Borders of Desire takes a novel approach to the study of borders: rather than seeing them only as obstacles to the fulfilment of human desires, this collection focuses on how borders can also be productive of desire. Based on long-term ethnographic engagement with sites along the eastern borders of Europe, particularly in the Baltics and the Balkans, the studies in this volume illuminate how gendered and sexualized desires are generated by the existence of borders and how they are imagined. The book takes a performative approach, emphasizing not what borders are, but what borders do – and in this case, what they produce. Borders are thus treated less as artefacts of desires and more as sources of desire: a border’s existence, which marks a difference between here and there, can trigger imaginations about what might be on the other side, creating new desires expressed as aspirations, resentments, and actions including physical movements across borders for pleasure or work, while also as enactments of political ideals or resistance. As the chapters show, sometimes these desires spring from orientalising imaginaries of the other, sometimes from economically inspired fantasies of a different life, and sometimes from ethnosexual projections or reimaginings of political pasts and futures. Taken as a whole, Borders of Desire offers new perspectives on the work borders do, as well as on the gendered and sexed lives of those in and from the eastern borders of Europe, and the persistent East/West symbolic divide that continues to permeate European political and social life.
Not all borders are the same, and they have a habit of both changing over time and being different according to where you have come from and where you are going. Asylum seekers and other migrants arriving on the island of Lesvos were attempting to cross into the European Union and had mostly come from war-torn regions further to the east and south, and were looking for a better life. Yet there were different kinds of borders being crossed on the island, triggered by different kinds of desire: Euro-American women visiting the island because of its association with the poet Sappho were crossing from what they saw as heteronormative space into lesbian-friendly space; and some women residents of the island would cross the Greek–Turkish border on a weekly ferry to go shopping (both for goods and occasionally illicit affairs) in the bazaar in the Turkish coastal town of Ayvalik. The chapter shows that the borders that people cross or transgress generate different kinds of desires according to the historical moment and where people are coming from.
EU border-making and anti-LGBT mobilisation in Serbia
The chapter explores how the EU’s boundary-drawing practices directly influence anti-LGBT mobilisation in countries seeking accession to the EU by focusing on the case of surging resistance to LGBT rights in Serbia. It addresses demands posed by the EU concerning LGBT rights and the emergence and transformations of the local political discourses which interlock and mutually incite anti-LGBT and anti-EU appeals. The chapter traces the changing discourses and practices of arguably the most active and influential participants in the anti-LGBT mobilisation, such as the political movement/party Dveri, public intellectuals, politicians and members of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and uses relevant textual sources, including EU and nongovernmental statements, media reports and documents produced by or about the observed actors. By looking at the productive interplay of anti-LGBT and anti-EU arguments in the Serbian context, the chapter shows how EU sexual governance can be seen as a particular marker of the symbolic border between Europe’s ‘Western core’ and its ‘Eastern’ periphery. The chapter argues that this border-making process represents one of the key factors which not only influence anti-LGBT mobilisation, but also incite a desire to resist membership in the European Union.
This chapter studies the border from the perspective of gender, exploring the desires present in the current images and practices associated with the Finnish–Russian border and the act of crossing it. The analysis is based on long-term ethnographic work with autoethnographic observations of the border, border-crossings and the border area on both sides of Finnish–Russian border since the beginning of the 2000s. The chapter explores gendered border-produced desires through the prism of resentment and nostalgia, the sources of which we see in the perceptions and memories of Second World War and the Cold War era on the one hand, and in the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Soviet Socialism on the other. This is accompanied by different desires for crossing the border among border area residents of different backgrounds. For some the border represents a guarantee of national and personal security; for others the border represents access to desired other spaces: for Finnish border-crossers the ‘home’ and battle landscapes lost in the Second World War; and for the Russian-speaking immigrants living in Finland the welfare state and social security lost after the collapse of the Soviet system, which, it is believed, can be rediscovered on the other side of the border.
Croatia’s sexualised and gendered (self-)ascriptions and its desire for European belonging
This chapter links the historic Antemurale Christianitatis narrative of Croatia’s role as a bulwark separating ‘Christian Western civilisation’ from ‘Balkan barbarism’ to recent policies and media representations that gender and sexualise the nation. Croatia’s liminal position between Europe and the Balkans epitomises the desire for the respective ‘other’ on both sides, while it draws its own raison d’être from separating the two. Hence, Croatia can best be conceptualised as an ambiguous, contested site that is constantly (re)produced by and simultaneously produces desire. Politicized representations of gender, sexuality and ethnicity are most visible in the discourses on the ambiguous role of Croatian ex-generals in the aftermath of the so-called ‘Homeland War’ (1991–95) in which Croatia gained independence from Yugoslavia. In public discourse, the military success of Croatia – and ultimately the image of Croatia as a nation – is closely linked to the sexualised, mythic image of one man, former Lieutenant General Ante Gotovina. The chapter analyses a 2001 biography of Gotovina and ensuing film and television series adaptations from 2019. It argues that the narratives sketched therein construct the nation as being in need of a male protector and locate Croatia as wedged between an immoral Europe on one side and an uncivilised Balkans on the other.
