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Abstract

This paper considers the creation of a new region in Europe since the opening of the borders following the so-called "revolutions" in East-Central Europe. The "buffer zone" consists of a privileged group of post-Communist countries sandwiched between some of the most affluent countries of the European Union on the one side and countries with collapsing, unreformed or backward economies on the other. This paper considers the countries: Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia in terms of the circulation of GOODS, CAPITAL and PEOPLE around the region. The Central European buffer zone countries represent the most successful group of countries in terms of economic and political reform and social stability. This is both a cause and consequence of their attracting investment, tourism and other forms of economic and cultural communication from their neighbours to the west -. Especially Germany and Austria. For the countries to the East and South of the buffer zone, their prosperity and the possibility of crossing into the buffer zone but not further, creates an attraction for visitors from the East who arrive for settlement for work, for shopping, for trading or for establishing businesses. The establishment of cross-border communications depends to a large extent on reviving family, ethnic and cultural ties which were for many years severed by Communism.
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The Central European Buffer Zone
Claire Wallace, Elena Sidorenko and Oxana Chmouliar
September 1997
Institute for Advanced Studies and University of Derby, UK
Stumpergasse 56,
1060 Vienna, Austria
Tel: 00431 59991
Acknowledgments: We would like to thank the International Organization for Migration, the
Central European University and the Austrian National Bank for sponsoring the research. We
would also like to thank the Paul Lazarsfeld Gesellschaft, Vienna, for permission to use NDB
data.
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ABSTRACT
This paper considers the creation of a new region in Europe since the opening of the borders
following the so-called revolutionsin East-Central Europe. The buffer zoneconsists of a
privileged group of post-Communist countries sandwiched between some of the most affluent
countries of the European Union on the one side and countries with collapsing, unreformed or
backward economies on the other. This paper considers the countries: Poland, Czech
Republic, Hungary and Slovakia in terms of the circulation of GOODS, CAPITAL and
PEOPLE around the region. The Central European buffer zone countries represent the most
successful group of countries in terms of economic and political reform and social stability.
This is both a cause and consequence of their attracting investment, tourism and other forms
of economic and cultural communication from their neighbours to the west -. Especially
Germany and Austria. For the countries to the East and South of the buffer zone, their
prosperity and the possibility of crossing into the buffer zone but not further, creates an
attraction for visitors from the East who arrive for settlement for work, for shopping, for
trading or for establishing businesses. The establishment of cross-border communications
depends to a large extent on reviving family, ethnic and cultural ties which were for many
years severed by Communism.
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The opening of the borders between East and West Europe which followed the demolition of the
Iron Curtain, has lead to new forms of mobility and new forms of contact between East and West
Europe. The old division of Europe was between East and West. This old alignment has broken up
and what is now emerging is a range of new regions. Now new divisions are emerging between
the European Union contries, the newly Independent States which were formerly part of the Soviet
Union, the post-Communist Central European countries and the countries of South Eastern
Europe sometimes called the Balkans. The focus of this paper is on the Buffer Zonecountries
which make up this middle zone and which have taken on a new role of social, economic and
cultural interaction between East and West. These are: Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics
and Hungary. This model is illustrated in the map attached. In the following pages we offer some
description of the characteristics of this buffer zone.
The crumbling of the Iron Curtain has opened the post-communist countries to new forms of
market activity, new patterns of western capitalist investment, new forms of property ownership
and new forms of consumer behavior. A major influence for the Central European post-communist
countries has been the contiguity of the European community - especially some of its wealthiest
members: Germany and Austria. The deepening of ties within the EU which has occurred
simultaneously with the opening of the borders eastwards has created a more cohesive western
block than has hitherto existed. Without the Cold War or the Iron Curtain to define the two halves
of Europe, this has been done increasingly on economic and institutional grounds rather than in
terms of ideology and military might. The Central European buffer zone used to be the heavily
militarized Western frontier of Eastern Europe. Now it is the westernizing fringe of the post-
Communist world, most advanced in the development of market economies and democratic
institutions and most receptive to western influences (Haerpfer and Zeilhofer 1995).
We are therefore defining 'Western Europe' as the region of the EU countries, the 'buffer zone' as
being those countries on its eastern rim which have been the objects of integration and stabilization
policies by the EU (the new Eastern frontiers), and 'Eastern Europe' as those countries of the
former Soviet Union that are beyond this rim and South Eastern Europe as Romania, Bulgaria,
Croatia, Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzogovina, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania. In this paper we focus
mainly on the countries of Poland, Hungary, the Czech and Slovak Republics and Slovnenia. The
Baltic States in their new orientation towards Scandinavia have been subject to 'westernization', and
also form a kind of buffer zone whilst Bulgaria and Romania have likewise been the objects of
tentative attempted integration into Europe. However, the 'buffer zone' proper are those countries
with a direct border to the heart of the New Europe since they are affected in particular by this
proximity. An interesting question arises as to where the buffer zone ends to the south. The war
in the former-Yugoslavia, the UN embargo, as well as economic and ethnic tensions there have
destroyed its potential as a buffer zone in our terms. In previous descriptions of the Central
European Buffer Zone we have not included Slovenia (see Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko
1995, 1996). However, ist emergence from the break up of the former Yugoslavia, ist direct
border to the European Union and ist economic and political characteristics now all make it part of
the Central European Buffer Zone.
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In describing a buffer zoneconsisting of five countries, we are claiming that they have a number
of features in common with one another. However, there are also internal differences between each
of these countries. Whereas Poland and the Czech Republic have been marching ahead on the road
to economic reform, Slovakia has lagged behind somewhat and Hungary, after an early head start,
has fallen back. Slovenia, the smallest of these countries has enjoyed economic growth, in contrast
to all the rest of the countries of the former Yugoslavia. In terms of migration policies, each
country evolved their own rather than making collective arrangements, but during the period 1991
to 1995 they have all introduced similar policies, albeit with different timings. Many policy
developments in the Czech and Slovak Republics were delayed because of the splitting of the
former Czechoslovakia into two parts in 1993. There is also important mobility within the buffer
zone itself. During the late 1980s, Hungary attracted many migrants from Poland, the former East
Germany and the former Czechoslovakia because of the liberalism of its regime and its more
advanced market reforms (Fullerton, Sik and Toth 1995). The more recent absence of
unemployment in the Czech Republic has drawn migrants from Poland (in fact this continues a
pattern established before the regime change) and from Slovakia. The more liberal regulations
governing travel in Poland and the large Polish Diaspora all helped to establish Poles as pioneering
the small-scale suit case trading which later become much more widespread throughout the region
as a way of importing consumer goods. However, these differences are small when compared to
the overall similarity in the course of development after Communism and in terms of their
increasing differentiation from the countries further East (Haerpfer and Zeilhofer 1995).
Furthermore, even before the advent of Communism these were countries which had enjoyed some
measure of market development and in some countries even a short period of democracy.
Although they may resist being lumped together as the “Visegrad countriesthey nevertheless face
common pressures because of their common geographical location and history.
In understanding how the buffer zone works we consider three factors: the European Union
policies, divisions of labour between the buffer zone and western Europe and the institutional and
legal context of reforms there. Later we go on to consider the circulation of goods, capital and
people around the buffer zone and finally attitudes to neighbours and migrants. In considering the
Buffer Zone we also have to consider relationships with immediate neighbours 1
1. The influence of the European Union
1 The paper is based upon a range of research projects carried out between 1994 and 1997. The first was that of
a project sponsored by the International Organisation for Migration on transit migration in the Czech Republic
in 1994. This was followed by a study of migrant traders and labourers in the Czech Republic carried out in
1995 by Elena Sidorenko and Oxana Chmouliar and funded by the Central European University. This was
followed by a study of traders and migrant workers in Slovakia, Hungary and Poland sponsored by the
Austrian National Bank Jubiläümsfonds in 1995/6. Next there was a project looking at new technology and
investment trends in Hungary, Poland the Czech Republic conducted by Claire Wallace in 1995-7 and funded
by the Austrian Ministry for Science and Communications. This was supplemented by periods of fieldwork in
Ukraine by Claire Wallace and Oxana Chmouliar during 1995/6.
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The creation of the buffer zone is partly the consequence of European Union policies. The EU
countries, fearful of massive influx of impoverished Eastern Europeans and keen to ensure social
and political stability in the 'new world order' as well as develop new markets for their products,
have created a range of associational agreements with the privileged rim countries: Poland, the
Czech and Slovak Republics, Hungary and later Slovenia once it was not longer seen to be
associated with the war in the former Yugoslavia. To a lesser extent this has also included
Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic States. These countries have enjoyed development aid
programmes such as PHARE, TEMPUS and other EU schemes in the early round of reforms
(although such programmes were later extended elsewhere). These countries were themselves very
keen to join the European Union and have patterned their institutional reforms to harmonise with
EU standards and norms. Although there was no 1990s 'Marshall Plan' as many had originally
hoped, these buffer zone countries have attracted much more private investment than countries
further East and this has been both a cause and a consequence of the political and economic
stability in these countries and their successful transition towards being liberal, market democracies.
These countries have all started to show economic growth since the mid-1990s (see Charts 1 and
2) which is in contrast to those countries East and South. Despite falling incomes for some groups
and high inflation, new forms of prosperity are palpable and the buffer zone countries are becoming
the most prosperous of the post-communist world.
One aspect of the integration of the buffer zone countries into Western Europe is a range of
agreements to regulate migration (1) (Niessen 1992, Kussbach 1992). In the past the buffer zone
countries did not need migration policies because for forty years any movement, even around the
Communist countries, was severely restricted and passing through the Iron Curtain in either
direction was an ordeal at the best. Before and during that time, the buffer zone countries tended
to be countries of emigration rather than immigration. In the last few years however, the buffer
zone countries have had to rapidly develop migration policies in order to respond to the new
situation. These policies have tended to be modeled upon visa, work permit and asylum policies
adopted in Western Europe and have become more restrictive with every month that passes. How
has this happened? The main pressure to do this comes from migration policies inside the European
Union itself because having replaced the barbed wire and watch towers with a 'green line', the EU is
now concerned to control who crosses that green line. This has a knock-on effect because the
European Union countries then have an interest not just in who gets out of the buffer zone, but in
who gets in to it. This means that migration into and through the buffer zone also has to be
controlled. The countries in Western Europe such as Germany and Austria most threatened by the
new migrations from the East have developed their own co-ordinated policies and bi-lateral
agreements for the return of illegal 'third country nationals' between states - that is, they prefer to
turn back illegal migrants to the last country they crossed legally: in most cases the buffer zone(2).
