Emigration states, existential sovereignty, and migrant responses

In her talk, Dace Dzenovska will elaborate the phenomenon of existential sovereignty on the basis of an analysis of how government and non-government actors handle the problem that post-Soviet freedom of movement introduces for the Latvian nation and the state. She argues that existential sovereignty is a re-territorialized claim to the coherence and continuity of a collective self through which individuals can pursue a variety of life projects. On the one hand, claims of existential sovereignty remain articulated with a territorial state, even if many of the individuals who constitute the sovereign subject do not live in it. On the other hand, existential sovereignty allows for the distribution of collective selfhood across territories of several historically existing states. In that sense, existential sovereignty entails a transfer of political sovereignty from a territorially defined state to a re-territorialized collective self that operates transnationally alongside corporations, international organizations, God, and other actors that compete for the status of the sovereign.

Elena Genova will focus on the politics of emigration in Bulgaria. Emigration has a strong discursive presence in the Bulgarian public space enveloped in nationalist discourses that often question migrants’ national identity and belonging. Her presentation has two key objectives. Firstly, it aims to explain how emigration is politicised in the Bulgarian public discourse and how this has informed state approaches to the Bulgarian diaspora. Secondly, it provides an insight into migrant responses to ‘othering’ discourses by drawing on empirical work conducted on a) Bulgarian highly skilled migrants and b) Bulgarian migrant workers’ experiences in Brexit Britain. In exploring the range of counterbalancing strategies that Bulgarian migrants in the UK use to reclaim their sense of national identity and belonging, the presentation raises a number of questions around the ways in which the rift between ‘stayers’ (non-migrants) and ‘leavers’ (migrants) can be reconciled.