Pobeda [ Победа ]

August 11th, 2012 | Alina Müller


Pobeda [ Победа ] is a Russian brand of wrist- and pocket watches. Based on a French design, the Pobeda’s simple, 15-jewel movement was cost-effective, reliable, and easy to manufacture and maintain. This ensured its remarkable production life span between the years 1946 and 2004.

Prior to World War II during a period of rapid industrialization in the Soviet Union, the Soviet government sought international funding and expertise in developing a domestic industry for timepieces. Eventually the French watch manufacturer LIP was chosen; they established a new watch factory in Penza. [...] World War II temporarily disrupted these plans, but after the Allied victory, this watch design was quickly finished at Penza, and full scale production commenced at the First Moscow Watch Factory. Joseph Stalin chose the name Pobeda (Victory) to celebrate the end of the war.  (Source: Wikipedia)

My father wore a Pobeda wrist-watch the first time he managed to cross to the other side of the Iron Curtain (to străinătate, the foreign lands). My mother had found it on the side of the road when they were visiting his hometown earlier that year. 15 years later, I left Sweden wearing the same watch.

If they were a nation

July 29th, 2012 | Alina Müller

An article* in the Economist paints an interesting picture:

There are now 215m first-generation migrants around the world: that’s 3% of the world’s population. If they were a nation, it would be a little larger than Brazil.

Perhaps the time has come to claim our own territory.



Contemporary migrants according to level of achievement of those that left for riches

June 13th, 2012 | Alina Müller


Those that left for riches and went back with none

Those that left for riches and went back and built a house

Those that left for riches and keep going back in a Mercedes

Those that left for riches and went back and spent them

Those that left for riches, made it and never went back

Those that left for riches, made none and can’t bear to go back


Contemporary migrants according to frequency and direction of movement

June 11th, 2012 | Alina Müller

Those that move once and stay

Those that move, stay for a longer period and then move back

Those that move, stay and move again

Those that move and keep moving to new places periodically

Those that move and move back, back and forth

Those that didn’t move but are abroad


A migration museum

May 8th, 2012 | Alina Müller

(Image from Samamidon's video 'Saro' )

I’m always searching for instances that document some aspects of the shared experience of people that have migrated. I continue to find fragments of it in music, literature, films and conversations. The most recent example that comes to mind is Ian Nagoski’s presentation of the record ‘To What Strange Place’, a collection of music recorded in New York by immigrants from the dissolving Ottoman Empire between 1916 – 1929. Among the tracks is one with the brilliant title ‘I wish I had never come to America’. Another example was the London launch of the ‘Aliens’ issue of Granta magazine, which features a selection of photographs by Afshin Dehkordi, who, having grown up in London, went back to photograph his country of origin, Iran.

But I have very rarely – actually I can’t think of any example – found an initiative, political or cultural, that represents migration and the story of people that migrate as a coherent and, more importantly, distinct narrative decoupled from that of the national one of the country of origin or of the ‘receiving’ country.

I recently came across The Migration Museum Project, a project initiated by a group of people that seek to create Britain’s first major migration museum.  The idea that a Migration museum always evokes for me  is precisely that of a place that tries to represent and explore the migration experience and process in a historical perspective. I imagine it as a place where I as a migrant would walk in and be able to situate my own personal narrative, very much shaped by moving and settling across national borders, within a broader historical one shared by others. A place that would offer me what I feel is a much needed alternative to the default national narrative  and identity of either my country(ies) of origin or the one where I currently live.

The objective of a museum as proposed by the Migration Museum Project is however slightly different. It is that of creating a space that conveys the importance of the British history of immigration and emigration in the national narrative. In the context of  today’s culturally diverse British society, this would in turn help to ‘advance a shared sense of history and through that to create a stronger sense of shared identity and common values’.

This purpose should perhaps not be surprising. It is after all a ‘national’ museum. And to help British people think of themselves as a nation of migrants is a worthy cause in itself. Nonetheless, I would argue that if such a space fails to engage with and explore what aspect of ‘Britishness’ has been shaped by the migrating experience  and in what way, only half of the job will be done.

In one of the papers produced by the Migration Museum Working Group, there is a really great reflection on the need for a migrant museum: ‘ For when a group or individual’s heritage is ignored or overshadowed by the dominant narrative- in other words when they cannot see themselves reflected in the mirror – the long-term outcome can be ‘disaffection, disillusionment and disenfranchisement (..) it is like being rubbed out of history’.

But what if, to this end, the task is not to re-define the dominant narrative with the purpose of making it more inclusive but instead to provide a space for displaying and exploring a narrative that is out there and in the making – the migrant narrative?


Lives and works on Earth

January 15th, 2012 | Alina Müller

Short cuts, Mircea Cantor

In the programme of a recent exhibition at Tate Modern, the work of one the exhibiting artists, Mircea Cantor, is described as  ’seemingly float[ing] in a metaphorical world where location is never stated or easily determined’, while Cantor ‘appears to avoid any specific subject related to geography’. In fact, on his website, having informed the reader compliantly of his place of birth, Cantor himself makes a point of stating that he now ‘lives and works on Earth’.

