ethnic 
homogenization and appropriation of real estate (Statelova 1983, p. 126). From the 
areas that had remained under Ottoman rule after the war (Macedonia and the south- 
ern and eastern parts of Thrace), a limited number of Bulgarians — mainly intellec- 
tuals — emigrated to independent Bulgaria. However, they thought of themselves as 
political activists in exile rather than as refugees. The suppression of the 1903 Ilin- 
den Insurrection in what is now the Republic of Macedonia resulted in the emigra- 
tion to Bulgaria of about 30,000 people, fearing Ottoman retaliations (Dragostinova 

2 See Pallis (1925). The numbers are cited here merely to give an idea of the magnitude of the de- 
mographic change: like all Balkan statistics, they are potentially controversial. As a rule, Orthodox 
Christians belonging to the Bulgarian Exarchate are considered to be Bulgarians, and Orthodox 
Christians belonging to the Patriarchate of Constantinople are classified as Greeks, although these 
categories are not entirely congruent. In addition, Bulgarians in Macedonia are now regarded as 
Macedonians by many historians. In the period under consideration, however, they are most often 
recorded as Bulgarians (e.g., in Pallis’ study, in the Carnegie Report (Carnegie 1914), and else- 
where. Since we intend only to give an idea of the size of these migrations, we do not take into 
consideration smaller ethnic groups such as Armenians, Jews, and Vlachs. 


R. Detrez 

2006, p. 553). The Greek population in Bulgaria, living predominantly on the Black 
Sea coast in the cities of Plovdiv (Philippopolis) and Asenovgrad (Stenimachos) 
and the surrounding villages, was discriminated against and harassed from the very 
beginning of the existence of the Bulgarian state (Nazarska 1999) — although this 
was no more serious than that experienced by ethnic minorities in other Balkan 
countries. In 1906, the Greek population in Burgas, Pomorie (Anchialos), and in 
other coastal cities fell victim to a pogrom, intended as retaliation for Greek attacks 
on Bulgarian villages in Macedonia (Avramov 2009). 

During the First Balkan War (1912-1913), all belligerents (Bulgaria, Greece, 
Montenegro, and Serbia) embarked on ethnic cleansing of the Muslim populations 
(Turkish, Albanian, and Pomak) in the conquered areas of the Ottoman Empire: 
87,000 of the 2,315,000 living there were expelled (McCarthy 2001, p. 92). During 
the Second Balkan War (1913), the newly- formed alliance (Greece, Montenegro, 
and Serbia, now joined by Romania and the Ottoman Empire) against Bulgaria 
targeted mainly the Bulgarian population in the territories they occupied. In Eastern 
Thrace about one third of the Bulgarian population was massacred by the Ottoman 
army (Dragostinova 2006, p. 553). The Treaty of Constantinople between Bulgaria 
and the Ottoman Empire, of September 1913, provided for a mutual exchange of the 
Bulgarian and Turkish populations within a 50 km zone on both sides of the border, 
but it was not implemented because of the outbreak of World War I. 

The expulsions did not stop after August 1913 when the Treaty of Bucharest was 
signed, concluding the Second Balkan War. Although no clause envisaging a popu- 
lation exchange was included in the treaty, the expulsions eventually took the char- 
acter of a de facto population exchange. The Bulgarian authorities forced Greeks 
and Turks in the areas under Bulgarian rule — the Pirin region of Macedonia and 
especially Western Thrace — to emigrate. On the other hand, many Bulgarians had 
to leave the Southern Dobrudza, assigned to Romania, and Eastern Thrace, which 
was reincorporated into the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. 3 Smaller numbers of 
Bulgarians from Greek (or Aegean) and Serbian (or Vardar) Macedonia also kept 
on arriving. 

As most of the refugees considered their stay in Bulgaria to be temporary, they 
preferred to establish themselves in proximity to the areas they had abandoned — 
along the borders, in the Pirin region of Macedonia, around the city of Petrie, and in 
Western Thrace (Dragostinova 2006, p. 557). The Bulgarian authorities gave them 
shelter in the houses left by the expelled Greeks and Turks. There is no doubt that 
the establishment of the refugees in the border zone also served the strategic aim 
of creating an overwhelmingly Bulgarian population in these vulnerable areas. As 
Dragostinova (2006, p. 558) points out, ‘while bureaucrats rationalized such deci- 
sions with the urgency to secure land for the refugees, no doubt these policies aimed 

3 The May 1913 Treaty of London, concluding the First Balkan War, had fixed the western border 
of the Ottoman Empire along the line Enoz-Midye, ceding most of Western Thrace to Bulgaria. 
With the Treaty of Bucharest, the Ottoman Empire re-acquired eastern Thrace as far as Edime in 
the north and the River Marica (Evros, Merig) in the south. 

3 Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies in Interwar Bulgaria 


at ridding strategic territories (especially the Burgas and Kardzali areas near the 
Turkish and Greek borders) of distrustful ethnic and religious minorities’. 

Although Bulgaria, like the other Balkan nations, was reluctant to engage in 
a new military conflict, ultimately the opportunity offered by the Central Powers 
to revise the ‘injustices’ imposed by the Treaty of Bucharest turned out to be ir- 
resistible for a frustrated irredentist nation. In 1915, Bulgaria occupied Southern 
Dobrudza and Serbia (the region of Nis, Kosovo, and Macedonia). This new state 
of affairs allowed for the return of many of the refugees to their native lands. The 
persecutions of the local (non-Bulgarian) population, in which the squads of the 
Internal Macedonian- Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Organization (IMARO) had a 
large role, resulted not only from an irredentist policy, but also from the revenge- 
fulness of the expelled and returned populations. Irredentist aspirations, frustration 
about lost properties and sorrow for the victims were feelings that would reinforce 
one another for years to come. 4 

3.2 Demographic Consequences of World War I 
and the Peace Settlements 

The war ended in a catastrophe for Bulgaria’s allies and consequently for Bul- 
garia. The Macedonian front was broken, and the Bulgarian army had to retire to 
the North. The territories that Bulgaria had annexed during the war now had to be 
evacuated. Western Thrace, occupied by British and French forces, remained under 
the control of the Entente Powers. Bulgaria risked losing this area, which was eco- 
nomically of the utmost importance because of the profitable tobacco culture and, 
especially, because of the harbour of Dede Aga$ (Alexandroupolis), which provided 
the country an outlet to the Mediterranean. 

At the peace conference in Paris, Bulgaria was treated harshly. The Treaty of 
Neuilly, signed on 27 November 1919, forced Bulgaria not only to renounce the 
territories occupied during the war, but also to cede four small areas on its western 
border to the newly-formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (after 1929, 
Yugoslavia). The treaty came with the Convention between Bulgaria and Greece 
Respecting Reciprocal Emigration of Minorities, which introduced the first large- 
scale population exchange in the Balkans. About 35,000 Greeks left Bulgaria for 
Greece, reducing the Greek presence in Bulgaria from 1.0 to 0.1%. Depending 
on sources, between 42,000 and 66,000 Bulgarians, mainly from Greek Eastern 
Macedonia, emigrated to Bulgaria — joining the much larger number of Bulgarian 

4 The Internal Macedonian- Adrianopolitan Revolutionary Organization (IMARO) fought for the 
liberation and annexation to Bulgaria of Macedonia and ‘the region of Adrianople’, which meant 
Thrace. In 1919, it was transformed into the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization 


R. Detrez 

refugees from Yugoslav Macedonia. 5 The Treaty of Neuilly stipulated that Bulgaria 
cede Western Thrace to the Entente Powers, which administered it as a protector- 
ate in anticipation of a final decision on its status. After the Entente Powers had 
entrusted the administration of Western Thrace to Greece, harassment by Greek of- 
ficials forced Bulgarians — many of them for the second time — to flee and look for 
shelter in Bulgaria. The 1 920 Conference of San Remo assigned Western Thrace to 
Greece. Subsequently, most of the Bulgarians in Western Thrace left for Bulgaria. 

In addition to the territorial losses, Bulgaria had to pay huge reparations to 
Greece and Yugoslavia. Moreover, it was not allowed to have a proper army, and it 
was kept in diplomatic isolation as a country suspected (with good reason) of pursu- 
ing a revisionist foreign policy. A number of practicalities, including an agreement 
on the protection of the cultural rights of the ‘Slavophone’ population in Greece 
and its monitoring by the League of Nations, were settled in the September 1924 
Kalfov-Politis Agreement (named after both countries’ ministers of foreign affairs). 
The Greek parliament, however, did not ratify the agreement. The December 1 927 
Mollov-Kafandaris Agreement, endorsed by the League of Nations in January 
1928, regulated the financial aspects of the expropriation of Bulgarian immovable 
properties in Greece and Greek immovable properties in Bulgaria. It led to a new, 
last wave of emigrants, mainly from Greece to Bulgaria. 

All together, in the period from October 1912 to December 1926, the Bulgar- 
ian authorities officially recognized 253,067 people as refugees. Together with the 
refugees who left Macedonia after the Ilinden Insurrection and those who for some 
reason were not officially recognized as refugees, their total amounted to 280, 000. 6 
Some 48% of them originated from Greece (Aegean Macedonia, and Western 
Thrace), 28 % from the Ottoman Empire (Eastern Thrace, and Asia Minor), 12.5 % 
from Yugoslavia (Vardar Macedonia and the western districts) and 1 1 % from Ro- 
mania (Southern Dobrudza) (Dragostinova 2006, p. 553). Given the huge number 
of casualties in the Balkan Wars and World War I, the territories lost after the wars, 
the economic and social consequences of the massive immigration of refugees, 
and the psychological impact of the military defeat, the Bulgarian qualification of 
the events as a ‘national catastrophe’ seems justified. The strong feeling of being 
wronged explains to a large extent the way Bulgarian governments dealt with the 
refugees: they were to help to undo the injustices that the nation had suffered, the 
more so as they were directly involved. 

5 According to Poulton (1995, p. 86), between 52,000 and 72,000 Slavs, depending on the source, 
emigrated from Greece to Bulgaria. Kofos (1964, p. 27) writes that only 42,000 Slav Macedonians 
left Greece between 1912 and 1926. According to figures produced by the League of Nations, 
quoted by Lithoxoou (1992, p. 60), no fewer than 66,132 Slavs emigrated to Bulgaria only as a 
result of the Convention (that means from 1920 onwards). 

6 The refugees were registered with the aim of obtaining a foreign loan and their number might 
therefore be inflated. Aleksandar Cankov, who was prime minister from 1 923 to 1 926 and must 
have been well informed, claims that ‘for propaganda reasons, the number of refugees was greatly 
exaggerated. Actually, their number was between 50,000 and 60,000’ (Cankov n.d., p. 321). How- 
ever, as he personally was not in favour of a foreign loan, and moreover his successor and rival 
Andrej Ljapcev was credited with having obtained the loan, Cankov probably deliberately under- 
estimated the numbers. 

3 Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies in Interwar Bulgaria 


3.3 Instrumentalizing the Refugees 

The Bulgarian authorities from the very beginning (that is, from the Second Bal- 
kan War onwards) ‘used’ their immigrants and refugees 7 in the same way as did 
the other Balkan nations — namely, to populate deserted or economically important 
areas, or to change the ethnic composition of the population of certain areas in or- 
der to create an overwhelming Bulgarian majority, especially in precarious border 
areas. Refugees from Eastern Thrace and Macedonia were particularly encouraged 
to settle in Western Thrace, where there was a considerable presence of Greeks, 
Turks, and Pomaks: the last, though Bulgarian-speaking, were also distrusted. As 
has already been mentioned, this settlement policy was successful, because refugees 
preferred to look for shelter in areas adjacent to those they were expelled from (an- 
ticipating an opportunity to return) and because there were plenty of houses, emp- 
tied by Greeks and Turks expelled by the Bulgarians. Here, the territorial interests 
of Bulgaria coincided with concern for the everyday necessities of the refugees. 
However, an additional reason for Bulgarian refugees to settle in Western Thrace 
seems to have been that in this newly-acquired area, the power of the corrupted 
Bulgarian administration was apparently less oppressive (Grebenarov 2006, p. 41). 

The refugees were also used as an argument for Bulgaria’s irredentist claims at 
the 1919-1920 Paris Peace Conference and later, at the ensuing conferences of San 
Remo and Lausanne in 1920 and 1923, respectively. Although Bulgaria belonged 
to the camp of the defeated and could harbour few illusions about the generosity of 
the victors, its ambitions were considerable: Bulgaria claimed not only the whole 
of Macedonia and Western Thrace, but also Eastern Thrace up to the line of Enez- 
Midye (Kosatev 1996, p. 62). The Ottoman Empire, which had not survived World 
War I, must have looked to the Bulgarians a defenceless prey. As long as no final 
decisions on new borders were made, the refugees were mobilized to support these 

Of course, the refugees were not only a tool in international politics, but also a 
heavy financial and social burden. Providing urgent humanitarian aid to the refu- 
gees required resources that Bulgaria did not possess; certainly it was unable to 
properly shelter the refugees and offer them jobs within a short span of time. Most 
refugees were poor, as they had been able to take with them only a small proportion 
of their belongings, and were in great need of aid. Most of them were peasants, but 
arable land was scarce in Bulgaria. While the Bulgarian authorities did their best 
to help the refugees, they did not hurry to settle them definitively, as this could 
have produced the impression that Bulgaria was prepared to accept the territorial 

7 Properly speaking, Bulgarians and Greeks who left their native lands for Bulgaria and Greece 
respectively, as a result of the Treaty of Neuilly, were not refugees but emigrants, as the popula- 
tion exchange was ‘voluntary’ in principle. Indeed, many Bulgarians did not leave, especially in 
Western Macedonia; similarly for many Greeks in the coastal cities in Bulgaria. Nevertheless, in 
most cases, emigration had a compulsory character, which justifies to some extent the use of the 
term ‘refugees’. However, we use the term here without the dramatizing and mythologizing con- 
notations that the words ‘ prosfiyes ’ and ‘ bezancV have in Greek and Bulgarian. 


R. Detrez 

curtailing and that the refugees would never return to their homes. Actually, the 
refugees themselves wished to return, and this would also have relieved the Bul- 
garian state budget and served the aim of continuing the presence of a Bulgarian 
population in the claimed territories. 

3.4 Refugees Serving State Interests 

Three main concerns — providing humanitarian aid to the refugees, securing their 
return to their native countries and contributing to the realization of the territo- 
rial ambitions — were dealt with by the post-war Bulgarian governments in close 
collaboration with the refugees’ organizations. The refugees from Macedonia and 
Eastern Thrace had already united in 1912 in ‘brotherhoods’ {brats tv a), organized 
on the basis of the places of origin of their members. These brotherhoods had elect- 
ed a common Executive Committee (EC), with Aleksandar Protogerov, the leader 
of the Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (IMRO), as chair. The EC 
wholeheartedly supported the policy of the Bulgarian government. After the Bul- 
garian invasion in the Serbian-annexed part of Macedonia in October 1915, the EC 
provided intelligence to the Bulgarian military. Members of the brotherhoods were 
offered important functions in the army and the civil administration in the occupied 
regions (Grebenarov 2006, p. 21). The brotherhoods themselves became superflu- 
ous as soon as the refugees were allowed to return to their native lands. 

One month after the defeat of Bulgaria at the Macedonian front, the brotherhoods 
were re-established. During their first meeting in mid-October 1918, they elected a 
delegation which was to present the concerns of the refugees to the Peace Confer- 
ence in Paris. (Such a delegation was not and would not be invited; it could only 
have informal meetings.) The standpoints that the delegation had to defend were 
also discussed. It was decided that the delegation would plead for the unification 
of Macedonia with Bulgaria and for preservation of Western Thrace as a part of the 
Bulgarian state. If this turned out to be unachievable (as it soon did), the delegation 
would demand preservation of the territorial integrity of Macedonia, as a protector- 
ate of the Entente Powers or the League of Nations (Grebenarov 2006, pp. 22-46). 
In the very worst case, the delegation would beg for continuation of the mandate of 
the Entente Forces in Western Thrace, with strong guarantees that the area would be 
transferred neither to Greece nor to Turkey (Kosatev 1996, pp. 82-83). 

The constituent conference of the Union of Macedonian Brotherhoods (UMB), 
which was to elect a new EC, on 22 November 1918, is illustrative of the way the 
organization and the Bulgarian state cooperated. The chair of the former EC, Pro- 
togerov, was not a candidate for the chairmanship of the UMB. As the leader of the 
IMRO, he preferred to have his hands free to proceed to violent actions if necessary, 
without compromising the Bulgarian government, which tried hard to soften the 
standpoints of Athens and Belgrade (Grebenarov 2006, p. 27). 8 Palesutski believed 

8 In Serbia, Protogerov had been indicted as a war criminal, which rendered him an inappropriate 
representative of the Macedonian refugees at the Peace Conference in Paris. 

3 Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies in Interwar Bulgaria 


that ‘the quick creation of the EC immediately after the defeat at the southern Front 
in September 1918 was due to one single reason — the attempt of the Bulgarian 
state policy to link at any price the cause of the Bulgarian Macedonians with that of 
Bulgaria’ (Palesutski 1993, p. 12). The government obviously used the organization 
for its own aims. Although at the conference in October 1918 brotherhoods of all 
political tendencies were invited, the government was reluctant to cooperate with 
the so-called ‘Group of Serres’, consisting of supporters of the late Jane Sandanski, 
which was quite influential in Serres, Thessaloniki, and Strumica. The ‘Group of 
Serres’ was in favour of an independent multi-ethnic Macedonian state, organized 
as a federation after the Swiss model. It enjoyed the support of a considerable num- 
ber of refugees, but understandably the government, aiming at the annexation of 
Macedonia, was less enthusiastic. In addition, the group’s eagerness to resort to vio- 
lent action if the demands were not met, did not fit in with the cautious diplomacy 
of the government (Grebenarov 2006, pp. 25-26). 

In October 1918, the government also established a Commission for the Hous- 
ing, Feeding, and Distribution of the Refugees from Macedonia and the Region of 
the Morava River (eastern Serbia), answerable to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 
Emil Sprostranov, Secretary of the UMB, was elected chair of the Commission. 
However, the Commission apparently was responsible in the first place for the pay- 
ment of salaries to teachers and priests in Vardar Macedonia, and of agents sent out 
to gather information about cases of maltreatment of the local Bulgarian popula- 
tion and movements of the Entente armies. Again, the interests of the state seem to 
have weighed more than the fate of the refugees. In December 1918, a liquidation 
commission was founded, accountable to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the 
Ministry of Public Health Services. This commission offered immediate humanitar- 
ian aid to the refugees and helped them ‘return to their homes’ (Grebenarov 2006, 
pp. 33-34). However, since all these commissions and organizations (including the 
IMRO) worked closely together, obtaining urgent humanitarian aid — and eventually 
housing and arable land — greatly depended on whether the claimant supported the 
(radical) political standpoints of these organizations (Dragostinova 2006, p. 563). 

By the end of December 1918, a conference of the UMB approved of the func- 
tioning of the EC and proclaimed the UMB as the only body representing ‘the le- 
gal Macedonian cause in Bulgaria’ — an implicit refutation of the standpoint of the 
‘Group of Serres’. Discussing the position of the UMB vis-a-vis the Bulgarian gov- 
ernment, the conference gave total freedom to the leadership as far as fund-raising 
was concerned (Grebenarov 2006, pp. 34-35). As the Bulgarian state was the main 
sponsor of the UMB, the organization in practice soon became financially depen- 
dent on the government and was obliged to support state policy. One should keep in 
mind, however, that state policy greatly reflected Bulgarian public opinion insofar 
as the Bulgarian claims on Macedonia and Western Thrace were concerned. 

When it became obvious that the Paris Peace Conference was not inclined to 
meet the requests of the Bulgarian negotiators, the Bulgarian claims were adjusted. 
The government insisted on the incorporation of Macedonia and Western Thrace 
into Bulgaria, finally anchoring its last hope on the Fourteen Points of President 
Woodrow Wilson which proclaimed that state borders should be drawn as much as 


R. Detrez 

possible along lines of nationality. However, in early 1919 at a new meeting of the 
UMB, the incorporation of Macedonia into Bulgaria was no longer explicitly men- 
tioned; the ‘indivisibility’ ( nedelimost ) of Macedonia was instead emphasized. This 
compromise represented a move towards the standpoint of the ‘Group of Serres’, 
increasingly shared by the IMRO (Palesutski 1993, pp. 19-24). The idea of an au- 
tonomous Macedonia enjoyed growing popularity among the refugees, who were 
disappointed about the poor — if any — results achieved by the government and the 
EC of the UMB (Grebenarov 2006, p. 40). Incongruities between the government 
and the IMRO — with the UBM split in between — increased; this worsened as the 
IMRO drew closer to the communists, who were in favour of a federal solution to 
the national problems in the Balkans, with Macedonia as a separate federal unit. 
Their paths ultimately separated after the ‘unjust’ and ‘humiliating’ Treaty of Neuil- 
ly, which was entirely blamed on the government. 

As the Treaty Conference had postponed a final decision on Western Thrace, 
the Bulgarian government concentrated on re-including the area within the borders 
of the Bulgarian state. Prime Minister Teodor Todorov, the leader of the Bulgarian 
delegation to the peace conference, transmitted to Georges Clemenceau, its host, 
a petition with the signatures of 31,176 family heads from Western Thrace, who 
demanded in the name of 166,650 Bulgarians the right to return to their native land 
and to live a peaceful life ‘as Bulgarians’ (Kosatev 1996, p. 69). This would have 
been possible only if Western Thrace was not transferred to Greece or Turkey. In 
either of these cases, the Bulgarian population would have been forcibly expelled 
or ‘encouraged’ to leave through administrative harassment. The Bulgarians pro- 
ceeded the same way with the minorities on their own territory. Particularly ironical 
was the declaration of the representative of the Bulgarian Muslims in the Bulgarian 
parliament, Sefik bej Sefket Beev, who recommended that Western Thrace be as- 
signed to Bulgaria since ‘currently, in Greece, there was no one left of the hundreds 
of thousands of Muslims who used to live within the old borders of the kingdom’ 
(Kosatev 1996, p. 68). In 1913, Bulgaria itself had expelled most of its Turkish 
population and launched a campaign to forcibly convert the Bulgarian (speaking) 
Muslims (Pomaks) to Christianity ( Report 1914, pp. 155-158). But the Bulgarian 
efforts were to no avail. The Entente Forces, which were in charge of administrating 
Western Thrace, in 1920 entrusted this task to Greek officials, who pressured the 
Bulgarians to leave. 

3.5 The Last Options: Minority Rights 

Finally, Bulgaria could do no more than insist on minority rights for those Bulgar- 
ians who had remained, and press for fair financial compensation for the property 
the refugees had lost. Here, too, Bulgaria failed. Minority rights were not respected 
in Greece or in Yugoslavia. Greece preferred the Bulgarians to leave the country 
and was not prepared to offer them rights which would only encourage them to stay. 
Moreover, it needed the emptied houses and abandoned lands to shelter and feed 

3 Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies in Interwar Bulgaria 


the Greek refugees from Asia Minor. Greece even put pressure on the Greeks in 
Bulgaria to settle in Greece, not only to ‘save’ them for the Greek nation, but appar- 
ently also to avoid the bothersome demands of a reciprocal treatment of minorities 
(Dragostinova 2009, p. 192). Greece focused on building a Greek nation within the 
borders of the Greek state and in most cases seemed to reluctantly accept the loss 
of its ‘lost fatherlands’ ( chamenes patrides ), at least in Bulgaria and Turkey. What 
probably also played a role there was that Greece had no significant co-ethnic popu- 
lations living in the areas bordering Bulgaria who could support possible claims. 
The 1924 Kalfov-Politis Agreement, providing among other things for schooling in 
the native language — the local Slav dialect, to be sure, not standard Bulgarian — was 
cancelled after the Greek parliament refused to ratify it. This resulted ultimately 
in another massive emigration of Bulgarians and Greeks to Bulgaria and Greece, 

In 1923, the clauses on financial compensation for the refugees, provided in the 
Convention added to the Treaty of Neuilly, were extended to the property rights of 
the refugees from Eastern Thrace; however, the 1927 Mollov-Kafandaris Agree- 
ment on the practicalities, which resulted in a new, last wave of emigrants to Bul- 
garia, was extinguished in 193 1, when Greece discontinued the payments. The 1925 
Ankara Agreement between Bulgaria and Turkey stipulated that all Bulgarian es- 
tates on Turkish territory became the property of the Turkish state. 

Bulgaria’s insistence on its neighbours’ respecting Bulgarian minority rights was 
without a doubt inspired by the intention of ameliorating the living conditions of 
the minority. In addition, it could help to prevent Bulgaria from having to cope with 
the financial burden of even more immigrants. However, it was also part of an ir- 
redentist policy, as Bulgaria’s territorial claims were justified only as long as there 
was a Bulgarian population living there (Dragostinova 2009, pp. 186-187, 192). 
Emigrating to Bulgaria was considered an expression of Bulgarian consciousness; 
staying could also be such. 

3.6 Keeping the Torch Burning 

After the conclusion of the Treaty of Neuilly, attitudes towards refugees in Bulgaria 
somehow changed. Although the refugees continued to long for their lost native 
lands and Bulgaria did not accept the ‘dictate’ of Neuilly, Bulgarian governments 
adopted a more pragmatic approach to the problems. The Agrarian Union (AU) 
cabinets (1920-1923) under Aleksandar Stambolijski took a number of well-inten- 
tioned but rather chaotic measures to provide the refugees with arable land. The idea 
that the refugees were potential AU voters might have been behind these measures 
as well. After a coup d’etat ended the AU administration on 9 June 1923, the Na- 
tional Alliance cabinets under Aleksandar Cankov (1923-1926) and Andrej Ljapcev 
(1926-1931) continued this same policy. Moreover, Ljapcev succeeded in obtaining 
an international loan to cope with the financial problems that the influx of refugees 
had caused. In general, Bulgarian historians consider the refugees’ integration into 


R. Detrez 

Bulgarian society as a success story. To some extent it was, given the enormous 
political, economic, and social problems that Bulgaria faced even without the refu- 
gees. The usual explanation is the patriotic satisfaction that the refugees experi- 
enced living in their own nation state and enjoying the hospitality of their fellow 
citizens (see, e.g., Dimitrov 1985). Dragostinova’s (2009, pp. 198-202) assessment 
is more down-to-earth. Many Bulgarians — and, for that matter, Greeks — preferred 
to stay in their native lands and preserve their houses and fields without prioritizing 
their ‘national identity’. Their new environments often regarded them as a threat. 
The image of the refugees grateful to settle in their ‘own fatherland’ and being 
brotherly welcomed by their co-nationals can be found in official discourses, but is 
in fact a nationalistic reduction of the many painful and contradictory emotions in- 
evitably involved in compelled emigration. Briefly, the settlement of the Bulgarian 
refugees in Bulgaria caused the same problems as Karakasidou (1997) describes in 
her account of the fate of the Greek refugees from Asia Minor in Macedonia. 

After Neuilly, Bulgaria attempted to normalize its relations with neighbouring 
states. This was cumbersome and risky, as the IMRO had resumed not only its ter- 
rorist actions in Greek and Yugoslav Macedonia, but also its assaults on Bulgarian 
politicians who displayed insufficient determination concerning the ‘Macedonian 
question’. In June 1923, Stambolijski was killed by an IMRO squad. As members 
of the IMRO occupied powerful positions in the organizations providing aid and 
distributing houses and land to the refugees, the latter had no choice but to support, 
at least verbally, the IMRO policy and exploits, although — as already noted — they 
were probably more interested in improvement of their everyday living conditions 
(Dragostinova 2006, p. 563). 

Stambolij ski’s successor, Cankov, who considered himself a nationalist and was 
thoroughly convinced of the righteousness of Bulgaria’s claims on Macedonia and 
Thrace, describes in his memoirs how he tried to convince the IMRO leaders that 
violence in the given circumstances was inappropriate: 

The Bulgarian people and the numerous Macedonian migrants in Sofia and the rest of 
Bulgaria could not help grieving about Macedonia, we could not forget her, the sufferings 
were immeasurable. But every reasonable man could understand that the old means of 
revolutionary struggle were not only outdated, but also dangerous. There was a common 
awareness that we should by no means provoke Yugoslavia, that means Serbia. From Mace- 
donia itself a cry was given out against the squads which somehow continued to cross the 
border: ‘Leave us alone; we are Bulgarians, but do not provoke the authorities lest they kill 
defenceless people’. (Cankov n.d., p. 308) 

However, the Bulgarian authorities did not try too hard to stop the activities of these 
squads, recruited mainly among the refugees. The IMRO was disbanded only in 
1934- with an ease which suggests that the Bulgarian state had indeed tolerated 
its activities (Dragostinova 2006, p. 556). The Bulgarian governments, acting very 
cautiously on the international scene, took very few measures to make the refugees 
accept their fate and stop dreaming about returning to their native lands. Obviously, 
this was intentional. Politicians almost overtly kept the torch of irredentism burn- 
ing. Bulgaria’s neighbours were well aware of this covert agitation (Dragostinova 
2009, p. 195). 

3 Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies in Interwar Bulgaria 


Dimitar Hadzidimov (1875-1924), member of the ‘Group of Serres’ who joined 
the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1919 and in 1924 became a member of parlia- 
ment, addressed the National Assembly as follows: 

A complete and final solution to the refugees question will be achieved only when there are 
no refugees any more, when all or at least a majority of them will have the opportunity to 
freely return to their liberated countries, when they stop to be outcasts, when they escape 
once for ever their outcasts’ fate. It should be proclaimed and emphasized here, that, how 
badly the refugees in Bulgaria may be in need of a livelihood, of housing, of land and of 
means to exercise their crafts, in their hearts and souls never extinguishes and never will 
extinguish the burning desire to return to their hearths and homes. This ideal of them rises 
above all other worries they have as refugees, that means, their hope and belief that tomor- 
row or after tomorrow freedom will glow above their enslaved country represents the most 
precious in their refugees’ souls. (Dimov 1924, pp. 9-10) 

As Dragostinova (2006, p. 562) remarks, ‘[t]he leaders pursued radical solutions to 
the national question, and as a result they framed the public debate in exclusively 
nationalist terms and served as brokers of nationalist ideology among the refugees 
and within broader society’. 

By the end of the 1930s, when the political situation in Europe seemed to of- 
fer new opportunities for an irredentist policy, the refugees were among the most 
ardent supporters of Bulgarian revisionism. In 1940, on the verge of the Bulgarian 
occupation — or liberation, depending on the point of view — of Western Thrace one 
year later, Anastas Razbojnikov concluded his brief monograph on the ‘de-Bulgar- 
ization of Western Thrace’ by summing up the various elements of Bulgarian irre- 
dentism — the suffering and heroism of the people, the transformation of the ethnic 
composition of the Thracian population, and the pursuit of the natural resources of 
the region — and predicting the imminent ‘liberation’ of the area by Bulgaria. Obvi- 
ously, none of the considerations or emotions of the immediate post- World War I 
period had faded: 

I know that many youngsters from Western Thrace, who have grown up now, will think that 
the sufferings they underwent during their childhood are described here only insipidly; they 
will remember their lost parents and maybe will discover themselves and their dear ones on 
one of the scarce preserved photographs. 

Of course, the sufferings and the expulsion of the Western Thracians deserve a more elabo- 
rated and complete investigation. Probably this will be done in the future. Maybe one of 
our writers will find in these sufferings — and in the displayed heroism — rich material for 
a precious work of art. 

During the administration of General Scharpe, the Bulgarian population having fled already 
in considerable numbers, Western Thrace became a scarcely populated area; there were 
hardly 24.4 people per square kilometre. And her resources are so abundant! 

How many people live now in Western Thrace? Where do they come from? We know very 
well that her current Christian population is foreign to her and she herself is also foreign to 
the Greeks from the Caucasus and Asia Minor who have settled there. 

For nearly twenty years a black veil has covered Western Thrace. The settlers there await 
foreigners... They have never slept quietly. Their eyes are constantly staring to the north, 
where the curtain will be left and her people will enter in their native land. Really, the end 
of the all-Bulgarian tragedy is near. (Razbojnikov 1998, pp. 129-130) 


R. Detrez 

3.7 Conclusion 

During, and in the aftermath of, the Balkan Wars and World War I (that is, 1912— 
1927), Bulgaria’s handling of its refugees and immigrants originating from neigh- 
bouring countries was essentially no different from the way Greece dealt with its 
refugees from Bulgaria and Turkey. First of all, they were considered to be martyrs 
for the cause of the nation and were cared for insofar as the difficult economic and 
social circumstances allowed. At the same time, they were involved in the ambi- 
tious project of building an ethno- culturally homogeneous nation. With their pres- 
ence, they populated depopulated areas, homogenized ethnically mixed areas and 
served as a labour force. Bulgaria, though, pursued yet another policy. 

Bulgaria was defeated twice. At the end of the Balkan Wars, it acquired much 
less territory than it had claimed; after World War I, instead of undoing what 
it considered to be an injustice, it had to cede parts of its already ‘incomplete’ 
territory to Greece and Yugoslavia. These two defeats and their unhappy conse- 
quences rendered Bulgaria a deeply frustrated country, eager to revise the ‘dic- 
tates’ that had been imposed on it. During the peace negotiations in Paris, Bul- 
garia ‘used’ the refugees to support its claims to the lost territories (Macedonia, 
Eastern Thrace) and to prevent the secession of areas claimed by its neighbours 
(mainly Western Thrace). It insisted on the return of the refugees — that was what 
the refugees themselves wished as well — or the right of the Bulgarian minorities 
to remain in their native lands. These demands, though supported by humanitar- 
ian considerations, equally served irredentist goals: a return of the refugees would 
increase the number of Bulgarians and actually justify the territorial claims. For 
that same reason, they were totally unrealistic. The refugees’ organizations, ini- 
tially created with the aim of providing humanitarian aid, were brought into play 
to defend the Bulgarian territorial claims abroad, although many refugees, appar- 
ently, were satisfied with solutions that enabled them to save their property rather 
than their national identity. Only when the territorial ambitions finally turned out 
to be unrealizable were measures taken to settle the refugees on a permanent basis 
and to provide them with housing and land. Subsequently, however, despite most 
Bulgarian governments’ pragmatic foreign policy, aimed at normalizing relations 
with neighbouring countries, political leaders (often in opposition to the govern- 
ment) exploited the refugees’ understandable frustrations to sustain a revanchist 
and revisionist mood among them and in Bulgarian society in general. By the end 
of the 1930s, when the political circumstances in Europe had radically changed 
as a result of the ascent of Nazi Germany, the Bulgarians were still hoping for a 
new chance to regain the claimed territories and for the refugees — or their chil- 
dren — to resettle in their lost homelands. However, many of them were to become 
refugees yet again — after World War II. 

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 
Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in 
any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. 

3 Refugees as Tools of Irredentist Policies in Interwar Bulgaria 



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R. Detrez 

Raymond Detrez is professor emeritus of Eastern European history at Ghent University, Bel- 
gium. His field of research is Balkan history in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Two 
of his recent publications are ‘Pre-national identities in the Balkans’, In: R. Daskalov & Teh. 
Marinov (eds.), Entangled histories of the Balkans , Leiden: Brill, 2013, pp. 13-66 and The AtoZ 
of Bulgaria. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, 2010 (paperback edition of the Historical dictionary 
of Bulgaria , Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, 2006). A third edition of the Historical dictionary of 
Bulgaria appeared in January 2015. 

Chapter 4 

Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and 
Identity Construction: The Case of Thracian 
Refugees in Bulgaria 

Nikolai Vukov 

Alongside the dismantling of the communist system of public commemorations, 
the period after 1989 in Bulgaria was marked by an upsurge in commemorative 
initiatives dedicated to the history of Bulgarian people who had resettled from East- 
ern and Western Thrace 1 a century earlier. Soon after the restoration of the Union 
of Thracian Associations in 1 990 and the revived functioning of around 200 of 
its branches, commemorative and monument-building activities began to mark the 
history of the Bulgarian population that came from these areas. The former tradi- 
tion of celebrating special days in Thracian history was taken up anew and gained 
enormous popularity, particularly in relation to anniversaries of the 1903 Ilinden 
Uprising, the commemoration of major figures of the ‘Thracian movement’ 2 and 

1 The terms for different parts of Thrace vary in the national historiographies and the public dis- 
course of the three nation states in this area. Geographically, Thrace stretches between the central 
and eastern part of the Balkan mountain range to the north; the Mesta (Nestos) River to the west; 
the Black Sea to the east; and the Marmara and Aegean Seas to the south. The division between 
northern and southern Thrace generally identifies the upper part of the Thracian plain along the 
flow of the Marica (Evros, Merig) River before Edime, and the lower part — the area that stretches 
from this point below to the Aegean and Marmara Seas. Politically, the northern part falls within 
Bulgarian state territory, whilst the southern part is divided between Greece and Turkey along the 
water border of Marica River. The present-day Turkish part of Thrace is known as Eastern (Edime 
or Turkish) Thrace, and the part within the territory of northern Greece — Western (Aegean or 
Greek) Thrace. 

2 The latter is understood in Bulgarian historiography as an organized movement since the late 
nineteenth century for the liberation of Thrace lands from Ottoman and Greek rule and for integrat- 
ing the entire Thracian area into the Bulgarian state following the Berlin Congress of 1878. After 
the end of World War I, the Thracian movement was associated mainly with the fate of the refugees 
from Thrace and with territorial and property issues surrounding their expulsion, financial com- 
pensations and attempts to return. The movement has been increasingly linked with the activities 
of the so-called Thracian associations (local institutions of Thracian refugees in most Bulgarian 

N. Vukov (E3) 

Ethnographic Museum, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgaria 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 63 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 4 


N. Vukov 

celebration of the Day of Thrace (26 March — the day Bulgarians captured Edime 
Fortress in 1913). That last has been celebrated as a national holiday since 2006. 
Focusing mostly on the tragic events during the Second Balkan War, when Bulgar- 
ians from Eastern and Western Thrace were massacred or expelled by Ottoman 
troops, these commemorative events also relate to many other occasions of resettle- 
ment coerced by Ottoman and Greek authorities before the Balkan Wars and in the 
interwar period. These sober ceremonies and monument-building initiatives were 
paralleled by many other initiatives, including organized tours of Thracian descen- 
dants to the lands of their forebears, reconstruction of Bulgarian traces in Eastern 
and Western Thrace and trips by school and folklore groups to Turkey and Greece 
on national and religious holidays. All these reflect efforts of Thracian descendants 
to demonstrate the inexhaustible memory of the traumatic events at the beginning 
of the twentieth century, to affirm their identity as a ‘community’ through the idea 
of a shared trauma and its overcoming, and to reassert the symbolic connection of 
individuals and groups to the lost lands of their ancestors. 

This chapter * * 3 traces the gradual formation of this community of refugees and 
their descendants — as has resulted from several major instances of border reshap- 
ing, the resettlement of huge masses of people and traumatic events conveyed 
through generations which still resonate in the memory of the ‘Thracian Bulgar- 
ians’. 4 The chapter outlines major aspects of the collective identity of this com- 
munity. These are related, for example, to a sense of common fate during and af- 
ter expulsion, the community’s distinctiveness from both the local population and 
other refugee groups in Bulgaria, and their shared awareness of unresolved issues 
around their status as refugees. Unlike the customary perspective of viewing Thra- 
cian refugees in Bulgarian historiography (mostly regarding them as a coherent 
group with explicit ethno-national characteristics), 5 the emergence of this collective 

towns) and with the cause of preserving the memory of the traumatic experience of the Bulgarian 

population from Eastern and Western Thrace. 

3 The research on the topic started within the framework of the project ‘Resettlers and Migrants on 
the Two Sides of the Bulgarian-Turkish Border: Heritage, Identity, Cultural Interactions,’ funded 
by the Bulgarian National Science Fund (2009-2012). See 

4 The term ‘Thracian Bulgarians’ is commonly used in Bulgarian public discourse to identify Bul- 
garians who were refugees from parts of Thrace that remained outside Bulgarian state territory. 
Whereas only Bulgarians who were expelled from their places of birth in 1913 gained the status 
of ‘refugees’, the term was established as a general one that encompassed Bulgarians originat- 
ing from Eastern or Western Thrace who moved to Bulgaria as a result of persecution, forceful 
expulsion, negotiations about population exchange or family choice of resettling. Although, in the 
Bulgarian language, the modifier ‘Thracian’ is used in a variety of contexts to include northern 
Thrace as well (e.g., Thracian music, Thracian culture, etc.), the term ‘Thracian Bulgarians’ is 
used exclusively for the Bulgarian population from Eastern and Western Thrace who resettled into 
Bulgarian state territory. 

5 The Bulgarian literature on Thracian Bulgarians and demographic processes in Thrace is ex- 
tensive. For a historiographic overview of Bulgarian literature until the 1970s on the ethno-de- 
mographic aspects of the Thracian issue, see Trifonov (1976). For the most recent publications 
with overviews of existing literature, see Filcev (2007), Rajcevski (1994), Trifonov (1992). For a 
critical stance toward the interpretation of such population groups within ‘national’ frameworks, 
see the work of Theodora Dragostinova (2006, 2011) on the challenges of national inclusion of 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


identity will be understood, rather, as a continuous process that was triggered by 
historical events and territorial replacements; that was moderated by international 
agreements, state institutions, and refugee organizations; and that was catalysed by 
memories of the forceful expulsion and its aftermath. With the background of an 
abundant literature on shifting borders, forced population movements and chang- 
ing loyalties to different nation states in eastern-central and south-eastern Europe 
during the twentieth century (Ballinger 2003; Naimark 2001; Skran 1995; Ther and 
Siljak 2001), the chapter addresses the specific case of the Thracian refugees in 
Bulgaria — a community shaped by traumatic experiences of expulsion and by a 
continuous split between the new destination of residence and the nurtured hope of 
returning some day. 

With the purpose of better clarifying the multifaceted experiences encountered 
by Bulgarian refugees from the Thracian area, the chapter outlines the major factors 
that have contributed to the emergence of the ‘Thracian community’ in Bulgaria. 
Special attention is given to the waves of refugees that fled to Bulgaria after the 
onset of the Balkan Wars, the forceful expulsion of Thracian Bulgarians by Ottoman 
troops in 1913 and the exodus of the Bulgarian population from Western Thrace af- 
ter World War I. The negotiations with neighbouring states about the refugee issues 
and the several agreements that sought to solve the refugees’ problems are regarded 
as yet another factor in the consolidation of this community. A separate section is 
dedicated to the difficulties of accommodating Thracian refugees in Bulgaria, the 
attempts of these refugees at adaptation to their host environment, and their constant 
looking back to their ancestral lands, which remained across the border. In this situ- 
ation, the preservation of a collective identity encompassing Thracian refugees of 
different waves and different parts of Thrace seemed crucial. The Thracian associa- 
tions that were developed at the end of the nineteenth century played a significant 
role here. Finally, the chapter sheds light on the upsurge of identity expression of 
Thracian Bulgarians after communist rule. Based on the author’s observations of 
commemorative occasions and cultural events held by this community in various 
parts of the country, this section emphasizes the importance of historical memory 
for the collective identity of Thracian refugees in Bulgaria and the transfer of this 
symbolic resource to the generations of Thracian descendants. 

4.1 Population Movements and the Bulgarian Population 
in Thrace Since the Late Nineteenth Century 

With the gradual dissolution of the Ottoman Empire in the second half of the nine- 
teenth century, Thrace became the stake of numerous conflicts between the states 
that emerged across this territory. The area had already been partitioned at the 

Bulgarian refugees in the interwar period. On nationhood and nationalism, and how it influenced 
the interpretation of national minorities in Eastern Europe and the Balkans, see Brubaker (1996), 
Cowan (2008), Karakasidou (1997), Kitromilides (1989), Sugar (1995). 


N. Vukov 

Berlin Congress in 1878, when the northern part fell within the semi-autonomous 
district of Eastern Rumelia (which was united with the Principality of Bulgaria in 
1885), whereas the southern part (nowadays divided between Turkey and Greece) 
remained under Ottoman rule. The provisions of the Berlin Congress marked the 
beginning of the organized movement of Bulgarians in this region for the liberation 
of Thrace from Ottoman domination and its incorporation within the Bulgarian 
state, whilst similar initiatives were pursued by the Greek population for integra- 
tion of this territory into Greece. Mass migration movements and resettlements of 
population started at the beginning of the twentieth century, when the area became 
a focus of political debates and diplomatic negotiations, resulting in geographical 
redrawing and frontier reshaping. Without intending to provide a comprehensive 
historical overview here, it is important to note that the Treaty of London of May 
1913 put an end to the first Balkan War and conferred to the allies all of Thrace, 
most of which went to Bulgaria; with the Treaty of Constantinople after the Sec- 
ond Balkan War the Ottoman Empire regained all of Eastern Thrace, while Bul- 
garia kept Western Thrace; and with the Neuilly Treaty after World War I, Western 
Thrace was proclaimed a mandate territory of the Entente and was occupied by 
French forces. This last episode was followed by the conference in San Remo in 
April 1920 (which ceded Western Thrace to Greece), the Sevres Treaty of that 
same year (by which Greece gained a large portion of Eastern Thrace as well) 
and the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 (which transferred this portion back to Turkey). 
Later, after the crushing of Yugoslavia and Greece by Nazi Germany in April 1941, 
most of Western Thrace was occupied by Germany’s ally Bulgaria with the purpose 
of ‘regaining lost territories’. This continued until the autumn of 1944, when the 
Bulgarian troops withdrew from Western Thrace and, with the armistice signed by 
Bulgaria on 28 October 1944, the boundaries that were once settled at Lausanne 
were reaffirmed. 

All of these shifts in the partitioning of Thrace and in state rule of the area re- 
sulted in altered configurations of minority and majority groups and created a pul- 
sation of migration flows in various directions: of Muslims and Christians to states 
with prevailing Muslim or Christian religious identities; of Bulgarians, Greeks, and 
Turks to their respective nation states; and of Armenians, Jews, and Roma in cir- 
cumstances of exasperated nationalistic hatred. In most cases, population move- 
ments were carried out forcibly, under conditions of territorial occupation (whether 
Greek, Turkish, or Bulgarian), and were accompanied by enormous human losses. 
Cases of ethnic cleansing or related policies of cultural homogenization were as- 
sociated with almost all of the border shifts that took place. The narrative of uniting 
‘national’ groups in separate nation states was reflected both in state policies and in 
administrations to assimilate or expel different minority groups, and on behalf of 
minority groups themselves which (after persecutions and threats of assimilation) 
moved back and forth to join their ‘mother nations’. In parallel with the groups 
leaving, waves of refugees were coming into these states, seeking to find their place 
within new administrative, economic, and cultural systems. 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


Affecting all the different ethnic and religious groups in the area, 6 the popula- 
tion movements and refugee waves were particularly important for the Bulgarian 
population, which — despite the varying data and ambiguous statistics — held a sub- 
stantial (and, in many respects, even prevailing) presence in the late nineteenth and 
early twentieth century. 7 Carl Sax’s ethnographic map of European Turkey in 1877 
(see Appendix) provides a comprehensive illustration of the variety and intercon- 
nectedness of the different ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups of the peninsula. 
In the wake of the Balkan Wars in Eastern and Western Thrace, the overall popu- 
lation (without those who lived in Istanbul) was around one million people, with 
approximately equal shares of Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish representation. The 
number of Bulgarians — 298,720, according to data provided by Miletic (1918) — 
consisted predominantly of Orthodox Christians, but included Muslims as well. 8 
Substantial changes in the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural representation in the area 
had already started after the Russian-Ottoman War of 1877-1878, when — with the 
march of Russian troops — thousands of Muslims were murdered or forcibly ex- 
pelled from what would soon become Bulgarian state territory. 9 Although some 
of these Muslims proceeded onward to Asia Minor, many settled in Thrace, which 

6 The data in Bulgarian, Greek, and Turkish sources about the ethnic and confessional charac- 
teristics of the population in Thrace vary and are often contradictory, largely due to the different 
principles of estimating the religious and national communities on which the sources relied. Here, 
I do not discuss this issue in detail, outlining instead the problem from the perspective of the Bul- 
garian historiogragraphy. For a detailed overview of the Bulgarian sources, see Trifonov (1992, 
pp. 15-18). 

7 Aside from the numerous accounts by scholars, diplomats, and travellers in the Balkans (E. 
Celebi, A. Boue, A. Dozon, L. Niderle, etc.), a strong claim in this respect was made by various 
villayet censuses, decrees, and political documents of the late nineteenth century, e.g., the Otto- 
man decree of 1870 and the Istanbul Ambassadors’ Conference of December 1876. In 1878, the 
French newspaper Courier d’ Orient, issued in Istanbul, reported the following composition of the 
population in Thrace area: Muslims — 190,568; Bulgarians — 372,476; Greeks — 147,984. The data 
specified also the presence of 13,710 Jews, 10,440 Armenians, and 2880 ‘other’ ethnic groups in 
the area (see Siskov 1922, p. 107). These data, as most sources about the composition of popula- 
tion in the area at the time, are also marked by limitations, e.g., the lack of clear identification of 
the applied criteria and the grounding of such classification on exclusively ‘ethnic’ basis. Illustra- 
tive points in this regard are the cases of the so-called Patriarchists (who are classified as either 
Greek or Bulgarian) and the Pomaks (who are also viewed as coming from Greek, Bulgarian, or 
Ottoman and Turkish origins). 

