Basic HTML Version

Categories and social prestige
Being a structural element of the nation-state, the border has a defining role in putting
people who inhabit it into categories. Such categorization further on defines to a great extent
the experience of various groups of people with regard to the border, and from there the ways
in which they interpret it. Here I will dwell on how the trans-border experience constructs the
re-settlers from 1989 as separate group, how this group is described in different categories on
both sides of the border and how the group’s members circumnavigate between the categories in
which they build their lives, articulating a particular identity.
In the course of my field work among out-migrants who settled in Turkey since 1989, I
encountered increasing difficulties with regard to the ways of referring to the people I studied. On
the one hand they share a number of characteristics which link them, characteristics which allow
themto be considered a separatewhole; on the other hand however, this tangible delineation does
not afford unambiguous definition. One by one the labels I used to refer to them – instinctively,
habitually, because others called them like that – began to fall away either because of not being
particularly suitable or because of being contested in different situations. First I had to give up
the label “Bulgarian Turks” which I consider to this day to offer the shortest way of summarizing
the aspects linking them in one category – place of birth, context of socialization, context of
enculturation, of shared experience and “cultural intimacy”, citizenship and nationality. The use
of this term by me and my colleagues was vehemently contested in the early autumn of 2002 by
members of the Balkan
Solidarity Association in
Izmir Bal-Göç
who insisted that they
were not Bulgarian but Balkan Turks.
Yet this term also did not remain uncontested by the very
people who were referred to in this way. In certain situations, for instance, when I talked to leaders
or activists of the above-mentioned association it was firmly defended. In other cases – in informal
conversations with people who were not as actively involved in public activities (but also in
conversations with some members of the association when outside their “official” capacity) - they
expressed scepticism or directly rejected the constructed category of “Balkan Turks”. What had a
bearing in these cases was the presence or absence of Turkish colleagues during the conversations
and the interviews. When we were in a mixed group people tended to deploy more categorical
statements or even clichés, criticizing harshly the situation in Bulgaria (even if it was 2002, they
were actually referring to the regime of Todor Zhivkov and the communist period) and expressing
contentment and uncritical views about their lives and the way in which they were regarded in
Turkish society. In tête-à-tête conversations (which undoubtedly lead to shortening the distance
and foster a greater degree of frankness) some of the very same interlocutors were quick to share
what they did not like in their current lives (mostly the relations with local Turks) or what they
missed from their life in Bulgaria.
These circumstances led me to surmise that the way of talking about societies “here and
now”and“there and then”, as well as the opposition of categories such as“BalkanTurks”/”Bulgarian
Turks”have something to do with following a certain strategy for expressing loyalty (civic, political,
ideological) which is synchronized with the formal rhetoric of the nation-state. From the point of
is short
from ‘Balkan gö
menleri’ – out-migrants from the Balkans.