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The Polish plumber and the imaginaries of the East-West divide in Hungary and Romania: old divisions and new boundaries.

After suddenly materializing within the "no" camp in the midst of the French referendum campaign on the European constitutional treaty (1) and initially associated with the critical reception of the liberalization of services directive, also known as the Bolkestein directive (2), the figure of the "Polish plumber" gradually spread beyond the context in which it initially emerged and was above all associated with the question of labor migration from newer to older European Union member states. Although the manner in which the "Polish plumber" was interpreted differed subtly from one national public space to the next, it was more or less visible at the European level. In each national space it built upon dominant imaginaries of the "East"/"West" polarity. Called into question by the end of communism, these symbolic categories were redeployed in both Eastern and Western Europe, particularly after ten states from the former communist camp joined the EU in 2004 and 2007.

In a 29 May, 2005 interview given to the weekly magazine L'Express in the aftermath of the French "no" vote to the constitutional treaty, former Polish dissident Adam Michnik bitterly remarked: "In your eyes, we don't belong to the family of Western states: we are barbarians. Paradoxically, the Poles were more accepted in France before enlargement." (3) Even though he was referring to the Franco-Polish relationship, which had been damaged in particular by the referendum, the Polish intellectual was at the same time expressing the more broadly shared frustration of former Eastern states with what was seen as the unenthusiastic welcome that had been extended to incoming EU members by France and many other member states (4). This skepticism went together with a standoffish attitude towards the new members.

Remarking in 2004 on the otherness that had been at least in part externally assigned them and its successive redefinitions since the end of communism, the Hungarian writer Peter Esterhazy observed with much irony and a dash of self-derision:
   Once upon a time, I was Eastern European. Then I was promoted to
   Central European. Those were the times, even if not for me
   personally. There was a dream of Central Europe, a vision of its
   future, debates on what shape this future should take --
   everything; everything needed for a proper 'round table', though
   that's not entirely fair. Then a couple of months ago I became a
   New European, but before I knew what hit me, before I could get
   accustomed to it or dissociate myself from it, I became a
   not-hard-core European, a non-grass-roots European. I felt like the
   man who lives in Munkacs and who never leaves his native town, but
   is first a Hungarian then a Czechoslovak then a Soviet citizen. In
   this part of the world, that is how you become cosmopolitan." (5)

Less melancholic humor was similarly mobilized shortly after the appearance of the "plumber" in French debates, this time by Polish tourism officials. The latter successfully hijacked this iconic figure and put him to work promoting a friendly image of Poland in France. "I'm staying in Poland. Lots of you should come", remarked the muscled and suntanned model, Piotr Adamski, shown in the now celebrated tourism office poster posing with his plumber's tools in front of homes painted in the lively colors of Mitteleuropa.

At the moment that the figure of the "Polish plumber" set off on his European voyage, the quarrels to which American intervention in Iraq (2003) had given rise were still fresh. The outlines of the West were no longer so well drawn as in days gone by. The differentiated opening of the labor market to Eastern European nationals among old EU member states for its part contributed to subtly redefining the "East"/"West" polarity while throwing light on the internal heterogeneity of the European Union (6). In a Western Europe variably affected by migrations originating in the "East" (7), the "Polish plumber" appeared either as a threat (of social dumping) or as an opportunity (access to a cheap labor force that was not culturally very distant from the "majority" population), depending on the circumstances and the actors. Yet the space of the new members also seemed heterogeneous. The variable visibility of the "Polish plumber" and its local interpretations brought to light the weight of the symbolic categories "East" and "West" as well as their more recent configurations. These latter were driven in the short term by "events" (EU membership as well as the controversies over Iraq, for example), in the middle-range term by communism's aftermath and in the long-term by specific representations of the "West" or of the various states that are supposed to embody it (France, Germany and Great Britain, in particular). The figure of the "Polish plumber" circulated to the degree that it reflected these multiple temporalities.

Some of these Eastern European interpretations will be examined here by focusing on two zones that are less central than Poland: to wit, Hungary, which entered the EU on 1 May, 2004, and Romania, which signed the accession treaty on 25 April, 2005, and joined the European Union, together with Bulgaria, on 1 January, 2007. What response did the figure of the Polish plumber elicit in public discussions in these two states? An examination of the principal interpretive schema that have been drawn upon since 2005 by specific actors -- politicians, journalists, public intellectuals -- should give several indications concerning the cognitive frameworks that structure representations of the European Union and the place of the new member state within this formation. At the same time, it should be noted that these representations never solely speak about an Other or a more or less distant elsewhere; to speak of this Other is also to speak of one's self (8).

The "Polish Plumber" in Hungarian and Romanian Interpretations

The figure of the "Polish plumber" initially appeared in the Hungarian and Romanian media after the French "no" vote to the European constitutional treaty on 29 May, 2005. One of the explanatory factors for the vote, commentators claimed, was the enlargement of the European Union, associated on the one hand with threats of business outsourcing and, on the other, with the arrival of massive numbers of migrants (9). Initial discussions of the "no" vote as a "French symptom" -- that is, specific to the particular situation of France (which garnered more attention than that of the Netherlands, though the Dutch "no" vote on 1 June, 2005 seems to have amplified the French "no") -- were nevertheless rapidly broadened. Soon, readings of the figure of the "Polish plumber" spread beyond this initial framework, referring to labor migrations originating among the new member states of the EU and the asymmetry between "old" and "new" member states as seen through the prism of intra-community mobility (10) (Holmes 2003). They ultimately called into question one of the most broadly shared interpretations of EU membership as the guarantee of the freedom to work in the West.