In particular, the movement towards the abolition of the remaining residual border regulations
between the 'Schengen' group of countries (which includes Germany, the Benelux countries and
France) has made these countries particularly concerned about their outer borders - those of the
Buffer Zone A variety of European Union policies have endeavoured to create political and social
stability in the buffer zone, so that freedom of travel will not provoke a vast exodus of people.
Migration from these counties is encouraged within controlled parameters. Thus, no visas are
necessary for citizens of Poland, Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics to visit Western
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Europe and they can stay for three months as tourists in the EU. The 'threat' of migration is now
defined as being from countries outside of this privileged buffer zone of post-communist Central
European countries, mainly the ones to the East and South. Consequently, the buffer zone
countries are under pressure to control migration in their own territories as these are now also the
external borders of the European Union. They also have incentive to do so for their own reasons,
since the influx of migrants from the East and South is augmented by those illegal border crossers
who are returned from Western Europe. There has been a considerable increase in migrants and
temporary sojourners in the Buffer Zone since 1989 as a result.
The dismantling of borders to the West has meant the reconstruction of borders to the East. This
separates off those less-privileged countries such as Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Moldova and the
Caucasian region which now start to form different zones. These latter countries are generally
suffering dramatic economic slump rather than economic recovery and political transformation has
not necessarily been in the direction of liberal democratic capitalism which we see in the Central
European buffer zone. This has implications for economic and social relations between these
regions and for the circulation and migration of peoples between them. Such imbalances create
new markets and new opportunities for the people of these different regions. Thus we can look
both at the macro-levels of trade and contrasting economic change to get an overall canvass of the
region, but also the micro-level of activities of individuals engaged in travelling round the region,
gained from depth interviews and fieldwork. By grasping these two different levels
simultaneously, we can build a more detailed picture of the Buffer Zone.
2. The Emerging European Division of Labour
The construction of a new Europe with new economic relations and new frontiers has implications
for the division of labour, employment and capital (Sassen 1988, 1996). Although much of the
technology used in many of the former-socialist economies is outdated, these countries can
nevertheless produce goods which can undercut Western European ones. The collapse of the
common socialist trading relations resulted in the reorientation of the 'buffer zone' countries
towards western markets and they have very quickly built up exports in this direction, despite the
imposition of various import tariffs by the EU afraid of this competition. The shift in exports and
imports from East to West in the buffer zone over the last few years has been quite dramatic. New
investments have poured into the buffer zone countries and investors have developed joint ventures
in established industries which has meant the opportunity to take advantage of a reservoir of cheap
but skilled labour. The main investors in the buffer zone are the western neighbours: Germany and
Austria. The patterns of investment seem to have followed the pattern of broad historical links with
Austrian firms investing mainly in Hungary and Slovakia, whilst German firms invest in Poland and
the Czech Republic. We could therefore argue that some western industries have shifted some of
their production eastwards to the buffer zone.
In addition, whole new industries have sprung up in the buffer zone. The underdevelopment of the
service sector in the region has meant a general growth in this direction creating new kinds of
servicing jobs: restaurants, cafes, computer companies, video distribution companies, tourist
services and other such firms have mushroomed. The physical reconstruction of decaying cities
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suffering 40 years of neglect and with outdated infrastructure is a huge task employing many
thousands of workers. In addition the appearance of new buildings in the cities and the
countryside, especially private residences, means a great demand for labour and materials in the
construction industry. The newly generated wealth among some social groups, particularly the so-
called 'nouveaux riches' helps to create still more enterprises to serve them.
3. Institutional and legal reform
The slow rate of official privatization and the inexperience of many of the regimes in the buffer
zone in legislating for a market society means that many businesses started or still operate in the
informal sphere of economic relations rather than formally. With the fall of communism, activities
which had previously been illegal - such as trading, currency speculation, starting business ventures
and making profits - were no longer so. Indeed these very same activities which had previously
been frowned upon, were now encouraged. To begin with, street stalls satisfied the demand for
groceries and consumer goods which the general stores were unable to fulfill. Many people moved
around or found jobs, uninhibited by any regulations, since these had not yet been developed to
deal with them. However, after a while more and more regulations were introduced which
controlled the development of economic activity and set it more within a state regulated legal
framewere. For example, taxes on goods and incomes were introduced from 1993 onwards,
although it took a while for taxation schemes to be fully implemented. The second economy which
had always existed as a necessary adjunct to the socialist economy became now part of the formal
capitalist economy as businesses were legalized and underground activities emerge into the open.
Yesterdays crook became todays capitalist (Sik 1993). However, many activities remained
underground as laws have not yet been enacted to regulate them or where they have been enacted,
these fledgling democratic states lack the means to fully implement them. For a while, whole range
of activities are therefore neither legal nor illegal. For example lacking the full registration of
workers, it was possible for people on the borders to claim social security and to work across the
border at the same time; little could be done about it. Whilst legislation is fast being enacted to
control such activity, the news of both small scale and large-scale scams is daily currency in the
buffer zone. However, more and more areas of economic life are coming under institutional
control in the Buffer Zone countries (although this is not the case in other Post-Communist
countries where legal reforms are lagging behind economic activities).
The underdevelopment of civil society in countries where this was demolished or diverted
(Schopflin 1992), means that there are a range of areas where workers and consumers interests are
not protected. Employment contracts and work practices which would be illegal in EU countries
such as Germany and Austria can be instituted in the private sector. In this way flexible
employment practices which are restricted in Germany and Austria due to strong traditions of
worker protection and regulation of employment conditions, can be introduced without such
hindrance in some of the new enterprises in the buffer zone. The explosion of free market
capitalism in a situation where regulations are underdeveloped or do not exist encourages many
exploitative employment practices. This makes the buffer zone countries still more attractive for
new investors or those wishing to start businesses without too much control.
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Furthermore, the strong environmental controls on industry in Western Europe, especially Germany
and Austria mean that more environmentally damaging activities can be located in the Buffer Zone
countries where environmental controls are weak and there is no money to introduce such reforms.
The corruption which was also a legacy of the previous regimes, enables laws to be bent even
where they exist and for those who know how to work this system it means that the buffer zone
countries can be very favourable and flexible places from which to operate. The imposition of often
absurd regulations which were widely manipulated under communism bred a generally skeptical
attitude towards state regulation (Wallace 1995a, Wedel 1992). However, although petty
corruption was widespread previously, inflation has affected these practices too. Monetary rather
than other favours are bartered as the 'spirit of free enterprise' inspires low paid public officials as
well as private entrepreneurs (Heinrichs 1994). Corruption may be a feature of all economies, but
of course corruption, like other costs, is still much cheaper in the buffer zone than in Western
Europe!
However, we would not want to exaggerate the corruption and rule bending existing in the buffer
zone. These countries have gone much further along the road towards regulating the market than
the countries further East or South. The gradual creation of new rules and regulations, partly on
account of integration with the EU, means that many activities which were possible over the last
five years are now becoming subject to rational legal control. Thus whilst corruption may exist, it
exists within a framework of legality and bureaucratic regulation. This is in stark contrast to some
other countries East and South of the buffer zone where moral and legal regulation is breaking
down, leaving the field open to armed, violent and ruthless criminal gangs - examples would include
parts of the former-Yugoslavia, Georgia, Chechenia. This is important because in our interviews,
which we describe later, many people were fleeing this pervasive insecurity and fear which made
normal social life impossible in the Eastern and Southern post-Communist countries for the peace
and personal safety of the buffer zone. Furthermore, life in the buffer zone, where the distribution
and supply of goods is more efficient and where rational regulation of services is better developed
with some reasonably efficient policing, is far easier and more pleasant than in other former-
Communist countries where simple daily life can be an ordeal. The unregulated, buccaneer-style
capitalism of the former Soviet Union frightens away many foreign investors.
Differences between the buffer zone countries and the Eastern and
Southern neighbours
Since the reforms of 1989, the buffer zone countries first experienced steep economic
decline and in the case of Hungary and Poland, rapid inflation. Nevertheless, the years since
1994 have shown a stabilization of the economy and a series of elections which have
confirmed the positions of democratic governments. There has been growth in GDP and these
are countries on the road to becoming stable market democracies. However, the situation of
Ukraine, the main Eastern neighbour, is quite reversed. Since 1989 it has suffered a 57 per
cent decline in GDP and hyper inflation of 380 per cent in 1995 (WIIW 1996a and 1996b).
The government solution was not to pay wages for some months, although wages had already
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sunk below the level at which people could live on them. In neither Belarus nor Ukraine have
reforms been at all adequate to the rapid changes taking place. Economically and politically
they are lagging well behind the buffer zone countries. Belarus seems to be headed more and
more towards an authoritarian regime oriented towards Moscow and although Ukraine is
oriented more westwards, its problems are legion.
The path of transition in Ukraine and Russia is hampered by legal laxity, a product of
frequent and confusing administrative changes, lack of enforcement and lobbying by powerful
and sometimes illegal groups in their own interests (WIIW 1996b). The result is that these
countries have sunk increasingly into chaos and their citizens manage as well as they can. In
addition the development of new businesses and the reform of existing industries through
privatization or through internal reorganization is almost non-existent. The lack of clear
government policies and tax rates of up to 100 per cent means that people operate businesses
wholly or partially illegally rather than as part of an institutionalized process.
In the Ukraine and Belarus only 16 per cent are able to manage on their earned incomes,
according to one regular survey, compared with 43 per cent in Poland and 46 per cent in
Slovakia (Rose and Haerpfer 1996). Ukrainians are also much more likely to have to resort to
growing their own produce, working in the shadow economy and earning money through
connections than are the people in the buffer zone (Rose 1995). Although many of these
survival strategies, as legacies from the former regime, are dying out in the buffer zone
countries, in Ukraine and Belarus they became as important if not more important than before.
The situation has actually got worse rather than better since independence for most people:
61 per cent of Ukrainians and 55 per cent of Belarusians still have to queue for more than one
hour per day compared with only 4 per cent of Poles and 11 per cent of Hungarians
(Information from the New Democracies Barometer for 1995 and 1996)2.
Thus, we could argue that there is an increasing divergence in the living conditions of people
in Ukraine and Belarus as compared with the buffer zone and this is described as a trend over
time by Rose and Haerpfer (1996). To put it starkly: in the buffer zone things are getting
better, in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus they are getting worse.
There are also contrasts between the buffer zone and countries to the south. The war in the
former-Yugoslavia along with the trade and cultural embargo against Serbia resulted in dire
economic problems there, although living conditions were previously quite good. Romania
began some way behind the buffer zone countries in terms of prosperity and democratic
reforms, but has been catching up. However, Bulgaria has sunk into economic crisis and is
headed at the moment in the direction of Ukraine rather than the buffer zone.
