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Ethnic return migration, exclusion and the role of ethnic options: ‘Soviet Greek’ migrants in their ethnic homeland and the Pontic identity

Nations and Nationalism

Published online on

Abstract

["Nations and Nationalism, EarlyView. ", "\nAbstract\nDrawing on ethnographic research, this paper explores the reasons why and the processes through which the Greeks from the former Soviet Union altered their self‐identification after migration to their ethnic homeland. Responding to their labelling by the native Greeks and the doubts expressed about their Greekness, most introduce themselves as Pontians, even though the area of Pontos was not a marker of identification for them in the Soviet Union. They do so to express their felt experience of otherness in Greece and to claim their belongingness in the Greek nation. Exploring this case of ethnic return migration, the paper shows how migrants select among available ethnic options and redefine them, to assert their desired identities and strive for inclusion. In so doing it highlights the situational and processual character of ethnic identification, which should not be treated as a direct function of one's descent and culture. At the same time, it shows the constraining role of available ethnic options delimiting this process. Ethnic labels are not empty vessels. They carry particular significations that make them appealing or foreign to different migrant categories and also define the discursive and performative limitations in their ability to claim them and gain national acceptance.\n"]