It is to be noted that, in spring 2005, Hungary and Romania found themselves in rather different positions relative to their relationship with the EU. Like Poland, with which it has historically close ties, Hungary is a new EU member. But its membership has hardly given rise to significant public interest in the Union's institutional architecture. Romania, for its part, had just signed an accession treaty with the EU but still did not know its date of accession, which could occur either on 1 January, 2007 or a year later. The repudiation of the constitutional treaty in France -- a country that has occupied a central symbolic place in the Romanian national imagination since the 19th-century - and then the Netherlands therefore seemed to threaten to delay the realization of Romania's European project, a matter of broad consensus on the political scene and within society. These repudiations gave rise in the media to sustained interest. The difference between the European calendar of the two states as well as the special place assigned to France -- more important in Romania than in Hungary contributed to shaping the reception of both the "no" vote to the constitutional treaty and the "Polish hero".

But local investment in this figure was also influenced by differing levels of migration. Proximity with the Polish case was this time to be found, not in Hungary, but in Romania. Indeed, its citizens were heavily represented in labor migrations within the EU (11), particularly towards Italy and Spain. The scale of this movement grew in 2002 after the suppression of Schenghen visas for Romanians (12). The metaphor of the "strawberry picker" diffused by the Romanian media -- a metaphor that initially mixed elitist contempt for migrant laborers and a form of self-abasement but would gradually become more "positive" as a result of the diversification of migratory trajectories and an increase in the volume of remittances testifies to the diffusion of the phenomenon and of its social representations (13). The figure of the "Polish plumber" therefore came to echo that of the "strawberry picker".

Despite some references to the "Hungarian truck driver", Hungarian citizens were for their part much less involved in intra-European mobility: and those who were - some tens of thousands -- were present in what were, after 2004, Europe's two most closed labor markets: to wit, Germany and Austria (14). In the 1990s, what's more, Hungary was itself a target of migrants originating in Magyar communities living on the territory of neighboring states, especially Romania (15), Serbia and the Ukraine, where the socio-economic situation was less favorable. However, these migrations could themselves be interpreted in terms of the "East"/"West" framework: the newcomers were in some cases described as "Balkanians" and "people from the East". It is thus hardly surprising that Hungarian and Romanian interpretations of the figure of the "Polish plumber" overlapped without entirely merging.

Hungarian Readings: A Europe So Near Yet So Far

In the spring of 2005, muffled echoes of the French referendum campaign reached the Hungarian media. With just a year left to go before legislative elections (April 2006), the sharp internal tensions that opposed right and left supplied the press with a more than adequate source of political news. Despite its depth and even though Hungary had recently joined the EU, this right-left cleavage hardly drew upon the European theme; the question of institutional reform (or, at times, that of the Bolkenstein directive) was not an object of partisan politicization. The Socialists who, together with the Liberals, had formed the governing majority since 2002 adopted a very Europhile stance. The conservatives of the FIDESZ-Hungarian Civic Union, who had been in government between 1998 and 2002 and had conducted the better part of the negotiations in the run-up to EU accession, for their part presented themselves as the (co)artisans of Hungary's entry into the Union, despite adopting a more critical stance. Both camps supported the adoption of the European constitutional treaty, which was ratified by Parliament on 20 December, 2004 by a crushing majority, (16) even though the text had yet to be translated into Hungarian. (17) Hungary thus became the second member state to ratify the text, after Lithuania. Yet the European question remained peripheral in Hungarian political debates. Elite circles continued to spread an Aufklarist image of Brussels that was hardly flattering to the local political elite, which was portrayed as deeply flawed. The spring 2005 European labor union mobilizations against the Bolkenstein directive for their part went unnoticed, in part due to the weakness of Hungarian unions.

For that reason, the French and Dutch "no" votes remained but distant echoes. Nor did the "Polish plumber" make much of a mark on the political landscape. It would not be until fall 2005 that the Hungarian media showed interest in this figure after Vladimir Spidla, Czech Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunity, evoked the phantom of the "Polish plumber" in a first assessment of transitional measures regarding labor market access. There, the "Polish plumber" was not presented as a "French creature" but as the hero of Western Europe confronted with globalization. A liberal weekly, HVG, thus observed in November 2005:
   The figure of the Polish plumber has become a symbol in all
   of Western Europe. He has come to embody the essence of
   the inexpensive and undemanding worker from the East
   who takes work from French, Dutch and German workers, a
   dangerous figure even when he works legally. When
   working without papers, he is even more dangerous. This
   frightening figure at once embodies and links up fears over
   globalization and fears relating to eastward enlargement.

The weekly continued: "In Western countries facing reduced competitiveness, chronic unemployment and a social welfare system in crisis and impossible to finance, the politician who comes to the defense of the Polish plumber will hardly have an easy time of it." (18)

But this "West" weakened by globalization is heterogeneous, as was underscored by a rightwing weekly, Heti Valasz, on the occasion of another assessment of Eastern European mobility. This portrait was drawn up by a Polish journalist writing from Brussels, Jaroslaw Gizinski, who wrote:
   Some countries (Great Britain, Spain) joyfully awaited the
   arrival of the East European labor force while others
   (Germany, Austria) are so afraid of the Polish that they might
   even keep the gates closed for seven years. In France, we have
   witnessed an outburst of genuine national hysteria, with the
   Polish plumber its protagonist. The latter, it is said, threatens
   the work of his French comrades. Under pressure from
   powerful unions, French politicians have not dared to open
   the labor market even though, in 2005, it turned out that, of
   the 60 million inhabitants of France, only 150 are Polish
   plumbers and that 5000 jobs remain unoccupied. (19)

While the West appears heterogeneous in this portrait, Poland (and, to a lesser extent, Romania, which was also the object of an article in the same number of this weekly) seems to sum up the situation of the East, in particular due to the demographic weight of its nationals in migrations. At the same time, the question of Hungarian migration received very little attention from the local press.

