Citizenship and Property in Eastern EuropeSkip other details (including permanent urls, DOI, citation information)
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Those of us specializing in the former Soviet bloc are debating just how much rupture there has been in the reproduction of formerly socialist systems. It is nonetheless undeniable that increased global capital flows into societies that had striven fiercely to impede them, as well as the supersession of three states (Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union) by a multitude of new ones, is hardly business as usual. These processes result, all across the region, in efforts to reconfigure inclusion and exclusion - what and who is in or out. Thus, the region is experiencing a major overhaul in its boundary processes, in forms of "belonging." As a notion, "belonging" has two important meanings: relations among persons (who belongs to our collectivity) and relations among persons with respect to things (what things belong to whom).
Rogers Brubaker, in his work on citizenship in France and Germany, talks about boundary processes in terms of "social closure." He views modern states as membership organizations, normally characterized by two forms of social closure, "national identity" (howsoever defined) and territory; both forms exclude non-citizens. He argues that citizenship has been the principal mechanism for allocating persons to these organizations and establishing their closure, then goes on to describe two very different ways of defining citizenship: the French jus soli (citizens consist of all those born on a given soil) and the German jus sanguinis (citizens are all those linked by common "blood"), which establish different grounds for "belonging" to the respective "nations" and acquiring citizenship  This argument deftly handles one of the two central meanings of "belonging" - relations among persons with respect to a collectivity - but slights its other meaning - relations among persons with respect to things. Here, not "citizenship" but "property" is the mechanism that regulates social closure. Property - what "belongs" to whom - can also be relevant to the territorial aspect of modern states: a state's territory belongs to it as a kind of property. Like citizenship, property entails bounding, or social closure (though for neither is this closure necessarily exclusive), through defining "persons," "things," and the relations in which both are embedded.
This article is about these two forms of belonging, or social closure, in the former Soviet bloc since 1989: citizenship and property. Both of them create boundaries, and both intersect with transnational processes and with national and cultural identity. All talk of boundaries necessarily implies processes that cross them, just as talk of boundary-crossing necessarily implies boundaries; boundary overhaul in the former Soviet bloc thus involves both transnational and national processes. The two aspects are mutually constituting. Transnational flows of ideas and personnel cross borders only to meet forces that harden borders and identities; these new particularisms, in turn, can promote further transnational processes.
My discussion is in two parts. The first concentrates on citizenship: how transnational "democratization" provoked nationalist politics that invigorated national boundaries yet also cut across them. The second focuses on property ownership, considering how transnational "privatization," particularly of land, intersects with both citizenship and national identity. These comments are inevitably schematic, ignoring wide variation within the region so as to emphasize certain key point
Transnationalism and Citizenship
Discussion about citizenship has proliferated lately, producing talk of "flexible citizenship," "cultural citizenship," the "privatization of citizenship," "destabilized citizenship," and so on. Questions have developed around the political and cultural rights both of minorities in ethnically heterogeneous nation-states and of emigrants relative to their home societies, particularly whether or not they should have political influence and even voting rights in their countries of origin. (Benedict Anderson has subjected the latter issue to sharp critical scrutiny in his essay "Long-Distance Nationalism," wherein he objects to the "politics without accountability" of those emigrés and refugees who contribute funds to violent nationalist organizations in their home countries while sitting peacefully in a Montreal or Paris suburb.
Citizenship normally bounds - it includes and excludes, creates belonging - and it does so in the former Soviet bloc in conjunction with a profoundly transnational process resulting from the collapse of Party rule: "democratization." "Democratization" is transnational in at least three senses. First, "democracy" is a transnational symbol, by which both socialism's dissidents before 1989 and anti-communist political groups afterward invoked "the West." Second, western electoral observers oversaw its implantation, certifying ( inter alia) newly propitious climates for foreign capital investment; thus, power flowing across borders intersected with political pluralization inside them. And third, the politics of this pluralization, in some cases, produced transnational definitions of voting rights and citizenship, creating blocks of voters "abroad."
In some countries of the region, an early effect of democratization was to invigorate national identities. Democratic elections enabled politicians to organize popular sentiments, and in some countries it happened that the rhetoric and symbols with the greatest electoral appeal were nationalist ones. Among their partisans were new entrepreneurs - usually former Communist apparatchiks (party functionaries) - who saw in nationalist politics a way to protect new national markets for local predators, rather than opening them to outsiders. Politicians used these national symbols to mobilize voters of their own ethno-national group, in countries all of which are complexly multi-ethnic. Given that parties with recognizable "political platforms" were nonexistent, these appeals to ethnicity were a convenient alternative. Thus, in the former Soviet bloc, transnational flows of capital and political interest made nationalism into political capital, within transnationally fostered elections. Here, the very processes that generated cross-border influence also generated political parties and symbols aimed at reinforcing borders against, or channeling, that influence.
