Although today it appears in different, sometimes even contradictory forms, solidarity primarily refers to a connection based on shared experiences, responsibilities and interests (Rozakou 2020: 197). One of the more prominent interpretations of solidarity is Durkheim’s division into mechanical and organic solidarity, elaborated in The Division of Labour in Society from 1893: The former implies traditional forms of mutual support as found in religious communities, family, neighbor relationships, etc., while the latter relates to social cohesion resulting from the “diversification and the complex division of labor that characterizes modern societies” (Rozakou 2020: 197). In this regard, Aafke Komter (2005) points out three processes that determine the practices and meaning of the term in the contemporary context: individualization, diversification and globalization. According to the author, individualization occurs due to modernization, which encourages the weakening of influence and ties within the family, neighborhoods and church. Diversification, on the other hand, leads to the disintegration of stable, common identities and beliefs, people withdrawing into themselves and realizing their personal needs, and thus to increasing insecurity in the wider social context. Ultimately, globalization, due to its interwoven nature, opens up space for new ways of acting and forms of solidarity (Komter 2005: 170-171).
The interpretation offered by Helge Schwiertz and Helen Schwenken (2020) relies on this idea of the potential of globalization in achieving social change. As key problems in today’s understanding of solidarity, they point out the association of this term with national, state and territorial entities, a current trend in public and political discourse, which excludes a number of social groups and models of social cohesiveness. Noting that it is currently clearer than ever that citizens and “noncitizens”, people on the move and more-or-less static persons and groups “are connected through the division of labour in global capitalism” (2020: 413), Schwiertz and Schwenken find transformative social potential in civil initiatives that show solidarity with people on the move, people who do not fit into the nationally rooted perspectives of citizenship. This means that these initiatives operate beyond the institutional form of solidarity and practice what the authors call “inclusive solidarity” (2020: 406). It should be emphasized that in activist and academic circles, solidarity is often used with the aim of distinguishing organizations and actions that are primarily associated with humanitarianism, a system defined by hierarchical power relations between “recipients” and “providers” of aid, from organizations and actions that are based on mutual support, equality and civic activism. This distinctive imperative especially applies to groups and organizations that deal with rescue operations at sea and distributing aid to people on the move and undocumented migrants in spite of bans and legal obstacles, and who do not agree to the usual state and international funding schemes for non-governmental organizations (cf. Cuttitta 2018; Mezzadra 2020; Ambrosini 2022). However, it is well-known that, in the contemporary border regime, the difference between solidarity and humanitarianism is not entirely clear (Mezzadra 2020) and that certain interpretations of solidarity also risk the reproduction of hierarchical and exclusive discourses and policies (Schwiertz and Schwenken 2020: 406).
Bearing in mind the overlap between these two terms, different interpretations of solidarity, but also the warnings about the problem of its romanticization (Papataxiarchis 2016), we can recognize several ways in which solidarity appears and the ways it is used and co-opted in the migration context. The first among them is of a political-administrative nature, and relates to the use of solidarity as a mechanism for distributing responsibility in the scheme of managing migration movements in state and international frameworks. In the preamble of the Treaty on European Union “there is talk of ‘solidarity’ among the ‘peoples’ who are signatories” (Brunkhorst 2005: 1). In relation to security, and therefore migration policy, the Treaty states that “the Union shall conduct, define and implement a common foreign and security policy, based on the development of mutual political solidarity among Member States” (Article 24, paragraph 2, emphasis by author). While solidarity with migrants is rarely articulated at the level of the European Union, as this would mean that its citizens truly share social welfare and other state protection mechanisms with migrants, the focus is mainly on solidarity understood in the form of a relationship of reciprocity between national Member States, framed by the synergy of security and migration policies (Schwiertz and Schwenken 2020: 409). During the last few years, even decades, there have been more and more calls to “ease” the burden on the countries situated at the external borders of the EU, which are exposed to a large number of migrant arrivals and asylum requests due to their geographical position. While referring to the dispute between countries at the EU external borders with their “concerns [...] that migratory pressures will exceed their capacities” and other Member States with concerns that, if the procedures at the external borders are not adhered to, their asylum, integration or return systems will not to be able to cope with a possible increase in the influx of migrants, the European Union proposes a mechanism of “effective solidarity” in its New Pact on Migration and Asylum. The emphasis on a coordinated approach to migration management and improving the system for distinguishing “credible” from “non-credible” asylum seekers (cf. Bakalović 2013) – and thus also on the mechanism of effective “distribution of responsibility” – underscores the trends of securitization and “managerialisation” of migration policies (Andrijašević and Walters 2010), while the mentioned proposal, as warned by activists, “is dominated by giving priority to repatriation and deportation”. This technocratic, administrative solidarity among EU countries is often used as a mechanism for controlling, monitoring and restricting migration movements. By reducing solidarity to a mechanism of bureaucratic reciprocity, the migration policy of the European Union indirectly approves the practices of detention and expulsion of refugees and people on the move, as evidenced by the continued practice and intensification of pushbacks in recent years, as well as a series of appeals by human rights groups and reports of border violence.