Another reading approached the figure of the "Polish plumber", not through the prism of the effects of globalization (in particular on the European social model) but by mobilizing the symbolic categories of "East" and "West", with an "East" assigned the position of subordinate. The spread of the figure of the "Polish plumber" revealed, it was said, the degree to which the enlargements had been poorly prepared and poorly overseen, contributing to both Western paternalism and a deeply internalized East European inferiority complex. This was the analysis of a [ vizszerelo.html], 12 January 2009.

Hungarian economist living in Geneva, Yudit Kiss, who published his text in the Magyar version of the review Lettre internationale:

The humiliating cliche of the 'Polish plumber' casts a shadow over the enthusiasm that had in 2004 accompanied enlargement. The integration of Eastern Europe has only been halfway -- or not even halfway -- successful. Eastern Europe sometimes seems a seductive hunting ground in the eyes of investors, sometimes as the embodiment of social dumping. The West continues to treat us with condescending paternalism and to see us as children whose normal development was hindered by the Soviet empire [...]; As for us East Europeans, we have over the course of centuries internalized our subordination and it is now part of our reflexes; we have thus 'entered' Europe with pride and with great expectations. [...] When the time for enlargement came, the new members looked over their new European home and discovered that the 'actually existing' Europe did not correspond to the dreams of a prodigious welfare state with unlimited freedoms and economic fulfillment. This return to the real gave rise to a certain Euro-skepticism. [...] In any case, erasing the marks left by the iron curtain of collective consciousness will take a little time in both halves of Europe (20) (Kiss 2006).

Though discreet, Hungarian appropriations of the "Polish plumber" reveal a symbolic geography that continues to be partly organized around the "East"/"West" polarity, here summarized by the distinction between "new" and "old" member states. And it does so despite awareness of the heterogeneity of "old Europe" in the era of globalization. The notion of "Central Europe" has contributed to Hungary's self-image since the 1980s. Endowed with a positive content, it allowed the country to distance itself from the Soviet East and then, at the beginning of the 1990s, from the Balkans (21), feeding a desire for a place in the region. Yet "Central Europe" hardly figured in commentaries on the Polish plumber. It was as if, within the EU, the old distinction that had allowed Hungary to detach itself from the "East" in order to move closer to the "West" had proven impotent. The western fragments of yesteryear's Mitteleuropa did not prove to be especially welcoming (Germany and Austria kept their restrictions on employment) and the regional place of Hungary, a nation in the grip of significant political cleavages, was uncertain. Within the European Union, the "East" thus seemed to be overtaking "Central Europe".

This uncertainty recalls that which had surrounded Hungary's accession to the European Union. Images from the period cover a large spectrum and include auto-exoticizing images of "peasants" attached to their cultural practices and brave heroes of the digital age (22). The image of the ferry wandering between two banks, one eastern, the other western, which had taken form in the discourse of Hungarian identity at the beginning of the 20th-century, was resurrected by the President of the Republic, Ferenc Madl, who announced that the country/ferry would be coming to dock on the western bank (23). Yet the reception of the figure of the "Polish plumber" testifies to a certain Hungarian exteriority vis-a-vis the new community.

Romanian Readings: "Westerners Are Humans, Too"

Romanian commentaries for their part reveal a keener interest in the European arena. But in the spring of 2005, this interest focused, not on the institutional architecture of the EU, but on the European prospects of Romania after the "no" vote to the constitutional treaty. The country signed the treaty of accession on 25 April but the date of its entry -- 1 January 2007 or 1 January 2008 -- remained subject to conditions. As the local press emphasized, turning to high profile Western experts, the results of the two European referenda increased this uncertainty. "As long as European countries like Germany, France and Italy have not resolved their internal economic and political problems, Union enlargement will remain a problem", one of the main national dailies quoted Cameron Fraser (European Policy Center) as saying (24). In this context, Romanian interpretations of the "Polish plumber", like the Hungarian receptions, show a shift from France to the West accompanying the activation of the "East"/"West" polarity. Certain subtle differences nevertheless distinguish these readings. Save for the effects of the European calendar, these differences refer to the symbolic weight of France in the Romanian imaginary, the manner in which competition between France and the United States was perceived there, the structure of the political and intellectual fields dominated by the right-wing ideologies and the intensity of Romanian involvement in international mobility.

We should straightaway note Romania's delicate position relative to the question of migration. Indeed, steps to strengthen the frontiers as well as the supervision of transit migration and the westward flow of Romanians -- which had continuously increased since the suppression of Schengen visas on 1 January, 2002 -- all figured among the prerequisites for rapid accession to the EU. More than protecting Romanian workers abroad, it was therefore the policing and security angle that was privileged by the local authorities. In the summer of 2005, Romanian authorities thus confiscated the passports of several thousand Romanian Gastarbeiter who had returned to the country for vacation, penalizing them for having overstayed the legal three month period of their tourist visas (25). Readings of the "plumber" metaphor -- whether on the part of political actors, journalists or intellectuals -- therefore put the importance of the theme of East -West migration into context in order to broaden the portrait by showing interest in the multiple reasons for the French and Dutch "no" votes.