Similarly nationalizing processes emerged in the writing or rewriting of constitutions. Socialist-era constitutions had placed all socialist citizens on equal footing, guaranteeing the rights of co-residing nationalities. The collapse of socialism and of several socialist states ended these constitutional protections; additionally, the process of writing new constitutions enabled ambitious politicians to manipulate the very definition of citizenship. Particularly in the newly formed states such as Latvia, Estonia, Croatia and Slovenia, new constitutions turned nationalities that once enjoyed equality before the law into majorities and minorities bearing new, and differential, citizenship rights. Provisions enabling the non-majority ethno-nations to become citizens were cumbersome and often corrupted. In the Estonian election of 1992, for instance, nearly 40 percent of the population (most of them Russians) was barred from voting. That privilege was reserved for citizens, who were defined by native Estonian language and descent - and three years later a new law lengthened residency requirements for citizen status.
Robert Hayden has termed the result "constitutional nationalism," meaning constitutional and legal structures that privilege members of one ethno-nation over other residents. Unlike "western" democratic constitutions, in which the subject of rights and the collective bearers of sovereignty are individual citizens, many of the new constitutions accord sovereignty to one ethno-nation; other groups have to live as second-class citizens in ethnocratic states, their rights curtailed by a stigmatizing cultural identity that invariably has racist overtones. For example, the preamble to Macedonia's 1991 constitution defines Macedonia as the "national state of the Macedonian [ethnic] people, which guarantees. . . permanent coexistence of the Macedonian people with Albanians, Turks, Wallachians, Roma, and other nationalities living in the Republic of Macedonia."  (Note the distinction between "the people" and "other nationalities.") The constitution of Slovenia defines a three-tiered system of privileges: there is the "sovereign Slovene [ethno-]nation"; then there are recognized "autochthonous" Hungarian and Italian minorities, whose cultural rights the constitution guarantees; last come all other minorities (Serbs, Macedonians, etc.), lacking any such support for their cultural rights. In Latvia, Latvians comprise barely half of the population; 34 percent are Russians, whom Latvians suspect of aiming to reverse Latvian independence. The Latvian citizenship law passed in January 1996 set lengthy residence requirements before the Russians can gain citizenship (though ethnic Latvians abroad can obtain it with ease), and it withheld from resident Russians the rights to vote, to hold civil-service jobs, to buy land, to own shares in joint-stock companies, to receive state benefits, or to possess weapons. Because one effect of this kind of legislation is to make it almost impossible for members of ethno-national minorities to hold civil-service posts or be elected to office, Hayden calls this "bureaucratic ethnic cleansing": its aim is to create pure ethnocracies, racialized by the premise that cultural identities are inborn, immutable (they "come with the territory".
With manifold examples of this kind, we see that citizenship rights have become an arena of tremendous struggle in the former Soviet bloc, involving both majority and minority nations within the new countries, and western governments and non-governmental organizations as well. The stakes of these struggles are access to "democracy," to state-making, and to the political and civil rights that can affect the very form of the polity and people's relation to it.
In addition to reorganized definitions of and entitlings to citizenship, there are further provisions that reach across state borders in various ways to enfranchise co-nationals abroad. For example, the Hungarian constitution announces: "The Republic of Hungary recognizes its responsibilities toward Hungarians living outside the borders of the country and shall assist them in fostering relations to Hungary." Similarly, the Albanian constitution "looks after the recognition of national and democratic rights of the Albanian population living outside the boundaries of the Republic." Some governments have merely restored the citizenship of emigrés and exiles, and allowed them to vote. Hungary permits this only if they return to live in Hungary; Poland and Croatia permit emigré citizens to vote wherever they live - Polish emigrés could vote only in the presidential primaries, while in Croatia they voted in the general election as well. The electoral laws in Croatia provide the most extreme case: these permit voting by all emigrés and ethnic Croats abroad whether they are Croatian citizens or not. In the November 1995 elections, 145 polling places in 41 countries recorded Croat votes; the diaspora vote in toto was 90 percent for President Franjo Tudjman's party, which won its parliamentary majority with votes from Croats living in Bosnia-Herzegovina (many of them not even Croatian citizens). Here we have Anderson's "politics without accountability," as the votes of Croats abroad maintain in power a chauvinist regime waging war with the bodies of Croats (and their non-Croat neighbors) at home. (This kind of expansionary citizenship also reaches into the womb, as pro-natalist nationalists seek to protect "fetal citizens" from nation-destroying pro-abortion feminists.)
