Transnational forms of solidarity and competition. Hungarians in Germany

Principal investigator: Margit Feischmidt

Participants: Márton Hunyadi, Ildikó Zakariás

Funding agency, grant: Humboldt Alumni Award, CSS Mobility Research Centre

Period: 2017 - 2021

Research questions and objectives:

In the age of globalization, social mobility, as well as social inequalities, no longer operate only within a nation-state framework, but are also partially transnational. Our research examines the opportunities, outcomes and limitations of European migrants in the space defined by the European selective mobility regime. The target group of the research is Hungarians living in Germany. We examine the causes of their migration, their successes and failures, and the relationship of Hungarians living in Germany to German and Hungarian society. We are also looking at how people who move or work within the European Union respond to the major challenges facing Europe in terms of security, international conflicts and international migration.

Focusing on the Hungarians residing in Germany we are interested in the relationship between the structural position of Hungarian migrants in Germany, and their actions vis-à-vis refugees residing in Germany. How do objective socio-economic position and subjective migration experience influence solidarity actions with refugees coming from non-EU countries? How do various patterns of attachment to sending and host societies relate to rejection or solidarity towards refugees, and consequently, to helping activities, or the lack thereof?

The migration experience and the discourses on the structural situation of the eastern member states are also integrated in the nativist and securitization discourses on those arriving from outside Europe. We would like to explore how the discourses of Hungarians living in Germany regarding migration and mobility contribute to maintaining and legitimizing the notions of national and European supremacy in both Germany and Hungary.

Research history:

Conflicting political perspectives about migration and unequal access to resources and rights produce categories of migrants marked by different degrees of precarity, vulnerability and freedom. While recent changes in these forms of differentiation and categorizations (due to the liberalization of within-EU labour markets, as well as the arrival of refugees and asylum seekers from outside of the EU) imply that the "host environment" of migrants/refugees is increasingly diverse – thus perceiving the former as made up of "natives" is less and less tenable – very few pieces of research have addressed the relationship between these various migrant groups and categories. The focus of our analysis is the migration experience Hungarians residing in Germany, their experience of mobility and their relation to third-country nationals perceived as refugees or asylum seekers.

One major source of inspiration has been provided by a research that directly addressed the relationship of intra-EU migrants towards refugees and asylum seekers. Nowicka and her co-authors inquired on philanthropic activities and volunteering for refugees on the part of Polish people living in Germany. Drawing on the literature of migrant transnationalism they introduced the concept of transnational solidarity to resolve the conceptual tension between solidarity as a norm connected by the modern welfare states to acting for the benefit of ‘others’ belonging to a particular political and social context (national solidarity) and the current reality of helping people beyond national, political or religious borders (cosmopolitan solidarity).

The first phase of the research was implemented in 2017 in collaboration with Berliner Institut für Integrations- und Migrationsforschung. In the second phase our research partner is the Visegrad4 Network of Max Planck Institute in Halle.

The project is supported by Centre for Social Mobility at Research Centre for Social Sciences.

Research methods:

The research has been conducted with mixed methodology. Our quantitative data comes from an online survey. Sampling took place in two phases. In the first phase of the research we identified Facebook groups of Hungarians living or working in Germany. In the second phase of the research, we sent a letter to the administrators of these groups asking for inclusion in the group or giving permission to publish the research questionnaire on the group's page. One hundred and twenty groups were identified in this way, with a membership of between one hundred and one hundred thousand. The survey was posted three times between June and August 2017 on Facebook by seventy communities who contributed to it. The final sample yielded 639 responses.

At the same time, part of the field work was carried out on the Hungarian diaspora in Berlin, Munich, Halle, Leipzig, Stuttgart, Göttingen and Friedrichshafen. Our interviews basically record wandering stories that begin with pre-wandering life; the reflection and decision on migration will be reconstructed; review work experience and social relationships in Germany, including relations with other migrant groups. They report on the experiences gained in the communities of Hungarians living in Germany and the changes in Hungarian conditions; Finally, migration is viewed from the perspective of the individual and the family. Between 2017 and 2019, a total of 41 interviews were conducted and analysed with the help of Atlasti software.

Research results in 2020-21:

After the research showed that economic motivations are not exclusive, and in many cases not even the most important, the analysis was expanded and linked to research antecedents that focus on international migration from non-economic motivations, and reveals the importance of lifestyle and values. With our forthcoming study, we will shed light on the values ​​and ideologies we have explored with the narrated history of migration of people living in linear or circular migration between Hungary and Germany. The research did not focus on the political attitudes of migrants, it was mainly related to the experience of migration. Here we try to process the values ​​that the experiences created in the transnational movement, the attachment to Hungary and Germany brought to the fore. Our study is linked to the literature on mobility within the European Union, and examines patterns of perceptions of cultural intimacy and diversity, responsibility, and freedom.

Previous results: The project started in late 2017. In 2017 and 2018 the data gathering has happened.

How migration experience affects the acceptance and active support of refugees? Philanthropy and paid work of Hungarian migrants in the German immigrant service

The manuscript examines migration experience and migrant solidarity within a differential migration system. More concretely Hungarians residing in Germany were in the focus of our study. Our question was how migrants´ structural position as well as their embeddedness in host and sending societies and their publics affects the acceptance (or refusal) of non-European refugees. The paper unfolds how Hungarians living in Germany have become involved in refugee support (either in form of voluntary or paid work), and how their engagement relates to their own experience of migration Concerning applied methods the paper is based on a quantitative online survey and interviews. Both subjectivity (agency) and the objective (structural) forces of migratory movements were taken into consideration; moreover, by applying a mixed methodology approach we sought to demonstrate how the two dimensions – objective position, and agency reflected in personal understandings of migrant positions – are intertwined, the latter influencing and changing the objective position of migrants.

‘We are that in-between nation’. Discourses of performance of Hungarian migrants working in institutions of refugee accommodation in Germany 

The manuscript focuses on Hungarians working or volunteering in German refugee reception organizations and asks how refugee representations are interconnected with personal migration experience. We show that the image of refugees that dominates our interviews is that of the economically deserving refugee who is hardworking and keen to acquire a proper education, employment and regularization in Germany. Discourses of vulnerability and of cultural difference appear to be subordinated to maintaining such representations of deservingness and performance. Identification with refugees and asylum seekers based on the perceived similarity of the struggle to achieve (economic, legal, and institutional) performance as migrants in German society becomes entangled with professional expectations in terms of the need to produce successfully compliant subjects.


Zakariás, Ildikó, Feischmidt, Margit: ‘We Are That In-Between Nation’: Discourses of Deservingness of Hungarian Migrants Working in Institutions of Refugee Accommodation in Germany, Sociology (2021) 55(2) 400-420, DOI: 10.1177/0038038520941690

Feischmidt, Margit, Zakariás, Ildikó: How Migration Experience Affects the Acceptance and Active Support of Refugees? Philanthropy and Paid Work of Hungarian Migrants in the German Immigrant Service, JOURNAL OF IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE STUDIES 18 : 4 pp. 481-497. , 17 p. (2020)

Feischmidt Margit; Zakariás Ildikó (2019) Solidaritat mit geflüchteten Menschen aus der Perspektive in Deutschland lebender ungarischer Frauen. Megjelenés: Németország 5 p. (2019)