2The New Democracies Barometer (NDB) is carried out in 10 different East-Central European countries by the
Paul Lazarsfeld Gesellschaft, Vienna, annually since 1991. It asks questions about the economic situation and
political attitudes of respondents. Publications related to this survey are available through the Centre for the
Study of Public Policy, University of Strathclyde, UK.
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Recent economic assessments however, indicate that there is now some stabilisation of the
economies in Ukraine and Bulgaria. In the former country the introduction of a new currency
in 1996 and efforts to keep inflation under control have paid off, whilst in Bulgaria the work
of the Monetary Reform Board has brought down inflation and the dramatic slide of the leva.
The prognoses for both of these countries by the Vienna based institute for the international
comparison of economies (WIIW 1997) is quite favourable.
Macro-economic level statistics can give us a general picture of some these contrasts. Chart
1 shows the differences in GDP per capita purchasing power. Slovenia stands out as the
wealthiest country here but the rest of the Buffer Zone countries are also strikingly more
prosperous economically than the South Eastern and Eastern countries.
Chart 1 GDP per Capita. Purchasing power parity measures 1996
GDP per capita
0
2
4
6
8
10
12
Slovenia
Czech
Republic
Slovakia
Hungary
Poland
Bulgaria
Romania
Russia
Ukraine
Series1
Series2
Source: WIIW 1997 No. 167
Inflation has climbed steeply for all post-Communist countries, but we can see that in Chart
2, the buffer zone countries have less of it than do countries to the East and South. Although
Poland did suffer hyper-inflation at the start of the reforms, the economy is now on a more
stable footing, whilst both Bulgaria and Ukraine suffered hyper inflation during the period
1995/6 and although it is now more under control, inflation is still high.
Chart 2 Consumer prices in Post-Communist countries 1996
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Inflation 1996
0
20
40
60
80
100
120
140
Bulgaria
Ukraine
Romania
Hungary
Poland
Czech
Republic
Slovakia
% change from previous year
Source: WIIW 1997 No. 167
If we now turn to production, we can see from Chart 3 that the 5 Buffer Zone countries
together began the 1990s with a slump in production immediately following the political
changes of 1989 but soon picked up (although many of them only recently reached their pre-
1989 levels). Romania has followed a similar pattern, but Bulgaria`s production sunk again
after 1995. Ukraine and Russia by contrast, although beginning at higher levels, sank rapidly
following independence and the break up of the Soviet Union and maybe just beginning to
recover. The buffer zone countries have enjoyed a period of growth since the early 1990s,
whilst this has not been the case for the countries further East.
Chart 3 Annual Percentage Change in Production 1990-1996
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GDP. Percent change from previous year
-30
-25
-20
-15
-10
-5
0
5
10
1990 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 CEEC 5
Bulgaria
Romania
Ukraine
Source: WIIW 1997 No. 167 p. 323
There are therefore important disparities in the living conditions of people in these different
neighbouring countries. For some, prospects are improving, for others they are sinking fast.
The European Union has replaced the Soviet Union as the pole of attraction for the buffer
zone countries whereas those to the East and South are mired in economic and political
chaos.
Movement across borders in the buffer zone
The dismantling of the borders on the Western side of the buffer zone means that the watch
towers, land mines and barbed wire have been replaced by open fields (although still policed
on each side by border controls). The elaborate visa regulations and searches have been
replaced by more open plan frontier posts (although still with long delays, especially for heavy
goods vehicles). In principle it is far easier to move across the borders and many new crossing
points have been introduced (Wallace 1998, Langer 1996). However, the borders at the
Eastern border of the buffer zone have also been loosened. It was previously just as difficult
for people to move across these heavily fortified borders within the Communist block and
special permission was needed there too. This means that the flow of people, capital and
goods on both sides of the buffer zone have been opened up. However, it also creates a
special role for the buffer zone in communications between Eastern and Western Europe.
Whilst citizens of the European Union and citizens of the buffer zone can cross relatively
freely across the Western frontiers (buffer zone citizens can stay up to 3 months in Western
Europe without special permission or formalities) the citizens of countries to the East and
South of the buffer zone still face having to buy visas and go through considerable difficulties
to cross into the European Union. However, they can move into the buffer zone countries
with relatively greater freedom than previously. For Westerners going East there are also
tiresome formalities, the need to fill in currency forms and inhospitable frontiers which make
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travel there not impossible, but difficult. Buffer zone citizens, however, can move backwards
and forwards between the European Union and Eastern Europe, which gives them a special
advantage in assisting in the circulation of goods, capital and people, which we consider next.
1. The circulation of goods
During the cold war period, the Communist block countries were members of a trading
arrangement between themselves known as COMECON. Goods produced in one country
were exported to other countries in return for goods or raw materials and a deliberate system
of interdependence was constructed between these countries. Exports and imports to the
West were very limited and had even declined since the 1970s (Wallace 1997). On the other
side of the former border, the creation of a free trade zone within the European Union helped
to create a trading block within which much exchange takes place. Austria, for example, trades
more than 90 per cent of her goods within the European Union. For the Cold War period
these two trading blocs were standing back to back, as it were.
The collapse of communism brought the disintegration of the former COMECON trading
relations. Countries within the former Soviet block started to demand payment in hard
currency which the receiving countries were unable to pay and the result was that many goods
ceased to be imported and exported. This accentuated the economic slump in the buffer zone
countries as they were producing goods which they were now unable to sell. However, in a
very rapid space of time the buffer zone countries reoriented their trade towards Western
Europe. Thus whilst in 1990 Hungary was taking only 31 per cent of its imports from the EU,
by 1995 this was 61.5 per cent. On the other hand, exports to EU countries rose from 32.2
per cent to 62.7 per cent in the same period (Wallace 1997). For each Central European
country, it is the countries on the immediate Western borders which play the most important
role as we can see in the fact that for the Czech Republic 55 per cent of its trade is with its
neighbouring countries (Wallace 1997). The Central European countries mainly export
energy, raw materials and semi-finished products whereas form the EU they import high
technology goods, foodstuffs and consumer goods. Export to the European Union would be
even higher if it were not for the protectionist measures erected by the EU afraid of their
goods being undercut by cheap Eastern European imports. Despite this rapid reorientation of
trade, there is little trade within the buffer zone countries even though a free trade zone known
as CEFTA (Central European Free Trade Area) was set up in 1993. The direction of trade is
generally from East to West and from West to East. Thus, it is possible to buy Czech wine in
British supermarkets but not in Polish ones.
We have already indicated how previously these two blocks stood back to back. Now the
central parts of these two blocks have turned round to face each other and are increasingly
communicating between themselves. The pole of attraction is increasingly towards the EU
rather than towards the East and this makes the buffer zone countries even more keen to join
the European Union.
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14
One way in which goods circulate is through shopping. In the period after 1988 when the
borders were first opened, consumer-starved buffer zone citizens flocked over the border
to undertake a shopping frenzy in Austria and Austrian shops boomed at this time.
Mariahilferstrasse, the main shopping centre in Vienna was nicknamed
Magyarhilferstrassein honour of the many Hungarians who shopped there. Economic
indicators show that Hungarians were spending far more in Austria than Austrians were in
Hungary (Wallace 1997). After 1990 this was reversed as there was a flow of Austrians to
Hungary to buy cheap goods and even food. Now this shopping has balanced out more but
still with Austrians spending more money in Hungary than vice versa. A similar pattern
happened between Poland and Germany. New, large supermarkets and shopping centres
have opened up along the borders offering goods to cater for this trade and there are also
many small stalls selling baskets, gurkins and garden gnomes. In the buffer zone countries,
the spirit of free enterprise has brought in flexible opening hours with shops and shopping
centres often open on Sundays, Saturday afternoons and evenings. In Germany and Austria
strict control of opening hours means that the shoppers have to go to the buffer zone to
shop after midday on Saturday. With this kind of pressure in the background, shops in
Austria and Germany have started to introduce more flexible opening hours, but this does
still not include Sundays. Other services are advertised in German along the border,
including hairdressing, dentists, riding stables and pedicure (Langer 1996). Large numbers
of prostitutes patrol the pavements along the borders and night clubs, offering the same
services under a roof, are sprinkled along the roads. On each side of the border traffic
signs and services are offered in both languages, reflecting the frequent movement of
people from each nationality and many new border crossing points have been opened. On
the Eastern perimeter of the buffer zone and in the major cities, signs have once more
appeared in Russian (this language having disappeared from the public notices after the
break with Moscow), especially advertisements for money changing facilities. From being
economically deprived, depopulated and desolate places, the border areas (especially those
to the West) have become thriving economic regions which attract internal migration.
This resulted in an escalation in a phenomenon which had already existed to some extent
previously, known as shopping tourism. Shopping tourism was sometimes organised, with
bus trips planned and advertised to bring visitors to shopping centres in other countries.
But it also took place at an individual level with people travelling to fill their cars with
goods from across the border or going with large bags and trolleys on trains and busses.
Shopping tourism merges into trading when shoppers would buy goods for other people as
well as themselves or buy goods to re-sell at home. This is how many Western cars crossed
the border eastwards, as well as TV sets, washing machines, clothes and other domestic
items. Many of these items were bought second hand in the West - especially in Germany
and Austria. Second hand car dealers did a booming trade whilst another important trade
was in second hand clothes - often donated to charity - and then resold in shops in the East
or in the buffer zone. Second hand domestic items were snapped up from newspaper
advertisements and even wrecked or damaged cars and equipment found a market in spare
parts and re-cycled documents. The rise in crime following the opening of the Eastern
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15
borders of Europe meant that some goods were circulated even without the consent of their
erstwhile owners. Otherwise people would trade in one direction and buy goods for their
own consumption in the course of their travels across the border.
The main beneficiaries of the shopping tourism to Austria and Germany were the large stores
and small shops. However, to begin with, such stores and shops on the post-Communist side
of the borders were in short supply and those that existed were not customer-friendly, so
initially, many goods were sold on open air stalls by the side of the road and in markets. It
was only after the small privatisation programmes of the early 1990s released a lot of small
retail outlets, cafes and land for private development that the shops started to become more
commercial in their orientation and cater to consumer demand (Earle et al. 1994). In the first
place, therefore, small scale trading developed with individual traders offering a small range
of wares. The opening of the borders in 1989 resulted in a flurry of small scale street trading.
