According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) there are three ‘optimal solutions’ to the refugee problem: first country integration, resettlement, repatriation. At the beginning of the 1990s there was great optimism that the end of the Cold War might also result to the end of the global ‘refugee cycle’ (Black & Koser, 1999). Paradoxically, the global refugee population increased substantially at the end of the Cold War from 14.9 million in 1990 to 17.2 million in 1991.

The collapse of the Former Soviet Union (FSU) was the significant event that led to new waves of ethnic conflicts and refugees in the former Republics. More than two million refugees fled Nagorno Karabakh, Georgia, Moldova, Tajikistan and other central Asia Republics. In the Global South many of the conflicts of the Cold War legacy of proxy wars were taking a new momentum, as refugees continued to flee Angola and Afghanistan. In addition, more than two million people were displaced by the wars in Former Yugoslavia, bringing, thus, the refugee problem ‘at the heart of Europe’.


The post – Cold War ‘new world order’ raised the hopes that refugee cycles would come to an end. UNHCR High Commissioner for Refugees, Sadako Ogata, declared the year 2000 as ‘the decade of repatriation’. In Europe, a novelty concept of repatriation was adopted by countries, which acknowledged the presence of their co-nationals / co-ethnics under communist territory. Thus, Soviet Germans, Soviet Greeks, Soviet Jews, Soviet Finns acquired the right to ‘return’ to their European / Western homelands (Voutira, 2004). Indeed, one of the key paradoxes that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union concerned both the migration of people over borders and the migration of borders over people. More to the point, questions of nationality and membership in the new post-Soviet states had to be rethought and reconfigured on the basis of new priorities.

The case of the privileged return migrants as repatriates

As a consequence of the post – Cold War order, the so-called ‘foreign nationalities’ of the FSU (e.g., Germans, Finns, Poles, Laze, Turks, Bulgarians, Greeks) were transformed from least privileged, given exiles and internal displacements throughout the Soviet era, to most privileged, given the recognition of their right to return to their European historical homelands. Focusing mostly on the micro-level analysis and documentation of household adaptation strategies upon arrival in their new/historical homelands, anthropological research has documented specific patterns of cultural adaptation. In the past 30 years, the anthropological approaches to the study of migration have evolved starting from more traditional community-based approaches to post-structuralist accounts that have adopted a transnational perspective where migrants are no longer uprooted but move freely back and forth across international borders and between cultures and social systems.  Most of these approaches assume the theoretical perspective articulated by Appadurai (1996) model of understanding “modernity at large”.

Current research builds on these paradigms in order to address the entrepreneurial dimension, predicated on ‘family and ethnic network businesses’ (Kataiftsis & Grigorakis, ΕΣΠΑ, University of Macedonia, 2017-2019). The title of the current research ‘‘From the local markets to family businesses to the Russian markets: a horizontal economy of ‘poverty’ as a survival strategy of repatriates from the Former Soviet Union to Greece, from the mid-1990s to today.’’ describes the subject matter of the current research priorities, as they have emerged in the last twenty years.

“Network/mediated chain migration does not necessarily mean that prospective migrants or migrant families are given only one or a few options as to where they go. Migrants…seek work first one place, then another, where they have kin and friends. In retrospect, this can appear as a step migration pattern to an ultimate destination to which  a migrant recurrently returns or where he/she finally settles in with or without the family” (Brettell 2000:117).


Appadurai, A. (1996), Modernity at large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalisation, Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press  

Black, R., & Koser, H. (1999). The End of the Refugee Cycle?. New York Oxford: Berghahn Books

Brettell, C. (2000), ‘Theorizing Migration in Anthropology: The Social Construction of Networks, Identities, Communities and Globalscapes’, in C.B. Brettel  & J. F. Hollifield, Migration Theory: Taking Across Disciplines, 97-136, New York and London: Routledge

Kataiftsis, D., & Grigorakis, A. (2017-2020). Από τις λαϊκές αγορές, στις οικογενειακές επιχειρήσεις, στα Russian markets: μία οριζόντια οικονομία των «φτωχών» ως στρατηγική επιβίωσης των επαναπατρισθέντων από την πρώην ΕΣΣΔ από τα μέσα της δεκαετίας του 1980 έως και σήμερα. ΕΣΠΑ, Κωδικός Πράξης MIS: 5007303.

Voutira, E. (2004), ‘Ethnic Greeks from the Former Soviet Union as “Privileged Return Migrants.”’, Espace Populations Sociétés 3: 533-544