According to some analyses, the "Polish plumber" was the "hero" of a "continental" version of the West, which had been weakened by the exhaustion of its social model. The distinction between a continental model and a liberal Anglo-Saxon model, which was seen as better adapted to globalization, was more widely present in the Romanian media than in its Hungarian counterpart. At the same time, this particular "West", suffering from globalization, was confused with the "happy part of the continent" that had not been subjected to communist domination. While the memory of communism fed Hungarian and Romanian commentaries alike, it was more widely mobilized on the Romanian side. After the victory of the right in the fall 2004 presidential elections and the formation of a center-right coalition government, the condemnation of the Ancien regime was on the agenda of the ruling majority, who was supported by strong lobbying from intellectuals.

In the eyes of Romanian political and intellectual actors, France and, to a lesser degree, Germany came to embody this exhausted social model. The controversies surrounding American intervention in Iraq and the Franco-German accord of 2003 facilitated this analysis. The echoes of these disputes are still sharp. Moreover, in spring 2005, the Romanian media noted that the French government continued to question the European loyalty of Bucharest political elites, who they considered to be too Americanophile. Indeed, the American trope finds expression in the political and intellectual fields: in 2003, a majority of the left supported the American intervention in Iraq and this support was approved of by most public intellectuals; two years later, a majority of the right led by a president who wished to solidify a Washington-London-Bucharest axis prepared to negotiate the deployment of American troops on Romanian territory. The Romanian media also noted the lack of enthusiasm among French citizens for Romania's integration into Europe (26). The relationship with France, Romania's "Latin big sister" and a political model and ally in the past, thus appeared to be strained and France's ability to seduce seemed, at least in elite circles, to have been surpassed by that of the United States. Less visible, German doubts concerning Romania were also reported in the media. Indeed, with legislative elections approaching (scheduled for 18 September, 2005), certain German political actors -- and, in particular, the leader of the Christian Democrats, Edmund Stoiber -- warned against the effects of Romanian membership for Europe and, more particularly, the possibility of an invasion of a cheap labor. (27)

With Romania's accession to the EU resembled anything but a tranquil river, the "Polish plumber" appeared to illustrate what a public intellectual, Alexandra Lazescu, described in one of Romania's main weekly, Revista 22, as "a Western world that is prisoner to obsolete conceptions, has an aging population and fears losing its privileges". The West, he continued, is confronted by a "deficit of vital energy" which "cannot be compensated for by shouting anti-globalization, anti-American or anti- Eastern European slogans in the street or by Jacques Chirac's public diatribes against 'Anglo-Saxon ultraliberalism'." (28) This same analysis led a center-left daily, Adevarul, to celebrate the "East Europeans" who, this time, found themselves on the right side of the mirror: "Polish workers and, more generally, those of the East, are known as hard workers and this quality becomes all the more apparent when the latter are stimulated by higher salaries compared to what they receive in their own countries" (29). Here, we witness a reversal of the "East"/"West" polarity: where the traditional reading tends to situate the "East" as chronically behind the "West" according to a linear vision of the time of modernity and development, this commentary for its part assigns a positive dimension to an "East" which, by virtue of the socio-economic and ideological changes that followed the fall of communism, is said to find itself more in phase with the globalized world.

Not all commentaries adopted this bipolar schema. Indeed, some of them called this dual categorization into question. The authors of these interpretations -- many of them public intellectuals who lived or had lived in Western Europe -- showed an interest in the "no" vote to the constitutional treaty that looked beyond the "East"-"West" relationship. The results of the vote were thus portrayed as bringing together extremely diverse and often contradictory motivations (rejection of national political classes, social expectations in regards to the EU or, on the contrary, a refusal to expand a Union that was considered inadequately democratic, fear of migration, of globalization, etc.). In the weekly Revista 22, one could read by Andrei Cornea, a philosopher, that "the majority of those who voted against the constitution wished to symbolically show that they were unhappy with living less well than they did a few years ago. (30) The commentary of an historian and former Vice Rector of the Central European University in Budapest, Sorin Antohi, is revealing of this reading, which tends to diminish the importance of the symbolic and discursive categories of "East" and "West" and to deconstruct an idealized "Western world". Sorin Antohi enjoys significant public visibility in Romanian elite circles. His commentary carried the suggestive title: "Westerners are Humans, Too." (31) The historian thus stressed the perceptions of economic decline and social fragility shared by various groups within aging Western populations; fears intensified by globalization and its various manifestations -- in particular, outsourcing and the arrival of Gastarbeiter. He postulated a link between "tolerance and enthusiasm for European integration", on the one hand, and "prosperity", on the other. The absence of a political vision of the European future also strengthened tendencies towards withdrawal, he emphasized.

The themes associated with the figure of the "Polish plumber" thus partially overlap in Hungarian and Romanian readings. In both cases, one finds the "West"/"East" asymmetry redeployed with the help of European Union enlargement. The subtle differences between readings are as much the effect of the short-term timeframe as of middle- and long-term temporalities and the respective definitions of the nation/Europe relationship that they frame.