8 The Christians belonged either to the Bulgarian Exarchate or to the Constantinople Patriarchate, 
which until the first decade of the twentieth century included around 25,000 Bulgarians from the 
Edime area. Apart from that, there were also 1700 Bulgarian Uniates in the area (Miletic 1918, 
pp. 291-300; Stojanova 2012, pp. 15-16). 

9 The issue of the Muslim civilian casualties and refugees as a result of this war is heavily disputed. 
According to the detailed account by Crampton (1990), their number was around 130,000. Around 
75,000 and 80,000 of the Muslims returned after the end of the war, and only in the mid- 1880s 
started leaving after offers from the Ottoman government of free land in Thrace or Asia Minor 
(Crampton 2007, p. 426). On Muslim refugees and official policies towards the Muslim minorities 
in Bulgaria, see also Karpat (1990) and Neuburger (2004). 


N. Vukov 

after the Berlin Congress was divided between Eastern Rumelia and the Ottoman 
Empire. This resettlement was paralleled by the mass migration of Bulgarian popu- 
lations from Asia Minor and the easternmost territories of the Balkan peninsula to 
the north — mainly to Eastern Rumelia and the Principality of Bulgaria. 10 Most of 
these migrants settled in areas near the border, waiting for a possibility to return to 
their native lands. In parallel, organized activities against Ottoman rule in the area 
also increased, reaching their peak with the notorious Ilinden Uprising, which broke 
out in Macedonia and Thrace in the summer of 1903. Ottoman forces violently sup- 
pressed the uprising, leaving dozens of villages devastated and 2500 people killed 
in Thrace (Filcev 1999, p. 37). This was followed by a mass wave of more than 
30,000 refugees from the areas of Macedonia and Thrace to Bulgaria. Half of these 
refugees came from Eastern Thrace (Dimitrov 1985, p. 14). 

After a wave of population movements and resettlements in the area (including 
the flight of Greeks from Bulgaria, Thrace, and Eastern Rumelia to Greek territo- 
ries), the Balkan Wars and their aftermath brought new waves of Bulgarian refugees 
from Thrace. The victories of the Bulgarian army in the First Balkan War and the 
inclusion of a large part of Eastern and Western Thrace in Bulgaria after the London 
Treaty of May 1913 were chilled, however, by Bulgaria’s involvement in a second 
war for a redistribution of the territories between the previous allies. The country’s 
catastrophic defeat in this war led to mass migration of Bulgarian populations from 
Thrace, Macedonia, Dobrudza, and the western borderlands with Serbia — and the 
consequent withering of the Bulgarian component in these areas. Among the most 
notorious cases were the massacres and forced expulsion of Bulgarians by the Ot- 
toman army in the summer of 1913, when it reoccupied the entirety of Eastern 
Thrace, also crossing westwards and into the pre-war frontier with Bulgaria. Doz- 
ens of Bulgarian villages were burned and hundreds of people killed or captured and 
sent to Anatolia. * 11 According to the Carnegie Report (Carnegie 1914, pp. 123-135), 
50,000-60,000 Thracian Bulgarians were murdered, which was around 20% of the 
Bulgarian population in Thrace at that time. Most of the villages with a Bulgarian 
population were destroyed and the survivors expelled from their places of origin. 
Fleeing to Bulgarian state territory, thousands of people (mainly women, children, 
and the elderly) found their death in massacres, such as those along the Marica Riv- 
er, in the Armaganska Valley and in the villages of Yatadzik and Avren. A detailed 
account of the devastation of Bulgarian communities in Thrace was systematically 
recorded in Miletic (1918), The Destruction of Thracian Bulgarians in 1913. The 
stories of survivors of these tragic events fill historical and memoir publications, 

10 In 1879, the overall number of refugees from Eastern Thrace alone was around 30,000, with 
23,000 coming from the region of £orlu. According to the census of 1880, just in Eastern Rumelia, 
17,970 refugees settled from Eastern and Western Thrace; around the same number of refugees 
arrived in the Principality of Bulgaria, settling mostly in the Varna region (Dimitrov 1985, p. 13; 
Genadiev 1998; Siskov 1922, p. 79). 

11 Concerning the destroyed villages in Eastern Thrace, the refugees and their descendants, see 
Brajanov (1965), Razbojnikov (1930), and Sivacev (2008). For detailed lists of the ruined Bulgar- 
ian villages in Dimotiki, Alexandroupolis, Komotini regions, see Porjazov (2009), Razbojnikov 
(1940), and Salapatov (2009). 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


forming a corpus of narrative references that recur in commemorative ceremonies 
of Thracian Bulgarians to this day. The refugee wave also continued in the months 
after the signing of the Constantinople Peace Treaty in September 1913, numbering 
some 15,000 people only in October of that year (see Trifonov 1985). 12 

The incorporation of Western Thrace into Bulgaria after the end of the Second 
Balkan War permitted the Bulgarian refugees from this area to return to their na- 
tive places, albeit only for a short period. With the end of the Great War, in which 
Bulgaria was among the defeated nations, Western Thrace was occupied by Allied 
troops, which was followed in 1920 by the ceding of all Thrace to Greece and by 
another wave of refugees to Bulgaria. Later, the war between Greece and Turkey in 
1918-1922 and the defeat of Greece in Asia Minor posed a new challenge for the 
Bulgarians living in Western Thrace, as they stirred attempts by Greek authorities to 
make them leave and to have refugees from Asia Minor settled in their place. This 
was largely facilitated by the Convention for Voluntary and Reciprocal Emigra- 
tion of Minorities, signed by Bulgaria and Greece in November 1919 and imple- 
mented by a mixed commission from 1 926 to 1931. Permitting the voluntary and 
reciprocal emigration of racial, religious, and linguistic minorities in Bulgaria and 
Greece, and aiming to regulate property questions for people choosing to resettle, 
the Convention was regarded by the Bulgarian public as enabling the destruction 
of the Bulgarian presence in Western Thrace (Ajanov 1942; Razbojnikov 1940; 
Razbojnikov and Razbojnikov 1999). Although peaceful, it effectively led to the 
large-scale resettlement of both Bulgarians and Greeks 13 and created a new set of 
refugee issues related to accommodating people in their new locations and ensuring 
compensation for their immoveable properties. Well aware of the problems that a 
substantial Bulgarian population would cause for the integration of Western Thrace 
into the Kingdom of Greece, Greek authorities pressured entire villages to leave for 
Bulgaria (as Bulgarian authorities also did to many Greeks at that time). On many 
occasions, they hardly allowed the liquidation of their property, thus dooming them 
to economic disaster. 14 Therefore, alongside the unresolved issue of the refugees 
after the Balkan Wars and World War I, the Bulgarian governments in the interwar 

12 Parallel with that, according to Turkish sources, 6822 Turkish families left former Ottoman 
territories that were incorporated within Bulgaria, and they settled in Eastern Thrace (Stojanova 
2012, p. 16). In the spring of 1914, around 10,000-12,000 Bulgarians from the £atalca area near 
Istanbul were also forced to resettle (Stoyanova 2012: 16, Trifonov 1985: 185-203). 

13 A systematic account of the application of the Convention is provided by Theodora Dragosti- 
nova (2009, p. 186). It encompassed 1011 localities: 251 in Bulgaria, 501 in Greek (mainly Ae- 
gean) Macedonia, and 259 in Greek (Western) Thrace; a total of 101,800 Bulgarians and 52,891 
Greeks submitted declarations for emigration and property liquidation; close to 40,000 on both 
sides emigrated but did not avail themselves of the mixed commission. Finally, some 140,000 
Bulgarians and 12,000 Greeks remained in their places of birth as minorities. For the application 
of the Convention in the interwar period, see Dimitrov (1982), Dragostinova (2008), Ladas (1932), 
and Penkov (1946). 

14 The overall number of Bulgarian refugees from Western Thrace and Aegean Macedonia in 
1924-1925 was 48,680 (Dragostinova 2006, p. 553). 


N. Vukov 

period had to find solutions for support, accommodation, and future compensation 
of this refugee wave as well. 15 

For the refugees from Eastern Thrace, who were prevented from returning to 
their places of origin, the major issue was still the compensation for the properties 
that they had left behind. The question was posed many times in the first half of 
the twentieth century, but it was systematically suspended and has remained practi- 
cally unresolved to this day. During World War I, the Ottoman authorities clearly 
stated that it was not necessary for Bulgarians to return to their lands and that the 
empire would accept the possibility of compensating them for their properties. At 
the end of the war, however, the issue was delayed due to the onset of the Greco- 
Turkish War of 1919-1922. The withdrawal of the Greek occupation forces from 
Eastern Thrace at the end of the war was seen by Thracian refugees as the last 
hope of returning to their native places. However, Turkish authorities refused to 
allow the return of Bulgarian refugees and, actually, even those families that had 
already taken the risk of coming back were pressed to leave. Bulgarian schools and 
churches were destroyed or closed, and on former Bulgarian and Greek properties, 
the Turkish state settled its own refugees (Turks, Albanians, and people from Bos- 
nia). Finally, after long negotiations, in 1925 the Ankara Agreement was signed, 
which was supposed to regulate the payment of compensation to Bulgarians from 
Eastern Thrace and Asia Minor for the properties that they had left behind in the 
expulsions between 1912 and 1925 (see Ladas 1932; Kumanov 1971; Peeva 2006; 
Popnikolov 1928). This agreement excluded the possibility of resettlement, but ac- 
cepted the refugees’ rights to the properties left behind. In 1927, many documents 
were collected in Bulgaria for enforcement of the procedure. However, in contrast 
to the Mollov-Kafandaris Agreement between Bulgaria and Greece in 1927, when 
compensations were organized within a short period, for the refugees in Eastern 
Thrace this issue remained an open one. Whilst in the 1940s the economic situ- 
ation in Turkey was difficult enough to undertake such a step, after World War II 
the two states belonged to different ideological blocs and the communist govern- 
ment in Bulgaria considered it unacceptable to ‘ask’ for financial compensation 
from a capitalist state. It was only after the end of communist rule that the issue of 
compensating refugees from Eastern Thrace was posed anew, triggering various 
political initiatives and contributing to the enhancement of memorial practices by 
Thracian descendants. 

15 Later on, after the crushing of Yugoslavia and Greece by Nazi Germany in April 1941, most 
of Western Thrace was under the occupation of Bulgaria and there was a possibility for Thracian 
refugees to resettle back to their native places in Greece. This situation continued, however, until 
the autumn of 1944, when after the withdrawal of the Bulgarian troops from Western Thrace, this 
population moved back to Bulgaria again. 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


4.2 Accommodation, Adaptation, and Identity 
Construction of Thracian Refugees 

The waves of refugees from Thracian territories over the course of several decades 
posed significant challenges to the Bulgarian state for their settlement, economic 
support, and social adjustment. 16 In the first years after 1878, as well as after the 
Ilinden Uprising (1903), the difficulties comprised mainly the weak economic and 
administrative capacity of the state to provide adequate support, as well as the con- 
tinued hope that the resettlement was temporary, at least until a new redistribution 
of Ottoman territories in South-Eastern Europe. The forcible expulsion of the Bul- 
garian population from Thrace in 1913 was particularly dramatic — not only because 
of the scale of the refugee wave but also since it occurred in the context of mass 
migration from other territories (Macedonia, Dobrudza, Greece, and the western 
borderlands) to Bulgaria. 17 The number of refugees after the wars amounted to more 
than 5 % of the population in Bulgaria at the time, 18 and this created enormous dif- 
ficulties in providing them with land, housing, and a basic means of subsistence. In 
the years between the Great War and the mid- 1930s, the Bulgarian state introduced 
several laws and regulations for the accommodation of refugees, 19 founded several 
institutions with regional departments, secured separate financial means, and took 
a large external loan — all aimed at a solution to the refugee problem. The first step 
in the integration of Thracian refugees in Bulgaria concerned their reception and 
distribution for settlement in the country. They were distributed predominantly in 
the east, in the regions of Burgas, Yambol, Sliven, Varna, and Sumen, but in fact all 
parts of the country hosted groups of refugees from this area. 20 The flow of refugees 
continued in the following years, complemented by refugees from Western Thrace. 

16 For details of the social and economic difficulties with the accommodation of refugees after 
World War I in Bulgaria, see Dimitrov (1985) and Genov (1935). 

17 The mass groups of migrants and refugees in that period were complemented by Russians who 
came to Bulgaria after the October Revolution and by the Armenian population from the Ottoman 

18 For a detailed systematization and insightful interpretation of the refugee issues in interwar Bul- 
garia, see Dragostinova (2006). The officially recognized refugees (i.e., people who arrived in Bul- 
garia between October 1912 and December 1926) included 55,940 families with a total of 253,067 
members. There were also many people who resettled but did not acquire legal refugee status. The 
overall estimate of refugees is about 280,000, which was 5 % of the Bulgarian inhabitants in 1926. 
Around 48 % of these people came from Greece (Aegean Macedonia and Western Thrace), 25 % 
from the Ottoman Empire (Eastern Thrace), 12.5 % were bom in what became Yugoslavia (Vardar 
Macedonia and the West Ends in Serbia), 11 % were from Romania (Southern Dobrudza), and 3 % 
arrived from Asia Minor (ibid., p. 553). 

19 Among those are the Law of Housing Crisis (1919), the Law for Settling of Refugees and Secur- 
ing their Means of Living (1920), the Law of Agricultural Settling of Refugees (1925), the Law of 
Agricultural Settling of Refugees through the Loan Received from the League of Nations (1926), 
and the Regulation-Law for Easing the Refugee Situation (1937). 

20 In the Burgas region around 48,332 people stayed; Sofia — 35,446, Petrie — 34,900; Has- 
kovo — 22,346; Plovdiv — 19,729; Momcilgrad — 14,103; Vama — 11,908; Stara Zagora — 9311, 
Sumen — 6218; and in the regions of Vidin, Vratsa, Veliko Tarnovo, Kjustendil, and Smoljan — 


N. Vukov 

According to information from the Bulgarian Directorate of Refugees, until 193 1, in 
the Burgas region alone (the most immediate destination for refugees from Eastern 
Thrace), 12,155 families were settled — 9837 from Eastern and 2318 from Western 
Thrace. They were distributed across 73 villages, and their numbers totalled more 
than 60,000, two thirds of which were from Eastern Thrace. 21 

The conditions in which these refugees lived were extremely poor, and a sub- 
stantial part of this population died of hunger, poverty, and disease. Having left 
behind fertile land, cattle, and housing, they were entirely dependent on the support 
of the state and the local population. The most pressing need was to accept the ar- 
riving refugees and to shelter them, at least temporarily (see Hitilov 1932; Gergova 
2012; Uzunova 2005). Until the early 1920s, most of them were living in stables, 
sheep pens, and half-destroyed houses, and exposed to malaria and tuberculosis. 
In the aftermath of the Great War, the state was virtually incapable of supporting 
refugees materially and financially. Thus, the aid that it provided was largely sym- 
bolic and was distributed for only 3 years after the war. In 1 920, the government 
of Aleksandar Stambolijski managed to supply refugees with land, wood, financial 
loans, and free medical care; however, organization of this support was chaotic, and 
it did not reach all of those in need (Dragostinova 2006, p. 558; Sivacev 1987). It 
was only at the end of the 1920s that 42,510 refugee families received loans with 
the support of the League of Nations, which enabled them to build small houses, 
named saronki (after Rene Charron, main coordinator of the settlement procedure). 
The construction of these houses marked in fact one of the first systematic attempts 
to provide refugees with proper housing, thus also settling them permanently. 22 
Evidence of these constructions can be seen today in many towns and villages in 
Bulgaria, where they form the core of still-existing refugee neighbourhoods. The 
survival of the newcomers was also closely connected with the issue of agricultural 
land: most of these territories were infertile and poor — in very humid or dry areas, 
mostly in south-eastern Bulgaria. Yet, even when the allocation of Thracian refu- 
gees involved previously unused or unproductive lands, the local population often 
reacted against the refugees’ settlement and resisted their integration. 

The difficult economic and social conditions were accompanied by serious emo- 
tional trauma among the refugees, resulting from painful memories of expulsion 
from their places of origin, recollections about people and families that had died or 
were lost, nostalgia about their homes and villages, and difficulty in adapting as ref- 
ugees in the new setting. There were numerous situations when refugees from a vil- 
lage or even family were separated and were additionally traumatized by not being 
able to find each other. Despite the compassion and support shown at first by local 
populations, the feeling that they were alien and unwanted in their new destinations 

between 1000 and 5000 people. For detailed accounts of refugees’ settlement in Bulgaria, see 
Brajanov (1965, 1970). 

21 For Thracian refugees’ accommodation in the Burgas region, see Ajanov (1939) and Kosatev 

22 The payment of this loan was bound, however, with a high interest rate and contributed to the 
bankruptcy of most refugees and to new economic disasters. 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


contributed further to their frustration. Many people attempted to return to their 
native places, but only for a short period — long enough to realize the impossibility 
of settling again in an environment that had changed completely, as a foreign land, 
with no familial or recognizable traces. The political developments after World War 
I made it virtually impossible to go back and with the Ankara Agreement of 1 925 
this impossibility was formalized. Memories among the generation that experienced 
these events of violent expulsion persisted in subsequent years and became an acute 
source of painful associations and mental reverie. The possibilities for visits became 
even rarer after World War II, when the chances to go for tourism to ‘capitalist’ Tur- 
key were exceptional. The Association of Thracian Bulgarians managed to organize 
several group visits to Turkey, but the routes were firmly fixed, and possibilities for 
seeing their places of origin were limited. 

What one may observe as a recurring theme in the public representations of 
Thracian Bulgarians during the years after their resettlement was their insistence on 
the ‘unique’ character of their fate and their separate identity among other commu- 
nities in Bulgaria. The grounds for such an assertion of separate identity were sev- 
eral, but they often oscillated around the idea of the shared cultural characteristics 
of Bulgarians in Thrace, a common historical fate, and the specific contours of their 
collective memory. All these were posed mostly in comparison to the Macedonian 
refugees or to the local groups where Thracian Bulgarians were settled. In nar- 
ratives gathered until today at various fieldwork occasions, Thracian descendants 
point out as inherently unique to their community their ‘exceptional industrious- 
ness and diligence’ combined with ‘love of agricultural work’, ‘docile character’, 
and ‘naive approach to life’. A comment that regularly comes up in conversation 
is the contrast with refugees from Macedonia, who are stereotypically labelled as 
‘people of the mountains’, ‘hot-blooded’, ‘eagerly involved in politics’ and shar- 
ing a ‘more dynamic and fervent worldview’. Thracian Bulgarians’ descriptions 
of the local population vary depending on the areas where they are settled, but a 
customary point is that Thracian refugees outdo them in almost all aspects of work 
activity — in land cultivation, industriousness, innovation and trade. In memoirs and 
narrative self-descriptions of Thracian refugees, these cultural characteristics are 
regularly accompanied by examples of the tragic fate of Thracian Bulgarians as a 
persecuted and expelled population. Concrete cases are mentioned illustrating this 
fate — telling either of crimes committed against family members or of the poverty 
and starvation after their arrival in Bulgaria. The extreme suffering of Bulgarians 
from Thrace is stressed as resulting mainly from the nation state’s lack of adequate 
attention to their cause. A common theme is the minimal (if any) reparations for the 
prosperous lands and real estate that they owned in the past. 

With regard to the years immediately after their arrival in Bulgaria, it is impor- 
tant to note that most refugees were split between the choice (when such existed) 
of going back to their native places — gaining the status of a minority there — or the 
possibility of remaining permanently in their new destinations, as citizens of the 
Bulgarian state. Staying in Bulgaria, however, put them in a situation of being ‘refu- 
gees’ among the other co-nationals, thus both uniting with the ‘national homeland’ 
and also keeping a distance, as having their native land outside the state borders. 


N. Vukov 

This split has determined a major aspect of their identity until today. It finds expres- 
sion in their self-awareness as being The only real Bulgarians’ and also in their 
constant gaze over the border — that is, where their ancestors were born and lived. 
Nurtured by recent memories of their native places and their resettlement to new 
locations, this dividing line in the group identity of Thracian Bulgarians dominated 
the overall experience of the first refugee generation and that of their children. In 
the course of time, and with a diminishing hope that refugees might be able to go 
back to their place of origin, permanent resettlement in Bulgaria was gradually ac- 
cepted. Emphasis on the cultural specificity of Thracian Bulgarians then came to the 
foreground. Nevertheless, the motif of the split in their territory of belonging, and 
the contribution of this split to their traumatic experience, can still be traced among 
descendants of Thracian Bulgarians today. 

4.3 The Role of Thracian Associations 

The maintenance of the collective identity of Thracian Bulgarians was influenced 
by various factors that were projected at national, public, and private levels. Whilst 
there was a visible attempt on behalf of the state to embrace the refugees’ cause as 
a symbol of national martyrdom and to use it as an argument in negotiations with 
state neighbours (see Detrez, this volume), an important role for the survival and 
adaptation of refugees has been played by various charity initiatives organized by 
the Bulgarian public after major refugee waves. A crucial role in the maintenance 
of the collective identity of this refugee community was played by the numerous 
Thracian associations which were established in late nineteenth century with the 
purpose of facilitating the social integration and cultural adaptation of refugees in 
Bulgaria. 23 After the creation of the first Thracian association ‘Strandza’ in Varna 
(1896) and the Inauguration Congress of the Thracian Union in Burgas (1897), the 
movement founded numerous branches across the country, which — despite merging 
with Macedonian associations in different periods of their existence — maintained a 
well delineated position on the specificity of the Thracian cause. 

With the end of the Balkan Wars and the new massive waves of refugees to Bul- 
garia, the Thracian movement substantially changed the orientation of its activities. 
Whilst the original purpose was the joining of all Thrace to Bulgaria and the protec- 
tion of the Thracian population’s interests by the Great Powers, later, its activities 
were focused primarily on the refugees’ land settlement, accommodation, and social 
and cultural adjustment. With the remainder of Western Thrace within Bulgarian 
state territory after 1913, the main focus was on Eastern Thrace, as well as on the 
refugees that came from this region. In May 1914, the ‘Odrinska Trakija’ (Edime 
Thrace Association) was established in Sofia, with the goal of fighting for the re- 
turn of the expelled Bulgarians from Eastern Thrace, but in the meantime, to fa- 
cilitate their temporary settlement. The association issued a newspaper, distributed 

23 For the history of the Thracian movement and the Thracian associations, see Filcev (1999). 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


memoirs and other historical publications, and organized public lectures. It pro- 
claimed 13 March, the day of capturing the Edirne Fortress, as the main day of the 
association. In December 1918, near Edirne a congress was held which issued a 
resolution addressed to the Bulgarian government asking it to pay more attention 
to Thracian issues, as they tended to be overshadowed by those of the Macedonian 
refugees. In a separate resolution, a request was made to representatives of the Great 
Powers from the Entente and the USA to recognize the right of Thracian Bulgarians 
to return to the lands of their ancestors and to regain their occupied properties under 
the supervision of the Allied forces and the Bulgarian government. 

After the congress, the organization quickly expanded, and association branches 
were created in many towns (e.g., Ajtos, Stara Zagora, and Provadija). 24 In 1921, 
the first issue was published of Trakija newspaper, which became a main organ 
of the Thracian movement. A year later, the Thracian youth association was es- 
tablished in Varna, soon followed by similar units in Plovdiv, Burgas, Haskovo, 
and other towns in southern Bulgaria. Open to people under 30 years of age, these 
units organized events such as speeches and seminars, evening readings, celebra- 
tions of special dates, theatre performances, and sports events. In 1925 the first 
Thracian students’ association and in 1930 the first Thracian women’s association 
were established in Varna. Both had numerous followers and developed branches 
in other parts of the country. The forms and names of these associations were dif- 
ferent — some were called ‘patriotic groups’ whilst others identified themselves as 
‘emigrant associations’, ‘charity and cultural unions’, and the like — but the scope 
of their activities was largely the same. Parallel to the wide range of educational and 
cultural activities that were carried out, they tirelessly issued declarations to Bulgar- 
ian and international institutions condemning the destruction of Bulgarian ethnic 
and cultural traces in Thrace, and also organized public demonstrations concerning 
the most pressing problems of the refugee population. 

A peak of these activities was the protest against the ‘Agreement of Friendship 
between Bulgaria and Turkey’ that was signed in Ankara in 1925. According to the 
agreement, the real estate of Bulgarians who had resettled after 18 October 1912 until 
the signing of the treaty, as well as the real estate of Muslims who resettled during 
the same period from Bulgaria to the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, would become the 
property of the state within which these estates had remained. The Thracian organi- 
zation vehemently protested against the agreement, as — according to its claims — it 
‘transferred’ the ownership rights of Thracian Bulgarians to the Turkish state and, 
thus, virtually precluded the refugees’ possibility to return and claim inheritance 
of ancestral lands. By putting all Bulgarians from Thrace into the category of ‘mi- 
grants’, the Ankara Agreement was accused of neglecting the evidence of persecution 
and violent expulsion in many of these resettlements — particularly in the events of 
1913, for which Thracian Bulgarians were internationally recognized as ‘refugees’. 
The Ankara Agreement’s claim that most of these people had resettled ‘voluntarily’ 

24 By 1924 there were already 44 associations, 93 in 1925 and 151 in 1926. In 1927, the number 
of the Thracian associations was 170, 200 in 1928 and 235 in 1932, with around 20,000 active 
members (See Filcev 2007: 81-99). 


N. Vukov 

as ‘migrants’ was interpreted as enabling Turkish authorities to view refugees’ pre- 
vious properties as belonging to the Turkish state. Despite the rigorous protests of 
Thracian activists against the Ankara Agreement, in 1926 the Bulgarian Parliament 
ratified it, in the hope that the agreement might permit Thracian refugees to receive 
compensation. However, at the request of the Turkish government, the negotiations 
were paused in the following year and the agreement did not come into force. 

A similar situation of Thracian associations’ protests surrounded the Mollov- 
Kafandaris Agreement between Greece and Bulgaria in December 1927. Though 
this agreement seemingly settled the financial issues, it was considered by Thracian 
associations as ensuring the legal framework for what was termed a ‘de-Bulgariza- 
tion policy’ in Western Thrace. A major criticism raised along this line was that, on 
many occasions when Bulgarians were pressed to resettle, the compensation for 
their property was merely symbolic; yet the church, monastery, and school prop- 
erties which belonged to church municipalities were liquidated. The very act of 
signing both these agreements was considered to be a heavy blow to the cause of 
Thracian refugees, who saw them as a betrayal of their interests and as downgrading 
the trauma they had experienced. Disappointment with these political developments 
led to a visible decrease in the organization’s public activity. Following the military 
coup of 19 May 1934, which forbade all political parties and social organizations in 
the country, the Supreme Executive Committee of the organization was dissolved. 
What continued to function were ‘Trakija’ cultural and educational associations, 
as well as the youth, women’s, and students’ branches, but their activities also di- 
minished. In the late 1930s, the commemorative meetings at Petrova Niva (to mark 
anniversaries of the Ilinden Uprising and to celebrate the Day of Thrace) were post- 
poned, to be revived only after World War II. 

Establishment of the government of the Fatherland Front in September 1944 
nourished the hope that the Thracian question would finally reach resolution. In 
October 1 944, the Supreme Executive Committee of the Thracian organization was 
restored and soon after that, a decision was taken to revive all former Thracian 
associations. This was partly related to the Thracian organization’s gradual adjust- 
ment to the political order in Bulgaria during communist rule, as expressed in the 
co-opting of its leaders to the Communist Party and its reinterpretation of the strug- 
gles for national liberation and unification along the lines of the official communist 
ideology. In the three decades that followed, the network of Thracian associations 
expanded its activity, mainly in terms of educational and cultural events. In 1950, 
the Thracian organization was transformed into the Union of Thracian Associations 
in Bulgaria (STDB) and celebrations of the Ilinden Uprising and of the tragic events 
in the village of Yatadzik (Madzarovo) began to be held on an annual basis. Follow- 
ing the widespread fashion of building public monuments in communist Bulgaria, a 
monument to Kapitan Petko Vojvoda was unveiled in Haskovo in 1955 and another 
one in Varna in 1959. A grand monument to the Ilinden Uprising was unveiled in 
Petrova Niva in 1958, with some 5000 people present at the ceremony. In a period 
of restrictions on political claims other than those of the Communist Party, Thracian 
associations gradually indulged themselves with celebrations of historical dates 
and figures, organization of meetings and cultural activities, and propaganda work 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


about the building of communism in the country. However, despite these regular 
activities and adherence to the postulates of the ruling ideology, in 1977, a decision 
of the Communist Party closed down the Union of Thracian Associations (alongside 
the Union of Macedonian ones) — the official explanation being that it had exhaust- 
ed its main purposes. The central committee and network of the associations were 
dissolved again and the local units joined with the Fatherland Front clubs, which 
had an overt ideological profile as representing the antifascist resistance. Remain- 
ing unclear in terms of actual reasons, the dissolution of the refugee organizations 
largely blocked the organized meetings and activities of Thracian refugees for about 
a decade and they could revive their activities with new force only at the start of 
the 1990s. 

4.4 Reasserting Thracian Identity After 1989 

With the end of communist rule in Bulgaria, the Union of Thracian Associations 
and its previous constituent associations were revived and the Trakija newspaper 
resumed publication. Starting from those towns with a substantial presence of Thra- 
cian refugees’ descendants (e.g., Haskovo, Kardzali, Burgas, Yambol, Stara Zagora, 
and Varna), the remembrance practices for the traumatic historical events soon cov- 
ered again the entire country. Sites that became major focuses of commemorative 
initiatives were the meetings in Madzarovo, Ilieva Niva, and Avren (dedicated to 
the victims of the 1913 persecutions), the annual celebrations in Petrova Niva (dedi- 
cated to the Ilinden Uprising) and meetings dedicated to prominent fighters for the 
Thracian cause, such as Kapitan Petko Vojvoda and Dimitar Madzarov. All these 
occasions included the building of monuments and commemorative structures, 
which expanded the memorial topography of Thracian refugees’ history. Organiza- 
tion of these events involved a common ritual script — with reports on historical 
data, moving speeches, and solemn honouring of the dead. Focusing on Thracian 
refugees’ suffering and fights, they outlined the significance of the latter in national 
history and highlighted the patriotic nature of their commemoration. Other impor- 
tant elements at these gatherings were the presentation of refugee folklore traditions 
on stage by various singing and dancing groups. In fact, many of these occasions 
were linked to other cultural events in towns and villages, facilitating a merging of 
the commemorative gatherings with festive presentations of regional folklore. 

Alongside the commemorative occasions in Bulgaria, many initiatives were or- 
ganized in the Thracian territories of Greece and Turkey, with the purpose of re- 
viving traces of the former Bulgarian presence there and to assert affiliation with 
ancestral lands. This was made possible by the ability after 1989 to travel abroad 
freely, and many cross-border activities were organized to fill the vacuum that had 
existed during the decades of impeded access to former homelands. 25 Over the last 

25 Such memorial visits are organized nowadays also by descendants of Greeks who left their na- 
tive places in Bulgaria between 1906 and the 1920s, as well as by Turks who left for Turkey in 


N. Vukov 

two decades, numerous excursions were made to ancestral places of origin in Tur- 
key and Greece, most of them organized by the Thracian associations. These visits 
involved people of different ages and generations, and followed a ritual scheme that 
included meetings with local authorities, the presentation of gifts, visits to surviving 
churches and cemeteries, planting of trees and flowers from Bulgaria, and paying 
respect to victims. 26 A frequent location for these visits across the border is Edirne, 
where a policy for reviving the Bulgarian historical and cultural traces has resulted 
in the restoration of sites, such as the nineteenth century churches of saints George, 
Constantine, and Elena and the Bulgarian cemetery, among others. Carried out with 
the collaboration of Bulgarian state institutions and local authorities, the revival of 
such sites brought a visible increase in visits of Thracian descendants to Eastern 
Thrace, and their regular involvement in various cultural events in this area. The 
tours of refugees’ descendants and folklore groups to towns and villages in Greece 
and Turkey hold a firm place in the cultural calendar of the Union of Thracian As- 
sociations and are inseparable from the list of commemorative events year-round. 

All these cultural events and initiatives outline the present-day contours of a 
group identity that has developed over a century and has several main constituents. 
These include the painful memories of the suffering experienced, the awareness 
of the ‘national’ significance of the Thracian cause, the notion of cultural heritage 
preservation, and the claim for rightful compensation despite decades without a 
positive resolution. These constituents have been regular points of reflection in all 
the commemorative gatherings of the Thracian organization and in the various oral 
narratives and published memoirs produced by members of this community. They 
are reflected in the goals that the Union of Thracian Associations declared in its 
Statute of 1990: defending and accomplishing the Bulgarian national cause in Thra- 
ce, obtaining the right of return and resurrection of the Bulgarian culture in Eastern 
and Western Thrace, development of Thracian spirit, and preservation of Thracian 
heritage (Ustav 1990). 27 The Statute of 1990 omits some of the cliches derived from 
the communist ideology before 1989, but it retained others that have been used re- 
peatedly by Thracian Bulgarians since the beginning of their organized movement. 
As such, it testifies to several claims that have remained relatively unchanged for 
more than a century and that continue to shape the collective memory and identity 
of Thracian descendants. 

Although nowadays few promoters of the Thracian cause nurture illusions that it 
may be possible to go back to reside in the places of their ancestors, the idea of pro- 
tecting the traces of the former Bulgarian habitation — alongside receiving financial 
compensation for what was lost — is still alive (Kozarova 2007). Clear indicators 
of this are the revived negotiations with Turkey after 1989 for resolving the issue 

different resettlement waves throughout the twentieth century, mostly during the peak of the as- 
similation campaign launched by the communist state in the 1980s (on the latter, see Vukov 2012). 

26 For a detailed presentation of these ritual activities, see Ganeva-Rajceva (2011). 

27 The first statute of the Thracian associations was accepted at the inaugural Congress of 1907 
and since then it has gone through several modifications depending on political circumstances of 
the interwar period and after 1944, but its core ideas have generally remained the same until today. 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


of Thracian Bulgarians’ property in Eastern Thrace. In 1991, at the initiative of the 
Union of Thracian Associations in Bulgaria, an agreement was reached between 
Bulgaria and Turkey to discuss the problematic issues between the two countries. 
Since 1992, several attempts to discuss the application of the Ankara Agreement 
have been made by the Bulgarian Parliament, by government ministers, and during 
exchange visits of ambassadors and politicians to Bulgaria and Turkey. Despite the 
demonstrated willingness to carry out such negotiations, a general suspicion has 
appeared that, once again, the attempts at solving this may be postponed until the 
deadline of 100 years when the agreement’s application ultimately expires. A peak 
in the Bulgarian state’s efforts to reach a solution to this issue was the proposal of 
Bulgarian EU representatives and the ensuing decision of the European Parliament 
to bind Turkey’s membership application to the EU with the requirement of reso- 
lution of the existing property disputes with Bulgaria. Following this decision, 28 
Bulgaria and Turkey started new negotiations in 2009 and a mass campaign was 
initiated in Bulgaria to provide documentation on property in the lands left behind, 
including real estate that had belonged to the Bulgarian Exarchate and Bulgarian 
cultural monuments in contemporary Turkey. A special department was created 
within the State Archives of Sofia where documents and diverse testimonies that 
could verify the property rights of Thracian Bulgarians were collected, validated, 
translated from Ottoman Turkish, and analysed. These recent developments stirred 
new impulses in the community of Thracian descendants to collect necessary testi- 
monies and mobilize family and kinship networks to assert ownership of properties 
lost a century ago. Thus, once again, as in previous decades, memories of the expul- 
sion of the Bulgarian population from Thracian lands were revived by a suddenly 
emerging hope for successful resolution to this protracted issue, consolidated by 
the idea that the decades of dedication to the Thracian cause has not been in vain. 

Doubtless, such claims have strongly influenced identity processes amongst 
Thracian refugees as a ‘community’, one whose members were dispersed across the 
country and could maintain their contacts mostly through such ritual gatherings. The 
reaffirmation of belonging to a community of origin and participation in the social 
network during commemorations and cultural events were also unavoidably linked 
with demonstrating a position on the issue of due compensation and with an expecta- 
tion of at least a symbolic gain from what had been lost by their ancestors. However, 
despite the unconcealed attention to the claimed possession of once-owned property, 
the contours of Thracian memory and identity did not remain confined to the idea 
of material compensations: sometimes, it even contradicted or overtly opposed this 
idea. One of the directions of this line of thought was prompted by alternative voices 
coming from members of the Thracian community about the need to overcome the 
accumulated traumas and to stay open to the possibilities of cross-border coopera- 
tion, thus virtually annulling the relevance of any property claims. Yet another direc- 
tion has been promoted by the view of Thracian belonging as a largely ‘symbolic 
realm’, which cannot be subdued by political and territorial negotiations, but rather 
persists as a timeless identity mark across generations. The oscillation between these 


N. Vukov 

several poles of interpretation is what marks the identity expression of Thracian de- 
scendants today — in narrative forms, commemorative activities, and public events 
honouring the history of Thracian Bulgarians. 

4.5 Conclusion 

Developing over the course of a century and in the context of traumatic histori- 
cal circumstances, the various aspects of Thracian identity can hardly be covered 
by such a brief outline as provided in this chapter. Several points are worth re- 
emphasizing, however, in the form of concluding remarks. The first is related to 
the problem of Thracian Bulgarians as a ‘community’. It was formed gradually by 
population groups coming from different towns and villages of Eastern and Western 
Thrace and in the midst of different cases of expulsion, resettlement, and accommo- 
dation in new places. Despite their different experiences and individual examples, 
the refugees and migrants from Thrace embraced a reference to their area of ori- 
gin as something able to unite them and to express as a ‘shared’ fate. Nowadays, 
the term ‘a Thracian person’ ( trakiets ) is immediately recognized and connected 
with particular historical experiences by every Bulgarian, not only those of refu- 
gee descent. Although initially the term was supposed to encompass primarily the 
survivors of the most dramatic refugee waves (e.g., the massacres of 1913 and the 
expulsions from Western Thrace in the early 1920s), over time it stretched to en- 
compass almost any of the other cases related to Thracian resettlement to Bulgaria. 
Even more importantly, it has also come to involve all subsequent generations and 
every one of the descendants of Thracian Bulgarians. In fact, personal identification 
as ‘second’, ‘third’, and later generations of Thracian refugees is widespread among 
members of this community in their narratives about place of origin and their rela- 
tives’ fates in the past. 

This specificity of Thracian Bulgarians as a ‘community’ is even more striking 
when considered against the background of the various directions of resettlement 
of Thracian Bulgarians in the country. Their presence was visible in large and small 
towns, where they were gradually involved in social and cultural activities, but up 
until today they have remained distinguishable by the neighbourhoods where their 
grandparents settled and by the specific family stories that they possess and repro- 
duce on various occasions. Although Thracian Bulgarians were never considered a 
‘minority’ within the national body, they have always remained distinguished from 
both the rest of the ‘local’ Bulgarian population and other refugee communities, such 
as those from Macedonia. This distinction is strongly evident in community meet- 
ings on various occasions and at commemorative events, where Thracian Bulgar- 
ians assert their specific historical memories. In situations of these kinds, Thracian 
Bulgarians from different parts of the country conduct a tour to honour the numerous 
people lost in the traumatic events, to acknowledge the ‘everlasting presence’ of 
historical trauma, and to reaffirm their belonging to the Thracian ‘community’ and 
their support of the ‘Thracian cause’. In opposition to the growing distance from the 

4 Resettlement Waves, Historical Memory and Identity Construction 


events of the past, Thracian Bulgarians have persistently maintained their stories of 
persecution and expulsion, their genealogical memory, and the recurring commemo- 
rative occasions as ways to preserve a sense of collective identity. 

Finally, it is important to emphasize the role of state borders in shaping the idea 
of community among Thracian Bulgarians. The border is a recurring reference point 
in the memories and narratives of Thracian Bulgarians until the present day. In the 
dramatic days of the persecution and flight of refugees to Bulgaria in 1913, the state 
border was perceived as a ‘horizon’, the reaching of which would bring salvation 
from impending death. The border was a line whose crossing brought radical change 
in refugees’ lives, as well as a line to approach in later attempts to return to the lands 
of ancestors. In the dynamic context of territorial redistribution after the collapse of 
the Ottoman Empire, borders were not only created to delineate the territories of na- 
tion states, but they were also changed, shifted, assaulted, and reclaimed, exploding 
in a range of military actions and population moves. These metamorphoses of bor- 
ders in Thrace not only determined the fates of Thracian Bulgarians as rooted out 
and directed to the territory of the Bulgarian state, but also influenced subsequent 
hopes and expectations — particularly the intention of returning or despair at no lon- 
ger being able to go back. Heavily loaded with historical associations and traumatic 
memories handed down through generations, the border and its meaning in terms 
of separation from the territories of ancestors has played another constitutive role 
for the identity of the Thracian community. While it functioned (and still does) as a 
firmly established topoi in the various testimonies and memoir accounts of Thracian 
Bulgarians, it is also evoked in recollections during commemorative ceremonies, 
and it shapes the behaviour of those descendants who have traversed the border 
areas on various tours and commemorative occasions over the past two decades. 
These symbolic meanings of the border — alongside the continuing claim for recog- 
nition of the experienced suffering and the effort to maintain a collective identity 
over time — will certainly guide the practices of this community in the future. 

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Trakijskija naucen institut, 6, 1 90-2 1 1 . 

Vukov, N. (2012). Izselvanija, pamet i vazpomenatelni zavrashtanija. Otbeljazvaneto na 
“Vazroditelnija” proces v Balgarija [Resettlements, memory and commemorative return 
visits: The noting of the so called “revival” process in Bulgaria], 

Nikolai Vukov works at the Ethnographic Museum of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, 
Bulgaria. His research interests are related to monuments, museum representations and public 
commemorations in Eastern Europe after 1945; communist rule and post-communist transition; 
and state borders and migrant identities. 

Chapter 5 

The Changing Waves of Migration from 
the Balkans to Turkey: A Historical Account 

Ahmet t^duygu and Deniz Serf 

This chapter elaborates on the migration flows from the Balkans into Turkey, taking 
a historical approach. In doing so, it focuses particularly on migration from that part 
of the Balkans consisting of Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and former Yugo- 
slavia 1 within four historical periods. The first period looks at emigration from these 
countries into Turkey during the late Ottoman period, beginning with the decline 
of the Empire. The second period describes the waves of Balkan migration into the 
newborn republic of Turkey until the end of World War II. Over this period there 
were two concerns of the founding fathers of the Turkish Republic: (i) the matter of 
the declining population of the country from 16 million in 1914 to around 13 mil- 
lion in the 1920s (Courbage and Fargues 1998, p. 128); and (ii) the issue of creating 
a homogenous sense of national identity in an otherwise ethnically and culturally 
diverse country. This latter concern was very much driven by a deep-seated belief 
that the Ottoman Empire had collapsed because of its multiethnic and multicultural 
nature (Ahmad 1993). Thus, the immigration policy pursued during this period was 
to encourage and accept immigrants who could speak the Turkish language and 
had an affiliation with Turkishness. In practice, however, those who belonged to 
a Sunni-Hanafi religious background were given preferential entry (Kiri§ci 1996, 
2000). 2 Accordingly, the groups that were supposedly easier to melt into a Turkish 
identity were mostly Muslim Albanians, Bosnians, Circassians, Pomaks, and Tatars. 

1 Owing to the fact that Yugoslavia did not exist as a country before 1929, it is taken here as a 
region at least until this date. 

2 The selection criteria for the period were not clear while conceptions of Turkishness were very 

A. Rduygu (S) 

MiReKog, K 09 University, Istanbul, Turkey 

D. Sert 

Department of International Relations, Ozyegin University, Istanbul, Turkey 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 85 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 5 


A. Rduygu and D. Sert 

The third period — between the end of World War II and the end of the Cold 
War — witnesses a transformation of Turkey’s above-mentioned immigration policy 
into one that discouraged immigration on the grounds that Turkey’s population had 
grown sufficiently and that land to distribute to immigrants had become scarce. 
Nevertheless, immigration during this period did continue with the migration of 
ethnic Turks and Muslims, in particular, with flows from Greece and Bulgaria; the 
latest large wave occurred in 1989 when more than 300,000 Turks and Pomaks were 
expelled from Bulgaria. 

The fourth period — since the end of the Cold War — expands on both change and 
continuity in the nature of migration to Turkey from the Balkan countries under 
consideration. For example, while migration from Yugoslavia into Turkey during 
the break-up of the country did resemble the migration wave from Bulgaria in 1989, 
the return migration from Turkey to Bulgaria (caused by regime change in the latter 
in 1990 as the Cold War came to an end) was a rather new phenomenon. This trend 
of return was recently reinforced by Bulgaria’s accession to the EU, when more and 
more of these migrants — that is, Turkish- and Bulgarian-speaking Muslims — re- 
claimed Bulgarian citizenship 3 in order to obtain the right to travel to Bulgaria and 
other EU countries without a visa. At the same time, the nature of immigration from 
the Balkans into Turkey is changing from permanent to temporary with increasing 
two-way transit irregular migration. To illustrate, Parla (this volume) wonderfully 
describes how Turkish-speaking migrants from Bulgaria have transformed from a 
group of migrants who were historically the most privileged among migrant groups 
in Turkey to a group whose legal status has so shifted over the last two decades to 
become one of systematic irregularity. 

Since the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923, more than 1.6 million 
immigrants from the Balkans have come and settled in Turkey; we argue that over 
time there have been changing patterns in these migration flows and in the migrants’ 
characteristics. These changes reflect the dramatic transformations in the region 
throughout the twentieth century — initially through nation- and state-building, and 
more recently via globalization processes that have altered social, economic, and 
political structures in the Balkans. 

There is a methodological concern that should be noted here. This study largely 
benefits from the analysis of secondary data and literature, which should not be 
seen as a deficiency for several reasons: (i) no single comprehensive study has been 
conducted on the migration flows from the Balkans to Turkey; (ii) existing studies 
are sketchy and limited; and (iii) a study that is broad enough to cover the issue 
thematically and historically is lacking. Thus, this study tries to go beyond what has 
been said before, as it presents a cross-temporal and cross-country analysis. 

3 Such people retain their Turkish citizenship as both countries allow dual nationality. 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to Turkey 


5.1 The Late Ottoman Period 

Crying, while crying 

With the ballad of coy Bodin from Tuna 

With the anthem of Algeria from Africa 

With the elegy of ‘O veterans! ’ from the seas of Arabia 

We migrated to the land of Anatolia. . . 4 

The Ottomans’ reign in the Balkans lasted almost 400 years until the late nineteenth 
century when there was an emerging Russian influence in the region. Although the 
signs of decline had become evident much earlier with the Serbian (1804-1835) 
and Greek (1814-1827) revolutions, it was really with the loss of the 1877-1878 
Russian-Ottoman War that the Ottoman Empire began to lose its importance in the 
region. Stola (1992, p. 328) states: 

The Ottoman Empire was the first of the multinational empires in Central Europe to decline 
and retreat. Turkish reprisals for rebellions and mutual hostility between Muslims and 
Christians generated thousands of refugees, who moved between Turkey and its former 
provinces, especially after the territorial changes caused by the Russian-Turkish war of 
1877.... Up to 1912... the inflow of Muslim refugees apparently doubled the population 
of Constantinople. 

As Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Montenegro, Romania, and Serbia established their 
nation states and embarked on their policies of creating homogeneous ethnic societ- 
ies, Turks and non-Turkish Muslims (e.g., Cretan Muslims, Pomaks, Roma, Tor- 
besh, and Vallahades) of the region began to search for new homes in the Anatolian 
peninsula (Duman 2008, p. 23; ipek 1999, pp. 14-21; Todorova 1997, pp. 348- 
349). This was a rather new migration flow: instead of the historical East to West 
migrations of the Turks to the newly conquered Ottoman territories, this migration 
was from the West to the East — this time from the lost lands to the safe haven 
of Anatolia. It was in this context that the Greek revolt was accompanied by the 
slaughter of many Muslims and the flight of many others (McCarthy 1995). Most 
of these refugees went just northwards to a part of the Balkans still under Ottoman 
control rather than to what is now Turkey. Many of them, however, undoubtedly 
migrated to Turkey at a later stage. 

It is important to underline that in this late Ottoman period, religion rather than 
language was the defining characteristic of these flows. Even in the succeeding 
early Republican period, immigration was defined more in religious than in linguis- 
tic terms — that is, it was enough to be a Muslim to settle in the country. Eventually, 
the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 was also drawn up with this rationale, where reli- 
gious rather than ethnic minorities were the main concern. Thus, it is rather hard to 
distinguish between these categories for those periods where the words ‘Turk’ and 
‘Muslim’ were used interchangeably. As explained by ^duygu et al. (2007, p. 359): 

4 Translated by the authors from the Turkish original: ‘ . . .Biz, Tuna \ dan ‘Nazli Bodin ’ tiirkusuyle, 
Afrika’dan ‘Cezayir Mar$T ile, Arabistan denizlerinden Ey Gaziler ’ mersiyesi ile aglaya aglaya, 
Anadolu topragina gogettik...' (Atay 1970, p. 86). 