Sidewalks were cluttered with people trying to sell almost any kind of product; trains and bus
stations were crowded with people carrying enormous bags. (Later shuttle traders were
identifiable by the characteristically red blue and white striped bags, imported from China). In
the first explosion of capitalism, everywhere was turned literally into an open air market.
Small scale trading was a major form of import and export as consumer-famished customers in
the buffer zone hungrily consumed these products. Just walking round the street market
became a past-time. In the first explosion of wild capitalismall manner of products appeared
on the streets even whilst the shelves in the shops were still empty. Shortages still existed, but
at the same time anything could be bought on the street markets from cleaning fluid to
Kalashnikows, from perfumes to parrots.
The first traders, renowned throughout Eastern Europe, were Poles . These began their cross
border activities in the early 1980s when the arbitrary structure of domestic prices in Poland
along with the economic crisis created a demand for food and consumer goods which could
not be met domestically. However, from 1988 the movement of peoples across borders
escalated and started to become a common phenomena for all sections of the population. As
the old COMECON trading agreements started to disintegrate, the formal import-export
arrangements broke down and informal ones grew to fill the gap, at least for consumer
domestic products.
There was an influx of traders from Ukraine, Russia and Belarus selling goods in Poland
(Chmouliar 1997). So-called Russian marketsappeared like mushrooms after the rain in
every street and even in quite remote villages. They sold products which could be obtained
cheaply in those countries (often through theft from factories) such as tools, toys, glassware,
underwear, pins, clocks, watches. Traders stayed for just a few days, arriving on busses,
trains or in organised groups before returning to their normal jobs.
Trading of this kind was neither legal nor illegal. It was seen as a sign of the growing
opportunities of capitalism by both consumers and vendors. The artificially low price of items
such as electrical goods, cameras, vodka and food in the former Soviet Union meant that these
Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko: The Buffer Zone
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16
could be sold at a profit in central Europe and traders brought back goods which were
unavailable at home (for example ladies tights, condoms, cosmetics). Customs officers could
be easily persuaded to turn a blind eye in return for a share of the goods or some dollars.
Huge queues of cars waited sometimes for four days at the eastern borders of Poland because
there were very few border crossing points.
Soon, trade networks expanded and goods began to be imported from Turkey, China, India
and the United Arab Emirates, but mainly still by individuals with suitcases. Better organised
and financed trading ventures emerged with networks of agents and the importation of
wholesale goods. This activity was supported by a range of semi-official tourist organisations
which began to flourish in the former USSR. There one could obtain information about
opportunities for travel from travel agencies which helped to obtain passports, visas and
transportation. Newspapers and TV adverts, even specialist magazines, advertised different
things one could buy in different countries (for example cars driven from Brussels and
Germany). At first the black markets offered consumer goods at higher prices than in the
shops but increasingly they started to offer a wider range of goods at lower prices than could
be found in the formal retail sector. In these kinds of activities, shopping, petty trading and
tourism all overlapped.
From 1992 onwards the situation changed quite radically. From this time, the introduction of
taxation systems in the Central European countries of Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and Czech
Republic, along with their attempts to join the European Union (and associated partner status)
resulted in a crackdown on small scale trading in the buffer zone. As retail outlets were
privatised and shopping was able to move indoors, so the local business people began to see
street traders as a threat to their commerce and put pressure on the government or local
authorities to suppress it. The streets were cleared of the clutter of small traders displaying
their wares. The Eastern borders were increasingly controlled and smuggling limited
(although bribery could still find a way around this). There was an attempt to concentrate
traders into specific parts of town - usually the sports stadium - which were patrolled by
Economic Police. In these market places it was necessary to pay the market manager for a
place by the day or by the week or month. Licences were introduced for trading and traders
should pay taxes.
Finally migration into the buffer zone was controlled following fears about an influx of
Eastern Europeans trying to storm the walls of fortress Europe. This made it more and more
difficult for people from beyond the buffer zone to get in or to stay and foreigners were likely
to be stopped and asked to show their documents on the streets or in the markets. Those
without the right documents could be fined and deported or have their passport stamped so
that they could not return.
After 1992, hyper inflation in Russia and Ukraine and changes in the exchange rate, meant
that prices for many goods were now much higher than in the buffer zone countries. Instead
of coming to sell, the Ukrainians, Russians and Belarusians were increasingly coming to buy.
The stock piles of goods had run out and the factories had ceased to produce. Many workers
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17
were laid off or their factories closed down leaving them without work. Real wages fell.
During 1996 many people were simply not paid for months on end. Everybody was forced to
resort to other forms of income-generation, such as trading. This increased the competition
and made it less profitable. However, lack of production in countries such as Ukraine meant
that everything had to now be imported and most of this importation was carried out once
again by small-scale traders and shopping tourists. People risked fines and deportation to
make a few dollars from smuggling cigarettes or vodka from Ukraine to Slovakia and then buy
food and second hand clothes to take home, because otherwise they had no income or
insufficient on which to live. Now it was not so much profit as survival which was the
important incentive. However, at the same time consumption flourished and consumer
discrimination was nourished (previously people had bought whatever was available in case it
could not be found again).
Whilst in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia the clamp down on foreigners and upon
illegal trading had helped to clear the streets of traders, or at any rate, drive them
underground, in Poland the markets continued to flourish on a grand scale creating an
estimated 5 bn US dollars turnover, making it one of the biggest industries (in terms of
turnover) in Poland. According to official statistics in Poland, foreigners bought 4.8 per cent
of all retail goods in Poland, most of the purchasing being done by citizens of neighbouring
states. The biggest trade was on the Western borders in 1995, but the Eastern and Southern
borders showed the largest rate of growth since 1994 with a 66 per cent and 45 per cent
growth in the value of goods being taken out respectively. 3 Thus, this border trade can be
seen to be big business for Poland and is reckoned as an important element of Polish exports
to neighbouring countries. It is also an important element in developing the prosperity of the
border regions. Poland was producing once more for export to Eastern Europe, not on a
nationally planned basis, after the fashion of COMECON, but in the form of a myriad small,
private ventures. The goods (especially clothes, cosmetics, toiletries) produced in Poland
were thought to be better quality than the Chinese or Turkish and they were in great demand
East of the buffer zone. Although at an individual level this kind of shuttle trading was very
small scale (we are like antsin the words of one respondent we go everywhere with our
goods on our backs) in aggregate it is quite significant. As a result, Poland was described in
one economic report as the tigereconomy of Eastern Europe (Kurier 14 February 1997, p.
21).
Why was Poland fulfilling this role more than other countries? According to Polish
contributors to a volume by Wedel (1992) the activity known as handelwas a tradition of
continuous small scale trading which was associated with Jewish communities. After the large
Jewish population in Poland was exterminated, the tradition of handelcontinued, but now
carried out by Poles. It was further encouraged by the shortages in the Polish economy after
Communism and the relative freedom of Poles to travel. In addition, there exists a large
3From a special report by the Polish Central Statistical Office carried out in 1995. Results of this form part of
a special report commissioned as part of the project Mobility in the Buffer ZoneJubliaumsfonds der
Oesterreichische Nationalbank Report No. 5452 (Wallace 1997b)
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18
Polish Diaspora stretching from Central Asia and Siberia (as a result of deportations over the
last few centuries) to the USA and Australia. There are strong Polish communities in Austria
and Germany which maintain their national cohesiveness, often around the Polish Catholic
church. Poles therefore had a pre-existing network of contacts with whom to operate and it
is such networks which explain the way in which migration and the flow of goods takes place.
Although this kind of street trading has been replaced by small shops, normal retail and
wholesale services inside the buffer zone, it is still the main way of meeting consumer needs in
the countries to the East of the buffer zone. Open air markets were far more flexible than the
traditional retail sector which sold a dreary selection of goods set out in sorry displays in
dusty shop windows. The only alternative were the shops or sections of department stores
selling expensive western high class cosmetics and other such luxury goods at prices even
higher than in the West. These were usually empty. Markets, by contrast, were exciting,
lively places where the latest fashion items were displayed in an appealing way and where
personal toiletry items in interesting packaging could be bought. Markets themselves began
to become increasingly differentiated between wholesale markets, markets specialising in
vegetables and food, in animals or cars and parts for machines, in second hand goods and
markets specialising in new clothes and toiletries. The latter markets where often ones where
consumers and vendors were well dressed and where browsing through what was on display
had become a pleasurable activity in its own right. Displaying oneself had also become part of
the game.
How could people on such low incomes afford this kind of consumption? What was often for
sale in Ukrainian markets was fake copies of well known Western commercial brands. Hence
hair shampoos entitled Yves Sassoonwith Polish labels could be bought in street markets in
Ukraine or raincoats with carefully arranged Salamanderlabels (Salamander being a German
shop for retailing shoes, not raincoats). Labels were snipped out of second hand clothes or
used garments and carefully sewn on to these fakes. Indeed there was a business in Hungary
which specialised in producing these fake labels. The iconography of labels was therefore
independent of the goods themselves, since people were usually quite aware that these were
copies, but nevertheless preferred a westernlabel of some sort, even a misspelt one, than
goods without a label. Bulgarian tobacco was used to make authentic-looking American
cigarettes, which had higher status than local ones, in exact replicas of the US cigarette
packets.
Hungarian trading has some special features. In Hungary there is a large Chinese population
(estimated to be about 6-7000 ) which increased since the 1980s when it was first established
(Nyiri 1995). These Chinese operated a wholesale trade selling incredibly cheap clothes,
shoes, toys in bulk from the Far East, which are then bought by other traders for resale in
Hungary or elsewhere. Although Budapest was the main centre of their operation, the
Chinese have also opened wholesale warehouses in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Another distinctive feature of Hungary is that it borders Serbia which was until last year under
an international trade embargo and where prices for ordinary commodities continued to be
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19
very high. Hence, there were always queues of Serbian Excursionbuses waiting at the
Chinese market for their passengers to finish their shopping, but people also came from
Romania and Bulgaria to trade or to shop in Hungary mainly on the so-called Chinese
marketin Budapest. Meanwhile, the border regions also developed their own markets.
Places such as Pecs, Uzhgorod and Przemysl became important nodes of communication in
this cross-border flow of goods (Sik 1997).
Bulgarians generally sold pirated CDs and went back to Bulgaria with medical products,
vitamins, computer parts or things which they had purchased on the Chinese market. One man
stocked his shop in Bulgaria with baby products from Hungary, returning regularly over the
border with armfuls of Pampers! Another bought specialist herbal products and resold them in
Bulgaria. Another Bulgarian drove second hand German and Austrian cars across the border,
for a Bulgarian boss and on his way picked up spare parts for his own car repair business.