Despite efforts to co-opt the term, it is still primarily associated with the work of solidarity groups and initiatives that can be interpreted in terms of “solidarity humanitarianism” – a term that Katerina Rozakou (2017) uses to describe the work of self-organized groups in Greece engaging in humanitarian work and who do not belong to the official humanitarian sector (cf. also Fechter and Schwittay 2019). Initiatives established during and after the mass refugee transit in Croatia were joined – or started – by citizens dissatisfied with the response of the state, international organizations, and the Croatian Red Cross, and who, in addition to providing assistance, tried to oppose the commodification of suffering and inertia of traditional humanitarian actors (cf. Pozniak 2022). The regime of humanitarianism generally creates an image of refugees as passive and helpless victims who do not have the capacity to take care of themselves, and autonomy and self-reliance are perceived as characteristics of “dangerous” and “fake” asylum seekers (Ticktin 2016). The humanitarian industry deftly relies on the idea of refugees as inferior subjects (Kuljić 2016) and uses it as a means to commodify suffering and, consequently, for its own financial gain. In contrast, solidarity implies an equal relationship that does not impose life decisions, behavior and other standards common in humanitarianism (Dadusc and Mudu 2022). If we take into account that during the Balkan corridor in 2015 and 2016, states failed to guarantee social rights to refugees and that humanitarian and legal mechanisms proved to be deficient, to say the least, “solidarity from below”, as a form of support provided by citizens and civil society organizations, served as a supplement or substitute for the state welfare system (Schwiertz and Schwenken 2020: 410).
It is worth mentioning the role of solidarity in the organization of protest actions such as for Madina Hussiny, a six-year-old girl who died when a train hit her during a pushback from Croatia to Serbia (see counter-memorialization and grief activism), as well as the request of the Zagreb City-Refuge initiative to name a street, square or children’s playground in the public space of the city of Zagreb after her. This includes workshops for making banners Krojimo za noćni marš [Sewing for the Night March] and the Prijelaz/The Passage memorial canvases, which were designed and led by selma banich with the Women to Women collective, as well as a series of appeals by the Transbalkanska solidarnost [Transbalkan Solidarity] and Zagreb City-Refuge initiatives. In the latter cases, we can look at solidarity as the driving force behind civil actions that are not part of continuous programs of aid organizations and whose goal is to pave the way for political action and emancipation in which, in the words of the workshop organizer, nothing will be “politically presupposed”.
