During the last two decades, the geopolitical space of Southeast Europe has been transformed due to political developments of the post-communist period, mass migration and increased political, economic and cultural exchanges. The new cross-border mobility and the emergence of changed social relationships as well as new forms of political subjectivity and communication play a central role in this transition. In order to understand these processes, it is necessary to take into account gender as an analytical factor, both because of the significant role of women in contemporary migratory patterns, and because the gendered dimensions of migration mark broader socio-political transformations in the public and private sphere.
The main distinctive features of the project are the following:
Geographical scope. Compared with other international research, this project contributes to a better understanding of the transnational mobility from the post-communist countries of Southeast Europe towards the Mediterranean area, which is a significant part of international migration today. Greece is a good starting point to explore this pattern of migration, as the overwhelming majority of immigrants come from this area. Focusing on migrants from the two neighbouring countries of Albania and Bulgaria, we aimed at studying this migration flow from the perspective of three different groups of social actors: the migrants themselves, the citizens of the host country and the citizens of the country of origin who never migrated or who repatriated. To this end, we scheduled two short research trips to Albania and Bulgaria, respectively. In relation to other research projects on migration carried out in Greece, the project also was able to offer some new perspectives: While most of these studies have chosen as their field either a rural area or one of the two major cities where migrants have settled (Athens and Salonica), we focused instead on a relatively small urban centre, Volos.
Data collection and analysis. Gender was the main analytical category of the research. In order to study the migration process as a multidimensional phenomenon we initially planned to explore gender relations on the basis of three different theoretical axes: integration, labor and transcultural communication. However, both gender and integration constitute analytical categories that underlie all aspects of the migration process. Therefore, we decided that these two concepts would form a general umbrella under which we explored the gendered experiences of the two migrant groups in three interrelated thematic fields: labor, historical culture and transcultural communication.
Nature of the empirical evidence. In all we have collected sixty semi-structured life stories with male and female migrants from Albania and Bulgaria, related to the three thematic subfields mentioned above. We also backed up this interview material with participant observation in Volos, Albania and Bulgaria and a small parallel project focused on migrants' personal photographs. Our aim was not just to record the migrant men and women's life experiences. We also studied the narrative strategies developed by our interviewees, in order to conceptualise individual and collective migration experiences in the context of the new transnational mobility and in order to interpret the past in the light of the present.
- It does not treat women as "victims" but as active transnational subjects. Our aim was to look at the role of women in the migrants' integration process as well as in the formation of intercultural communication communities. This role has remained understudied, especially regarding the process of individual and collective identity formation and the common experiences (rights, family relations, social mobility etc.) that produce imagined communities and "links" between different migration localities.
- Most of the studies that deal with the gendered aspects of migration focus on women's migration alone. This research project, however, re-introduces men in the study of migration and treats them no longer as the quintessence of "the" migrant, but as a gendered subject in its own right. Therefore, we focused on two target-groups that show significant differences in relation to gender composition and household structure; that is, on Albanian and Bulgarian men and women. In the case of Albanian migrants, men are in the majority. However, especially after 1997, there was an important increase of family reunifications. In the case of Bulgarian migrants, women predominate. They usually migrate alone, leaving their families behind. These two target groups are numerically the most important groups of post-1990 migrants to Greece, both at the national and the local level. By comparing the experiences of these two migrant groups we can get a clearer idea of men and women's strategies and discourses in relation to the migration process, as well as of possible changes in gender relations and gender ideologies.
- This project adds a historical dimension to the study of contemporary mobility, which is often lacking in migration studies. The historicity of the migration process is examined from four different angles.
- We analyzed the life stories of migrant men and women in the context of the historical culture of their countries of origin, focusing on three different periods: the pre-war period, the communist era and the "transition" period.
- We sought to understand how migration shaped the migrants' identities and memories.
- We also looked at how the migrants' presence transformed the cultural identity and the public memory of the host country, especially in the field of education.
- Although the migrants' influx from Eastern Europe is relatively recent, the migrants' narratives clearly show the historicity of the phenomenon itself and the different phases it has gone through.