Società italiana per lo studio della storia contemporanea





  I will start with Safran’s paper, whose purpose is to test the concept of “diaspora” in what he calls a panoptic approach. Since it is not easy to sintetize the mass of information he gives us, I just try to pose here some – I hope reasonable – questions.
 First of all: what does differentiate diaspora from other concepts, as, for istance, emigration? Most of  the characteristics Safran assignes to diasporas can be useful for emigration too. Safran is right while asserting that in such a wide use – including a physical denotation of dispersion or change of locality – the term “would then cover the larger part of humanity”.
So we can try to abstract from the variety of historical cases, obteining through the contamination among different categories some more general indications.
For istance, I think it makes sense to distinguish between ecomic and political diasporas.The first are composed by people who leave their countries, whose choice is individual also if often supported by family, relatives or local community networks. Their aim is to find elsewhere better life conditions, in terms of income, but also of social mobility. In this case, the reference to a homeland contrapposed to an hostland is probably destined to weak: also if we can single out some carachteristics of diasporas – for istance, the relations with the homeland persist in time, as well as an idealized vision of the interpersonal relationships in the homeland (friendly, vis a vis against cold and anonimous in the new country) – we can suppose that the flux is from a peripherical country to a more central one, which does not encourage the perspectives of returning home (at least, aq definitive one). Of course, this depends on the more or less “open” character of the host society, and on the migrants ability to integrate in it. When and how much these two conditions take place, we assist, usually in the second generation, that means in those born in the hostland, to the shaping of a ficticious identity, which does not really affect the people life and actions, but assumes the character of a sort of touristic attitude with respect to the homeland.
Allow me a personal example: some years ago, in the USA, I was invited to a meeting of the italo-americans community, in their centre in Kansas City. The aim of the meeting was the presentation of some wine brands performed by an Italian exporter, and the wine degustation was connected to a dinner. Well, the food was Italian but in American style (a lot of very heavy sauces); no one of the about fifty people present spoke or undestood Italian; some of them never visited the country, other only once in their life. The association promoted trips to Italy, but in a classical touristic way: Venice, Florence and Rome in a week. No languages courses, no Italian newspapers, a very approsimative knowledge of the political, economic and social situation of Italy.
For these people – members of an association whose official aim is to take alive the memory of their former homeland – the diaspora memory – that is the difficulties their parents or ancestors had to face in leaving their country and trying to build a new life in a new country – has no more significance.
This example suggests that on an identity level, namely the representation of oneself by a single person or a group and his perception by the host community – some character of the diasporas may persist also in cases of integration. But when the motivation to move from one’s own country to another is economic improvement, is easier these fragments of the previous identities become more and more residual.
Is this tendence effective also for the millions of hopeless people who each year invest the “west” boundaries, coming from the poorest countries in the world? I think it’s too early for an answer; after all, some processes are perceptible only after two or three generations. But let me suggest that perhaps these people – for istance, the boat people that each day try to enter  the southern boundaries of Italy, not far from here – are not as hopeless as they would look at our eyes. Behind them, there is often a network of relatives, who paid for their travel, and of relatives or friends coming from the same community, who are waiting for them in their definitive destination (this results from the interviews they release when they are intercepted just after their arrival). We already have in our countries many examples of men and women who, after a first period of clandestinity, were able to find a regular job, to reunify their families, sometime to establish a private little busisness, for instance in the building industry or retail trade.
As Safran states, if the origin of most diasporas is to be found in poverty, and people who left their country enjoyed often a better life than those in the homeland, we can imagine that the relationship with the last will be essentially economic (emigrants’ remittances) and destined to weaken with the second or third generation.
Different are all those cases in which people were forced to leave as a consequence of boundaries shifting, or some kind of persecution based on linguistic, religious, political  or asserted racial motivations. Altough some diasporas are older, is in the 20th  century, an moreover after the two WW, that the forced population’s wandering compelled, according to Safran, “millions of people to live in countries other than where they were born” (2). I want just to remember that between 1914 e 1922 we count 4 to 5 milions of refugees, who became about 40 milions, in Europe, after the end of the second WW. In 1947, after the war between India and Pakistan, 15 milions people were forced to leave their houses and to move.
In all those cases, is more likely to find a persistent relation with the homeland, particularly if it has not yet reached the level of State autonomy (as for istance Kurdistan, or the Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka, or Palestine, or Kosovo). Also in the cases when a National State has been established, as for Israel, the memory of discrimination can stay alive (in the case of the Jews it was of course reinforced by the Shoah tragedy) and mantain a diasporic identity.
But also in these cases it seems to me that Safran correctly complicates the picture: if “the paradigmatic Jewish and Armenian diasporas began with forcible expulsion” (p. 10), when the homeland was established as a State, we should expect a strong mouvement of return home. As this only partially happens (for istance, Safran proves that many Jews don’t more have the myth of return, many of them never were in Israel, which “remains a symbolic place and a millenarian concept”, p. 15) , that means that “the sense of continuing alienation, subordination, relative deprivation, or imperfect integration” (11) that connotes diasporas has in the meanwhile weakened.
