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Green wristbands

uf-picOn October 21st in Munich, Germany a group of about 30 Bulgarian migrants were pushed into a backyard by 20 police officers from the Financial Police (Finanzkontrolle Schwarzarbeit [FSK]). The incident took place in the neighborhood around the Central Train Station, where many try to find work as daylaborers, pushed to do so at street corners because of strict regulations to the “labor market.” About two hours of intimidation began. People’s names were written down in lists. They were constantly reminded that they have no right to work. Some of them were made to sign a document that they do not understand the content of and a copy was not given to them. But the most disturbing act came right before the group was released: the Bulgarians were forced to put on neon green wristbands with the explanation that this will prevent them from being checked for a second time. The group logically concluded that wearing the wristbands is a must. And just like this, on 21st of October, 30 Bulgarian workers were marked by the Munich FSK. On the next day one could see marked Bulgarian migrants wandering around the area in fear they cannot take the markers off as there might be chips inside that track their physical movement. As it turns out, there were no chips inside and the wristband could be easily cut off. But the shame, the humiliation, and the anger that necessarily accompanies one such atrocity are enough of a chip that must haunt us all.


The ban on the “labor market” in Germany will be lifted on January 1st of 2014. Up until then Bulgarian and Romanian workers are excluded from free access to the labor market and need a work permit that is not easily acquired. Instead, they rely on employers’ “generosity” to sign work contracts with them or often resort to practicing the so called “self-employment.” The rest are dubbed “illegal” workers. But the boundary between “legality” and “illegality” is not as clear cut as one can imagine, and one can easily slip into the latter, hence becoming even easier target of “controls” and intimidation. It often happens that because of the mounting of bureaucratic papers that need to be filled each month in a language you do not understand and with the spare time you have as a precarious worker, the so-called self-employed turn into “illegal” workers without even knowing it. An exploitative practice that has turned public discourse into labeling the “Eastern European workers” as “faked self-employed.”


Just two months ago, the local businesses around the “black labor market” petitioned the city of Munich against the “Eastern European workers” and demanded strict remedies to be undertaken against the “pollution” of their neighborhood. The “residents and businesses” wrote to the city that “[they] have a right to a humane and civilized life and working environment” and called for “coordinated, consistent and sustainable countermeasures both from social institutions and the police.” Hans Peter Uhl, a deputy for the Bavarian conservative Christian party CSU, welcomed the petition and promised tough measures against the “illegal” workers. The attempted purification of the social body on part of the “local residents and businesses,” the never-ceasing stigmatization of the Other and not least the overall battle over capital conformed upon its objects. Ever since the petition, the intimidation and the openly racist actions have increased tremendously. The “controls” now can take place a few times a day.  There are even accounts according to which police officers spread rumors that if the people are caught working “illegally” they will be banned from working for three years or fined with 1,000€. If the fine is not paid: jail time. These fear tactics drove many to already go back to Bulgaria and many to consider a potential return.


The Munich police have responded to a fierce criticism addressed by a supporters’ group in the city in that the green wristbands were meant to prevent a second control over an individual and that the police officers were merely trying to communicate the rights and the duties to the Bulgarian workers. According to the chief of police, the Bulgarians were not obliged to wear the wristbands and they could have taken them off immediately after the action. The dust-throwing into our eyes cannot be more than obvious. Logically, if one is to take off the wristband, a “second” control would follow on the very next day or even in the very next hour. But even more disturbing is the right-talk involved in the whole situation. It is almost like a Freudian slip where repression is uttered as rights: “I mark you with a wristband but I meant to educate you about your rights, in a language you do not understand”. We are used to this right-talk and especially when dealing with the “excess subject” as found in the labor migrant and the asylum-seeker. We now give citizenship to dead Africans and mark labor migrants with cute bracelets. With so many rights around, one wonders why there are so many Barbarians still wandering on the streets of Europe? It is often that we hear about “rights” when we deal with the migrant subject: the most famous of them being the “right to stay” and “the right to leave.” With so many rights your head goes spinning wondering if the Clash were the pre-migrant-cacophony prophets: Should I stay, or should I go?


I have already given an account on the overall political spectacle that haunts the European space of (un)freedom of movement and the exploitation of migrant labor as locked in liberal articulations of freedom. The “Bulgarian” migrant worker was once again turned into a small change when the “anti-European” and “anti-Civilization” attitudes of the Bulgarian parliament, as found in the voting against the buying of agricultural land by foreigners, was a reason enough for Chantal Hughes, Spokesperson of Michel Barnier, to threaten that the ban on the European labor markets will not be lifted for the Bulgarian labor power. The ever-increasing gap between the promised “equality” for all “European” workers and the stripped reality, as for example found on the streets of Munich, is more apparent than ever.


By Raia Apostolova

Raia Apostolova is from Sofia and a Ph.D. student at the Central European University, Budapest.

2 replies on “Green wristbands”

Bulgaria and Romania need to wait until german companies build their factories in Romania and Bulgaria (as they did in Hungary) so we can all work for Germany without polluting their clean land with our presence.

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