These data complicate the question of the unit within which "citizenship" creates belonging. They underscore Yasemin Soysal's argument in Limits of Citizenship that citizenship is becoming a global phenomenon attaching to persons, rather than one defined through belonging to a nation-state. Thus inflected by cultural identity, political citizenship moves across state borders while disenfranchising bearers of the "wrong" cultural identity at home. Yet the citizenship that bears these rights, however globalized, still has nation-state territorial referents.
The end of socialism brought "democracy" - a word whose etymology means "rule by the people." But while observers from western countries came to ratify that the elections were free and fair, they failed to ask: Who are "the people" that will be allowed into the social contract creating citizens and rights? In the history of democracy in the U.S., "the people" was bounded to exclude persons of the "wrong" sex and race; in the former Soviet bloc, the criterion that disrupts citizenship is ethno-national/cultural identity. In the Eastern European context, "people" is more readily an ethno-national term than a label for collective sovereignty by individual "social contractors"; the sovereign thus becomes the ethnic collectivity; democracy becomes ethnocracy. Political theorist William Connolly, in considering the implications of transnationalism for democratic practices, asks about the place of nomadic elements in constituting a democracy; we might answer that in the former Soviet bloc, "nomadic elements" participating in elections seem to strengthen ethnocratic tendencies, as emigrés and political exiles tend to vote with the more extreme nationalist parties and to press for ethnonational definitions of sovereignty, against the democratic rights of co-resident ethnic groups. Constitutions and elections have traveled transnationally, then, but with unanticipated effects, producing transnational citizenships that nationalize.
Privatization, Property and Identity
My examples so far link political and cultural rights to a specific territorial base and to the nationality that claims it. I wish to mention another way in which territory and citizenship come together with nationalism through transnational influences: privatization, or the creation of individual ownership from the once-collective property of socialism. Here I turn to the second item on the agenda, namely property, and specifically the privatization of land. Land has a special place in the aftermath of 1989, for in the inflation that has plagued all these economies to some extent, landholding is the ultimate insurance policy and pension plan. For those who lose their jobs and whose savings evaporate in the inflation, to control land - or to have kin who do - increases the odds that one will have something to eat. Bounding land and establishing its relation to particular persons, then, have become critical, leading to conflicts within ethno-national groups and among them.
Like "democratization," privatization involves the transnational flow of personnel and ideas; especially visible agents are the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, which since 1989 have regularly made indicators of progress in privatizing land and state firms the benchmarks for according or withholding loans. Privatization connects with citizenship too: some of the formerly socialist countries require that those who wish to recover landownership or to obtain other privatized socialist property be citizens and/or local residents. As mentioned above, for example, the Latvian constitution accords only to citizens the right to buy land or to own shares in joint-stock companies. Although countries of the region vary in their citizenship requirements for owning property, it appears that they more often place restrictions on landowning than on other forms. Such provisions are part of the tendency to ethnicize the subject of state sovereignty and the definition of citizen, linking these not just with rights to vote but with property rights as well.
Changes in land ownership show with especial clarity how transnationally fostered privatization intersects with citizenship and property laws in ways that reterritorialize, as property ideas tie interests to specific places amid enhanced flows of capital and concepts. They do so in two ways: through legal restrictions on land ownership, and through local understandings about personhood, property, and kinship.
As in Latvia, where only citizens have the right to buy land, a number of other formerly socialist countries link citizenship with territory. In Romania, for example, the land restitution law enables citizens living abroad and emigrés with restored Romanian citizenship to claim their land only if they come back to live in Romania. Citizens who emigrate after obtaining their land forfeit their rights to it. In that country, as in several others, non-citizens are not allowed to buy land (much like Jews in earlier periods of European history). In Poland and Estonia, they can do so only with the permission of local and national governments.
News reports indicate that these provisions, designed to impede "foreign takeover" of land, are the agenda of nationalist parties. They strive to make land an "inalienable possession," to invoke the title of Annette Weiner's most recent book. In her analysis, inalienable possessions fortify group identity and symbolize a group's ancestry or mythological origins; what marks such possessions is friction against ready transfer (such as prohibitions on sale of land to foreigners). I will adduce some ethnographic evidence to fill out the connections among land and ancestry, land and inalienability, land and national identity.
