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Past exhibitions

Sputnik: At the Border

By 6. 2. 2008 May 14th, 2019 No Comments

Sputnik
At the Border

6.02.2008 – 27.02.2008
19h

A few years ago, when post-communist countries citizens started to leave their countries en masse in search of better work opportunities in Western Europe, they were not received enthusiastically there. The residents of the host countries were worried that cheap labour from East would flood their markets. Polish plumbers, nurses, or construction workers were viewed with suspicion and considered a thread. Since then, economic reasons prevailed and a great number of Poles have left. Their work is now legalized in some the EU countries, but not in others. In the latter, they continue to work illegally.

Sputnik
At the Border

A PHOTO ESSAY

A few years ago, when post-communist countries citizens started to leave their countries en masse in search of better work opportunities in Western Europe, they were not received enthusiastically there. The residents of the host countries were worried that cheap labour from East would flood their markets. Polish plumbers, nurses, or construction workers were viewed with suspicion and considered a thread. Since then, economic reasons prevailed and a great number of Poles have left. Their work is now legalized in some the EU countries, but not in others. In the latter, they continue to work illegally.

Many nationals of the former Soviet Union republics, Vietnam, or African countries are in a situation that we were once before. The economic straits, job shortages and no other means of support force them to leave their home countries and seek better opportunities in the “New Europe.” There are many families in Armenia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Vietnam who live of the money sent to them by a family member working abroad. Being illegal means being on your own. While working in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Slovenia, an immigrant worker has no rights and no government support.

Moving to another country has always been difficult, but the life of illegal immigrants is a hundredfold harder. Often rejected by or alienated from the society they live in, they tread the unfamiliar grounds, struggle with incomprehensible languages, and move around the boundaries of the law. The work they find is mostly physical, jobs they take are those that nobody else is willing to do. Their employers seek their services taking advantage of the cheap labour.

Immigrant workers live far from their partners and children, many a time separated from them for years. A trip home is far too expensive to be considered, and the risk of not being able to return to the country they work in is too high. The constant fear of being deported is their nightmare. They can be stopped by the police and expelled from the country at a moment’s notice. Those illegally trading at the bazaars have been relentlessly pursued by the police and given perfectly legal fines. Their contraband goods have frequently been confiscated by the customs agents. “But,” as one of our story’s heroine says, “what can we do? You are at home and we are not.” The instances where one person decides to stay while his or her entire family is being deported are not rare.

Most of the immigrants live day-by-day making no plans for the future, because the future in their world does not exist. They long ago stopped dreaming about returning home, because they don’t know whether such return will ever be possible. They have been living in a limbo for three, five, even ten years. Eventually, some of them build a new life in the country they now reside – creating a community with their fellow countrymen and women, sometimes finding a new partner, learning the language, and making new friends. It’s hard, but going home after a long absence, often to the very different world than that they had left behind, would not have been easy either.

Sputnik

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