Multiple Fragmentation and Conflict: The EU Crisis’ Affect on Migrant Discourses in Europe

As mentioned in the previous post I’ll present a paper at an upcoming conference in Giessen this November. I collaborate with another PhD candidate from Hull who works on the Greek “crisis theatre” and we decided to focus on the role of migration in the related political debates. Read here the preliminary draft:

The sovereign debt crises in the Eurozone initiated for many European countries a period of economic turmoil that inevitably affected political discourses in a national and transnational dimension. The real threat of a collapse of the euro, the conflict between necessary integration and the preservation of sovereignty, as well as a European political leadership that is often perceived as obscure or even indecisive, caused many to doubt the sustainability of the EU; the same factors also showed the limits to transnational solidarity as well social cohesion within the union. This particularly applies to the public discourse on as well as political handling of migration and related issues in Europe. Economic and political challenges transformed into cultural conflicts that heavily affected how migration was framed throughout the EU with dangerous oversimplifications and hostilities towards new arrivals from outside Europe often dominating public debates; not to mention the lack of agency for the extremely diverse social group in focus, which experienced tendencies of de-humanisation in the (transnational) political discourse. In this respect, a rift between Southern European “entry countries” and their Northern neighbours also emerged as a result of lacking cooperation in the management of the related challenges (e.g. Lampedusa).

The present paper discusses the different fault lines that materialised in the intersection of austerity politics, crisis policies, migration, and the resulting conflicts by conducting a complementary analysis of political online media content from a selection of EU members, such as Greece, Italy, Germany, and the UK. It outlines how different cultural, social, and political backgrounds determined the perception and evaluation of the crisis and its affect on local as well as transnational migrant debates; it further explores how the crisis spawned a transnational media public sphere that, despite significant tendencies towards discursive convergence, was moulded by conflict and fragmentation. In this regard, the marginalisation of social minorities (e.g. migrants) and a considerable gender gap in the respective online debates are characteristic for the overall crisis discourse.

Image courtesy of https://unsplash.com

Wikileaks and the (alleged) “Diplomacy-Crisis”

Though I should actually be working on an oral presentation on Maoism, I cannot restrain myself from commenting on the latest “Wikileaks-Coup”. Once more, the (allegedly) “subversive” website attracted an incredibly intense media coverage. I will spare you an elaborate recap of what has happened – you can read, watch or listen to the story on each and every media channel.  All major newspapers, news websites, and broadcasters have put the story on the publication of 250.000 “sensitive” diplomatic documents on the top of their agendas; you can find background information on the issue almost everywhere. Sensational headlines  speak of a “real” diplomacy crisis. Another catchy term is “cablegate”, an allegory to the infamous Watergate-scandal of the Nixon administration in the 1970s. Well, I have my doubts here.

Especially the last comparison seems to be far from being appropriate. In the original scandal, the then government was directly involved in illegal surveillance and monitoring activities; of course, similar things happen today all the time (in partly much more sophisticated manner), too. However, today’s “cablegate” documents have not shown yet, that the US administration did anything particularly “deceptive” or “evil”. Even if some notes on certain politicians are rather embarrassing. But are they really that surprising? Would secret, diplomatic notes from other countries look any different? Let’s see: Arabia has a problem with a possible Iranian hegemony – tell me something new. Putin is Batman, Medwedew resembles his sidekick Robin and Ahmadinedschad reminds people of Hitler – well, I kinda knew that before Wikileaks told us. And to realise that Berlusconi loves parties you do not have to be a diplomat. Moreover, when I read what the US diplomats think of Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle, I literally had to laugh out loud – because the characterizations are simply true (well, at least from my political perspective); nothing “sensitive” here. As regards spying on the UN, history has shown that diplomats had always been involved in rather shady forms of information gathering. That’s scandalous to very naive people only.

