(Re)constructing Europes in the migrant crisis: Germany, Hungary, and Russia



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Tartu Ülikool


This thesis uses Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe’s discourse theory to analyse the construction of European identity by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Russian President Vladimir Putin in the context of the European migrant crisis of 2015-2016. By analysing the politicians’ speeches and interviews, the thesis argues that the European migrant crisis is rooted in an underlying European identity crisis. With the help of, among others, Ivan Krastev’s analysis of the migrant crisis, this thesis demonstrates that Merkel, Orbán and Putin construct three competing conceptualisations of Europe that can be called, respectively, “Europe of universal human rights”, “Christian and ethnic Europe”, and “Europe of sovereign nationstates”. All three Europes entail their own, often contradicting, policies in response to the challenges of mass migration and refugees: respectively, the establishment of an EUbased compulsory migration quota system, a closure of the EU’s external borders for non- European migrants and refugees, and strategic cooperation between Russia and the West to combat terrorism and restore statehood in the Middle East. The thesis maintains that the inability to construct a European identity beyond the national discursive spaces lies at the core of this political crisis, by demonstrating that all three Europes are based on memory narratives and blueprints for the future which are highly intertwined with the three respective national identities. Following Chantal Mouffe’s theory of agonism, the antagonisation of competing national and European identities forms the major obstacle in establishing a pan-European identity. Merkel and Orbán’s antagonistic discourses seem, from this perspective, irreconcilable, so that the construction of a pan-European identity, as a legitimising force to outline pan-European policies, is hardly possible. Putin, on the other hand, brings in the migrant crisis that aspires to create a common cause for Russia and the West, combatting terrorism, which demands a consistent geopolitical strategy beyond internal European issues.