The refugee projective agency vs. the projective agency aimed at the refugee agency - the refugee crisis in Poland, Hungary, and Romania

Following the European refugee crisis in the Polish, Hungarian, and Romanian media inevitably reveals some distinctions in terms of interpretation given to the refugee projective agency. This is certainly related to the fact that each of these countries experienced the crisis in its own way - if at all (see the discussion of whether Romania experienced the refugee crisis in Chapter 7).

Hungary is the only one of the three countries that is a point on the route the refugees travel along (stream like a realflood, five thousand cross over here every day). The media suggested that the refugees consider Hungary to be a point of transit, and thus make use of its status as an external border of the EU. At the same time, the refugees ignore Poland since it is neither situated on the route from the Balkans to Germany nor it is included in their projections of the future, unlike Sweden or Germany.7 Finally, the refugees treat Romania as an unattractive potentiality, or as a sporadic perilous point of transit, which does not seem to be worth the risk because it lacks the assets as well as the physically, economically, or geopolitically beneficial conditions that would render it attractive.

Migrants do not stop by us. If we were [one of] the Schengen Member States, it would have been possible for some of the flows to pass from Greece through Bulgaria and Romania.


Focusing on divergences allows us to better grasp the bigger picture of the crisis rather than inducing fragmentation. In what follows, we concentrate on the significant differences suggestive of the uniqueness of experiences, expectations and projective agencies in the three countries. Referring to Hall and Soskice’s (2001) work on the varieties of capitalism as well as Abbott’s (2010) and Best’s (2019) work on the varieties of ignorance, this chapter may be framed as a work on varieties of refugee crisis in the period of 2015-2016. And these, as we will see, are inevitably connected with respective varieties of ignorance and varieties of projectivity.

In the media, the refugees treated the three countries differently in their projections of the journey to Europe and their targeted future there (see Table 6.5). The phenomenon of the varieties of refugee crisis is particularly palpable in this issue. Poland is not on the route, Hungary is on the route (though it is clearly threatened with closure), while Romania is not on the route (even though it might become part of the route in the future, this is an unattractive scenario from the viewpoint of the refugees).

In the case of Poland, the lack of agency of refugees is due to the country’s geographical position, backwardness, and/or the weak welfare system of the country. Herein, the refugee projective agency very rarely refers to the journey, and mostly focuses on the targeted future (the search for a better life). When refugees are presented as envisaging their better life in Poland, frequently a normative stance is applied, which demonstrates the attempts to temper the refugee agency by subsuming it to the Polish imaginaries about the good life and social order (will have to respect Polish law, will have to respect Polish culture and values').

With regard to Hungary, however, when the actions of the refugees take the form of projective agency they unfold as irregular crossings from Croatia and Serbia towards Germany (via Austria), and subsequent border incidents (use Hungary as transit, majority set out to move on towards the border, they went further). The projective agency as journey occurs as a fluid transition, as replacement (X number comes in and X number goes out) facilitated by the trains which transport the refugees further, or as irregular openings of the border (move on, far more go through the country but we don’t see it). The projective agency also transpires in the emotions of desperation, when the refugees remain in overcrowded camps, and impatience or anger, when the refugees lose patience because of endless waiting and uncertainty (impatience, protested to let them on the buses to the Hungarian border, demanded to open the border). Similar to the general story of the European refugee crisis in the media, once the border situation changed and the irregular transports to Germany were stopped, the projective agency as transit and journey became depicted as transgressive and illegal. Thus, the meaning is changed from planning that is supported by shared complicity to dangerous fantasies that are contentious.

In contrast to Hungary, but in a similar manner to Poland, the actions of the refugees in relation to Romania were also lacking, an issue of absence by omission (the refugees avoided Romania although there were some sporadic cases of refugees arriving in the past). But we also encounter the refugee agency as non-agency, as agency that is not realized, a story of “non-becoming”, to paraphrase Scott (2016). The non-becoming manifests several times in the case of Romania. The refugees in Romania appear as an enforceable

Table 6.5 The refugee projective agency aimed at Poland, Hungary, and Romania




Embarking on and navigating the journey

Attempt to figure out how to make their way to Western Europe avoiding Hungary

Try to get out of the camp in Roszke and continue journey to the West

Want to reach Finland

Use internet to check the routes

Check maps to find best connections

Do not take Poland into consideration as their destination

Stream like a real flood, are flooding

Move on. the camp is full, 5 thousand cross over here every day, far more go through the country but we don’t see it

Migration has an effect

Use Hungary as transit, majority set out to move on towards the border, they went further, travelled further to other Member States, are waiting for trains and buses to take them to the West, travelled to more wealthier countries