A. Rduygu and D. Sert 

Despite the use of the category of ‘Turk’ as a building block of the nation-state, what this 
word referred to was initially ambiguous and this ambiguity was to persist, with the defini- 
tion and content of ‘Turk’ undergoing changes in different eras, subject to the influence of 
events and developments (Kadioglu 1998). ‘Turk’ was used to refer sometimes to an ethnic 
group originating in Central Asia, sometimes to a legal status of citizenship on the basis of 
identity cards and passports and sometimes to individuals sharing a common culture, i.e. 
Turkish culture (Deringil 2000). As to the religion of the ‘Turk’, Islam was frequently used 
to define Turks, the Turkish nation and Turkish culture. In other words, Islam provided a 
reference point in the definition of the ordinary Turk (Kiri§ci 2000; Meeker 2002; Ozbudun 
1998; Ozdogan 1996). As a result, the inclusion of non-Muslims has been problematic in 
the normative definition of ‘Turk’. (Keyman and Rduygu 1998) 

There were two substantial migration waves from the Balkans during the late Otto- 
man period predating the founding of the Turkish nation state. The first consisted 
of migrations that occurred during the Russian-Ottoman War of 1877-1878, which 
marked the beginning of the dissolution of the Empire and caused more than a mil- 
lion Muslims to be uprooted (Kocacik and Yalqm 2008; McCarthy 1995); the sec- 
ond wave was during the Balkan Wars of 1912-1913, during which approximately 
200,000 Turks died and another 440,000 migrated from Thrace and Macedonia in 
the aftermath of the wars until the Republic was founded (Eren 1993, pp. 292-293). 
Hence, both events caused Muslims’ retreat from the lost territories of the Ottoman 

Especially following the latter, the admittance and settlement of the population 
dislocated from the lost territories became one of the major issues that the ruling 
Unity and Progress Party ( ittihak ve Terakki hereafter) of the Young Turks had to 
tackle (Diindar 2001, p. 121). The most important tool that Ittihak ve Terakki used 
to deal with the issue was the signing of population exchange agreements. With the 
changes in the borders and the emergence of new nation states in the aftermath of 
the Balkan Wars, the newborn states began to pursue ways to create a homogeneous 
population within their new borders. Thus, the population exchange agreements 
were regarded as the most legitimate way of achieving this goal. Within this frame- 
work, the first voluntary population exchange agreement was part of the Treaty of 
Constantinople (also known as the Treaty of Istanbul), which was a treaty between 
the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria signed on 29 September 1913 
in the Ottoman capital Istanbul after the Second Balkan War (Babu§ 2006; Diindar 
2001, p. 60). The main terms of the treaty were: (i) Bulgaria acknowledged Ottoman 
gains of Edirne, Kirklareli, and Demotika (Didimoteicho) and the surrounding ter- 
ritory; (ii) the Ottoman Empire ceded the port of Dedeagach (now Alexandroupoli) 
to Bulgaria; (iii) the exchange of lands was to be completed within 10 days; (iv) the 
armies on the border would be demobilized within 3 weeks; (v) prisoners of war 
from both sides would be released; (vi) both political and economic ties between the 
two countries would be re-established; and (vii) the voluntary exchange of popula- 
tion would be organized within the next 4 years (see Anderson and Hershey 19 1 8). It 
was at this point that 47,000 Bulgarians in Ottoman Thrace left their homes in return 
for 49,000 Turks being accepted into Turkey from Bulgaria (Psomiades 1968, p. 60). 

In fact, most of the population was already subject to forced displacement dur- 
ing the wars, and the agreements were only relevant for smaller populations (Tekeli 
1990, p. 60). Beyond population exchange, the agreements also stipulated exchange 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to Turkey 


of properties, protection of property rights, and guarantee of the rights of minority 
populations left behind. However, a year after the Balkan Wars — with the advent of 
World War I — many such agreements were nullified and the population exchange 
process was halted. 

A second tool that Ittihak ve Terakki utilized to manage the problem of displaced 
populations was the combination of conscription and resettlement strategies, which 
first targeted the resettlement of migrants from the Balkans to nearby border regions 
in Thrace, where the cities and towns were mostly inhabited by non-Muslim popu- 
lations (Aganoglu 2001, p. 110). Those newly arrived Muslim migrants were not 
only settled in these regions, but male immigrants were also conscripted in the same 
regions. Consequently, this strategy served both external and internal security pur- 
poses. Looking at the records of the Ministry of Interior of the time, Diindar (2001, 
pp. 71-72) argues that the combination of resettlement and conscription was an 
essential mode of ‘Turkification’ of those areas with insufficient Turk and Muslim 
populations within the Empire (see also Ulukan 2008). 

The censuses were the third policy that Ittihak ve Terakki employed as a means 
of controlling population movements. Realizing that it was important to know the 
number of outgoing non-Muslim populations in order to be able to settle the in- 
coming Muslim populations in an efficient manner — that is, making the population 
within the borders as Turkish and Muslim as possible — unofficial censuses were 
conducted and Anatolia’s ethnic and religious distribution was figured out. Popula- 
tion movements were closely scrutinized and ethnographic maps of the Ottoman 
state were drawn (Diindar 2001, pp. 71-72; Ulukan 2008). 

All in all, the policies pursued by Ittihak ve Terakki , motivated by Turkish na- 
tionalism, designated the ethnic and religious distribution of the contemporary Ana- 
tolian peninsula. Migration and settlement policies largely focused on creating a 
homogeneous Turkish and Muslim community — rather than economic interests, 
human conditions, and/or utilization of unused land for production. 

Within this context, Albanians are an illustrative case. Until the independence 
of Albania was proclaimed in 1912, voluntary migration and the dev§irme 5 practice 
had caused an emergence of Albanian presence in the Ottoman army and adminis- 
tration in Istanbul (De Rapper 2000). Migration of Albanians to Istanbul continued 
even during the early years of the Albanian state, as the government could exercise 
its authority in only a small part of the territory — the rest being occupied by the 
Greeks in the south, and by the Serbs and Montenegrins in the north. Violence and 
insecurity caused many Albanians to flee. Istanbul was a major destination for two 
reasons. First, many Albanians already had relatives or friends in the Ottoman capi- 
tal and could count on the support of established networks. Second, rural Albanian 
populations were mostly Muslim. They did not have a developed Albanian national 
consciousness and were accustomed to being referred to as ‘Turks’ (a religious cat- 
egory rather than a national or ethnic community); thus, the Ottoman Empire and 

5 It is translated as ‘collection of children’, ‘child-gathering’, or ‘blood tax’ in different Balkan 
languages. This was the practice by which the Ottoman Empire recruited boys, forcibly, from 
Christian families, who were selected by skilled scouts to be trained and enrolled in one of the four 
imperial institutions — the Palace, the Scribes, the Religious, and the Military. 


A. Rduygu and D. Sert 

Turkey seemed a natural destination (De Rapper 2000). In this case, the definition 
of the category ‘Albanian’ had different meanings: on one hand, albeit to a lesser 
extent, it referred to those groups of people with Albanian nationality (ibid.). On 
the other hand, it referred to those ex- Yugoslavs in Albania and Greece who were 
recognized as of Albanian origin based on personal experience or verified familial 
ties (ibid.). Thus, a subjective definition of Albanian is being utilized that reposes 
on the identification of the people to the ‘Albanian’ category, and that does not 
take into consideration objective criteria like nationality (citizenship), language, or 
birthplace. As seen in the next section, especially for Albanian Muslims from west- 
ern Greek Macedonia, such a subjective categorization proves to be problematic; 
however, there is no better classification owing to a lack of accurate data on the 
characteristics of the people in the region (i.e., their origins). 

5.2 The Early Years of the Republic 

We want a numerous population, a satiated population, a happy and affluent population. 
Against the history that left Anatolia empty, poor, old and ruined, we have a grudge that 
is growing every day. The energy of creating a numerous, happy and affluent Anatolia is 
coming from the force of this growing grudge. Today’s Anatolia that we took over from 
the past government is in its most desolate and neglected position in its history. If we do 
not at least double the number of this population of fourteen million, whose entire civil 
capabilities have been unnoticed, whose needs are diminished, and who is almost ignored 
of civilization, in a rather short period of time, we would jeopardize our survival against 
the populous and technologically developed nations of the future. Under its perished nature 
that seems to be desolate, Anatolia is an untouched country that hides all the conditions of a 
life in heaven. This country is waiting for the Turkish nation to get crowded and numerous. 
Our target is a technologically developed, satiated, happy and numerous Turkish nation 
(Aydemir 1932, p. 35). 

The founding fathers of the Turkish Republic were troubled by the recently reduced 
population of the country. The decrease was not only the result of the wars, but 
also of the towering death rates owing to general lack of health care, and to ill- 
nesses such as malaria, syphilis, trachoma, typhoid, and dysentery (Duman 2008, 
p. 24). Within this context, the founding fathers sought the means of generating a 
homogeneous sense of national identity in a fragile country that was otherwise eth- 
nically and culturally diverse (i^duygu and Kiri§ci 2009). Thus, people who were 
either Muslim Turkish speakers or could easily melt into a Turkish identity (such as 
Bosnians, Circassians, Pomaks, and Tatars from the Balkans) were given exclusive 
priority and accepted as immigrants into the country (Kiri§ci 1996, 2000). 6 From 

6 The immigration of Turks from Western Thrace was an exception. According to Article 2 of the 
Exchange Agreement between Greece and Turkey, which comprised 19 articles and which was 
appended to the Lausanne Treaty, the Greeks in Istanbul and the Turks in Western Thrace were to 
be excluded from exchange. For strategic reasons, Turkish governments did not view immigration 
from Western Thrace positively. For a detailed elaboration, see Oksiiz (2004). 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to Turkey 


the foundation of the Republic in 1923 until 1997, more than 1.6 million people 
migrated to Turkey, settled in the country, and were successfully assimilated. 

The demographic conditions that the Republic of Turkey inherited from the Ot- 
toman Empire are known to be the result of the Russian-Ottoman War of 1 877-1 878 
and the subsequent wars, which caused the uprooting of many Muslim migrants 
from various ethnic backgrounds (Ulukan 2008, p. 47). During the years of the 
dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, many immigration flows took place — mainly 
from the Balkans, the Aegean Islands, Cyprus, Hatay, 7 the Middle East, and the So- 
viet Union (£agaptay 2002; Ulukan 2008). The immigration of the Muslims caused 
drastic demographic changes in the proportion of non-Muslims within the popula- 
tion: before World War I, while one in every five persons was a non-Muslim within 
the geography consisting of the territories of the Republic, after the war this ratio 
had decreased to one in every 40 persons (Keyder 1989, p. 67; Table 5.1). 

With such changing demographic conditions, the issues of settling the newcom- 
ers as well as homogenizing the new population became important items on the 
agenda of the founding fathers. Accordingly, the 1926 Law of Settlement — the first 
significant official text governing voluntary immigration — charged the Ministry of 
Internal Affairs with the tasks of admitting the immigrants and refugees to the coun- 
try, and of determining their regions of settlement as well as stating who could not 
be admitted as an immigrant or refugee (Ulker 2007). Thus, based on Article 2 of 
the law: 

People who do not belong to Turkish culture, who are infected with syphilis, who are sub- 
ject to leprosy and their families, who are imprisoned because of committing murder except 
political and military reasons, anarchists, spies, gypsies, or who are exiled outside of the 
country cannot be admitted. 

Table 5.1 The Muslim and non-Muslim population in Turkey, 1 914-2005 (in thousands). (Source: 
Igduygu and Kiri§ci 2009, p. 2) 


















































Percentage of non-Muslims 







7 Hatay was part of Aleppo in Ottoman Syria. Following World War I, Hatay (then known as Al- 
exandretta) was under the French Mandate of Syria. Unlike other regions historically belonging to 
Syrian provinces, Alexandretta was considered as Syrian territory in the Treaty of Lausanne, but it 
was granted a special autonomous status because it contained a large Turkish minority. Concomi- 
tant to a series of border disputes with France-mandated Syria, in 1937 an agreement was signed 
with France recognizing Alexandretta as an independent state, and in 1939 following a referendum 
this state, called the Republic of Hatay, was annexed to Turkey as the 63rd Turkish province. 


A. Rduygu and D. Sert 

Thus, this law linked the admission of immigrants and refugees to the condition of 
belonging to Turkish culture. However, who was to be considered within this cat- 
egory was not specified in the law. Indeed, beside the Muslim-Turk population liv- 
ing outside the borders of the Republic, this category also referred to the non-Turk, 
but Muslim, ethnic and linguistic groups, especially from the Balkans. Here culture 
very much refers to being Muslim, which was a deviation from Ziya Gokalp’s idea 
of Turkish culture being based on religion, language, a common history and values. 
Thus, with this law, while the conditions of resettlement of Ottoman Muslims were 
alleviated, non-Muslim Ottoman subjects’ resettlement to the country was outlawed 
(£agaptay 2002, p. 225; Ulukan 2008, p. 50). This importance given to religion was 
in contradiction to the secular foundations of the Republic, a major paradox of the 
initial years: 

While seeming to reject their Ottoman and Islamic heritage, the new regime (Republic) 
still continued to respect the common historical heritage with those non-Turkish groups 
[of Bosnians, Albanians, and Macedonians]. Those groups were placed within the Muslim 
millet* in the Ottoman Empire, and, it might be argued, there is a reflection of that millet 
system in the Turkish Republic in its recognition of the groups that previously were parts of 
the Muslim millet as Turks (Rduygu et al. 1999, pp. 195-196) 

As time passed, the 1926 Law of Settlement on population problems proved to 
be inefficient, and it was decided that a more general settlement law was needed. 
Thus, the 1934 Law of Settlement came to be the most comprehensive law of its 
time — not merely regulating only migration or settlement, but really a tool for creat- 
ing a homogeneous national identity of the ‘new Turk’ (Kiri§ci 2000, p. 4). The law 
aimed at increasing the population and production capacity, attaching the refugees 
and immigrants to the national culture, settling nomadic populations and provid- 
ing them with land, teaching everybody the Turkish language and their citizen- 
ship rights, and thus, creating a nation to protect the unity and security of the state 
(Babu§ 2006, p. 298; Ulukan 2008, p. 51). 

According to the 1934 Law of Settlement, only those of Turkish descent and 
culture would be accepted as immigrants in Turkey. In practice, this excluded non- 
Muslim Turks (like the Gagauz Turks), but included non-Turkish Muslims (like 
Pomaks, Tatars, and Bosnians). However, the law did not define who was of Turkish 
descent and culture, but left the matter to be determined by the Council of Ministers. 
Looking at Table 5.2, it can easily be observed that the people from the Balkans — 
that is, from Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and Yugoslavia — were the largest group 
who migrated to Turkey. 

Thus, immigration from the Balkans comprised an important part of the im- 
migration history of the Republic. Some of these movements were a result of 
population exchange agreements signed after the War of Independence. For ex- 
ample, the agreement on the 1923 Turkish-Greek population exchange, which was 
signed in Lausanne, was an important historical document. Nearly 900,000 out of 

8 Millet is a term for the confessional communities in the Ottoman Empire, referring to the separate 
legal courts pertaining to ‘personal law’ under which communities (Muslim Sharia, Christian Can- 
on law, and Jewish Halakha law abiding) were allowed to rule themselves under their own system. 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to Turkey 


Table 5.2 Migrations to Turkey by region of origin and time period (1923-1997). (Source: 
Rduygu and Kiri§ci 2009, p. 10) 

Region of origin 



































approximately 1.5 million Anatolian Greeks had already left the country following 
the Greek retreat in the Turkish War of Independence, and the population exchange 
agreement provided legitimacy for that de facto emigration (Psomiades 1968, 
p. 120). The agreement set out some further emigration: during the agreement’s im- 
plementation, 150,000 Greeks left behind in Anatolia were sent to Greece in return 
for 360,000 Muslims accepted into Turkey from Greece (Geray 1970, p. 10). The 
number included both ethnic Turks and the Albanian Muslims from western Greek 
Macedonia who were classified as Turks at the time of the exchange of populations 
and were forced to leave their villages for Turkey in 1924 (De Rapper 2000). 9 

There is also an asymmetry that is worth noting regarding the agreement — 
namely, that while most of the Greek migrations were forced by circumstances, a 
very large proportion of the Muslims going to Turkey were obliged to do so solely 
by virtue of the agreement. It not only drastically changed the two countries’ de- 
mographic characteristics, but also affected their economic activities. To illustrate, 
with the emigration of the Greek population — historically known as the entrepre- 
neur class of the Ottoman Empire — the newborn Turkey became deficient in trade 
and industry capacity; at the same time, it gained in agricultural production capacity 
as the newcomers brought with them important know-how concerning agriculture. 

Another state-regulated — not compulsory, merely regulated — agreement was 
one signed with Bulgaria. The 1925 Treaty of Amity, together with a settlement 
contract, set rules for protection of Turkish and Bulgarian minorities in Bulgaria and 
Turkey, respectively, as well as provisions on citizenship and voluntary resettlement 
(Degerli 2009). According to the Treaty, Turkish and Bulgarian citizens could freely 
move and settle in each other’s countries, provided that they had the religion of 
the country of settlement. From 1923 until 1939, almost 200,000 people emigrated 
from Bulgaria to Turkey, a number that dropped considerably in the following pe- 
riod (see Table 5.2). 

There were also migrations from Romania. The Romanian government’s land 
confiscation policies, imposed co-habitation with the Vlachs, lack of security for 
minorities, and heightening economic problems led the ethnic Turks to migrate to 
Turkey, which had a welcoming immigration strategy at the time. The immigration 

9 The exodus of the Muslims from Greece began much earlier; for details, see Baldwin-Edwards 
and Apostolatou (2008). 


A. Rduygu and D. Sert 

of Turks from Romania can be analysed in two stages during the early Republi- 
can period: (i) the 1923-1933 migrations, which were lesser in scale and could be 
characterized as immigrations of small groups of voluntary migrants; and (ii) the 
1934-1938 migrations, which were larger flows — of a less voluntary nature — who 
were received as migrants-to-be-settled by the Turkish state (Duman 2008). This 
latter interwar period was characterized by the emergence of states where authori- 
tarian regimes were introduced in Central Europe, and when anti-Semitism became 
an important additional factor, increasing Jewish emigration from Romania (Stola 
1992). It was also the time when ethnic purification, rather than assimilation or 
integration of ethnic minorities, was becoming a dominant idea in Romania (Achim 
2001). Accordingly, 

Romanian Turks were to benefit from ‘a gradual transfer operated by the Turkish govern- 
ment’, a reference to a convention signed by the Romanian and Turkish governments on 
September 4, 1936 that mentioned the possibility of a voluntary emigration of the Moslem 
Turkish minority living in Dobrudja. The convention had remained in effect, and by April 
15, 1941 70,000 ethnic Turks had already left. (Achim 2001, p. 605) 

There were also migration flows of Turks from Yugoslavia 10 during this early Re- 
publican period, which were a result of the economic, political, social, and cultural 
conditions. The world economic crisis of 1929 and the Agricultural Reform Act of 
1931 (along with confiscation of the properties of religious and charitable founda- 
tions) affected the Turks as the segment of society that owned the largest agricultur- 
al lands and whose income had been dependent on agricultural productivity (Oksiiz 
and Koksal 2004). ‘The negative effects of the land reform and the confiscation of 
the properties of the religious and charitable foundations can be seen in a complaint 
made by the Turks and Albanians to the League of the Nations in 1930’ (Oksiiz and 
Koksal 2004, p. 150). 

While Turks of Yugoslavia were subjected to political pressures — which made 
it impossible for them to unite and take action — socially and culturally, they were 
also devoid of minority rights to vote and for education in their own language. 
Moreover, there were massacres against the Turks in various parts of Yugoslavia * 11 
at the time (Oksiiz and Koksal 2004). Thus, based on the official statistics, between 
1923 and 1949, some 5894 people within 1449 households emigrated from Yugo- 
slavia to Turkey as permanent immigrants , that is, they were settled by the state, 
and 111,318 people within 27,030 households came to Turkey as free immigrants , 
that is, they arrived voluntarily without any state regulation of settlement (Oksiiz 
and Koksal 2004). 

It is important to note that in this period, while the importance of religion com- 
pared to language was declining in terms of defining the characteristic of these 

10 The usage of the name ‘Yugoslavia’ needs careful exposition of the different territorial names 
and realities of different periods. Here it refers to the country called Yugoslavia that existed be- 
tween 1929 and 1946. That country is not the same one as the Federal People’s Republic of Yu- 
goslavia in 1946. 

11 Unfortunately, there are no data providing specific information on how many people came from 
different regions, such as Macedonia. 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to Turkey 


flows, immigration was still considered more in terms of religion than nationality. 
The Albanian case was illustrative in this sense, as many Albanians migrated to 
Turkey between 1918 and 1941, during the colonization of Kosovo by Yugoslavia 
(De Rapper 2000). Even during this incident, the categories of Albanian, Turk, and 
Muslim were interchangeable. As described by de Rapper (2000): 12 

Especially after 1928, measures were taken to encourage the emigration of Albanians 
to Albania and to Turkey. An agreement was signed in July 1938 between the Yugoslav 
and Turkish governments, the latter agreeing to take up to 200,000 Albanians, Turks and 
Muslims from Kosovo and Macedonia (40,000 families). This agreement however was 
not ratified by the Turkish Parliament and the funds were never released to implement the 
movement and settlement of refugees in sparsely populated Anatolia. Between 1929 and 
1941, however, Yugoslavia strove to organize the departure of Albanians on the basis of 
international agreements, and managed to provoke a wave of departures to Albania and 

5.3 The Cold War Years 

Edime 13 resembles the Armageddon 

People hugging each other, filled with tears, bewildered 

Uprooted and forced to leave 

They have a wry look around 

Blow thy demented blow, blow 

You are not blowing, where are you? 

Where on the Earth are you? 

Now there you are 

A hurricane, a tornado, a thunderstorm 

As you are not in Bulgaria 

Deliorman is enclosed in gloominess 

Birds not singing, leaves not moving 

Flowers cut off from the stems 

People not smiling 

Blow thy demented blow, blow 

Tell freely about us, the oppression 

To the entire world... (Yalmkihg 1991, p. 19) 14 

During the period following World War II until the 1990s, there were two kinds 
of international migration on the Balkan peninsula — ethnic and labour migrations 
(Bonifazi and Mamolo 2004). Only the former is applicable to the context of Balkan 
migration to Turkey, which was very political in nature. After the establishment 
of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia, those parts of the population who 
were not pleased about the passage to communism, especially among the Turks and 

12 Quotation translated by the authors. 

13 The western province of Turkey, which is a point of entry from the Balkans. Also known as 
‘Ludogorie’ in Bulgarian, it is a region that was largely inhabited by Turks. 

14 Quotation translated by the authors. 


A. igduygu and D. Sert 

the Muslims (i.e., Albanians, Bosnians, etc.), began to migrate to Turkey after rela- 
tions were reinstated by the two countries. 

These movements can be categorized as refugee movements, but in a rather dif- 
ferent sense than the conventional refugees who are subject to the 1951 Geneva 
Convention. Kiri§ci (1996, 1991) defines the Turkish refugee system using three 
categories: The first category is that of convention refugees , who are individuals 
seeking asylum from European countries and who are subject to the rules and con- 
ditions of the Geneva Convention. The second type is non-convention refugees and 
consists of those coming from non-European countries, such as Iraq, Iran, and Af- 
ghanistan. Owing to the geographical limitation that Turkey holds to the Geneva 
Convention — that is, only asylum seekers from the West can settle in Turkey as 
refugees — these people are usually resettled in a third country. The third category 
is that of national refugees , which refers to immigrants of Turkish origin mainly 
coming from the Balkans, including non-Turkish speaking Muslims, ethnic groups 
associated with the Turks from Central Asia and the former Soviet Union, and Mus- 
lims associated with the Ottoman Empire, such as Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, Po- 
maks, and Tatars. Thus, the movements mentioned above fit into this third category 
of so-called national refugees. 

Between 1954 and 1990, a total of 185,000 people migrated to Turkey, includ- 
ing — besides those of Turkish origin — many Muslim Albanians and Muslims from 
Bosnia and Sandjak, who declared themselves to be Turks in order to be able to 
migrate to Turkey (Kiri§ci 1995). By 1950, there were 16,079 Albanian speaking, 
24,013 Bosnian speaking, and 1605 Serbian speaking Yugoslav migrants in Turkey 
(Diindar 1999). 

The migration flows from Bulgaria to Turkey during the Cold War years can be 
divided into three stages: (i) 1950-1953, the period shortly after the declaration of 
a communist state and collectivization of land in Bulgaria when almost 250,000 
people of Turkish origin 15 were granted permission to emigrate from Bulgaria; (ii) 
following the 1968 family reunification agreements between Turkey and Bulgaria, 
when more than 95,000 Turks obtained the right to emigrate to Turkey; (iii) in 1989, 
when the Bulgarian state’s assimilation campaign against the Turks incited new 
migration flows into Turkey. It is important to note that especially for the first two 
periods, it is rather hard to provide exact figures for the migration flows, as the 
sources on both sides are biased, either reducing or increasing the numbers based 
on their own ideological interests (Parla 2003, 2006). 

The migration flows of the 1950-1953 period were a result of the policies of the 
newly-formed communist state, which decided to unify the education system, re- 
strict religious practices, and centralize agricultural production. All of these, besides 
affecting other Bulgarian citizens, also concerned the Turkish community, which 
made up almost 10% of the population in Bulgaria at the time and had enjoyed 
considerable freedom both in practising their religion, language, and traditions, and 
in running their own schools (Beltan 2006, p. 25). As a result of these policies, 

15 The number included Pomaks who were considered to be of Turkish origin through their Islamic 
orientation, but there are no data differentiating this group from the larger Turkish minority. 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to Turkey 


154,393 Bulgarian Turks migrated to Turkey between January 1950 and November 
1951. They were accepted by the Turkish as settled immigrants and received finan- 
cial support (Beltan 2006, p. 25). 

Estimates of the number of Turks migrating from Bulgaria to Turkey after the 
1968 agreements (which aimed at uniting separated families), vary from 50,000 to 
130,000 depending on the source (Parla 2003, 2006). Parla (2003, p. 562) argues 
that these migrations ‘depended not only on the political regimes in Bulgaria, but 
also on those in Turkey, with the latter’s attitudes towards its “racial kin” {soy das) 
ranging from welcoming to indifference to reluctant acceptance, contingent on the 
political and economic climate’. 

The third stage of migration flows from Bulgaria to Turkey was during the so- 
called Revival Process in Bulgaria, which was an assimilation campaign that began 
in 1984 with bans on wearing traditional Turkish dress and speaking Turkish in 
public places. It continued with a name-changing campaign targeting Turks. As a 
result of this assimilation campaign, almost 350,000 Bulgarian Turks 16 migrated to 
Turkey between June 1989 and August 1989 (Kiri§ci 1995, pp. 63-66). 

The Revival Process was implemented not only in Bulgaria, but was part of a 
socialistic unification policy in all of the communist regimes of the Balkans. Thus, 
during the Cold War period, immigrants from other Balkan countries also disem- 
barked to Turkey. After Bulgaria, the second largest population movement from the 
Balkans was from Yugoslavia, from where 186,925 people migrated to Turkey be- 
tween 1945 and 1990 (Kiri§ci 1995, p. 70). As Yugoslavia did not permit migration 
of the Turkish and Muslim community during the period 1939-1950, it was only 
after the political rapprochement between Yugoslavia and Turkey and the signing of 
the Balkan Pact in the later period that most of these people could take their leave 
(Altug 1991, p. 115; Eren 1993, p. 296; Beltan 2006, pp. 25-28). From the 1950s 
to the 1960s, approximately 150,000 immigrants arrived in Turkey composed not 
only of Turks, but also Albanians, Pomaks, and Bosnians (Beltan 2006, pp. 25-28). 
Concerned about their status in post-war communist Yugoslavia, even those Muslim 
Albanians who could not speak Turkish claimed Turkish ancestry in order to use 
this immigration status (Kiri§ci 1995, p. 71; Poulton 1991, p. 92). 

In this sense, Albanians were an interesting case. Until 1948, the Albanians of 
Yugoslavia benefited from the situation created by the good relations between Al- 
bania and Yugoslavia. However, as Yugoslavia broke its ties with the USSR and its 
satellites, including Albania, the Albanians of Yugoslavia started to be suspected 
of being manipulated by Albania and aiming to destabilize Yugoslavia (De Rapper 
2000 ). 

Although an Albanian state had emerged from the Ottoman Empire, many Muslim Alba- 
nians took advantage of various emigration agreements between Yugoslavia and Turkey, 
and seeing Turkey rather than Albania as their kin-state, moved to there; this could be 
explained largely by Enver Hoxha’s post-war fortress mentality and militant atheism (Poul- 
ton 1997, p. 200). 

16 Quotation translated by the authors. 


A. Rduygu and D. Sert 

With the 1953 Balkan Pact, many Albanians began to depart for Turkey. There were 
three novel characteristics of this new wave of departures (Poulton 1997, p. 200). 
First , in addition to the political dimension of the previous departures, there was 
a national dimension of these movements. While political opposition was still a 
characteristic of Albanians — anti-communist sentiments among them were wide- 
spread — there was also resentment among those people who had passed ‘religion 
before the nation’. Secondly , in order to legally migrate to Turkey in line with the 
Balkan Pact, Albanians pretended to be members of the Turkish minority. Accord- 
ing to De Rapper (2000), one third of the people who then declared themselves as 
Turks did not speak Turkish. Thirdly , though 20 years after the previous wave, these 
latter immigrants benefited from the existence of an Albanian community in Turkey 
with family ties, which facilitated their rapid integration. 

Following the consolidation of the communist regime in Yugoslavia and an im- 
proving minority status, from the 1970s to 1980s migration to Turkey declined no- 
ticeably. Only 1797 people — most of whom were joining close relatives — chose to 
migrate to Turkey in this period (Table 5.3; Beltan 2006, pp. 25-28; Kiri§ci 1995, 
P- 71). 

During the years of the Cold War, migration from Greece was the third largest 
demographic movement to Turkey after those from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. In the 
course of World War II and the subsequent civil war in Greece, many Muslims from 
Greece were granted asylum in Turkey (Kiri§ci 1995). It was only after the internal 
situation had returned to normal in 1951 that Turkey ended its policy of admitting 
Muslims from Greece. Subsequently, approximately 26,000 Muslims from Greece 
migrated to Turkey during the 1950s and 1960s (Beltan 2006, pp. 25-28; Kiri§ci 
1995, pp. 72-73). 17 

The smallest migration flows during the Cold War years came from Romania, 
with only 1200 immigrants arriving in Turkey. This small number can be explained 
by the fairly liberal cultural and minority rights that the Turkish community enjoyed 
in Romania 18 after World War II (Kiri§ci 1995, p. 74). Accordingly, it would not be 
wrong to argue that while bilateral relations were also important, the levels of mi- 
gration from the Balkans during this period were highly correlated with the internal 

Table 5.3 The Turkish population in the FR Yugoslavia according to official documents. (Source: 
Geray 1962, pp. 10-14) 

























17 There are no data available for the war period between 1939 and 1945. 

18 To illustrate, Turks have comprised almost 2 % of the population in Northern Dobrudja from the 
1950s until today. 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to Turkey 


politics of the Balkan countries — especially with their treatment of their minorities. 
The reasons for migration to Turkey in the next period were rather different. 

5.4 Current Stage 

The end of the Cold War had two main consequences for migration dynamics in the 
Balkans. First , the transition stage from communist totalitarian regimes to capitalist 
democracies generated ethnic conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, which produced 
certainly the most dramatic forced ethnic migrations on the European continent in 
the last two decades (Bonifazi and Mamolo 2004). Secondly , this transition formed 
the political and economic foundations for the extension or emergence of a series 
of migration flows that previously had been strictly controlled by states. Generally, 
it can be argued that while migrations of the previous periods were more ethno- 
religious in character, the current movements from the Balkans to Turkey can be 
characterized more as labour migrations 19 — maybe with the two exceptions of the 
Bosnian Muslims and Kosovars who took refuge in Turkey during the dissolution of 
the former Yugoslavia. Although there are no statistics, in the case of Muslims from 
Greece (i.e., Turks and Pomaks) an important reason for migration to Turkey is also 
for continued education at university level. 

Turkey accepted Bosnian Muslims as refugees after the outbreak of hostilities 
and persecutions in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992 where a total of 2819 Bosnian 
refugees were housed in refugee camps located in different cities of Turkey (Kiri§ci 
1995, pp. 71-72). Between 1992 and 1995, around 20,000 Bosnians were granted 
temporary asylum; many have returned to Bosnia since the adoption of the Day- 
ton Peace Agreement (igduygu and Sert 2009). Similarly, in 1998 and 1999, about 
18,000 Kosovars took shelter in Turkey and benefited from protection from the 
ethnic strife in their homeland, of whom a majority returned with the lessening of 
the conflict in Kosovo (Kiri§ci 2001). 

With the fall of communism, Turkey became a strategic choice of emigration 
destination for Muslim Albanians from Albania, due to the presence of networks, 
existing relations, the lack of entry requirements (most migrants buy a tourist visa 
at the border), and the absence of anti-foreigner and anti- Albanian racism. There 
were two main waves (De Rapper 2000). The first was during the so-called ‘crisis of 
embassies’ in July 1990 in Tirana, when hundreds of people took refuge in foreign 
embassies. The Embassy of Turkey hosted about 30 people who settled in Turkey 
with the help of the authorities, promoting the arrival of others later on the basis of 
kinship networks. These first arrivals were mostly fathers. Once the situation was 
stabilized they brought their families. For a number of them, Turkey became a tran- 
sit point for other countries, especially the USA. 

19 While ethno-religious elements are still important, non-Muslims from the Balkans are also in- 
volved in these current movements. 


A. Rduygu and D. Sert 

The second wave was in 1997 and 1998, during the economic and political crises 
and rising corruption in Albania, when some 6500 families — 42,000 people — ar- 
rived in Turkey (De Rapper 2000). Rather than the migration of fathers of families 
or young single men seeking employment abroad, this wave was for the purpose of 
taking the family to safety and ensuring normal living conditions. 

Much of the recent migration flows from the Balkans to Turkey are a result of 
economic difficulties in the home countries. These movements are usually of ir- 
regular labour migrants , most of whom are from Bulgaria and Romania and arrive 
in Turkey on tourist visas to work informally as domestic labourers, sex workers, 
construction workers, or sweatshop workers (^duygu and Yiikseker 2008). Many 
of these migrants come to Turkey legally, in line with Turkish visa requirements, but 
overstay their visas and then become illegal while in the country (i^duygu 2009). 
Thus, while many economic sectors in western Turkey — mainly the textile, con- 
struction, sex, and entertainment industries — hinge on this type of cheap labour, 
upper and middle-class Turkish families provide work for female domestic helpers 
as nannies, babysitters, or carers for the sick and elderly (i^duygu and Yiikseker 
2008). These people’s working conditions are precarious, with long hours and low 
wages — without social security, health insurance, or pension schemes. 

The case of Romanian migration to Turkey is illustrative in showing that these 
countries are now part of a migration system in which economic conditions, not 
only in these countries themselves, but in the entire region, affect patterns of move- 
ment. For example, the first wave of Romanian migration took place from 1990 to 
1995. During this period a new pattern of mass migration of Romanian- speaking 
Christian Romanians to the Turkish labour market emerged which was quintessen- 
tially transnational — that is, They worked in the host countries for fixed periods of 
time, stipulated in their work contracts, and were not joined by their families’ (Ban 
2009, p. 5). At that time, Turkey was a major destination for traders and informal 
service workers; once migration networks for the Italian, Spanish, and Greek labour 
markets started to consolidate in the second half of the 1990s, and economic oppor- 
tunities shortly became modest for the prospective migrant in Turkey, the number of 
Romanian migrants in Turkey decreased substantially (Ban 2009, p. 5). 

At the same time, it is possible to speak of a return migration to the Balkans from 
Turkey. With the regime change in Bulgaria in 1 990, one third of the refugees who 
had arrived in the previous period returned, while the rest remained and acquired 
Turkish citizenship. Based on the figures provided for 2006 by the Bureau for For- 
eigners, Borders, and Asylum of the Directorate of General Security of the Ministry 
of Interior, Bulgarians still constitute the largest nationality with residence permits 
in Turkey (igduygu and Sert 2009). However, following Bulgaria’s recent accession 
to the EU, an increasing number of these Turks of Bulgarian origin have again ap- 
plied for Bulgarian citizenship so as to obtain the right to travel to Bulgaria and to 
other EU countries without a visa. 

Data confirm the decreasing scale of immigration from the Balkans to Turkey. 
Based on 31 December 2012 population and housing census data provided by the 
Turkish Statistical Institute (TUIK), around 1.3 % of Turkey’s population were bom 

5 The Changing Waves of Migration from the Balkans to Turkey 


abroad. While around 43% of this group were bom in Bulgaria, approximately 
8.7 % and 3.5 % were bom in Macedonia and Greece, respectively. Bulgaria remains 
a part of migration trends towards Turkey, albeit of lesser importance. Compared to 
the 1980s, when Bulgarian migrants were the second largest group of immigrants in 
Turkey, they currently form around only 2 % of the migrant stock. 

Figures provided by the Ministry of Interior also show a declining trend of im- 
migration from Bulgaria and the Balkans in general. Until 2008, around 30% of 
immigration in Turkey was from this region; subsequently, the proportion decreased 
to 12%. One explanation for this decline is the accession of Bulgaria and Romania, 
two important migrant-sending countries, to the EU — leaving Turkey as a less at- 
tractive destination compared with the new opportunities in the EU (Sert and Kor- 
fali). Although there was a small upwards trend in 2010, to 16 % right after the euro- 
zone crisis, it fell back to 10% in 2012. Looking at these numbers, one might claim 
that immigration from the Balkans to Turkey has taken a more rational volume and 
that migrants seem to be making their decisions based on economic interests rather 
than ethnic kinship ties. 

5.5 Conclusion 

Looking at the migration patterns from the Balkans into Turkey through a longi- 
tudinal analysis, we can apply Park’s claim for the Bulgarian case to the entire 
Balkans and argue that Turkey’s attitudes towards these migrations ranged from 
reluctant acceptance or welcoming its ‘racial kin’ to indifference towards irregular 
migrants, depending on the political and economic environment. The late Ottoman 
period can be characterized as ‘reluctant acceptance’ of immigrants, as settlement 
and management of these people constituted an important problem for the Empire 
in its decline. Then, the early years of the Republic are a typical example of the 
‘welcoming’ attitude towards the ‘racial kin’ from the Balkans. This was in line with 
the founding fathers’ desire to increase the population of the war- tom and epidemic- 
rife Anatolia. The years of the Cold War were a direct reflection of the political and 
economic climate. In this period we observe many fluctuations in migration flows, 
which are largely ethnic in character, depending on the home countries’ treatment 
of minorities. The current stage of Balkan migrations to Turkey is rather different — 
with less importance of ethnic kin, more significance of economic conditions, more 
two-way flows, and indifference on the part of the authorities towards the situation 
of irregular labour migrants. All in all, Balkan migrant flows to Turkey represent 
a lively migration system that has adapted to changing local, bilateral, and global 
conditions over time. 

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 
Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in 
any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. 


A. igduygu and D. Sert 


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Yalmkili 9 , Y. (1991). Es bre deli riizgar es [Blow thy demented blow, blow]. Bulgaristan 
Tiirklerinin Sesi, 5, 19. 

Ahmet I^duygu is professor of international relations and director of the Migration Research 
Program (MiReKog) at K 09 University, Istanbul, Turkey. His areas of interest are international 
migration, Turkey, demography, irregular migration, citizenship, international organizations, and 
civil society. Igduygu is co-editor of Migration around Turkey: Old phenomena, new research, 
Istanbul: Isis Press, 2013 (with Deniz Yiikseker and Damla B. Aksel) and of Countries of migrants, 
cities of migrants, Istanbul: Isis Press, 2013 (with Marcello Balbo and Julio Perez Serrano) 

Deniz Sert is Assistant Professor at the Department of International Relations, Ozyegin 
University, Istanbul, Turkey. Her areas of interests are conflict, international migration, forced 
migration, internal displacement, transnationalism, border management, and civil society. Two 
of her recent publications are ‘Turkey’s integrated border management strategy?’, Turkish Policy 
Quarterly, 12(2013), nr. 1, pp. 173-179 and ‘Compensation Packages,’ in L. Stan and N. Nedelsky 
(eds.) The new encyclopedia of transitional justice, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013 

Chapter 6 

‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’: Post-1989 
Labour Migration from Bulgaria to Turkey 

Ayse Parla 

The website of the Turkish Foreigner’s Department, revamped in line with the EU 
accession criteria of accessibility and transparency, hosts a separate page devoted 
to the topic of ‘illegal migration’. The page opens with the declaration that ‘it is a 
basic instinct of human beings to reside in the country in which they are born, the 
country to which they belong and the country to which they are tied with the tie of 
citizenship’. Implicating that all movement beyond borders is something aberrant, 
and privileging rootedness as something natural, the state discourse on migration 
goes on to define illegal migration as ‘leaving the country where one legally resides 
and entering another country through illegal means, or, after legal entry, not exiting 
within the legally defined time period and living/working in that country without 
legal permission’. 1 

Malkki’s (1992, 1995) prescient work on essentialist constructions of refugees 
has addressed the ways in which national identity is a deeply territorialized concept 
that renders suspect those whose ties to a singular national soil are regarded as 
tenuous. Since then, a growing body of critical scholarship has exposed the as- 
sumptions and contradictions that underlie the designation of migrants as ‘legal’ 
or ‘illegal’. Some of these works emphasize the fluidity of the line that allegedly 
separates legality from illegality when one takes seriously the ways in which exist- 
ing laws translate into everyday practice (Coutin 2005) and embodied experience 
(Willen 2007); others point to the ways in which migration policies often result in, 
and even actively produce, illegality (Calavita 1998; De Genova 2005); yet others 
focus on the ways in which the state rhetoric of fighting illegality masks a tacit 
tolerance of illegality (Balibar 2004; Favell 2008; Sassen 1996). Activists have also 
systematically taken to task the terminology that brands people as ‘illegal’: from 
the insistence on the term sans papiers in France to ‘Kein Mensch ist Illegal/no 

1, last accessed 28 July 2011. 

A. Parla (E3) 

European Studies, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Sabanci University, Istanbul, Turkey 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 105 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 6 


A. Parla 

one is illegal’ networks around the world, oppositional groups have rallied to raise 
awareness of the fact that the term ‘illegal immigrant’ makes sense only when one 
takes for granted the standpoint of the nation state with its a priori denial of the 
principle of the equal right of presence for all. 

This chapter seeks to demonstrate yet another instance of the indistinct line be- 
tween what gets designated as legality and illegality, honing in on the Turkish con- 
text through ethnographic analysis of the everyday practices of Turkish- speaking 
migrants from Bulgaria. The more novel aspect of this contribution to the extant 
literature lies in the fact that the ethnographic material presented concerns a group 
of migrants who were historically among the most privileged of the migrant groups 
in Turkey, but whose legal status has significantly shifted over the last two decades 
to become one of systematic irregularity. The trajectory of the Bulgarian Turkish 
immigrants — from prospective citizens to dispensable labour migrants — renders all 
the more cogent the contingent nature of legality. 

This chapter begins by providing a historical and contemporary overview that 
traces the striking shifts in the legal status of the Bulgarian Turkish migrants. Si- 
multaneously, it brings out the specificity of this particular case by drawing com- 
parisons with immigration policies towards ‘ethnic return migrants’ in other nation 
states, with a special focus on the Southern Balkans. It then goes on to locate the 
unique narratives of three migrants within this broader structure, reading their sto- 
ries against the grain of the prevailing legal designations. The analyses of this chap- 
ter are based primarily on qualitative data gathered through ethnographic fieldwork 
conducted over 2007-2011 among Turkish migrants from Bulgaria. 2 During field- 
work, the main anthropological methods of participant observation and open-ended 
interviews were deployed. As distinct from other qualitative research, however, it 
should be stressed that true to the spirit of ‘thick description’ (Geertz 1973), the vi- 
gnettes presented here are the result of multiple encounters that spanned 4 years and 
different institutional and recreational sites rather than single interviews conducted 
in one sitting or setting. 

6.1 The Migration of the Bulgarian Turks from Bulgaria 
to Turkey: A Story of Falling from Grace? 

Starting with the founding of the Republic in 1923 and extending to 1989, migrants 
from Bulgaria with claims to Turkish ethnicity have received citizenship on the basis 
of an immigration policy that grants citizenship to those of Turkish descent (Kirisci 
2000). But the favouring of the immigration of those deemed as co-ethnics is not 

2 This chapter is based on ethnographic research funded by two TUBITAK projects. The first one, 
‘A Comparative Analysis of Informal Networks among Bulgarian Turks, Iraqi Turks and Moldavi- 
ans’ was a collaborative project undertaken together with Didem Dam§ and Mine Eder and carried 
out between January 2007 and June 2008. The second project, entitled, ‘The Legalization Practices 
among Turkish Immigrants from Bulgaria’ took place between 2009 and 2012. 

6 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’ 


unique to the Turkish nation state and should first be situated within a comparative 
perspective. After the settlement of the Asia Minor refugees in (northern) Greece in 
1922, the Greek government continued to settle ‘repatriates’ (palinnostoundes ) — 
primarily Greeks from the former Soviet Union — under a special, more favour- 
able regulation that differs from the constitutional regulations that other migrants in 
Greece are subjected to (Baldwin-Edwards and Kyriakou 2004). Similarly, around 
4 million individuals of German descent ( Aussiedler ) from Eastern Europe and the 
former Soviet Union migrated to Germany under the legal auspices of ‘the right of 
return’ defined by the post-war German constitution. Other well-studied cases of 
‘return’ migrations framed in terms of ethno-national identity include the migra- 
tion of Jews from the Soviet Union to Israel (Remennick 2003), Hungarians from 
Romania to Hungary (Fox 2009), and Japanese from Brazil to Japan (Tsuda 2003). 

However, such ‘policy favoritism’ towards ethnic return migrants, as Voutira 
terms it for the Greek context, has been subject to certain shifts since the 1990s, ren- 
dering legalization more arduous in both the Greek and the German contexts. In line 
with what seems to be a general trend in South-eastern Europe as well as at large, in 
Turkey, too, departure from ethnic favouritism may be observed with regard to the 
‘ethnic kin’ migrating from Bulgaria to Turkey, who have been rendered systemati- 
cally irregular since the 1990s. After providing a brief overview of the history of 
the reception of immigrants from Bulgaria, I will probe further the question of why 
Turkey seems to have departed from its previous attitude and adopted a different 
policy in the last two decades. 

Historically, the Balkan Turks represent the most privileged migrant group in 
terms of access and acceptability. In legal terms, this privilege was enabled by the 
ethnicist bias of the first Settlement Law of 1934, which reserved the definition of 
migrants exclusively to those of Turkish descent and culture (Erder 2000; Kirisci 
2000). The same definition still holds in the most recent Settlement Law of 2006. 
That is to say, only those who can prove Turkish descent or affinity to Turkish cul- 
ture are legally designated as gogmen (migrant); the rest are simply called ‘foreign- 
ers’, in legal parlance. 

In addition to this structural positive discrimination in the law towards co-eth- 
nics, we also observe what Dams and I have elsewhere called the ‘hierarchy of 
migrant desirability’ — even within migrant groups that claim Turkish ethnicity 
(Dams and Parla 2009; see also £agaptay 2003). While ‘those of Turkish culture 
and descent’ include other Turkish Muslim groups, such as Circassians, Afghans, 
and Turkmen who have also historically had more privileged access to citizenship 
(£agaptay 2003; Kirisci 2000; Kadirbeyoglu 2007), co-ethnics from the Balkans 
occupy the top echelons among those deemed as ethnic kin. Of the tens of thousands 
naturalized in accordance with Law 1312, the foremost recipients of citizenship 
during the founding years of the Republic were migrants from the Balkans (Kirisci 
2000; igduygu 2003). Indeed, this hospitable attitude towards the Balkan migrants 
was resented, especially among conservative Muslim groups, for being partisan 
(Bora and §en 2009). On a comparative note, contemporary immigration policies 
in Greece confer a preferential status on Albanian citizens of Greek origin and yet 


A. Parla 

present them with fewer benefits when compared to Greeks from the former Soviet 
Union. Voutira (2004) thus suggests the similar analytic frame of a ‘hierarchy of 
Greekness’, to describe the differential criteria used to determine inclusion and ex- 
clusion, even for those identified as omoyeneis (same origin) — as Dams and I do for 
those identified as soyda§ in the Turkish context. 