The whole issue appears to be a bit overblown and serious consequences for the diplomatic relationships between the involved nations remain to be seen. This has already been proven all day, when the different involved statesmen and -women downplayed the impact of this “revealment”. There is no real diplomacy crisis, just a few blushing faces (and some flattery damage containment). However, I am only mocking about today’s “over-emotional” coverage of the issue – I am not thinking that there is nothing truly surprising or maybe even shocking in this 250.000 documents. All I am saying is: It’s a bit too early to draw any hasty conclusions. We have to wait – and contemplate advantages over disadvantages of a force like Wikileaks in our current information environment. This applies to various dimensions of the issue:

1. The most basic question is of course: When does the monopoly on information of a (democratic) state end – and when do activities of organizations like Wikileaks violate  a government’s right on secrecy? I am far from being an enemy of a “free” information flow and I do not believe that contemporary democracies are the most perfect political system to live in (though, and here I agree with Churchill, all others are still much worse). But I am also convinced that too much transparency can be harmful for a collective, i.e. a nation-state in certain truly sensitive respects.

2. Wikileaks fulfills an important function by keeping debates on information, censorship, the media and the role of the Internet alive. In the case of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, it confirmed what critical observers already assumed: That there is a another, far more complex and difficult reality to both wars. It has also shown that online media can truly circumvent and stimulate traditional media. Hence, there is a moral and political justification for a platform like Wikileaks  – to break established hegemonies. However, in the very moment an “independent” organisation accumulates the strength to challenge the establishment, it is not far from becoming a hegemonic factor within a certain power discourse itself. It is today the no. 1 source for classified information; there are no other notable Wikis for political leaks. In order to hold its position, it actually needs to “produce” constantly new breaking stories. It needs the media and vice versa. This encompasses certain demerits. Therefore, I sometimes doubt that Wikileaks always remembers its enormous responsibility every time it publishes masses of governmental documents – I simply cannot believe that its staff reads and evaluates every single piece appropriately before pushing it over to the media and the public, respectively. So how does who in Wikileaks actually decide which information goes out? I am not the first who questions the organization’s inner and outer transparency. One should never trust 100% in what a government is announcing – the same applies to its antagonists.

3. There is also the question of the actual political impact – I have already touched the problem above. For instance, though there had been a loud and vital discussion on the war logs, the number of anti-war protests did not really increase. As so often, the “scandal” arose broad attention for a relatively brief moment. The new media, the mass media, governments and the public – all factors influence each other, but the actual outcome of each debate needs to be evaluated and scrutinized anew. However, some rather unwelcomed effects of this one are already tangible: Restrictive governments can misuse the whole issue to justify their strict information policies, less restrictive ones will revise their information security policies.

To make one thing clear: Being critical towards Wikileaks here does not mean that I am fully supporting the different official governments’ stands in this debate; I would define my position as a neutral, extremely sceptical one. What I wanted to point out is: It is important that such events are accompanied  by sober, balanced discussions which consider all positive and negative factors; and that it is not enough to throw out a stack of controversial documents and then see what happens.

PEW INDEX: Gaza Flotilla Incident dominates the Blogosphere

The Israeli attack on supply ships heading for Gaza on May 31 sparked a lot of heated discussions – and lead to serious diplomatic tensions between Israel and Turkey, once one of its very few supporters in the ‘Islamic world’ . Like many other outer events, this tragedy caused also an enormous echo among political bloggers. At least according to a study conducted by the well-known PEW Research Center’s for Excellence in Journalism. In the context of its regularly published New Media Index, the researchers compared the top stories among bloggers – and they found out that the Gaza incident dominates the (US) blogosphere.

The index also lists top stories in the traditional mass media. US broadcasters and newspapers are thereby mainly focusing the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving the international incident far behind on a second rank. The study provides a ranking of top stories in the so-called twitterverse, too. The attached bar chart shows that sports (football in particular) and the controversial decisions by US mobile phone provider AT&T are the most important stories shared via twitter.

Find the study on this issue on here on journalism.org. The research mechanisms behind the index are explained at the bottom.