Romanians sold Romanian products - needles, watches, knives and other small things. One
man brought nuts from his garden sewn into the lining of his coat. However, they had to work
very hard to sell such things. With the money they earned, they brought home items which
they had purchased from the Chinese or elsewhere. Often people from Bulgaria, Ukraine and
Russia had to buy medical equipment and medicines for their relatives at home across the
border in the buffer zones where these things were readily available. East of the buffer zone,
the collapse in public services often meant that the patients themselves had to supply their own
medicines in hospital, but these were unavailable in shops. For this reason former Soviet
citizens also visited dentists and other specialised services in the buffer zone and paid directly
for these services.
Although it is often assumed that markets represent a kind of primitive stage in the evolution
of retail, this is not the case in Ukraine. Nor are conventional retail shops anywhere
necessarily better at bringing the goods to the customer. Traders had very small quantities of
goods and could change their stock very quickly and easily. Often the same person was
travelling to buy the goods and also selling them (or sometimes a family member was doing
this) so they were very sensitive to consumer demand and could rapidly adapt their strategies
to the seasons. The small scale of production and trade meant that they were able to be very
flexible - much more so than big Western stores which may buy new stock only twice a year.
They operated in a similar fashion to the post-Fordist style of decentralised production for
which Benetton is famous - one where the newest looks can appear in the shops in a very
short time, produced by a range of sub-contracted workshops using flexible production (Lury
1996):
However, not all traders were happy with their activities. Trading was seen as a rather
despised occupation and many of them were miserable doing it. Trading seemed to be felt to
be a generally shameful way of earning a living by most people because of its association with
speculators- a category highly condemned in the Soviet past. Even many of the more
successful traders apologised for doing this kind of work and very few seemed to want to do it
in the long term.
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20
In addition the journey to and from destinations could be exhausting. Traders generally take
local buses and trains rather than using the faster and more convenient international transport
in order to save money. Traders in Slovakia and Hungary could expect to be controlled by the
Economic Police at least once per day. They would then have to pay a fine for illegal trading.
They would negotiate the fine with the Police so that if they had fewer goods, it was lower.
At the border they had to face a constant ordeal - a very high tariff on imported goods was
introduced by the Ukrainian authorities in order to profit from this cross border traffic and
paying the tariff would make the shopping or trading trip no longer worthwhile. Therefore
goods had to be smuggled or customs officers bribed.
In the case of the organised bus shopping trips each passenger would contribute a fee for
bribing the customs officers either at the border or before even getting on the bus. For Serbs
going to the Chinese market in Hungary and in some cases for people going to Poland, charter
buses are still used. However, in Slovakia and in other countries, this kind of activity declined
when the border controls became more stringent: customers were not very happy when the
whole bus was turned back and had to wait for the next shift of customs officers or when the
feewas very high and cancelled out any advantages from the trip.
Since only native citizens were allowed to change money at banks, the majority of shoppers
and traders changed money illegally at the markets they visited or with regular illegal money
traders. Many of them had savings in dollars and deutshmarks. Money changing facilities
could be found at particular points in the town and the daily fluctuations in exchange rates for
dollars and deutschmarks are common knowledge for residents of Ukraine, Russia and
Belarus, even though foreign currency speculation was still illegal.
In fact these goods represented a flow from East to West and from West to East. Goods
bought in Germany and Austria (including TV sets, second hand clothes, electrical and
domestic equipment, computers, new and used cars) would be sold in the buffer zone to
Ukrainian and Russian traders who would transport them further East. Goods originating in
the former Soviet Union or in the Chinese warehouses such as cigarettes, vodka, shoes, shirts,
swimming suits, would be sold by East European traders to citizens of the buffer zone who
would then sell them in Germany and Austria. Cigarettes, for example, were packaged to look
like American brands or were sold cheaply under licensing agreements in the former Soviet
Union. The ultimate destination of many of these cigarettes, after changing hands many times
in westward chain, was Germany and Austria. The trade was the product of visa regimes,
taxes and the selective control of borders. Since people from the former Soviet Union could
not easily travel to the West, some citizens of the buffer zone were able to make a living or to
supplement their incomes by bringing such goods from one border to another. This kind of
activity was subject to very rapid change depending upon exchange rates, the stringency of the
customs and border police, visa requirements and the relative prices and standard of living on
each side of the border. Such traffic across the border required information about relative
prices and shopping or trading opportunities and this information would flow through ethnic,
family and social network grapevines so that such opportunities were a frequent topic of
discussion.
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21
Consumption styles, fashion and taste started to become an important source of differentiation
(Bourdieu 1984). In some cases ethnic groups differentiated themselves by their consumption
styles. Those who identified with relatives or conationals in Germany or Hungary (in the case
of Germans and Hungarians in Romania for example) tried to differentiate themselves through
their superior westerntaste and possessions. Citizens of the buffer zone often felt superior
to their Eastern neighbours on the grounds that the latter had primitive tastes in clothes,
fashion accessories and domestic interior architecture and equipment. They were regarded as
backward and under-developed people on these grounds. People demonstrated how western
and modernthey were based upon their styles of consumption.
2 The circulation of capital
Another form of circulation is that of capital and investment. It was believed by many people
in the buffer zone that foreign investment would help to restructure domestic industry away
from the large industrial plants and towards more high-technology and service industries.
There has been significant foreign investment in the buffer zone countries, but much of it has
come from the neighbouring countries of Austria and Germany. In each country either Austria
or Germany (or both) are the main sources of foreign investment (Wallace 1997). The main
exception is Poland, where the USA plays the greatest role. Chart 4 indicates the way in
which Austrian investment has moved away from Western Europe and is increasingly directed
towards the neighbouring countries of the East. The buffer zone countries have therefore
come under the economic influence of Germany and to some extent, Austria. Given the
displacement of people described in the first part of this paper, it is evident that there are many
personal and historical connections between people from Germany and Austria and those
countries to the East. Many German and Austrian citizens originated in the buffer zone
countries and are able to speak or understand the relevant languages there and this can be an
advantage in developing trade and investment links.
Chart 4. The shift of investment from West to East: Austrian Direct Investment by
Destination Countries
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22
Austrian Direct Investment 1985 and 1994
0 5 10 15 20 25 30
Other countries
Hungary
Germany
Czech Republic
USA
Switz.Lichtenstein
Netherlands
UK
Slovakia
1985
1994
Source: Wallace 1997
However, rather than helping to restructure local industries, much of the investment has been
into the older and more traditional areas of the economy - into large industrial plants, car
manufacture and so on (Wallace 1997). Rather than making these plants more modern, the
foreign investment has tended to preserve their large-scale monopolistic structure. For foreign
firms, the buffer zone countries represent a cheap but skilled workforce. Table 5 illustrates the
difference in average wages between he different countries under consideration. From their
perspective , the industrial plant already exist and there are few environmental controls of the
kind existing in Germany and Austria or elsewhere in the European Union. Even where plants
are built de novo, they are still cheaper than opening a similar plant in Germany or Austria.
Parts of the production process in many industries have therefore been transferred to the
buffer zone. The automobile industry is one example. Thus, many of the heavy industries have
been closed or scaled down in Austria and Germany but these are the very sectors which are
targets of foreign investment in the buffer zone. There is therefore perhaps a connection
between the de-industrialisation of the Western European neighbouring countries and the
perpetuation of old-fashioned industries in the buffer zone (Wallace 1997).
Chart 5 Comparative per capita income (exchange rate measures) in 1995. Austria =
100.
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23
Germany
Austria
Czech Republic
Hungary
Poland
0 20 40 60 80 100 120
Per capita income
Germany
Austria
Czech Republic
Hungary
Poland
Country
Comparative per capita income (exchange rate
measures) 1995 Austria=100
For Austrian firms, the main reason given for this investment was to secure future markets
because the buffer zone is seen as a potential future source of expansion (see Wallace 1997).
Indeed some companies actually moved entirely out of Germany and Austria and simply
relocated over the border - the Austrian car tyre manufacturer, Semperit, is an example of this
as it relocated in the Czech Republic.
However, Austrian and German capital can also be seen in the range of banks which opened
branches in the buffer zone in order to further help trade and investment. One of the main
ones, the Raiffeisenkasse, claims that it makes more money from its Eastern European
subsidiaries than it does from its many thousands of branches in Austria and Bavaria, where it
is the main rural bank. In addition Supermarket chains have moved in, many of them being
also Austrian and German. Billa, the Austrian supermarket chain, was attractive for take-over
by a German company precisely because of its foothold in the East European market.
Increasingly for Austrian and German business the neighbouring countries to the East are the
most attractive prospects for expansion.
Many German and Austrian firms have developed flexible production strategies whereby some
of their work is sub-contracted eastwards and then reimported as finished products. In their
desire to attract foreign investment, the buffer zone countries have offered attractive tax
breaks and lifted restrictions on the flow of capital. However, some such ventures are still
handicapped by the corruption and legal uncertainty which plagues the privatisation process.
It seems therefore that investment has turned eastwards - but not very far eastwards - only just
across the borders. Although globalisation is often talked about as a world-wide process, in
this region it is a local process. Steel and chemical production shifts not to Bombay but to
Brno, which is only 70 kilometers away across the border. The relatively higher costs of
production there (compared with locations in the developing world) is compensated by the
convenience of location. This results in a regional division of labour with heavy industrial jobs
Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko: The Buffer Zone
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24
going to the buffer zone in unmodernized plants, forcing business in Germany and Austria to
become more flexible.
We are arguing that for this region, globalisation in the sense of the circulation of capital,
displacement of jobs and industries and movement of people, does not take place at a world-
wide level but is rather regionalized. Furthermore, the patterns of investment, trade and
mobility follow established cultural and social patterns. Much of the Austrian investment, for
example, and mobility to and from to Austria can be seen as recreating former cultural links
along the Danube basin and within the Austro-Hungarian empire. German patterns of
investment also tend to follow the earlier patterns of settlement and influence with Germans
being a larger trading partner for Poland than for Hungary, whilst Austrians are more
important in the latter country. This is partly associated with established linguistic, ethnic and
family links across the borders which act as conduits for other kinds of economic exchange.
This phenomenon could also be seen as a distinguishing characteristic of economies such as
those of Germany and Austria for whom neighbouring countries, rather than countries outside
of Europe, have always been important for trade and for cultural exchange. This is in contrast
to countries such as the USA and UK which have had a different pattern of industrial
development and for whom world wide links are more important (Lash and Urry 1994,
Traxler and Unger1994). It could be that this regionalisation is therefore continuing more
established traditions in Germany and Austria.