The Temporalities of "Returning in Europe"

The figure of the "Polish plumber" shed light on a particular moment of what was after 1989 called the "return to Europe". In 1994, the Polish sociologist, Jerzy Jedlicki, published an article entitled "The Eternal Return of Poland in Europe". (32) The formula holds for all of the societies of the region. Its temporal horizon nevertheless needs to be specified. Beginning in the 19th-century, the imaginaries of the nation that were forming among the Central and Eastern European elites involved in the construction of nation-states crystallized around the relationship to the "West"/"Europe" and the problem of "entering modernity", which was geographically, symbolically and politically identified with the "West" and synonymous with "culture" and "civilization". These ideological elaborations reflected discourses articulated in the West that, through their multiple Central and East European appropriations, had been "made native". (33) In local political and intellectual controversies, talking about Europe was a way of talking about the nation to be constructed and its identity but also a way of managing internal competition and organizing rival political and intellectual groups.

The advent of communist regimes redeployed the meaning of the "West" around the democracy/totalitarianism, capitalism/communism oppositions. As it was begun in the 1950s and despite de Gaulle references to a Europe that extended from the Atlantic to the Urals, "Europe" was identified with Western Europe. Liberal and prosperous, "Europe" was also a political project that presupposed pragmatic integration of the states by way of procedures. As such, it bore the marks of the particular constellation that had presided over its birth and shared with the United States membership of the same "West", opposed to the Soviet world. Beginning in the late 1970s, a part of the "East" returned to this symbolic geography. More than the negotiations that took place in the framework of the Conference for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (CSCE), it was the emergence of dissident movements in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary that were partly at the origin of this. The dissidents indeed wondered in cultural terms about the meaning of the absence of their nations from this "Europe". The appearance in Western debates in the 1980s of the figure of "Central Europe -- defined by Milan Kundera as a "kidnapped West", culturally attached to the West but geographically situated at the center of the European continent and improperly integrated into the political "East" (34) -- illustrated this movement. An object of desire, the "Europe" of the dissidents partly fed off of the repertoire of the Europenation as it had been defined in the 19th-century and had culture as its principal axis. It was thus out of phase with the European project that had been deployed since the 1950s. As Pierre Hassner has noted, the "Central Europe" of the dissidents for its part nourished in certain circles of the Western anti-totalitarian left of the 1980s "a refusal of 'Americanization and a nostalgia for 1900, for cafe sociability and for the Jewish-German literature embodied by Kafka". (35) The figure of "Central Europe" thus came to support Western criticisms of a Europe that had been reduced to the Common Market and deprived of its soul.

The collapse of communist regimes in 1989 accelerated a part of the former "East"'s reinsertion into Europe's symbolic geography. Rich in meaning, the formula of the "return in Europe" shed light on an image of "Europe" as source of normalcy and stability after the fall of communism at the same time that it held up to a magnifying glass to the ways in which the "East" had fallen behind and invited it to catch up. (36) On the other hand, it fed positive representations of a Central or Eastern European identity that, it was said, was characterized in the aftermath of communism by a stronger attachment to the values of culture. These dimensions were present in both the Hungarian and Romanian spaces. At the beginning of the 1990s, the positive reference to Mitteleuropa was nevertheless unavailable to Romanians. After the violent end of Romania's communist regime -- more repressive that that of Hungary in the 1980s -- the efforts necessary for catching up with the "West" seemed even more overwhelming. The historical trajectory of Romania thus underpinned a more intense relationship to the "West"-"Europe" than was the case in Hungary.

Beginning in the late 1990s, European Union membership negotiations yet again redeployed the "West"-"East" relationship around the "member"-"candidate" pair. It did so, however, without resulting in a new definition of the European Union that took account of how it would be transformed by enlargement. The latter was rather considered from the technical point of view of the acquis communautaire. The otherness of the candidates, the result of both external assignation and internal self-identification, had been reaffirmed. While "Central Europe" has not disappeared from discourse, it has nevertheless lost its former appeal. Moreover, as soon as the fifth enlargement of the European Union extended beyond the space covered (however imprecisely) by this label, the notion of "Central Europe" also lost its capacity to distinguish. The historical thickness of the "West"-"East" categories, their weight in academic discourse and in the institutional practices that emerged within the European Union during the Cold War (37) strongly encouraged perceptions of otherness. The notions of the past and backwardness were most often evoked, with rapprochement with the EU seen as part of a logic of "catching up" according to a linear and evolutionary conception of the time of "modernization" and "development". Beginning in the first decade of this century, another image emerged, though it was cited less frequently: that of a savage and deregulated post-communist capitalism. The candidates/new members no longer represented the past but rather a dreaded future, synonymous with globalization, deregulation and triumphant "Americanization". (38)

It should also be noted that the multiplication of "West"-"East" contacts in various domains (the economy, culture, education, etc.) led to a diversification of the modes in which this relationship was expressed. More "pragmatic" registers -- wonderfully illustrated by the formula "Westerners are humans, too" -- appeared. While they were in part influenced by earlier symbolic and cultural registers, they helped refashion these at the same time. This multiplication of points of contact took place in a context in which the eastward enlargement of the European Union had entered into synergy with the acceleration of globalization organized around a symbolic "North"/"South" polarity.