One explanation for the preferential treatment of Balkan Turks is that after the 
Balkan War of 1912, the migrants fleeing the lost lands of the Ottoman Empire 
helped to cement Turkish nationalism (Canefe 2002; Koroglu 2004), especially 
through what Keyder (2005) calls their ‘revanchist’ attitude. The desirability of 
these migrants seems to have stemmed also from their being seen as the last, teeter- 
ing claim on Europe and Europeanness. Significant as well is the fact that the popu- 
lation from the Balkans was settled so as to compensate for the scarcity of human 
labour; and capital and property belonging to the exiled and massacred Greek and 
Armenian minorities was transferred to the newcomers to facilitate the formation 
of a local Muslim bourgeoisie (Keyder 1987; Ak^am 1992). The migration of the 
Balkan Turks to Turkey was thus encouraged as part of the nationalist effort to cre- 
ate the semblance of a homogeneous Turkish homeland populated by ‘ethnically 
pure’ Turks. 

The Cold War further reinforced the privileged treatment of Turkish migrants 
from Bulgaria. In 1950-1951, 150,000 were granted citizenship (Eminov 1997). 
This wave was primarily composed of migrants who resisted communist policies 
and particularly the collectivization of land in Bulgaria. They were, therefore, par- 
ticularly welcome from the point of the Turkish state, not only in terms of their 
ethnic identification but also in line with Cold War ideology. Similarly, in 1989, 
when more than 300,000 Turks fleeing ethnic repression in Bulgaria arrived at the 
Turkish border, they were accepted with much ethnic zeal and political fanfare as 
kindred fleeing the oppression of a communist regime. Such utilization of Cold War 
rivalry through the movement of migrants resonates with the German case as well, 
where ethnic German immigration was cited by West German politicians as proof 
of the superiority of the West German nation state and economic system (Miinz and 
Ohlinger 2003, p. 189). 

However, the privileged treatment of the Turkish immigrants from Bulgaria was 
to change considerably after 1989. Migrations from Bulgaria to Turkey continued 
apace in the 1990s, given the failing economy in Bulgaria after the fall of com- 
munism and the employment opportunities in the informal sector in Turkey. But 
the migrants arriving after the 1990s no longer had the same access to citizenship. 
Throughout the 1990s and up until 2001, Bulgarian nationals wishing to come to 
Turkey needed to obtain a tourist visa to leave Bulgaria. At the Turkish consulates 
in Bulgaria, visas were granted to only one member per family. This was not an of- 
ficial rule, but the accounts of my respondents suggest that this was routine practice. 
Given the increasing difficulty of getting tourist visas, people began to seek illegal 
routes to reach Turkey, either in search of jobs or to unite with a partner who had 
already migrated. 

In 2001, the Turkish government lifted the visa requirement for Bulgarian na- 
tionals. This was a response to Bulgaria’s removal from the ‘negative’ Schengen 

6 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’ 


list — that is, the list of countries approved by the EU whose citizens must have 
a visa — and inclusion in the list of countries whose citizens are exempt from the 
requirement of having a visa (‘the positive list’) to travel within the Schengen area, 
which currently consists of 25 European countries. From 2001 to May 2007, Bul- 
garian nationals could thus enter Turkey on visa waivers valid for 3 months. In 
May 2007, yet another new visa agreement came into effect. The former procedure 
that permitted Bulgarian nationals’ legal stay as tourists on visa waivers valid for 3 
months was replaced by permission to stay for a maximum of 90 days in a 6-month 
period. The new visa regime was the result of a bilateral agreement signed between 
Bulgaria and Turkey, which in turn ensued from the ongoing harmonization with the 
Schengen visa regime. In the wider context of the EU, the new procedure harmo- 
nized the conditions for migration from Bulgaria to EU countries, on the one hand, 
and from Bulgaria to Turkey, on the other, by granting the right to free movement 
for Bulgarian passport holders within the whole Schengen area as well as in Tur- 
key for a maximum of 90 days within a 6-month period. However, for the labour 
migrants who come to work in Turkey — mostly in the domestic sector — the 90 day 
limit has meant the stark choice between losing their jobs or lapsing into illegality. 

The bigger question, then, asked also by the migrants themselves with much ex- 
asperation, is why Turkey seems to be letting go of its policy of favouritism towards 
the Turkish- speaking migrants from Bulgaria — initially, gradually throughout the 
1990s and early 2000s and more exactingly after 2007? The full explanation cannot 
be reduced to the impact of the EU and harmonization with the Schengen regime 
and needs to take into account a constellation of other factors. 

One answer may have to do with the shift in the symbolic utility of the migrants 
from Bulgaria. As far as the state is concerned, the desirability of Bulgarian Turkish 
migrants may have waned after the end of the Cold War, since the discourse of ‘sav- 
ing ethnic kin’ from communist oppression no longer had the same symbolic use 
and validity. 3 Another reason, which we have explored in detail elsewhere (Kasli 
and Parla 2009; Dams and Parla 2009) has to do with the political instrumentaliza- 
tion of Bulgarian Turkish migrants as potential voters for the Movement for Rights 
and Freedoms — the party in Bulgaria that represents the Turkish minority. At the 
time of each national election in Bulgaria, the Turkish government announces am- 
nesties that grant 3- or 6-month residence permits to those who are illegal at the 
time. While no direct proof of voting is required to gain the permit, both the timing 
and the semi-official discourse by migrant associations and employers at the For- 
eigner’s Department explicitly link the amnesties to the elections in Bulgaria. In 
fact, in 2009 some migrant associations even went so far as to say that those unable 
to prove that they had cast a vote would not be able to benefit from the amnesty — an 
unfounded claim that nonetheless reveals the instrumentalization of migrants’ ir- 
regularity for the transnational political interests of the state. 

3 A different, almost reverse version of the argument regarding the significance of communism, 
suggesting suspicion that after 50 years of communism these migrants had become less desirable 
is made by Hann and Beller-Hann (1998). 


A. Parla 

A related argument may have to do with what Glick-Schiller and Fouron (1998) 
discuss under the rubric of the ‘deterritoralization of the nation state’, a state of 
affairs that embodies not a move away from nation-state sovereignty, but rather, a 
re-envisioning of the state as expanding beyond its national borders to appropriate 
and vie for the loyalty of its ‘nationals’ abroad. 4 Finally, and perhaps most impor- 
tantly, immigration policies in Turkey — as elsewhere — are shaped by the demands 
of the neoliberal labour market for cheap and vulnerable labour. This demand is best 
met by undocumented migrants. 

In his book, Selecting by Origin , Christian Joppke (2005) explores ethnic migra- 
tion in various liberal states, and points to various and often countervailing trends of 
de-ethnicization and re-ethnicization as manifested in and through migration policy. 
He locates the main tension as being between, on one hand, the favouring of ethnic 
migration for national identity reasons, and on the other hand, the increasing pre- 
dominance of liberal-universalistic principles over parochially national ones. 

I agree with Joppke in that to explain the change in policy towards the Bulgarian 
Turks, we should consider a variety of factors, not all of which are necessarily al- 
ways in harmony with one another. Nor should the change necessarily be interpret- 
ed as a decisive, finely orchestrated break with the past. Elsewhere I have argued 
that the privilege of ethnic kinship continues to be smuggled in through the back 
door, despite the fact that the new Citizenship Law of 2010 purportedly eliminated 
all references to positive discrimination based on ethnicity (Parla 2011). However, 
unlike Joppke, who suggests that to the extent that ethnic migration is constrained, 
it is constrained by liberal norms of rights, I suggest that the historical privilege of 
ethnic kinship competes primarily with market concerns. Rather than the increasing 
pressure exerted by human rights ideals that restrain ethnic favouritism, as Joppke 
would have it, I locate the main tension in the struggle between the neoliberal labour 
market and ethnic citizenship. 

Perhaps we could also interpret the cases of Greece and Germany, where ethnic 
kinship is being rendered more tenuous as a stepping stone towards legality, in a 
similar light. Although Greece continues its policy favouritism towards the omoy- 
eneis , the reception of migrants from the FSU is not as unqualified as it was in 1989 
and the early 1990s. After a shift towards containment between 1995 and 2000, 
the criteria for acceptance have become stricter since 2001 — requiring proof not 
just of Greek descent, but also of ‘the individual’s possession of a Greek national 
consciousness’ (Voutira 2004, p. 538). Similarly, for Germany, the right to return 
for those ‘belonging to the German people’ ( Volkszugehdrigkeit ) has been more 
strictly regulated since the 1990s. In addition to the introduction of quotas, German 
resettlers now need to apply for immigration permission prior to arrival and in their 
countries of origin, and to pass a language test to confirm their Volkszugehdrigkeit 
status (Dietz 1999). 

4 From a historical viewpoint, this is probably not a new phenomenon at all: retaining a loyal con- 
tingency outside of its sovereign territory to strengthen its international interests has always been 
a tool of international politics. 

6 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’ 


A full analysis of the shifts in policy in each of these different national settings 
is beyond the scope of this chapter. What I want to underscore through these com- 
parative examples is that legal status is a contingent category that is not decided in 
accordance with, for example, the right to mobility as a fundamental human right, 
as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 5 Rather, legal status is 
designated through the interplay of the sometimes complementary, sometimes com- 
peting, forces around political interests, international relations, and the demands 
of the market. The migrants who continue to do in 2009 what they were doing in 
2006, or in 1998, or in 1989, may thus find themselves constantly walking the tight- 
rope between legality and illegality — performing as best they can a balancing act 
amidst constantly changing visa regulations. The next section seeks to capture how 
migrants themselves experience states of ‘legality’ and ‘illegality’, with the aim 
of demonstrating not only the arbitrariness of state policies where migrants’ lives 
are concerned but also the inadequacy of the terms ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ in both the 
normative and empirical sense. 

6.2 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’ 

When Giilcan came to Istanbul in 2006 with her parents and her brother, she was 
23 years old. Two years before, she had come on her own, stayed with her aunt for 
a year, working as a babysitter and saving money to complete her university degree 
in economics in Bulgaria. In 2006, the flexible visa regime was still in effect, en- 
abling Giilcan to keep her residence status regular by exiting and re-entering every 
3 months. However, she worked in the informal domestic market as a babysitter 
without a work permit — an act that rendered her ‘illegal’. Already then, we have the 
first instance of illegality in which almost all migrant women from Bulgaria found 
themselves at that time — legal in terms of residence, illegal in terms of work. Up 
until 2003, foreigners were not allowed to work as domestics anyway; since the 
2003 regulation concerning foreigners’ work permits, it has technically been pos- 
sible to get a permit for domestic work. However, ethnographic evidence — as well 
as statistics on how many people have obtained the permit to date — reveal its inac- 
cessibility given the costs and intricacy of the bureaucracy entailed (Erder 2000; 
I^duygu 2003). 6 

Gulcan’s mother had come to Turkey even earlier, in 1997, on a tourist visa, 
when the Turkish consulates in Bulgaria were issuing a visa to only one member per 
family. Gulcan’s mother overstayed her visa and worked informally as a domestic 

5 Also relevant is Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. My thanks 
to Hans Vermeulen for this reminder. 

6 During the course of fieldwork, I have indeed met one employer who obtained a work permit for 
her domestic worker. She did so through a lawyer’s firm that specializes in these permits and asks 
for about 3000 $ for the task. Once I had this information, I passed it on to the employers of several 
migrant workers I knew; none, to date, have actually pursued this option. 


A. Parla 

for 3 years. Eight years prior to that, in 1989 when Giilcan was still a child, they 
had migrated to Turkey as a family. However, because her father never felt at ease 
in Turkey, they returned before receiving Turkish citizenship, which was granted to 
those who came in 1989 and settled. 

This time around, the father was able to survive only 2 years in Turkey and went 
back to Bulgaria in 2008, his wife following shortly afterwards. Giilcan’s brother 
and his wife stayed on until 2010, but they too recently left for Bulgaria, although 
the bride wants to come back to Turkey and they are undecided as to where they will 
settle. Giilcan herself is adamant about staying, even if that means she will be with- 
out papers. But this does not necessarily mean she is committed to staying for good: 

First let me get my papers and then we will see. I cannot entirely give up on Bulgaria, either. 

For us, there is always going back and forth, we can never say, ‘this is it, I am settled for 
good’. Migration is a part of our lives. In Bulgaria, too, everyone always went somewhere 
else to work. For us, migration is ordinary, completely normal. 

Giilcan ’s normalization of migration as ordinary and the recurrent movement of 
other members of her family back and forth subvert the nationalist narrative within 
which the 1989 migration was subsumed as a unique event of homecoming (Parla 
2006). Giilcan’s articulation of their migration routine, within which the passage 
across the border in 1989 is just one among many other subsequent migratory move- 
ments, also challenges the allegedly sharp contrast between the 1989 migration, 
framed by the government and nationalist discourse as a purely political migration, 
and the post- 1990s migratory movements as a purely economic. Finally, Giilcan’s 
effortless inclusion of other geographies within her mental map of possible migra- 
tion routes severs the seamless connection between Bulgaria and Turkey which the 
Turkish state has historically posited for its ‘kindred in exile’. 

After their return to Bulgaria in 1989, Giilcan’s father worked intermittently in 
Germany despite being caught and deported twice. Giilcan joined him after high 
school to give Germany a try herself. ‘They don’t treat you very well there if you 
are Turkish. I cannot stand things like that, so I went back to Bulgaria. ’ After finish- 
ing a bachelor’s degree in economics, she also did a master’s degree in accounting 
through a certificate programme. Although this degree is not recognized in Turkey, 
it is the area in which Giilcan wants to pursue a career. That is why she refuses to 
work as a babysitter this time around: ‘I put up with it then because my goal was 
to finish school. But I won’t sell myself short now. I want to have a proper career.’ 
Giilcan worked for a while as an intern at a maritime company. Once the internship 
was over, however, the company did not want to deal with the bureaucracy involved 
in getting her a work permit. She contacted various other companies, ‘and it was 
always the same thing: without documents, you are always treated like you are 
nothing. No papers, no insurance: it is precarious for us.’ 

When the new regulation came into effect in May 2007, allowing Bulgarian na- 
tionals only 90 days of stay within a 6-month period, Giilcan said that she went 
everywhere in search of information, from the Consulate to the Foreigner’s Depart- 
ment. Everyone told her something different. She also heard rumours about the 
possibility of a free permit being granted as amnesty right before the elections in 
Bulgaria to encourage migrant voting. Knowing that a similar amnesty had been 

6 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’ 


granted in 2005, Giilcan decided to stay and risk illegality. Indeed, the 6-month 
residence permits were granted this time around as well, regardless of prior legal 
status. Paradoxically, those who abided by the new visa regime and went back to 
Bulgaria after the 90 day limit could not benefit from the amnesty. ‘In panic, they 
ended up not only paying the penalty (for late exit) but they could not come back to 
Turkey for 3 months either’, Giilcan said. ‘So [I’m] glad we did not go. This all goes 
to show that illegal stuff rules the day in Turkey. Those who play by the rules simply 
lose.’ Indeed, the irony not lost on Giilcan of losing when playing by the rules was a 
major source of discontent among the many migrants who found themselves in the 
same situation. Ethnographic evidence even suggests that these amnesties — which 
only reward, as it were, those who lapse into illegality — have increased the number 
of migrants who risk illegality instead of abiding by the 90 days visa regulation. 

Each time we went for our permits, [Giilcan said,] the migrant association leaders and 
officials told us, ‘We are giving these for the elections. So that you will vote.’ There was 
always talk of this sort. It is all very explicit. These [permits] are for the elections. They 
even said that they would send the list of people who voted — you know, we had signed our 
names at the municipality — that they would send this list of names to the consulate. This 
would count as evidence, they said, and the ones not on the list would not get the six-month 
renewal. Nothing of the sort happened, of course; still, we did not want to risk it and went. 
You cannot imagine what torture it was going to Bulgaria that night. No seats on the buses, 
since everyone was going. 

While the threat of sending a list to the consulate is only that — a threat — such semi- 
formal talk circulating among officials and migrant association leaders is revealing 
in terms of how these amnesties are experienced on the ground. Giilcan, too, is per- 
fectly aware of the emptiness of the threat. Yet, she ‘did not want to risk if, putting 
up with the requirements so as to maximize whatever chance at temporary legality 
is thrown her way. 

The 6-month permit did not turn out to be renewable. Between April 2008- when 
the permit expired — and June 2009, Giilcan resided in Turkey without papers. It 
was only more than a year later, at the end of June 2009, that she was able to regu- 
larize her status with yet another amnesty — again, before the elections in Bulgaria. 
While partly relieved, Giilcan was also discouraged that this permit was only for 
3 months and once again non-renewable. ‘I will get the permit, but this time I will 
not vote’, she said defiantly: 

They are literally playing with us. In any case, those who live here could not care less about 
the elections in Bulgaria. . . Now I do not know what to do. And my mother keeps saying, 
‘Don’t waste your time there.’ You know, I had hoped that something would happen with 
this election. Perhaps a one-year residence permit, or perhaps one that I could extend. And 
then a work permit. And then it would not be a dream to apply for citizenship. . . But when 
I hear that this permit is only for three months, I think to myself, why should I bother stay- 
ing? But then I am used to it, I have my routine. It is hard to leave now. I spent my last three 
years here. I put up a certain fight. If I give up all that, what will I have left, why did I come 
then? And although my father could get me a job at the municipality back in our town, I 
don’t think I will be content with working in a small town after life in the city. 

Currently, Giilcan works as an accountant for a small company. As far as her boss is 
concerned, her not having a work permit does not pose a problem. ‘Even those with 


A. Parla 

citizenship work without social security in small firms, so they don’t care.’ Given 
the restructuring that the company is undergoing and the expertise that Giilcan has 
accumulated, she feels she has become indispensable and hopes for a promotion 

Giilcan returned briefly to Bulgaria after her 3 months was up, thus ‘earning’ 
another 3 months of stay in Turkey. Through the informal services of a self-declared 
‘legal advisor’, whose actual credentials are those of a translator, she filed a petition 
with the Ministry to renew her permit, where she was advised to specify that she 
had relatives in Turkey and that she was single. The ‘legal advisor’ highlighted this 
latter point as being critical in evaluation of the applications. He submitted all her 
documents and gave her a phone number for an office in Ankara to follow up on 
her petition. Since December 2009, then, Giilcan has been residing without papers 
(given that her residency has expired); yet technically, she is non-deportable as long 
as she has a standing application with the Ministry. She has still not received a reply 
and is reluctant to follow up on it herself. ‘See, to tell you the truth, I am anxious 
to go. I don’t know what they might do; that is, in fact, why I keep putting it off.’ 

However, after a recent incident with the police, Giilcan says that she has changed 
her mind and will follow up her application more closely. Until then, Giilcan had 
not had any encounters with the police because of her not having papers. A couple 
of months ago, however, she was stopped by a police officer, who was conducting 
identity checks in front of the central mosque in a neighbourhood with a significant 
immigrant population. Her boyfriend was with her. When Giilcan showed her pass- 
port, the police officer said, ‘Oh-oh, your 90 days have long expired.’ Giilcan told 
him that she had petitioned to Ankara for an extension, and showed him the receipt 
for the petition. The officer said, ‘How do I know you have a residence permit? 
Where is that?’ Giilcan told him that she did not carry all her documents with her 
for fear of theft. The officer insisted on seeing it, and asked her to come to the police 
station, while someone else could go to her house and procure the document. Based 
on past experience, Giilcan did not trust that the officers at the station would under- 
stand the full details of her situation. She was not sure whether she could explain 
it herself. She realized that the officer was after a bribe when he said, ‘Look here, 
sweetie, isn’t it a shame that you two will have to spend your whole Sunday at the 
police station? What could we do about this?’ So they gave him all the cash they had 
with them, amounting to 120 $, and he let them go. 

6.3 ‘No Matter What we do, Nothing Comes of it...’ 

While it is true that single women on the move are increasingly becoming the pat- 
tern for many migrant groups in Turkey (see, e.g., Akalin 2007; Kaska 2006; Ke- 
ough 2006), the migrants from Bulgaria both partake in and challenge this trend in 
that often the entire family migrates. Aysel and Hasan, now aged 32 and 35, came to 
Turkey with their son 14 years ago with the aid of a smuggling network. The main 
motivation for their initial migration to Turkey was to be able to pay the gambling 

6 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’ 


debts that Hasan had accumulated in Bulgaria. They had one other option: Hasan, 
who worked as a house painter, was offered a painting job in Belgium through an 
acquaintance and was promised 2000 marks per month. He would have gone alone, 
leaving Aysel and their son behind. Yet Aysel did not want the family to be separat- 
ed. So it was Hasan who first passed the Turkish border in 1996, entrusting himself 
to a group of ‘kanalcf, which is slang for ‘smugglers’. Aysel undertook the journey 
with her son, then 3 years old. They walked from 10 at night to 5 in the morning, 
passing under barbed wire. ‘He was so small then, and it was night. He wanted to 
sleep, he wanted his bed, he wanted his comfort. We had to carry him all the way; 
he cried a lot. Fortunately, there were many men in the group and they helped carry 
him. I could not stand on my feet for at least a week afterwards.’ 

Aysel and Hasan stayed in the migrant settlements located where Aysel’s mother 
lives. The mother had immigrated in 1989, and she was the one who paid the smug- 
glers. In retrospect, Aysel is somewhat regretful about the decision to come to Tur- 
key: ‘If I had known it would turn out to be like this here, I would have urged him 
to go to Belgium. To have to resort to those means [meaning the smugglers], to have 
struggled so much; it just was not worth it. . . We thought we would work a bit and 
then go back.’ However, when their child began school, they felt that he would have 
a better chance in Turkey and that he could no longer adapt to life in Bulgaria. It 
was a struggle to get Olcay allowed to attend school. Hasan had to go to the school 
every day, along with three other mothers whose children could not be registered 
because of their irregular status. They pleaded, insisted and protested; in the end, it 
was the principal’s advocacy that they were able to get the children the necessary 
residence permits to attend school. Once their son had the certificate, Aysel and 
Hasan qualified for the ‘accompanying person permit’ ( refakatgi izni ) — a special 
residence permit given to those who are accompanying minors, the elderly, or the 
sick. Each time Hasan had to go to the Foreigner’s Department to renew the permit, 
he encountered the same problem: he would be told that the date of the permit had 
expired. Hasan explained that he could renew the permit only when Olcay ’s school 
opened again in the autumn, which meant that there was an inevitable gap of 3 
months between the date of expiration and the date of renewal. ‘I have not left the 
country, I am renewing the permit’, I said to them. “‘You still have to pay”, they 
would tell me. Once I went to speak with the head officer. He could not care less. 
“What is it to me?” he asked. That really blew my fuses. He said, “We will just get 
you and throw you out”. I said, “Okay, then throw me out’”. Aysel intervened: ‘I 
hate going to the Foreigner’s Department. Hasan gets angry and I end up paying 
the price.’ ‘But you inquire about something’, Hasan said in self-defence, ‘and they 
never answer properly. Each time you go back, they find yet another missing docu- 
ment. Each time, I lose a day’s worth of work. And I have to get in the queue at five 
in the morning. In the end, you just lose it, you know.’ 

Aysel and Hasan live in an extremely well-kept little flat in an otherwise di- 
lapidated migrant settlement in an outer Istanbul suburb that hosts a low-income 
population. Such settlements were commissioned by the state for the earlier wave of 
1989 migrants, but they were not completed on time. Meanwhile, most of the 1989 
migrants were able to move into better housing and the flats were left to deteriorate. 


A. Parla 

Some have rented out these flats to post- 1990s migrants, like Hasan and Aysel, for 
very low rates. Aysel currently works as in domestic services and Hasan works for 
a heating company. His employer is a 1989 migrant from Bulgaria and did not mind 
Hasan going to Denmark for a few months to do a temporary painting job; most of 
the people in the company are without insurance, anyway. Prior to this job, Hasan 
worked as a security guard for a gated community. Although the residents really 
liked him, even trusting him with their children when they ran errands, he was 
eventually fired because the residents were afraid that if he were be injured — an 
anxiety exacerbated by the gangs that had proliferated in the vicinity — they them- 
selves would get in trouble for employing someone without papers. Hasan toys with 
the idea of migrating to a European country. 4 If worse comes to worse, I would go 
temporarily, work and come back. ’ 

At the end of the summer of 2009, Hasan and Aysel went to the Registrar’s 
Office to ‘have their days counted’, and were told that they had acquired enough 
days to apply for citizenship. In addition to completing the various required docu- 
ments, including a document of origin that ‘proves’ their Turkish ethnicity, they 
were warned to make sure that the names on the Bulgarian and Turkish documents 
matched — a major concern since transliteration from the Cyrillic alphabet results 
in different spellings and even a single letter causes a file to be disqualified. It 
took Hasan and Aysel a month to collect all the documents and official stamps and 
cost more than a thousand dollars. With their completed file, they went back to the 
registrar, only to be told that they were not eligible to apply after all. Their 2 years’ 
worth of residence permits based on the special permit of accompanying a minor 
no longer qualified for citizenship applications. It turned out that the regulation al- 
lowing this special permit had already been revoked when they went to inquire at 
the Civil Registry, but the officer had not informed them of the change — perhaps 
because he himself did not know. 

When they sought advice from the most active Balkan migrants’ association in 
Istanbul, the president told them that in their situation, the only option was to try the 
‘exceptional circumstances’ clause of the new 2010 Citizenship Law. Exceptional 
circumstances apply to those of Turkish origin and with a relative of the first or 
second degree who is a Turkish citizen. They could try this route because Aysel’s 
mother was already a citizen. The president of the association said that he had filed 
about 150 such applications. ‘We are certain to get positive results’, he said confi- 
dently, and added with visible sarcasm, ‘Let us hope that they do not change the new 
citizenship law yet again. So I would urge you to hurry. ’ The price for processing the 
applications for the whole family would be 4000 TL (3500 $), he said, which they 
could pay in three instalments. 

After the meeting with the association president, Aysel was in high spirits. ‘We 
have already spent so much, we can risk this much more’, she said. She began cal- 
culating who could contribute how much. ‘All right then’, she said with playful de- 
fiance, ‘if Mr. Hasan still wants to go, let him go’. After the terrible disappointment 
at the Civil Registry the day before, Hasan had called his brother in Bulgaria and 
said, ‘I don’t care if they are staying or not; I’ve had it and I am joining you.’ But 
Aysel felt differently. ‘We bought all this furniture; we have an arrangement here. 

6 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’ 


How will we start from scratch there again? Even moving the furniture would cost 
a lot of money. So I would rather pay the 4000 TL, if only I knew it would work.’ 
Aysel went on planning in delighted chatter for a bit longer, then suddenly stopped 
in her tracks: 

Actually I don’t even know what we will do with this citizenship. I really do not know why 
we even want it. .. If it had not been for the three-month rule, I would not put so much effort 
into all this. But if we were to get citizenship, we could go back and forth without worries, 
otherwise, we have to constantly struggle with these permits. 

Five months later, they had not done anything. They decided that they could not risk 
investing that much money in something they had no reason to trust. When asked 
if they planned on doing anything before all the documents they had collected for 
the citizenship application expired, Hasan said, ‘No, not really. You saw it too, no 
matter what we do, nothing comes out of it. Perhaps there will be another amnesty, 
or the regulations will change or something.’ Meanwhile, Hasan has a new job as a 
ground cleaner at the airport for 400 $ a month, no bonuses. He is hoping to switch 
to another airport firm that offers a luggage-carrying service — a more demanding 
job, but with better pay. The best part, he says, is that he is insured for the first time. 

6.4 Harmonizing ‘Illegality’ 

A circular entitled ‘Fighting Illegal Migration’, issued by the Turkish Ministry of 
Interior on 19 March 2010 states that Turkey will step up its measures to prevent 
illegal migration as part of its ninth national programme and its concomitant com- 
mitment to meet the requirements for EU accession in the realm of policy con- 
cerning refugees and immigration. The circular states, among other directives, that 
bus companies and hotels will be regularly warned about human trafficking and 
that relevant personnel will take part in training programmes in which they will be 
taught to ‘evaluate those signs likely to reveal the existence of illegal migration, 
such as the purchase of large quantities of bread from the bakeries, left-over food in 
vehicles, heavy smell emanating from vehicles, the increase in unknown guests in 
the villages’ (Ministry of Interior press release 2010/22). 

Juxtaposing this press release against the stories of Aysel, Hasan, and Giilcan 
reveals a jarring discord between, on one hand, reduction of migrant ‘illegality’ 
to smells emanating from vehicles and the stealthy consumption of bread, and on 
the other hand, the everyday experiences of people like Aysel, Hasan, and Giilcan, 
which revolve around routine life including work, children, school, and outings. 
The depiction of illegal migration by the state as something completely undercover 
not only distorts the wide range of how illegality is experienced in everyday life but 
also further reinforces the criminalization of migrants. As the stories above describe 
in detail, migrants like Giilcan, Hasan, and Aysel— who, at one time or another, 
reside and work without the papers that particular national boundaries require of 
them — still pursue career opportunities and dreams, seek work and security, and go 
about their daily lives in as ordinary and dignified a manner as possible. 


A. Parla 

Secondly, the rhetoric about control or fighting ‘illegal migration’ does not ad- 
dress the question of arbitrariness of the law-in-practice (Kogacioglu 2009). After 
an identity check, the police may let those without documents go if they are paid a 
bribe, as when Giilcan was stopped with her boyfriend. An inadequately informed 
or unwilling official may fail to mention the crucial information that ‘accompany- 
ing person’ permits are no longer valid for citizenship applications, thus causing 
candidates to waste money and effort, as well as losing hope of legalization. Arbi- 
trariness also serves as a politics of ‘wearing out’. Many migrants do not attempt 
to regularize their status in the first place because of the opacity of the bureaucratic 
process, or they give up midway because of unexpectedly changed requirements of 
which they are not duly informed. Giilcan ’s disillusionment with the amnesties that 
only regularize status temporarily; Hasan’s frustration with renewing the permit 
where each time he is held accountable for the inevitable 3 -month gap because of 
the summer school holiday; Aysel and Hasan’s failed application for citizenship be- 
cause of a change in the regulation: these all add up to the exasperation summed up 
poignantly in Hasan’s remonstration, ‘No matter what we do, nothing comes of it! ’ 

If language not only reflects but also constitutes our reality, we need to ask what 
in fact gets occluded through the terminology of legality and illegality that pur- 
ports only to describe and categorize migrants. At the empirical level, what Giil- 
can, Hasan, and Aysel’ s stories demonstrate is that the line between legality and 
illegality is much harder to pin down than the dichotomy suggests. Giilcan entered 
the country ‘legally,’ but lapsed into illegality when she worked without a permit. 
Currently, she is ‘illegal’ in terms of her residence status, but given that she has 
registered a petition with the Ministry of Interior, she is non-deportable. However, 
this does not stop the police from exploiting her vulnerable status. Hasan and Aysel 
are periodically able to renew their accompanying persons permit through their son 
who attends school. Yet they have a built-in interruption to their ‘legal’ status be- 
cause of the summer holiday. Since they cannot apply for citizenship with this type 
of residence permit, once their son finishes school, the legal basis on which they 
reside will disappear. 

At the normative level, there is further reason to be wary of the rhetoric of fight- 
ing illegal migration. Much of the rhetoric of control and restriction in fact goes 
hand in hand with a certain degree of tacit tolerance in accordance with the dictates 
of the labour market. It is thus not a coincidence that those designated as illegal are, 
for the most part, migrant workers — as global capitalism with its constant restruc- 
turing needs a flexible and disposable workforce (Bauman 2007; Sassen 1996). 
Many employers are indifferent, as Giilcan, Hasan, and Aysel’s work situations 
demonstrate; in fact, they may prefer to employ those without papers. The state 
meets market demand by tolerating informal employment to a certain degree. In 
fact, some scholars go further and speak of the legal production of illegality, claim- 
ing that the law systematically reproduces the irregularity of migrants in order to 
ensure a vulnerable and dispensable workforce (Calavita 1998; De Genova 2005). 
De Genova also suggests that it is deportability , not deportation per se, that is the 
most strategic tool for ensuring migrant vulnerability. Rather than being deported en 
masse , migrants live under the constant threat of deportation, rendering them even 
more vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of the police or employers. 

6 ‘For us, Migration is Ordinary’ 


If, as De Genova (2007, p. 436) urges us, ‘we begin not from the epistemological 
standpoint of the state and its functionaries but rather, from the standpoint of the 
elementary freedom of movement as a basic human entitlement’, and not presup- 
pose that there is something inherently suspect about human beings who migrate, 
then we need to be more critical of both official and scholarly designations of mi- 
grant illegality. This chapter has aimed to contribute to this awareness, already po- 
liticized by activist networks around the world, by demonstrating how illegality is 
experienced by a migrant group in Turkey that has historically occupied the most 
privileged position in the hierarchy of migrant desirability. Tracing the trajectory of 
a migrant group from prospective citizens to dispensable migrants underscores the 
historically specific condition of legality and illegality and demonstrates that legal- 
ity is not a secure condition even for apparently privileged migrants. 

Finally, it is within this historically contingent, unpredictable, and often arbitrary 
matrix of illegality that the most recent regulation concerning Bulgarian nationals 
of Turkish origin should be viewed. At the time of this writing, the Ministry of In- 
ternal Affairs had just released a circular announcing an amnesty in the form of free 
6-month residence permits for Bulgarian Turks who were currently without papers 
(12 June 2011). This amnesty in itself is not unique, as this chapter has elaborated. 
What is unprecedented, however, is the accompanying clause in the circular that 
enables Bulgarian nationals who can prove Turkish origins and who have Turkish- 
citizen relatives of the first or second degree to apply for citizenship under the ‘ex- 
ceptional status’ clause, even if they do not fulfil the 5 years of uninterrupted resi- 
dence required by the current Citizenship Law. During the months of June and July 
2011, thousands of migrants (including those mentioned here) practically held camp 
at the Foreigner’s Department and the Civil Registry, trying to obtain information, 
procure the necessary documents, and submit their application before the desig- 
nated September deadline. Thus, the tide appears to have turned: are the Bulgarian 
Turkish migrants, after two decades of loss of privilege, again becoming the most 
likely candidates for citizenship? It would be too hasty to offer a definite answer be- 
fore witnessing the actual fate of the thousands of applications being filed with the 
Ministry. 7 Regardless of the outcome, however, the struggles of the migrants from 
Bulgaria in Turkey are an apt reminder of the fact that states of legality are elusive 
even for those migrants designated as ethnic kin, and that states of illegality are de- 
fied daily by the lived experiences of migrants who insist on finding work, sending 
their children to school, or taking a stroll with their loved ones on the streets — with 
or without documents. 

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 
Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in 
any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. 

7 Of the two major Balkan migrant associations, the Balkan Turks Solidarity Association represen- 
tative is sceptical and the Izmir BAL-GOC representative speaks with caution regarding the actual 
outcome of these applications. Interview with Balkan Turks Solidarity Association representative 
in Istanbul, July 8, 2011; phone interview with Izmir BAL-GOC representative, 21 June, 2011. 


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Ayse Parla is Associate Professor of Anthropology in the programmes in Cultural Studies and 
European Studies at Sabanci University, Istanbul. She has published on migration, citizenship, 
labour and ethnicity in various journals including: American Ethnologist, Alternatives, Citizen- 
ship Studies, Differences, Ethnography, and International Migration. As a 2011 recipient of the 
Turkish Academy of Sciences Exceptional Young Scholar Award, her current research is a criti- 
cal examination of the ‘Europeanization’ of the field of migration in Turkey through a focus on 
access to education for undocumented migrants” children. Website: http://myweb.sabanciuniv. 

Chapter 7 

Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City: 
Spatial ‘Invisibility’ and Identity Management 
as a Strategy of Adaptation 

Ifigeneia Kokkali 

Albanian population movements to Greece have been among the most important 
intra-Balkan fluxes of the end of the twentieth century. Today, Albanians form the 
most significant immigrant ‘stock’ in Greece; counted as 438,000 individuals in 
the 2001 Greek census; 1 by 2010, they were estimated to have reached 700,000 
(Maroukis 2008, pp. 6-8) out of a total population of about 11 million. Over a 
period of less than twenty years, their migration to Greece has presented all the 
‘classic’ stages of a migration movement: labour migration of young men, regulari- 
sation of the migrants’ statuses, extension of their intended stays, stabilization of the 
flux with the arrival of women and children, questions of incorporation, and then 
second-generation issues. 

Unlike many other immigrant groups, however, which present high concentra- 
tions in specific cities or regions of the country, the Albanians offer a more diffused 
pattern. Furthermore, in the field of my investigation — Thessaloniki — one cannot 
refer to an ‘Albanian neighbourhood’: there are few visible signs of the Albanians’ 
numerically important presence that mark the urban space, such as Albanian cafes, 
restaurants, or grocers. 

I sincerely thank Hans Vermeulen, Martin Baldwin-Edwards and Riki Van Boeschoten for their 
thoughtful comments on the previous versions of my text. 

1 For a discussion on the problems of measuring immigrant stocks and flows in Greece and an at- 
tempt to do so, see Baldwin-Edwards with Apostolatou (2009, pp. 233-262). The aforementioned 
numbers include those of Greek-ethnic origin (co-ethnics /omoyeneis in Greek) coming from the 
Greek minority in Southern Albania), estimated, circa 2001, at 150,000-200,000 (see, op. cit., 241; 
Pavlou 2003a). 

I. Kokkali (ISI) 

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Florence, Florence, Italy 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 123 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 7 


I. Kokkali 

The study of the way in which the Albanians locate themselves in the city is 
revealing of their migration strategies, as well as of their modes of social insertion 
in the host country. The object of this chapter is to relate the physical setting of the 
Albanians in Thessaloniki — their ‘spatial invisibility’ as a group — to the way that 
many migrants (but certainly not all) reshape and negotiate or even dissimulate their 
ethno-national identities in Greece. As will be outlined below, these negotiations 
involve mainly name-changing and religious shifts: they thus suggest a collective 
‘social inconspicuousness’. 

This chapter draws on research materials provided by the programme ‘Support- 
ing the Design of Migration Policies: An Analysis of Migration Flows between Al- 
bania and Greece’, commissioned by the World Bank and conducted from Decem- 
ber 2005 to June 2006 by the Laboratory of Demographic and Social Analyses of 
the University of Thessaly, Greece. The sample was based on information gathered 
during the Living Standards Measurement Survey (LSMS) carried out in Albania 
in 2005. 2 Some 128 semi-structured interviews were conducted with Albanian im- 
migrants in Greece. Of these, 29 were in-depth interviews that took place in north- 
ern Greece (including 19 in Thessaloniki) and focused on issues of adaptation and 

The chapter also relies upon statistical and cartographic analyses of data from 
the 2001 Greek census regarding the foreign population of Thessaloniki. Though 
this dataset is actually dated, its mapping produces an overall idea of the Albanians’ 
patterns of settlement in the city. 

7.1 Albanians in Thessaloniki: A Spatially 
‘Invisible’ Migratory Group 

The geographical dispersion of Albanians in the Greek territory is rather balanced 
compared to other groups of foreigners (Kokkali 2010, pp. 132-138). According 
to 2001 census data, approximately 40% of all Albanians settled in the two major 
cities — Athens and Thessaloniki. The ratio of the Albanian population to the total 
population is similar for both cities and close to the country’s average; 3 this ‘bal- 
anced’ spatial pattern at the national level is also visible at the local level. 

After having mapped the census data of 2001, 1 have shown elsewhere (Kokkali 
2010) that the Albanians’ mode of territorial insertion is best described as a pattern 
of dispersal in the urban and the suburban space, at least as far as greater Thessa- 
loniki is concerned. At the geographical scales examined (district, commune, postal 
code entities), I found no large concentrations of Albanian households. 4 In contrast, 
groups such as the Bulgarians, the Georgians, the Russians but also Pontic Greeks 

2 See: 

3 The ratios of the Albanian population to the total populations of Athens, Thessaloniki and Greece 
overall were respectively 5, 3 and 4%. 

4 We see a similar territorial insertion in Athens (Maloutas 2010). 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City 


who emigrated from the ex-Soviet Republics in the 1990s, are over-represented in 
some areas of the city, and they mark ‘ethnically’ the neighbourhoods in which they 
settle. 5 

In the 2001 Greek census, the district of Thessaloniki counted about one million 
inhabitants of which nearly 9% were foreign nationals. The Albanians accounted 
for 47% of the city’s foreign population, followed at a distance by the Georgians 
(16%), the Russians (7%) and the Bulgarians (4%). 

When talking about ethnic markers in some of the city’s districts, I refer to the 
ethnicization of cityspace. Taboada-Leonetti (1984, p. 66) calls this ‘ethnic infra- 
structure’, meaning a group’s specific commercial facilities, as well as particular 
services and networks (e.g., places of worship, clubs, schools, and doctors). It is 
these services and activities which support a group’s functioning as a distinctive en- 
tity in the city of settlement, and they usually mark ethnically the urban landscape. 
They attribute in this way (spatial) visibility to the group in question. 

In Thessaloniki, we can find several money transfer agencies and cafes that are 
exclusively Georgian (where everything is written in Georgian and named after 
Georgian cities, such as ‘Colchis’), as well as Russian restaurants and mini-markets, 
churches, and doctors who are ‘coloured’ ex-Soviet (where, e.g., information on 
the service is given in Russian) (Kokkali 2010, pp. 345-350). The Filipinos have 
their own places of worship and the Palestinians, too; both groups have collectively 
rented apartments that have been transformed into places of worship. 

Albanians, however, did not adopt similar practices. They are surprisingly absent 
from the ethnic mosaic emerging in the city of Thessaloniki. Unlike other groups, 
they do not possess of any of the above-mentioned ethnic infrastructure. ‘Ethnic’ 
services addressed specifically to Albanians include some translation bureaus, a 
number of bus agencies with Albanian destinations, and the Albanian-language 
newspapers that hang in the kiosks and tobacco shops (Kokkali 2010, p. 336). 

A study carried out in 2006 by Visoviti et al. (2006), with the task of exploring 
the expression of multi-ethnic cohabitation in the public spaces of Thessaloniki, 
identified two piazzas for job-finding and a central square of the city with a sub- 
stantial presence of Albanian migrants. Those three places are the only ones to offer 
a regular collective visibility of Albanians in the public space. The very large pres- 
ence in the square of Albanian migrants (especially from Kor^e) of all ages and both 
sexes, at any time of the day, resulted in the renaming of the square — at least, in the 
migrants’ discourse — from Plateia Makedonomachon (Square of the Macedonian 
Fighters) to Bachtses tis Kory ts as (Garden of Kor£e) or Alvaniko parko (Albanian 
Park). At the two piazzas, Albanian men of all ages look for jobs, particularly un- 
skilled ones. Yet, the piazzas are not meeting points for friends or compatriots. 

The piazza at the west end of the city centre (near the train station of Thes- 
saloniki) is situated in front of the travel agencies that offer daily bus transport to 
Albania. This is a sector with an intense Albanian presence. The clientele of the 
area’s coffee shops and fast food restaurants is mostly Albanian, while, a few blocks 

5 For more on the patterns of settlement of Pontic Greeks in Thessaloniki, see Katsavounidou and 
Kourti (2008). 


I. Kokkali 

further on, the only over-representation of Albanian households in Thessaloniki’s 
centre is recorded (Kokkali 2010, pp. 333-335). Although it recently moved, the 
Albanian consulate in Thessaloniki used to be here as well, thus attracting a number 
of Albanian translation agencies and the only Albanian bookstore in Thessaloniki 
(recently closed). 

Accordingly, a particular Albanian dynamics have gradually developed in the 
district, involving some very specific functions — finding a job, making use of the 
translation services, or taking a bus to Albania. Still, ethnicization of city space 
remains very weak, since the only ‘Albanian imprint’ in Thessaloniki concerns the 
signs of the bus agencies and those of the translation bureaus, both of which are 
written in Albanian. As for the above-mentioned piazzas and the Garden of Korse, 
once emptied in the afternoon they offer no sign of their previous occupation by 
Albanians. The Albanians’ ephemeral presence, as in the district around the train 
station, is thus not comparable with the Pontic settlements and the Russophone 
centralities of the city. In other words, there is no Albanian centrality in Thessa- 
loniki — nothing to remind us that the aforementioned places are highly frequented 
by Albanians. This would possibly provide some kind of visibility of the Albanian 
culture, including language, customs, music, and culinary habits. If we follow a 
definition from the Chicago School for the city centre as — among other things — the 
‘space of highest symbolic meaning’, an Albanian centrality would be a symboli- 
cally significant place or a point of reference for the Albanian culture and lifestyles. 
This occurs in Little Italy for Italians in New York, in the Quartier Latin for the 
Greeks in Paris, and Brick Lane for Indians and Bangladeshi in London. 

The situation elucidated suggests a remarkable ‘spatial invisibility’ of the Alba- 
nians. However, the way in which they take up their position in the city cannot be 
irrelevant to their migratory strategies and, thus, to the way their adaptation occurs 
in Greece. This chapter will attempt to show that the Albanians’ spatial invisibility, 
in the sense conveyed here, constitutes a spatial expression of their strategies of 
adaptation. These involve identity negotiation or dissimulation and, as such, could 
probably be taken as an indicator of a pronounced ‘social inconspicuousness’ of 
Albanians as a group. 

7.2 Identity Negotiation and Collective 
‘Social Inconspicuousness 5 

The Albanians’ spatial invisibility is coupled with a set of practices that seem 6 to 
aim at the dissociation of the individual from the generic Albanian group, ‘the Alba- 
nians’. These practices include religion shifts and name concealing. In the abundant 
literature that exists on Albanian migration in Greece, it is not uncommon to find 
reference to these practices (De Rapper 2002a; Kretsi 2005a; Psimmenos 2001). 

In summary, in the 1990s to the mid-2000s, many Albanians in Greece adopted 
Greek names, while many Muslim Albanians seemingly disavowed their religious 

6 These practices may have become less important over time, since my empirical study was 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City 


affiliation, claiming to be Orthodox Christians (Kretsi 2005a, pp. 131-132; see also 
Kokkali 2010, pp. 293-306). Many had themselves and their children christened 
Orthodox, irrespective of their previous religious affiliation (Muslim or Catholic). 
The name thus adopted would be used in the person’s contacts with Greeks, and 
sometimes even in the domestic sphere. As an informal practice, the name-changing 
was not reported in any official documents such as identity cards or passports. 7 

One third of the migrants interviewed during our empirical study in 2005-2006 
admitted using a Greek name instead of their original name. My findings also 
showed that children bom in Greece, whose parents were of Muslim or Catholic 
affiliation, were often christened — this being a kind of obligation for parents, as 
one implied: ‘I have christened them [his children], that’s it: I’ve done my duty...’ 
(E., man, Muslim affiliation, Thessaloniki, 17 December 2005). 

Agreeing to a formal ritual demanded — explicitly or implicitly — by the host 
society seems thus to have represented a necessary action for some parents, who 
wanted to give their children an opportunity to integrate in Greece and particularly 
into the Greek state school system. The practice of adult name-changing has simi- 
lar traits; though in theory a deliberate choice, it has undoubtedly been an implicit 
(or not) requirement of the dominant society. In our interviewees’ words it was 
often the Greek ‘bosses’, who — under the pretext that they could not pronounce the 
names of their Albanian employees — decided to replace them: T will call you Yian- 
nis’, or even, ‘What is this name? I’ll call you. . . ’ (Kokkali 2010, p. 296). 

The name-changing and the disavowing of the original religious affiliation are 
indicative but are not the only elements of a broader process of identity negotia- 
tion. Use of the term ‘the Albanians’ or the pronoun ‘they’ by our interviewees was 
also revealing, since they referred to the generic Albanian group without including 
themselves. 8 There are thus explicit efforts to dissociate the self from ‘the Albanians 
in Greece’. This is demonstrated even more distinctly in an expression that was 
frequently used at the time, ‘I am not like the other Albanians’ — often followed and 
completed by another one, ‘I am a family man’. As Psimmenos (2001, pp. 190-191) 
explains, such attitudes underline a process of self-differentiation which results in 
some Albanian individuals breaking away from their co-nationals. It is obvious, 
however, that not all the Albanians react in the same way. Some of our interviewees 
identified strongly with the group of ‘the Albanians’. These were mainly men living 
in Greece without a nuclear family. They socialized with co-nationals and stressed 

7 However, it seems that official changes did take place regarding co-ethnic Greeks from Albania, 
as for instance in the case of S. and his wife M., both interviewed in Thessaloniki, on 15 December 
2005. Georgia Kretsi (2005a, pp. 132-133), in her study of those practices in the villages of Fterra 
and £orraj in Albania, maintains that there are cases in which the name had been officially changed 
already inside Albania. Potential migrants to Greece would take advantage of the disorganisation 
and corruption of the Albanian administration to falsify their documents and thus appear to the 
Greek authorities as having some kind of Greek origin that is a fast ‘passport’ to Greece. On the 
‘visa trading’ that has taken place in the Greek consulates of Albania, see Pavlou (2003a). Gilles 
De Rapper (2005, p. 189) too has shown that in some villages in southern Albania, villagers (un- 
til very recently) were more than willing to manage a Greek- Albanian identity in order to enter 
Greece more easily and live there in a relatively privileged way. 