3. Circulation of people
It was not only jobs which moved from Germany and Austria and towards workers in the
buffer zone countries, but also workers who moved towards jobs in Germany and Austria.
These two countries having absorbed the majority of Eastern European guest workers. Buffer
zone citizens working in Germany and Austria filled the typical role of guest workers in
foreign countries (Stalker 1994). They undertake jobs on the bottom layers of the labour
market, especially in agriculture, personal services (domestic cleaning for example) or
construction. Some half a million Czechs are working in Germany and most of these are just
across the border in prosperous Bavaria -this represents some 1.5 per cent of the Czech
workforce (Horakova 1993). Germany and Austria have agreed annual quotas of seasonal
workers with their Eastern neighbours who have increasingly replaced Turks, Yugoslavs,
Portuguese and Italians as guest workers(Morakvasic and Rudolph 1994).4 They are
preferred as guest workers since they are often highly skilled and well educated, do not make
demands upon the health and social security system (since they go home at the end of the
week or even the end of the day) and are of course, cheaper to employ. Although officially
they should be given the same money as native workers, in practice this was seldom the case
(Horakova 1993). They may also work longer hours. As well as these official guest workers,
4The traditional pattern of migration to the German-speaking countries was in the form of guest workers,
drawn mainly form Southern Europe and the Mediterranean until recently. Many were encouraged to go
home went their contracts ended but many also settled, especially after family reunion was allowed in the
1970s.
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25
there are a large number who enter on their touristvisas and work unofficially, although
control of such illegal workers by the authorities is increasingly stringent.
However, people travelling to Western Europe from the buffer zone is only part of the story.
The other part is people travelling form further East into the buffer zone in order to undertake
similar kinds of activities. They are resident in the buffer zone countries as migrant workers
and have the same status as guest workersin Germany and Austria. They are even called
Gastarbeiteryin a slavic appropriation of the German word.
Much of the circulation of people took place in the form of migrant workers. In the post-
Communist countries, the majority of native workers were traditionally manual workers in
large enterprises - the labour market was heavily weighted towards its bottom end. Recent
research indicates that even despite the liberalisation and modernisation of the labour market
through opening to foreign investment and privatisation, the majority of the jobs of the local
population continue to be manual ones, and foreign investment may even have reinforced this
tendency as foreign investors invested mainly in heavy traditional industries (Wallace 1997).
What is lacking is a large or thriving service sector of the kind in Western Europe and
although this is expanding in the buffer-zone countries, it is expanding only by a small amount
relative to the manual sector. Therefore there is space for foreigners to come in and develop
the service sector, and indeed, this is where new skills are required. Much of this
development has been concentrated in the main cities, where in fact most of the foreigners are
working. The opening and reconstruction of the economy created many service industries
associated with tourism and communications -language schools, cafes, video sales, marketing
and so on - which were more or less new and were rapidly expanding sectors. Furthermore,
many foreign experts were brought in with international companies, as advisorsor just to try
their luck in a newly expanding region. The better educated migrants were able to find places
in these sectors or to start business and we found that this group often earned more than the
native population. Many of these migrants came from the West.
Not all migrant workers were disadvantaged in the labour market. Some could command
very specialist skills which were much in demand - language skills and computer skills, for
examples. It is notable that they were often working in the he new sectors of employment - in
service and communications sectors. Some used Higher Education as a means of mobility - by
applying for scholarships or educational places in their destination country they were able to
live there legally.
The opening of these economies to global capitalism lead to the importation of a range of
Western expertsand multinational companies. In these cases the international institution
took care of all arrangements. These migrants were highly paid and often able to bring their
families with them because special provisions were made for the families. They were clearly
valued workers of the company/institution and cared for by the institution. For people working
in international organisations, there were no language problems because English was the
lingua franca (no matter what the national origin of the company), so the native workers were
in the same position of advantage or disadvantage as the non-natives in these companies.
Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko: The Buffer Zone
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26
Indeed, the natives were often paid less than the foreigners which was the cause of some
resentment. Workers in these companies formed a sort of transnational community of their
own as they were often moved after a while to different locations This may also be part of
company strategy to provide recreation and relocation conditions for families in order to
create a transnational, mobile community of professionals (Anisimova 1995).
Some migrants managed to successfully establish businesses in the destination country. They
may have moved there originally in order to escape economic collapse (in the case of the
Armenians and some Ukrainians), to avoid anti-Semitism or to avoid being a national minority
(in the case of the Hungarian-Romanians) or wars and the consequences of an international
embargo (the case of Serbs, Croats and Bosnians). However, once they arrived, they were
able to establish businesses, which may actually take advantage of their migrant status - for
example using import/export trading or acting as middlemen and go-betweens for their
compatriots.
Another category we have termed post modern migrants. Post modern migrants differ from
other migrants in that the purpose of their trip is most often fun, adventure or self-fulfilment
rather than earning a living. Post-modern migrants often have lower salaries in their
destination country than they would have had back home and often live on money which is
sent form home (rather than vice versa as in the case of the classicmodern migrant). The
main examples of this was the 12-20 000 Americans living in the Czech Republic (mainly
Prague) who founded their own English language newspapers, radios, book stores and even
restaurants. Post-modern migrants are generally young and without any family
responsibilities which is why they are able to prioritise their own goals and aspirations.
Migration for them is part of a life-strategy to gain experience before going on to careers at
home or elsewhere.
The majority of migrant workers from the East in to the buffer zone were low paid manual
workers, similar to the Gastarbeiterin Germany and Austria. The main target for these guest
workers is the Czech Republic where a very low unemployment rate and a boom in
construction helps to attract guest workers from Ukraine and elsewhere. The numbers of work
permits granted has increased everywhere. The largest increase in work permits are for
Ukrainian workers, who officially number about 40 000 However, the unofficial numbers are
estimated to be at least twice that high (Drbohlov 1997). In the Czech Republic there were
about 67 000 work permits granted in 1995, in Slovakia this was 2 700, 20 000 in Hungary
and 11-12 000 in Poland in 1995. However, our research and that of others (see Drbohlav
1997) indicates that the majority are working without any working permission, although they
may have residence rights as students or tourists. Thus unofficial working figures ranges
from twice the legal number (usually cited in the Czech Republic) to ten times the legal
number (usually cited in Poland). This is despite the fact that Poland has an unemployment
rate of 14.9 per cent, Slovakia 12.8 per cent and Hungary 10.3 per cent (WIIW 1996 a).
Guest workers are still preferable to native workers, especially in seasonal work, because they
work longer hours for only half the wages of the locals and will work weekends and holidays
as well.
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27
Most of this work is organised through middlemen (known as clients) who recruit workers in
the former Soviet Union and take up to half their wages as payment. They pay their workers
approximately half of the local wages (usually $1-2) and often arranged accommodation for
them in barracks or on the construction site itself (in one case they were living in a hostel for
the homeless). The middlemen also arrange bribes or working permissions or whatever is
necessary for the people to work either legally or illegally. The workers preferred usually to
take only a small amount of spending money for their stay and to collect the bulk of their
salary at the end of their stay, as a way of saving. The middlemen profited from this by getting
interest from the bank and in some cases did not pay the workers at all or only part of their
salaries. Given their illegal status, the workers could do nothing about this.
Usually workers stayed for about 2 months and then went home. At the border they would
have to pay a fine for outstaying their voucher period which was for one month only (this fine
was usually between $10 and $30) but was still worth paying in return for the greater amount
of money they were able to earn. Wages in the buffer zone were between 2 times and 10 times
higher than wages back home.
As with shopping, trading and investment, lines of communication for migrant workers tended
to follow ethnic and family ties or other social networks. In Hungary, the majority of migrant
workers were ethnic Hungarians from Romania and according to Hars (1995) many of them
also did the sort of construction jobs which Ukrainians were doing elsewhere. However, in
our sample, ethnic Hungarians were mostly young, male and middle class with some Higher
Education - and very ambitious. Their strategy was often to undertake another Higher
Education course in Hungary and to remain in Hungary to become Hungarian citizens. This
group were able to speak the language fluently already and saw many advantages to being in a
place which they regarded as having a higher cultural level (at least for Hungarians) than
Romania. Furthermore, they were no longer in the position of a national minority. Within a
few years they lost their regional accents and were more or less assimilated as Hungarians.
This group usually had many friends in Hungary, had visited often and found jobs through the
labour exchange or the newspaper. They took advantage of scholarships which were available
to them. Many of them were therefore students and working at the same time. Usually,
whatever their specialisms were previously in Romania, they moved towards computing and
communications studies in Hungary and were able to find good jobs as a result. They had
little interest in going back to Romania, especially since many of their friends had also
emigrated.
Migrant workers enter different sections of the labour market depending both on their own
skills and upon the needs of the labour market. Since the majority of our respondents were
illegal migrant workers, they were automatically consigned to particular parts of the labour
market. Migrant manual workers were found mainly in the construction industry, usually
constructing private houses. However, some were also found in agriculture and in factory
work. Whereas men were construction workers, it was often women who were working in
factories such as textiles or shoe manufacture. It was sometimes the case that these enterprises
Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko: The Buffer Zone
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28
where eastern European women were working either legally or illegally, were ones owned by
foreign or western companies who had subcontracted services to a local middleman, who in
turn hired foreign workers to cut costs and increase his share. Another niche for women was
as personal service workers. Just as an increasing number of private households in Germany
and Austria are able to take advantage of casual migrant labour to have a domestic cleaner or
someone to look after children and elderly parents, so this is increasingly the case in the buffer
zone countries where these tasks are undertaken by women from further east.
