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Concha Höfler: Being “European” in the Southern Caucasus – Greeks in Georgia between identification and alteration

VortagendeR Concha Höfler
Tagung Europe in Discourse: Identity, Diversity, Borders
Ort Athen, Griechenland
Jahr 2016


In the conception of the Greek community of Georgia „Europe“ is both a locus of identification and one of alteration – a place they feel they belong to and one they distance themselves from. Identification in this community is traced through their migration to the Southern Caucasus from the Southeastern coast of the Black Sea almost 200 years ago, their belonging to the (Greek) Orthodox Church, the perception of being part of a greater Greek diaspora reaching back to the Byzantine Empire (Bruneau 1998; Sideri 2006), and through mass emigration in the past 25 years (initially mainly to Greece and Cyprus). In Georgia, religious affiliation and the historical link to the Byzantine Empire were and in most cases still are considered as “legitimate” links to “Greekness”.In Greece, however, while they are officially recognized as Greeks, ancestry and religious affiliation are in many cases not considered to be sufficient features of “Greekness” in everyday interactions, especially in the case of Greeks from the Soviet Union that do not speak Standard Modern Greek well (Hionidou 2012; Kaurinkoski 2010).

This paper proposes an ethnographically informed conversation analysis (Deppermann 2000) of 50 semi-structured interviews with members of Georgia’s Greek community and two outsiders from Germany and Georgia. The focus will be on the interactive construction of belonging (Hausendorf 2000), especially the juxtaposition of “Europe” and “the Caucasus” and the positions interviewees ascribe to themselves and their communities in relation to these. “Europe” and “Europeans” are constructed as ambivalent entity/ies, both aspired to and despised; a community the speakers both feel they belong to and at the same time reject and are rejected by. “Europe” is contrasted with “the Caucasus” and “Caucasians”with the latter both offering significant points of attachment in terms of shared practices fostering belonging and identification and being despised due to its “backwardness”.

A careful analysis of these complex relationships offers insights into three issues: Firstly, the interactive construction of belonging in an understudied community. Secondly, the interviewees draw on wider discourses about the recent socio-political transformations whose role may be explicated as the background to the recorded interactions. Thirdly, the data offers a view on “Europe” from an outside that is ambivalent about its own situatedness.

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Einordnung in die Universitätsstruktur

Fakultät Kulturwissenschaftliche Fakultät
Lehrstuhl Professur für Sprachgebrauch und Sprachvergleich
Forschungsprojekt The impact of current transformational processes on language and ethnic identity: Urum and Pontic Greeks in Georgia
PhD Project Constructing identity/ies in Georgia's Greek multilingual communication community