In Hungarian and Romanian interpretations, the figure of the "Polish plumber" illustrates an episode of this "return in Europe" which was neither linear nor teleological. This icon itself represents the "East European" in ambivalent terms, at once a citizen of the EU (in particular, displaying a limited otherness, as any number of articles on the "Polish plumber" testify, "white", "Catholic", more susceptible to being integrated into British or Irish society compared to migrants from the "South") (39) and a "migrant", even an "illegal migrant", and therefore susceptible to being the object of public policies informed by security issues. Studies devoted to East-West migrations have borne out this ambivalence: for a portion of temporary or permanent workers from the new member states, the legal and political status of EU citizen is not necessarily accompanied by changes in their interactions with the "host" society. Propped up by intracommunitarian mobility, the social experience of European citizenship is clarified by redefinitions which, far from being univocal, are contextual and relational (40) drawing upon a symbolic "East"-"West" polarity minimized with the help of enlargement just as much as a "North"-"South" polarity.

Hungarian and Romanian interpretations of the "Polish plumber" suggest both interiority and exteriority in relation to the EU, with the latter being in part driven by the asymmetry between "old" and "new" member states and the feeling that specific historical trajectories and memories (in particular, of communism) have been inadequately recognized (41). At the same time, these echoes of the "Polish plumber's" voyage reveal an old "East" more differentiated than this label -- lately revived with the help of the economic and financial crisis -- tends to suggest.


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11. Holmes, Stephen, (2003), "A European Doppelstaat?", East European Politics and Societies, vol.17, no 1, pp.107-118.

12. Jedlicki, Jerzy, (1994), "L'eternel retour de la Pologne en Europe", L'Autre Europe, no 28-29, pp.28-36.

13. Juhasz, Judit, (2003), "Hungary: Transit Country Between East and West", November 2003, [, 6 May 2010.

14. Kovacs, Eva, (2006), "From Barbarian to Digital Heroes : On the Images of the European Union in Hungary", Regio, no 9, pp. 179-190.

15. Kovacs, Janos Matyas and Violetta Zentai, eds. (2007), Eastern Enlargement -- Western Englargement : Cultural Encounters in the European Economy and Society After the Accession, Budapest : Centre for Policy Studies, Central European University Budapest Foundation, available at [ finalprojectreport jul y2007 public.pdfl, 7 May 2010.

16. Kundera, Milan, (1983), "Un Occident kidnappe ou la tragedie de l'Europe centrale", Le Debat, no 27, pp. 3-22.

17. Lequesne, Christian, (2008), La France dans la nouvelle Europe. Assumer le changement d echelle, Paris : Les Presses de Sciences Po.

18. Melegh, Attila, (2006), On the East-west Slope: Globalization, Nationalism, Racism and Discourses on Central and Eastern Europe, Budapest & New York: Central European University Press.

19. Mink, Georges and Laure Neumayer (eds.), (2007), L'Europe et ses passes douloureux, Paris : La Decouverte.

20. Pogacsa, Zoltan, (2009), "Hungary: The EU New Member States as Agenda Setters in the Enlarged European Union", Sofia : Open Society Institute, April, [], 1 May 2009.

21. Ragaru, Nadege, (2008), "La riviere et les petits cailloux. Elargissement europeen et europeanisation en Europe centrale et orientale", in Bafoil, Francois and Timm Beichelt, (eds.), L'europeanisation d Ouest en Est, Paris : L'Harmattan, pp. 241-283.

22. Ragaru, Nadege, (2008), "Imaginaires et itineraires migratoires bulgares en Europe. Une introduction", Balkanologie, vol.19, no 1-2, December 2008, [, 19 May 2009.

23. Ritaine, Evelyne, (2005), "Quand parler de l'Autre c'est parler de Soi", in Ritaine, Evelyne (ed.), Politique de l'Etranger : l'Europe du sud face a l'immigration, Paris : PUF, pp. 1-25.

24. Said, Edward, (1978), Orientalism, New York: Vintage Books.

25. Sandu, Dimitru, (2005), "Dynamics of Romanian Emigration After 1989: From a Macro- to a Micro-Level Approach", International Journal of Sociology, vol.35, no 3, pp. 36-56.

26. Sandu, Dumitru, (ed.), (2006), Living Abroad on a Temporary Basis: The Romanians and the Economic Migration, 1990-2006, Bucharest : Open Society Fund.

27. Sandu, Dumitru, (2008), "Romania", Annual Overview of International Migration in Central and Eastern Europe: 2008, [], 7 May 2010.

28. Todorova, Maria, (1997), Imagining the Balkans, New York: Oxford University Press.

29. Todorova, Maria, (2005), "The Trap of Backwardness: Modernity, Temporality and the Study of Eastern European Nationalism", Slavic Review, vol.64, no 1, pp.140-164.

30. Trandafoiu, Ruxandra, (2006), "The Geopolitics of Work Migrants: The Romanian Diaspora, Legal Rights and Symbolic Geographies", Regio, no 1, pp.130-149.

31. Wolff, Larry, (1994), Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization in the Mind of the Enlightenment, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Antonela Capelle-Pogacean *

* Antonela Capelle-Pogacean is a Research Fellow with the Centre d'etudes et de recherches internationales (Sciences Po-CERI) and teaches at Sciences Po. Contact:

(1) Florence Delmotte, "La legitimite de l'Union europeenne, une affaire de bons sentiments? Reflexions sur l'appartenance a la communaute politique", Revue internationale de politique comparee, vol. 15, no 4, 2008, pp. 541-554 ; Christian Lequesne, La France dans la nouvelle Europe. Assumer le changement d'echelle, Paris : Les Presses de Sciences Po, pp. 82-87.

