This dissertation is an ethnographic analysis of Russian-speaking migrants in Amsterdam, The Netherlands in the context of European Union incorporation of Eastern European states, internal E.U. integration, and increasing surveillance of the E.U. outer borders. I investigate how these processes are causing Europeans to redeploy ideas of Eastern Europe as a cultural and political “other.” European Union integration of individual countries' economies, governance, and national identities has not been a straightforward process. European Union and individual states reinvent their national identities by defending their geographic, cultural, social, and economic borders against Eastern and Southern “others.” However, the discourses and policies relating to Eastern Europeans and other migrants result in adverse social and economic conditions for them in The Netherlands.
My analysis is based on a total of fourteen months of ethnographic research with Russian-speaking artists, architects, sex-workers, street sellers, homeless people, businessmen, and scientists from the former-Soviet States in the Netherlands from 2001 to 2003. I found that most of these individuals faced some social exclusion in the Netherlands based on their identity as “Eastern Europeans,” “migrants,” and “newcomers.” Dutch society has long been known as one of the most “tolerant” in Europe with its emphasis on human rights, support of development projects around the globe, generous social benefits for its population, and pragmatic attitude toward drug use and prostitution. However, the combination of the European Union's eastern expansion, post-September 11 fears of Islamic terrorism, history of East/West relationships, and recent growth of migration to the Netherlands have all tested Dutch tolerance.
Eastern Europeans in the Netherlands exist in a liminal position; they may at times be marginalized because of stereotypes about them but they may also be “tolerated” when they follow Dutch cultural practices and do not become an economic burden to the Dutch state. Contrary to Dutch and European stereotypes, migrants are not necessarily poverty-stricken and many choose to migrate to the Netherlands because of personal connections or an interest in Dutch society. Ultimately, Russian-speakers' experiences of belonging (and not belonging) highlight the constructed nature of such notions as “Europe,” “Western,” “Dutch,” and “cultural integration.”