8 A salient indication of a migration of community or individual type is the respective use of ‘us’ 
or ‘me’ when informants are interviewed (De Rudder 1987, p. 119). For Albanians in Greece, see 
the extracts quoted in the following section. 


I. Kokkali 

their indifference towards Greeks, since they ‘didn’t have anything to discuss with 
them’, as many of those interviewees admitted. 9 

Mai (2005, p. 553), in research on Albanians in Italy, has stressed that they pro- 
ceed to a negotiation of their national identity: this is to avoid, at the individual 
level, the bad reputation and negative stereotype, which went hand-in-hand with the 
adjective ‘Albanian’, at least until the mid-2000s. The migrants have thus devel- 
oped strategies to circumvent the use of the word ‘Albanian’, focusing on expres- 
sions such as ‘I come from Tirana’ or ‘I come from Albania’, rather than using the 
adjective itself. Erving Goffman (1963, p. 37) described in the 1960s such tech- 
niques of excision of a stigmatized word from common use. 

Pavlou (2001, p. 135), drawing on critical discourse analysis, has shown that 
media discourses in Greece have gradually transformed the adjective ‘Albanian’ 
to a keyword noun that is inclusive of stereotypical behaviour and de facto a token 
of criminality. It is unnecessary to discuss here in detail the harsh campaign of 
criminalization and stigmatization that Albanian immigrants have been subjected 
to since 1991, as these are well-documented (Karidis 1996; Pavlou 2001, pp. 135— 
137; Psimmenos 2001; Tsoukala 1999; for Italy, see Mai 2005). But in light of 
this campaign, according to which ‘the Albanian’ rapidly became synonymous with 
‘clandestine’ and ‘criminal’, the practices of dissociation from the Albanian group 
and, overall, the process of identity negotiation of Albanians in Greece 10 seem — if 
not satisfactorily explained — at least logically justified. 

The factor that seems to have promoted the peculiar ‘identity game’ of name- 
changing and claiming to be Orthodox Christian in Greece can be traced back to the 
catalytic presence of a Greek minority in southern Albania. The mass emigration of 
its members to Greece, together with the preferential treatment they received from 
the Greek state and society (at least, on arrival) * I 11 triggered the identity dissimulation 
and enabled its operation. 

9 For more on this ‘ideal-type’, see Kokkali (2010a, pp. 156-158, 303). It is interesting to note that 

I did not find any correlation of this type with the age of the interviewee nor with length of stay. 
The main differentiating factor (from the category of immigrants that try to dissociate themselves 
from ‘the Albanians’) has been the presence or not of family (wife or wife and children) in Greece. 
Probably the rural origin is also significant, but I haven’t been able to observe a clear correlation, 
given the limited sample. Actually the tendency of dissociation might have changed as, in the 
perception of the dominant society, Albanians, from a highly stigmatized group, became highly 
preferable compared to more recently arrived immigrant groups (Kokkali 2011b). 

10 Another outcome (discussed in the following section) is the internalization of the stigma by 
Albanians, as in the case of G., who justifies the harsh treatment of Albanian immigrants by the 
police in the village where he was settled: ‘What do you expect? We were illegal, without docu- 
ments... The cops were doing their job’. [G. male, Nikomidia, District of Imathia,13 February 

11 Even if the difference in treatment between Greek- Albanians (omoyeneis) and Albanians has 
become less important over time, actually having no importance at all, Law 1975/1991, which set 
the premises of the Greek immigration policy, has been highly preferential to individuals of ethnic- 
Greek origin and for this reason harshly criticized by NGOs and humanitarian organizations. It is 
beyond the scope of this chapter to discuss the impact of this first law in the overall perception 
of foreign immigrants by the Greek society. Let us recall, however, that the law required that the 
Ministry of Labour would grant work permits for specific employment, in theory, only before the 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City 


Let us recall that already from the 1 920s, when Albania was obliged to officially 
recognize the Greek minority, Greece was trying to increase the minority’s size, en- 
compassing all Orthodox Christian populations living close to Greek-speaking vil- 
lages. Albania, in contrast, adopted the opposite approach, trying to underestimate 
the minority population (Dodos 1994, pp. 142, n.8). 

The attempts of the Greek state to ‘inflate’ the minority found fertile ground in 
the thousands of Albanian citizens who wanted to migrate to Greece. In Greek con- 
sulates in Albania (in areas close to the Hellenophone villages) an ‘identity option’ 
was introduced in relation to migration opportunities: the recognition of ‘Greek ori- 
gin’ increased the chances of obtaining entry and work permits for Greece. A pros- 
perous trade thus emerged with Albanian citizens — mostly Christians, but gradually 
extending to Muslims who managed to become ‘Christians’ via the falsification of 
their papers. The ‘visa trade’ and its clientele network thus expanded far beyond the 
‘real’ minority (Kretsi 2005b, p. 196, 205). 

I think that the practice of falsifying one’s identity went beyond the falsification 
of documents. At least during the 1990s and early 2000s, it became very popu- 
lar among Albanian immigrants to Greece to claim that they were Vorioepirotes 
(literally, Northern Epirots, i.e., members of the Greek minority in Albania), even 
without having any (false or real) certificate of Greek origin. This practice was 
then gradually expanded: dissimulating one’s identity did not remain a question of 
claiming to be Vorioepirotis. It could also mean introducing oneself with a Greek 
name, while claiming to be Christian. 12 

This was not without reason. The ethno-cultural perception of the Greek nation 
has given rise to the creation of multiple categories of Greeks’ that, in Greek lay 
discourses, are constructed hierarchically; the category of a person with Greek eth- 
nic origin who was bom, raised and resides in Greece and feels Greek is constmcted 
as a central category (Xenitidou 2007). 

This multiple categorization entails then who is more or less Greek; the different 
‘degrees’ of Greekness not only reflect the ethos of reception in Greece, but also 
the governmental policies adopted for each migratory group. As mentioned above, 
the preference of the state and of the society for the kin groups of foreign citizens 

arrival of the foreign employees in Greece and valid for one year (only renewable for another three 
after which the renewal could only be granted by the Ministry of Public Order). The legislation was 
less demanding for individuals of Greek descent, who would thus enjoy a favorable legal status, as 
for instance in employment in which they were preferred to other foreign nationals. The same law 
comprised preferential provisions on issues of welfare, pension and medical insurance (see Law 
1975/1991, Article 24 and also Art. 1, para. 3 and Art. 108 of the Greek Constitution). The advent 
of the 2001 immigration law put an end — at least on paper — -to this preferential treatment. 

12 Very telling of this is the following quote from Veikou (2001, pp. 206): ‘Sotiris [...] told me 
that, when he arrived in Athens for the first time and was looking for a job, many asked him from 
which part of Albania he was coming from, whether he was Vorioepirotis and whether he was 
Orthodox Christian. He didn’t like to “pass for an Albanian”. “I soon understood that who you are 
in Athens depends on the behaviour. [. . .] I drive my car and behave as a Greek and the others treat 
me correctly’”. Similarly, in an empirical study I conducted with Albanian immigrants in 2003 in 
Thessaloniki, many interviewees admitted that the first question asked of an Albanian by a Greek 
national concerned his/her religious beliefs. 


I. Kokkali 

has been more than obvious. As such, the Pontic Greeks, followed by the Greek- 
Albanians, were found at the highest level of this imaginary scale. Given that Or- 
thodox Christianity is the official religion in Greece, 13 it would not be surprising to 
classify the other Christian Orthodox migrants directly below these two privileged 
groups, 14 while those who are Muslims would find themselves towards the bottom 
of the hierarchy (Kokkali 2010, p. 303). 

Albanians in particular, given their systematic criminalization, were immedi- 
ately classified at the very bottom of the social hierarchy in Greece. Without any 
doubt, this is an additional reason for the expansion of the phenomenon of identity 
dissimulation or negotiation. The title of De Rapper’s (2005) article ‘Better than 
Muslims, not as good as Greeks’ is rather eloquent: Albanians — and particularly 
Muslim Albanians — find it disproportionately difficult to be accepted by local com- 
munities. As such, finding a place within the extended boundaries of Greekness is a 
possible way towards inclusion. 

In changing one’s name and claiming to be Orthodox Christian — or even claim- 
ing Greek origin, even if only as a matter of display — some Albanian immigrants 
aspired toward and achieved, more or less successfully, wider acceptance within 
the dominant society, in particular at the local level and as regards personal social 
bonds with Greek nationals. 15 Besides, given that some degree of ‘Greekness’ has 
been thought to make life in Greece easier, the exceptional extension of practices 
of identity dissimulation is not surprising. Yet, as all ‘identity’ games are played 
dialogically (Schippers 1999, p. 21; Taylor 1994, p. 18), this could not have been 
implemented in such an extensive way if Greek nationals were not willing to par- 
ticipate. The gradual expansion of the boundaries of Greekness, operated by both 
the society and the state in Greece (and even in Albania), has had a severe impact on 
the expansion of practices of identity negotiation of Albanians in Greece. As these 
boundaries were extended, the ‘game’ was also extended: starting from claiming 
Vorioepirotiki identity, it ended up involving any trait that could imply a degree of 
Greekness — be it a Greek name, Orthodox Christian faith, and so forth. 

Still, not all Albanian immigrants practised this ‘identity game’; the character- 
istics of this differentiation has implications that seem to draw from the migratory 
project. As discussed previously, disclaiming Greekness has been strongly associ- 
ated with families as opposed to male Albanian individuals, who were probably en- 
gaged in ‘circular migration’ with Albania, especially in the case of nuclear family 

13 The role of Orthodoxy is even greater, as being Orthodox Christian is normally a prerequisite 
for being Greek. For a synthetic discussion of the close connection between Greekness and Ortho- 
doxy and the way in which it has been shaped, see Ozkirimli and Sofos (2008, pp. 21-26, 45^16), 
who also critically review the literature on nationalism in Greece and Turkey in a comparative 

14 The degree of privileges awarded to the former and the latter was however different. It is be- 
cause, owing to migration, the Greek minority in Albania was literally ‘evacuated’ — a result that 
was not favoured by the Greek diplomatic service. See Pavlou (2003b). 

15 Among our interviewees who have used a Greek name, more than three out of five did so when 
looking for a job for the first time. In the dissimulation of the Albanian identity, the role of Greek 
employers and neighbours is very significant, as very often they proposed to christen their Alba- 
nian employees and neighbours, thus becoming their godfathers/godmothers. 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City 


left behind. This dichotomy is important for identity negotiation. In trying to dis- 
sociate oneself from the stigmatized group, expressions such as ‘I am not like the 
other Albanians’ and ‘I am a family man’ are used. This stresses the difference 
between the two categories — of which, clearly The other Albanians’, who are not 
‘family men’, are more stigmatized than the rest. As in the case of ‘the degrees of 
Greekness’, this kind of identity negotiation echoes, once again, the differences in 
the perception — and, in turn, the degrees of acceptance — of the different categories 
of Albanian immigrants by the dominant society. In the aforementioned imaginary 
scale, Albanian immigrants with ‘something Greek’ would be ‘better than Muslims, 
but not as good as Greeks’, and family men would be better than single men. 16 

7.3 The ‘Cultural Legacy 5 

In the previous section, I have tried to elucidate the conditions under which the 
practices of identity dissimulation and negotiation were generated and the reasons 
why they were extended. This is only part of the explanation: in the next section, 
I focus on the Albanian side of the interaction, which implies looking at Albanian 
history and culture. 

7.3.1 Albania and the Albanians: Negative memories 
of the homeland , negative perceptions 
of the national self 

The recent history of Albania has been marked by poverty, while its political and 
socio-economic situation has been shaped by repetitive crises shaking the country 
since the fall of the previous regime. Migration became the main livelihood strat- 
egy. Migration also meant the discovery of the outside world, given Albania’s total 
isolation during the 45 years of communist rule. As foreign migrants, Albanians 
discovered this new world, literally from the bottom, for they almost automatically 
entered the lowest socio-economic categories of the host societies. 

French ethnographer De Rapper (1996) argues that discovering the outside, in 
the early 1990s, naturally caused a great shock to the Albanian people and the col- 
lapse of many identity certainties (see also Lubonja 2002, p. 101; Fuga 2000). He 
remarks that, beside this discovery, the disorders of the transition period in Albania, 
with the exponential increase of criminality and amorality, 17 aroused questioning of 
the character and the ‘nature’ of the Albanians inside the country. 

16 There is nothing new about this in the study of migratory phenomena. French sociologist Ab- 
delmalek Sayad (1999, pp. 112-113) very tellingly described the ‘good immigrants’ for dominant 
societies, essentially related to ‘our’ family values. 

17 In 1997, a significant bank crisis quickly became political crisis. The collapse of the state has 
brought the country into chaos, where armed gangs, engaged in various illegal trafficking (drugs, 


I. Kokkali 

The following extract (for more, see Kokkali 2011a, pp. 85-114), though refer- 
ring to ‘distrust’ 18 among Albanians, reflects an opinion (shared by many of my 
interviewees) on the ‘nature’ (the ‘race’), the way of thinking, and the mentality of 

In general, Albanians help each other but only among relatives; never strangers. ... You can- 
not understand Albanians: now they like each other and then, after two minutes, there is the 
brawl. . .It is like that, by their blood, their race (S., Muslim affiliation, man; interview with 
his wife, N., Veria, Imathia district, 14 February 2006). 

To this perception of the national self are added the hardships of everyday life and 
the absence of basic individual liberties during Enver Hoxha’s presidency, imprint- 
ed in the memories of people as the following extracts evoke (for more, see Kokkali 
2010, pp. 199-200): 

We do not care about [Albania], nor can we help.. . . When I left it, I left like a chased wild 
animal. There is nothing which I care about in this country; I don’t want to hear anything 
about it.... I don’t think that the situation will ameliorate there; there’s neither water nor 
public light in the streets. I think that in the future they [the politicians, the State] will rob 
people even more (L., co-ethnic Greek, man, Thessaloniki, 22 December 2005). 

Here’s my home. We are well here, happy.. . . When I go back there, I see that they are all 
[the family, in particular her parents] doing fine and this is enough for me.. . . I don’t want 
to return. Because in Albania it has been very hard for us; I wasn’t able to buy a banana. . . 
a sweet for my children (D., woman, Thessaloniki, 17 December 2005). 

Depicting Albania and the Albanians as such is in sharp contrast with the regime’s 
propaganda about the superiority of the Albanian people and the claim that Albania 
was the happiest country in the world. The identity uncertainties that this contrast 
seems to have generated are persuasively described by Albanian journalist Fatos 
Lubonja (2002, p. 96, 101-103): 

Albanians continue to live divided between the glory of their virtual world and the misery 
of their real world. One of the most eloquent expressions of that separation is the paradox in 
which on the one hand Albanians express their pride in being Albanians, considering them- 
selves to be natural superiors while on the other hand, they regularly defame their country 
and try to escape from it in search of a better life. 

This duality — the pride of being Albanian while escaping Albania (and dissimu- 
lating identity in Greece under an adopted name) — becomes clear from the last 
interviewee quoted above, who also remarked, ‘I am proud of being Albanian. I 
have never hidden the fact that I come from Albania. . . . Some people know me as 
A. [Greek name] and some as D. [original name]’. 

This, however, should be considered together with the ‘external’ world context. 
Beside the negative memories of, and the simultaneous unrest in, Albania (with the 
consequent identity questionings that this may have aroused), the concurrent trans- 
mission of a representation of Albanians as bandits and barbarians by the Greek, 
Italian, and other European media resulted in this image of a ‘nation of thieves and 

weapons and human beings that might also have been relatives of the traffickers), had taken the 
full control of some towns and villages. Albanians often refer to this period as a ‘civil war’ or 
‘when we took the guns’. 

18 For this issue, see Kokkali (2011b). 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City 


robbers’ ending up by finding a particular echo even within Albania (De Rapper 
1996). The image of Albanians constructed by the rest of the world and mirrored 
back to them, yet marked by prejudice, has undoubtedly had a decisive influence on 
the perception of the self within the country and in a migratory context. 

Internalizing the stigma has thus been a result of a twofold situation related both 
to the source and the settlement country. The latter’s role is quite obvious and has 
been discussed in the previous section. The source country is linked to this process 
via the people’s memories of a harsh life depicted by deprivation, the regime’s de- 
ception about the state of the outside world compared to Albania, and the discov- 
ery of this world with its negative perception of Albanians and Albania during the 
country’s chaotic situation in the 1990s. All are factors that seem to have given rise 
to identity uncertainties for Albanian migrants and non-migrants, and, in turn, to 
identity negotiations in the country of settlement. 

In his study on the management of stigma, Goffman (1963, p. 31, 152) stresses 
techniques — such as ‘passing’ and ‘covering’ — by which the stigmatized individual 
tries to dissimulate his or her stigma. The intention behind such devices (which in- 
clude practices like name-changing) is mainly to restrict the way in which a known 
attribute obtrudes itself into the centre of attention — because, ‘obtrusiveness in- 
creases the difficulty of maintaining easeful inattention regarding the stigma’ (ibid.: 
127). In this sense, ‘covering’ the Albanian origin and trying to ‘pass’ as Orthodox 
Christian and/or Greek- Albanian or somebody coming from Tirana or Korge is a 
strategy that seeks to advocate comforting — for the local society — inattention to 
the stigmatized origin. 

Overall, managing the stigmatized identity one way or another is a strategy of 
adaptation of the Albanian individual to a double situation: non-acceptance and 
stigmatization in Greece, as well as uncertainty regarding Albania and the Alba- 

7.3.2 Legacies of the Past and 6 Flexible Religious Practices 9 

The legacy of atheism imposed by Hoxha could probably explain the apparently 
Tow religiosity’ of Albanians; this, in turn, could justify the ease with which at a 
minimum a superficial religious shift (i.e., pretending to be Orthodox Christian) 
was carried out in Greece. 

In 1967, in Albania, there was official abolition of all religious activities, even 
in the private sphere. Harsh persecution of religious practices and the closing down 
or destruction of many places of worship also took place. The regime’s nationalist 
propaganda promoted elimination of the divisions of the past — namely, the split 
among four different faiths (Orthodox and Catholic Christians, Sunni and Bekhtashi 
Muslims), for the sake of the nation’s unity. 19 

19 This was not an ‘invention’ of the regime; it has only been a different version of what Alba- 
nian nationalism (since its birth) was anyway based on: the idea that the religion of Albanians is 


I. Kokkali 

However, for several reasons, the regime did not erase the primordial community 
identities, such as family, regional, or religious. For example, mixed marriages re- 
mained rather rare, except among the urban elite (Clayer 2003). This is probably be- 
cause, for Albanians, to be Christian or Muslim is very important in the construction 
of the self. While the nationalist rhetoric (relaunched during the communist regime 
in a slightly different version) insisted that one is Albanian before being Christian or 
Muslim, it seems that — at least locally — one should be Christian or Muslim in order 
to be Albanian (De Rapper 2002b). 

This brings into light the complexity of the issue of religiosity in Albania, which 
comes in stark opposition to a widely diffused view on the religious indifference of 
Albanians (Malcolm 2002, p. 84); for many researchers, this would explain the ‘fa- 
cility’ with which Albanians practise a religious shift in Greece. Instead of religious 
indifference, I would rather refer to ‘flexible religious practices’ among Albanians 
that seem to be related to two different facts. 

First, according to ethnographer De Rapper (2002a) and historian Clayer (2007), 
for Albanians, the religious affiliation is more a form of social organisation, collec- 
tive involvement and recognition of a common origin than religious belief alone. 
The community identification based on religion persists today, even though it is less 
assertive in religious practice than in the conscience of belonging to a distinct group 
(Clayer 2007; De Rapper 2002a). 

One is Muslim or Christian by following the patrilineal religious affiliation. This 
means belonging to a cultural community, but also to a quasi-biological one, given 
that specific kinship groups are involved in this belonging. In that sense, nominally 
adopting a faith that is different from the original religious community could not 
affect the quasi-genealogical relation to this latter. As such, the massive phenomena 
of religious ‘shift’ in Greece (either only outwardly or involving conversion and 
christening as well) could be elucidated by the fact that assuming a different reli- 
gion is superficial, since one would remain anyway what one is originally ‘by birth’, 
through one’s familial affiliation. 20 

Since the restoration of religious freedom in 1990, the new religious scene that 
emerged has added more complexity to the issue. Religion in Albania appears 
now to be both marginal and central, argues Clayer (2003). It is marginal because, 
as in other former communist countries, the secularization of the society is very 
pronounced, since the elite was trained in the ‘Marxist school’ and the younger 

‘Albanianism’. Religion formed a dividing factor for the Albanian population and thus it would not 
be included in the construction of the nation (Clayer 2007). 

20 In conducting ethnographic research in South-East Albania (Devoll), De Rapper (2002a) argues 
indeed that a person cannot flee the belonging represented by his/her religious affiliation, even 
if s/he was converted to another religion. Religion is intrinsic to origin and birth, and therefore 
displaying a different religion is a merely superficial act that could not alter the person’s ‘nature’, 
i.e. the affiliation attributed by birth. The author stresses, besides, that even when the level of 
religious practice is low, people are aware of their religious affiliation and origin. Even during the 
communist era, when — theoretically — no Christians or Muslims existed, religious affiliation was 
still mentioned (even in official documents) and expressed in forms such as ‘family of Christian 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City 


generations have grown up in an atheist environment. Religious practice continues 
to be rather limited, although places of worship have blossomed again all over the 
country(ibid.). 21 

Still, in some respects, religion is central. As mentioned above, collective identi- 
ties based on religion have remained strong. Clayer (ibid.) stresses that the society 
is partly structured according to denominational affiliations: everybody knows the 
religious origin of everybody. As a result, religion seems to appear in the behaviour 
of individuals and, more importantly, in socio-political developments. 22 

Overall, there is a whole constellation of different meanings, perceptions and 
attitudes towards religion in Albania. Conversions to Christianity are often a means 
to express an adhesion to the Western world. Clayer (ibid.) argues that Catholicism, 
although of limited importance regarding religious and political life in Albania, en- 
joys great prestige in the sphere of culture and in the process of identity construc- 
tion. The Catholic community is often presented as the main force in the historical 
development of Albanian nationalism, even if this does not really coincide with 
reality. Still, this perception is adopted even by non-Catholics, and it seems to form 
a way for the Albanian nation to acquire a more ‘European’ dimension. Christianity 
understood as Catholicism is promoted by an intellectual trend that rejects Islam, 
while presenting Catholicism both as the original religion of the Albanians and as 
the only religion and culture that would allow Albania’s integration into Europe. 23 
Albanian writer Ismail Kadareis part of this trend, despite his Muslim origin. He 
wrote in the early 1990s: 

I was convinced that Albania would lean towards the Christians’ religion, because it was 
linked with the culture, with the memory and with the nostalgia of the period before the 
Turks. . . . The Albanian nation would proceed to this great historical rectification, what 
would hasten its union with the mother continent: Europe (Kadare 1991, pp. 50-51, quoted 
in Clayer 2003). 

21 According to a survey conducted by the University of Tirana, in 1999 (quoted by Clayer 2003), 
33 % of the sample very rarely visits a place of worship, 30,5 % at least once a year, 23.9 % at least 
once a month, 9% once a week, and 3.1 % more than once a week. Yet, as a value, religion seems 
to be important for the Albanians, while the proportion of atheists is trivial. For more than 70% 
of the sample, religion is very important or quite important and, from those, 90 % believe in God. 
Another survey shows that, among peasants, religion is considered to be the most important value 
after family, work, friends, and before leisure and politics (Fuga 2000, pp. 210-211). 

22 As a collective belonging, religion is often used in the political field, through relationships or 
discourses. The political changes have shown that the rightwing circles generally instrumentalize 
Islam (without considering Bektashism separately), while the leftwing ones use Orthodoxy to a 
greater extent and are in favour of the promotion of Bektashism as the basis of a separate com- 
munity, as well as a form of nationalism. Catholic circles are closer to rightwing milieus, but they 
can be instrumentalized by more important groups in their relationship with the West. This does 
not mean that religious communities are politically homogeneous; besides, often, these instrumen- 
talizations are parallel to uses of regional belonging (small regions against small regions, or North 
against South) (Clayer 2003). 

23 Some of my interviewees of Muslim affiliation referred indeed to the idea that ‘originally 
Albanians were Christians’. 


I. Kokkali 

In light of these trends, the conversions and shifts (or pseudo-shifts) of religion in 
Greece (but also in Italy) are better understood. In order to explain them further, we 
should also consider the frequent declarations of Albanians in Albania or in Greece 
on ‘the uniqueness of God’. One of my respondents in Thessaloniki in 2005 de- 
clared, ‘I am a Muslim, but I go to church. . . . God is one and only’. 24 Kretsi (2005a) 
reported similar declarations. One of her interviewees in Albania remarked, ‘We’re 
going to church regularly.... There is only one Lord. Regardless of religion.’ Both 
these statements on the uniqueness of God and the needlessness of distinguishing 
between churches and mosques seem to underline a perception of God and religion 
among Albanians that appears to permit a ‘flexible religious practice’. As Kretsi 
(2005a) points out, this attitude towards the divine that transcends sectarian divi- 
sions and appears strange to ‘foreign’ eyes, seems to facilitate Albanians’ adoption 
of the Christian religion in Greece (and Italy). When studying this phenomenon and 
the Albanians’ ‘flexible religious practices’, it seems useful to look at the religious 
syncretism widely spread in the Ottoman Balkans — in particular among Albano- 
phone populations. 

Ethno-religious border-crossing and syncretism has been widespread. Sharing 
of sacred sites, worshipping the same saints, exchanging amulets, and even sharing 
ritual practices was indeed common during the Ottoman period and even afterwards 
(Hasluck 1973/ 1929, pp. 31-36, 68-69). 

In studying an Ottoman Balkan city, in his book on Salonica, Mazower (2004, 
p. 68) observes that even when confessional boundaries were not crossed, the daily 
life of the city fostered a considerable sharing of beliefs and practices. He stresses 
that there was far less theological policing under the Ottomans than there was in 
Christendom at the same time. This laxity and the absence of heresy hunters enabled 
the emergence of a popular religious culture that united the city’s diverse faiths 
around a common sense of the sacred and divine. 

In the Albanophone Balkans, more particularly, there are numerous examples in 
Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Bosnia, where Muslim and Chris- 
tian forms of pilgrimage and saint veneration have amalgamated, while formal reli- 
gious divisions have become blurred (Duijzings 2000, p. 2). In his book on Kosovo 
(1998, pp. 129-130), Noel Malcolm, too, observes that syncretism of rituals and 
folk beliefs were shared among Catholics, Orthodox, and Muslims. He remarks, be- 
sides, that with so many practices either shared or replicated between faiths, ‘these 
people probably did not notice such a dramatic difference in kind between ah forms 
of Christianity on the one hand and Islam on the other’. 

This idea of amalgamating religious practices, thus blurring the boundaries of 
faith, seems rather akin to the reference that Skendi (1967, p. 227) makes on ‘double 
faith’ in the Balkans. 25 He stresses that it is not always easy to distinguish between 
double faith (having two religions) and the phenomenon of Crypto-Christianity 

24 Interview on 20 December 2005, in Thessaloniki. See also Clayer (2003). 

25 Mazower (2000, pp. 65-66), besides, notices that the blurring of the divide between the 
three great monotheistic faiths was a feature of one of the fastest-growing religious movements 
of the seventeenth and eighteenth century Balkans — the strain of Islamic mysticism known as 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City 


(publicly professing Islam, while practising Christianity in private). Besides, he 
adds, it is also difficult to distinguish between Crypto-Christianity and pure preju- 
dice. As Malcolm (1998, p. 129) too remarks, the main function of religion for 
ordinary people in this kind of society was quasi-magical — a set of practices for 
warding off evil, curing illness or ensuring a good harvest. As such, in areas where 
different religions intermingled, people would make use of all available forms of 
magically efficacious protection. 

It is beyond the scope of this chapter to explore if Balkan populations during 
the Ottoman rule practised a ‘double faith’, conversion, or Crypto-Christianism or 
whether their practices were more led by prejudice than by anything else; more 
importantly, it goes beyond our objective here to address the question of whether 
Albanian populations adopted such practices more (or less) than other Balkan peo- 
ples. Yet, it appears to me that there is a close connection of those practices and the 
aforementioned idea on the ‘uniqueness of God’. It is not a coincidence therefore 
that a Franciscan report of seventeenth century Kosovo makes a reference to this: 
‘Those impious people [Muslim proselytisers] also said that the difference between 
them and the Christians was small; “After all”, they said, “we all have the same 
God, we venerate your Christ as a prophet and holy man, we celebrate many of the 
festivals of your saints with you, and you celebrate Friday, our festive day; Moham- 
med and Christ are brothers”. . . And this error was so widespread, that in the same 
family one person would be Catholic, one Muslim and one Orthodox’, (quoted in 
Malcolm 1998:133-134) 

Regarding the practices of the Albanian immigrants in Greece, Kretsi (2005a) 
remarks that many of her respondents considered baptism solely as a public act: 
‘I remain, however, Muslim’, claimed one of her informants, whereas another one 
was ready to baptize if his employer asked him: like that, for friendship, for gief 
[pleasure], not by obligation, since I have anyway another religion’. As Kretsi ob- 
serves, with these perceptions, Muslim faith and Christian baptism are absolutely 
compatible — exactly as in the aforementioned attitudes towards faith and religious 
practice met largely in the Ottoman Albanophone Balkans, I would add. Similar to 
contemporary practices, transcending the boundaries of faith or even adopting a 
faith of facade at the time was largely accompanied by the practice of also adopting 
another name. 26 

Bektashism. Bektashism spread throughout southeastern Europe and became popular in much of 
southern Albania. For the role of Bektashism in Albania, see Clayer (1995). 

26 Circa 1650, a Catholic missionary in Prizren reported that some of the many converts to Islam 
were claiming that ‘in our hearts we are Christians; we have only changed our names [adopted 
Moslem names] in order not to pay taxes imposed by the Turks’ (quoted in Skendi 1967, p. 228). 
Crypto-Christianity in the Balkans can find an equivalent to the Marranos in Spain (op. cit.: 227). 
Referring to the Marranos, converted to Catholicism already many generations before leaving 
Portugal to come to Ottoman Salonica, Mazower (2004, p. 69) reports that they were baptized and 
went to church, but would be Jews ‘inside’: ‘Some of them [...] had kept Jewish customs alive 
secretly for decades, and equipped their children with two names [“If I ask one of their children: 
‘What’s your name?’ reported one observer, ‘they will respond: ‘At home they call me Abraham 
and in the street Francesco’”]’. 


I. Kokkali 

This incomplete reminder of religious practice in the Ottoman Balkans permits 
us to explore some analogies between ‘now’ and ‘then’ and therefore shed light 
on the ‘cultural factor’ — related more to the source country and its history, rather 
than the circumstances in the destination country (i.e., the ‘structural factors’, see 
Vermeulen 2001). In doing this, I hope to have made a small contribution to the re- 
newal of the scientific debate around the Albanian immigrants’ identity negotiation/ 
dissimulation in Greece that tends to underestimate the legacies of the past. 

7.4 Conclusion 

Albanian migration to Greece deserves closer attention, because it forms the most 
important intra-Balkan population movement post- 1990, while it deviates in some 
crucial respects from more common patterns of settlement and adaptation of im- 
migrants in new homelands. There is no ‘natural’ response to a hostile ethos of 
reception, such as that experienced until the mid-2000s by Albanian immigrants 
in Greece. The ‘Albanian way’, as described in this chapter, is an option among 
others; it is diametrically opposite to the reaction of withdrawing into one’s own 
group and emphasizing the difference with the dominant society, as suggested by 
the theory of ‘reactive ethnicity’ (see Portes & Rumbaut 2001, pp. 148-152). Al- 
banian immigrants, at least the first-generation immigrants studied here, opted for 
name-changing and religious shifts, trying to stress their similarities with Greeks. 
But, because this possibility was one among many, the hostile social climate in 
Greece on its own is unable to explain this choice of strategy. For this purpose, 
apart from the ‘structural factor’ that impacts on immigrants’ social mobility in 
host societies, I have also sought to look at cultural factors that may influence this 
mobility and overall the integration of immigrants (Vermeulen 2001). In so doing, I 
have examined more closely the history of the source country before the emigration 
episode. This has helped me to understand how history and culture may affect the 
newcomers’ attitudes, practices, behaviours, and, in turn, their strategies of adapta- 
tion in the country of settlement. 

Indeed, the study of the more — and the less — distant past shows that name- 
changing and religious shift are not novelties in Albanian history. All immigrants 
reconstruct their identities in the host countries. Not all of them, however, opt for 
identity dissimulation en masse as with the case of Albanians in Greece. Even if 
activated by the circumstances encountered in this country — namely, a hostile re- 
ception and the existence of a Greek minority in Southern Albania — neither the 
name-changing nor the religious shift seem to be unknown practices for Albanian 
populations. Rather, they represent strategies employed in similar modes at many 
times in the past, particularly in the long Ottoman history. 

Nonetheless, the more recent history of the country, namely the autocratic re- 
gime of Hoxha, also left its mark on people’s behaviour. The fall of the regime left 
the Albanians exposed to a severe identity crisis, seeking to understand whether 
the stereotypical image of them conveyed by the ‘West’ was true or not. In the 

7 Albanian Immigrants in the Greek City 


light of this crisis, and — needless to repeat — stigmatization by the host societies, 
the des-identification, that is, the effort to differentiate oneself from the rest of the 
(stigmatized) group, has been a highly practised option at least among immigrants 
in Greece. 

The absence of any physiognomic markers that would render their difference 
from the dominant society visible, together with their identity management, seems 
to have suggested the ‘social inconspicuousness ’ of the Albanian immigrants in 
Greece. Probably every Greek sought to distinguish her or his Albanian neighbours; 
but, outside this local scale of personal relations and close vicinity, the Albanians 
were collectively visible in very few cases. For Thessaloniki, the field of my study, 
the Albanians were distinctively perceptible as a different group only in the piazzas 
for job-seeking. Compared to their numeric weight in the city’s population, how- 
ever, this visibility can be considered negligible. 

As I have tried to demonstrate in this chapter, the Albanians’ ‘social inconspicu- 
ousness’ is reflected in the way in which their physical setting is contained within 
the Greek city. The remarkable absence of ethnic infrastructure and the dispersion 
of Albanian households throughout the city suggest the ‘spatial invisibility’ of the 
most important immigrant population of Thessaloniki. As maintained in this chap- 
ter, despite their great numbers, Albanians do not reveal any visible trace of their 
ethnicity in the urban space. As such, apart from being socially inconspicuous, Al- 
banians are also spatially ‘invisible’. 

It is important to note, however, that both outside forces and the preferences 
of the migrant group may lead to residential dispersion. This latter is not a sign 
of weakening of the group’s identity. Besides, it would be wrong to interpret the 
counter-practice of clustering as a refusal to integrate, while understanding the resi- 
dential dispersion as an enthusiastic volition to inclusion. In its way, each option 
expresses a form of response appropriate to the circumstances created by the migra- 
tion situation and from the specific resources available to each group of migrants in 
order to deal with the situation (Barou 2003, p. 263). 

In this respect, Albanian migrants’ relative invisibility in Greece, and more 
particularly in Thessaloniki, reflects a specific adaptation strategy among other 
options — a strategy which is not, anyway, an option for all Albanians in Greece. 
Moreover, apart from representing the Albanian immigrants’ adaptation to the con- 
ditions encountered in Greece, these strategies respond too to the process of adapta- 
tion of Albanians to the post-communist era — meaning the realities that emerged 
after the discovery of the outside world, namely Albania’s position in this latter and 
the questionings that have arisen on what it may mean to be Albanian. These strate- 
gies also make use of the cultural legacies of a more distant past. As such, I argue 
that the practices of inconspicuousness respond to a complex situation that draws on 
both the Greek context of reception and the Albanian background. 

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 
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I. Kokkali 


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Ifigeneia Kokkali is a research fellow at the Politecnico di Milano, Department of Architecture 
& Planning. Since 2009 she has been an adjunct professor at the Institut Fran^ais d’Urbanisme, 
Universite Paris-Est. Previously she has worked at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece 
and the European University Institute, Italy. Her research interests revolve around migration and 
the city, ethno-cultural diversity of urban populations and segregation. A recent publication on 
these topics is ‘Absence of a “community” and spatial invisibility: Migrants from Albania in 
Greece and the case of Thessaloniki”, in F. Eckardt and J. Eade (eds.) Ethnically diverse city, 
Future Urban Research in Europe 4, Berlin: Berliner- Wissenschafts-Verlag, 2011. Website: http:// 

Chapter 8 

Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: 
A Case of Last Resort? 

Julie Vullnetari 

Since the collapse of the communist regime in 1990, Albania has witnessed large- 
scale emigration — particularly to neighbouring Greece and Italy, but also further 
afield to the UK and the USA. By 2010 it was estimated that more than 1.4 million 
Albanian emigrants lived abroad, comprising nearly 45 % of the resident population 
of Albania of 3.2 million (World Bank 2011, p. 54). However, such emigration was 
not without historical precedent. Albanians had migrated far and wide for centuries, 
whether for work or forced to do so by wars, local conflicts, and strife. Indeed, 
labour migration played a central role for Albanians as it did for all Mediterranean 
peoples (Psimmenos and Georgoulas 2001, p. 9). The earliest mass migration in 
the collective memory of Albanians took place in the second half of the fifteenth 
century, following the death of Albania’s national hero Scanderbeg in 1467 and the 
beginning of the Ottoman conquest. Five centuries under Ottoman rule were accom- 
panied by further emigration. Many Albanian men fled to escape blood feuds, local 
lords, or Ottoman persecution; yet others simply emigrated to escape poverty or to 
work in various trades and professions, especially craftsmen such as masons, road- 
builders, carpenters, ironsmiths, and goldsmiths (Tirta 1999). Others left to study in 
key centres of learning such as Cairo and Constantinople, while many professional 
men settled in the bigger cities of the Empire for a career in administration, the 
army, or in professions such as medicine and the law. The vast space of the Otto- 
man Empire provided ample opportunities for such movements, and destinations 
included Bulgaria, Romania, and Egypt (Tirta 1999). During that time, present- 
day Turkey became an important destination, where an Albanian presence is noted 
from the beginning of the fifteenth century (De Rapper 2000, p. 3). Greece too was 
important, especially for communities living along what is now its border with Al- 
bania. Patterns of what were then translocal movements and activities were part of 
everyday life and continued to some extent even after the creation of the Greek state 
and border demarcation (see Green 2005; also Vullnetari and King 2013). Much of 
this Ottoman period emigration is known in Albanian history and collective mem- 
ory as kurbet , referring to the act of going away and being distant in a foreign land, 
usually for work (King and Vullnetari 2003). At the turn of the twentieth century, 

J. Vullnetari (£3) 

Geography and Environment, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 143 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 8 


J. Vullnetari 

Albanians became (a very small) part of the transatlantic migrations from Southern 
Europe. Some were refugees fleeing the bloodshed that resulted from the Balkan 
Wars and the two world wars. Others sought to improve their lives by emigrating 
for work in the rapidly expanding industrial cities of North America and the agri- 
cultural industries of Australia. As a result of these historical migrations, significant 
communities of Albanians formed in Greece, Italy, Romania, Egypt, Turkey, and 
the USA. With the ascendance of the communists to power at the end of World War 
II, unauthorized emigration from Albania was banned and severely punished, with 
the result that only a trickle of people managed to escape during these years. The 
large-scale post-communist emigration, therefore, was not simply the expression of 
economic necessity but also of the desire for freedom and re-connection with the 
neighbouring world and beyond. 

Given its geographical and cultural proximity, Greece became once again the 
most important destination for post-communist Albanian migrants. During most of 
the 1990s these movements were largely irregular and short-term in character. The 
first regularization in Greece in 1998 signalled the beginning of a stabilization pe- 
riod for the migrant community there, as well as more diverse flows towards it from 
Albania. One of these flows is composed of seasonal labour migrants — the focus of 
my analysis in this chapter. 

There is now a burgeoning literature on Albanian migration to Greece. However, 
most of it has focused on urban areas, particularly in and around Athens and Thes- 
saloniki, with rural areas largely overlooked (for key texts of the latter see Kasimis 
2008; Kasimis and Papadopoulos 2005; Kasimis et al. 2003; Labrianidis and Sykas 
2009a, 2009b). On the Albanian side, the impacts of migration on rural areas, es- 
pecially from seasonal migrants working in agriculture, are not well understood 
(but see Germenji and Swinnen 2004; Germenji et al. 2001; McCarthy et al. 2006; 
Miluka et al. 2007; Samson 1997; Vullnetari 2012a; Vullnetari and King 2011). This 
chapter seeks to make a modest contribution to both of these bodies of literature. 
Migration for seasonal work in the agricultural sector in Greece is considered by 
many Albanian migrants as the least preferable form of migration, yet it is often the 
last resort for many poor and lower-skilled individuals. The discussion in this chap- 
ter is also situated within debates on migration and development, with particular 
relevance to the recent global discourse on circular (temporary) migration and its 
effects on development in migrants’ areas of origin. 

The aim of this chapter is threefold. First, it presents a picture of seasonal migra- 
tion from rural Albania to Greece through the words and perspectives of migrants 
and their families. Secondly, it discusses the impact of this migration on migrants 
and their families: to what extent does this form of mobility perpetuate dependence 
on seasonal remittances or provide a lifeline and skills to build sustainable live- 
lihoods back home? Finally, it considers the impact on a local scale in areas of 
origin, especially on rural landscapes and economies. Issues of mobility, border 
controls, and Albanian-Greek relations are explored as part of these three overarch- 
ing streams. 

The chapter is structured as follows. After this introduction, I present a brief 
overview of Albanian migration to Greece within the context of wider debates on 

8 Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: A Case of Last Resort? 


seasonal and temporary migration. This is followed by a background section on 
Albanian rural life and agriculture. I then say a few words about the study from 
which data for this chapter is drawn. This brings me to a discussion of the findings, 
followed by a conclusion. 

8.1 Albanian Migration to Greece: Background 

Albania emerged from almost five decades of communist rule as the poorest coun- 
try in Europe, with a third of its population under 1 5 years of age, high underem- 
ployment, and in dire poverty. The latter two problems escalated over the early 
1990s, as the closure of industries and rural cooperatives led to mass unemploy- 
ment, while ‘shock therapy’ economic reform meant that prices and inflation shot 
upwards overnight. Desperate Albanians rushed towards the coastal cities of Durres 
and Vlore in the hope of boarding one of the ships leaving for Italy, while many 
more walked over the mountains to Greece. The scale of this exodus was not easily 
quantifiable, since most of these migrants were irregular, and there was much to- 
and-fro, especially with Greece (King and Vullnetari 2003). However, an indication 
of the numbers is given by figures for mass expulsions from Greece: an average of 
200,000 migrants per year between 1990 and 1995 (Baldwin-Edwards and Fakiolas 
1998, p. 197). 1 

Contemporary Albanian migration is considered a significant and unique case by 
reason of its massive concentration over a short period of time as the country moved 
almost overnight from total closure to large-scale out-migration (Barjaba and King 
2005). Starting off as a crisis migration, its typology has changed over the years. 
First, the largely irregular feature characterizing these movements throughout most 
of the 1990s gradually made way for more managed flows of regularized migrants. 
This was primarily a consequence of the regularization schemes in Greece (1998, 
2001, 2005, and 2007) and Italy (1995, 1997, and 2002), in which considerable 
numbers of Albanians participated successfully. Some irregular migration does take 
place these days, but it is far from the dominant type. Secondly, the migration des- 
tinations have diversified. Although Greece and Italy remain the top countries in 
terms of stocks, flows to other countries such as the UK and the USA have seen the 
largest increase over the years, especially during the 2000s (Government of Albania 
2005). Thirdly, the typology of individuals participating in the migratory flows has 
transformed from a dominance of young men, to families being the norm rather than 
the exception. The presence of women has been particularly strong in the transat- 
lantic flows. As Albanian migration has been maturing (see for this especially, King 
et al. 2011), a considerable second generation has become an important group to 
reckon with. Finally, although most migrants have settled in their countries of des- 
tination, temporary migration is a continuing feature of overall Albanian migration, 
particularly to Greece. 

1 These figures include repeat migrants. 


J. Vullnetari 

The first reliable figures of the Albanian presence in Greece came to light after 
the first regularization programme of 1998 in which 241,561 Albanian immigrants 
applied, constituting 65 % of the total non-EU, ‘non-ethnic Greek’ immigrant popu- 
lation in Greece. Only 17% of them were women (Cavounidis 2004, p. 41). The 
male-to-female ratio has changed over the years, and according to the 2001 census 
it was around 60:40 (Baldwin-Edwards 2004). A similar ratio was present amongst 
the stay permit holders as of March 2010 (Maroukis and Gemi 2010, p. 15). 2 By 
2010, an estimated 700,000 Albanians lived in Greece, representing more than half 
of the total migrant population there; the next most important group was Bulgarians 
at only 5 % (Maroukis 2008, pp. 6-8; Maroukis and Gemi 2010, p. 13). 

The Albanian migrant community in Greece has undergone significant changes 
over the years in terms of migrants’ profiles, demographic composition, and so- 
cio-economic conditions. There is broad agreement amongst researchers that there 
is generally an improved socio-economic situation, especially as migrants settle 
in urban areas. Many have moved from rural to urban areas of Greece and from 
work in agriculture to employment (and even self-employment) in industry and 
services — especially in construction and the tourist sector. Comparing data from the 
2001 Greek census with those collected by Labour Force Surveys in 2006, Baldwin- 
Edwards (2008, p. 23) suggests that employment of Albanians in Greek agricul- 
ture decreased by 50%. Yet, they continue to constitute a considerable — if not a 
dominant — presence in Greek agriculture (Kasimis 2008). Albanians are especially 
found in the plains of Thessaly and close to the Albanian border (Fakiolas 2003; 
Kasimis et al. 2003). Until recently they performed the heaviest and most stigma- 
tized tasks, such as harvesting, hoeing, weeding, and fertilizing. However, accord- 
ing to newspaper reports, new arrivals from Asia have been taking over these jobs as 
the lowest-paid migrants in agriculture. 3 Albanians also perform many other minor 
tasks around the farm, for which they are not always paid. However, as Labrianidis 
and Sykas (2009b) find in their study, Albanians have an opportunity for upward 
economic mobility after some years of work on the same farm. Studying the impact 
of immigrant labour in the agricultural sector in three rural areas of Greece (Ioanni- 
na, Corinthia, and Chania), Kasimis (2008, p. 520) confirms that Albanians present 
faster upward professional and socio-economic mobility than other migrant groups 
in rural areas. In addition, as many settle in these rural areas, they play a key and 
multifunctional role not just as workers. Migrants’ overall support for Greek elderly 
households — which constitute the majority of the rural population — is particularly 
important (Kasimis and Papadopoulos 2005). According to Cavounidis (2006), im- 
migrant — especially Albanian — labour has replaced virtually all waged as well as a 
large part of ‘family’ labour in Greek agriculture. 4 

2 In March 2010 there were 368,269 valid stay permits held by ethnic Albanians living in Greece, 
a share of more than 70% of third country migrants in Greece (Gemi et al. 2010, p. 26). 

3 Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini, 22 August 2010, p. 4. Thanks to Hans Vermeulen for this 

4 The role of Albanian migrants in the Greek economy is extensive and covers a wide array of 
sectors and jobs. Providing an analysis of this is a major task, which is important but beyond the 
remit of this chapter. 

8 Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: A Case of Last Resort? 


Demand for migrant labour in rural Greece increased after the first 1998 regu- 
larization, when many newly regularized Albanians (and others) moved from rural 
to urban areas, where they had access to better-paid and more secure jobs. But 
demand continues to be high for fruit-picking and other labour-intensive tasks, es- 
pecially during summer peaks of activity. During these periods, additional labour 
is recruited from Albania through the seasonal work visa programme introduced in 
1997. 5 Although the government of Albania has released no statistics, it estimates 
that some thousands of Albanians, mainly from the southern regions of the country, 
have benefited from the programme over the years (Government of Albania 2005). 
On the Greek side, Baldwin-Edwards and Apostolatou (2009) suggest that the num- 
ber of such visa holders was at around 7000 between 2003 and 2004, the majority 
of whom worked in agriculture. Recently released data from the Greek Ministry of 
Interior show that more than 40,000 stay permits for seasonal and temporary em- 
ployment were granted to Albanians during 2007-2009: 13,416 in 2007, 13,732 in 
2008, and 13,697 in 2009 (Gemi et al. 2010, pp. 27— 28). 6 Typically such migrants 
spend up to six months in Greece and the rest in Albania. 