(2) "Directive 2006/ 123/CE of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 on services in the internal market", [], 6 May 2010.

(3) Adam Michnik, "Gloire au plombier polonais!", L'Express, 6 June 2005, p. 16.

(4) In spring 2006, 66% of German, 65% of people from Luxemburg, 62% of the French, 61% of Austrians and 60% of Finns disapproved of EU enlargement (European Commission, 2006).

(5) Peter Esterhazy, "Reporting from the Moon, Centrelyuropdriims", in Passages, The Cultural Magazine of Pro Helvetia, no.36, Spring 2004, pp. 15-18, p. 15 [], 6 May 2010.

(6) In 2004, only Great Britain, Ireland and Sweden chose to entirely open their labor markets to the citizens of the eight new member states: the other EU states had recourse to the possibility (granted by the Treaty of Athens) of establishing a transition period (maximum length: 7 years) before completely opening up their labor markets. In May 2009, only Germany and Austria chose to keep their gates closed for an additional two years. In 2007, Romania and Bulgaria also experienced these restrictions: 10 member states opened their labor markets upon accession; with the exception of Finland and Sweden, these were nevertheless all new member states. Five other countries (Denmark, Spain, Greece, Hungary and Poland) lifted restrictions in 2009. But France, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands maintained restrictions in 2009.

(7) The numbers of East European workers in Germany and Austria after 2004 remained very high. Cf. European Commission, Five Years of an Enlarged EU: Economic Achievements and Challenges, 2009, p. 123, [ en.pdf], 6 May 2010.

(8) We here paraphrase Evelyne Ritaine, "Quand parler de l'Autre c'est parler de Soi" in Evelyne Ritaine (ed.), Politique de lEtranger : l'Europe du sud face a l'immigration, Paris : PUF, 2005.

(9) A number of surveys have given indications regarding the concerns over outsourcing and immigration that have been provoked by the enlargements. In 2002, 48% of those questioned (EU 15) believed that enlargement might lead to the arrival of a massive number of migrants from Central and Eastern Europe. Cf. European Commission, Five Years of an Enlarged EU: Economic Achievements and Challenges, 2009, p. 19, [], 6 May 2010.

(10) Stephen Holmes, "A European Doppelstaat?", East European Politics and Societies, vol. 17, no. 1, 2003, pp. 107-118.

(11) According to the European Commission, in 2007 Poles represented 25% of recent (in the last 4 years) intra-European mobility, followed by Romanians (19%), Germans (7%), the British (6%) and the French (5%). Cf. European Commission, Five Years of an Enlarged EU: Economic Achievements and Challenges, 2009, p. 123, [ en.pdf], 6 May 2010.

(12) Between 2002 and 2007, 50% of Romanian labor migration was, depending on the estimate, towards Italy and 25% towards Spain. In 2005, the estimates spoke of 1 million Romanians in Italy and 0.5 million in Spain. Cf. Dumitru Sandu (ed.), Living Abroad on a Temporary Basis: The Romanians and the Economic Migration, 1990-2006, Bucharest: OSF, 2006; Martin Baldwin-Edwards, "Migration Policies for a Romania within the European Union: Navigating between Scylla and Charybdis", MMO Working Paper, no.7, December 2005, [ working papers/MMO WP7.pdf], 7 May 2010. At the end of 2008, the number of temporary migrants was estimated at 2.5 million. Cf. Dumitru Sandu, "Romania", Annual Overview of International Migration in Central and Eastern Europe: 2008, [], 7 May 2010.

(13) Dana Diminescu (ed.), Visibles, mais peu nombreux. Les Circulations migratoires roumaines, Paris, Editions de la MSH, 2003; Dimitru Sandu, "Dynamics of Romanian Emigration After 1989: From a Macro- to a Micro-Level Approach", International Journal of Sociology, Volume 35, Number 3, Fall 2005, pp. 36-56.

(14) According to Hungarian demographic statistics, in 2006, 18,654 Hungarian citizens registered with the German authorities and 3734 with their Austrian counterparts. Cf. Kivandorlo magyarok: Szlovakia is vonzo" [Hungarians in the Migration: Slovakia also Attracts], HVG, 7 January 2009, [ Kivandorlo_magyarok_Szlovaki_is_vonzo.aspx], 10 June 2009.

(15) In 1989 and 1990, 80% of the foreigners living in Hungary were Romanian citizens. Between 1992 and 2002, their percentage declined, though they nevertheless continued to represent a little less than 40%. Cf. Judit Juhasz, "Hungary: Transit Country Between East and West", November 2003, [], 6 May 2010.

(16) 322 MPs voted for ratifying the ECT, 12 voted against it and 8 abstained. Cf. [], 6 May 2010.

(17) Cf. Zoltan Pogacsa, "Hungary: The EU New Member States as Agenda Setters in the Enlarged European Union", EuPl -- European Policies Initiative, Open Society Institute-Sofia, April 2009, [], 1 May 2009.

(18) "EU: meddig maradnak a munkavallalasi korlatok?" [EU: How long will restrictions on access to the labor market last?], HVG, 5 November 2005,

(19) Jaroslaw Gizinski, "Kitantorgo milliok" [Millions due to leave], Heti Valasz, vol. 7, no.43, 25 November 2007, [], 7 May 2009.

(20) Yudit Kiss, "Shylock es az integracio" [Shylock and integration], Magyar Lettre internationale, no.61, summer 2006, [], 7 May 2009.

