Ulrike Ziemer, Sean P. Roberts (2013), East European Diasporas, Migration and Cosmopolitanism

New York: Routledge

The title of this co-edited collection neatly captures its conceptual framework: in referring to the widely addressed triangle of migration, cosmopolitanism and diaspora, it links diaspora explicitly to the space of Eastern Europe.

Writing in March 2015, post-Charlie Hebdo, and with thoughts of Paris as well as Copenhagen as metropolitan urban places where Jews are once again the victims of racist hate crime in Europe, it seems any naïve claim of a specific European capacity for cosmopolitanism has lost its currency. Coming shortly after the death of Ulrich Beck in January 2015, Ziemer and Roberts’ co-edited book is almost a tribute to Beck’s work: are we in fact up to the challenge of what global and local cosmopolitanisation mean to our societies? Beck was one of the more prominent advocates and protégées of academic and public debate over contemporary European cosmopolitanism. So, why do cosmopolitan value orientations, such as the notion of vernacular cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitan practices, matter to diasporic groups, to migration and – with respect to the focus of the book – the less acknowledged pathways of diasporic migrants coming from Eastern Europe? To begin with, as Ziemer and Roberts detail in their introduction, cosmopolitanism in the post-socialist context is of interest as this area, both ideologically and geographically, is often sidelined in current discourses on cosmopolitanism. As they argue (2013: 7):

By considering the socialist past in an analysis of the post-socialist present, we can better highlight the tensions and ambiguity that influence people’s present experiences. Therefore, the concept of cosmopolitanism may have its limitations when it comes to researching and understanding minority groups in post-socialist countries. Yet, this does not mean that cosmopolitanism has to be abandoned completely. Instead, in such cases cosmopolitanism can highlight the different ways in which groups of people form their diverse sense(s) of belonging by a selective and diversified engagement with the socialist past.

The editors, hint at the proximity between ideas of cosmopolitanism and internationalism (ibidem); Sanders’ contribution on Kazakhstan looks more explicitly at the cultural legacy of a state-led USSR-Russian kosmopolitizism (see for further details, Humphrey 2004).

The eight chapters of the collection are organised in four topical sections. Sections II, Former Yugoslavia, and III, In and beyond Germany, interestingly, tackle national state contexts, whereas the other two are devoted to Fostering cosmopolitanism (I) and Ethical challenges in research on migration (IV). In this respect the range of contributions and post-territorial angles reflect the diasporic East–West migratory location of the different authors.1 Below I discuss some of the arguments to be found in the co-edited collection, highlighting some particularly interesting approaches.

With one exception, all the chapters engage with the contemporary migration and cultural mobility of diasporic communities. The chapter by Lettevall, however, is different: Lettevall looks back at the historical Nansen passport, named after the ambitious Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930), himself a cosmopolitan character. Nansen became associated with the League of Nations and activities during the interwar period, championing a passport / legal document for refugees. Lettevall argues that this passport could be regarded as an early example of moral-political cosmopolitanism in practice, predating the later post-1949 Human rights agenda. As a legal document, the Nansen passport was issued by nation states, (50 nations states joint this effort in 1929, Lettevall 2013) and allowed a certain amount of movement by stateless refugees in and across territory. It also gave them access to work though they were excluded de jure from national citizenship. It is also worth mentioning that, in terms of methodology, Lettevall’s chapter is highly informative as she argues for a historical-reflective use of the concept of cosmopolitanism, for example, going back to Gadamers’ term Wirkungsgeschichte.

Praszalowicz’s insightful chapter, Migration memoirs and narratives of Polish migrants in Berlin, is perhaps most interesting to readers of the Central and Eastern European Migration Review. It first compares the memories and written accounts of a female and a male migrant from Poland to Germany, and second, contrasts these older narratives with narratives of recent Polish migrants, post-2004 EU accession. In the latter case, the importance of the locality is crucial, creating a more trans-local and cosmopolitan rather than a bi-national notion of belonging. As Praszalowicz concludes: Displaying cosmopolitanism attitudes openly alongside living out Polishness has become part of everyday life. Today, Polish migrants are able to embody several identities. They can identify as Jews from Poland or Silesian/ Jewish. Their narratives cease to be Polish-centred; instead ‘new’ Polish migrants occasionally draw on cosmopolitanism as an identity source, which denotes a stance toward diversity that enables them to construct belonging in terms of ethnicity, as well as multicultural location (2013: 103, 104). It follows that the cluster of homogeneous national identities (such as either being Polish or Jewish or German) consists of multi-layered fragments, aspects of identity that have been forced into a single dominant label as a result of a nationalising ideology.

A link to this problematic dimension of transnationalism and ethnicity is provided by Ragazzi’s chapter, which stands in contrast to the overall tone of the collection. Unlike most of the authors, who broadly welcome cosmopolitanism, Ragazzi convincingly interrogates cosmopolitanism as a meaningful concept in the context of state politics, migration, ethno-diaspora and transnationalism. He suggests ‘post-territorial citizenship’ as an analytical framework for the transnational ethnification purpose of Croatian citizenship; he characterises this as a ‘transnationalisation of state practices’ (2013: 61). All in all, Ragazzi is more critical of the optimistic reading of cosmopolitanism, while arguing more specifically that post-Yugoslav Croatia managed to construct allegiances and national citizenship beyond the classic idea of a nationalised territorial container. It is this chapter that particularly captured my interest, as it is the best illustration of the logic of spatial transformation and the reconfiguration of any political ‘imagined community’ in a globalising world.

In contrast, other chapters struggle to make the argument for cosmopolitan openness. Darieva describes the ‘diasporic cosmopolitanism’ of transnational second and third Armenian-American generation that can be detected in social and ecological activities carried out in their Armenian homeland. Radeljić’s chapter explains how the European Community’s response to representatives of Slovenian and Croatian diasporic communities in 1991/1992 could be called cosmopolitan. However, we have to bear in mind that this is the period when ethnic war was taking place in Yugoslavia; and for that reason trying to fit this kind of European ‘diplomacy’ under the umbrella of ‘cosmopolitanism’ seems inappropriate to me. It is here where we also could have a deeper conversation to what degree the whole concept of cosmopolitanism post-2011, in light of the dynamics of recent populism and the rise of violent fundamentalist extremism, needs to be reconsidered.

As with many co-edited collections, individual readers may find one or two chapters of particular interest, depending on their research interests; rarely do collections speak across the range of disciplines. Nevertheless, the editors have, in my view, successfully presented findings specific to the Eastern European diaspora. Certainly, Sanders’ conclusion that an old Soviet and a new Kazakhstan version of cosmopolitanism essentially operate to providing moments of sociability (2013: 89) illustrates the extent to which we need to deepen our understanding of the emergence and merger of different historical and situated traditions as well as experiences of cosmopolitanism, particularly post-1989 and post-2011.


All but one of the authors are based at Western universities; the cultural roots of the two- or three-way diasporic communities considered range across Armenia, Russia, Romania, Kazakhstan, Croatia and Poland.


Humphrey C. (2004). Cosmopolitanism and Kosmopolitizism in the Political Life of Soviet Citizens. Focaal 44(15): 138–152.

Ulrike M. Vieten
Queen’s University Belfast