While these seasonal workers are invariably referred to as ‘temporary’, many re- 
turn to Greece to work year after year — giving credence to the adage that nothing is 
more permanent than temporary migration. 7 In fact, temporary migration — repack- 
aged as circular migration — is becoming fashionable again amongst policymakers 
and researchers worldwide, as high-income countries struggle to strike a balance 
between supplying their economies with the right amount of labour, at the right 
time, yet to absolve themselves from responsibilities for migrants. In Hahamov- 
itch’s (2003, p. 92) words, states try to ‘open their markets without opening their 
borders’, thus creating the ‘perfect immigrant’. Hahamovitch (ibid.) further argues 
that within the framework of global capitalism, such programmes are designed to 
keep the cost of production low, to put downwards pressure on wages, and to keep 
migrant workers segregated in low- wage sectors of the economy (see also Hennebry 
and Preibisch 2012). The interest in temporary migration has also increased within 
debates on migration and development. In this context, while emphasis is on mi- 
grants as ‘agents of development’ for their origin countries — primarily through the 
financial capital that they remit — their temporary status provides host-country gov- 
ernments a way out of granting social and citizenship rights. Temporary migration 
provides a lifeline for numerous families from low-income countries worldwide, 

5 Seasonal labour migration in Greece is managed (at least in theory) mainly within the frame- 
work of metaklisi , or the system of inviting foreign workers to enter through visas for dependent 
work. This is regulated by existing bilateral agreements which Greece has with Albania (Law 
2482/1997), Bulgaria and Egypt (see Maroukis 2008, pp. 12-13). See also Gemi et al. (2010) for a 
discussion of the legislation and data on temporary and seasonal migration in Greece. 

6 Not to be confused with 40,000 individuals, as there is a core of repeat migrants who benefit from 
these permits each year. Furthermore, a number of other migrants enter Greece without documents 
(over the mountains from Albania) and work there seasonally, as we shall read later in this chapter. 

7 For definitions of seasonal and temporary labour migration, and the distinction between the two, 
see Triandafyllidou (2010). 


J. Vullnetari 

especially pertinent in the context of global and regional economic and political 

As Albania moved from a centrally-planned, one-party system to a political- 
ly pluralist market economy, it gradually integrated itself within the wider global 
structures of markets and capital, although retaining a peripheral position. This af- 
fects the agricultural sector, whose importance in overall GDP has been slowly 
shrinking over the years, as we shall see in the following section. 

8.2 Rural Life and Agriculture in Albania 

During the communist period, private agricultural land in Albania was collectivized 
in large Soviet-type cooperatives and state farms, thus stripping peasants of titles to 
the land. More than half of rural workers were women, and this share was higher in 
areas close to industrial centres, as men took up paid off-farm work (Samson 1997, 
p. 172). The land reform of 1992 aimed at land distribution amongst members of 
the cooperatives and state farms, in one of the fastest land privatization processes in 
all of Eastern Europe. By 2004, agricultural land consisted of around half a million 
private farms averaging 1.1 ha each (McCarthy et al. 2006, p. 4). Each household’s 
‘farm’ was further fragmented on average into four plots, bringing the total number 
of single plots to almost 2 million (World Bank 2007, p. 6; see also, for micro-level 
examples, Stahl and Sikor 2009). 8 Land ownership is also complicated by various 
land titles — with titles to the same plot held by pre-collectivization and post- 1992 
owners. The outcomes for the sector have been harsh, as disputes over titles have 
weakened the land property and rental market, while in some cases old blood feuds 
have been ignited. In addition, there are difficulties with land consolidation and 
mechanization, which in turn affect private investment (Samson 1997). The situa- 
tion is exacerbated by ineffective and short-sighted development policies — where 
they do exist — whether they are designed at the central or the local level. Generally, 
rural areas have borne the brunt of corruption and nepotism as both the causes and 
consequences of limited and badly managed public investments in rural roads, edu- 
cation, and medical care. This has led to deteriorating socio-economic conditions in 
villages, resulting in intensive rural to urban migration, especially from the northern 
and southern highlands (King and Vullnetari 2003; Vullnetari and King 2011). 

Yet, agriculture remains one of the most important sectors of the economy. Al- 
though it contributes only 25 % to the country’s GDP, it provides, according to of- 
ficial statistics, almost 60 % of total employment countrywide and half of the house- 
hold income for rural families (McCarthy et al. 2006; World Bank 2007). 9 Some 

8 This fragmentation was due to the distribution process — the criteria for which involved house- 
hold size (number of persons per household) and grading of land type according to land quality, 
terrain, its access to irrigation, distance from main roads, and markets. 

9 The employment rate in agriculture is slightly misleading because all those who own agricultural 
land in rural areas, including those who have migrated abroad but are still registered as living in 

8 Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: A Case of Last Resort? 


large-scale farming has been on the increase, but by and large the sector continues 
to be dominated by low-productivity subsistence farming, based primarily on the 
(often unpaid) labour of family members. The latter, combined with stigmatization 
of manual labour in agriculture, is a strong factor affecting decisions of rural youths 
to take up off-farm work such as construction in local urban areas or to migrate 
seasonally to rural Greece. Ironically, most of those who take the second route be- 
come employed in agriculture, thus replacing Greek youths who themselves have 
left in large numbers for the cities, for precisely the same reasons (Cavounidis 2006, 
p. 108; Kasimis 2008; Kasimis and Papadopoulos 2005). 

8.3 Methods and Fieldwork Sites 

Data for this chapter are drawn from research for my doctoral degree, which ex- 
amined the links between internal and international migration in Albania from a 
development perspective. Taking inspiration from Marcus’s (1995) theorizing on 
multi- sited ethnography, I ‘followed the people’ on their migration trajectories. My 
fieldwork started in a cluster of four villages of origin in Devoll, southeast Albania, 
from where I traced migrants and their families to their internal destinations — Ko- 
rge, the biggest town close to the villages, and Tirana, the capital of Albania — and 
to their international destination — the Greek city of Thessaloniki. Experiences and 
perspectives of migrants and their families in these four locations were collected 
through 150 in-depth interviews, two group discussions and ongoing participant 
observation during 2005-2006. Participants in the rural areas included seasonal 
work migrants, returnees from Greece and migrants on short visits to the village 
who worked in Greek agriculture. Although my fieldwork in Greece focused on 
urban Thessaloniki where obviously migrants were employed in urban jobs, the vast 
majority of them had previously lived and worked in rural areas of Greece in their 
early migration years. They thus had many stories to tell about those experiences. 
All names of interviewees in this chapter are pseudonyms, in order to safeguard 
interviewees’ anonymity. 

8.4 The Bean Farm and the Peach Orchard: Working 
and Living in Rural Greece 

Migrants in my research who worked seasonally in Greek agriculture constituted 
three groups: those who had a long-term residence permit but worked seasonally 
for family reasons; those who had a seasonal work visa; and those who ventured 

Albania, are considered — for statistical purposes — as fully employed in agriculture, thus obscur- 
ing underemployment. 


J. Vullnetari 

seasonally over the mountains to Greece without documents. 10 Let us now look at 
their working and living conditions in Greece and discuss their socio-demographic 

8.4.1 Working and Living Conditions for Agricultural Workers 

The majority of migrants from my study villages who worked seasonally in Greece 
went primarily to two locations: (i) the small Greek villages (such as Microlini) near 
the Greek- Albanian-Macedonian border and (ii) the rural areas near Veria, north- 
western Greece. In the first location, employment was often on family farms culti- 
vating beans; these farms were owned by older Greeks. Migrants earned € 15 a day 
for 10 hours of work. The employer provided two meals a day — ‘a thin potato soup’ 
as one of the migrants put it — and free accommodation, often in bams. For many 
migrants, this ‘spartan’ way of life was a compromise allowing them to save money 
for their return. In Veria, migrants worked in larger commercial farms pmning fruit 
trees and picking fmit — mostly apples and peaches — at orchards that supplied the 
chain of agro-industry, locally and for export. They earned slightly more than on 
the bean farms, at € 1 8 to € 20 a day for eight hours of work, but they had to pay 
for their own food and accommodation. Pajtim, 53, working in mral Veria told me: 

We earn €20 a day, this is the wage in the Veria area. Merokamato as they call it [in Greek]. 

We work fixed hours, eight hours. So from six in the morning till two pm. . . If we work in 
the afternoon we get paid for extra hours, an additional €10, so we may work for two or 
three hours if there is work. But it’s usually just the eight hours. 

Although these wage-rates are quite low, there has been progress compared to the 
1990s. Berti, 39, has been going to Greece to work since 1991 and has always 
worked in agriculture — picking peaches, grapes, tomatoes, and cotton and hoeing 
tobacco in areas as wide as Athens, Lamia, Kilkis, and Crete, but especially mral 
Veria. This is how he recounts those early years: 

In the beginning the wages were really low... Then gradually they started going up year 
by year. . . Especially here in Veria they [employers] paid 2,000-3,000 drachmas per day. If 
you calculate it in euros it was about € 10 a day. 

Another seasonal migrant Drini, 35, who had also worked in various jobs and vari- 
ous geographical areas in Greece, added: 

We would work until the employer [using the Greek word afentiko derived from the Turk- 
ish for boss] completed a particular process. Sometimes even until midnight. Non-stop, just 
like a petrol station. 

While Greek employers usually paid the wages owed, there were those who took 
exploitation to extremes, not paying the migrants at all for the work they had done. 
This unleashed retaliation of the latter, as Berti recounted: 

10 The latter two types fit the definitions of Triandafyllidou (2010) of ‘seasonal legal labour mi- 
grants’ and ‘seasonal irregular migrants’, respectively. 

8 Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: A Case of Last Resort? 


Every time you were employed you would agree the wage with the prospective employer. . . . 

But in some cases the employer would delay paying us our wages, or didn’t want to pay. 
When the work was over he would say: come to pick up your wages after a week because 
I don’t have the money now. There were good employers who paid, but at other times you 
had to go and beg the employer for your money every day.... There were also those who 
didn’t pay at all. ... Albanians would work for months and months on their farms, it wasn’t 
just a day or a week, but several months. They had been told they would be paid their wages 
at the end of the working period. But when the time for payment came the Greek employer 
would simply send them away and withhold their money. So the Albanians would destroy 
their orchards, or set fire to their greenhouses for revenge. 

Two key factors that improved their situation were the regularization of their 
status and the extended duration of their migration. That latter, especially, facilitated 
relationships of mutual trust. Thus, as Rogaly (2008) argues, it is important to em- 
phasize the dynamism of labour relations and migration in time and space, and to 
acknowledge migrants’ agency in shaping these relations even when the space for 
doing so is constrained by structural factors. 

Relationships and trust are particularly important for those on seasonal work 
visas as the permits can be obtained only after a Greek employer submits a request 
for a named individual through the Greek Organization of Employment and Labour 
(OAED) to a Greek consulate in Albania. The permits are valid only for work in 
the agricultural sector and are tied to a particular employer, that is, migrants are not 
allowed to work for anyone other than the sponsoring farmer, although many do 
and with the latter’s permission. 11 Labrianidis and Sykas (2009b) argue that unlike 
in other high-income countries where such seasonal work schemes are used, the 
interpersonal labour relations between migrants and farmers still prevalent in the 
Greek countryside, facilitate migrants’ strategies for continued employment during 
low peaks of agricultural demand. During such periods, migrants may take up jobs 
in the agricultural sector in other parts of Greece, or in other better-paid sectors in 
urban areas such as construction and small-scale manufacturing. As the jobs are car- 
ried out informally, migrants crucially depend on strong social capital — a network 
of friends and relatives who are already settled in Greece with long-term permits 
and who are able to introduce the migrant to potential employers, as well as being 
able to help them with accommodation. 

For first- time migrants who lack ties to Greek employers, Albanian friends and 
relatives act as intermediaries. At the same time, these migrants often need to place 
an informal bond of € 500 with their prospective employer for protection of the lat- 
ter’s ‘investment’ against the migrant’s absconding before the season’s work is over. 
This sum is roughly equivalent to a worker’s monthly wage, which the employer 

11 For a more detailed account of this process, see Maroukis (2008) and the discussion in Gemi 
et al. (2010). The European Commission recently issued a proposal for a directive regulating the 
conditions of entry and residence of third-country nationals for the purposes of seasonal employ- 
ment (2010). It aims to bring closer the member states’ provisions on this issue and goes some way 
to addressing the vulnerability of seasonal labour migrants, a condition which results primarily 
from tying the migrant worker to his or her employer, not allowing them to work in more than one 
sector of the economy, and not being granted a multiple-entry visa. For a critical review of this 
proposal, see Triandafyllidou (2010). 


J. Vullnetari 

is required to place as a guarantee bond with the relevant insurance fund before 
the work visa is issued (Articles 14 and 16, Law 3386/2005; Maroukis and Gemi 
2010, p. 26, n 27). The burden is once again shifted from the employer to the mi- 
grant worker. First- time migrants who have no one to facilitate their visa process 
sometimes buy a visa from a dealer who is allegedly linked to consular staff in 
Korge or from a local non-governmental organization, as the latter may get visas 
for their members much easier. The fee of € 1000 to € 1300 is recouped with great 
difficulty from 6 months’ work in Greece. Some poorer Albanians who have neither 
much money nor social contacts, simply venture over the mountains to the Greek 
border villages and work there as undocumented migrants until they are caught by 
the Greek police and deported back to Albania. Roma and Egyptians constitute a 
significant share of this group (Vullnetari and King 2011). 

8. 4. 2 Migrants ’ Profiles 

Seasonal migrants have been, and continue to be, overwhelmingly men (hence, the 
frequent reference to migrants as ‘he’ in this chapter). It is very rare for women to 
work seasonally on their own. When they migrate, they do so with their husband or 
another male family member such as a son. Drita, 32, is one such case: 

My husband arranged a work visa for me. So I stayed there [Greece] for six months and 
worked with my husband. I was working in a cooling warehouse, they called it psygeio in 
Greek. I was selecting apples. . . . This is where I worked for three months. . . . The rest of the 
time I worked with my husband in the apple orchards picking apples. 

The male-dominated character of migration to Greece is to a certain extent a re- 
flection of the strongly patriarchal norms of Albanian society, even for more egali- 
tarian regions such as the study villages in the south-east of the country. Women 
in rural areas who travel for work on their own are not well regarded (Vullnetari 
2012b). Particularly in seasonal agricultural work, women’s participation is further 
conditioned by the circumstances in which seasonal migrants live in rural Greece. 
Most live in barns or outdoor sheds and in old kitchens of their employers; they do 
not have separate spaces — they sleep and eat in the same room. Showers and toilets 
are also shared and, especially in the 1990s, many simply washed with cold water 
out in the courtyard. Petrit, a returnee aged 55, recalls those early years as a ‘dog’s 
life’. Others pointed out that such living conditions depended on the geographical 
location within Greece itself. Berti again: 

If you went to rural Veria, where they have always had day labourers [using the word 
argate ] 12 they have gradually created some better conditions for argate there. Separate 
rooms, bathrooms, and showers, etc. Whereas if you go to more remote areas it’s more 
difficult. Imagine that there is absolutely nothing there, he [the farmer] puts you in a big 
hangar... you have just a blanket for cover and that’s it.... To the point where you have 
to wash yourself with cold water outside. . . Living conditions in agriculture are very bad. 

12 This is likely derived from the Greek ergatis, meaning worker or labourer. The Albanian word 
has a strong pejorative connotation of servitude and perhaps exploitation attached to it. 

8 Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: A Case of Last Resort? 


A further reason for the absence of women is that since most seasonal migrants 
come from rural areas of Albania, wives are needed back home in order to look after 
the household and other family members — sometimes younger grandchildren of 
migrant sons (and less often daughters) — and also to take care of the family’s farm 
and livestock. 

Men’s dominance amongst seasonal migrants is also confirmed by two other 
sources. First, quantitative analyses of data from the 2005 Albanian Living Stan- 
dards Measurements Survey (ALSM) show that men are by far in the majority as 
temporary international migrants (Azzarri and Carletto 2009). Secondly, primary 
quantitative research carried out in rural Greece also confirms that Albanian women 
are far less numerous in rural Greece, especially as agricultural workers (Iosifides 
et al. 2006; Labrianidis and Sykas 2009b). 

In terms of age, most seasonal migrants are either single men in their early to 
mid-20s or married men in their 40s and 50s. However, as one of the migrants put 
it ‘there are also men in their 60s who come to work’ on such visas. In the first 
group — the young men — are generally from relatively poor families, or young men 
who are not keen to work in agriculture in their village, but at the same time cannot 
access opportunities for other employment or for other types of migration. Those 
comprising the group at the other end of the spectrum generally are household heads 
of poor families who work in agriculture. In their analysis of the 2005 ALSMS, 
Vadean and Piracha (2009, p. 8) find that circular — that is, mostly seasonal — mi- 
grants working in agriculture come from poor households. Similarly, Labrianidis 
and Sykas (2009b) researching Albanian and Bulgarian migrant workers in north- 
ern Greek agriculture confirm the more economically disadvantaged position of 
seasonal immigrant workers compared to other workers in agriculture; the gap in 
relation to those doing off-farm work was even greater. According to this study, sea- 
sonal migrants earned on average around € 4600 per year, or only 65 % of the wages 
of agricultural workers with longer staying permits, and almost three times less than 
more skilled workers in longer-term agricultural employment (ibid., pp. 804-805). 

8.5 Back Home in the Albanian Village: Survival 
or Development? 

As we saw earlier, work in agriculture is poorly paid and quite precarious. Despite 
being target migrants — that is, their main aim is to earn as much as possible and re- 
turn home with the savings — many seasonal workers find it hard to bring back any 
substantial amount of money. Depending on the various factors discussed earlier, 
such as location, type, and availability of work, they are generally able to save € 230 
to € 350 per month, or a total of € 1500 for their entire stay in Greece. Rarely does 
this amount exceed € 3000. Usually, migrants send € 150 to € 200 to Albania as 
soon as they have been paid their first wages. The most common channel for doing 
so is through family and friends, though sometimes, in case of emergency, a money 
transfer operator (MTO) such as Western Union or MoneyGram is used. The rest of 


J. Vullnetari 

the money is brought back when migrants return home at the end of their working 

Given that most of those on seasonal work visas come from the poorer ranks 
of Albanian society, the money earned in Greece is often used to cover the daily 
expenses of the family in Albania — such as food, some clothing, and electricity and 
water bills. I illustrate with a quote from Mira, the 39-year old wife of a seasonal 

He [her husband] brought home € 1,000 this year. What can you do first with that? It’s dif- 
ficult, because there are many things in the household to take care of. Our sons are growing 
up and the eldest wants trousers for 2,000 lek [€ 17], 13 a jacket for 3,000 lek [€ 25], wants 
trainers and shoes; then the house needs this and that. You go to Kor^e and before you 
know it you have spent all that money without having bought anything big. Everything is 
so expensive now, and there is no money. 

However, migration is not simply a survival instrument. For numerous house- 
holds it also represents one aspect of a more complex risk-diversification and in- 
come-generating strategy, alongside (meagre) old-age pensions, wages from local 
day labouring, and especially farming. As such, some remittances are also invested 
in agriculture, as Pajtim, whom we met earlier, described: 

With that money [remittances] we planted an apple orchard, bought stuff, made repairs to 
the house, bought furniture. ... We have 1,000 apple trees, 600 of which are producing fruit 
and the others are still saplings. . .. With the money I also pay for a tractor to spray them. 

Although most farming is at subsistence level, some profitable farming activities 
have been on the increase, especially apple orchards. They are preferred for three 
main reasons. First, they provide an opportunity for higher household incomes; sec- 
ondly, they require less intensive labour than other farming processes; 14 and thirdly, 
this activity is considered to be semi-skilled, so rural youths attach less stigma to it 
than the back-breaking work required for row crops. 

Such agricultural undertakings have been sustained by financial and skills trans- 
fer from Greece to Albania. Seasonal migrants working in apple and peach orchards 
in rural Greece have acquired a number of skills — such as pruning, spraying, and 
watering techniques — related to this farming sector. They have introduced these 
in their villages of origin in Albania by developing and expanding their own apple 
orchards there. Pajtim continued his story: 

I have been working there [rural Veria] for 15 years now. . . I have learnt a lot about how to 
prune, how to tend the trees. Because there I work in orchards of apple, pear, peach trees. . .. 
When I come here [in the village] I do all these myself, I know how to do it now. . . I work 
here and there [in Greece]. I also bring all the pesticides from Greece with me when I come 
here to visit (interviewed in the village in Albania, August 2005). 

13 The rate of exchange averaged 120 lek to the euro over the period during which this fieldwork 
took place. 

14 McCarthy et al. (2006), using data from the 2002 and 2003 ALSMS, similarly conclude that 
migration in rural Albania has affected land reallocation towards less labour-intensive production, 
although their findings suggest that most of this diversion is towards the livestock sector. 

8 Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: A Case of Last Resort? 


In a much larger and quantitatively significant study of Albanian migrant work- 
ers — including seasonal — in Greek agriculture, Labrianidis and Sykas (2009a, 
p. 408) found that almost all of them (97 % of respondents) had successfully applied 
experience gained from work in Greek agriculture to their own agricultural under- 
takings in Albania. The authors’ main suggestion is that geographical proximity en- 
ables such migrants to work both on the Greek farms and on their own agricultural 
plots, and to combine the various farming processes to this effect. 

Nonetheless, the nature of Albanian farming — as discussed at the beginning of 
this chapter — combined with global structural forces presents difficult challenges 
for the vast majority of farmers. Even when yields are high, it is not unusual for en- 
tire stocks to be left to rot in barns and warehouses, while cheaper imported produce 
floods local markets. Consequently, many households, especially young people, 
continue to aspire to leave rural areas. This is not unique to Albania. For instance, 
as mentioned earlier, a similar trend was evident amongst rural youths in Greece 
as part of the rural-urban exodus during the 1950s and 1960s (Kasimis 2008). It 
is also part of the ongoing post-communist rural to urban relocation, a large share 
of which is fuelled by international remittances (Vullnetari 2012a; see also Miluka 
et al. 2007). While the richest segments of village populations aim for the big cit- 
ies — Tirana, Durres, and Kor£e — this is generally out of reach for seasonal migrant 
households, owing to the high capital investment required for such a move. Most 
of such investments would go towards buying a home where the family could live, 
whether it is an apartment in a block of flats or — more often — buying a plot of land 
and building a house. This is a common pattern for internal moves, particularly 
from southern Albania, since the move to an urban area is considered a permanent 
one (Vullnetari 2012a). Moreover, it is a sign of prosperity to own one’s home as 
opposed to renting — which, in the Albanian psyche signifies poverty and can be ac- 
ceptable only as a very short-term and temporary solution. Bukurije, 57, the mother 
of a migrant son who works seasonally in Greece, explained: 

To move to Tirana or Durres you need at least 5 or 6 million lek [€ 50,000] to build a house 
or buy an apartment. . . Where can you find all that money? Of course then you have to 
emigrate, work abroad, and make such a move, if that is what you plan. ..Iam talking about 
those who have been there [abroad] for years, because my son is working seasonally. He 
can’t save that sort of money. 

Under such circumstances, many similar households seem to find themselves 
trapped in a perpetual cycle of seasonal migration to Greece and survival in the vil- 
lage (Germenji and Swinnen 2005). In the words of £imi, a 23-year-old seasonal 
migrant, such migration is ‘a case of last resort. There is no other solution.’ 

8.6 Conclusion 

This chapter sought to contribute to our understanding of one stream of post-com- 
munist Albanian migration: that of migrants working seasonally in agriculture in 
Greece. In spite of its small numerical size compared to the longer-term migrant 


J. Vullnetari 

communities, this migration type deserves attention for several reasons. First, as has 
been demonstrated here, and as previous analyses confirm (e.g., Azzarri and Car- 
letto 2009; Vadean and Piracha 2009), it concerns some of the lowest-paid migrant 
workers in Greece, many of whom come from poor segments of Albanian society. 
These groups are often — or at least ought to be — the focus of development policies 
and accorded a key place in migration-development debates. There are two aspects 
related to this debate: the contribution these migrants make to the economies of 
their areas of origin; and the expense at which this takes place, such as exploitation 
and lack of rights in host countries. The data presented in this chapter illustrate this 
duality quite well. Seasonal migrants work under deplorable conditions in order to 
save money which they remit or bring back home. In Albania, these remittances and 
savings are often only sufficient to sustain their families’ most basic needs for food, 
clothing, and shelter: this is particularly the case for irregular seasonal migrants. 

The second reason for examining seasonal migration is related to rural develop- 
ment and migration, brought together by both the overwhelming rural origin of 
these seasonal migrants and their employment in rural areas in Greece — usually 
in agriculture. As the financial benefits from such work are low, it is generally the 
least preferred form of ‘regular’ migration: a ‘last resort’ option rather than a choice. 
This is especially the case for those who seek ways out of agriculture and not just 
out of poverty. There is no legal transition from a seasonal work visa holder to a 
longer-term permit holder, which would allow migrants to negotiate better work 
and pay. Some households, however, do manage to deploy remittances to set up or 
to support existing agricultural undertakings in their own village of origin in Alba- 
nia. Of particular importance here are the skills and knowledge that migrants gain 
while working in Greece and that they transfer to Albania: these relate to farm work 
and processes, although they are quite limited, since seasonal migrants in Greece 
perform manual and least- skilled tasks. When looking at development on the Greek 
side, such labour is absolutely crucial for the functioning of many rural areas there 
(Kasimis 2008). 

This brings me to my third point: the recently increasing interest in seasonal 
labour migration amongst policymakers. The need for immigrant labour in agricul- 
ture is not a feature limited to the Greek economy but one that has become almost 
universal. Temporary migration has become the preferred tool to address developed 
countries’ labour needs without giving away rights — as migrants are imagined and 
treated as a flexible and cheap labour force (Hahamovitch 2003). It is fitting that 
such migrants are also considered as ‘tools’ for fostering development of origin 
countries, as they bring back all their earnings and do not pose a threat in terms of 
a skills drain or brain drain. 

Yet, this ‘development tool’ or the ‘ argat\ depending on which perspective one 
takes to describe the temporary migrant — origin or host country, respectively — 
seems to be the least heard. This chapter has sought to present a platform for the 
voices of these individuals to be considered, especially in policymaking. Their sto- 
ries speak of human and social rights that states must protect and ensure. The most 
recent attempt to address the issue of seasonal labour migration at the EU level 
goes some way towards addressing this need (European Commission 2010). Yet, 

8 Albanian Seasonal Work Migration to Greece: A Case of Last Resort? 


as Triandafyllidou (2010) succinctly argues, the positive steps proposed need to go 
much further in their reach to protect such migrant workers and ensure that they, 
too, have opportunities to negotiate better work and pay and a dignified life. 

Acknowledgment This chapter is based on my doctoral research at the University of Sussex 
which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council from 2004 through 2007 (grant 
number PTA-03 0-2004-00008), for which I am grateful. I would like to thank Martin Baldwin- 
Edwards and Hans Vermeulen for their comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this 
chapter. I am particularly grateful to the Albanian women and men who shared their life stories 
with me and without whom this contribution would not have been possible. 

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 
Noncommercial License, which permits any noncommercial use, distribution, and reproduction in 
any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. 


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Julie Vullnetari Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of Southampton, Southampton, 
United Kingdom. This chapter was written while Julie was at the University of Sussex. She is 
interested in the themes of migration and development, and socialist societies. She has published 
widely in peer-reviewed journals such as International Migration, Global Networks and Journal 
of Ethnic and Migration Studies. Her latest book Albania on the move: Links between internal and 
international migration was published by Amsterdam University Press (2012). 

Chapter 9 

Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation 
of Gender Identities: Albanian and Bulgarian 
Migrants in Greece 

Riki Van Boeschoten 

Before, in Albania, it was a terrible shame for men to help their wives with the chores. Now 
that has changed. When I go out to work, my husband washes up all the dishes and even 
sweeps the floor. (Konstandina, born 1961, interviewed by Alexandra Siotou, 2 May 2006) 1 

I tell my son to find a girl who has not been touched by anyone else. And we still think that 
the girls from Albania are more suitable to set up a family with. Albanian girls over here 
don’t know how to cook, they prefer to order a pizza from the delivery. They go down to 
the beach for a coffee. We don’t have money for that. And they want equal rights with men. 

For us, for our generation, that is not right. For our children it may be different. (Illir, born 
1958, interviewed by Lambrini Styliou, 7 July 2005) 

These two conflicting statements by Albanian migrants in Greece give a good sense 
of the reshuffling of gender relations going on within the Albanian migrant com- 
munity. A man and a woman — both born more than 40 years ago in Albania and 
now living with their families in Greece — speak in quite different terms about their 
perceptions of the changes in gender relations in their households. While for Kon- 
standina the sharing of the household chores between husband and wife is a positive 
development, Illir considers the influence of the host society on Albanian migrant 
families to be a threat to traditional notions of masculinity. In this chapter I use the 
life stories of 40 adult migrants of both sexes from Albania and Bulgaria to examine 
the dynamics of gender relations in the context of the migration process. 

1 The interviews quoted in this chapter were collected between 2004 and 2007 in the Greek town 
of Volos. The research project, during which we recorded 60 life stories of migrants from Albania 
and Bulgaria, was entitled, ‘Gendered Aspects of Migration from South-East Europe: Labour, 
Public Culture and Intercultural Communication’ and was financed by the European Commission. 
For more information, see All names are pseud- 
onyms and all interviewees have signed a release form by which they grant their interviews to the 
Laboratory of Social Anthropology of the University of Thessaly. 

R. Van Boeschoten (ISI) 

Department I.A.K.A., University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 
H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 9 


R. Van Boeschoten 

Specifically, I discuss two questions that our interview material presented. First, 
how can we explain the revelation via the interviews of a substantial degree of em- 
powerment for migrant women (in different ways for Albanian and for Bulgarian 
women) alongside a disempowerment of men (both Albanian and Bulgarian), with 
obvious signs of a crisis of masculinity? This study seeks to understand this ten- 
dency of going against the widespread phenomenon of disempowerment of women 
in their post-socialist home countries, a trend often termed ‘patriarchal backlash’. 
The second question concerns the striking differences between the discourses, atti- 
tudes, and social practices of Albanian and Bulgarian women. Can these differences 
be explained by the changing status of women in their home country or rather by 
their position in the Greek labour market? To address these questions the life stories 
give us important insights into the individually and socially constructed gendered 
subjectivities of migrant men and women, but they cannot give all the answers. 
They have to be set against the historical background of the development of gender 
relations in these two home countries over the last century and the specific migra- 
tion regime in their host country. 

9.1 Gender and Migration: Some Recent 
Theoretical Insights 

The increased feminization of migration has been correctly characterized as one 
of the hallmarks of post- 1990 transnational mobility (Castles and Miller 2009, 
p. 12). Although women were never absent from the migratory flows of the past 
(Morokvasic 1984), the sheer mass of women on the move, as well as their important 
role in gender-specific networks of labour migration, has made migrant women 
more visible and this, in turn, has redressed the gender imbalance of earlier studies 
(Kofiman et al. 2000). Since the 1980s, this global phenomenon has produced an 
influential new body of work within migration studies, focusing on gender issues 
and, until the mid-1990s, it focused almost exclusively on female migrants. This 
work has shown, amongst other things, that women are not just following men in 
the migration process but are increasingly migrating on their own initiative and for 
their own reasons, which are often very different from those of their male coun- 
terparts. It has also shown that in many cases female migrants’ income is not just 
‘pin money’ to supplement the family’s budget. Rather, women may take over the 
predominant male role of breadwinner. It has been suggested that women’s employ- 
ment abroad may contribute to their emancipation and social improvement, but it 
does not necessarily do so: it may just as easily lead to an increase of the burdens on 
migrant women or to greater social isolation (Morokvasic 1984). If this was true for 
the post-war migration flows of the 1960s, when most migrant women were largely 
unskilled and came from rural areas, this ambivalent position is even more in evi- 
dence in contemporary migration. In the new globalized settings, migrant women 
are better educated and more urbanized than their earlier counterparts. They are 
often deskilled upon arrival in their host country and forced to work in the worst 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


paid and most precarious sectors of the labour market, usually in domestic work. 
They have thus become ‘servants of globalization’ (Parrenas 2001) and members of 
a new ‘service caste’ (Andall 2003). 

These women-centred studies have gradually been supplanted by a new focus 
on gender as an analytical category permeating the whole migration process. This 
shift was inspired by the understandings brought to the fore by feminist scholar- 
ship: that gender does not concern women alone, but the dynamic and contextual 
relationships between men and women; that it is a power relationship connected to 
other axes of power beyond the private sphere of the family, such as class, race, and 
ethnicity; that it is a social construction influenced as much by subjective processes 
as by structural aspects of the relation between men and women (Donato et al. 2006; 
Kofman et al. 2000, pp. 21^43). 

This concern has also given rise to a recent trend in migration studies of look- 
ing at migrant men, no longer as ‘normal’ gender-neutral subjects of migration, as 
in the 1970s, but as gendered subjects in their own right. This in turn has led to an 
emerging body of work on shifting masculinities among men involved in migra- 
tion processes. Such research may focus, for example, on men left behind at home 
(Elmhirst 2007; Parrenas 2005), the effects of downward mobility on migrant men 
employed in low-paid jobs (Datta et al. 2009; Papailias 2003), on male marriage 
migrants (Charsley 2005), and on male return migrants (Osella and Osella 2000). 
These studies show that it would be wrong to think of migrant ‘masculinity’ as a 
single, homogeneous concept. The construction of male identities is influenced by 
a variety of factors, such as class, ethnicity, cultural context, and historical devel- 
opments. Different, conflicting, and shifting masculinities can co-exist within the 
same migrant community or within the same country, and some authors have pro- 
posed a distinction between ‘hegemonic’ and ‘subordinate’ masculinities (Charsley 
2005; Datta et al. 2009). Yet, beyond these variations, this work has also shown that 
when migrant men fail to achieve their preconceived ideals of manhood, this may 
lead to a crisis of masculinity, often compensated for by some form of performative 
hypermasculinity (Datta et al. 2009, p. 869; Elmhirst 2007, p. 229). 

Another emerging trend in gender and migration studies is a focus on family- 
related migration. In the introduction to a special issue of the Journal of Ethnic 
and Migration Studies , Kofman (2004) notes that this topic is rather surprisingly 
understudied and has been treated as a subordinate and secondary form of migra- 
tion, in spite of the fact that over the past two decades it has become the dominant 
mode of legal entry into the EU. She attributes this neglect to an over-emphasis in 
migration studies on the individual as an independent, mainly economic, subject 
(ibid., p. 243). 2 Kofman explores the implications of changing forms of family-led 
migration linked to specific phases in the life cycle (family reunification, marriage 
migration, and retirement or return migration), as well as the increasing restrictions 
imposed by nation states on this form of migration (ibid.). Here I take a different 
approach to the role of the family in the migration process. I am mainly interested 

2 Greece is no exception to this rule, but see Baldwin-Edwards (2008, pp. 14-16) for data on fam- 
ily arrangements of immigrants based on the 2001 census. 


R. Van Boeschoten 

in how shifting gender relations between migrant men and women are embedded in 
and influenced by kinship and family relations — both prior to migration and after 
arrival in the host country. The biographical approach adopted in this chapter, based 
on the life stories of migrants belonging to different age groups, clearly show how 
gender relations have changed over time and what biographical resources migrants 
take with them on their journey abroad. 

9.2 Gender Relations in Albania and Bulgaria: 

Historical Perspectives 

The hierarchical gender and power relations that developed historically within the 
kinship system of the Western and Central Balkans have been generally defined 
as ‘patriarchy’. According to Kaser (2008, p. 33), pre-modem patriarchy can be 
understood as a ‘complex of hierarchical values embedded in a social stmctural sys- 
tem defined by both gender and age.... It is based on patrilineality, patrilocality, a 
patriarchically oriented customary law and the formal subordination of women’. In- 
heritance mles excluded most women from the transfer of property, and women and 
children owed strict obedience to their husbands or fathers (ibid., p. 35). Within this 
system, family forms were characterized by the universality of marriage, young age 
at marriage for both sexes, high rates of fertility, the co-existence of extended and 
nuclear households, and a predominance of arranged marriages (ibid., pp. 56-84). 

While this description offers an accurate account of the general pattern of gender 
and family relations in the region until the end of World War II, various factors con- 
tributed to a loosening of patriarchal bonds beginning in the twentieth century. The 
most important of these factors were the effects of the first demographic transition 
(leading to a drop in fertility and mortality rates), the increase of literacy, urbaniza- 
tion, and mass migration. 

The most spectacular changes to patriarchal relations, however, occurred during 
the socialist period. Balkan communist parties were committed, at least initially, 
to breaking the impact of customary law, to legislating equality between men and 
women, and to establishing a new ideal type of family, based on love and partner- 
ship instead of hierarchical relations between the sexes. At the socio-economic level 
they aimed at the modernization of society through industrialization, increased lit- 
eracy, and generalized access to education for both sexes. These policies led to the 
nuclearization and urbanization of families, increased education and employment 
of women, liberalization of divorce and abortion, the reversal of generational rela- 
tions, and the decline of patrilineality as well as of the honour complex related to it 
(Kaser 2008, pp. 184-185). However, patriarchy was not abolished — far from it. It 
was transformed. Communist societies were portrayed as large patriarchal house- 
holds, with the Communist Party ruling as a ‘patriarch’ over their dependent mem- 
bers. In the 1960s and 1970s this ‘parent state’ (Verdery 1996) began to develop 
pronatalist policies to ensure a labour reserve, to restrict its former liberal policies 
on abortion and divorce, and to stress once again the ‘nurturing’ responsibility of 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


women and their role as reproducers of the nation (Kaser 2008, p. 135; Verdery 
1996, pp. 66-69). In the private sphere, in spite of the multiple interventions of the 
state in this domain, patriarchal relations persisted to a considerable extent, espe- 
cially in rural areas. 

After the end of communism, inequality between men and women increased 
once again and a general trend towards the ‘re-traditionalization’ of gender relations 
was observed. Women were pushed out of the public sphere, both in employment 
and in politics (Kaser 2008, pp. 218-221). While under socialism they constituted a 
substantial proportion of the workforce, they were the first to be dismissed, and they 
suffered the most from restrictions of state welfare benefits (Kaser 2008, p. 192, 
212). 3 When employed, they earned on average 30-50% less than men (Chakarova 
2003, p. 63; Kaser 2008, p. 217). Divorced women, widows, and pensioners were 
extremely vulnerable. Domestic violence increased as a result of widespread unem- 
ployment, poverty, and insecurity. Public attitudes towards domestic violence show 
considerable support for this practice. In 2008, 36% of men and 30% of women in 
Albania justified wife beating. 4 In Bulgaria, too, domestic violence has been a wide- 
spread phenomenon, although not openly acknowledged (Chakarova 2003, p. 73). 

Although the retreat of women from the public sphere was at first the result of 
state policies and economic hardship, the return to more traditional female tasks in 
the home is increasingly accepted by both men and women as a legitimate choice. 
Public discourse extolled the virtues of motherhood and associated the communist 
experience negatively with the ‘double burden’ of wage labour and domestic chores 
and with a perceived loss of ‘femininity’ (Daskalova 2000; Petrova 1993, p. 24). 
Thus, the traditional role of the male breadwinner made a resolute come-back. 
While in 1991 only 20% of Bulgarian women thought that women should stay at 
home and not work (Petrova 1993, p. 26), in 1999 this percentage had increased to 
46%. The figure for Albania was about the same (Kaser 2008, p. 215). 

The impact of the post-socialist transformation, including mass migration, on 
family relations reveals contradictory tendencies, with marked differences between 
Bulgaria and Albania. As we shall see below, this differentiation stems partly from 
developments in the interwar period. Yet, in both countries, the available data do not 
confirm a return to the patriarchal system that prevailed before World War II; and 
there are obvious signs of change, as well as continuities with the past. In Albania, 
universal marriage remains largely unchallenged, but the age at first marriage is 
on the rise, especially for men (Republic of Albania 2010, pp. 88-93). The fertil- 
ity rate long remained the highest in the region, but it recently dropped to a similar 
level as neighbouring countries. 5 Both trends are obviously related to the massive 

3 In Albania and Bulgaria women made up about 50% of the labour force in 1989 (Kaser 2008, 
pp. 146-147), but in 1999 54% of the unemployed in Bulgaria were women (Chakarova 2003, 
p. 63; Daskalova 2000, pp. 339-342). 

4 Republic of Albania (2010), Demographic and health survey, Albania, 2008-2009, pp. 280-281. 
On domestic violence in Albania see also Kaser (2008, pp. 223-224). 

5 In the period 1990-1994 the total fertility rate was 2.7 children per woman, compared to 1.57 
in Bulgaria and 1.29 in Greece (Kaser 2008, p. 107). In 2008 it had dropped to 1.6 (Republic of 
Albania 2010, p. 55). 


R. Van Boeschoten 

wave of out-migration. There are no signs of a reconstitution of large extended 
households, except in some isolated areas in northern Albania. Most individuals, 
especially those in urban areas, live in nuclear families. 6 In general, marriage prac- 
tices are conventional. The divorce rate in Albania, at only 1 %, is the lowest in the 
region (Republic of Albania 2010, pp. 86-87). Cohabitation is rare and not well 
regarded, but it is on the rise among young middle-class urbanites (Kaser 2008, 
p. 265). Family life and marriage are held in high esteem (ibid., pp. 260-261), and 
single mothers are disapproved of (ibid., p. 249). For married couples, most deci- 
sions are taken by husband and wife together, but 6 % of women declared they had 
no say at all in household decisions (Republic of Albania 2010, p. 276). In spite 
of this rather dismal image of the situation of Albanian women, the life stories of 
three generations of women recorded by a US researcher in 1994 (Pritchett-Post 
1998) also reveal changes in gender relations since the end of World War II. This 
collection ranges from narratives of older village women who married very young 
under an arranged marriage to women who broke the rules of patriarchy and lived 
quite independent lives — among them, partisan women, an ethnologist who never 
married and travelled across Albania on her own to do research, and three sports- 
women. One of the terms these women used to describe the strict rules of patriarchy 
constraining the lives of other women was ‘fanaticism’, a term we also encountered 
in our interviews in Volos. The story told by Efigjeni, bom in 1934, and a leading 
member of a Tirana sports club, illustrates the potentially positive role of emigration 
in the loosening of patriarchal bonds: 

We have tried to be successful at a very difficult period of time, a time of fanaticism. 

When other girls our age were still wearing veils, we were wearing shorts! My father was 

emancipated in his views because he had spent ten years in America. All of the children 

in our family were involved in arts, music and sports. We pursued the passions of youth. 

(Pritchett-Post 1998, p. 84) 

If Albania appears as the most conservative country of south-eastern Europe in gen- 
der matters, Bulgaria seems to represent the opposite pole. But Bulgaria too shows 
clear signs of a deepening crisis of the institution of the family. Some of the differ- 
ences between these two countries have their roots in developments going back to 
the interwar period. In Bulgaria the restmcturing of society through urbanization and 
industrialization started long before the socialist period (Kaser 2008, p. 121, 125, 
126). At the end of World War II, women already constituted 36% of the industrial 
workforce. According to Todorova (1993, p. 32), women were quite well respected 
because of their active role in production, even if they were still dominated by men. 
Bulgaria also saw an early increase of literacy among Christian women, reaching 
67% in 1921 (Kaser 2008, p. 92). The country also had an influential women’s 
movement starting in the mid-nineteenth century (ibid., pp. 156-157). As the per- 
sistence of traditional gender patterns is stronger in rural areas — a trend largely 
confirmed by our interview material — the urban-rural divide is an important factor 
to take into account. During the period of socialist rule, industrialization in Bulgaria 
led to a mass exodus from the countryside towards the cities. In 1980, only 37.5 % 
of the population continued to live in rural areas (Brunnbauer and Taylor 2004, 

The average size is 3.8 persons per household (Republic of Albania 2010, p. 20). 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


p. 189). In Albania, the regime of Enver Hoxha kept rural-urban migration under 
strict control, aimed at keeping a large percentage of the work force in collectivized 
agricultural firms in the countryside (Fuga 2000, pp. 45-50). After the end of social- 
ism, the level of urbanization increased significantly in that country. Yet, until today 
a striking difference remains between the two countries in this respect: according to 
World Bank data, in 2010, 72% of Bulgarians lived in cities compared with 28% 
in rural areas, whereas the figures for Albania were 48 % and 52 %, respectively. 7 

The differences between these two countries in gender and family matters, partly 
resulting from this demographic structure, is borne out by recent statistical indica- 
tors. According to data relevant for the period of our research, Bulgaria scored far 
better than the other countries discussed in this volume, except for Greece, on the 
UN Gender-Related Development Index. 8 Bulgaria also had, together with Greece, 
the lowest fertility rate in the region, at 1.3 in 2005 compared to 2.2 for Albania and 
Turkey and 1.6 for the Republic of Macedonia. 9 Finally, in 2004 Bulgaria had the 
highest percentage of women in parliament, at 22 % (Kaser 2008, p. 221). Although 
Bulgarians continue to attribute great importance to family life, they do so to a less- 
er extent than their Balkan neighbours (ibid., p. 261) and various indicators show 
that traditional family forms are experiencing a crisis. This is evident, for example, 
in high divorce rates (reaching 19% in 2005), declining marriage rates, high rates 
of births outside wedlock, 10 and a rise in cohabitation (to 13-15%, Kaser 2008, 
p. 277). Finally, the Bulgarian public shows more tolerance towards homosexuality, 
single mothers, and abortion (ibid., p. 228, 248, 249, 258, 259). 

At first sight, the mainly statistical data presented in this section seem to support 
the view that the differences noted between Albanian and Bulgarian migrant women 
from our interview material can be fully explained by developments in their home 
country. It would, however, be wrong to consider the dynamics of gender relations 
in the country of origin and in the host country as two separate components. We 
cannot neglect the fact that most migrants form part of a transnational family net- 
work and that many of the trends observed in the home country may actually be the 
result of the massive waves of out-migration. As Datta et al. (2009) observe, gender 
identities travel, but they travel both ways. To get a clearer view of the itineraries of 
these journeys, I now turn to an analysis of the migrants’ life stories. 

7 See the World Bank database at 

8 The score for 2005 was Greece 24, Bulgaria 50, Albania 61 Macedonia 64, and Turkey 79. The 
Gender-Related Development Index was introduced in 1995 in order to add a gendered dimension 
to the UN’s yearly Human Development Index. It measures factors such as life expectancy at birth, 
training, GDP per inhabitant and literacy, broken down by gender, 

In 2010 the GDI was replaced by the Gender Inequality Index, which measures factors related 
to reproductive health, participation of women in the labour market, and empowerment (e.g. edu- 
cation, women in parliament). According to these most recent data, among the countries examined 
in this book, Macedonia ranks first with 23 points (mainly due to the high percentage of women 
in parliament), Greece second with 24, Bulgaria third (40), Albania fourth (41), and Turkey fifth 
(77) . http ://hdr.undp . org/ en/ statistics/ gii/. 


10 Some 18.5% in 1992 (Kaser 2008, p. 246), over 46% in 2004 (Vassilev 2005, p. 17). 


R. Van Boeschoten 

9.3 Gendered Journeys: Living Betwixt and Between 

The life stories of migrants from Albania and Bulgaria which we analyse here rep- 
resent very different migration patterns, rendering a comparative approach quite in- 
teresting. While both migration flows were the result of the collapse of communism, 
their timing, gender composition, and migration systems were very different. Mi- 
grants from Albania were initially almost exclusively young men who, right from 
the beginning of the 1 990s, crossed the border illegally. This migration followed the 
patterns of the pecalba or gurbet system of temporary migration inherited from the 
nineteenth century (see Hristov, this volume), whereby groups of young men left 
their villages, leaving behind their wives and sisters to care for the household. This 
pattern changed radically after 1997 as a result of the internal upheaval in Albania 
after the collapse of a pyramid investment scheme (King and Mai 2008, p. 46), but 
also following the first regularization programme of migrants in Greece. Since then 
the percentage of women migrating from Albania has increased dramatically, and 
now most Albanian migrants live in families. 11 In Bulgaria, the collapse of com- 
munism did not immediately lead to mass emigration. As our life stories show, 
many Bulgarians tried first to survive the transition period at home, some of them 
by opening their own businesses. Moreover, the privatization of state-owned facto- 
ries and the related rise of unemployment started later in Bulgaria than in Albania. 
Most of our Bulgarian informants arrived in Greece after 2000. The foremost dif- 
ference, however, between the two groups concerns gender composition and house- 
hold structures. While Albanian migration is primarily a family-based phenomenon, 
the great majority of Bulgarian migrants are adult or elderly women who work as 
live-ins in Greek households and have left their families behind. Many of them are 
divorced or estranged from their husbands. They use their wages to support their 
families and many have, in fact, become the head and breadwinner of a transna- 
tional household. 

A number of trends can be distilled from our interviews of these migrants, as 
presented below. The analysis is organized by gender (male and female narratives) 
and country of origin; it focuses mainly on adults aged between 28 and 60 at the 
time of the interview. Each subset is preceded by a short description of the narra- 
tors’ profile. 