Losing of patience, clashes


Have expectastions, protest, hope the border will be (re)opened

Protested to let them on the buses to the Hungarian border, demanded to open the border

Crossed the border illegally, attempts to cross illegally

Started a fight

Migrants do not stop by

The decision of the Austrian authorities to send 5,000 immigrants to other states, including Romania and Bulgaria (enforceable prospect, by third parties)

Black Sea as a new migratory route

Bringing of the targeted future into existence/Reification of the future

Will introduce their sensitivities in public spaces, will introduce sharia law, will want to introduce their own customs, will take our jobs, will be able to bring their families, will flood us

Whether they will want to work in a country where even the natives do not agree to do so

Will have to respect Polish law

Will have to respect Polish culture and values (enforced prospect, by third parties)

Will not want to assimilate, will not want to stay, will not want to come to Poland, will run away because of xenophobiaprospect (by third parties) - an indirect possible enactment, in the best-case scenario, that opens collaterally due to the redirection of refugee movement by other countries (e.g. the request of Croatia for Serbia to send the refugees towards Romania and Hungary because of Zagreb being overwhelmed). Or they are an unrealistic prospect - such as in the reported possible scenario of the opening of a new immigration route at the Black Sea. This projection, however, is volatile and unstable. In spite of the episodic news suggesting that the refugees potentially consider this route, the projection of the Black Sea as a new migratory route to Europe has no actual traction probably because of the difficult physical conditions.

It is only when the system of relocation starts to be implemented, that the projective agency of the refugees takes a form that would be actualized in the future in Romania. The relocation of the first group of refugees creates the conditions for turning this projective agency into direct experience. Yet the actual presence of the refugees in the country (the first group that arrived in 2016 counted less than 20 persons) does not trigger public or political mobilization due to the very low numbers. Paradoxically and ironically, Romania’s own preparations for the relocation plans turn out to have had more concrete effects (acts of opposition to the opening of centres, for instance) than their presence per se.

Regarding the targeted future in the refugee projective agency, the differences between Poland, Hungary, and Romania become blurred. In this respect, the three countries seem to be equally unattractive (want to get to a wealthier country). Yet there are also some local distinctions. In the case of Poland, to take one example, the future targeted by refugees is perceived distinctively in relation to the ideological divide between the newspapers, and we encounter double-fold representations. It is also noticeable that the future targeted by the refugees overlaps with the actions that they perceive will be undertaken in the future. In essence, the targeted future becomes a reified future. Conservative media, for instance, presented refugees’ actions in the future as overtly aggressive and threatening to Poland (will introduce their sensitivities in public spaces, will introduce sharia law, will want to introduce their own customs, will not want to assimilate, will take our jobs, will be able to bring their families, will flood [overpower, outnumber] us). In this case, the refugee projective agency appears at the same time potent (high plausibility of making their plans happen either due to high volitional power or high numbers) and menacing (evil intent). The liberal press, on the other hand, presented a scenario of absence that is somewhat similar to Romanian media reactions, but at the same time accentuated not the economic or geopolitical incapacity of Poland but its ideological and cultural backwardness (will not want to stay, will not want to come to Poland, will run away because of xenophobia).

The actions undertaken by refugees in the three countries thus takes distinct forms, and especially in the case of Poland and particularly Romania, it rather manifests as lack of agency or non-agency. This notwithstanding, the refugees are generally portrayed as actors of projective agency. Especially in the two countries that are not situated on the route mapped out by the refugees, but also in Hungary, the media coverage invariably included other countries that are physically situated on the actual or projected route. In this way, even if the local refugee agency is absent, or it fails to manifest, the European or even global refugee agency is always present. Even if, this might de facto pertain to Serbia, Croatia, or Germany, for instance.

Moving to discuss how the media portray the projective agency of Poland, Hungary, and Romania aimed at the refugee agency, we see that this is contingent on various elements, such as the experience of contact with the refugees, which is either direct or indirect (see Table 6.6). The projective agency of Poland, for instance, is clearly contingent on the refugee agency in relation to their targeted future. The management of the movement of the refugees entails initial preparation for a future possible relocation. This type of projective agency on the part of Poland is presented in terms of the future legal or moral obligations (e.g. will have to secure them housing, should provide with support). The volitional stance is diminished in the former case and augmented in the latter case, which is more normative.