My data come from fieldwork in a Transylvanian village during 1993-94, on the privatization of land. There, I learned that in conflicts over land, people often justify ownership claim-rights by prior ownership, kinship, and work; they defend someone's claim on the grounds that the land belonged to that person's ancestors and that the claimants or their ancestors worked it. Villagers suing for family land say they are doing so because they owe this to their parents, who worked so hard for it. These emphases on kinship and work are rooted in pre-socialist village notions about personhood as something constructed through labor and possession. One's tie to the land was in part a connection-through-substance with the ancestors who had labored to acquire that land - thus, self, work, kinship, and possession of land are all entangled. Sometimes the connection is even more direct: the ground where the ancestors are buried gives us, their heirs, strength and makes our crops fertile. For Romania, particularly vivid illustration of this from earlier times is found in the protest written by Transylvanian writer Liviu Rebreanu concerning the "dismemberment" of Transylvania in 1940, when Hitler moved control over part of that region from Romania to Hungary:
For us, Transylvania can only exist whole, flesh of our flesh. . . . For thousands of years, millions and millions of Romanians shed their sweat in labor and their blood in battle, and died mixing their mortal dust everywhere in this ancient soil, such that all the valleys and hills and all the mountains are drenched with Romanian blood, and the feet of passersby tread on soil commingled with the dust of Romanian bodies. 
My examples show us land as a spatial realization of personhood. Persons are propertied, and land is part of persons; land belongs to them and they to it. The ownership relation in question is not, however, that of Euro-American property ideas - exclusive and individual - but collective, enmeshed in networks of kin. Clusters of such networks form the collective individual, the nation - the same collective that has been constituted as the bearer of citizen rights and sovereignty. This "nation" is a possessive individual, owning a "national patrimony" (sic) that includes both the land associated with the nation's ethnogenesis and cultural property as well.
I have been pointing to conceptions of land and person that are localizing, that tie "identities" to the soil and that place friction in the way of its market transfer as land is privatized. This friction connects to the broader legal constraints I have described on alienating land outside "the nation." Immovable landed property is thus made inalienable - precisely as "foreign investment" in industry tops the agenda. Why are states encouraging flows of one type of property, while erecting barriers to flows of other types? A clue lies in Annette Weiner's and Max Gluckman's understanding of the role of inalienable property: symbolizing group identity, it serves to stabilize hierarchy and political order against erosion by "free" exchange. The hierarchy and order being stabilized in the former Soviet bloc are at one and the same time internal to nation-state borders (ranking the various ethnonational groups whose claims to territory conflict) and external to them (in the global hierarchy of nations). This observation is a reminder that "nation," like the parallel differentiating constructs "gender," "race," "age," and "class," not only creates categories of same and different, but sets up relations of dominance between them, and in this dominance, property plays an important part.
I'm suggesting, then, that certain conceptions of property and property-rights - "nationalizing" conceptions - constitute resistances to transnational forces, efforts by particular national(ist) groups to prevent "their nation" from slipping in the hierarchy of nations in a period of global uncertainty. Transnational and national processes are thus mutually constituting. This is not news, but it is perhaps worth underscoring against those tendencies in transnationalist scholarship that emphasize crossings rather than the borders being crossed, and whose horizontal imagery of circulation through global networks may obscure the hierarchization of the elements a network joins. "Circulation" privileges flow; yet flow both occurs against obstructions (such as those placed by socialist regimes) and also precipitates efforts to obstruct further, by those whom circulation will drain.
The current reorganization of global flows has placed boundaries newly up for grabs, especially in those places that were explicitly dedicated to impeding flows and to bounding themselves with distinctive identities ("socialism" as against "capitalism"), as did the formerly socialist bloc. For that reason, I have emphasized two forms of boundary-making - citizenship and property - as those countries adapt to their changed position in networks of global circulation. Am I overemphasizing boundaries? - don't transnational processes presage their fading significance? I don't think so, as long as our world is governed by capital accumulation. Boundaries enable accumulation. So of course do relations with "things," i.e., property (and so increasingly do the "identities" that are ever more central to profiting from consumption - the subject of a growing literature). These identities are not "just" cultural; they are also hierarchical. I see it as an important task for anthropologists to call attention to the process of fixing and hierarchizing of cultural identities that seem to accompany global transformation, even as we explore the emergent networks of quickened flow that are its sign.
Katherine Verdery has recently joined the faculty of the Department of Anthropology. A longer version of this paper is being published in American Ethnologist, 1997, under the title "Citizenship, Property, and National Identity in Post-1989 Eastern Europe." The version printed here was delivered as a (CREES) brown-bag lecture in Winter, 1997. Changes in the prevailing regime of capital accumulation had already been grinding along well before 1989, but that year, with its astonishing collapse of the accustomed categories for thinking international relations, has come to stand as a moment of rupture. It got everyone's attention.
Bill Bowring, "Whose Rights, What People, Which Community? The Rule of Law as an Instrument of Oppression in the New Latvia," in Nationalism, Racism and the Rule of Law, ed. Peter Fitzpatrick (Brookfield, Vt, 1995) 123-129.