9.3.1 Albanian Men: Wounded Masculinities 

We interviewed 13 Albanian men, born between 1954 and 1977. Most of them had 
crossed the border in 1990 or 1991, when they were in their 20s. Seven were already 
married, three through an arranged marriage, four for love. Four married later while 

11 The proportion of Albanian migrants who are in a married relationship, with or without children, 
ranges from 61 % in rural areas to 77 % in major cities. Most households are composed of nuclear 
families, whereas the percentage of extended families ranges from 6% in large cities to 20% in 
rural areas (Baldwin-Edwards 2008, p. 16). Albanian migration to Italy shows a similar trend to- 
wards family-based settlement (King and Mai 2008, pp. 88-90). 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


in Greece, all of them with women they had brought from Albania. Two were still 
unmarried at the time of the interview. Four grew up in a large patriarchal house- 
hold, but in Greece all but one were living in nuclear families or alone. All 13 were 
fairly well educated: eight had completed secondary education, two had some form 
of continued professional training and two had a university degree; only one had not 
finished high school. Most of these men were originally from rural backgrounds, but 
some had later moved to a city for studies. Eight of the thirteen had been employed 
in Albania prior to migrating, but three of them (a schoolteacher, a policeman, and a 
forester) were deskilled upon arrival. Five were still adolescents when they came to 
Greece and had no prior working experience. In Greece, the majority of these men 
were working in the construction sector, but two became self-employed and one, a 
physician from Tirana, eventually found employment at a local clinic. 

In the narratives of these men we can observe the parallel existence of differ- 
ent and sometimes conflicting kinds of masculinities. A dominant type of narrative 
that emerges in most of the life stories is a defiant story of independence and male 
bravado, in which the male body and virility play a crucial role. Such accounts ap- 
pear in stories about the adventurous journey on foot across the border — presented 
as a heroic tale of male bravery, defiance, and male companionship; a journey of 
discovery of a hitherto unknown world, full of promises; and an escape from the 
constraints of both the communist regime and parental authority. A former school- 
teacher from northern Albania, described his decision to leave as a project to ‘smash 
the border’ and to ‘root out the past’ (Bouyar, born 1969, interviewed by Riki van 
Boeschoten, 30 May 2004). A similar rhetoric appears in stories about Albanian 
migrants’ work experience in Greece, in which the narrators depict a strong male 
identity, based on bodily strength, endurance, and male working skills. Their work 
experience is presented as a personal success story of linear progress from appren- 
ticeship to mastery. Work and male labour skills are used as symbolic capital, as a 
means of moral recognition, and an informal passport into Greek society. 12 While at 
first sight this triumphant discourse seems in conformity with traditional Albanian 
views on male dominance and independence, when seen in the context of the whole 
life story, it acquires a different meaning: a vindicating counterpoint to a sense of 
wounded masculinity, which also pervades many of the narratives (see also Papa- 
ilias 2003). 

Accounts about encounters with Greek men, in the workplace or on the street, 
reveal a different kind of masculinity, a subordinate masculinity, in which notions of 
class, gender, and ethnicity are intertwined. Living in illegality, as a person ‘without 
a fatherland, without a name, without any rights at all’, 13 being beaten up by police, 
being contemptuously called a ‘dirty Albanian’ by colleagues at work, or being re- 
fused payment by an employer are all moments of humiliation that are particularly 
offensive to Albanian men, who grew up in a society built around the notion of male 
honour. For younger men, being rejected by a Greek girl is perceived as another of- 
fence to their sense of male pride. 

12 For similar narratives among male migrants to London, see Datta et al. (2009). 

13 Sokratis, bom 1977, interviewed by Alexandra Siotou, 28 May 2006. 


R. Van Boeschoten 

To compensate for this wounded masculinity, many Albanian men responded by 
reclaiming their own hypermasculinity or by presenting the self as part of a superior 
moral community based on traditional patriarchal values. For example, they por- 
trayed their Greek colleagues on a construction site as lazy and feminine. Younger 
and less experienced Albanian workers adopted this same discourse, albeit with 
mild self-irony. Besi, a musician, commented on his failure to perform his manhood 
at work, by stressing his similarity to young Greek workers: 

I used to work like the Greeks, taking it easy. You know, have a cigarette. Have a coffee. 
Because I was only 23 and I had never worked in my life! I’d only played the accordion, 
never taken a spade in my hands. I had women’s hands [he laughs]. And the other Albanian 
guys were laughing behind my back. I really had a rough time. (Besi, born 1977, inter- 
viewed by Pothiti Hantzaroula, 4 July 2005) 

Illir criticized Greek men for their soft manners towards their own women folk and 
was appalled by the fact that Greek women had taken over control. He compared 
a Greek man lighting his wife’s cigarette to a ‘mouse’ and commented, ‘I didn’t 
like the scene. If I caught my wife smoking, I would string her up! Look. / gave up 
smoking and I’m a man. How on earth could I let my wife smoke?’ (Illir, bom 1958, 
interviewed by Lambrini Styliou, 7 July 2005). 

Another type of masculinity appears mainly in the narratives of married family 
men with children. In these narratives, Greek society is portrayed as a dangerous 
place of pleasures and sexual liberation. They stress the duty of the Albanian pater 
familias to protect his women folk from these dangers and thus reinforce traditional 
gender ideologies. 

In spite of the fact that the life stories of Albanian migrants clearly show that 
gender relations changed significantly during the socialist period, especially in the 
cities and among youngsters who spent time away from their families for studies, 
the above examples reveal a strong trend of neo-traditionalism. A striking example 
of this is found in the marriage strategies of young Albanian men who came to 
Greece as adolescents. Although many had been involved in sexual relationships 
with Greek women and had gradually developed more liberal attitudes towards gen- 
der relationships, when they reached the age to start their own families, they often 
resorted to traditional practices such as arranged marriages and seeking a ‘clean’ 
virgin bride from Albania. In their own words, they were after ‘a wife for the home’, 
a condition for which few Greek women would qualify. Besi, whom we met before 
struggling with the notion of maleness shared by his Albanian colleagues at the 
workplace, and who had experimented with partnership relations with Greek wom- 
en while working as a musician in Athens, resorted to more conservative attitudes 
when considering his own marriage: 

In Albania we used to say ‘you can’t keep a woman, she will let the devil out of the bottle’. 

But whatever you do, if she sets her mind on something, she will do it. . . For me the ques- 
tion of virginity is done and finished. It belongs to the past. We have been here for many 
years and we have adapted ourselves. Yet a woman should be foremost a good housewife. 
Because only a woman can keep the house. (Besi, born 1977, interviewed by Pothiti Hant- 
zaroula, 4 July 2005) 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


Although younger migrants may adopt more liberal attitudes in matters of sexual- 
ity — in comparison with older family men, such as Illir (quoted at the beginning 
of this chapter), for whom virginity is still a crucial question — generally Albanian 
men insist on the ‘good housewife’ model and conceptualize gender relations in 
Greece as a threat to their sense of masculinity. As explained above, this should 
be seen more as a reaction to perceived humiliations and feelings of insecurity and 
exclusion in the host country than as an identity process imported from the home 
country. 14 

9.3.2 Bulgarian Men: Mixed Masculinities 

Given the preponderance of women in the group of Bulgarian migrants settled in 
Volos, we were able to interview only five Bulgarian men, born between 1943 and 
1975. All but one came from an urban environment. Four had finished a technical 
school, and one had a university degree. Three had been employed as craftsmen, 
one was a musician and one had been employed by an advertising firm. After the 
end of communism, they lost their jobs, but some tried unsuccessfully to set up 
their own business in Bulgaria. In Greece, two were deskilled: the advertising em- 
ployee found work as a housekeeper and the musician as a construction worker. 
Two of the craftsmen (a marble-carver and a carpenter) found similar employment 
in Greece, while another man who had been a professional truck driver in Bulgaria 
became a warehouse keeper. Three had prior migration experience. One was a 
widower, three had been divorced in Bulgaria, and all had a new relationship with 
a Bulgarian woman (two were married to a second wife, three cohabited without 
being married). 

The Bulgarian men did not dwell on their journey to Greece, although they all 
came illegally at first, after various failed attempts to cross the border. Most of 
them walked across the border between the Republic of Macedonia and Greece 
and then hired a cab to travel to Thessaloniki. Some, however, presented stories of 
male adventure, bravery, and companionship which were analogous to the heroic 
border-crossing tales of the Albanian men. These narratives concerned experiences 
of male labour migration to remote parts of the Soviet Union during the social- 
ist era. Like their Albanian counterparts, Bulgarian adult men attached the utmost 
importance to their work experience, which they linked to their idea of masculini- 
ty. 15 Yet, in contrast to the Albanians, they drew their self-respect more from their 
craftsmanship and their sense of initiative than from bodily strength and endurance. 

14 For a discussion of similar trends among male migrants in London, see Datta et al. (2009, 
p. 869). Another interesting parallel is Charsley’s (2005) research on the frustrations of Pakistani 
‘unhappy husbands’ who come to Britain to marry a Pakistani migrant woman. By living in 
their father-in-law's household they are obliged to conform to subordinate forms of masculinity, 
contrary to Pakistani ideals of manhood, a situation they see as a traumatizing and emasculating 
(ibid., p. 13). 

15 For the link between work and masculinity in socialist Bulgaria, see Koleva (2008). 


R. Van Boeschoten 

This may be partially linked to the nature of their employment in Greece, but it is 
also related to the ways in which both groups have reconstructed their personal 
biographies in the present. For Bulgarian men their sense of self is located in their 
Bulgarian past, while for Albanian men migration often stems from a desire to wipe 
out the past and to rebuild their lives from scratch. In this sense, proving their worth 
on the construction site is a crucial component of their embodied and masculine 
sense of self. 

The most interesting aspect of the Bulgarian men’s life stories, however, con- 
cerns the crucial role of gender relations in their personal lives. These narratives 
confirm the deep changes brought about in the Bulgarian family during the socialist 
period. The oldest man, Gencho, who was brought up in a large patriarchal family 
near Plovdiv, explained that when his wife worked shifts at a factory, he assumed 
all the household chores and took care of the children, 

[I did] everything. I cooked the dinner, cleaned the house, looked after the baby. Every- 
thing. You can’t. . . your wife is at work, the baby cries, you don’t know what it wants, you 
need to give it some food. (Gencho, born 1943, interviewed by Raymond Alvanos, 4 March 

Vasiliv, a truck driver, managed to overcome his wounded male pride after his wife 
emigrated to Greece leaving him for another man. He decided to look after their 
children alone: 

I am a man. Why should I go and look after the children? She left them behind to tie me 
down. But then I saw she wouldn’t come back and I took the children home. And until today 
I am in charge of them. (Vasiliv, bom 1962, interviewed by Lambrini Styliou, 8 June 2005) 

As this example clearly shows, the narratives of Bulgarian men illustrate the links 
between migration and the crisis of the family in post-socialist Bulgaria. Although 
economic reasons were important in the decisions of all five men to migrate, emo- 
tional relationships that developed after failed marriages were equally crucial for 
three of them — a situation that is usually associated with women rather than men. 
Moreover, three of them adopted rather unconventional extramarital relationships 
after their migration. Yet, although they are clearly more liberal in their relations 
with women than their Albanian counterparts, they have adopted alternative prac- 
tices more out of necessity than through a change in gender ideology. Overall, they 
do not question traditional gender roles, at least not verbally, and they develop ideas 
about manhood similar to those of Albanian men. Although these men have been 
marked by the loosening of patriarchal bonds in Bulgarian society over the past 
decades, they have failed to find a new role for themselves. 

As we will see more clearly below, in Bulgaria out-migration has disempow- 
ered men in a different way than in the case of Albanians. Women experience 
greater opportunities to find employment abroad. This offers women the possi- 
bility to escape a relationship they find oppressive and to build a new life or to 
support their children independently from their (former) husbands. As a conse- 
quence, men feel they have lost control over a relationship in which they once 
had a dominant role. 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


9.3.3 Albanian Women: Escaping ‘Fanaticism’ 

We interviewed 15 Albanian women born between 1924 and 1977. 16 The over- 
whelming majority (13 of the 15) had been married in Albania, usually in their early 
to mid-20s. Only five had married for love (one eloped with her future husband), 
the rest had an arranged marriage. One woman came to Greece to marry a migrant 
man through an arranged marriage, and only one was still unmarried at the time of 
the interview. Nearly all of the married women had lived with their parents-in-law 
prior to their migration, but in Greece all but one were living in nuclear families. 
Most women migrated to join their husbands in Greece, but two had migrated alone, 
leaving their husbands at home. One came to join her mother, who had also mi- 
grated alone. Only one woman divorced her husband after coming to Greece. The 
majority of these women (9 of the 15) grew up in a rural environment, but some had 
moved to a city before migrating. Their level of education is comparable to that of 
the men. The majority (10) had finished some form of secondary education; just two 
had only primary education and three had a university degree. Two of the women 
had no working experience before their migration. Three had been employed as a 
schoolteacher, three as an office employee, one as a ticket collector, two as a fac- 
tory worker, and four in agriculture. In Greece nearly all of them found employment 
as domestic workers. Consequently, about half of the women in our sample were 
deskilled upon arrival in Greece. 

In the life trajectories of these 15 women, the moment of migration appears to 
be a turning point: even though most of them had been educated and worked for 
cash in Albania, their personal lives had been embedded in a network of patriarchal 
relations in which they were supervised by their brothers, husbands, and mother- 
in-laws, as well as by the local community. The life stories of women bom in the 
1950s and 1960s are dominated by the conflicts generated in this setting between 
their own individual aspirations and the mles of the patriarchal extended family. 
The mass migration of young men undermined the formerly unquestioned power 
relations in extended households, especially the domination of young wives by their 
mothers-in-law. Many women experienced this as a liberation and were encouraged 
to follow their husbands abroad. Sofia constmcted her earlier self as a rebel openly 
contesting the constraints of the patriarchal family: 

I put my foot down and didn’t hold my tongue. I only spent two years with my mother- 

in-law, but to me it seemed they consumed 20 years of my life. Fortunately, the borders 

opened and we escaped. When I arrived in Greece, I felt I was reborn. (Sofia, bom 1968, 

interviewed by Alexandra Siotou, 1 1 July 2005) 

By contrast, when the patrilocal household is reconstituted in the host country, the 
‘migration project-as-liberation’ might turn into a nightmare. Diana, who decided 

16 Only two belonged to the pre-war generation, both of them members of the Greek minority of 
southern Albania. The almost total absence of this generation in the Albanian migrant population 
is a result of Greek immigration law which restricts family reunion to spouses and children, but 
excludes parents. These two grandmothers were much more conservative in their views on gender 
matters than younger women who reached adulthood during the socialist period. 


R. Van Boeschoten 

to marry the first migrant man she could find to escape the control of her brothers, 
found herself once more ordered about by her mother-in-law and a jealous husband. 
For her, the only possible escape was to find employment outside the home (Diana, 
bom 1976, interviewed by Lambrini Styliou, 1 April 2005). 

Work (puna ) is an all-important part of Albanian women’s lives. Regardless 
of their degree of job satisfaction, work in Greece guarantees a certain extent of 
autonomy that they do not have at home. Especially women from a mral back- 
ground, employment in another woman’s home, in spite of the ‘female’ character 
of the work, is an empowering experience (Kofman et al. 2000, p. 123). For village 
women who used to work in the fields, work back home did not count as work, as 
it was considered to be part of their domestic chores. Domestic work is transformed 
into remunerated labour in Greece with fixed working hours and wages. 17 In their 
narratives, it is not working skills or pride that appear as core values, but money. It 
is their money which they can spend according to their own criteria and which al- 
lows them to free themselves from the moral standards of their village community, 
for example, by buying modern, ‘feminine’ clothes. In this sense, they considerably 
value the working experience. 

In contrast, educated urban women who exercised a profession in Albania view 
their work in Greece as a downgrading and humiliating experience. They feel 
trapped in a closed labour market that does not offer them opportunities to practise 
their skills, owing to the ethnic division of labour. Their narratives convey a strong 
sense of insecurity, which is linked to the impossibility of their joining the Greek 
health insurance system independently and thereby obtaining an autonomous resi- 
dence permit. Therefore, they remain legally dependent on their husbands. Yet even 
for these educated women, waged labour remains a major pathway to independence 
and to self-respect. Andrina, who studied economics in Albania and agreed to marry 
a Greek man through an arranged marriage (they met for the first time at the bor- 
der), criticized her own decision to marry a man she did not love in order to settle 
down and become a housewife: 

I got fed up with being a housewife. ... I said to myself, my life is not only to wash up the 
dishes, to cook the meal. I had other interests, about society. I got involved with educa- 
tional programmes, with women’s associations. But most of all I wanted to work, to be 
independent. And that is what I tell other women. Don’t seek a ‘convenient’ marriage. Try 
to find a job first, to be independent and then you can decide to marry. (Andrina, born 1965, 
interviewed by Raymond Alvanos, 4 February 2006) 

Consequently, migration deeply affected the gender awareness of both rural and ur- 
ban women. It freed them from the control of the extended household, it guaranteed 
them a certain autonomy through their work, and it taught them different patterns of 
gender relations through encounters with another culture. 

17 Indeed, research on domestic work carried out at the University of the Aegean found that the 
most important feature of Albanian domestic workers, in comparison with those from Greece and 
the Philippines, is that they seek to ‘professionalize’ their work (Papataxiarchis et al. 2009). 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


9.3.4 Bulgarian Women: ‘Male Women’ and Broken Families 

We interviewed seven Bulgarian women bom between 1946 and 1977. In contrast 
to the Albanian women, they all grew up in an urban environment. Their family 
situations were also very different from the Albanian women’s, but quite similar to 
that of the Bulgarian men. In most cases, broken families were a major reason for 
migration. Only one woman lived in Greece with her husband and child, and one 
was still unmarried but migrated to join her mother who had divorced. The other 
five women had divorced or separated from their husbands before migrating. One 
of them came to Greece with her second husband, both of them leaving behind a 
first marriage and children, in order to live as a couple away from their parents who 
disapproved of the union. Another divorced woman married a Greek man in Greece, 
a decision she considers ‘the worst mistake in my life’. One had a university degree, 
and the other six had finished secondary education or technical school. All of them 
had experienced an active professional life in Bulgaria but lost their jobs in the 
1990s. One had worked as a schoolteacher, one as a nurse, three had been office 
employees and two had worked in industry. After their arrival in Greece, they found 
employment as live-ins caring for the elderly. 

In contrast to most of the Albanian women, the narratives of Bulgarian wom- 
en present us with a complete reversal of traditional patriarchal gender rela- 
tions. In spite of the closed environment in which most of them work and live 
as migrants in Greece, their narratives reveal a strong, empowered identity. 
They present themselves as active heads of their transnational households, and 
they often speak in unmistakable denigratory terms about the husbands they left 

I’ve got a husband I don’t want to see. He is lazy. The only good thing about communism 
was that it broke the power of the husband and the father. He works and I work. I earn 
money and so does he. So he can’t order me about. (Elena, born 1946, interviewed by 
Lambrini Styliou, 29 July 2005) 

My former husband was a strange person. Lazy! And he always wanted to show off his 
manliness. Many men are like that. You know, like the Greek song: ‘I am a man and I’ll 
have it my own way. (‘ Eimai andras kai to kefi mou tha kano .’ Svetlana, interviewed by 
Alexandra Siotou, 28 May 2005) 

Some women link their present dynamic character to early childhood. Olga, for 
example, claimed she was bom a ‘rebel child’ always talking back: ‘They had to 
tape down my mouth, because I talked so much’ (Olga, born 1971, interviewed by 
Alexandra Siotou, 26-27 June 2005). In reality, however, the women’s life stories 
revealed a gradual process of emancipation, punctured by various breaking points. 
Olga, the rebel child, had at first agreed to live with her husband and mother-in-law 
in a small apartment. Although she was still very young (she married at 17), she 
managed to convince her husband to go and live with her own parents. Once again, 
she rationalized this decision with the power of her tongue: 


R. Van Boeschoten 

We were like two cobras to each other. Two women with their tongues! We went through 
hell from morning to evening. Because I wasn’t a chicken to say, ‘Yes madam.’ She said 
one, I said three, she said two, I said six! 

Svetlana, who was kidnapped by her future husband, agreed to marry him to avoid 
bringing shame on her family. But after her divorce, she decided to take her fate 
into her own hands and instead of moving back to her parents’ home, started a new 
life working in a mine: ‘My parents insisted, but I wanted to be independent, to 
be in command. I wanted to show that I am a “male woman”, that I can fend for 
myself.’ For Svetlana, the road to emancipation passed through seeking employ- 
ment in a male sector of the labour market, adopting a male identity and gaining 
recognition from her male colleagues. Her present-day affirmative self-presentation 
is constructed around the notion of pride she drew from this experience. In the mine, 
Svetlana was responsible for regulating the traffic of machinery up and down the 
shaft. ‘I had to handle very big machines. The work was tiring, but I loved it, be- 
cause I managed. I was proud of this job. Not everybody can do it.’ 18 

As these stories show, Bulgarian women, in contrast to most of their Alba- 
nian counterparts, had already loosened the bonds of patriarchal gender relations 
prior to migration. The emancipation project of socialist Bulgaria was focused 
on opening up male sectors of the labour market to women. One of the possibly 
unintended consequences of this process was the adoption of a ‘male’ discourse by 
women. Our research, as well as other ethnographies of Bulgarian migrant women 
in Athens (Angelidou 2010; Kambouri and Lafazani 2009), reveal that such ‘male’ 
discourse also pervaded the narratives of Bulgarian women about their migration 
experience. Svetlana, in a powerful gendered metaphor describing the muscular 
power demanded from her in caring for an elderly woman, compared herself to 
Heracles. Olga presented us with a heroic and definitely ‘masculine’ account of 
her work as a waitress in a night bar, where she violently ousted a male client who 
had called her a ‘Bulgarian whore’ and made sexual advances, threatening her with 
a knife. 

To some extent, we can see this strong male discourse as a compensation for the 
humiliation many of these women felt when they found themselves, after a fully 
independent professional life, once more in a situation of dependency. Svetlana, 
commenting on her first job in Greece, working in the fields, said she felt like a 
slave. Olga’s life story is constructed as an assertive response to the daily denigra- 
tory comments about her country by her second Greek husband. 

For other women, however, the ‘male woman’ symbolized the darker side of the 
emancipation process brought about during the communist period. Mira, a former 
nurse and the only woman in our sample who lived in Greece with her family, com- 

We became like men. I don’t know anything about electricity, but as none of the men has 
time to fix it, I’ll have to do it. Emancipacija that came with communism has done much 
harm to women. (Mira, interviewed by Alexandra Siotou, 12 January 2005) 

18 For a similar example of women taking pride in ‘male’ jobs in socialist Bulgaria, see Koleva 
(2008, p. 43). 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


In Mira’s view, one of the pitfalls of 4 emancipacija ’ was a shifting of all the bur- 
dens of caring for the family, including as breadwinners, to women’s shoulders. She 
bitterly concluded: ‘That’s why all the Bulgarian women are here!’ Here, Mira’s 
comments resonate with the criticism voiced by women in post-socialist Bulgaria 
about the ‘loss of femininity’ and the ‘double burden’ imposed on women during 
socialist rule (Daskalova 2000; Petrova 1993). Mira’s views also explain why there 
is increasing support, as noted above, in Bulgarian public opinion for a return to the 
traditional role of the male breadwinner. 

Another important insight we can gain from comparing the narratives of Bulgar- 
ian and Albanian migrant women concerns the migration process itself. Whereas 
the Albanian women in our sample who migrated alone form an exception and were 
faced with social outcry, our Bulgarian women migrated almost exclusively through 
female networks: they usually followed a female relative, in most cases their moth- 
er, or a female friend. These ‘pioneers’ were most often the first in their family to 
migrate. The explanations offered by our narrators for this ‘women-only’ migrant 
world give us deeper insights into the structural changes in family and gender rela- 
tions in their country of origin. They stress, first of all, that in Bulgaria it is socially 
much more acceptable, in comparison with Albania, for a woman to migrate on her 
own and that this is their own independent decision rather than a family strategy. 
They also explain that most Bulgarian migrants are women because there is no work 
for Bulgarian men in Greece. There is some truth to this claim: because of the ethnic 
division of labour, Albanian men have taken up a dominant position in those sec- 
tions of the labour market open to migrants. 

But the social reality hidden underneath this argument is more complex. For most 
migrant women, migration is either a welcome solution to unsatisfactory marital 
relations or a necessity because of the vulnerability of single women in their home 
country. Our narrators explained that it is impossible for a single woman to survive 
on a meagre state pension, and that the rate of divorce has soared recently because 
of the increase of alcoholism and domestic violence after 1990. Some women also 
attributed their divorce to their husband’s adultery or to the fact that they were too 
young (17 or 18) to choose an appropriate partner when they got married. Such 
reasoning offers new insights into the whole migration process from Bulgaria: the 
exceptionally high percentage of divorced women in our sample is not only linked 
to the high rate of divorce in their home country, but suggests that ‘broken families’ 
may be a primary motivation for migration. In other words, Bulgarian women in 
Greece do not seem to represent a cross-section of the Bulgarian female population, 
but have a specific social profile. 

9.4 Addressing the Questions 

Looking at migration through the lens of family relations rather than focusing on in- 
dividuals has led us to an important conclusion. It appears that mass emigration from 
Albania, with more than one third of its population living abroad, has undermined 


R. Van Boeschoten 

the social tissue of society, but the institution of the family has remained intact even 
though the structure of households has changed. In Bulgaria, however, migration 
was, to a great extent, the consequence of a severe crisis in traditional family rela- 
tions. This crisis had already emerged during the last period of communist rule, and 
it escalated after 1990. With these findings in mind, we can now return to the ques- 
tions raised at the beginning of this chapter. 

The first question concerns the empowerment of migrant women and the disem- 
powerment of migrant men. This seems puzzling, as in their home countries a post- 
socialist ‘patriarchal backlash’ has produced the opposite effect. To what extent can 
we attribute this change in gender relations to the migration process itself? Taking 
into account the ethnographic data presented above, this question must be answered 
differently for the Albanian and the Bulgarian cases. 

For Albanian migrants, both men and women, migration played a crucial role in 
the reconfiguration of gender relations. According to our interview data, two factors 
were major contributors to the empowerment of Albanian women. The reconstitu- 
tion of their households according to the nuclear family model disentangled women 
from the power relations of patriarchal extended families in which many had lived 
prior to migrating. The absence of the mother-in-law, partly owing to Greek immi- 
gration law, was experienced by many women as a blessing. Indeed, it often moti- 
vated them to migrate in the first place. The second factor was waged labour, which 
granted working women increased leverage over decisions taken in the household, 
as well as more individual autonomy. Since the onset of the economic crisis in 2010, 
which led to mass unemployment in the construction sector, the decisional power of 
women has further increased, as they are often their family’s main breadwinner. We 
might also suggest a third factor leading to the empowerment of Albanian women, 
which, however, needs further investigation. While Albanian men usually work to- 
gether with other Albanian men, Albanian women are exposed to a gender regime 
different from that in their home country, both through their work in Greek homes 
and through their children, who are socialized in the Greek education system. These 
three factors taken together have enabled Albanian women to renegotiate, to a cer- 
tain extent, their relations with their husbands. Nonetheless, the reunification of 
Albanian families in the host country, along with the development of social net- 
works based on region of origin, continue to exercise an substantial degree of social 
control and to constrain the empowerment of Albanian women. 

For Albanian men, the new role of their womenfolk is perceived as a factor of 
disempowerment. In Albania, male honour was — and still seems to be — a crucial 
marker of male identity. Traditionally, male honour was linked to the role of men 
as providers and breadwinners and to their position as defender of their family’s 
honour through control of their women’s sexuality. This notion of male honour has 
been threatened in the host country by a variety of factors: unemployment, the sense 
of insecurity linked to the migration regime, daily humiliations by police and em- 
ployers, negative stereotypes of migrant men in the media, the image of Greece 
as a country of sensual pleasure, and the men’s inability to shield their women 
and children from these perceived dangers. As argued above, these experiences 
in the host country, as well as the increased autonomy of Albanian women, have 
produced a crisis of masculinity in migrant men, to which many have reacted with 

9 Transnational Mobility and the Renegotiation of Gender Identities 


different forms of hypermasculinity and a return to traditional gender practices and 

In the case of Bulgarian migrants, the disempowerment of men and the empow- 
erment of women are rooted in the past, especially the communist past, rather than 
being a consequence of the migration process. The migration of Bulgarian women 
was facilitated both by their earlier emancipation, which enabled them to migrate 
on their own, and by the Greek migratory regime with its specific demands for 
Bulgarian female labour. This does not mean, however, that migration has not had 
an impact on gender identities among Bulgarian migrants. Our narratives reveal 
that migration amplified the effects of a process that started earlier in the home 
country and which assumed larger dimensions under the impact of post-socialist 
transformation. We have suggested that the assertive self-representations of Bulgar- 
ian migrant women as ‘male women’ might be seen as a response to deskilling, the 
closed environment, and the new situation of dependency in which many of these 
women found themselves in the host country. For Bulgarian men, the perceived 
threats to their sense of manhood are less related to their own experiences as mi- 
grants in Greece, but stem more from feelings of insecurity in their relations with 
Bulgarian women and from their inability to assume a new self-respected role in a 
changed relationship. 

The second question concerns the remarkable differences in the gendered sub- 
jectivities of the Albanian and Bulgarian migrant women in our sample. These dif- 
ferences can be partly understood by looking at the modalities of the migration pro- 
cess. While Albanian women usually followed their husbands, Bulgarian women 
migrated alone through mostly female networks. Albanian women live in families, 
and although they have gained a certain amount of autonomy through employment, 
they are still under the supervision of their migrant communities. Because of this 
social control, but also because of Greek immigration law, it is more difficult for 
them to gain full independence — for example, by seeking a divorce. Many of the 
Bulgarian migrants had left their family behind and were the head of a transnational 
household which included their married children but not their (former) husbands. 
They migrated due to economic necessity, but also out of desire to change their 
personal life or to support children. 

However, this is only part of the explanation. New insights can be gained if we 
focus on migration as an interaction between the cultural capital that these female 
migrants have brought from their home countries and the new challenges they face 
in their host country. To do this, we should also take into account the historical 
developments that have influenced gender relations in their country of origin. As 
this chapter noted, the empowerment of Bulgarian women started much earlier, and 
the modernization project of the communist regime had a more profound impact 
on gender relations in Bulgaria than in Albania. Post-communist transformation 
in Bulgaria deepened the crisis of traditional family relations, whereas in Albania 
the family remained intact, even though it was affected by a number of structural 
changes (e.g., nuclearization of families, drop in fertility rates, and the rise of age at 
first marriage). A final important factor is the rural-urban divide. Although the level 
of education of Albanian and Bulgarian migrant women is comparable, most Alba- 
nian women were raised in a rural environment, while all Bulgarian women in our 


R. Van Boeschoten 

sample grew up in cities. This social profile of migrant women reflects the overall 
situation in their countries: Albania is still predominantly a rural country, while in 
Bulgaria the majority of the population lives in cities . 19 

By way of conclusion, I would like to make a few remarks about the implica- 
tions of the renegotiation of gender identities among Albanian and Bulgarian mi- 
grants during the process of their integration into Greek society. Although Albanian 
migrants have adjusted remarkably well to their new environment — as can be ob- 
served, for example, in their command of the Greek language and in the relative 
success of their children in the Greek education system — their social contacts re- 
main mostly restricted to members of their own kin. One of the reasons invoked 
by Albanian migrants (mostly by men, but also by some women) to explain this 
‘embeddedness’ has to do with gender: they want to protect their families from the 
extreme permissiveness, as they see it, of Greek gender relations. In the context of 
the present economic crisis, mass unemployment has confronted Albanian families 
with a painful dilemma: to leave or to stay? Once again, gender plays an important 
role in the choices made by individual migrants, and these decisions are different 
for men and for women. Men are more eager to return, and many have done so. 
They may hope to re-establish their self-respect by finding employment or setting 
up a business and thus to mend their ‘wounded masculinity’. Albanian women do 
not want to go back for fear of returning to the ‘fanaticism’ that they have tried so 
hard to escape and because they do not want to be separated from their children for 
whom Albania is a foreign country. 

Most Bulgarian women are also focused on their families — but in a different 
way — and they seldom seek integration into Greek society. With their remittances 
they try to build a better future for their children back home, and their social rela- 
tions in Greece are mostly with other Bulgarian women. Although some Bulgarian 
women want to remain in Greece and construct a new personal life, most plan to 
return, but as independent women. Taking into account the improved economic 
conditions back home after Bulgaria’s accession to the EU, this may appear to be an 
increasingly viable option. 

Open Access This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 
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Riki Van Boeschoten is Professor of Social Anthropology and Oral History at the University of 
Thessaly, Greece. Her research interests include memory, refugee studies, migration and ethnic- 
ity, civil war conflicts and post-socialism. She has directed a research programme on gender and 
migration from Albania and Bulgaria ( Her most 
recent book, Children of the Greek civil war: Refugees and the politics of memory , co-authored 
with Loring Danforth, was published by Chicago University Press, 2011. Website: users.ha.uth. 

Chapter 10 

Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility 
Between Bulgaria and Greece: The Evolution 
of a Cross-Border Migration System 

Panos Hatziprokopiou and Eugenia Markova 

This chapter presents an overview of the Greek-Bulgarian migration system, fo- 
cusing particularly on aspects of Bulgarian migration to Greece. Although largely 
empirical, the account is set within the broader transnational context of mobility 
between the two countries. This appears to be shaped primarily by geographical 
proximity and is dominated by labour migration from Bulgaria to Greece. How- 
ever, it is also increasingly characterized by a constant ‘back- and- forth’ movement 
of people, as well as of goods, services, and money — in both directions. A turning 
-point in the evolution of this context has been Bulgaria’s EU accession in 2007, 
which liberalized mobility — potentially diverting the course of population flows 
towards more advanced European countries — while also reconfiguring not only 
Bulgaria’s but also Greece’s borders and geographical position in both the Balkans 
and Europe. Indeed, for the first time Greece is now connected to the EU by land. 
Within this context, the chapter explores Bulgarian-Greek migration patterns and 
other cross-border movements and investigates the relevance of circular migration 
and its developmental potential. Thus, the Greek-Bulgarian case could be evalu- 
ated in the light of recent developments in academic and policy discourses on the 
benefits of circular migration. 1 

1 For an overview of the concept, experiences and policy implications of circular migration see, 
e.g., Bieckmann and Muskens (2007), Vertovec (2007), Fargues (2008), and Maroukis and Gemi 
( 2010 ). 

P. Hatziprokopiou (ISI) 

Department of Spatial Planning and Development, 

Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece 

E. Markova 

The Faculty of Business and Law, 

London Metropolitan University, London, United Kingdom 
e -mail : E . Marko va@londonmet 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 183 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, IMISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 10 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

The chapter draws on the authors’ previous research on Bulgarian migrants in 
Greece, 2 revisited in the light of official statistics from various sources: the 2001 
Greek census, residence permit data from the Greek Ministry of Interior, labour 
force surveys, marriage and birth registers, international trade and tourism data 
from the Greek Statistical Authority, Greek police statistics, and data on migration 
and travel from the Bulgarian Statistical Institute. Where appropriate, the analysis is 
further supported with ‘grey material’ such as press articles and Internet resources. 
It furthermore offers a perspective ‘from the ground’ derived from four in-depth 
interviews with Bulgarian informants in Athens conducted in the summer of 20 11. 3 
The chapter begins with an account of the evolution of migratory flows between 
Bulgaria and Greece since 1989. It then examines aspects of Bulgarian immigrants’ 
social incorporation in Greece, with a focus on their position in the labour market. 
Finally, it explores other forms of mobility and types of flow, suggesting a shift 
from a unidirectional labour migration system towards a broader context of transna- 
tional mobility in the new Balkans. 

10.1 Migration Dynamics Between Bulgaria and Greece 

The collapse of Bulgaria’s centrally planned system amidst the turmoil in Eastern 
Europe and the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s expectedly produced out- 
ward population movements. The only movement that could be described as a mass 
exodus, however, was that of Turkophone Bulgarian Muslims, who left early on, 
heading mainly to Turkey (see iqduygu & Sert and Parla, both in this volume). 
There was also minor but steady emigration of highly skilled professionals towards 
Western Europe and North America which continued for most of the 1990s (Mar- 
kova and Sarris 1997; Chompalov 2000) up to today (Glytsos 2010). Nonetheless, 
there is no consensus regarding the extent to which this constituted significant brain 
drain (Bagatelas and Kubicova 2003). At the same time, political instability and 
corruption, coupled with economic hardship, unemployment, and low pay drove 
many Bulgarians to seek employment abroad. According to data from the Bulgar- 
ian National Statistical Institute (Stanchev 2005, p. 15), the numbers of Bulgarians 

2 The second author, Eugenia Markova conducted two quantitative studies (mainly) in Athens, 
one in 1996 based on a sample survey of 100 undocumented migrants and the second one in 1999 
which questioned 153 recently legalized and undocumented Bulgarians (Markova 2001; Markova 
& Sarris 1997, 2002a, 2002b; Sarris and Markova 2001). She also conducted a qualitative study 
of Bulgarians on the island of Rhodes using a sample of 58 persons (Markova 2009). The first 
author, Panos Hatziprokopiou included a sample of 70 Bulgarian immigrants in his research in 
Thessaloniki in 2001 and 2002 (Hatziprokopiou 2004, 2006). 

3 The authors conducted four interviews with (i) a woman involved in the Bulgarian community 
who had worked in a Greek state programme offering information and legal support to migrants 
(SDz, 18 July 2011), (ii) the director of the largest supplementary Bulgarian school in Athens (D, 
22 July 2011), (iii) an employee in a Bulgarian coach company (UI, 25 July 2011), and (iv) a Bul- 
garian entrepreneur owning three businesses in central Athens (BE, 26 July2011). 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


travelling abroad picked up in the early 1990s, then dropped considerably, increased 
in 1997, then declined again before increasing anew after 2000. Principal destina- 
tions were Turkey, Greece, Spain, Germany, Italy, and ultimately the UK, with the 
picture diversifying in the 2000s (Markova 2009, 2010; Markova and Black 2007). 
These movements have become even more pronounced since the country’s EU ac- 
cession in 2007, which initiated a broader scope of population mobility. At the same 
time, Bulgaria has started to become a country of transit as well as a receiving state 
for non-European migrants. 

Greece emerged as a key destination for Bulgarian migrants from the very begin- 
ning. In contrast to Hoxha’s isolated Albania, where the vast majority of Greece’s 
immigrants come from (see, e.g., Vullnetari in this volume), the Iron Curtain was 
not entirely impenetrable in the Bulgarian case. Even before the 1990s, there was 
some degree of population mobility, concerning mostly Greek students in Bulgaria 
and partnerships resulting in mixed marriages, as well as professionals (scientists, 
artists and sportspeople) who had migrated to Greece before 1989 (Hatziprokopiou 
2006, Chap. 4). At the same time, Greece was host to one of the largest communi- 
ties of Bulgarian political refugees (Guentcheva et al. 2003), while Bulgaria had 
accepted about 7,000 refugees from Greece (SOPEMI 1993, p. 112) following the 
end of the Greek Civil War in 1949, of whom 4,500 remained in the country (see 
editors’ introduction to this volume). Subsequently, the migration patterns between 
the two countries evolved in four stages (Nikolova 2010): (i) from 1989-1996 the 
dominant pattern was one of seasonal migrations 4 and undocumented border cross- 
ings; (ii) the period from 1997 to 2001 was marked by the severe political and 
economic crisis facing Bulgaria, but also by the first regularization programmes for 
immigrants in Greece; (iii) the period between 2001 and 2007, marked by the aboli- 
tion of visa requirements for Bulgarians travelling in the Schengen area, as well as 
the maturation of immigrant communities in Greece; and (iv) the period from 2007 
onwards, in which mobility patterns started to develop in the context of Bulgaria’s 
EU accession. 

Geographical proximity and relative ease of entry have largely conditioned Bul- 
garian migration to Greece since the beginning of the 1 990s (Hatziprokopiou 2004, 
2006; Angelidou 2008), perhaps more as a matter of necessity and convenience than 
as an ideal destination. In two International Organization for Migration (IOM) sur- 
veys, Greece featured in Bulgarians’ intentions to work abroad temporarily rather 
than permanently, involving thereby the potential of circularity (Guentcheva et al. 
2003, pp. 25-26). Greece was the second preferred destination in 1996 and the 
third in 2001, constituting 13 and 6.8% respectively of the respondents’ prefer- 
ences regarding employment abroad ‘for a couple of months’ (following the USA 
and Germany). However, it does not appear in the eleven most favoured permanent 
destinations in the 1996 survey and is at only sixth place for just 2.4% of the re- 
spondents in the 2001 survey. In the words of SDz, one of the female interviewees: 

4 According to unofficial data from the Bulgarian Ministry of Interior, some 33,000 Bulgarian 
citizens migrated to Greece in 1990 as seasonal farm workers (Markova 2001, p. 11) 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

Bulgarians chose Greece as a country to work in because it is the closest EU country.... 

They think they can return more easily and quickly to their families. 

However, the benefits of proximity could not be fully enjoyed during the early 
phase (until 1998) due to the restrictive legal framework that characterized Greek 
immigration policy, leaving thousands of people without any opportunity to legal- 
ize their status. The majority had either crossed the newly opened border illegally, 
or travelled on individual or group tourist visas — and, in some cases, business vi- 
sas — which they subsequently overstayed. In a survey of Bulgarian migrants in 
Thessaloniki in 2001-2002, one quarter of the sample (mostly early arrivals) had 
crossed illegally, while another 43 % (mostly women) had arrived on a tourist visa 
(Hatziprokopiou 2006, pp. 98-100). Among the former, some were smuggled into 
Greece over the mountains, paying € 200-300 in 1997 (in German marks or US 
dollars). 5 As put by another interviewee: 

I had no papers; I came illegally, like everybody. There were no papers back then; all of us 

were without papers (BE). 

Yet, mobility in this early stage was not entirely hindered, since migration projects 
were still quasi-experimental and followed largely temporary patterns of seasonal 
work in agriculture, tourism, and catering — especially from border regions to vari- 
ous places in northern Greece. It was the common experience of many, especially 
those who did have work back home, to come for a short period of employment 
initially and then go back again before taking the decision to settle in Greece for 
longer. A bilateral agreement on seasonal migration signed between the two coun- 
tries in 1996 6 came to encompass these predominantly temporary early patterns, 
but was never put into general practice. More pronounced cyclical routes can be 
observed in the case of ethnic Greek Bulgarians (Sarakatsani) from various places 
on the southern slopes of the long mountainous line from Plovdiv to Sliven. Ben- 
efiting from a special legal status offering them temporary visas, they were able 
to combine cattle-breeding activities in Bulgaria with seasonal work in northern 
Greece (Hatziprokopiou 2006). Conversely, the predominantly female migration 
flows to Athens in the 1990s had a more permanent character, based on employment 
opportunities in child and elderly care in private households. In fact, independent 
female migration has been a chief characteristic of Bulgarian migration to Greece 
(see Van Boeschoten in this volume). 

In general, the restrictive policy framework kept migrants in a limbo of life 
ambiguity and legal vulnerability, significantly restricting circular mobility. When 
economic uncertainty escalated with the 1997 crisis in Bulgaria, which led many 
factories to close, especially in the northern part of the country, 7 going back even 

5 Some 27 % of the sample in Thessaloniki was comprised of Bulgarian nationals of ethnic Greek 
origin (Sarakatsani), and about 6% had arrived after the liberalization of entry in April 2001 
(Hatziprokopiou 2006). 

6 Law No 2407 of 4 June 1996 ( Greek Government Gazette 103) 

7 The majority of early immigrants in Athens originated from large northern Bulgarian cities that 
were hit by the industrial decline of the 1990s; those arriving after 2000 came from a variety of 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


temporarily was not an option. Patterns of mobility became more fixed and unidi- 
rectional, from Bulgaria to Greece, even excluding in some cases the possibility of 
short visits back home for social or family reasons: 

When you don’t have documents and you don’t have the way open to go home you cannot 
return, these were very difficult years for Bulgarians. I remember cases when parents have 
died or there were ill persons in the family and we could not go back, because we would 
not be able to return here (SDz). 

Other examples included mothers unable to travel back to see their children, who 
were very young or of school age and usually left behind in the care of grandparents 
or other close relatives until they completed a school cycle in Bulgaria or graduated. 
This reveals one of the most profound social effects of emigration, determined by 
restrictive immigration regimes — that is, changes in family composition and child 
outcomes in terms of health and education. The former occur when either one part- 
ner emigrates — which often leads to a break-up — or when both partners emigrate 
and the children are left behind. Transnational family arrangements take complex 
forms. For example, a Bulgarian man in Athens, involved in circular migration to 
Greece, reported having families in both countries: 

I have a home here and there; I have a wife in Bulgaria and two children; now, I have a 
partner and a child in Greece as well (Markova 2010, p. 16). 

With the initiation of the first state regularization scheme in 1998, which launched 
a two-stage legalization process initially granting immigrants a temporary ‘white 
card’, entry and especially stay became more institutionalized towards the end of 
the decade. Problems of movement such as those described above went on even 
after regularization, mostly because of the bureaucracy of the Greek administration 
which produced extended delays in the issuing of residence permits, often becom- 
ing available shortly before they expired (or even after expiry). Overall though, the 
opportunity to reside legally in Greece signalled a major shift, stimulating feelings 
of security that gradually contributed towards longer-term migration projects, in- 
cluding family reunion and the migration of entire families with their children. For 
many, being legal acquired a symbolic form: ‘I am not scared any more to talk in 
Bulgarian in public’ (Monastiriotis and Markova 2009, pp. 50-51). In total, some 
25,168 Bulgarian immigrants applied for regularization during the first stage of the 
1998 scheme, making up a share of 6.8% of the total number of applicants — the 
second most numerous nationality among migrants in Greece. 

This remained so at the time of the 2001 census, which recorded some 35,104 
Bulgarians — 4.6% of the total. The share of women among Bulgarian immigrants 
was one of the largest (over 60%) among the principal nationalities, confirming 
the independent character of Bulgarian female migration. Moreover, in contrast to 
the ‘typical’ age composition of other immigrant groups in Greece (i.e., marked 
by overwhelming proportions of younger people), only about a quarter of Bulgar- 
ians recorded in the census were 20-29 years old, while another 37.3 % belonged 

places across Bulgaria, including Sofia and the South (Markova 2001, 2009; Hatziprokopiou 2006, 
pp. 90-91). 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

to the 3CM14 age group, and nearly 23 % were 45-64 years of age. In addition, the 
geographical dispersion of Bulgarians’ settlements were somehow different in com- 
parison with the distribution of the migrant population as a whole. Although, as ex- 
pected, higher shares are found in and around the two major urban centres, Bulgar- 
ian migrants living in Attica and Greater Athens were proportionally fewer, while 
significant shares had settled in Crete, Central and Western Greece, and nearly one 
fifth in the Peloponnese — partly reflecting the relatively large proportion working 
in agriculture at the time (see next section). Local concentrations are also interest- 
ing to note, since the relative weight of Bulgarians among the migrant population in 
those regions, as well as in north-eastern Greece, is comparably high. 

As of April 2001, EU regulations in view of Bulgaria’s forthcoming accession 
granted Bulgarian nationals the right to travel visa-free within the Schengen area. 
Although this may have stimulated outward mobility from Bulgaria, it does not 
seem to have substantially changed the lives of immigrants in Greece, partly be- 
cause border authorities continued to apply strict controls on entry. Such was the 
experience of D, one of the interviewees, who was refused entry when she first 
migrated in 2002 ‘because they didn’t let us in’. She was therefore forced to travel 
through Italy and then enter Greece by boat from Venice to Patras, as border con- 
trols on the Greek-Italian (Schengen) border were more relaxed. She then repeated 
the trip this way four times until 2007 in order to visit her son whom she had left 
with her parents in Silistra. Or, as another interviewee reported, the abolition of visa 
requirements ‘certainly changed things’, but: 

[F]or Bulgarian citizens it brought free movement only, but when you are a migrant you 
need to have a residence permit, so you still could not do anything without the permit. This 
was more helpful for Bulgarians who were in Bulgaria and needed to come here. . . for vaca- 
tion or to visit someone (SDz). 

This is confirmed by statistics on the actual number of Bulgarian nationals travelling 
to Greece at the time, which doubled from about 200,000 people in 2000 to more 
than 400,000 in 2001 (Stanchev 2005, p. 16). Despite the initial hesitation of Greek 
border officials to allow entry (in contradiction to the EU regulation, as suggested 
by the interviewee’s experience above), these figures may include some cyclical and 
seasonal migratory movements, but it is near-impossible to assess their extent. After 
all, although movement as such was liberalized, residence in Greece remained re- 
stricted and penalized. Over the period 2000-2006, an annual average of 2,950 Bul- 
garians were apprehended and faced deportation (Maroukis 2008, p. 68, Table 18). 