For those workers who are working illegally, it is particularly important to be sheltered by
social, family or ethnic networks through which information can flow and which can help with
providing accommodation, transport and so on. Increasingly the requirements for a work
permit must be fulfilled before the migrant comes into the country, so migrants need to have
information about working opportunities before they set off. There has been a long tradition
of people from Transcarpathia and parts of Western Ukraine working seasonally. Since there
were few industries, but people were anchored by their houses, their small plots of land and
their families, they traditionally went elsewhere to seek work. However, it is an indication of
the economic crisis in the Ukraine that these traditional migrant workers are joined by people
from other parts of Ukraine who were not traditionally migrant. Previously they went to
Russia or Siberia, often working in logging camps and they were able to earn very good
incomes. However, this has become more difficult now due to the break up in relations
between the two countries and due to the unreliable nature of payment in Russia. As one
respondent put it: you might get a lot of money or you might get nothing at all if the boss
refuses to pay you. Or your money might be stolen by the Mafia. Another place they might
go would be Eastern Ukraine to help with the harvest, but some respondents pointed out that
they were no longer paid in cash there so much as in kind and it was sometimes difficult to get
the grain or wood back to Transcarpathia. Now most migrants go to the Czech Republic
where there is still a strong demand for workers and low unemployment and where wages can
be higher. Others go to the other buffer zonecountries which we have considered here,
typically as construction workers. The numbers leaving for work away from home have
reached record proportions. According to the Transcarpathian authorities, around 12 000
people each year leave the country for the nearest abroad, about 18 per cent of the workforce,
estimated to be about one third to one half of all the young men. At the border there is a
steady flow of busses taking men to work in the Czech Republic (from field work carried out
at the Ukrainian border in August 1996). Ukrainian workers often came from the same
region of Ukraine - Western Ukraine and Transcarpathia - on the borders of the buffer zone
and indeed, this region was in fact previously part of Czechoslovakia and Poland. We found
they often came from the same towns and villages, which lead us to look more closely at this
region and to carry out some fieldwork there.
Many others used ethnic, family and friendship networks. As in the case of trading,
information often flowed through loose networks of ties. Often families found jobs for each
other or even worked together at the same place (there were a number of examples of this)
with one member of the family being replaced by another when they went home for a period.
This tended to reinforce the pattern of traditional ethnic connections - Belarusians and
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29
Western Ukrainians to Poland, Romanians and ethnic Hungarians to Hungary and
Transcarpathians to Czech and Slovak Republics. However, new ties were being forged as
travellers were concerned to develop strategic links with the most relevant usual people in the
country to which they travelled -with middle men for example.
The migrant themselves represented only one part of family situation which spanned the two
countries (Sidorenko 1996). In most cases it was the man who was the migrant labourer and
the women who was the trader. Often this was a husband-wife strategy since he would bring
goods home for her to sell. In addition she may do some additional trading herself. This was
the basic survival strategy of many Ukrainian households. As already previously mentioned
this might be combined with house building and peasant small holding to supplement living
standards.
The former Communist regime had encouraged a sense of intense family solidarity and mutual
help between generations (Mozny 1994). It seems that under the new circumstances family
solidarity was also a form of survival (Wallace 1995b). Indeed, we might argue that a sort of
amoral familismwas emerging whereby with a collapsing state which was seen with
bitterness by many respondents in Ukraine for not taking care of them better was not seen as
a source of loyalty or obligation. The main loyalty was first and foremost to the family which
demanded the strongest support and sacrifice. Next in priority was the loose network of
friends and connections which needed to be attended to for instrumental, but sometimes also
for other reasons (Wallace et al. 1997).
Here we can compare the results with the work of Sassen (1996) who claims that migrant
workers are usually an informalized sub-group at the bottom of the labour market. This was
certainly the case with the buffer zone citizens working as guest workers in Germany and
Austria. It was also the case with many of the Eastern European guest workers working in the
buffer zone. However, the situation of the buffer zone as a newly opened capitalist region
resulted also in the need for a layer of foreign experts and people with special skills in newly
forming parts of the economy, ones in which indigenous workers were not so well equipped to
work. One source of these were emigres who had fled the previous regimes, or the children of
emigres who returned with skills, capital and ambition and who were sometimes able to
reclaim property.
In general, we could say that the flow of skilled workers was from West to East, whilst the
flow of unskilled workers was from East to West.
Another influx of people into the region was in the form of refugees. The war in Yugoslavia
lead to 4-5 million refugees, the majority of whom were displaced within the territory of the
former Yugoslavia. One million found their way into Europe. Whereas to begin with
Germany was the main target country with three quarters of asylum seeker in 1991 applying
there, the tightening of the legislation after 1992 lead to a sharp drop and asylum seekers
being pushed towards other countries (Münz 1995). The countries of Western Europe
responded by closing their borders to the victims of ethnic cleansing in Croatia, Bosnia,
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30
Voyvodina and Kosovo which pushed many people into the buffer zone. The main recipient
of refugees in the buffer zone was Hungary. They arrived in two waves. Between 1988 and
1991, 51 533 arrived from Romania escaping from the still repressive regime there. Their aim
was to settle in Hungary (Nagy 1995). In the second wave, 68 262 arrived from the former
Yugoslavia, but their main aim was to return to their homes as soon as possible and many of
them refused to leave the Southern border strip which was nearest to their countries. Many of
them have in fact returned already. Although the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia have
also received refugees, these number only 1-3000 in each country - most of them were also
from the former Yugoslavia. However, the majority of people fleeing from the former
Yugoslavia are not registered as refugees and instead fall into one or the other of the other
main categories of migrants described here: traders, students or workers. In 1993 the numbers
of refugees from the former Yugoslavia dropped.
Certain ethnic groups more or less specialised in trading and in particular types of economic
activity. Vietnamese immigrants were particularly conspicuous in the Czech Republic. They
originally worked there as part of a fraternalagreement between Socialist countries, as guest
workers. In 1992 many of their contracts were terminated and there was an attempt to send
them home. However, at this point many changed their activities and began street trading.
The result is that there are just as many, if not more of these traders than in former times and
the Czech Government even agreed a quota of migrants each year. The Chinese are from
mainland China and specialise in restaurants and in wholesale goods which are bought by other
traders either at the Chinese market in Budapest or from wholesale houses situated in most
border areas of the buffer zone (IOM 1995, Nyiri 1995).
People from the former Yugoslavia either escaping military service or economic ruin, often
began their new lives in the buffer zone as traders. In Prague much of the trading of goods for
tourists was done by people from the former Yugoslavia for whom this was a short term way
to make a living, although some began to develop longer term ventures. Purchasing a business
license is one way in which to get a residence permit and this encouraged migrants to open
small businesses.
The importance of ethnic, cultural and historical connections
Thus we can see that although economic imperatives play an important part in the circulation
of peoples, cultural and social factors are also important. Economic changes can tell us part
of the story about why mobility of people, capital or goods takes place, but social and cultural
explanations can tell us who actually moves and how (Portes 1995). Political decisions in
terms of visa requirements for different national groups, customs, residence and working
permission policies also affect how economic relations take place.
The patterns of migration in Central Europe tend to follow cultural and historical patterns.
People move to places where they can speak the language or have friends and relatives.
Furthermore, they do not in general move very far - they go mainly to the neighbouring
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31
countries. Refugees from former Yugoslavia often went to Germany and Austria because
many of their friends and relatives were living there as guest workers. People from Poland and
Hungary and the Czech Republic joined communities of their compatriots who were already
living in Germany and Austria.
Here we can distinguish between a state border and a socio-cultural border. State borders are
rather arbitrarily imposed following major wars and do not necessarily reflect the ethno-
cultural composition of the population. By ethnic cleansing and other measure the two can be
forced to coincide (Gellner 1983). The political settlements of the interwar yeas created state
borders where none before had existed and this process continues into the present day. The
violent ethnic reorganisation of the war time and post-war period reinforced these borders and
the iron curtain sealed people from each other even more forcibly. The ethno-cultural
communities which straddled such borders have now once more begun to take shape and
rediscover common forms of communication (Wallace 1998). This is why in this region
people normally make a distinction between nationality - ones ethnic group - and citizenship -
the country in which one is registered as living. Both might be found on a persons passport.
Although nationality and citizenship may coincide, for very many people in the region, they
do not.
In Poland, migrants were either Poles whose families had been deported to Central Asia and
Siberia under Stalin or people with Polish connections from neighbouring Ukraine and
Belarus. Otherwise there were Russians, Ukrainians and people from Belarus, the
neighbouring countries who did not find it too difficult to learn the language. In Hungary we
find mainly migrants from Romania, either ethnic Hungarians from Transylvania or from
neighbouring Serbia and Croatia. In Slovakia we find migrants mainly from Transcarpathia ,
formerly part of Czechoslovakia. In the Czech Republic we find mainly migrants from
Ukraine and Slovakia or Poland. The earlier ethnic purges and boundary changes described in
the first section have left their historical traces in a web of family and ethnic connections which
can now be revived.
However, there are also some longer distance migrants, including the Chinese and Vietnamese
and the Armenians and Georgians who have occupied a particular place in the social structure.
These new circulations of people has helped to create some new ethnic groups - Chinese and
Vietnamese traders, workers and business people are new to the region. The western English
teachers and advisers or employees of international companies can also be seen in this context.
Moving to another country, even if only for a brief period requires resources and these
resources may include language skills, family networks and information flows through ethnic
nets and contacts (Sik 1994). Even the white, middle class Americans and post-modern
migrants used information transmitted through email, newspaper articles and letters to their
co-nationals back home and this was why the majority of them went to Prague. People are
willing to move mostly only as far as their resources will allow them and here the previous
patterns of criss-crossing ethnic ties or more recent settlement patterns start to become a
Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko: The Buffer Zone
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32
resource. For the most part, in Central Europe, these stretch only short distances - just across
the border in fact - so peoples commuting and travelling horizons are restricted thus far.
In Germany and Austria it is often believed that a large number of migrants would settle
permanently there from the East if they only had half a chance. In fact very few of our
respondents (from 350 interviews collected so far) mentioned any ambition of this kind. Their
main aim was to go only a short way from home and then to return with money to support
their families. Those with ambitions to emigrate often wanted to emigrate not to Western
Europe, but to the buffer zone countries (although their ambitions may well have been shaped
by the fact that they knew that emigration to Western Europe was very restricted). A
significant minority (about 20 per cent) of our respondents did have ambitions to settle in the
buffer zone. They said that in the buffer zone countries they felt more at home, and were
more familiar with the language, culture and life-style. Furthermore, they pointed out that with
a Polish, Czech or Hungarian passport, they could visit the European Union in any case if they
wanted to. Since these buffer zone countries are expected to join the European Union in any
case, it was a viable medium term strategy. Rather than crossing the border, they were
waiting for the border to cross them.
However, these new forms of circulation also revive older ethnic relations, sometimes
antagonistically. In a paper by Hann (n.d. ) he analyses the increasing tensions in the town of
Przemysl on the Polish/Ukrainian border from which Ukrainians were purged and which has
lingering memories of Ukrainian brutality during the Second World War. The return of
Ukrainians in the form of cross-border traders and shopping tourists has helped to waken
some of these tensions and encourage Polish nationalist rhetoric. Elsewhere in Poland, the
mobility of people have made it possible for the German minority, suppressed for many years,
to become more militant and even to form their own political party. In all the buffer zone
countries, foreigners were initially welcomed as signs of a new openingbut attitudes against
foreigners have gradually hardened according to some surveys( Csepeli and Sik 1995).
