Lastly, a very general point: What advice would you give to help people successfully return and reintegrate into Europe’s post-socialist countries?
Sarah Scholl-Schneider: Unfortunately, we don’t have a recipe for success. A few of the people who told us their stories in our volume excellently demonstrate how to return home: with a lot of planning and sufficient financial resources. They returned to countries where there had been a significant changeover in the elite, meaning that they were partly able to draw on networks of old contacts who were now in influential positions. They were also able to find ways, niches and suitable moments to successfully include their families in the process of reintegration. And, not least, they achieved success by using a number of strategies. Not standing out as “foreign”, for example, treading carefully, and deliberately keeping a low profile. Other returning migrants, however, had much more difficult experiences, and some even went so far as to leave their homeland again. Many of the aforementioned obstacles faced by returning migrants are due to structural problems. If one compares recent migratory movements to waves of remigration from the past, such as German post-war remigration, this becomes especially clear. As early as the mid-1940s, the sociologist Alfred Schütz described the classic homecomer, who possesses inherent traits which evoke familiar images from Greek mythology: that not only the homecomers, but also those who stayed behind change during the period of migration, that the homecomers are labelled with unrelenting stereotypes, or that they wish to use the experience they gained abroad for the good of their homeland. Schütz ends his text by pointing out that returning is not an automatic success and appeals to all sides involved to make the necessary provisions to address this.
Numerous NGOs, national diaspora programmes, return migration initiatives and advice centres spread all over post-socialist Eastern Europe are working to make these provisions – to differing degrees and with varying levels of funding. Yet the quietest voices of all in this dialogue are the returning migrants themselves. Their experiences, however, can be a valuable resource for us all.