This chapter examines how borders work to produce desires both in the form of sexualisation as well as through a lived sense of sexuality. The chapter is based on long-term fieldwork with Latvian migrants in Guernsey, UK. The chapter argues that the borders that people cross create new desires. Borders shape people as sexual beings in novel ways. By weaving together notions of ethnosexuality, bordering and desire, the chapter examines sexualisation in migrant spaces, at work and in public spaces.
Gender, sexuality and desire at the eastern borders of Europe
The Introduction to the collection of studies in Borders of Desire outlines and theorises the book’s approach to borders as being productive of desire. Instead of focusing on the ways in which borders obstruct, the volume asks what desires, particularly those around gender and sexuality, are produced by the very presence of borders. The Introduction presents the book’s performative approach, which emphasises not what borders are, but what borders do – and in this case, what desires they produce. It further introduces the agentic approach to desire drawing on Michel Foucault’s and Judith Butler’s theorisations of subjectivation, desire and resistance. The Introduction then explores the structuring themes of the volume’s chapters, highlighting aspects of fantasy, personal escape and transformation related to border-crossing; ethnosexualised borders which create desires for exoticised others; and political desires for certain pasts and futures marked by borders that may also provoke a desire to resist normative orders of gender and sexuality associated with border-related differences. The Introduction highlights the ways in which the chapters speak to these themes and to each other, showing how borders can trigger new desires expressed as aspirations, resentment, actions or movements. In laying out this approach, the Introduction also sets this book apart from most other studies that take borders for granted and desire as something that precedes the presence of a border. Instead, the Introduction stresses how gendered and sexualised desires are built through various configurations of imagination and bordering practices through which individuals are constantly called to be desiring subjects.
Multiple lives and desires in border-crossing prostitution
May- Len Skilbrei
This chapter investigates how desire is relevant for our understanding of transnational prostitution. The context is migration for and through prostitution across what used to be the Nordic–Soviet divide, across borders which during the last decades have changed their meaning and materiality profoundly. The chapter investigates the desires attached to the border, building on research among women from Eastern and Southeastern Europe who in the mid-2000s travelled back and forth between Norway, their country of origin and other countries on a regular basis, engaging in commercial sex in some or all of these places. The research demonstrates that desire for a different life than what could be realised by only ‘staying at home’ made mobility attractive and that the ethnosexual desire of Nordic men made it possible for the women to attain what they desired. In this scenario, what lies beyond the border is imbued with value and desirable objects for both sellers and buyers of sex, and the existence of the border plays a part in this. While desire is a feeling experienced on a deeply personal level, the desire for things and experiences that can only be accessed elsewhere, and the possibility of having one’s desires met, speaks to geopolitical, cultural and economic relations and changes. Borders are not only an organising principle, but also something that gains meaning and materiality through people’s desires and how they act upon them.
Gendered desire in the narratives of women from post-socialist countries in Italy and Finland
This chapter examines the ways in which women who have migrated from post-socialist countries to Italy and Finland narrate their reasons for migrating. Drawing on two different ethnographic research projects conducted in two different settings, the chapter analyses how migration can be a strategy for escaping certain gender relations or an attempt to take full advantage of other configurations of them. We explore the different dimensions of desire by looking at the continuum from sex to love as ways to ensure a better future and how this continuum sits in the post-socialist gender orders and their renegotiation in these migratory contexts. Moreover, we argue that mainstream migration literature needs to reconsider the idea of the migrant as an economically rational individual by taking into account the importance of desire as a driver of migration and as a key force which shapes gendered migratory mobilities.
This chapter examines the productive aspect of borders in the realm of the border hotel-casinos and beauty consumption practices in the Balkan region. For the regular gamers visiting the casinos on the Macedonian side of the border, the gaming universe opens up a possibility for trespassing on the rigid class boundaries that lock people into seemingly fixed subject positions determined by their rural background in northern Greece. Financial superiority entitles gamers to demand special treatment by the hotel-casino employees. Thus the desire to gamble becomes more than an addiction: it is an escape from the everyday, as crossing a border to gamble involves a creation of another reality and allowing the gamers to create their new selves. For the urban consumers from Thessaloniki, the border also offers the possibility of maintaining beauty practices such as cosmetic and hair-dressing services that are too expensive and unaffordable in Greece. The proximity of the border and the possibility to visit beauty parlours in Gevgelija enables these women to reinstate their sense of femininity and middle-class position; crossing the border makes them feel like women, which raises the question of the effect of the border on the notion of gender. Arguably, the crossing of a border affects the way desires intersect with other consumer aspects such as acquiring the luxury, comfort or status markers necessary for maintaining certain ethnically and class-marked modes of being a `real` woman.