Contested diasporic identities in times of crisis: The Other Bulgaria in the UK

The Other Bulgaria is a term deeply embedded in the Bulgarian socio-political discourse in relation to outward migratory flows, which have seen a 10% decrease of the country’s population between 1992 and 2012 alone (OECD, 2012). This phenomenon is contextualised in wider European processes of intensified integration, leading to the EU’s first and second wave of Eastern enlargement. However, such cosmopolitan trends have always been in tension with nationalist sentiments, the latter becoming more prominent in the last few years. While the absence from one’s country of origin and the presence in a host society has always been equally problematic (Triandafyllidou, 2006; Pratsinakis 2017), in the current climate of ongoing crises (Sierp and Karner, 2017), it unlocks a discursive space where migrants, with Bulgarians being no exception, become exposed to processes of double-sided othering. In such a context, migratory projects and migrants’ identities become inevitably questioned.

Respectively, this presentation focuses on the case of Bulgarian migrants in the UK to explore contested diasporic identities in times of crises. In doing so, I draw on longitudinal fieldwork carried out between summer 2011 and 2017 that consists of 62 interviews and participant observation. Consequently, the presentation argues that Bulgarians in the UK reinvent their (national) identities to counterbalance the double-sided othering they are exposed to in both home and host societies. To make sense of their complex positionalities, I propose a tentative typology of identification routes, which vary according to strength of the link with the homeland and the host society. Ultimately, the paper critically examines the characteristics of each ideal type, arguing that they offer an insightful understanding of agency in times of crises.