Echoes of the 2011 Syrian uprising in Europe – Music and political belonging among Syrian forced migrants in Greece and Austria
Political belonging, in addition to the relationship between individuals and structured political formations such as nation-states, political parties or political organizations, can also refer to the affiliation of individuals to certain political ideals concerning public life, to the commitment to moral value systems inspired by these ideals and, finally, to the social and cultural habits in which these ideals are reproduced and transmitted.
The social uprising of “freedom and dignity” in Syria in 2011, as well as those in other Arab countries within the so-called Arab Spring, marked a historical moment of manifestation of new forms of mass political mobilization under authoritarian regimes, which gave rise to new collective experiences of political activism and shaped new political (non)belongings that were nevertheless marked by the trauma of deadly repression, social collapse, war and forced flight. Furthermore, these experiences varied by gender, class, ethnicity, as well as religious beliefs and political views.
Much of the research on music in the context of Syrian forced migration to Europe has focused on what people do with music within spatial “regimes of exception,” such as European refugee camps and reception centers, the absolute spaces of the European asylum/border regime, as well as in the context of resettlement and so-called “refugee integration.” In both scenarios, as local political and social conflicts become particularly apparent, the previous individual and collective political belonging of Syrian migrants in relation to the social and political situation in Syria tends to be overlooked. Yet aspects of Syrian migrants' musical output echo this affiliation.
Without considering the “Syrian opposition” as a single category of political belonging, this paper aims to present the different ways in which the Syrian uprising of 2011 and the vision of a peaceful, democratic and free Syria resonate in the music of Syrian migrants in Europe, in settings further characterized by discriminatory refugee discourses, attitudes, and policies. It is based on field research in Greece 2016, Austria 2019-2023, and online-field-research.
Ioannis Christidis is a doctoral student in ethnomusicology at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna and a research fellow at the Music and Minorities Research Center (MMRC). His research deals with the music of Syrian forced migrants in Europe, its relation to migration policies and the ways in which it becomes meaningful in the context of the refugee journey and resettlement. Focusing on the socio-political implications of this music, he aims to examine the possibilities offered by musical practice for the development of social activism and inter-community solidarity, in terms of applied ethnomusicology.