Far more significant in providing relative ease of movement, alongside legal 
security, was the possession of a residence permit, which became a possibility with 
the first regularization programme in 1998 and was extended in the 2000s with two 
subsequent schemes taking place in 2001 and 2005- following respective revisions 
in the immigration policy framework. Figure 10.1 suggests that Bulgarian nationals 
maintained their second place among immigrants in Greece, despite fluctuations 
in both absolute numbers and shares. 8 Their shares actually decreased: from 10% 

8 Data for 2004-2006 were kindly provided by Martin Baldwin-Edwards; 2007 data were obtained 
from the NGO Antigone (, accessed February 2010); 2008 data 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 








2004 Jan 2004 Jul 2005 Jan 2005 Jul 2006 Jan 2006 Jul 2007 Oct 2008 Apr 

■ Albania ■Bulgaria Romania other 

Fig. 10.1 Number of residence permits by country of citizenship, 2004-2008. (Source: Ministry 
of Interior, Residence Permit Statistics; various years) 

in 2003, they comprised 8.4 of all permit holders in 2005 (on average), 5.6% in 
2007 and 4.2% in 2008. Absolute numbers picked in July 2005, when over 52,000 
Bulgarians had a permit to stay, and significantly decreased thereafter in the face of 
Bulgaria’s EU accession. 

Detailed data for October 2007 reveal interesting features: among the 27,182 
Bulgarian permit holders, about half were older than 40 years of age and another 
44.3 % were 18-40 years of age. Nearly two thirds had a permit for waged work 
(compared to 59% of the total migrant stock), some 19% had a permit given to 
spouses of EU citizens, and we assume that these concern mostly Bulgarians mar- 
ried to Greeks (nearly double the equivalent share among the total). A small but 
significant proportion (4.6%) had a permit for seasonal employment, suggesting 
the importance of circularity in Bulgarian migratory patterns. The share of seasonal 
work permits among the total was just over 1 %, but nearly a quarter of them were 
issued to Bulgarian nationals. Seasonal migration was regulated by provisions of 
the 2001 Immigration Bill, according to which employers would state their labour 
needs by prefecture, basically concerning work in agriculture. Notably, the shares of 
seasonal residence permits seem to have decreased from about 12% in 2003-2004, 
nearly half of which were issued to Bulgarians (Baldwin-Edwards and Apostolatou 
2009, p. 251). 

are from Maroukis (2008, p. 5, Table 1). We did not have access to more recent data (after 2008), 
but even if we did these would involve complications as far as Bulgarians are concerned, since 
they are now EU citizens, with unrestricted mobility, stay and employment since 2009. 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

However, circular migratory patterns on a seasonal basis were reported by many 
migrants in a number of sectors. This did not necessarily involve a seasonal employ- 
ment permit even when arrangements did take the formal route. Such an example 
was given by one of the interviewees, based on her family’s experience: 

My brother, a school teacher [in Bulgaria], for many years has been working with his family 
at a camping site in Halkidiki... every summer... from June to August they worked here 
and then they would start the new academic year in Bulgaria (SDz). 

Another female interviewee, working for a Bulgarian coach company operating in 
Greece, confirmed this constant ‘back and forth’ from the point of view of seasonal 
traffic in travel between the two countries: 

When people have their time off from work here and go on holiday, other people [who have 
jobs in Bulgaria] come here to replace them for the holiday period and then they go back 
again. So the ‘traffic’ increases during the summer months (UI). 

Bulgaria’s EU membership did not immediately end irregular migration. ‘New Eu- 
ropeans’ could move freely but had no legal right to live and work in Greece. What 
Fig. 10.1 may imply is that many may have decided not to apply for or renew their 
permits, waiting instead for Greece to withdraw restrictions on long-term residence 
and employment — which took place in 2009. In addition, a separate procedure for 
registering new EU citizens was set up: along with the 18,154 Bulgarians holding 
a residence permit in 2008, another 11,805 (22% of the total) held the special EU 
citizens’ permit. So actual numbers may have increased, and movements definitely 
increased, facilitated by the new EU context — despite the restrictions. A closer look 
at the overall migration trends in Bulgaria following accession reveals that net emi- 
gration escalated from about 1,400 people in 2007, to nearly 15,730 in 2009 and 
over 27,700 in 2010 (Table 10.1). 

The decline over 2007-2008 may be indicative of an initial hesitation and pe- 
riod of adjustment — on the part of migrants themselves, but also by Greek of- 
ficials and the bureaucracy of the Greek administration, border officials, and im- 
migration services. Despite the initial problems, however, cross-border mobility 
is no longer restricted, nor are residence and work in Greece. As explained by the 

After 2007, movement is without any problem; we constantly go and come back, there are 
people who come here to work for a few months. There is constant mobility (SDz). 

Since we joined the EU, how can I tell you, there are no borders... I have three lorries, 
they travel to Bulgaria every week. I don’t think, for example, that before [2007] there 
were fewer Bulgarians here and now there are more; basically it’s about ease in moving, in 
coming and going (BE). 

Table 10.1 Migration flows to and from Bulgaria, 2007-2009. (Source: National Statistical 
Institute of Bulgaria, Population Statistics (Migration: Tables 5.7, 5.8)) 















Net migration 





1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


The new era of free movement and employment, however, has been obscured by 
Greece’s unfolding economic crisis over recent years. The patterns of mobility may 
change anew, considering the emerging trends of migrants leaving Greece for their 
hometowns in Bulgaria, or even re-emigrating to more economically stable coun- 
tries. As one female interviewee stated: 

Jobs are now fewer, and wages have dropped. For instance, the starting salary for a new- 
comer woman [in domestic service or care] used to be € 600, € 650, even € 700, now it 
may be € 400... but then again it depends on the market, where you are, the employers, 
etc. . . . But there are many Bulgarians who return, either return to Bulgaria or move to other 
countries. . . there are cases of families, usually young people, who choose other countries, 
usually northern countries with a better economy (SDz). 

Still, however, the consistent job and income disparities between the two countries 
and the persisting demand for the cheap and flexible work that migrants in Greece 
perform in sectors and positions still unattractive to the indigenous population, do 
not suggest a reversal of the Bulgarian-Greek migration regime. Official statistics 
seem to confirm this picture, at least through the early years of the Greek crisis: pre- 
liminary data from the 2011 Census counted 75,915 Bulgarians in Greece; not only 
their number more than doubled since 2001, but also Bulgarians now formed 8.3 % 
of Greece’s migrant population. According to the same interviewee: 

I think that the way things are going Bulgarians will continue to come here for work, even 
in smaller numbers, because wages in Bulgaria are the lowest among the 27 EU member 
states. Pensions are very low. So even with this really deep crisis now in Greece... Bul- 
garians stay in Greece... Immigrants, whether Bulgarians or [other] EU citizens or third 
country nationals continue to do the ‘black’ jobs, the difficult ones, because. . . Greeks many 
times avoid these jobs, they go for the public sector (SDz). 

The current economic climate in Greece may ‘push’ some migrants back home. None- 
theless, the return is only temporary owing to the limited availability of jobs, and 
geographic proximity between the two countries facilitates circularity. Another inter- 
viewee told us that if someone were without work, he or she may go back for 5 or 6 
months and then return again. There is thus the possibility of a proliferation of ‘back- 
and-forth’ movements. In the double conjuncture of an enlarged EU and Greece’s 
economic crisis, cyclical migration patterns and the maintenance of livelihoods in 
both countries may become an attractive option to many immigrants. This may fur- 
thermore remain so as long as the structural conditions in the Greek labour market 
reserve a space for immigrant labour, even if this space shrinks in times of crisis. The 
next section reviews the employment patterns of Bulgarian immigrants, which have 
largely conditioned their economic and social integration in the past 2 decades. 

10.2 Socio-Economic Incorporation of Bulgarian 
Immigrants in Greece 

Migrant employment in Greece since the early 1990s has responded to an increased 
demand for cheap and flexible labour, partly functioning as a substitute for fam- 
ily workers in small businesses and households (Fakiolas 2003; Hatziprokopiou 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

2006; Cavounidis 2006). The demographic ageing of the indigenous population, 
the continued emptying of the Greek countryside, the growth of the middle class- 
es, the increasing participation of women in the labour market, the link between 
higher educational attainments and better job prospects for younger generations, 
along with the size of the informal economy have provided for ‘pull factors’ for the 
employment of immigrant labour. Moreover, in a drive for competitiveness, small 
businesses have adopted cost-cutting strategies in labour-intensive activities via 
informal economic arrangements. The high seasonality of core economic sectors 
(e.g., agriculture, construction, and tourism), and the casual character of certain em- 
ployment niches (e.g., domestic and care work) have favoured these developments. 

The employment patterns of Bulgarian immigrants reflect this broader picture, 
though certain peculiarities may be noted. First, in general, immigrants’ employ- 
ment participation rates are higher than for Greeks, but this rate is even higher for 
the Bulgarians. Labour force survey data show this averages 84% between 2005 
and the first half of 2011. Secondly, Bulgarians’ principal sectors of employment at 
the time of the 2001 census appeared to be agriculture and ‘other services’ (com- 
prising nearly 63 %, compared to less than 40 % in total immigrant employment), 
while relatively fewer Bulgarians worked in manufacturing and construction (6.5 
and 11 %, respectively, compared to about half among all immigrant workers). For 
women, services such as cleaning, care, and domestic work are important. Nearly 
half of Bulgarian women were employed in such jobs. Lastly, among Bulgarian 
immigrants, slightly larger than average shares were employed as skilled or un- 
skilled manual workers (70.3%), unqualified service employees (11.4%, 16.7% 
among women), and skilled farmers (9.5 %). 

The authors’ past research suggests that these patterns reflect the structures of 
local labour markets. For example, employment in agriculture is absent in studies 
of Bulgarian undocumented and legalized migrants in Athens and Rhodes (Mar- 
kova 2001, 2009), and features only as past experience in studies of Bulgarian im- 
migrants in Thessaloniki (Hatziprokopiou 2006), while employment in hotels and 
restaurants is far more significant in Rhodes (Markova 2009). The impact of time 
has been important, and in this respect the acquisition of legal status has proven 
to be a decisive factor. Conditions seem to have improved over time, including 
the migrants’ capacity to negotiate their position and pay, or to find more stable 
and better-paid jobs — not just as a result of acquiring legal status, but also through 
knowledge of the country’s language, familiarity with the local labour market, and 
embeddedness in wider social networks. 

Recent data confirm shifts in Bulgarian migrants’ work. Examining how the situ- 
ation has changed since the 2001 census, we looked at labour force survey data for 
2006 and 2011 (Table 10.2). First, employment in agriculture shrunk from about 
one third in 2001 to less than 16% in 2006 and to nearly 13% in 2011. Secondly, 
immigrant employment in construction work had increased in 2006 compared to 
2001, reflecting both an increased participation of male Bulgarian workers and the 
intense construction activity in Greece during the first half of the decade (which 
included the Olympic Games preparations). However, employment in this sector 
had dropped to just over 7% by 2011 as a direct outcome of the market’s freezing 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


Table 10.2 Bulgarian immigrants’ employment by sector (percentage share), 2006 and 2011. 
(Source: Hellenic Statistical Authority, Labour Force Surveys 2006, 2011 (second trimester)) 



All immigrants 


All immigrants 

















Energy & Water 










Trade & Repair 





Hotels & Catering 





Transport, storage & 





Finance, real estate, 
business services 





Public admin, educa- 
tion, health & welfare 





Other services 





Services to households 





due to the crisis. These proportionate losses indicate a shift from such ‘typical’ sec- 
tors of immigrant employment in Greece towards a wide range of service activities. 
Employment in household services in particular jumped from 30% in 2001 to more 
than 40 % in 2006, but dropped again to 35 % in 201 1, possibly also with the advent 
of the crisis, as lower middle class households face difficulties in maintaining a 
regular domestic worker or carer. Employment in the hotel and restaurant sector, 
which was already quite important for women in 2001, reached 15.4% in 2011. 
Employment in other tertiary activities, including business services, education, and 
welfare was also on the rise (Table 10.2). 

There may be a difference between the educational attainments of migrants set- 
tling in large urban centres and those located in smaller cities and less urban areas, 
as Bulgarian migrants in Rhodes appear to have a lower educational level than those 
in Athens and Thessaloniki (Markova 2009). More recent data from labour force 
surveys (Table 10.3) show that although fewer Bulgarians have a tertiary education 

Table 10.3 Bulgarian immigrants’ education profile, percentage share (average 2005-2009). 
(Source: Hellenic Statistical Authority, Labour Force Surveys 2005-2009 (by trimester)) 

Education level 

Greek nationals 

Foreign nationals 

Bulgarian nationals 













No schooling 





P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

Fig. 10.2 Bulgarian immigrants’ unemployment rates, 2005-2012. (Source: Hellenic Statistical 
Authority, Labour Force Surveys 2005-2012 (by quarter)) 

compared to Greeks and other foreign nationals, the shares of those without a sec- 
ondary education are significantly lower. This indicates a relatively good educa- 
tional level, overall, among the Bulgarian migrants. We can thus speak of deskill- 
ing in the process of immigrants’ labour market integration, especially at the early 
stages. Contributing factors to the mismatch between migrants’ skills and the work 
they perform are the problematic transferability of skills and qualifications as well 
as migrants’ limited knowledge of the Greek language. But the chief factor is the 
structural mechanisms of the Greek labour market. 

Unemployment had been uncommon among migrants in Greece until the un- 
folding of the crisis, with the exception of short periods of moving between jobs. 
Figure 10.2 shows unemployment rates during 2005-2012. In 2009 immigrants’ 
overall unemployment surpassed that of Greeks for the first time; subsequently, it 
escalated to nearly 33 % in the second half of 2012. Unemployment among native 
Greeks rose sharply at the same time. This trend reveals a darker picture for the 
near future, implying a reversal in the relative improvement of immigrants’ labour 
market position so far. Among Bulgarian immigrants, unemployment rates have 
been lower that the average among all migrants and among Greeks. The peaks in the 
winter months are likely largely attributable to the seasonal character of their work. 

The trends in immigrants’ pay offer further testimony to a relative improvement 
of conditions over time. But they also reflect a seasonality of employment and some 
effect of the crisis. Figure 10.3 consists of data provided by IKA, Greece’s major in- 
surance fund. 9 At the end of 2003 the daily wage was € 20, but by June 2010 this had 

9 Detailed monthly IKA statistics are available online (, see «Monthly Employment 
Statistics))) and since 2003 include insured foreign nationals. Official data on earnings obviously 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 1 95 

Fig. 10.3 Bulgarian immigrants’ daily wages, 2003-2011. (Source: IKA Monthly Statistical 
Bulletins, December 2003- December 2011, (accessed 29 January 2013)) 

doubled. Work experience in both Bulgaria and Greece was found to have a great- 
er — though still weak — effect on earnings, compared to legal status or the migrants’ 
educational level (Markova and S arris 2002a), as well as the duration of residence 
in Greece and work in a specific sector or for the same employer (Hatziprokopiou 
2006). Any assessment of growth in wages over the last 10 years, however, must 
also consider the rise of average prices in Greece since the introduction of the euro. 
With inflation considered earnings were shrinking: Greek citizens’ average daily 
wages dropped from 2010, but for Bulgarians the reduction was about € 10 a day. 

Figure 10.3 also shows the persistent gap between Bulgarian migrants’ wages 
and those of Greeks. Despite their steady increase, Bulgarians’ daily wages, even at 
their peak (June 2010), still remained lower than those of Greeks — the difference 
being € 20. Moreover, there was a marked gender gap, once again with significant 
differences observed between the earnings of migrant and Greek women. Interest- 
ingly, the data show no change owing to Bulgaria’s EU accession and the subse- 
quent change in the status of migrants in Greece. On the contrary, Bulgarians appear 
to be among the least well-paid groups of migrants, though this is mostly due to the 
large proportion of women, who are among the lowest earners in Greece. At the end 
of 2010, native IKA-insured Greeks earned on average € 57 a day; Albanian mi- 
grants earned € 38.50, Romanians € 37.70, and Pakistanis € 37.50, while Bulgarians 
earned € 32.25. Bulgarian women were earning less than € 28.85 per day, compared 
to € 49.90 for Greek and € 34.70 for Albanian women. 

concern only people who are insured with the fund, but in our calculations we have not included 
construction workers. 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

An unknown proportion of immigrant workers remained uninsured. Detailed 
monthly IKA statistics over the period 2004-2010 reveal major fluctuations — re- 
flecting the seasonality of migrants’ employment, as many of those insured dur- 
ing winter might pick agricultural produce in the summer months. No change is 
recorded with Bulgaria’s EU accession or the Greek debt crisis. In November 2008, 
the share of immigrants in informal work was estimated to be about half of the 
total. 10 At that time, some 16,666 Bulgarians were insured (about 5 % of the total); 
the vast majority (76.1 %) were registered with IKA. If we are to expect that this 
proportion is representative, we might add the remaining 23.9% to the IKA figures 
in order to estimate the total numbers registered with insurance funds. Throughout 
2004-2011, the average number of Bulgarians insured on a monthly basis is then 
15,174, which points to an estimated monthly average of 18,795 insured Bulgarian 
workers in Greece. Taking into account the presence of at least about 30,000 legally 
resident Bulgarians in the country, this suggests that a high share of Bulgarian mi- 
grants remain uninsured. 

Considering that the informal economy was a major ‘pull factor’ throughout the 
1990s, most migrants were in unregistered employment and lacked social insur- 
ance. Our own research suggests a positive effect of regularization. In a 1996 survey 
of Bulgarian migrants in Athens, almost the entire sample was undocumented and 
informally employed; though this was definitely not the case among immigrants 
surveyed in 1999 (Markova 2001). Among the 2001-2002 sample of Bulgarians 
in Thessaloniki, about one third were employed informally (Hatziprokopiou 2006, 
pp. 145-146) though many more reported working irregularly in the past. However, 
informal or semi-formal employment was also correlated with sector of employ- 
ment and type of work — for example, nearly half of the women in care and do- 
mestic service were uninsured. By 2008, on the island of Rhodes, there was still a 
stark inconsistency between the migrants’ legal status and their employment condi- 
tions (Markova 2009; Monastiriotis and Markova 2009). Documented immigrants 
reported no social insurance coverage; others — desperate to make up for employers 
not paying social insurance contributions that were compulsory for the renewal of 
work permits — were either paying the employer’s share themselves or were con- 
tributing unlawfully to a social fund unrelated to their actual sector of employment. 
Even some 10 years after legalization, they still did not have equal rights with locals 
and reported no significant changes in their working conditions after legalization. 
According to one 32-year-old woman interviewed on the island of Rhodes, ‘Em- 
ployers don’t care if you have the right papers; they would always try to save money 
by paying you less’ (Monastiriotis and Markova 2009). 

Clearly, there has been a trend towards registered employment and social in- 
surance over time, especially in comparison to the 1990s. Nevertheless, despite 
improvements with the introduction of regularization programmes, there appears to 
be a policy paradox regarding legal status and immigrants’ employment in Greece. 
While social insurance was a prerequisite for acquiring legal status, the possession 

10 Kathimerini newspaper, 29 November 2008, ‘How many migrants can we have?’ by M. 
Delithanasi, p. 18. 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


of legal status was at the same time a condition for registered employment and 
therefore also for insurance (as, in principle, the employment of undocumented 
migrants was prohibited). Given the structure of demand for migrant labour and 
the size of the informal economy in Greece, neither the acquisition of legal status 
nor — more recently — Bulgaria’s EU membership appear to have decisively reduced 
informal employment. With the lack of formal opportunities, migrants developed 
strategies to cope with being uninsured. One practice — not uncommon among other 
groups of migrants or native Greeks — was to register with OGA, the insurance fund 
for agricultural workers. This had less costly contributions, even if workers were 
not in the agricultural sector. Another strategy, common among domestic workers, 
was to pay from their own pocket a reduced rate for ‘partial’ insurance with IKA. 
It is still uncertain how recent reforms of the Greek national insurance and pension 
systems will affect the situation of migrant workers in the country. 

Employment conditions have mobilized local activists, organizations, and trade 
unions, including some immigrant workers, in support of migrants’ rights. Women 
in particular have struggled to combine an often harsh working life with mother- 
hood, while they are also vulnerable to sexual harassment from male colleagues and 
employers. Indicative of the degree of immigrants’ exploitation in the Greek labour 
market is a case that gained wide publicity: the tragic story of a Bulgarian female 
migrant Konstantina Kuneva (Kambouri and Zavos 2010). A single mother, then 
45 -years-old, Kuneva worked as a cleaner. She was brutally attacked with sulphuric 
acid on her way home on 22 December 2008. After months in hospital she recov- 
ered, yet suffering partial loss of sight and permanent damage to internal organs. 
Although the perpetrators remain unknown, they are alleged to have been commis- 
sioned by her employers — the cleaning company, OIKOMET — following a history 
of pressure and threats because of Kuneva’s union activism. Her case shocked the 
public and brought the issues of exploitation of immigrants and employers’ brutal 
treatment of immigrant workers to the forefront of public discourse — becoming the 
epicentre of struggles for migrants’ rights, with campaigns and protests organized 
in her support. Investigations to bring the perpetrators to justice, however, were 
remarkably slow and no legal action had been taken, to date. 

Kuneva’s case may be revealing of the degree of exploitation of migrants in 
the Greek labour market; yet it also remains exceptional, since union participation 
among migrants was almost non-existent throughout the 1990s and remains limited 
(Hatziprokopiou 2006), especially outside the main cities. In an interview, the presi- 
dent of the Rhodes Labour Centre highlighted some additional difficulties in orga- 
nizing migrant workers in the particular case of small, self-contained economies: 

The market is small, the community is small. If you report an employer for unfair treatment, 
you won’t find any other job; the word will spread. Everybody knows everybody. People 
are scared. Migrants are even more scared. It’s better in Athens for organizing (Monastirio- 
tis and Markova 2009, p. 57). 

Collective representation has taken other forms instead, focusing on the building 
of migrant communities — especially after the first regularization in 1998. It was in 
that year that the first Bulgarian migrant association Vassil Levski was established 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

in Athens, with trade union support and hosted by the Athens Labour Centre. Since 
then, other community organizations have appeared in the capital and across the 
country (Markova 2001; Hatziprokopiou 2006, pp. 214, 218-219). Indicative of 
the gradual building of community life are several Bulgarian-language newspapers 
published in Athens, the first one ( Svetlina ) starting in 1998. There were at the time 
of this writing at least three weeklies: Atinski Vesti, Bulgarski Vesti, and Kontakti. 
There were bimonthly newspapers as well: Planeta, Bulgaria Simera, and Foni tis 
Bulgarias . n At the same time, private spaces such as cafes and bars in Athens and 
Thessaloniki, owned or frequented by Bulgarians, became meeting places and local 
centres of community life (Hatziprokopiou 2006, p. 218; Angelidou 2008). Despite 
the mushrooming of community organizations and activities, however, individual 
migrants’ active participation may have been decreasing in recent years, as a female 
interviewee (herself a member of an association) suggested: 

Before we were more ‘concentrated’, we’d gather both with the community, at a cultural 

level, as well as at a social level, among families. But now it’s like everyone is closed to 

himself, probably because of the crisis. 

Two of the longest-established organizations were initially founded by mixed cou- 
ples (Greeks married to Bulgarians) and attract mainly professionals: the Associa- 
tion of Greco-Bulgarian Friendship (Cyril and Methodius) 12 in Thessaloniki and the 
Greek-Bulgarian Association of Mutual Aid and Friendship in Athens. These are 
perhaps testimony to the trend of inter-ethnic marriages between Bulgarians and 
Greeks, even before 1989. Official statistics confirm that inter-ethnic partnerships 
and parenthood constitute a sizeable proportion of families formed by Bulgarians in 
Greece. 13 Among a total of 2,453 marriages of Bulgarian women that took place in 
Greece during 2004-2009, the vast majority (about 80%) were with Greek nation- 
als. During the same period, 475 marriages took place in Greece involving Bulgar- 
ian men, 20% of whom married women of Greek nationality. Moreover, 30% of 
the 2,075 children bom to Bulgarian mothers in 2005 and 2006 had Greek fathers. 
Naturally, family formation in Greece has been developing over the past 20 years or 
so, and there is already a generation of children bom and growing up in the country. 

Children appear to be very affected by the emigration of their parents. A study 
by Guentcheva et al. (2003) reveals high dropout rates from school among children 
whose migrant parents left them behind in the care of grandparents or other rela- 
tives. Such pupils enjoy the freedom of having more money and less parental control 
than children whose parents did not migrate. Yet many are inclined to start smoking 
and drinking, eventually quitting school. In the past few years, the Bulgarian press 

11 See Eleftherotypia newspaper of 21 February 2008 and the website of the Greek Migrants’ 
Forum ( 

12 Saints Cyril and Methodius were Christian missionaries among the Slavic people of the First 
Bulgarian Empire, Great Moravia, and Pannonia, in the ninth century. They are credited with de- 
vising the Glagolic alphabet, used to transcribe Old Church Slavonic. 

13 Data on marriages by nationality of partners, obtained from the Hellenic Statistical Authority, 
have been kindly provided by Ms D. Papadopoulou (PhD candidate, Middlesex University, UK; 
elaboration by the authors). 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


has described these children as having ‘Skype parents’. Research on the island of 
Rhodes reveals that of the nine interviewees who arrived in Greece as minors, only 
four had completed their education. The rest had primary education only, obtained 
in Bulgaria. In the meantime, however, most children who followed their parents as 
dependants, or were bom in Greece, have integrated into the Greek school system. 
Despite immigration restrictions, their acceptance in schools was unconditional of 
their parents’ legal status, even since the 1990s. During the school year 2002-2003, 
there were 2,873 Bulgarian-born pupils studying in Greek state schools, constitut- 
ing some 3 % of the total foreign-born pupil population (Baldwin-Edwards 2004a). 

In September 2001, the Bulgarian migrant Association Vassil Levski established 
the first Sunday school for Bulgarian migrant children, teaching in both the Bulgar- 
ian and Greek languages. One of its successors managed to get recognition from the 
Bulgarian Educational System and support from the Bulgarian Embassy in Athens, 
and increased the number of teachers from two to nine and the range of subjects 
taught (now including Bulgarian history and geography, as well as folk dancing). 
This school saw its number of pupils grow from six when it started operating in 
2004, to 105 children in 2011. In our interview, its manager reported fluctuations in 
pupil numbers in line with broader changes in the status and conditions of Bulgarian 
migrants in Greece, especially in relation to Bulgaria’s EU accession and to the 
unfolding of the crisis in Greece: 

After Bulgaria’s EU accession, the numbers of pupils dropped. ... Then they went up again, 
especially this year with the economic crisis. . . parents send them here because they think 
that as things go bad they may return to Bulgaria. . . at the end of the year ten families asked 
for the certificate we issue in order to actually go back. 

10.3 New (and Older) Mobilities: Cross-Border Flows 
Between Bulgaria and Greece 

As underlined in the introduction, the scope of this chapter is not simply to ac- 
count for the dynamics of labour migration from Bulgaria to Greece and for the 
conditions of the Bulgarian migrant population. Indeed, these are situated within a 
broader context of mobility between the two countries, which involves a diversity of 
cross-border movements and various types of flows in both directions. Geographical 
proximity is the primary factor shaping such mobility, which has now entered a new 
phase following Bulgaria’s EU accession. Hence, there has been some degree of po- 
litical unification of the Greco-Bulgarian space. However, various elements beyond 
conventional labour migration existed long before 2007. These include migrants’ 
informal practices, which stretch across the borders through social networks link- 
ing localities of origin and destination and transnational lifestyles between the two 
countries — often conditioned by necessity. Practices of this kind might include visits 
to home villages or towns, whether for holidays or other reasons (Hatziprokopiou 
2006, pp. 207-212). Even when travel was not possible, some engagement with the 
homeland was feasible from a distance — for instance, as far as political participation 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

in Bulgaria is concerned. 14 Moreover, the sending of remittances seems to be de- 
clining as migrants build their lives in their places of settlement, as our past studies 
confirm. Remittances were usually sent through informal channels, such as relatives 
or compatriots who went back home or by bus companies travelling between the two 
countries. The funds were provided to support family members left behind, in some 
cases spouses and/or children. Apart from such ‘grassroots’ transnational activity, 
however, our interest here is to investigate empirically quantifiable forms of popula- 
tion movements and other types of mobility, beyond labour migration. 

A first type of flow, and perhaps a key structural characteristic of immigration to 
Greece especially during the 1990s, concerns the relationship between the mobility 
of labour and that of capital. As explained by Labrianidis and colleagues (2004), at 
the same time as immigration into Greece intensified in the early 1990s, the country 
transitioned from being a net receiver of foreign direct investment (FDI) to a net 
capital exporter. Not only were the Balkans the primary source of migrant labour, 
but they were also the major destination of Greek FDI, as ‘virgin’ markets in which 
large multinationals were initially reluctant to invest. The Balkans offered natural 
resources, cheap labour, and the possibility to avoid tariff impediments. Most Greek 
investment projects in the Balkans were concentrated in Bulgaria; the majority were 
commercial enterprises and industrial plants, with a small but significant presence 
of service companies (Labrianidis 2000). Up until the early 2000s, many of these 
projects were undertaken by small and medium-sized enterprises, with or without a 
parent company in Greece that moved to the Balkans in order to overcome competi- 
tiveness problems at home and to reduce labour costs (Labrianidis et al. 2004). This 
is the same type of company that tends to rely on the employment of immigrants in 
Greece, reflecting the production structure of the Greek economy. Over the period 
1996-2009, Greece was the fourth major investor country in Bulgaria in terms of 
value, accounting for nearly 8 % of the total. 15 There are more than 420 Greek busi- 
nesses in Bulgaria; some 40 % of them were registered after 2000, following almost 
a decade of Bulgarian migration to Greece (Markova 2010, p. 33). It is worth noting 
that Bulgarian trade unions speak of highly exploitative conditions in border areas 
where Greek companies are most active. 16 

Part of this investment has been by the banking sector, as increased transac- 
tions by migrants in Greece since the mid- 1 990s — and their increasing demand for 
financial services — motivated Greek banks to expand their services in Bulgaria. 
Legal immigrants remain the main clients, transferring money home. The increased 
number of Bulgarian migrants legally residing and working in Greece may explain 
the growing number of Greek bank branches in Bulgaria in the last 10 years. For 
example, Alpha Bank has now opened branches in over 20 cities in Bulgaria. Five 

14 For example, the Macedonian Press Agency reported on 21 October 2001 that about 260 Bul- 
garians living in Thessaloniki were expected to vote in the Bulgarian national elections on 11 
November 2001 at the city’s Bulgarian Consulate. 

15 Data from the Bulgarian National Bank reported in the Greek General Secretariat of Interna- 
tional Economic Relations and Development Cooperation ( — thematic category 
on bilateral agreements). 

16 Interview conducted in April 2009 in Sofia as part of the EU-funded project, Mapping Discrimi- 
nation in the European Union, Working Lives Research Institute, London Metropolitan University. 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


large Greek banks — the National Bank of Greece (which owns 99.9 % of the United 
Bulgarian Bank AD); Piraeus Bank Bulgaria AD; Emporiki Bank-Bulgaria EAD, 
the merger between Eurobank EFG Bulgaria (Postbank) AD; and Alpha Bank-Bul- 
garia Branch — currently have a market share of 25-30% in the country. 17 

There has also been growth in commercial activity between the two countries, 
with Bulgaria’s share in net imports/exports steadily increasing since 1989. Not only 
are Greek products now manufactured in Bulgaria, but increasingly they are sold to 
the Bulgarian market as well (Labrianidis 2000; Kamaras 2001). Although Bulgaria 
remained a secondary trade partner until recently, this seems to be changing with 
membership of the EU. In 2006, Bulgaria received 6.3 % of total Greek exports in 
terms of value (in euros); by 2007, this had grown to 6.5% and Bulgaria was the 
fourth major buyer of Greek products; in 2008, it became the third major destina- 
tion, with a share of 7.1 % of total Greek exports. Similarly, imports increased by 
0.4 percentage points between 2006 and 2008, and Bulgaria had become the 16th 
largest supplier of the Greek market by the end of this period. Obviously, Greece’s 
ongoing crisis may interrupt this trend: over the first three quarters of 2009, Greek 
exports to Bulgaria dropped by about 24 percentage points, and Bulgarian imports 
decreased by 30 %; in the first quarter of 2010, however, the pace of exports decline 
was reduced to 6.4% and imports had registered a slight increase. 18 

Naturally, flows of goods and capital also translate into human mobility. To- 
gether with Greek companies, there are movements of Greeks travelling back and 
forth — merchants and distributors, professionals, bankers, and investors (Hatzipro- 
kopiou 2006, p. 254). The Greek presence in Bulgaria and other Balkan countries 
is so evident that some analysts speak of a ‘Greek capitalist diaspora’ in the region, 
constituted by a network of corporate entities and individuals (Kamaras 2001). Ac- 
cording to the National Statistical Institute of Bulgaria, among 132,576 people who 
travelled for business reasons to Bulgaria during January-September 2002, Greeks 
made up the largest share, approaching 13 %. 19 9 years later, in 2011, of the 52,434 
professionals visiting Bulgaria in January alone, over 40% were Greeks. Mean- 
while, the number of (registered) permanent Greek residents in Bulgaria increased 
from 814 in 2004 to 964 in 2009. Among them, some may be students following the 
‘tradition’ of young Greeks studying in Bulgaria, even previous to 1989, which may 
have slowed down but never entirely ceased. 

Alongside business travel, there has been an increase in the number of trips for 
tourism, shopping, and entertainment. According to the Bulgarian National Statisti- 
cal Institute, an annual average of 806,654 Greeks travelled for various purposes 
between 2004 and 2009, with the numbers gradually increasing since 2007. For 
the period January-May 2010, 184,690 Greek visitors travelled for ‘holiday and 
recreation’, constituting a share of 22.8% of foreign tourists in Bulgaria. Some of 

17 ‘Invest in Greece’ website (pages on investment in Bulgaria): 

18 Data are from the Hellenic Statistical Authority as reported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 
(op. cit.) 

19 2002 Data are from Hatziprokopiou (2006, p. 254); 2010 data are available from the Bulgarian 
National Statistical Institute ( 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

these movements have been concentrated in the border areas. Back in 2003, Greek 
TV channels were reporting on Greeks from northern towns or villages, including 
Thessaloniki, who were visiting places on the other side of the border (e.g., the city 
of Petrich) for shopping (especially for duty-free goods, at that time still available 
at the border), but also for other reasons such as gambling in the local casinos, or 
having low-cost tooth fillings at local dentists (Hatziprokopiou 2006, p. 255). More 
recently, amidst the Greek economic crisis, during the summer of 2010 the Greek 
press commented on youths travelling from northern Greece to Bulgaria for live 
concerts: the combined cost of tickets and travel appeared to be cheaper for them 
than attending such performances in Athens (with retail petrol prices on the Bulgar- 
ian side of the border being about 33 % cheaper than in Greece at the time). 20 Our 
interviewee from the Bulgarian/travel agency confirmed this picture, based on her 
own experience from the business traffic: 

We have frequent travellers. There are those who go for business, but also increasingly for 

tourism, to the ski resorts of Bansko, Borovets, and Pamporovo (UI). 

At the same time, an increasing number of Bulgarian tourists travel in the opposite 
direction. For them, EU accession seems to have marked a shift. The Greek Tourism 
Organization counted 470,232 arrivals of Bulgarian tourists at the borders in 2002, 
the seventh most numerous tourist group that year. By 2007, the corresponding 
figure approached 1.1 million, indicating an unprecedented growth in arrivals of 
Bulgarians in recent years. Similarly, a sharp growth of their share among the total 
foreign arrivals at the border was recorded, as depicted in Fig. 10.4. Since 2007, the 



2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 

Fig. 10.4 Arrivals of Bulgarians at the Greek border, 2001-2007. (Source: Hellenic Statistical 
Authority, tourism and border statistics, 2001-2007) 

20 Eleftherotypia newspaper, 1 August 2010. 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


Hellenic Statistical Authority has been distinguishing between arrivals of residents 
and non-residents (based on a sample administered by the Bank of Greece). Even 
so, the number of Bulgarian visitors remains high. A similar picture is sketched 
by Bulgarian sources. The number of Bulgarians travelling to Greece has grown 
steadily over the period 2004-2009 and picked up significantly after 2007, with 
1,583,369 arrivals in 2009. The share of those going to Greece doubled during that 
period, from 14.4% in 2004 to 31.7% in 2009. Among nearly 1.5 million Bulgar- 
ians who had travelled abroad during the first half of 2010, some 26.4% were des- 
tined for Greece. Of those, 68 % visited Greece for professional reasons, and some 
18.1 % as tourists. A local newspaper in Thessaloniki reported that increased num- 
bers of Bulgarian tourists in northern Greece, especially in the areas of Pieria and 
Kavala, in July 2010, served to compensate for the overall loss of tourist income 
that summer, in the context of the Greek crisis. 21 

The dark side of tourist movements of Greeks to Bulgaria, especially in border 
areas, involves a trend of Greek men crossing the border for cheap paid sex. The 
new dynamics that have emerged on the Greco-Bulgarian border include issues of 
organized crime, including the smuggling of guns, tobacco, drugs, oil and pirated 
CDs. 22 There is also trafficking in people, especially women and minors destined 
for forced prostitution (IOM 2001). Within this context, the border cities of Petrich 
and Sandanski in southern Bulgaria have been described as ‘the Balkan centres of 
white slavery’ (Emke-Poulopoulos 2001, pp. 15). While in the 1980s most foreign 
sex workers in Greece were mainly from Asian countries, by the mid-1990s the 
majority were from Central and Eastern Europe and nearly one third were from the 
Balkans (Emke-Poulopoulos 2001, p. 4). 

This phenomenon forms part of the new mobility dynamics developing along 
the Greco-Bulgarian border since 1989. Though ethical and political sensitivities 
remain, in the last 20 years, the emerging cross-border space and border areas them- 
selves have been going though informal processes of economic and societal unifica- 
tion. An interesting example in this respect is the long-discussed Trans-Border Free 
Industrial Zone of Economic Exchange, which was meant to be established at the 
Ormenio border area in Thrace, in the town of Trigono, 8 Km away from Edime 
(Turkey) and ten from Svilengrad (Bulgaria). Most of the companies planning to 
move there would have been labour-intensive factories, especially in the clothing 
sector. An estimated 60-80 % of the workers would commute from Bulgaria on a 
daily basis (Labrianidis 1998). Long before the plan materialized, the Municipality 
of Trigono itself, in collaboration with the Bulgarian Municipality of Svilengrad, 
established a job-finding agency to recruit Bulgarian cross-border workers for agri- 
cultural work. 23 These were expected to compensate for the loss of the local labour 
force, owing to a trend of young people leaving for the cities. Considering that the 
majority of internally migrating locals were women, this also resulted in a growing 
number of men who ‘were left without brides’ and themselves crossing the border 
to find a partner. Over the period 2000-2004, some 50 mixed marriages took place 

21 Newspaper Aggelioforos of 27 July 2010, article by P. Theodoropoulou, p. 16. 

22 See, for instance, Eleftherotypia , 21 November 2004, article by G. Linardos. 

23 Reported in Eleftherotypia newspaper of 29 December 2004. 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

between young locals and Bulgarian women from nearby Svilengrad, and 85 chil- 
dren were bom. 24 

The case of Trigono is one of many examples of remote border areas in Greece 
being radically transformed through contact with the ‘other side’. Poor and emptied 
by internal migration and ‘forgotten’ by the state, they are revitalized economi- 
cally as well as demographically, in the context of cross-border mobility (see, e.g., 
Hatziprokopiou 2006, pp. 252-256; see also Deslondes et al. 2008). Even though 
the ‘transborder zone’ of Trigono had not materialized in a formal way, numerous 
informal zones of cross-border contact have spread along the Greco-Bulgarian bor- 
der in the wake of the restmcturing of agrarian systems in both countries, involving 
constant back-and- forth movements of Bulgarian agricultural workers to the fields 
of northern Greece (Minev et al. 1997; Darques et al. 2008; Koutsou and Petrou 

10.4 Conclusion 

The erstwhile impenetrable border of the Iron Curtain that separated Bulgaria and 
Greece for nearly half a century has now given way to a ‘new Greco-Bulgarian 
border’ (Deslondes et al. 2008), easily and frequently crossed for various purposes. 
This chapter explored primarily labour migration from Bulgaria to Greece, in an 
attempt to show how this developed over the past 20 years, and to highlight the 
importance of proximity in conditioning dimensions of transnationalism, cyclical 
migration, and constant back- and- forth movements. Within this context, the chapter 
also accounted for other forms of human mobility and other types of flows in both 
directions. The complex set of processes in place passed through several phases, and 
the timeline so far has registerd a number of ‘milestones’ since 1989: the regulariza- 
tion programmes in Greece, the abolition of visa requirements for Bulgarians travel- 
ling to the EU, Bulgaria’s EU accession, and currently, Greece’s economic crisis. 

Mobility patterns in Eastern Europe should not simply be seen as a ‘flood from 
East to West’, but rather as a ‘much wider field of mobility’, with the majority 
of movements being short distance and cross-border (Rogers 2000, p. 10). In the 
Greco-Bulgarian case, this wider field of mobility suggests not only that the la- 
bour markets of Bulgaria and Greece have become increasingly interdependent, as 
Minev et al. (1997, p. 10) argued more than 15 years ago, and as we also showed in 
this chapter, but that the entire Greek and Bulgarian societies are increasingly inter- 
connected. The Balkan space, fragmented after years of separate national histories 
and divided by nationalist conflicts (as the editors recalled in their introduction to 
this volume), is gradually regaining the unified character it used to have in the years 
of the Ottoman Empire (Todorova 2009; Mazower 2000). Greece’s northern bor- 
ders opened up in the early 1990s for the first time since World War II. The next step 

24 Salimbeni (2004, p. 15) reports on a general trend of migrant women, including Bulgarians, 
marrying Greek men in the Greek countryside. 

1 0 Labour Migration and other Forms of Mobility Between Bulgaria and Greece 


in this process took place with the EU accession of Bulgaria and Romania in 2007, 
which linked Greece by land to the rest of the EU for the first time since it became 
a member in 1981. Labour migration from Bulgaria to Greece — as well as the mul- 
tiple types of flows in both directions, relationships, networks, and ‘back and forth’ 
movements — are indicative of an evolving cross-border system and a transnational 
social and economic space, which is shaped by proximity and assumes regional 
characteristics. After all, the era of globalization is marked by similar integrations 
at a regional level. The experience of the Balkans post- 1989 in particular manifests 
such expressions of regionalism regarding migration processes (Baldwin-Edwards 

The cross-border dynamics of labour and capital, and the political economy sur- 
rounding them, imply that the character of economic relations between Bulgaria and 
Greece since the 1990s has been shaped by relations of uneven development and 
imperialism, dominance, and dependence (Hatziprokopiou 2006; Deslondes et al. 
2008), even if Greece is neither the only nor the major player in the area. Economic 
and other forms of exploitation in both Greece and Bulgaria are at the heart of mi- 
gration and other forms of mobility. The nature of interdependence between the two 
countries suggests a cross-border system characterized by a relationship between 
capital and labour mobility fitting to some degree the analysis of Sassen (1999), 
whereby — simply put — the latter follows the former and vice-versa (Labrianidis 
et al. 2004). The micro-level manifestations of this relationship in border areas ap- 
pear to be analogous, even if on a smaller scale, to the situation characterizing parts 
of the US-Mexico border, as Deslondes et al. (2008, p. 37) observe. 

The Greek state’s approach to migration over the past two decades has received 
extensive criticism for its unrealistic, exclusionary, and repressive logic as far as the 
control of borders, movement, and people are concerned, as well as for its laissez 
faire attitude in the labour market, which allowed (certain) employers to benefit in 
the short run from migrants’ exploited employment conditions. With respect to mi- 
gration from neighbouring countries in particular, one may additionally speak of two 
decades of lost opportunities to make things easier for the migrants themselves and 
release substantial potential for development in both Greece and Bulgaria. Cultural 
and geographic proximity have made possible various forms of mobility, contact, 
and exchange, which entailed some degree of — and much more potential for — cir- 
cularity. Realistically managed and with respect for migrants’ rights, this could have 
led to what is described in the literature as a ‘triple win’ situation, whereby mobility 
benefits all parties involved — that is, the countries of origin and destination and 
the migrants themselves (Vertovec 2007; Bieckmann and Muskens 2007). Instead, 
restrictions on movement, but also on regular stay and employment, have prevented 
‘full circles’ from developing, apart from the limited experience of formal seasonal 
work and the dynamics in place at border regions. On the other hand, geographical 
proximity and human need have facilitated various types of flow and bridges built 
by the human factor. Migrants have been able to support livelihoods between places 
of origin and destination, establishing new bases for social and cultural contact. 
Nevertheless, any potential changes that may result from Bulgaria’s EU member- 
ship and Greece’s severe economic difficulties since 2009 are yet to be seen. 


P. Hatziprokopiou and E. Markova 

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any medium, provided the original author(s) and source are credited. 


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Panos Hatziprokopiou is Assistant Professor at the Department of Spatial Planning and Devel- 
opment, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. His research interests focus on aspects of migration 
and immigrants’ integration in Greece, as well as on issues related to difference, diversity and 
social change in urban contexts. He has published widely on the above topics in peer-reviewed 
journals and chapters in edited volumes, and is author of the book Globalisation, migration and 
socio-economic change in contemporary Greece, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006. 

Eugenia Markova is Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Law of London Metro- 
politan University. She teaches economics and quantitative methods for business. Eugenia has 
published widely on issues of labour migration, with a focus on undocumented migration, agency 
work and community cohesion. Her most recent co-authored article ‘Migrant Workers in Small 
London Hotels: Employment, Recruitment and Distribution’ is forthcoming in European Urban 
and Regional Studies and her co-authored book Undocumented workers transitions: Legal status, 
migration and work in Europe was published by Routledge in 201 1. 


Map 3 Sax’s Ethnographic Map of European Turkey in 1877 

At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, many maps 
were produced claiming to show the ethnographic composition of the Balkans. Al- 
most all maps were published to substantiate claims on territory. 1 These maps were 
intended as weapons in nationalist struggles. Depending on the interests of the con- 
testing nation states most were based on one of two criteria: language or religion. 
Nevertheless, some maps were better than others. One of the best- — if not the best — 
is the map presented here by Carl Sax. Sax was Austro-Hungarian consul in vari- 
ous cities of the Ottoman Empire. He gathered information for the map by studying 
maps made by others, by consulting other Austro-Hungarian consuls and by travelling 
through the region. His Ethnographic Map of European Turkey and her Dependencies 
was published in 1878 by the Imperial and Royal Geographical Society of Vienna. 

Sax’s map uses both language and religion as criteria for ethno-national groups. 
The key organizes the linguistic differences in columns, with the rows indicating 
the three main religions of Oriental Christianity, Catholic Christianity and Islam. 
Within the language-religion cells, Sax makes a number of further differentiations. 
These are not all of one kind. In four cases, Sax distinguishes what could be called 
in-between categories: Greco Vlachs, Serbo-Bulgarians, Greco-Bulgarians and 
Greco- Albanians. But while Greco-Bulgarians are placed in the Bulgarian category, 
Greco- Albanians are classified as Greeks. Apparently — and understandably — Sax 
judged that the Greco- Albanians as a group were more Hellenized than the Greco- 
Bulgarians. The key here has been translated into English and superimposed onto 
the original. We have tried to keep the translations of the group names close to the 
original, with the exception of notating Graeco-Albanesen as Albano-Greeks. 

The online version of the appendix (doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3) contains a high-resolution 
colour image of the Sax map 

1 For example, see Wilkinson (1951), Maps and Politics: A Review of the Ethnographic Cartogra- 
phy of Macedonia, Liverpool University Press. 

© The Author(s) 2015. This book is published with open access at 209 

H. Vermeulen et al. (eds.), Migration in the Southern Balkans, \ MISCOE Research Series, 

DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-13719-3 





This volume collects ten essays that look at intra-regional migration in the Southern 
Balkans from the late Ottoman period to the present. It examines forced as well as 
voluntary migrations and places these movements within their historical context, 
including ethnic cleansing, population exchanges, and demographic engineering in 
the service of nation-building as well as more recent labor migration due to global- 

Inside, readers will find the work of international experts that cuts across national 
and disciplinary lines. This cross-cultural, comparative approach fully captures the 
complexity of this highly fractured, yet interconnected, region. Coverage explores 
the role of population exchanges in the process of nation-building and irredentist 
policies in interwar Bulgaria, the story of Thracian refugees and their organizations 
in Bulgaria, the changing waves of migration from the Balkans to Turkey, Albanian 
immigrants in Greece, and the diminished importance of ethnic migration after the 
1990s. In addition, the collection looks at such under-researched aspects of migra- 
tion as memory, gender, and religion. 

The field of migration studies in the Southern Balkans is still fragmented along 
national and disciplinary lines. Moreover, the study of forced and voluntary migra- 
tions is often separate with few interconnections. The essays collected in this book 
bring these different traditions together. This complete portrait will help readers 
gain deep insight and better understanding into the diverse migration flows and 
intercultural exchanges that have occurred in the Southern Balkans in the last two