Post by Sanja Milivojevic, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia. In this post, I outline some of the themes in my forthcoming book 'Border Policing and Security Technologies' (Routledge, 2019). I am very pleased to be joining the team at Border Criminologies, with a focus on communication. In my research, I bring a new geographical area of expertise to the network, in the Western Balkans and Australia.

At the dawn of what would later be called the ‘European migrant crisis’ I was in my office in Sydney reading headlines about growing numbers of people transiting the Western Balkans on their way to Europe. I knew the time was right for a project on mobility management at my old, Northern Hemisphere home. I hoped that ten years after I had left Serbia to take on academic opportunities in Australia, I would still be considered enough of an insider, and that my Serbian passport, prior academic credentials and connections would facilitate my access to research sites, government officials and movers and shakers behind the scene.

While mobility from the Global South has been at the centre of inquiry for many years now in border criminologies, until Frontex identified the Western Balkans migration route as the second largest corridor for irregular border crossers in Europe this region had been largely been overlooked. Despite the EU’s expansion to Southeast Europe, liberalisation of visa regimes and political instability in the region, researchers have been reluctant to engage. The language barrier is a key obstacle: to do research in the Balkans requires a good command of either Serbian or Croatian. Access for non-citizen researchers is also challenging, while political instability kept academics at bay for a long time. Local researchers too, face numerous difficulties in pursuing their research projects. There is limited funding, minimal support from government research bodies, scarce opportunities to publish in English-language journals, and, often, a lack of opportunities for cooperation and exchange of ideas.

A snake killed by men sleeping outside the asylum centre in Bogovađa. Photo: Sanja Milivojevic

As an insider and an outsider I was unable to escape all of these problems. Nevertheless, I persevered. The fieldwork commenced in early 2013 and was largely completed by the end of 2015. I applied traditional mixed methods but focused primarily on interviews with principal stakeholders (government agencies, NGOs, activists, representatives of international organisations, and academics) in Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo and FYR Macedonia as key states on the Western Balkans route. Based on interviews, written submissions, roundtable transcripts, formal and informal interviews with asylum seekers, fieldwork observations in Bogovađa asylum centre in central Serbia and the city of Subotica near Serbia-Hungary border and media analysis of leading newspapers, Border Policing and Security Technologies aims to shed (however partial) light on this under-researched part of Europe. This theoretical and empirical study examines security technologies as a myriad of techno-social installations and interventions deployed to locate, track, monitor, immobilise and govern people prior, during, and after the ‘crisis’. I focus on three categories of border crossers: non-citizens transiting the region, citizens of the Western Balkans seeking asylum in the EU (often referred to as ‘bogus’ asylum seekers), and women border crossers.

In the book I investigate the nature and formation of borders (processes of proliferation, heterogenisation and externalisation of borders), and the location of physical, internal, and digital borders in the region. I also analyse performance of borders: a development of Didier Bigo’s ‘solid’, ‘liquid’ and ‘gaseous’ borders. ‘Solid’ borders are those conceptualised as a line of demarcation. They are borders in traditional sense, often located at physical borders as walls of segregation that have to be defended by the use of force. These barriers are complemented by ‘liquid’ borders that regulate and filter human mobility. I also look into the development of ‘gaseous’, or as I call them, ‘cloudy’ borders, located and defended in the digital sphere, in computer systems, databases and servers, and within satellite and drone surveillance systems of the Global South. Finally, I look at the impact of borders and bordering practices, as people are classified according to what Broeders and Hampshire call ‘green’, ‘grey’ and ‘black’-listers of transnational mobility. I map border struggles that follow the above processes, analyse the creation of labour ‘reserves’ in the region, and examine the role technology plays in governing mobility and creating social change through what I call counter-security technologies.

All together, I map a complex array of fences, military-style pushbacks, and violence in the Western Balkans. I analyse external and internal pressures and their role in dramatic changes and adjustment of borders in the region and argue that the EU has shaped states’ legal and political systems of mobility management prior, during, and after the ‘crisis’. In doing so, the West has commenced a peculiar process of converting the Western Balkans from the ‘bad boys’ of Europe, to what De Genova calls ‘wardens of the EU border regime’. De-balkanisation and Europeanisation of the region followed Serbia, Croatia, FYR Macedonia and Kosovo’s efforts in reconciling a free flow of capital, money, goods and services, while at the same time ensuring that mobility is properly governed. The goal, I argue, was not to immobilise border crossers, but to regain control over mobility. As people transit or try to leave their country of origin, they were constantly assessed and re-assessed through a range of bordering interventions according to their suitability for labour markets and/or asylum systems in countries of destination. Finally, the region was, and still is a space where border struggles take place, and where people on the move reclaim technology in order to enhance their migratory projects, record human rights abuses, and create counter-narratives of migration that can potentially debunk the notion of what Huysmans calls a ‘collective dangerous force’.

So, what do drones, snakes and Facebook have in common in the Western Balkans? Drones, thermo-visual cameras and other techno-social interventions regulate mobility by temporarily restraining border crossers in the region. Snakes, snow and other natural obstacles, as I witnessed in Bogovađa asylum centre, hinder it, along with violence, pushbacks, racism and xenophobia, pregnancy and motherhood, and anti-trafficking strategies aimed to prevent future victimisation of women border crossers. Lastly, Facebook, WhatsApp, Google Maps and other counter-security technologies enable mobility, assist in accountability for human rights violations, and transform predominant narratives around mobility in the aftermath of the ‘crisis’. As I contend in Border Policing and Security Technologies, these accounts are a stark reminder of states’ efforts to reinstate, and peoples’ efforts to resist dehumanising bordering practices in the Global South. 

Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.

__________

How to cite this blog post (Harvard style) 

Milivojevic, S. (2018) What Do Drones, Snakes and Facebook Have In Common? You Can Find Out In the Western Balkans. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2018/09/what-do-drones (Accessed [date]).