This brings us again to what happened in the hostland. If, as Roger Caratini states, the homeland is the center and the hostland the periphery, we can suppose that if the relation inverts its sense, and the hostland is more central with respect to a peripherical home, the economic dimension become prevalent, and, as assert the theorists of “rational choice”, minorities who have become prosperous “de-diasporize” their identity. In these cases, Safran adds, “economic and professional exigencies rather than factors of kinship or culture”, prevale.
Let me refer again to my personal experience: my brother, a phisician, has been living in the States for twenty years (in Topeka, Kansas’ capital in the late twelwe years): he married an American woman – a phisician too – and in the States were born their three children. Although he and his family paid a visit to Italy each year for summer holidays until our mother was alive – no one of the sons speaks or understands Italian. Apparently my brother belongs to an international elite, who can chooce the place where to live: he speaks perfect English, good French, he worked in Africa before setting in the States. But his wife and he would like to come and live in Italy, due to what they consider a better quality of life in this country, and had to renounce because  it would be almost impossible for them to find an adequate job here. More: altough my brother’s double citizenship (Italian and American’s one), I think that some sense of not beeing fully accepted by what is, without any doubt,  his new country, still remains. Of course, the States are a very open society for people who have the skills and abilities the country needs: my brother was for many years the State Epidemiologist of Kansas (he recently resigned for a better job), and for three years he was elected chairman of the Federal association of this category. But when last year he decided to compete in the elections for a seat in the School District Council (which he actually lost), he felt in some measure obliged to explain in his programm, why he thought to be able to face the responsabilities connected to that office, altough he was not born in the States (and in Kansas).

I want to say that  problems persist also in the case of succesful integration; Safran reminds some variety of reasons which obstacle economic considerations to overcome differential identities: racial distinctiveness, religious prescriptions, behaviour and dress codes, etc. But I should suggest that a full integration is difficult to realize also among people who since a long time have been citizens of the same national State: so, for istance, in Italy for a long time south regions people were considered not at the same level of education and politeness as the northern ones (they were indicated with the spregiative term of “terroni”). But, I wonder, is diaspora concept useful to define these problems? More: the Afro-Americans have, without any doubt, still problems of equal opportunities in the American society. And may be that the “perceptions of ‘relative deprivation’” (p. 27), which is the base of diasporic sentiment, still persists in many of them. But where is their homeland, to which return? I think their perspective is to fight for full rights and equal opportunities in their country,  not to return to African regions where their ancestors were taken from with violence.

In conclusion, I think that the national State dimension – that is the clear identification with a State, already existing or to build, to which return is claimed – is essential for the definition of a diaspora. This conclusion, however, would be strongly criticized by those whom Robin Cohen calls “social constructionists”, associated with post-modernism: they reduce “homeland” to a sort of  mood, a homing desire  not connected to a real space.  Likewise, the ethnic/religious community becomes a virtual one, which is substituted by “the new topography and practices of citizenship, which are multi-connected, multi referential and postnational” (Cohen quoting Yasemin Nuhoglu Soysal, p. 5).
Cohen states that, facing these positions, one could “regard them as inappropriate or misplaced as they reflected political agendas that had little to do with the history and meaning of the term, or the phenomena it sought to, and continues to, explain” (5). Personally, this is the position I should defende; any way, I find interesting the Cohen’s attempt to find a middle point with the social constructionist position: he quotes Roger Brubaker’s assertion that three core elements remain in the diaspora concept: dispersion, homeland orientation and boundary maintenance. Cohen proposes to differentiate the homeland-diaspora relationship, according to the homeland’s level of solidity: so he specifies three different kinds of homeland, solid, ductile and liquid. The first is the tradional one: “motherland, fatherland, native land, natal land, heimat, the ancestral land” (p. 6). I agree with Cohen’s statement that this solid idea has been recently reinforced by the role of diasporas (either for stabilty or for conflict amplification). There is then a more feeble homeland perception by people in diaspora, that Cohen defines ductil: for istance, that of “dezionized” western Jews, or that of Bombay Sindhi Community. The return, in these cases, is more and more a vague possibility. Finally, coming to liquid homes, the diasporas are at last deterritorialized, as, for istance, in the Caribbean peoples case, or in some Christian communities’ past diasporas.
The Jewish diaspora case is also treated by Dieckoff: his paper demonstrates that what Benedict Anderson calls long distance nationalism, a product of the globalization trend, is not so effective in the American Jewry: after Israel State was established, and moreover after 1967’ Six Days War, the attitude of the American Jews toward the State of Israel became more and more diverted, with right radicalsm stronger in Israel than among American Jews. Moreover, Israel lost importance in shaping Jews identity, and a growing role was assumed by religion. However, these trends are variable, depending from the peace/war contests: the more the Jews perceive a threat for the State of Israel, the more they strengthen their emotional and economic support to it. May then we ipothyze that, if the peace process should arrive to consolidate, the links between Jews in diasporas and Israel might follow the same patterns as other past diasporas, in which  at last the connection with homeland is only a vague memory of common origins?