Finally, an indispensable part of the conceptual and empirical familiarization with the term solidarity is the problem of criminalization of solidarity. The expression “crimes of solidarity”, currently popular among human rights organizations, refers to the problem of prosecuting the “facilitation of unauthorised entry, transit and residence of migrants” in the European Union (Tazzioli 2018: 4). Guided by the same principle, Article 53 of the Croatian Aliens Act prescribes that: “It is prohibited to assist [...] a third-country national in illegal crossing of the state border, in transiting across the state territory [...], and in his illegal stay. Exceptions to the ban on helping irregularized persons include saving lives, providing emergency medical and humanitarian aid and other humanitarian reasons, provided that “assistance in illegal stay” does not prevent “measures which are to be taken for ensuring return”. These stipulations are problematic primarily because they criminalize systematic, effective aid, and allow only necessary, biopolitical aid – that which keeps migrants alive, while also participating in the migration control regime, denying them civil rights, and contributing to human rights violations. Furthermore, when we take into account that the police, through direct and indirect action, endangers the lives of people on the move, these legal restrictions are also paradoxical. If there is a justified suspicion that the police/state services are expelling migrants to Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia and exposing them to suffering and physical violence, thus endangering their lives, aren’t we obliged by law to react without the risk of punishment?
In the context of the European border regime there have been a number of attempts to criminalize solidarity, and one of the more significant cases involves the arrest of the captain of Sea-Watch 3, Carola Rackete, due to an unauthorized docking in Lampedusa in 2019 with forty rescued migrants on board. In the local context, examples range from verbal threats and intimidation of male and female volunteers, and even court verdicts against volunteers, and in one case, a partner of an activist and former employee of the organization Are You Syrious (AYS) having his asylum status revoked. The activist was intimidated by the police by sending her parents “a hearing summons based on a suspicion that she was involved in obtaining an ‘illegal’ power of attorney for the family” of the deceased Madina Hussiny and threats of arrest. The case of Dragan Umičević is particularly important, as Umičević was a volunteer who tried to help the Hussiny family, but, as reported by the media, “a misdemeanor charge was filed against him for allegedly assisting in the illegal crossing of the state border”, and the Ministry of the Interior was also seeking imprisonment, a fine of 230,000 HRK, and a ban on the Are You Syrious organization. The misdemeanor court sentenced Umičević to a fine of 60,000 HRK, an amount that was later raised, according to the same source, through “civic solidarity”, i.e., a fund-raising campaign initiated by AYS.
The criminalization of solidarity is one of the strategies employed by the migration control regime. When discussing this regime, we generally refer to the policies and practices that do not have a universal origin and are not always coordinated with each other; however, the externalization and control of refugee and irregularized movement is certainly a goal on which most actors and creators of migration policies agree. In this sense, encouraging empathy, aid and, especially, resistance, within the framework of state and international management, is twisted in meaning and presented as a security problem – encouraging “illegal migration” – instead of as resistance to “European apartheid” (Balibar 2004). In this specific context of the institutionalization and normalization of violence against people on the move, the practices of solidarity “from below”, whether we are talking about its humanitarian, legal or protest form, figure as drivers of the transformation of current power regimes that create and perpetuate social and geopolitical hierarchies and dismiss the possibility of equal mobility.
Ambrosini, Maurizio. 2022. „Humanitarian Help and Refugees. De-Bordering Solidarity as a Contentious Issue“. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies.
Andrijašević, Rutvica and William Walters. 2010. „The International Organization for Migration and the International Government of Borders”. Environment and Planning D. Society and Space 28/6: 977-999.
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Dadusc, Deanna and Pierpaolo Mudu. 2022. “Care without Control. The Humanitarian Industrial Complex and the Criminalisation of Solidarity”. Geopolitics 27/4: 1205-1230.
Komter, Aafke E. 2005. Social Solidarity and the Gift. Cambridge etc.: Cambridge University Press.
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Papataxiarchis, Evthymios. 2016. “Unwrapping Solidarity? Society Reborn in Austerity”. Social Anthropology 24/2: 205– 210.
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Rozakou, Katerina. 2017. „Solidarity Humanitarianism. The Blurred Boundaries of Humanitarianism in Greece“. Allegra Lab.
Rozakou, Katerina. 2020. „Solidarity“. In Humanitarianism. Keywords. Antonio De Lauri, ed. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 197-199.
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Tazzioli, Martina. 2018. “Crimes of Solidarity. Migration and Containment through Rescue”. Radical Philosophy 2.01: 4–10.
Ticktin, Miriam. 2016. „Thinking Beyond Humanitarian Borders“. Social Research 83/2: 255-271.