A new book details different perspectives on diasporas and migration in the post-Soviet space and provides an alternative to the existing models and dominant Western narratives.

A new book entitled Post-Soviet Migration and Diasporas: From Global Perspectives to Everyday Practices (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) was launched in June, at Carleton University, featuring guest speaker Anna Slavina (University of Toronto) and the editors, Dr. David Carment (Carleton University, Canadian Foreign Policy Journal) and Dr. Milana Nikolko (EURUS, Carleton University). The book addresses important gaps in diaspora research on the relationship between post-Soviet societies in transition and the increasingly important role of their diasporas in both home and host state settings, as well as provides alternative points of view to the commonly used models and Western-dominated type of narratives on the subject. The volume provides a general overview but also gives the reader a taste of diasporas’ activism, everyday practices, and integration models from sociological and anthropological perspectives, across countries and generations.

The event was co-hosted by iAffairs, the Institute of European, Russian and Eurasian Studies and Migration & Diaspora Studies, and supported by Carleton University. Katarina Koleva talked to Dr. Milana Nikolko and Anna Slavina who is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Milana Nikolko (Editor, Carleton University):

The book is a result of a conference that took place in March 2014, during the first and most dramatic phase of the Ukrainian crisis, with the participation of academics from Eastern, Central Europe, Russia, and North America. In some way, therefore, the book reflects ongoing changes. Its main goal is to provide different perspectives on the diaspora and migration problems in the post-Soviet space by exploring different types of regional, economic, and cultural diasporas, among others, rather than a single diaspora, and their impact on decision-making, identity transformation, and everyday practices in both home and host states. In this regard, the book is as diverse as the post-Soviet diasporas and their experiences are.

The first part of the book provides a general overview of the situation. Timothy Heleniak’s chapter “Diasporas, Development, and Homelands in Eurasia After 1991” presents a broad comparative perspective and context based on the author’s personal research conducted for ten years.

The post-Soviet diasporas and their home countries are then placed under microscope. The work of Anna Pechurina “Post-Soviet Russian-speaking migration to the UK: The discourses of visibility and accountability” reviews recent trends in the analysis of post-Soviet Russian speaking migration to the UK, as represented by the media and by diaspora organizations. She is primarily interested in different role models involved in the British society but keeping strong connections to their Russian legacy.

Based on interviews, Natalia Khanenko-Friesen’s chapter “Migrant self-reflectivity and new Ukrainian diaspora in Southern Europe: The case of Portugal” takes a poetic turn to self-expression of Ukrainian immigrants in Portugal, where the author conducted field research between 2005 and 2012. The subsequent chapter, Jennifer S. Wistrand’s “Social consequences of seasonal labour migration: A case study from rural Azerbaijan” explores the effect of migration as a strategy to reduce economic uncertainty, as well as its impact on traditional family roles and transformations.

The second part of the book addresses a different model provided by Silvia Marcu. The approach she takes in “Return for development and Europeanization among Moldovan immigrants” explores how the European values could be transmitted back to the home country, with a particular focus on recent economic and political changes in Moldova. In “Transcending return: The experience of making home in the republic of Georgia,” Ryan Buchanan’s field study details the post-Soviet history of the Meskhetians and their experiences after returning to Georgia. Anna Slavina’s insightful chapter “Jewish Russians, Russian Israelis and ‘Jewski’ Canadians: Youth and the negotiation of identity and belonging” also considers multiple layers of self-identification among Russian-speaking Jewish young migrants in Israel and Canada.

Tunc Aybak’s chapter “Russian speaking diaspora in Turkey: the geopolitics of migration in the Black Sea region” is much more romantic as it provides the reader with a window on to Russian life in Turkey. It identifies contrasting Russian-speaking diasporic experiences in Turkey, in the context of geopolitical, cultural, and historical relations between Turkey and Russia, with a particular focus on how women incorporated their lives into the Turkish society. In the volume’s last chapter “Russian policy towards compatriots: Global, regional, and local approaches” Irina Molodikova provides an interesting perspective on the different migration models employed in today’s post-Soviet Russia towards the millions “compatriots” living outside of the country.

Anna Slavina (Contributor, University of Toronto):

My study appears as a book chapter (“Jewish Russians, Russian Israelis and ‘Jewski’ Canadians: Youth and the negotiation of identity and belonging”) in the edited volume. The research was based on interviews that I conducted with young people who completed a two-stage migration from areas of the former Soviet Union then to Israel, and to Canada. The findings of the chapter suggest that youth experienced migration in parallel but different ways from their parents, in part because their migration experiences occurred within different institutional contexts. Particularly salient for my respondents were the contexts of family, community and schools. In the chapter, I argue that we need to go beyond adult centered literature focusing on issues such as labour market attainment and civic integration to look at how young people negotiate their identity construction and how this affects families and the broader community.

All my respondents were in their early 20s at the time of the interviews and migrated with their families from areas of the former Soviet Union to Israel under the Law of Return, which understands all Jews not living in Israel as living in diaspora. This created very important consequences for them during the migration process, particularly when it came to schools. Anybody who could prove Jewish heritage could migrate to Israel. In schools, however, a lot of my respondents were made to feel like Russians as opposed to Israeli Jews because of their secular upbringing.

This pushed my respondents to identify themselves even more strongly as Russian. Yet, in other cases, parents and students pushed back on to schools and forced them to become more inclusive. There was this kind of back and forth process of identity construction between youth, the schools, and their families. In schools, young people learned Israeli and Jewish traditions which they brought into their families. These traditions became integrated into family specific identities and practices.

Once families migrated again to Canada, these traditions were brought along with them and more North American/Canadian activities were integrated into that. It became a very bottom up, back and forth process of identity construction between young people, schools as institutions, and their families more broadly. Of course, the process was colored by family experiences of anti-Semitism, Stalinism, Communism, and so forth.

Interestingly, some of my respondents reported feelings of nostalgia of what it is like to be Russian, even though they did not have personal memories of living in the former Soviet Union. Other times, they had a very stereotypical understanding of what Russians are compared to Russian Jews living in Israel or in Canada. Community organizations and civic society were also very salient arenas of identity construction for my respondents. Two organizations which were particularly important were Birthright and Hillel. Birthright for example provides free trips to Israel to young people who identify themselves as Jewish. The point of these trips is to facilitate the development of Jewish identity, Jewish consciousness, and civic activism. Seeing their parents’ experience, the migration process, and their own experiences of migration, I think, creates interesting parallels for young people.  It helps flesh out how families experience migration, which is very important.

Overall, working on this chapter was a great experience and an important step for my development as a scholar. The volume represents a cross-national comparative work which tries to bridge different disciplines and approaches, from a variety of avenues, both theoretical and empirical. That is how we build good research. I am just thrilled that the book is published and is receiving such a positive reception.


*Anna Slavina is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her research interests lie at the intersection of political and cultural sociology with a focus on developing theories of civic and political engagement. For her dissertation, Anna is conducting a cross national, quantitative analysis of cultural repertoires of political engagement examining variation at both the contextual and individual levels.


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