In my interpretation, the “Stateness” (C. Tilly), that means the degree of autonomous organization of the institutions in one region , is crucial.  And, first af all, the presence or not of an autonomous State makes the difference, as the Hovanessian’s paper, on Armenian case, argues, contestualizing the evolution of diaspora consciouness among Armenians in France. While we can observe the persistance in the time of the original trauma’s memory (the genocyde and mass exhile of 1920-1930), diaspora consciouness is not a fixed category, as Hovanessian convincently demonstrates, but it is a social construction, which  articulates and changes in the time. The turning points of the Armenian diaspora can be fixed in the 1923 (Treaty of Losanna and  recognition of modern Turkish State), 1946-1948 (the temptation of return to Sovietique Armenia,  and the following disillusion), the  1965-1970, with the rivendication of a right to memory that begins to differentiate between appartenance to an etnhic group and citizenship, elaborating what Hovanessian defines “logiques de minoritaire”; the temptation of terrorism since the middle seventies to the middle seventies, which poses a lot of  questions to Armenians about the identity boundaries; and the establishment of the State in the 1991, with the elaboration of new political practices  of relations between the diaspora and the State (for instance through the law for double citizenship). So the absence of the national State, or its presence in different forms, shapes the different rappresentations of the diaspora: ethnic community, religious community, national minority, diaspora,  with the progressive formation of new forms of relationship and conscience, starting from the memory of the original spoliation.
Different, in my opinion, the Hanafi approach: in his analysis of the cartoon controversy in Denmark, and in his general approach, we can find just some reference to a specific homeland: more than relations between the last and hostland, he prefers a global approach: the polarization – he states – is not between the national communities, neither between different civilizations (western and muslims), but between the “cultural hegemony af late capitalism (global capitalism and colonial power allied in the struggle for the maintenance of an imperial power) and colonized people.
So, in this vision, what matters is the construction of the oriental other as different (Said), cultural racism by Western societies , and the indiscriminate support to Israel imperialism and “spacio-cidal project” (11). In this vision, nor nationality neither religious are important: “The division line seems to be cultural … Edward Said argued that if there is a clash, it is between empire builders on the one hand and those who believe in dialogue on the other … Migrants are subject to the hegemonic costruction and practices which are constantly created and reenacted. These conceptions and categories are in part internalized by both dominant and dominated alike and create a sense of common loyalty and legitimacy for the dominant classes (Schiller et al., 1992, 13). In some western countries, hegemonic construction speaks little of class but much more directly  of culture, religion and ethnicity” (4).
In this approach, while Al-Qaida is reduced to an “extremist group outside of the paradigmatic understanding of Islam”, and its hate against the Western nations is motivated “mainly for political reason such as supporting Israel and their interest in the oil of Gulf area”  (6), the neo-cons USA government  is going on a project of global cultural, political, economic hegemony.  Connected  to this project, the western countries modify the citizenship concept: no more the same rights for each citizen of a country, but a differential citizenship, dening rights to immigrants “in order to accumulate capital and power”.
Applying these criteria to the Danish cartoon case, Hanafi refuses the position of who speaks of a basic human right (freedom of expression)  threatened by the protests in many Muslim countries: his opinion is that a) a universal human right value is limited when it contrasts the freedom of the others; b) in the postmodern world, is not the case of speaking about universalism, but of competing universalisms. So the question is not a reaction of Muslims against an universal right, but rather a competing  between  different notion of universalism.
While I agree with the first statement (so, for istance, many countries have legislations against freedom of expression when it involves racial expressions), in my opinion the second is just a way to adfirme that does not exist universalism, whose character cannot be that just an universal one. But, if there is not a substantial  agreement about which rights have to be guaranteed  in a multicultural society, speaking of competing universalisms may be another way to define a civilization crash.
Moreover, I’m not so sure that the cheaf cause of terrorism against the western countries is their support  to Israel politics, since they are conceived just  as an outpost of western civilization in the Region (anyway, this doesn’t mean that we have not to work for a more balanced solution of the Palestinian question).  And I would appreciate explanations about which are in my opinion too general terms as global capital (are, for istance, Chinese, Japanese and other Far East capitalisms part of it?) and colonial power (have the Arabian countries, which were able, after the Yom Kippur war, to innest the big oil crisis, 1973-1977, still to be considered as colonized ones)? 
These are only some remarks to stimulate the discussion; however a lot more are the interesting points arising form the papers presented this afternoon; and I want to thank all our rapporteurs for having so strongly contributed to the success of this session.

Paolo Pezzino
University of Pisa