Clear mechanisms of future reification are discernible here. The projective agency of the country, which is based on obligations, interacts with both the framing of burden and the framing of responsibility or care, thus taking on positive and negative values in parallel. The projective agency of Poland that emerges as more normative, on the other hand, is more univocally negative. It is formulated in interactive terms, thus presupposing a higher level of agency on the part of the refugees. It involves direct threats to refugees (will pacify them, “we will kick them out”), being aimed in essence at preventing the arrivals of the refugees to Poland and at avoiding all forms of direct contact. In addition, the media also cover projections that are directed towards finding substitutes for the arrival of the refugees from the Middle East and Africa (e.g. accepting Ukrainians, as refugees, to the country; or providing social support for internal disadvantaged groups, such as the homeless or single mothers).

The projective agency of Hungary, in comparison, is oriented towards the refugee agency understood as both journey and transit that exists at present. It develops in reaction to what is happening in the country at a particular time, and not to what might happen or will happen in the future, that is, it is aimed at the refugees who are waiting at the borders, and not at those who might be relocated to Hungary in the future. The media allow one to see how Hungary shifts from initially allowing the refugees to pass through to subsequently erecting the barbed wire fence. The initial irregular permission of passage and the subsequent border closure redirected the projective agency of the refugees altogether. The country opened its borders, closed or planned to close the Balkan migratory route, and built fences and started

Table 6.6 The projective agency of Poland, Hungary, and Romania aimed at the refugee agency

Projective agency

Phrasing in media




Management (of

Polish government


The mobilization

the movement of

agreed to accept

pass on

of the authorities


two thousand refugees

Hungarian fence on the


Would follow the

Polish Border Guard officials will go to North Macedonia/Greece to help in checking refugees’ identity

Refugees have to be checked

Need to stop the wave/influx, have to discourage

Make them leave the area

Serbian border

Boat yes, fence no

Yet still

Supports the acceleration of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations and visa liberalization

organization of a refugee camp

Call to action

Will not allow

Orban: There


against a highly

refugees to settle

can be no goal

probable risk/

on Polish land, will

for refugees

Has to prepare

Reification of the

kick them out from

to adopt a

future/Preparation for a possible yet


European life


uncertain future

Cannot turn away from refugees, should help them, will create conditions for them to find jobs

Will have to be quickly integrated, will have to abide by Polish norms and values or penalties will be applied

Will bring over, will give visa, will provide with welfare support

Common border protection

An EU force must be created to protect Greece, and Hungary is ready to take part

More nuanced perception of the Hungarian government in the Czech media

mobilizing in the direction of defending the European borders outright. The management of the movement of refugees is progressively directed towards closing the possibility of entering Hungary (see the closure of its borders with Serbia and Croatia). Hungary thus manages the movement of the refugees directly. The projective agency of this country targets the agency of the refugees as something that is material, observable and directly experienced.

The situation changed when the country managed to remove itself from the projected route of the refugees. The irregular transit passage no longer goes through its territory and the country puts itself in a dubious legal position by marking its external borders with no transit signs. Hungary thus is especially active and engaged in the managing of the direct movement of refugees, but has to deal with the lack of legitimacy of its actions. The country is observably driven by a sense of necessity, by a feeling that it is under pressure to act, as well as by a heroic mission. Other countries, we read in the media, are either beginning to openly acknowledge that Hungary is right, or that they agree tacitly with Hungary, but for various reasons they are afraid to openly acknowledge it.

The projective agency of Romania, just like that of Poland and Hungary, has also undergone some interesting transformations. The management of the refugees’ movement does not occur in this country directly. But this is, nevertheless, a future that might be realized, and several actors prepare for it and try to bring it forward (as in the Croatian request for redirecting the refugees towards Romania, or the EU mechanisms of relocation). In this sense, the projective agency of Romania is reminiscent of Poland’s. Both countries manage the movement of refugees by preparing for something that will take place in the future. Yet, unlike Poland, Romania initiated a series of preparations for the arrival of the refugees. Although it initially voted against the relocation scheme, overall it acts according to the EU guidelines, and it prepares to accept the refugees. Poland, on the other hand, after an initial phase of management as preparation, decided to cease participation, although it does not do so formally.

In the media, Romania is presented as a country preparing and waiting for the refugees, which results in the country’s inclusion in the circuit of the crisis. The refugee crisis is not happening outside Romania anymore, but also inside the country. This change is, however, accompanied by a great deal of uncertainty and insecurity as to whether Romania is or will be considered attractive by the refugees as well as to whether they will remain in the country or move further. Interestingly, the start of the relocation programme and the actual arrival of the first group of refugees to Romania did not result in greater certainty about Romania’s status. In contrast, the relocation programme as a plan triggered some negative emotions among the general public and some local actors who started to express their opposition to the arrival of the refugees, or more exactly, to locating the reception centres in their communities.

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