Living together in diversity – Envisioning Convival Europe

As part of our seminar Onboarding in Europe, we visited a research institute: Dezim Institute – German Center for Integration and Migration Research in Berlin. Anthropologist Piotr Goldstein welcomed us warmly and presented his work on migration, activism and civil society.

Piotr Goldstein and his work at Dezim: Envisioning Convival Europe

Piotr Goldstein is an anthropologist with a research focus on migration, activism and civil society. And his new project at Dezim is called Vision: Envisioning Convivial Europe.

The concept of conviviality …
Piotr Goldstein: is basically about people living together, people who are different, who are divers and who live together peacefully and enjoy each other’s company. Living together in diversity you could say and conviviality is an ideal and ideals by definition don’t exist in our world. It is something we aspire to. So we should not be sad, that conviviality does not really happen but we still should pose the question ‘What do we do for conviviality do be closer to us’.
The project is about how Europe can become a place of conviviality – the same question we pursued during our visits to migrant organizations. In order to get closer to this goal, Piotr Goldstein and his colleagues focus on promotion of social justice, intergenerational and interethnic solidarity and interregional collaboration. Interregional means paying attention not only to living conditions in large metropolitan areas, but especially to those in lesser-regarded places.
Piotr Goldstein: We want to understand interconnectedness within a transnational regime of mobile labour. So we are looking for connections and how people for instance labour workers from Poland and Rumania are connected to places which are in Brandenburg.

„It is about people living together, people who are different, who are divers and who live together peacefully and enjoy each other’s company.“

They focus on inner peripheries. Inner peripheries are not necessarily very distant from centers but lack good infrastructure, access to medical services, public transport, and so on. Goldstein tells about his point of contact with inner peripheries, which shows the problems such an area might have.
Piotr Goldstein: When I lived in Manchester, I lived in a place which British people called ‘inner suburb’. Inner suburb parts are places which are very close to the center but you enter this place and it’s a different world. Out of a sudden, nobody speaks English, you have mice, you have rats. And you don’t have mice because people who are there don’t care. You have mice because the city doesn’t care.
Their goal is to shed light on those areas and show alternative solutions and futures.The approach is participatory. That means people from those regions will be included into research to express themselves. This is important to not only talk about people but to let them actually talk for themselves. However, this approach also brings challenges.
Piotr Goldstein: When it comes to practice, it is not easy. Like if I am including somebody in my research, I can right away say that it is participatory, and the sponsors will be very happy about it. But if I am paid and they are not, the question is ‘Is it still collaboration or is it exploitation?’. If I am inviting a person to come into my research project but they have to pay to a babysitter so that their kids can stay at home, it is not an equal relationship.

different forms of informal activism

Piotr Goldstein is familiar with these challenges due to his previous work. Before coming to Dezim, he worked for the Centre for East European and International Studies in Berlin. There he was involved in a project, which aims to understand why in times of crisis some people protest while others migrate. At the University of Manchester, he received his PhD on ‘civil society in post war regions – Bosnia, Herzegovina, Serbia’. So Goldstein has a great expertise in topics like migration, civil society and activism – especially in the context of Eastern Europe. He is particularly interested in activism outside of organizations.
Piotr Goldstein: While researching in the Balkans for my PhD, I already saw that there are things, which are evidently activism, but which are neither NGOs nor social movements.
In Novi Sad, Serbia, Goldstein started researching informal groups without registration and sponsors.

Piotr Goldstein: So one group that I first encountered, was this group giving free hugs and they told me: we do not want to register because it costs money and it takes time, we don’t want to search for sponsors because it takes a lot of time and then we will need to create reports which will also take a lot of time and to give free hugs, we don’t need any money.
At the same time, it was fascinating that so many people came to the events like giving free hugs but also free salsa evenings or free cinema. Compared to the events of the recognized NGOs, that was a big difference, says Goldstein.

„There are people who still cannot afford this type of activism. Like this Roma man, who spends entire day collecting paper for recycling to make his living. Working ten, twelve hours a day he makes about eight euros.“

Another form of informal activism are social enterprises or as Goldstein calls them:
Piotr Goldstein: Organizations which called themselves companies and which believed to be companies, but I put it in inverted commas because they were extremely effective in losing money, so they were anti-companies in a way.
For instance, he talks about book shop cafes in Novi Sad, Serbia. A book shop café is a combination of two traditional places – a book store and a café shop.
Piotr Goldstein: This one in particular was really great; they had second hand book shop, in the room in front they had event space and on the left there was a lesbian reading room.
But why is this book cafe now an anti-company? Because books are a very expensive item in Serbia – measured by the minimum wage.
Piotr Goldstein: So in UK or in Germany you need to work one hour to buy yourself a copy of Plato’s Republic, in Spain and Poland it is about two hours, in Hungary four hours and in Serbia seven hours. So as a person who works in a book shop as an employee, if they want to buy themselves a new copy of Plato’s Republic, they need to work whole day.
Another good thing from the book shop cafe is the sale of books in languages other than Serbian, because Novi Sad has five other official languages.
Piotr Goldstein: And minorities through quiet policies are made less and less visible in the public space. And this book shop cafes what they do, is they insist on selling books in languages of local minorities particularly in Hungarian and it is pure charity because nobody buys this books. But they still think it is important to have languages of local minorities in public space and they say this is a question of respect.
Goldstein identified other forms of informal activism: First, activities that take place only once and then never again, such as the greening of a square for a birthday. Second, individual activities that are not recognized as activism due to the lack of group affiliation. Here the scientist gives an example of a friend:
Piotr Goldstein: She tells me that she actually spends couple of hours tutoring a child from the neighbourhood from a poor family [and] she does not even recognize it as activism but it is exactly the same kind of work a charity would normally do.

minority and migrant activism

In addition to the various forms of informal activism, Goldstein also researches minority and migrant activism. This does not refer to NGOs that have programs for migrants. But rather activism, where minorities, migrants and refugees become active constituents of local non-minority activism. One example of this is the critical mass movement in Novi Sad, Serbia. Critical mass originated in the early 90s in San Francisco. It is an event, where people ride bicycles through the streets in demand for safety for all road users, especially people by foot or bike.
Piotr Goldstein: One thing that I found fascinating, when I started to cycle with them regularly, is that you go there, and you hear a lot of Hungarian. And if you go deeper, you see that although it is very informal, and the structure is very informal most of the leaders of this critical mass are actually local Hungarians.
At that time, it was thus migrants, namely Hungarians, who carried the critical mass movement in Novi Sad. Nevertheless, this form of protest was not 100 percent inclusive.
Piotr Goldstein: Still, when I was researching them and cycling with them, I realized, that although it is very large and very inclusive it is not completely inclusive: Because there are people who can still not afford this type of activism. Like this Roma man, who spends entire day collecting paper for recycling to make his living. Working ten, twelve hours a day he makes about eight euros. So he cannot go to the protest movements, he cannot work with charities and NGOs. But one thing that he does, is that when he comes to garbage bins like that – primarily he searches for paper and plastic that he would recycle or metal – but when he sees that it is very messy, he takes garbage and puts it inside. This is not his work, nobody pays him for this, he does it exclusively because he feels responsible for the city, and he wants the city to be clean.
Piotr Goldstein would not be an anthropologist with a focus on visual ethnography if he had not made a film out of this story. The 30-minute film about this Roma refugee is about the daily activism beyond the scope of public recognition. To watch the movie, please contact Piotr Goldstein.