With increasing communication can also come friction and the revival of other antagonisms
too. Thus, the ancient antagonisms between Czechs and Germans have resurfaced in a string
of complaints about the behaviour of German tourists in the Czech Republic and their
mistreatment by Czechs. For example, there were complaints by the Germans about being
harassed and even shot at for traffic violations in the Czech Republic and by the Czechs, most
recently, that Germans are coming across the border at Cheb to dump their rubbish and avoid
high disposal charges in Germany (Prague Post Feb 12-18 1997). A continually weeping sore
in the Czech relations with Germany is the question of the Sudetendeutsch, 2.9 million of
whom were expelled between 1945 and 1948 and who formed societies of expatriates in their
countries of exile (mostly Germany and Austria). These expatriate societies are now
demanding compensation (although in fact they were already compensated) and the right to
resettle or reclaim their former properties. They have been active in the local politics of their
former towns and homelands (Müller and Uherek 1997). This point is frequently raised in
negotiations between the two countries.
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33
These circulation of people also results in the transfer of consumer aspirations, life styles and
tastes. The small suitcase traders discover new consumer trends in the Polish street markets
which they then take back to Ukraine. This kind of small scale production is able to be very
flexible and responsible to consumer tastes and needs. Styles of living seen on TV or in shops
are transmitted from Austria and Germany to the buffer zone and then from the buffer zone
eastwards leading to certain regional fashions. This can be seen most clearly in house
building, since buffer zone building workers work on private houses in Germany and Austria
whilst Ukrainian building workers work in the buffer zone. Certain fashionable features for
houses are transferred or spread within the region at a rapid rate (for example, flights of steps
up to the front door, arched windows, turrets, arcades and swimming pools or small lakes in
the garden).
Until now we have discussed the issue of people moving across borders. But it is also the case
that the border itself moves. Many people in this region have become migrants without ever
moving. Poland was moved some 500 kilometres westward at the end of the Second World
War, and the eastward borders have likewise changed many times. An elderly person living in
Uzhgorod, for example, could have been a citizen of Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Russia and
Ukraine without ever leaving home. These changes of border nevertheless left many people
with family and cultural links which straddle the border and these family and cultural links
were being revived once more when the borders are opened. The rapidly changing contours
of the European Union open up this possibility once more.
Old and New Enemies: attitudes to neighbours and immigrants
The Central European Buffer Zone which we have described so far was always historically a
buffer between different European Empires. The region has seen many battles, boundary
changes and changes in rulers, nearly all of them foreign ones, over the centuries. The
struggles for independence begun in the nineteenth century and still being fought now gave
people in the region a sense of the arbitrariness of citizenship and very strong feeling for the
historical importance of their nationhood - and also its vulnerability to foreign powers. For
the last few centuries the Buffer Zone was carved up between the Austrian, German, Russian
and Turkish Empires and for many of these lands it was an unhappy experience of feudal
foreign oppression. In this century alone, they have been invaded by Soviet, German,
American, British and French armies and some countries lost up to one third of their
population in the last war. The opening of borders and the opening of societies have allowed
both new and old fears to surface, even though more nations are more independent than they
have ever been.
For the Buffer Zone countries the most recent historical threats have come on the western side
from Germany (the last invasion is remembered very vividly by the older generation) and on
the eastern side by the Soviet Union, dominated by Russia. Although the Soviet Union has
been dismantled, Russia is still seen has having potentially expansionist ambitions. For this
reason we looked at the attitudes towards Russia and Germany in the Buffer Zone and
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34
surrounding countries using the New Democracies Barometer. We can see from Charts and
that there is far more fear of Russia than there is of Germany. Less than 50% of people in all
countries fear Germany but in many countries more than 50% see Russia as a threat. The
Buffer Zone countries see Russia as much more of a threat than do Bulgaria, Ukraine or
Belarus - these latter countries have many socio-cultural and political links with Russia which
the Buffer Zone countries do not. The Buffer Zone countries which immediately border
Germany - Poland and the Czech Republic - both see it as more of a threat than do the other
countries in the region. However, we can see that whilst fear of Germany has fallen
dramatically in Poland since 1992, in the Czech Republic it has actually risen - although only
slightly.
We might expect a sense of threat from powerful neighbours to have declined over the time
that these countries have been independent and have become more politically stable and
economically prosperous. In fact the opposite is the case. Looking at the differences between
1992 and 1996, we can see that six of the nine countries feel more threatened by Russia than
in 1992 and the same number feel more threatened by Germany. In the case of Romania, it
could be the Russian intervention and occupation of part of neighbouring (and socio-ethnically
similar) Moldova by the Russian (formerly Soviet) Fourteenth Army enhanced a sense of
threat from Russia. In the case of Slovenia, it was the fear of traditional Russian support for
the Serbs which may have increased this sense of threat. With other countries it is more
difficult to explain given that the Russian troops all left these countries just prior to 1992. In
the case of threat from Germany, it could be Germanys economic dominance of the region
which is seen as potentially threatening.
Chart 6 Perceived threat by Russia: 1992 and 1996
Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko: The Buffer Zone
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35
Perceived threat by Russia: 1992-1996
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
Poland
Czech
Republic
Romania
Slovakia
Hungary
Slovenia
Ukraine
Belarus
Bulgaria
Percent feeling threatened
1992
1996
Source: New Democracies Barometer 1992 and 1996, Paul Lazarsfeld Gesellschaft, Vienna n=18 000
(Question: Do you think that Germany poses a threat or no threat to peace and security in this society?)
Chart 7 Perceived threat by Germany: 1992 and 1996
Perceived threat by Germany: 1992 and 1996
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
Poland
Czech
Republic
Slovakia
Belarus
Romania
Ukraine
Hungary
Slovenia
Bulgaria
Percent threatened
1992
1996
Source: New Democracies Barometer 1992 and 1996, Paul Lazarsfeld Gesellschaft, Vienna n=18 000
(Question: Do you think that Germany poses a threat or no threat to peace and security in this society?)
So much for old enemies. What about the new foreigners? We have already indicated that
these societies have experienced an influx of foreigners which although small in absolute terms
(not more than 1.6% of the population) is a new experience historically in societies which
were cut off from contact with visitors. We can see however, from Chart p that comparing
1992 and 1996, the sense of threat from migrants and refugees has gone down over the period
in most countries. The exceptions are Slovakia and Ukraine - in Slovakia the sense of threat
from foreigners and migrants since independence has grown quite dramatically, even though
Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko: The Buffer Zone
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36
our comparative research indicates that Slovakia receives much fewer refugees and migrants
than do all the other Buffer Zone countries. In general, despite the increase in the number of
refugees and migrants, the sense that they are a threat to the peace and security of the country
has gone down. We can see from Chart 8 that the Buffer Zone countries are feel generally
more threatened by migrants and refugees than do the countries further east and south. This is
because they have received the greatest numbers of migrants and refugees, whereas the
countries to the East and South are mostly those who are sending migrants and refugees. The
number of people feeling threatened from migrants and refugees is still quite high at between
20 and 30 per cent in most countries, even though it is falling.
Chart 8 Perceived threat by migrants and refugees: 1992 and 1996
Perceived threat by migrants and refugees
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
Hungary
Slovakia
Czech
Republic
Slovenia
Belarus
Poland
Bulgaria
Romania
Ukraine
Percent feeling threatened
1992
1996
Source: New Democracies Barometer 1992 and 1996, Paul Lazarsfeld Gesellschaft, Vienna n=18 000
“Do you think, that ethnic groups and minorities within our country pose a threat (=big threat + some threat) or no threat (=a little threaten
threat) to peace and security in this society?”
Conclusions: the future of the Buffer Zone
The countries of Central Europe that we have been describing have historically formed an
unfortunate buffer zone between East and West. The most recent division is between the
European Union/Nato and the former-Communist countries. However, we can now echo the
words of Timothy Garten Ash (1997) when we say that Eastern Europe no longer exists.
Instead the former Communist block has broken up into a range of distinct regions which are
becoming more and more distinct. The Central European Buffer Zone is one such region as
are the newly independent countries of the former Soviet Union to the East, the Baltic region,
South Eastern region and so on. Different kinds of religious beliefts, different kinds of state
and different forms of capitalism characterise these different regions.
But this too is changing. The accession of some of these countries (Poland, Hungary and
Czech Republic) to NATO and to the European Union in the near future means that they will
Wallace, Chmouliar and Sidorenko: The Buffer Zone
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37
no longer be a Buffer Zone, but rather a part of the Western Zone more generally. The Buffer
Zone as we have described it here will be broken up. Despite resistance from some parts of
the EU and from some members of NATO, it is difficult to see why Slovakia and Slovenia
should not be admitted, given their general similarities to the other buffer zone countries
(these two countries have in some ways better economic records than those that were
admitted). Then it is difficult to make a case for why Romania or Estonia should be excluded.
In general, the Baltic States as well as nearly all the countries we have been describing would
prefer to belong to these two institutions and their futures will be shaped by these two
institutions in any case whether they belong or not, just as the buffer zone was.
One scenario is the construction of a new buffer rim in the countries of the Baltic States,
Belarus, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria, serving to create a cordon sanitaire between Russia
along with the more delinquent post-Communist states (such as Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan
etc.) and Western Europe. The European Union emissaries are already wooing Ukraine and
the Baltic states with trade agreements and various exchange and regional aid schemes.
Romania and Bulgaria have already long been wooed in this way. This creates what some
commentators have described as a neo-colonial penumbra of countries around the European
Union. Instead of helping their development, they become dependent economies, sources of
raw materials, cheap labour, domestic cleaners and prostitutes for the wealthier countries of
Western Europe.
Another scenario is that more extreme contrasts start to emerge between these different
clusters of countries as they drift apart from each other. Thus, the Turkic-speaking and
Islamic former Communist States start to drift into Turkeys sphere of influence and the
Western parts of the former Soviet Union start to segregate from the Baltic States and the
Asian Republics. The South Eastern countries start to form their own distinctive region as
perhaps do the Christian Caucasus regions. Political, economic and socio-cultural factors are
used to define them.
A third scenario is that as the Westernmost countries become more westernised, so the
Easternmost countries become absorbed back into the influence of Russia, and we can see
tendencies towards this in Belarus, parts of Ukraine and Moldova. In this way a new division
of Europe would emerge between East and West, not the previous Iron Curtain division, but
one which which would reflect more Charlemagnes empire than Stalins and the ideological
division between Eastern Orthodox and Catholic/Protestant Churches rather than between
Communism and Capitalism.
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