(21) Antonela Capelle-Pogacean, "Reves d'Europe et incertitudes europeennes: perspectives hongroises et roumaines", in Nicolas Weil (ed.), Existe-t-il une Europe philosophique ?, Paris/Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2005, pp. 155-166.

(22) Eva Kovacs, "From Barbarian to Digital Heroes: On the Images of the European Union in Hungary", Regio, vol.9, 2006, pp. 179-190.

(23) Akos Toth, "Ketnapos csatlakozasi unnep. Uj es regi mondatok eselyrol, esodarol, ellenfelekrol" [Two Days of European Union Membership Celebrations: Old and New Remarks on Luck, the Miraculous and Enemies], Nepszabadsag, 3 May 2004, [ Default.asp?DocCollID=172878&DocID=147089#147089], 5 May 2004.

(24) Adevarul, 16 June 2005, p. 1.

(25) Ruxandra Trandafiroiu, "The Geopolitics of Work Migrants: The Romanian Diaspora, Legal Rights and Symbolic Geographies", Regio, 2006, pp. 130-149.

(26) The daily Curentul noted a survey conducted by the CSA Institute according to which the integration of Romania in the EU was favorably seen by 45% of French people while that of Bulgaria enjoyed a 49% approval rating among the French. 48% of those interviewed said they were against Romanian membership to the EU and 44% were against Bulgarian membership. Cf. Cf. "Bulgarians are nicer than we are, only 45% of the French desire Romania's accession in the EU", Curentul, 9 June, 2005, p. 1.

(27) Curentul, 21 April, 2005, p. 2.

(28) Alexandre Lazescu, "Europa: punct s.i de la capat" [Europe: end and renewal], Revista 22, no 796, 7-13 June 2005, [], 6 May 2010.

(29) Romulus Caplescu, " 'Programatorul indian' este o amenitare mai mare pentru vesteuropeni decat 'instalatorul polonez'" << [The 'Indian programmer', a bigger threat to Westerners than the 'Polish plumber'], Adevarul, 7 June 2005, p. 1.

(30) Andrei Cornea, "Euro-reversibilitatea?", Revista 22, no 796, 7 June -- 13 June 2005, [], 6 May 2010.

(31) Sorin Antohi, "Si occidentalii sunt oameni" [Westerners Are Humans, Too], Revista 22, no 796, 7 June-13 July 2005, [], 6 May 2010.

(32) Jerzy Jedlicki, "L'eternel retour de la Pologne en Europe", L'Autre Europe, no.28-29, 1994, pp. 28-36.

(33) The "East" or the "Balkans", objects of (semi) Orientalist approaches, have given rise to several studies inspired in part by the work of Edward Said, Orientalism, Vintage Books, 1978. See in particular Larry Wolff, Inventing Eastern Europe: The Map of Civilization in the Mind of the Enlightenment, Stanford : Stanford UP, 1994; Maria Todorova, Imagining the Balkans, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997; Maria Todorova, "The Trap of Backwardness: Modernity, Temporality and the Study of Eastern European Nationalism", Slavic Review, vol.64, no 1, 2005, pp. 140-164; Ezequiel Adamovsky, "Euro-Orientalism and the Making of the Concept of Eastern Europe in France, 1810-1880", The Journal of Modern History, no 77, September 2005, pp. 591-628.

(34) Milan Kundera, "Un Occident kidnappe ou la tragedie de l'Europe centrale", Le Debat, no 27, November 1983, pp. 3-22.

(35) Pierre Hassner and Jacques Rupnik (interview with), "Que devient l'idee d'Europe?", Esprit, May 1999, pp. 74-80, p. 77.

(36) Elemer Hankiss, "Les Funambules. La Civilisation europeenne: problemes et perspectives", L Autre Europe, no.34-35, pp. 223-240.

(37) See in particular Nadege Ragaru, "La riviere et les petits cailloux. Elargissement europeen et europeanisation en Europe centrale et orientale", in Francois Bafoil and Timm Beichelt (ed.), L'europeanisation d Ouest en Est, Paris : L'Harmattan, 2008, pp. 241-283 ; Benoit Challand, "1989, the 'Others' of Europe and Some Implications for a Political Europe", Working Paper Series of the Research Network 1989, Working Paper 14, 2008; Attila Melegh, On the East-west Slope: Globalization, Nationalism, Racism and Discourses on Central and Eastern Europe, Budapest and New York : Central European University Press, 2006.

(38) Janos Matyas Kovacs, Violetta Zentai (eds.), Eastern Enlargement -- Western Englargement : Cultural Encounters in the European Economy and Society After the Accession, Budapest : Centre for Policy Studies, Central European University Budapest Foundation, 2007, [, 7 May 2010.

(39) Pavla Cekalova, "'At Least They Are the Right Colour': East to West Migration in Europe Seen from the Perspective of the British Press", in Across Fading Borders: The Challenges of East-West Migration in EU, April 2008, [ borders/cekalova.pdf], 7 May 2010.

(40) Nadege Ragaru, "Imaginaires et itineraires migratoires bulgares en Europe. Une introduction >>, Balkanologie, vol.19, no 1-2, December 2008, [, 19 May 2009.

(41) Klaus Eder and Willfried Spohn (eds.), Collective Memory and European Identity: The Effects of Integration and Enlargement, Ashgate, 2005; George Mink and Maure Neumayer (eds.), L'Europe et ses passes douloureux, Paris : La Decouverte 2007.
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Date:Jun 1, 2011
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