It becomes clear that Cantor has an issue with taxonomies that will classify not only his work but also him as an individual on the basis of geographical information. There’s something in the statement ‘lives and works on Earth’, though, that for a moment makes me roll my eyes. Is he not trying a bit too hard?

The answer comes when one continues reading the exhibition programme, where the same author informs  us that Cantor was born in Romania but now lives in France. Still reflecting on Cantor’s work, she then goes on to talk about how ‘Eastern Europe has a rich  history of artists who produce  art works from small acts of resistance, usually with  modest materials and  often against strict political regimes’ and gives examples of the work of Slovak and Czech artists and concludes by locating Cantor’s work within ‘this lineage’.

Apparently, Cantor is not trying hard enough. In the face of a system of classification so strongly embedded in our society, even the most explicit efforts to resist it fall short.

So, when someone asks you where you are from, and you, with a foreign accent, reply ‘London’ and get a look of incomprehension followed by ‘Yeah, but where are you REALLY from? ‘, don’t back down. It’s worth repeating yourself. 

The tide might be turning

December 24th, 2011 | Alina Müller

Picking us up from the airport in Montevideo, one of the first things the taxi driver asked was how people in London were holding up, the financial crisis and all. Is it as bad as in Spain, Portugal and Italy, our Uruguayan taxi driver wanted to know. We gave him the generic answer ‘London is not too bad given the circumstances, but young people are finding it increasingly difficult to find a job’.  His advice was simple: ‘You should just move here or to Brazil. The economy is booming, you know.’

A few days later the Uruguayan news paper ‘El Pais’ was reporting on the high unemployment rates among young people in Spain, Italy, Ireland and Bulgaria- all well over 20%. The paper also reported on the fact that net migration to the US has dropped severely in 2011 due to the economical crisis.

On the same page, there was an article about property prices in Punta del Este going up by 3% as a result of the increasing interest of Brazilians in spending their holidays there.

The Guardian a few days ago published an article which gives an overview of the immigration policies of different Latin American countries, Australia and Canada. Apparently, Argentina is currently operating an open-doors policy.

It might be a bit premature to proclaim that the tide is turning but there is definitely something in the air.

From Istanbul with love

April 26th, 2011 | Alina Müller

I came across this poem by Nazim Hikmet at the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. 



Nabokov’s private tragedy and a call for suggestions

July 6th, 2010 | Alina Müller


I have started to compile a themed reading list for my summer reading. The theme is ‘works by authors who have spent a relatively big part of their lives living in a different country’. This would include both authors who spent only part of their lives abroad, like Julio Cortázar, and those who spent most of their lives in a different country, like James Joyce. It would also include authors that lived abroad but wrote in their first language, again like Julio Cortázar, or that lived abroad and wrote in the language of their new home country, like Herta Muller, Vladimir Nabokov and Joseph Conrad. The theme of the books doesn’t have to be the immigrant experience. I am more curious about finding out if these authors have something in common that could potentially be attributed to their shared experience as migrants, or  if they don’t at all. I would appreciate your suggestions!

And so I leave you with a few words of Nabokov, where he explicitly addresses one aspect of his experience, the language:

“My private tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s concern, is that I had to abandon my natural idiom, my untrammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those apparatuses – the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, the implied associations and traditions – which the native illusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the heritage in his own way.”

London mapped out

May 21st, 2010 | Alina Muller

A few days ago, my better half  introduced me to Charles Booth’s amazing survey of life and labour in London, which documented in great detail the social and economic situation of Londoners between 1886-1903. One of the outcome of his ambitious empirical work are the Poverty Maps, which give a visual representation of his survey. Using the wealth of information he collected, Booth colour-coded the streets of London to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants. He used seven colours ranging from yellow for ‘the upper-middle and upper classes, wealthy’ to black for, in Booth’s words, the ‘vicious semi criminal’ ( I’m guessing that’s Victorian English for the really really poor).

It’s really quite interesting, and in some ways sad, to note that some areas in London seem to never really change. It would also have been interesting to document how much internal migration there was during this period. Was there any noticeable social mobility, with people moving to the better off areas when their economic situation improved, or did the ‘vicious semi criminal’ stay ‘vicious semi criminal’ and the ‘wealthy’  ’wealthy’, each in their part of town?

Below are some examples of the maps and you can browse some of them on-line here and here. The pictures are borrowed from the University of Michigan website, produced by Sabiha Ahmad. There is also an exhibition at the London Museum displaying the maps, which might be worth a visit.


Yellow in Marylebone.


Black in Hackney.

Anyone up for the challenge to do a map of London pre and post financial crisis?  I would be well up for contributing.